Collaborating City: Reimaging Urban Futures (part 1/2)

Earlier this month, from 1-4 October, Brisbane hosted the 49th congress of the International Society of City and Regional Planners (ISOCARP). ISOCARP has memberships from nearly 100 countries including Australia and has its headquarters in the Hague. The theme of this year’s congress was Frontiers of Planning: Evolving and Declining Models of City Planning Practice and I was fortunate enough to be invited to present and contribute to a panel discussion which explored urban futures from differing points of view.

My view is that city of tomorrow has to reimagine itself as a place that embraces uncertainty as a matter of strategy. As Voltaire said “Uncertainty is an uncomfortable position. But certainty is an absurd one”. That resonates well with me as I often reiterate that we do not live in an age of change but rather in an age of expectation of change. This is a context which may present opportunities for reimagining ‘city’ as a place for collaboration. The idea of collaboration as a platform may open doors to different conceptual and pragmatic solutions that emerging cities can take advantage of. The number of people who live in urban areas is now larger than the number of people who live in rural areas. This shift occurred only a few years ago (I think mid 2009) and, while it is hard to see any major resulting socio-economic changes, it is not too hard to imagine the spectre of implications it might have. The idea of ‘city’ is changing as cities increasingly become highly centralised points of socio-economic existence. Thus, the dependence on cities may shift from a place of choice to a place of necessity for an increasing number of people across the world.

Cities posed to accommodate the appeal of disruptive systems

will leapfrog over those cities and regions who are backed up

by heavy infrastructure and hierarchical governance.


Cities of the past were tailored to a specific set of needs that also discriminated against certain trends, requirements, tastes, attitudes etc.  Cities were able to afford this partially because of the rural counterbalance offered by the bucolic system.  However, this may change.  The city of the future may find itself in an environment where it has to cater for what it does not want, or what it did not used to in the old order.

One factor that I consider to be important (in a range of many) is the way ‘city’ creates opportunities for a new story to emerge. A story that should be told collaboratively and not hierarchically. The main point here is to underscore that a collaborative culture would demand that problems and solutions of the city be defined and implemented collaboratively. That would involve a form of disruptive city planning which frankly we can’t assume would work for every city right now. How a collaborative approach may enhance a city depends on the degree of collaborative social and economic culture that already exists.

I am convinced that big cities, which mean big infrastructures, will need to undergo major change before they are able to adapt to the new dominance of urban population over rural. Cities like Brisbane are in a once in a lifetime position to take advantage of collaboration as the perfect ‘disruptive’ to create resilient, entrepreneurial, inclusive, balanced, collaborative systems which will be the backbone of financial and social well-being for decades to come.

In a way collaboration is about others; it exists in a space between self-interest and altruism and it is about a new kind of relationship between individuals and groups (organisations, businesses, enterprises, etc). Collaborative behaviours are far from being purely about maximising profit or material outcomes. Collaboration is not a human invention per se. Deep down, collaboration is a sophisticated social and intellectual exercise that taps into our fears and hopes in the same measure. To put it another way, the collaborative instinct (refer to the three-part blog post from September 2013 for more on the collaborative instinct) is a driver that binds our multiple selves, our complex needs and desires. Collaborative action always provides value to partners and beyond. The main challenge when it comes to investing and supporting collaboration as a business strategy, is the fear of disruption. Collaboration is a ‘disruptive’ of the highest order. Cities posed to accommodate the appeal of disruptive systems will leapfrog over those cities and regions who are backed up by heavy infrastructure and hierarchical governance.


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