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50 dynamic tensions changing the face of our cities

50 dynamic tensions changing the face of our cities
  • On November 15, 2010

It is very difficult to think creatively and constructively about the future of cities when everything around us is in a state of flux. Transport; food technology; geopolitical stability; peak oil; climate change; our economies; disease pandemics; trust; social equity; corruption – in sport, business and politics; terrorism; social media: a list we can expand and change every working day of our lives – By Oliver Freeman Futurist & C0-Publisher HomepageDAILY

These concerns are not new. But with the advent of the GFC (2007-2010), we are now questioning the role of free global markets to create better futures for us and our children. Some commentators expect, by 2040, we will be in a world with 1bn people squatting in ‘edge’ cities – huge alternative social groups with their own ‘rules’.

Others see food provision to be under the hammer unless we can transform production methods to minimise their carbon footprint and respond to resource shortages and mediate social inequity. And when it comes to transport, what, for example, will be the impact of work dynamics on the demand for public transport and the consequent drain on the urban environment?

We also live in a world full of wild cards and black swans – events that come out of left field and destroy cities as the earthquakes have done recently in New Zealand and in Japan. Pandemics are an increasing threat to urban populations while the disruptive force of political change as in Egypt and Libya is always threatening to change the faces of our cities.

The ubiquity of uncertainty asks us to search for new mindsets, new paradigms and new strategies to create a better world and it is only the ‘she’ll be right’ scenario where complacency is the way to go. Other worlds, which beckon – a dystopic future of economic collapse and environmental degradation; an optimistic ‘smart’ future; even a utopian communal future – all demand systemic intervention from city planners, businesses, governments and citizens in urban design.

Design not only as a feature of democratic market capitalism but also as a strategic tool encouraged and utilised by government and developed by the design professions whatever kind of market economy is in play.

Designing is also a process which liberates our passion for the world we live in by appealing to our reflective and aesthetic selves as we better enjoy our interaction with it.

But what is the nature of the design challenge and how do we take it on?

In this ‘primer’ we are going to tackle this question in a novel way.

Rather than jumping straight into the task of prescribing strategy we are going to examine the influences changing the external environments in which we may have to develop by identifying and assessing the major trends, critical uncertainties, predetermined elements and wild cards whose combinations are shaping the future for us all.

Interpretation and Sense-Making

Our world views – the ways we interpret the world – help us to discover models, explanations, alternative futures, ethics, theories of action and knowledge which steer us towards new strategies for managing our cities into and in the future.

As we look for meaning, there is a sense that we are caught at the interface between order and chaos. The Internet for example not only brings order to urban communications and information seeking but it also offers the potential for a chaotic future of city-based cyber crime, brown-outs and the loss of personal privacy.

We participate in these ‘dynamic tensions’ and see their resolution as a measure of the future viability of our cities. We are intent on keeping up and, where possible, staying ahead of change. Most of us share a vision to create better futures not just for ourselves but also for the new generations who will be living in our cities.

One major aspect of this vision is looking to design – in all its forms – as a tool for resolving the complex problems that these dynamic tensions bring with them.

In the context of the worldviews that shape our vision and mission – what is happening which will influence the shape of the external environment in which we operate?

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