Led by
Urban
Research
Institutions

Improved city futures will be achieved through an academic partnership linking five research intensive universities renowned for their expertise in interdisciplinary scholarship and work on the contemporary city. Our partnership includes the University of Oxford, Peking University (Beijing), The African Centre for Cities (Cape Town), Indian Institute for Human Settlements (Bangalore) and EAFIT University (Medellín).

 
Introducing PEAK Urban

From the streets of Bangalore, Dr Carlos Cadena-Gaitán (EAFIT) introduces our international research programme on sustainable cities.

How our
research
works
P
Prediction

What does modelling, institutional analysis and ethnography say about prediction and projection in the city?

Cities are more than concentrations of people, activities, physical structures or patterns of everyday interactions. They are places where complex systems mingle, interact, interfere and connect to systems everywhere, a territorialised system of systems. PEAK Urban asserts that in an interdisciplinary inquiry into city futures it is essential to utilise the sciences of prediction and projection that use the potential of new forms of urban data sources, providing unprecedented, often real-time, information on the activities of urban dwellers. This includes tracking data derived from telecoms, mapping and transport companies, imagery via satellite and street photography, personal and environmental statistics captured by both mobile apps and fixed sensors, and social networks via online platforms. Beyond mapping the dynamics of urban life, this data can provide information on informal activities (e.g., housing, travel, business), a key component of developing cities not well-described by traditional or official data collection methods.

Alongside the emergence of urban ‘big data’, there has been a parallel push to develop methodological tools to cope with these large data sets, identify patterns and relationships within this data, and build predictive models.
 

E
Emergence

How have socio-material systems generated new forms and structures to create an emergent urbanism?

The change or transformation that occurs in cities and the system of cities as the product of interaction of parts of the system is characterised in PEAK Urban as forms of urban emergence (E). 

These emergent forces arise from processes of urban mutation and combination, generated by individual and collective actions, disruptive technologies and or by state and market interventions. Such patterns of emergence demand an understanding of both universal trends and bespoke local realities that are driven by the path dependencies and systemic lock-ins of particular urban forms; a process involving culturally sensitive, historically nuanced and commonly ethnographic and institutional understandings of technological and other disruptions. Diasporic and frequently colonial historical links connecting cities such as Delhi, London, New York or Shanghai to sustained networks across the globe, create multi-scalar force fields of cultural mutation, hybridization and combination mediated by both the micro neighbourhoods and macro regional economies of the city alike.

Building on contemporary social scientific scholarship on how we measure ‘value’ and ‘worth’, we can then make visible both the real-time uses and impacts of the adoptions and disruptions of new technologies.

A
Adoption

How have different research disciplines and the city adopted ideas and technologies from different knowledge traditions?

PEAK Urban’s focus on adoption (A) highlights the impacts of actual spatial, political, administrative or technical choices, and trade-offs cities make in preferring one set of values to another. What states, citizens and companies collectively choose (adopt), given the specificities of their place, its resources and the interplay of urban dynamics, coagulates as the regime that shapes the future city.

It is a commonplace of contemporary urban studies that we are living through a period of particularly rapid technological change. In the city, the ‘internet of things’ escalates exponentially the data footprint of city populations and the propensity to link different technical platforms that service city life. From mass transit, to smart buildings, to connected networks of service provision that sense, predict and react to flows and flux in real time for mass mobilities, urban metabolism and city governance are now structured by information management systems. The increase in ‘big data’, especially for well-connected rich cities, makes visible and shapes patterns and processes susceptible to new forms of data science, enhancing the propensity to predict. Even in poor cities where connectivity is weak and energy supply is unreliable, big data is revolutionising urban intelligence through the use of satellite imagery and cellular technologies. 

An understanding of how new technologies are adopted, optimised, or bypassed, provides a central dynamic in the understanding and determination of city futures. For example, promoting car free cities may be easier in Europe than in North America because of fundamentals of urban form as well as the contingent investment in alternative forms of mass transit. But equally the technologies deployed in informal settlements, in which more than half the world’s urban population live, may appropriate new technologies in novel ways. Settlements may succeed in leapfrogging the lock ins of the mid-20th century planned metropolis, or reinventing old technologies to address both old environmental challenges such as sanitation or new ecological challenges such as climate change.

K
Knowledge Exchange

How do we maximise knowledge exchange to build capacity in research institutions, cities, nations and at a global level?

City futures emerge where knowledge - competing, contested and incommensurable - is exchanged. Understanding the configuration and pathways of knowledge and power into and within the city is a prerequisite for understanding urban futures. Where ideas about what should be done in a city come from, how they are brokered, and who and what the decision-making mechanisms are has changed over time. The contours of urban knowledge production and exchange are now, perhaps, weighted towards information system design and strategic planning platforms such as city development or national urban policies.

In many cities elected officials and appointed professionals are no longer the dominant voices of urban decision-making as a wider template of stakeholders has emerged, either as the result of the hollowing out of the state or as participatory processes have brought civil society more directly into city decision-making. For numerous reasons then, the formats of city governance have become more open-ended and porous at the same time as the body of knowledge that decision-makers have has multiplied and become more accessible. In Europe, a network of ‘living labs’ has been built on social democratic traditions of state, market, and civil society collaboration. Globally, the growth of new institutional forms of living laboratories and urban observatories is matched by claims made in the name of ‘smart cities’, and attempts to learn from models of innovation demonstrators that can be scaled up. At the same time, universities are, internationally, inserting transdisciplinary and interdisciplinary transformative knowledge into real world engagement. 

PEAK Urban invites a process of knowledge exchange (K) and co-production that reframes conventional settings of academic basic research, and its applications in models of urban laboratories and observatories, to reflect the realities of urban politics and processes.

 

Cities are more than concentrations of people, activities, physical structures or patterns of everyday interactions. They are places where complex systems mingle, interact, interfere and connect to systems everywhere, a territorialised system of systems. PEAK Urban asserts that in an interdisciplinary inquiry into city futures it is essential to utilise the sciences of prediction and projection that use the potential of new forms of urban data sources, providing unprecedented, often real-time, information on the activities of urban dwellers. This includes tracking data derived from telecoms, mapping and transport companies, imagery via satellite and street photography, personal and environmental statistics captured by both mobile apps and fixed sensors, and social networks via online platforms. Beyond mapping the dynamics of urban life, this data can provide information on informal activities (e.g., housing, travel, business), a key component of developing cities not well-described by traditional or official data collection methods.

Alongside the emergence of urban ‘big data’, there has been a parallel push to develop methodological tools to cope with these large data sets, identify patterns and relationships within this data, and build predictive models.
 

 

The change or transformation that occurs in cities and the system of cities as the product of interaction of parts of the system is characterised in PEAK Urban as forms of urban emergence (E). 

These emergent forces arise from processes of urban mutation and combination, generated by individual and collective actions, disruptive technologies and or by state and market interventions. Such patterns of emergence demand an understanding of both universal trends and bespoke local realities that are driven by the path dependencies and systemic lock-ins of particular urban forms; a process involving culturally sensitive, historically nuanced and commonly ethnographic and institutional understandings of technological and other disruptions. Diasporic and frequently colonial historical links connecting cities such as Delhi, London, New York or Shanghai to sustained networks across the globe, create multi-scalar force fields of cultural mutation, hybridization and combination mediated by both the micro neighbourhoods and macro regional economies of the city alike.

Building on contemporary social scientific scholarship on how we measure ‘value’ and ‘worth’, we can then make visible both the real-time uses and impacts of the adoptions and disruptions of new technologies.

 

PEAK Urban’s focus on adoption (A) highlights the impacts of actual spatial, political, administrative or technical choices, and trade-offs cities make in preferring one set of values to another. What states, citizens and companies collectively choose (adopt), given the specificities of their place, its resources and the interplay of urban dynamics, coagulates as the regime that shapes the future city.

It is a commonplace of contemporary urban studies that we are living through a period of particularly rapid technological change. In the city, the ‘internet of things’ escalates exponentially the data footprint of city populations and the propensity to link different technical platforms that service city life. From mass transit, to smart buildings, to connected networks of service provision that sense, predict and react to flows and flux in real time for mass mobilities, urban metabolism and city governance are now structured by information management systems. The increase in ‘big data’, especially for well-connected rich cities, makes visible and shapes patterns and processes susceptible to new forms of data science, enhancing the propensity to predict. Even in poor cities where connectivity is weak and energy supply is unreliable, big data is revolutionising urban intelligence through the use of satellite imagery and cellular technologies. 

An understanding of how new technologies are adopted, optimised, or bypassed, provides a central dynamic in the understanding and determination of city futures. For example, promoting car free cities may be easier in Europe than in North America because of fundamentals of urban form as well as the contingent investment in alternative forms of mass transit. But equally the technologies deployed in informal settlements, in which more than half the world’s urban population live, may appropriate new technologies in novel ways. Settlements may succeed in leapfrogging the lock ins of the mid-20th century planned metropolis, or reinventing old technologies to address both old environmental challenges such as sanitation or new ecological challenges such as climate change.

 

City futures emerge where knowledge - competing, contested and incommensurable - is exchanged. Understanding the configuration and pathways of knowledge and power into and within the city is a prerequisite for understanding urban futures. Where ideas about what should be done in a city come from, how they are brokered, and who and what the decision-making mechanisms are has changed over time. The contours of urban knowledge production and exchange are now, perhaps, weighted towards information system design and strategic planning platforms such as city development or national urban policies.

In many cities elected officials and appointed professionals are no longer the dominant voices of urban decision-making as a wider template of stakeholders has emerged, either as the result of the hollowing out of the state or as participatory processes have brought civil society more directly into city decision-making. For numerous reasons then, the formats of city governance have become more open-ended and porous at the same time as the body of knowledge that decision-makers have has multiplied and become more accessible. In Europe, a network of ‘living labs’ has been built on social democratic traditions of state, market, and civil society collaboration. Globally, the growth of new institutional forms of living laboratories and urban observatories is matched by claims made in the name of ‘smart cities’, and attempts to learn from models of innovation demonstrators that can be scaled up. At the same time, universities are, internationally, inserting transdisciplinary and interdisciplinary transformative knowledge into real world engagement. 

PEAK Urban invites a process of knowledge exchange (K) and co-production that reframes conventional settings of academic basic research, and its applications in models of urban laboratories and observatories, to reflect the realities of urban politics and processes.