The past decade has produced extensive and convincing proof that the world today is facing environmental threats on an unprecedented scale that are furthermore far from limited to climate change. We have also witnessed severe economic crisis and currently face the largest migrations of people since WWII. On top of this we see how current global urbanisation processes, through which two thirds of the world’s population are expected to be living in cities by the year 2030, put acute stress on the ability of urban and ecological systems to support social cohesion and human wellbeing. Together, these developments have made urban issues a prominent topic in international academic and political discourse. This places unprecedented expectations on future governance and the planning and design of cities, which – if given the right strategies for their future development – are increasingly seen as the means to the solution rather than the root of the problem.
However, the urban future of the world constitutes a tremendously heterogeneous knowledge field, in which we can identify three inherent characteristics that present obstacles to rapid and comprehensive knowledge development. Firstly, the multi-disciplinary nature of the field; the city is the most complex human system there is, and as a consequence comprises knowledge spanning the complete academic range, from science to the humanities, including the arts. Secondly, the practice-dominated nature of the field; we are not only talking about academic fields of research but also about professional fields of practice. Practice and research, however, often develop as parallel fields of knowledge, which is why there is often an implementation deficit of new knowledge. Thirdly, the political nature of the fields; dealing with both theoretical and practical knowledge used to structure and shape the spatial framework of society on different scales; cities are inherently political, which is why they are full of ideological conflicts.
In all, this adds up to a most heterogeneous epistemological field, but in many respects a field with tremendous potential. A central point regarding such development is acknowledgement that it is a field that deals with technologies of an unusual kind. In anthropology there is a distinction between tools as implements and tools as facilities. Implements typically accelerate and direct energy to specific purposes and are concerned with efficiency. This is where we find most traditional kinds of technology. Facilities, on the other hand, slow down, store and maintain energy as a resource for a variety of purposes and have a concern for permanence. This is where we find a great deal that is typical for this field; urban futures is here in a position to offer an essential contribution to these less developed forms of technology.
By estimating/forecasting current challenges in society related to the field outlined above as well as current or potential developments at Chalmers, it is possible to identify potential fields that can be emphasised in the further development of urban futures.