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In our latest video, Professor Michael Keith describes the challenges facing the 21st century city, and how new approaches are urgently needed that bring together multidisciplinary thinking and solving. PEAK Urban seeks to contribute to this work.
Through the partnership of five renowned academic institutions around the world - the University of Oxford, Peking University (Beijing), The African Centre for Cities (Cape Town), Indian Institute for Human Settlements (Bangalore) and EAFIT University (Medellín) - and the leadership of Professor Michael Keith, PEAK Urban seeks to produce and explore groundbreaking research on the greatest issues facing the contemporary city.
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.
Neave O’Cleary leads the Oxford Data Analytics team whom focus on studying cities as complex social, spatial and economic systems with themes including knowledge diffusion, skills and agglomeration economics and industrial complexity. They use tools of PREDICTION from network science to machine learning. In a recent publication they develop a network-based model analysing commuting times of up to 62 cities over a 6 year period to show that industry productivity is maximized in Colombian cities when they can attract required skilled labour from a commuting radius of up to 75 minutes.
Jairo Gómez leads the EAFIT Past, Present and Future of Urban Footprint Growth in Latin America project. His team leverage worldwide data including night-time lights, GHSL, Landsat, OMS to generate PREDICTION via econometrics, data science and machine learning methods on the future of Latin American cities. In a recent publication he creates a framework for PREDICTING urban growth that let’s decision makers understand implications in the future of policies now.
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. They make visible the contested ethical settlement of the ‘less than just’ city. 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 and make visible how the future city is shaped by the needs of present and future generations and includes and excludes its own populations.
Gautam Bhan leads the IIHS Urban health in the Indian Metropolis project. To uncover the role of work and workplaces in the delivery of effective and equitable health care for urban Indians, he interrogates the EMERGENCE of health outcomes and care- seeking patterns by understanding the relationships between work status and the conditions of employment. In a recent publication he highlights the various structural conditions surrounding informal women workers and the impact on maternal and child health outcomes.
Jacob Doherty leads the Oxford Transport Studies Unit Everyday mobilities in African urban transport systems project which, among other results, uncovered how services provided by communal taxis in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire EMERGE from the combination of the extent and routinization of violence in the transport sector and the infrastructural features of the city that shape conflicts over space. In a recent publication he demonstrates how the proliferation of digital mobility platforms in Kampala is ADOPTED with distinct additional benefits including to make evident moral practices, such as honesty, work-ethic, and road acumen of drivers.
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. We consider how different ways of knowing the city ‘land’ in different parts of the world, how internationally, climate science, planning, engineering, economics, data analytics, public health, transport or ecosystems knowledges prioritise very different urban futures.
Pengjun Zhao leads a team from PKU working on the Transitioning Cities: The complex interaction between behaviour, transport flows and urban society that uses multi-source data, including from mobile phones, to describe the temporal-spatial characteristics of urban land use, individual people’s travel behaviour, socioeconomic features and traffic flows. In the Chinese context these data techniques are ADOPTED to examine how behaviour is influenced by social and cultural contexts, economic development, governance arrangement and the built environment.
Nick Simcik Arese leads Oxford COMPAS’ Global Land Enclosures, Urban-Technology, and Experimental Property project. His team has developed an urban experiment in the Moravia district of Medellin (containing a large number of homes at risk of eviction) to imagine how new technology (land property digital platforms) and new institutional, financial and legal mechanisms for property titling can be ADOPTED to achieve neighbourhood-scale circular economies and reduce incentives for quick sale of land a low prices.
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.
The city increasingly becomes a site for (sometimes problematic) experimentation, complicating the conventional distinction between basic and applied research. 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.
Susan Parnell and James Duminy lead ACC’s National Urban Reform in South Africa project that aims to understand and capture how KNOWLEDGE was created and used in reform of urban governance policies and practices in Cape Town, with particular reference to health, fiscal and planning systems. The project has already resulted in a book that captures the lessons emerging from the first seven years of the Cities Support Programme (CSP) in South Africa.
Juan Pablo Orjuela leads the Oxford Transport Studies Unit’s Communities, accesibility and healthy living in Itagui project that studies the accessibility to healthy living among low-income women in Itagüí (Colombia) under a strongly collaborative framework. It aims to EXCHANGE KNOWLEDGE and co-create solutions for issues affecting local health with a group of 40 local women, people working in the three levels of government, and Colombian academics and to understand the role existing transport options play.