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Can cities re-invent themselves?

July 19, 2012

Joe Ravetz is Co-Director of the Centre for Urban and Regional Ecology (CURE) and a SAMI Principal and passionate about cities.

He writes: “How is it that cities, with all their waste and pollution, are actually the most ecologically sound way to cope with our way of life? If there is an answer, it lies in the cities themselves – global hubs and gateways to enterprise, sinks of poverty and deprivation, but everywhere showing seeds of opportunity. Overall, while cities are the pattern-makers of economies and societies, they are too often divided and dysfunctional. Here at CURE we work on urban climate issues, but we step out of the door into a looming chaos, where any kind of progress seems very difficult.

Overall there is a huge challenge: how to foster our cities – communities, city-regions, city-states, or global urban systems – to ensure survival and prosperity in the urban century? Across Europe the role of cities is coming into centre stage, so we worked with DGREGIO on the Cities of Tomorrow programme – . But ‘cities’ are not only the grey bits on the map – they are spreading rapidly and merging into new forms of ‘peri-urban’ global agglomerations – . For the United Nations, the agenda centres on the developing world – in China alone, 220 cities are expected to enter the 1 million plus bracket by 2025 – so we are presenting at the World Urban Forum in Naples a concept for how economic, social and environmental policies can work together – .

Here in Manchester – the world’s first industrial city – in 2009 we launched an award-winning ‘Carbon Mortgage’ scheme: . This started a new phase of research on the next-generation city, Urban 3.0. The Urban 3.0 model is based on creative collaboration, networked co-production, and shared intelligence. It promotes inter-connected ways of thinking to respond to inter-connecting problems – climate change, social exclusion, economic dependency, etc – and this involves economic, social, political, ecological and other “3.0” models such as .

With techniques such as ‘synergistic mapping’ and ‘synergy-foresight’, we can be better equipped to face the challenges of cities, such as the re-engineering of industrial cities for ‘One Planet’ environmental performance, the rethinking of local economic development for ‘prosperity in austerity’, or, the rebuilding of communities for ‘smart resilience and well-being’. In each of these we have to look beyond sound-bite sustainability. We have to map the anatomy of complex problems, like intrepid explorers in the jungle. We have to travel the distance for new forms of collective intelligence and synergistic thinking. We can then begin to design pathways towards new forms of cities, economies and communities, fit for the 21st century.

The book ‘Urban 3.0 – creative synergy and shared intelligence for One Planet communities and economies in the 21st century’ is due to be published by Routledge / Earthscan in 2013.”

Joe can be reached on

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