The Future Cities project

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Are cities good for us?


Friday 26 September, 18.30 until 20.30, Barbican Centre, Silk Street, London EC2Y 8DS

Do the rise of mega-cities represent a symbol of hope and opportunity for billions around the world, or a grim vision of a congested and fragmented urban dystopia? Does rapid urbanisation inevitably mean a Dickensian future or can innovation provide radical solutions to the problems of development? Can the city maintain its lure in the twenty-first century? SPEAKERS: Leo Hollis (Author, Cities Are Good For You), Alastair Donald (associate director, Future Cities Project); Christian Wolmar (writer, broadcaster). Chair: David Bowden (co-ordinator, UK Battle Satellites)

This is a BATTLE OF IDEAS 2014 Satellie Event, and part of the Barbican’s City Visions series of films, talks and debates


Battle of Ideas 2014


Saturday 18 & Sunday 19 October, 2014, Barbican Centre, Silk Street, London EC2Y 8DS

Cities in the machine age: all systems, no soul?

This session asks whether today’s smart cities follow in the footsteps of these historical radical city visions or whether they lack both radicalism and vision. Do smart cities represent the real or the virtual, the global or the local, the urbane or the mundane?  SPEAKERS: Alastair Donald (associate director, Future Cities Project); Tia Kansara (founder & director, Kansara Hackney Ltd); Dr Paul Zanelli (chief technical officer, Transport Systems Catapult); Lean Doody (Arup). Chair: Austin Williams (associate professor, Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University)

From bullet trains to driverless cars: where is transport going?

Can innovative new technologies allow us to have it all – cheap, fast, low-carbon, speedy, convenient travel for everyone? Or is the novelty of travel simply wearing off; have we fallen out of love with the daily commute, the railway buffet car or the crowded departure lounge?  SPEAKERS: Kevin McCullagh (founder, Plan); Peter Stevens ((designer, McLaren F1 road car, 1999 Le Mans-winning BMW, Lotus Elan, Jaguar’s XJR-15); Graham Stringer, (Labour MP for Blackley and Broughton. Chair: Austin Williams (associate professor, Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University)

What is good architecture?

A few years ago, Ruth Reed, the then president of the RIBA, claimed that ‘good architecture has its price but bad architecture – or no architecture at all – will cost you more’.  But in the midst of a global economic recession, is architecture – good or bad – really necessary? This debate will ask the panel to try to answer these questions and to give its considered opinion about what constitutes ‘good’ architecture, yesterday, today and forever.  SPEAKERS: Rachel Armstrong (professor of experimental architecture, University of Newcastle); Fred Manson (associate director, Heatherwick studio); Dr Patrik Schumacher (partner, Zaha Hadid Architects). Chair: Austin Williams (associate professor, Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University)

From Amazon to ebooks: are libraries outdated?

Can we confidently defend libraries without a clear sense of what they are for? Can we look to the historic purpose of libraries to reinvigorate the ideals of the home of ‘free literature and knowledge for all’ without resorting to what Deary described as ‘gush’ and ‘sentimentality’? Have libraries had their day, or can they be saved without sacrificing the books at their heart?  SPEAKERS: Vanda Broughton (professor of library and information studies, graduate tutor, University College London); Alan Gibbons (author, Shadow of the Minotaur; organiser, Campaign for the Book); James Raven (professor of modern history, University of Essex; author, Oxford Illustrated History of the Book [forthcoming]); Alka Sehgal Cuthbert (English teacher; PhD researcher, education, University of Cambridge); Tim Worstall (journalist; senior fellow, Adam Smith Institute; author, 23 Things We Are Telling You About Capitalism). Chair Dr Tiffany Jenkins (sociologist and cultural commentator). Produced by Elisabetta Gasparoni, convenor, Future Cities Readers’ Group

14 November 2012

The triumph of the city?

7 – 9pm, at Q 110 – Die Deutsche Bank der Zukunft in Berlin, Friedrichstraße 181, 10117

‘Cities are the greatest creations of humanity’ argues architect Daniel Libeskind.  However, according to Stefan Heyd, former Chair of the Board of Management, Münchener Rück, ‘Megacities  create risks of new dimensions – megarisks’

So will the 21st century go down in history as the century when the city triumphed? The United Nations has heralded cities as ‘dynamic centres of creativity and culture’ while Harvard academic Edward Glaeser claims they will make us ‘richer, smarter, greener, healthier and happier’. Nevertheless, in the west we often seem unconvinced by such claims. At a time when many believe that ‘small is beautiful’ and call for ‘sustainable’ and ‘appropriate’ growth, megacities and other emerging centres of the east and south are often viewed with apprehension. So do cities and urban development strengthen or weaken our societies? As cities develop, is social exclusion also likely to grow? On the other hand, if cities are the dynamic centres of innovation that many claim them to be, then why are we not building more of them? What role might modern architecture and technology play in the development of the city of the future?

The debate will be in English.  Tickets are FREE but registration required in advance.  For more information, and to register, please call Novo Argumente +49 699 7206 701 or

21 October 2012

The ‘Urban Living’ debates 

Battle of Ideas 2012, 20/21st October

Venue: The Barbican, London

Is London just too big for its boots or is it good for us all to have a city with such global reach as our capital? Should we build it higher? Extend it to the green belt? Preserve it the way it is? Lighten the burden of planning regulation? Let developers have their way?

The Future Cities project is a partner of  the Institute of Ideas for Battle of Ideas 2012, supporting six important debates about the present and the future of city life.

STRAND CONVENOR: Alastair Donald. Associate Director, Future Cities Project.

8.00am to 9.00am: Battle of Ideas Urban Jog 

Urban Jogs arrives at the Barbican and the Battle of Ideas! Come and join a jog tour of the Barbican’s urban hinterland combined with the story of the Barbican’s development. with runner and personal trainer Ade Aboaba and urbanist Michael Owens.

9.30am to 10.15am: Everyone a runner? 

When Mo Farah won his gold medals at the Olympics he became a national hero, but will his triumph inspire Britain’s amateur runners to raise their game? No city is complete without a long-distance event, but most pavement-pounders seem focused on individual achievements, with little concern for winning races or medals. Does the non- competitive character of most of today’s runners make modern running a hobby rather than a proper sport?

Speakers: Professor Richard Bailey international authority on role of sport, research consultant for Nike Inc; Dan Travis director, Brighton Salon; tennis coach; author In Defence of Competitive Sport; Alexandra Heminsley books editor, Elle UK magazine; author, Running Like a Girl (forthcoming); Chair: Hilary Salt founder, First Actuarial plc.

10.30am to 12.00pm:  Urban Hubris and The Great Inequality Debate

London’s Shard, the tallest building in the European Union, has been condemned as embodying the ‘obscene wealth’ of the City of London. So should the City be dethroned in favour of more even development of our urban areas, or is it the guarantor of development in the regions? Does London risk becoming better known as a sterile business hub rather than a vibrant, cosmopolitan city? Does it matter if tall buildings symbolise disparities of wealth, or does development benefit all of us?

Speakers: Sunder Katwala director, British Future; former general secretary, Fabian Society; Rob Killick co-founder and CEO, cScape;  Anna Minton writer and journalist; author, Ground Control: fear and happiness in the 21st century city; Martin Earnshaw co-editor Future of Community; chair, IoI Social Policy Forum. Chair: Alastair Donald urban designer; researcher; co-editor The Lure of the city: from slums to suburbs

12.15pm to 1.15pm:   From the Colosseum to Wembley: crowd watching through the ages

The behaviour of crowds has often been a matter of moral and political concern. Some look at modern football crowds exchanging foul-mouthed banter with the same disdain as we might regard the bloodthirsty crowds cheering on the gladiators in Ancient Rome. But are the seething multitudes really such a problem? Surely lively, sometimes raucous gatherings in public spaces are a sign of a healthy and vibrant social life. Do we need stricter regulation of how people behave in large groups, or should crowds be left to police themselves?

Speakers: Dr Shirley Dent head of communications, PhonepayPlus; co-author, Radical Blake; Dr John Drury senior lecturer, social psychology, University of Sussex; co-editor, Crowds in the 21st century: perspectives from contemporary social science (forthcoming); Kevin Rooney head of social science, Queens’ School, Bushey; founder, Fans for Freedom. Chair: Geoff Kidder director, membership and events, Institute of Ideas; convenor, IoI Book Club

3.15pm to 4.45pm: To build or not to build?

From Boris Island to the Dale Farm gypsies, no project seems too big or small to fall foul of the UK’s notoriously stringent planning laws. The government recently announced its intention to liberalise these rules to promote new builds, but is there sufficient political will? By some estimates, five million people are waiting on housing registers, but rather than building new homes, many professionals favour forcing landlords to sell empty properties, banning second homes or even curbing population growth. What are the smart ways to deliver good urban development? Is the solution better top-down planning, more bottom-up planning, or what?

Speakers: Professor Kelvin Campbell Urban Initiatives; author, Massive Small: the operating system for smart urbanism; Christine Murray editor, The Architects’ Journal; Daniel Moylan chairman, London Legacy Development Corporation, Conservative councillor; Penny Lewis Scott Sutherland School of Architecture; co-founder, AE Foundation; Chair: Michael Owens director, Global Cities; member, editorial board, Local Economy   

5.00pm to 6.15pm: Preservation or modernisation?

Traditionally, the preservation of buildings reflected a judgement that they were of architectural, historic or cultural value. In recent years, there has been a parallel trend: reflecting a fear that globalisation is undermining our sense of place, many European cities are celebrating ‘urban memory’ as an end in itself. Where once architects and urbanists relished erasing the past to create the future, now the past is romanticised. For example, critics of Clone Towns yearn for the independent shops and boutiques of old. Why has urban memory become such a big deal, and who should decide what is worth keeping?

Speakers: Dr Tim Edensor reader in cultural geography, Manchester Metropolitan University; Jeremy Musson writer, historic buildings consultant; former architectural editor, Country Life; Luis T. Pereira founding partner, [A] ainda arquitectura architecture studio, Porto; Alastair Donald urban designer; researcher; co-editor The Lure of the city: from slums to suburbs. Chair: Dr Tiffany Jenkins sociologist and cultural commentator; arts and society director, Institute of Ideas

6.30pm to 7.30pm: Looking back today

The term ‘the Sixties and Seventies’ conjures a wealth of defining images: from iconic portraits of Bob Dylan, Martin Luther King and Che Guevara through to devastating images of the horrors of Vietnam and Cambodia. As the current Barbican exhibition Everything Was Moving shows, a new generation of photographers documenting a changing world were ‘driven to understand that world, as well as their place in it’. Does our fascination with the golden age of the Sixties and Seventies reveal a desire to capture some of the period’s radical spirit, or more of a conservative retreat into nostalgia?

Speakers: Sarah E James lecturer, history of art, University College London; author, Common Ground: photography in Germany during the Cold War (forthcoming); Stephen Bull artist; author, Photography; lecturer, University for the Creative Arts, Farnham;  Pauline Hadaway director, Belfast Exposed, gallery of contemporary photography. Chair: Dr Tiffany Jenkins sociologist and cultural commentator; arts and society director, Institute of Ideas.

For full details of all debates and speakers, see Urban Strand at Battle of Ideas 

26 October 2012

Bookshop Barnie at the Battle of Ideas

Martin Jacques on ‘When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order’ (Penguin Books)

Martin Jacques, visiting professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing suggests that this is China’s century. Indeed, its economic performance seems to vindicate his analysis. But then again, between 1960 and 1972, the Greek economy grew at 8% p.a. (more than China’s projections for 2011-2015). Come and argue about the hype and the reality.

This is event is free. To reserve a place email us at

18-19 October 2012

Masterplanning the Future

Venue: Suzhou, China

This two-day international conference in Architecture & Urban Design will be held at XJTLU, Suzhou and combines a public forum and academic conference to explore the lessons and ambitions of new and existing cities in the West and East and across the world.

An Open Forum, a major international debate to discuss the state of cities, from the West to the East, will consist of chaired panel debates and presentations led by architects, designers and commentators (including geographers, engineers, urban designers, as well as cultural commentators and leading figures representing a mix of local, national and global interests).  An Academic Conference Strand ‘Modernism in Architecture and Urbanism’ draws together leading voices in academia to examine more specific aspects of cross-boundary urban design, theory, practice and history.

For further information contact Austin Williams



Previous events

City2.0: Forging a new urban outlook

‘Open source cities’; ‘smart cities’; ‘intelligent cities’. The choice of prefix may change, but enthusiasts seem increasingly convinced that digital technologies are transforming not only the nature of communication, but also the way we design, build, use, and interact within cities. On awarding the TED 2012 prize to The City 2.0, the organisers disputed the idea that this city of the future was a ‘sterile utopian dream’. Rather, they argued, we are seeing a real-world upgrade, tapping into humanity’s collective wisdom to create places of ‘beauty, wonder, excitement, inclusion, diversity, life.’

This discussion explores the ideas and the reality of City 2.0. Can new technologies revive sociability and civic engagement and help create ‘networked publics’ organised around collective goals or issues? Will innovations lead us away from top-down or bottom-up and to a new, more democratic form of peer to peer interaction? Cities have often been celebrated for their anonymity and the ability to bring together strangers. Do social media merely relocate these opportunities to cyberspace – or is crowdsourcing a less than adequate replacement for crowds? How should we view the prospect of City 2.0?


Alastair Donald, Associate Director, Future Cities Project

Mindy Gofton, Head of Search I-COM

Martin Bryant, Managing Editor at The Next Web,

Lisa Raynes, Managing Director of Raynes Architecture

Simon Belt, Manchester Salon (Chair)


Monday 18 June, 6:45pm Organised by Manchester Salon and is part of the RIBA’s Love Architecture Festival 2012.

Hosted by Manchester Craft & Design Centre