International Conference
Global Visions: Risks and Opportunities for the Urban Planet

Global Visions: Risks and Opportunities for the Urban Planet is the title of the 5th Conference of the International Forum on Urbanism that will take place from February 24th to 26th, 2011 at the National University of Singapore (NUS) in Singapore.

The conference will be organized within the framework of the International Forum on Urbanism (IFoU) by the Department of Architecture and the Centre for Sustainable Asian Cities (CSAC) at the School of Design and Environment, National University of Singapore (NUS) in collaboration with the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) Singapore as well as the participating universities of the IFoU network.

Subject top of page

Sustainability is a key issue of our time. The limited energy resources, greenhouse effects, rising sea levels, floods caused by melting glaciers and the bareness caused by shifting climate zones are subjects of many international conferences and numerous debates between politicians, scientists and professionals. However, sustainability means more than the protection of the environment, more than to reduce the exploitation of natural resources and to limit the pollution. It too requires sustainable societal systems and sustainable economies that are able to bridge the social contradictions and to survive without the exploitation of other societies or future generations.

In view of the highly urbanized societies in Europe and America and in particular in view of the fast urbanization processes in Asia and Africa it is by default the city where the complex themes of sustainability play out most intensively. Cities worldwide are facing similar problems of increasing car use, urban sprawl, pollution, depletion of natural resources, rising inequities and erosion of natural ecosystems. Although the context of urbanization and development varies across cities, many sustainability strategies and the problems encountered with their implementation are similar, such as the balance of land use for transportation, restoration of urban ecosystems, or the design of the public realm for increasingly diverse users. Any effective agenda for confronting global climate change must necessarily include cities as a key, indeed the key, element.

During the last decennia a huge amount of new techniques and new methods in building construction have been developed to reduce the energy consumption and to make use of renewable energy resources, to capture grey-water and to re-use rainwater and wastewater for the provision of buildings, to clean the air and to reduce the pollution by carbon dioxide, to recycle building materials and to use new and more sustainable materials. The question is how to combine these technical solutions with the social and economical demands of sustainability, how to generate strategies for the reflexive modernization of cities and how to create integrated visions for a sustainable future of the urbanized planet.

Aims top of page

The conference aims to generate an exchange between the academic and the professional debate, to investigate opportunities and risks for the sustainable urban development and to discuss visions, concepts and best practices. In this framework causes, reasons and dependencies of worldwide transformation processes will be analyzed and planning strategies and design concepts for a more sustainable development of cities and regions will be explored. Both research and design approaches are sought for this forum. For that purpose, differing specialties and scales will be integrated within the conference agenda: urban (and regional) planning and management, urban and architectural design, urban sociology, economics, geography and ecology.

Target groups top of page

During the conference, scientific results, as well as design concepts and technical solutions will be presented; theoretical approaches will be discussed as well as professional experiences and best practices. With this in mind, the target group would include a range of different backgrounds: architects and urban planners; policy makers, students and researchers from different disciplines; managers and politicians, all of whom are involved in or interested in design, planning and the management of the built environment.

Call for papers top of page

Papers are invited for submission under the following sub-themes:

A. Urban visions of sustainability

B. The design of sustainable urban space

C. Waterfront and coastal development

D. Urban technologies and sustainability

E. Sustainable mobility

F. Planning and new approaches to urban governance

G. Creative cities and 'Green Economies'

H. Social justice and sustainable society

I. The Asian City

J. Design projects for the sustainable city

Sub-themes top of page

A. Urban visions of sustainability

Many utopian visions of more or less sustainable cities have called for the need to change and to alternative philosophies. At the end of The Granite Garden (1984), Anne W. Spirn presents a vision of the “celestial city” in which nature is “everywhere evident and cultivated in the city.” Kevin Lynch’s “A Place Utopia” at the end of Good City Form (1981) proposed an ecologically oriented urban utopia in the form of decentralized web-like network of human communities.

Michael Sorkin, in his forthcoming book Eutopia, argues that “a contemporary utopia cannot be expressed as a formal singularity with universal aspirations” but that there will be may translations for principles into practice, that there must be many utopias. He argues that these have to be “a new kind of city, one that recognizes a radically configured urban situation as its inescapable site, one that take survival and happiness of the species as its predicates, one that finds and defends many routes to meaningful difference, and one that advances the project of freedom.”

This session will discuss urban visions, built and un-built cities and transformative ideas for the development of sustainable cities, including critiques of model cities and communities built on visions of sustainability.

Keywords: ideas and ideals of sustainable cities, urban transformations, case studies of sustainable communities, green architecture and urbanism

B. The design of sustainable urban space

The relationship between urban form and sustainability is certainly one of the most discussed issues in sustainable development, especially with regards to the form of future cities. The continued search for sustainable urban form often involves debates on the merits and conflicts of the compact city. While advocates argue that compaction is the only way to reduce the carbon footprint of cities, detractors believe that the losses of the social, economic and natural environment outweigh the claimed benefits of the compact city and that solutions lie in re-structuring the city rather than in seeking new forms for the city.

This session will discuss the planning and design of new urban space with regards to sustainable development, including the critique of such spaces as practiced.

Keywords: green urbanism, local identity, urban design, city form and design, culture, public life, exterior and interior public space, compact cities, dispersed cities, network cities, rapid growth, shrinkage, design strategies.

C. Waterfronts and Coastal Developments

In 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted that by 2100, global warming and the melting of ice sheets would lead to a significant rise of sea levels around the world. Coastal hazards associated with such drastic rise of sea levels include potential flooding, submersion of low-lying land, erosion of beaches, conversion of wetlands to open water and the increase of salinity of estuaries, leading to widespread damage to coastal settlements and ecological disasters. Shore-based communities would meet with potentially catastrophic difficulties just as many major cities of the world would need storm-surge defenses and face the prospects of population displacements and sinking landmasses.

This session will discuss sustainable strategies for waterfront and coastal developments in the light of global warming, as well as future urban policies and projected development for flood defense, water-management and urban delta development.

Keywords: sustainable waterfront development, flood defense, water-management, urbanizing deltas, coastal development, wetland ecology;

D. Urban technologies and sustainability

Cities must become more central in the global agenda for sustainability for several reasons, one of which is that considerable progress has been made in documenting and quantifying the sizable ecological footprints of cities such as in the work of Rees and Wackernagel, so that we have begun to understand the long term impact of city development. Cities are where the more intense environmental damage is taking place, and it is in cities that many improvements can effectively be made. Building sustainable cities present us with new opportunities to apply on urban level innovative technologies in recycling garbage (urban mining), reusing grey water and cleaning air, generating green buildings and green urbanism, as well as to transform lifestyles and urban practices so that we may reduce consumption of limited natural resources.

A special issue in this framework is the reduction of energy consumption and the step to renewable energy resources. Many technologies have been developed, in particular on building level. The question is how to apply these technologies in a more efficient way on urban level and to transform the city from an energy consuming body into an energy producing body.

This session will discuss both the hard and soft technologies that enable sustainable cities, including infrastructure, tools and innovations related to the design and evaluation of sustainable cities, as well as policies, regulations, economic instruments and strategies for management.

Keywords: recycling systems, urban mining, management and production of clean energy, water resources, waste water systems, evaluative tools and concepts, green architecture, building performance, public health and air quality.

E. Sustainable mobility

Mobility is a key issue of the modern society. On the other hand, the increasing demand for mobility is one of the most destructive factors for the urban environment. In particular the increasing car traffic is responsible for extensive energy consumption, produces an enormous amount of carbon dioxide, blocks the urban space and generates traffic jams on daily bases.

This session will focus on sustainable solutions for the increasing mobility demand in cities. In this framework advanced systems for mass transportation will be discussed as well as alternatives for the individual mobility demand like hybrid and electric based transportation systems and smart traffic systems. On the other hand, also approaches to reduce the mobility demands by high density developments and smart location choices will be investigated.

Keywords: smart traffic systems, public transport, electric network, urban network, urban nodes, high density.

F. Planning and new approaches to urban governance

As the nature of sustainability issues becomes more complex, the discourse is gradually shifting away from the mere application of technologies, methods and strategies, to the exploration of good governance such that the processes of decision-making and goal setting at city and national levels can be scaled up to account for the new priorities. Good governance related to sustainability would comprise appropriate mechanisms, processes, and institutions through which citizens and groups can articulate their interests, mediate their differences, and exercise their legal rights and obligations in the related areas, and would largely involve interaction between formal institutions and those of civil society.

This session will discuss the following questions: What new or enhanced forms of governance are needed to support sustainable development? With an ever expanding international environmental law and policy making regime, how can local institutional machinery be strengthened and better coordinated to achieve sustainability goals? How do governments and organizations draw in key stakeholders in urban planning processes, and strengthen social and political will? What targets and strategies for reform can be established to allow a clear transition to sustainability, in a form that is both, open, adaptive and accountable, allowing for regular review and assessment? How do we transcend political or sectoral conflicts and vested interests to enable multi-stakeholder participation and partnerships to be established in decision-making and implementation? Are there good lessons we can draw upon to encourage and facilitate wider public awareness, education (both formal and informal) and capacity building to help empower individuals and communities to take direct action towards sustainable development and environmental protection?

Key words: institutions, reform, governance, stakeholders’ participation

G. Creative cities and 'green economies'

The economic shifts that began to emerge in the late 80s have led to what is currently called the “knowledge economy”, the defining paradigm as to how we live and work in the 21st century. The trends of globalization and the knowledge economy implies new strategic roles for cities and places, and most importantly, put people back at the centre of the urban agenda and has social sustainability as its prime focus. It has been argued that the environmental agenda that generally drives sustainability processes is often much removed from its Brundtland origins, where the need for development is to ensure greater social sustainability while acknowledging the limitations of the environmental context, so that “(c)ities should be places where interaction and participation of citizens enable them to meet their own needs and aspirations, and those of the larger community, as well as allowing future generations to meet theirs.”

A special issue in this framework is the development of 'green industries' and 'green economies'. Many cities already are experimenting successfully by generating the conditions for and supporting the development of green industries that are generating products and services for the increasing market of sustainability. The range reaches from sustainable industrial products via urban agriculture to special services for a harmonious society. In this way the increasing demands of sustainability create their own (green) economy.

This session will discuss social sustainability and urban participation in the making of sustainable cities, the revitalization of urban districts through cultural regeneration and the infusion of creative precincts, as well as people-centred sustainability initiatives and public space. Also concepts and approaches for a new (green) economy will be elaborated.

Keywords: social and cultural strategies for sustainability, creative city, urban regeneration, community development, public space, green industries, green economy, urban agriculture

H. Social justice and sustainable society

Urbanization is a complex morphological, sociological, cultural, ecological, economical, political, and ideological layering processes along history, manifested into articulation and inhabitation of urban forms and spaces. Often the soft aspects of the city or the intangible urbanism are left out from the discussions on urban sustainability, or discussed as separate entity. Many urbanized societies have demonstrated their ability in preserving their identity and demonstrating their resilience amidst changes, disasters, adversities, and crisis.

This session aims to discuss the rationales and local wisdoms, which enable the urban communities to retain and to sustain their distinctiveness and to survive many trials and tribulations, with special attention is directed towards the informal or community sectors, urban enclaves (which often mislabeled as slums or squatters), traditional/historic urban cores, and rural-urban exchanges. In this session too we would like to learn about the challenges and difficulties faced by the urbanized society, also to find out new possibilities and to rediscover tested wisdoms, in our efforts in understanding and in crafting a more humane-holistic-sustainable city.

informal sector, urban community, community based development, kampong, slums and squatters, historic urban core, cultural sustainability, social-economic resilience, local wisdom, social justice

I. The Asian City

Asia is the urban centre of the world. While levels of urbanization are higher in Europe or North America, for example, almost as many people live in urban areas in Asia as in the rest of the world combined, and the current total is projected to double over the course of the next generation. More than half of the world’s most populous cities and urban regions are found in Asia. Equally importantly, Asia is a site of new and emerging urban forms, phenomena and experiences, but also the site of problems of sustainable urban development.

This session provides space for empirical investigation of emergent urbanisms that may be deemed sustainable in the Asian city, but also takes regional urban diversity as a resource for wider theorization. This forum is particularly interested in forms of relational, comparative research that de-centre the West as the putative leading edge of innovation and influence. Avenues for such work include (but are not limited to): intra-Asian urban emulation; tropical sustainability and urban lifestyles; natural disasters and urban resilience; cultures of urban heritage; and self-organizing urbanisms.

Keywords: Asian urban lifestyles, resilient communities, cultural sustainability, Asian spaces and continuity, emergent Asian urbanisms

J. Design projects for the sustainable city

This session is different from the others. It will not focus on the presentation of scientific papers, but on the presentation and discussion of design proposals for sustainable urban projects. In this framework architects and urban designers, students and professionals are asked to submit design concepts that are able to contribute to a more sustainable urban environment, urban economy and urban society. The projects will be assessed and selected by a special jury.

Submissions of abstracts for project presentations should include an image file representative of the project, not exceeding 1 MB in size.

Keywords: Sustainable housing, public space, urban hubs, sustainable mobility, energy saving, water fronts and water recycling, social integration

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