Dialogue in urban complexity


URBS: “The city, especially as a symbol of harsh or busy modern life ‘to be of the urbs, to be urbane, is to be political and to be civilized’” (en.oxforddictionaries.com)

@URBS is a multidisciplinary research group that integrates research and knowledge production on urban complexity, dialogue processes and dialogue tools. The research aims to increase the capacity of all affected stakeholders (including citizens) to manage complex urban challenges by developing, applying and analyzing processes, methods and tools.


There is a need to move away from current weak measures to increase sustainability and instead strive ‘beyond sustainability’ through regenerative design, planning and development. Creating and safeguarding healthy, liveable and just urban environments entails addressing complex and wicked urban challenges through effective and collaborative modes of engagement based on complementarity, mutuality and equity. 
Spatial visualization of perceptions of places in Barcelona 
through a residents workshop (top) and as a heatmap 
using the software Maptionnaire (bottom)

The scientific approach of the research group is therefore transversal and incorporates contributions not only from design, architecture and planning, but also from disciplines such as geography, (sociotechnical) systems thinking, engineering, sociology, visualization, interaction design, and information and communication technologies. 

Urban Complexity includes topics, such as compact city transformation (with involved qualities, drivers and strategies); urban structures and logistics; building stock and retrofitting; housing and renovation; environmental aspects (e.g. sound, air quality, thermal comfort); environmental stress (e.g. health impacts, heat islands); critical urban services (e.g. food, waste, water, sanitation); bio-based circular economy; and justice, informality and urban poverty.

Dialogue processes are critical for engaging with urban complexity. Such dialogue involves governance, planning, design and innovation; participation, empowerment, inclusion and changing power structures; and knowledge transfer and learning, all of these taking place in contexts of urban transformation and transition. A key theme is different types of co-production (e.g. co-design, co-creation, co-implementation, co-management, co-monitoring, co-learning).

Dialogue tools include methods for problem structuring, multicriteria decision aids, group facilitation and group learning, supported by different types of analogue and digital tools, such as visualization, modelling, simulation, participatory GIS, open data, social media, serious games and augmented reality.

Key publications 

Adelfio, M., Kain, J.-H., Stenberg, J., Thuvander, L. (2019). GISualization: visualized integration of multiple types of data for knowledge co-production. Geografisk Tidsskrift-Danish Journal of Geography. Online. 

Hamiduddin, I., Adelfio, M. (2019). Social sustainability and new neighbourhoods: case studies from Spain and Germany. In Shirazi, M.R., Keivani, R. (Eds.) Urban Social Sustainability: Theory, Practice and Policy. Routledge: 171-192.
Stahre Wästberg, B., Eriksson, T., Karlsson, G., Sunnerstam, M., Axelsson, M., Billger, M., (2018). Design considerations for virtual laboratories: A comparative study of two virtual laboratories for learning about gas solubility and colour appearance, Education and Information Technologies, 24: 2059-2080. 

Adelfio, M., Kain, J.-H., Thuvander, L., Stenberg, J. (2018). Disentangling the compact city drivers and pressures: Barcelona as a case study. Norsk Geografisk Tidsskrift - Norwegian Journal of Geography. Online. 

Fryk, L., Stenberg, J. (2018). Från kärnverksamhetsfokus till glokalt samhällsbyggande (From core business focus to glocal community building). In Sjöberg, S., Turunen, P. (Eds.) Samhällsarbete: Aktörer, arenor och perspektiv. Studentlitteratur: 255-276.

Imottesjo, H. & Kain, J.-H. (2018). The Urban CoBuilder – a mobile augmented reality tool for crowd-sourced simulation of emergent urban development patterns: Requirements, prototyping and assessment. Computers, Environment and Urban Systems. 71: 120-130. 

Stenberg, J. (2018). Dilemmas associated with tenant participation in renovation of housing in marginalized areas may lead to system change. Cogent Social Sciences 4: 1528710.  

Billger, M., Thuvander, L., Stahre Wästberg, B. (2017). In search of visualization challenges: The development and implementation of visualization tools for supporting dialogue in urban planning processes. Environ Plann B: Urban Analytics and City Science, 44(6): 1012–1035. 

Gutberlet, J., Kain, J.-H., Nyakinya, B., Oloko, M., Zapata, P., Zapata Campos, M.J. (2017). Bridging weak links of solid waste management in informal settlements. Journal of Environment and Development. 26(1): 106-131. 

McConville, J., Rauch, S., Helgegren, I., Kain, J.-H. (2017). Using Role-playing Games to Broaden Engineering Education. Int. Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education. 18(4): 594-607.
Stahre Wästberg,, M., , J., Holmes, M., Jonsson, P., Sjölie, D., Wästberg, D. (2017). Visualizing environmental data for pedestrian comfort analysis in urban planning processes. In: Proceedings for CUPUM 2017.

Lim. H.K., Kain, J.-H. (2016). Compact cities are complex, intense and diverse but: Can we design such emergent urban properties? Urban Planning. 1(1): 95-113. 

Kain, J.-H., Larondelle, N., Haase, D., Kaczorowska, A. (2016). Exploring local consequences of two land-use alternatives for the supply of urban ecosystem services in Stockholm year 2050. Ecological Indicators. 70(November 2016): 615–629. 

Hansen, R., Frantzeskaki, N., McPhearson, T., Rall, E., Kabisch, N., Kaczorowska, A., Kain, J-H., Artmann, M., Pauleit, S. (2015). The uptake of the ecosystem services concept in planning discourses of European and American cities. Ecosystem Services. 12: 228–246. 

PhD research

Hyekyung Immotesjo: Complex adaptive systems and urban planning, 2012-2019
Shaswati Chowdhury: Opportunities for preparing urban contaminated land for bio-based production, 2018-2022
Sigrid Östlund: Regenerative Placemaking, 2012-2019

Key research projects

Virtual Gothenburg Lab 2019
Opportunities for preparing urban contaminated land for bio-based production, 2018-2021
​• CityAirSim - Visualising and modelling urban air quality - influence of vegetation, building morphology and traffic
emissions, 2018-2021
MIMIC, 2018-2021
Stitching the city: from micro-data to macro-views, 2018-2020
Implementing the compact city: a critical perspective on the transfer of best practices, 2018-2019
DemoVirPEN - A demonstrator for virtual planning and scenario analysis of invisible environmental values with a focus on noise in the city 2018-2019
Co-housing with newly arrived refugees, young and elderly, 2018-2019
The contribution of "third places" to urban social life in Gothenburg: assessment through social media data, 2018
Recycling networks. Grassroots resilience tackling climate, environmental and poverty challenges, 2017-2020
Children as Co-Creators of the Urban Space, 2017-2019
Gamification of sanitation planning: Exploring technical and societal readiness of alternative nutrient-recovery systems, 2017-2020
Compact cities and informal settlements - Exploring qualities, drivers and strategies for promoting sustainable urban development, 2016-2019
Norm-creative Visualization in Urban Development, 2016-2019
Learning Lab Hammarkullen: Codesigning Renovation, 2014-2019

Illustrations above: 
The Urban Cobuilder mobile augmented reality app
3D visualization of pollution data from a street perspective

Current research projects

•    CIVIC – Construction In Vicinities: Innovative Co-creation 
•    Complex adaptive systems and urban planning
•    Closing the loops on resource flows – a starting point for sustainable urban water and waste management
•    Data Fusion in Urban modeling and Visualisation
•    Nodes-4-Visualization
•    Norm-critical visualization
•    Urban Cobuilder : Urban design simulation involving Augmented Reality on project sites
•    Urban CoMapper : Collaborative mapping regarding perception of urban qualities
•    Visualisation of the energy systems and energy flows in a timber house

Previous research projects

•    Go:Smart
•    Sendsmart
•    Urban Games


@URBS is involved in a wide set of collaborations with universities, cities, municipalities, housing companies, real estate management, building companies and consultants, as well as with different civic groups and organizations. Internationally, the group collaborates with universities in Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Cuba, Denmark, Kenya, Nicaragua, South Africa, Spain, The Netherlands, Uganda and the UK


The group is engaged in bachelor and master courses, such as Design systems; Design and planning for social inclusion; Architecture and Urban Space Design; Sustainable development and the design professions; and Theory and Text. In addition, group members have been teaching in courses at collaborating universities worldwide.

@URBS is collectively led by six researchers with senior positions.

Page manager Published: Wed 26 Jun 2019.