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Urban design needs new experts

smart city

A research manifesto has called for new expertise to be developed to deal with the world’s urban future.

With humanity becoming increasingly urban, the manifesto from the Economic and Social Research Council’s Urban Transformations programme at the University of Oxford sets out ideas for how research and expertise can be used in urban environments.

It aims to inform the debate around the UN’s 2030 urban agenda, which will be discussed in Quito, Ecuador in October 2016.

”Some urban disciplines are already strong and well organised, such as design professionals – architects, planners and even engineers, while others that have been very influential, such as ecologists, climate scientists or information tech people, are not well connected,” Professor Susan Parnell, an author on the manifesto, told New Civil Engineer

Parnell notes that the influential groups from relatively new professions do not always have a grounding in social and political issues that surround urban government. 

This means that their expertise remains marginal in city development.

“In addition to making the sector specialists more aware of the limits of their own expertise and the potential points of connection, there is a need for high level specialists who are able to synthesise and integrate complex findings from across the various domains of knowledge, adjudicating priorities, synergies and conflicts in information,” added Parnell.

Urban Transformations researcher, Professor Michael Keith, said: “We need to address the new expertise demanded in the city.  It is essential that we bring together the science of cities, a sense of their historical trajectories and social trends, with ethical questions posed by planning for the future.”

Cities such as Brasilia in Brazil might provide an example for the world when it comes to urbanism. Researchers involved in the manifesto have studied urban mobility in the city, and discovered that mapping techniques, social surveys and community involvement can help develop a better city.

Stade National in Brasilia

Stade National in Brasilia

Stade National in Brasilia

“There are excellent small scale examples of community led planning – in areas as diverse as off grid service provision to community policing. Smaller cities tend to do better with less expert knowledge as the technical systems and complex interactions of systems of land, transport, water etc are easier to understand and arbitrate – even if the politics is just as complicated as is it is in big cities,” said Parnell.

What will the new experts look like? The researchers believe that the new urbanists should combine historical sensibility, a scientific approach, an ethical compass – and a geographical focus on Africa and Asia.


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