Future Cities Report places universities and public participation at the heart of devolution

Copies of the report can be downloaded for free from www.newcastlecityfutures.org

A prosperous future for cities depends on intellectual leadership from universities and full participation from local people, according to a new Foresight report from academics in Newcastle. The Newcastle City Futures 2065 Report published on Friday 17th July sets out a fresh methodology for engaging urban communities on long term trends.

Mark Tewdwr-Jones, Professor of Town Planning at Newcastle University and one of the report’s authors, said: “Devolution must involve the public if cities are to respond successfully to global challenges. Universities should co-ordinate city-wide conversations that encourage that participation. People think about the future for their city on the basis of their ideas about its past. We need participation that deals with the past, present and future of cities if we are to make the most of devolution.”

The report explores the future of cities over the next 50 years by looking in detail at the prospects for Newcastle as a test bed for this new methodology.

The research team started out with a comprehensive academic review. They built on that with stakeholder interviews and a survey of experts using Delphi methodology – a systematic forecasting method that finds common ground amongst experts. This process built a sound academic platform and established the key themes to be discussed with people across the city.

The team created a pop-up exhibition and 24 public forum events, engaged more than 2,500 people and generated more than 100 comment cards and ideas for the future development of Newcastle. This fed into three alternative scenarios for the long term future of the city.

The methodology is transferable, and could easily be adopted by the English cities due to receive new powers this year and wishing to mobilise their universities to work with partners in reflecting on and shaping the future of the city.

The report points to future developments for Newcastle including:

  • New trade and transport routes to Scandinavian cities and ports.
  • New jobs in low carbon technology.
  • Biomedical advances in the city’s research hospitals linked to the needs of an ageing society in Newcastle.
  • Expanding the Tyne and Wear metro and reopening disused rail lines, as part of a fully integrated public transport system with prominent role for cycling and walking.
  • Making citizens in Newcastle part of the city’s forward looking initiatives, trialling new technological developments including smart metering for energy as well as electric vehicles.

Many of these ideas fed into one of the scenarios for the future developed by the team – namely as a test bed for assessing the opportunities provided by new technologies and ways of working involving business, universities, public authorities and citizens that address the major future societal challenges

Report author John Goddard, Emeritus Professor of Regional Development Studies at Newcastle University, said: “The exercise showed that if universities provide the intellectual platform, people themselves come up with brilliant creative ideas. We believe innovation can be a discipline practiced by many, rather than an art mastered by few. ”

Roy Sandbach, Chair of the North East LEP Innovation Board, was one of the contributors to the programme. He added: “The North East has a fine community of entrepreneurial minds. When we pull together, as we have in this partnership, we can be pace setters for cities and regions across England and the world. I hope cities adopting devolved powers in the coming months will use this report as a blueprint for pulling together a whole city to shape a vision of the future.”

The report says:

– At a time when citizens in cities can often feel remote from policy-making, there is a need for more coherent and consistent approaches to generating engagement and participation across entire urban areas.

– Municipal Government has to find new ways to engage and communicate with all sections of the electorate.

– Strategic spatial planning in our largest cities is weaker than in the past, and has largely been replaced by incremental project-by-project decision making.

The report also identifies six related challenges that lie ahead in governing the long term future of urban areas. These are:

– gauging the assets of cities and the relationships between cities and infrastructure;

– identifying and addressing major gaps in our knowledge of future economic, technological, environmental and social drivers;

– encouraging the transfer and sharing of existing data sets and intelligence relating to the same spatial area but held by disparate agencies;

– synthesizing data sets with mapping exercises and applying policy scenarios through infrastructure and cities themes;

– undertaking systems thinking and scenario development in the city with key agencies responsible for service provision, investment and regulation; and

– disseminating knowledge, intelligence and data to citizens as new approaches and findings are made, and using new technologies in communicating those ideas.

The project’s public engagement in Newcastle was funded by Newcastle University but supported by 21 other partners and received the support of over 50 organisations from all sectors.

Sir Alan Wilson, Chair of the national Foresight Future of Cities programme, added: “The task of looking 50 years ahead is seriously challenging. Our understanding of cities – the science – provides a foundation, but there are too many uncertainties to provide forecasts. What can be done is to broaden the foundation to encompass aspirations for the future and then combine these with plausible trends to generate a number of scenarios. This process has been achieved brilliantly in Newcastle. This report offers an excellent account of the baseline – where we are now and the challenges – and in highly innovative ways proceeds to identify what is important for the future as a basis for scenario development.

“The exhibition was an outstanding achievement which raised the awareness of the challenges to a wider community and was the basis for futures’ thinking . Three detailed scenarios have emerged from this process the first of which is essentially trend-based, the other two representing different kinds of aspirations based on alternative assumptions about the balance of economic development across the UK. What emerges is the beginnings of a route map to meet the challenges shown in the trends scenario to generate an exciting and prosperous future for the city and its’ region. These conclusions, and the engaging way in which they have been generated, represent a tremendous achievement”.

The Newcastle City Futures Report has also led to a new partnership: The City Futures Development Group, a collaborative arrangement between universities and Newcastle City Council, the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (NELEP), and other policy organisations. This partnership is a first in Newcastle but also is innovative for northern core cities. Its purpose is to provide a one-stop shop for academia, local government and industry to discuss new areas of research that could be of benefit to the city.