The challenges and opportunities facing our cities

27 March 2015


Reported by Natalie Miazga, BBSRC-Funded CSaP Policy Intern (February 2015 - May 2015)

In a Science Festival event hosted by CSaP, the Cambridge Forum for Sustainability and the Environment, and the Energy@Cambridge Initiative, a panel of speakers brought together the challenges and opportunities presented by rapid growth and urbanisation of cities. This was followed by a second panel of speakers who discussed visions of a future Cambridge.

“Governance is absolutely critical to the success of our cities”

Julian Bowrey emphasised the need of successful future cities to build relationships between the city and the surrounding area, and also between the city and its citizens. He discussed the creation of combined authorities and highlighted the low turnout at local elections, which raised the question as to how local government can connect with citizens.

The challenges and opportunities of new developments were addressed by Kirsten Hensen who used the delivery of East Wick and Sweetwater neighbourhoods on Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park as an example. She identified significant opportunity to harness existing infrastructure but challenges to connect people from older surrounding communities need to be overcome.

“We are living in future cities now and we need to start now to achieve a sustainable future”.

A role for art in generating the interconnectivity and creativity in today’s future cities was emphasised by Rachel Drury. She provided examples of creative solutions to road marking being implemented in the Netherlands, and playable cities such as the 300ft water slide in Bristol.

“How do we hold on to history, heritage, distinctiveness, sense of place and identity, whilst also planning for the future city?”

Dr Ben Cowell discussed how the National Trust could be relevant to future cities, and the role of the National Trust in protecting city heritage. The pop-up opening of Brutalist tower block was provided as an example of how this could be achieved.

Questions were invited from the floor, which opened discussion into how cities can adapt to allow the elderly to continue living at home, and addressed whether future cities have to be technology driven.

In the second session the panel presented visions of a future Cambridge. Michael Soper discussed the planned increase in housing developments and associated infrastructure. He also highlighted the future will include an increasingly ageing population, therefore future developments will need to cater for an older population.

“By 2037, 1 in 7 people will be aged over 75”

Professor Peter Landshoff also focussed on the challenges posed by an ageing population; he described a future where people’s health conditions could be monitored from home and stressed the need for an age friendly community to help combat loneliness.

In 2065, Claire Ruskin hopes that Cambridge businesses will be at the leading edge of innovation and invention. Businesses born and bred in Cambridge will have helped to solve energy problems, alleviate chronic health conditions and advance agricultural technology to produce at least 100% more.

“In 2065 Cambridge remains an enjoyable place to live with strong communities that lead the way in developing ever more sustainable ways of living”

Dr Anna McIvor presented a combined vision of a sustainable Cambridge in 2065 from community vision exercises, which described 85% of East Anglia being self-sufficient. Excellent transport links will reduce the need for individual car ownership, and a wide range of community activities and celebrations take place throughout the year.

Arts and culture was described as a crucial part of a future Cambridge by Jane Wilson. She envisions most of the historical architecture will remain and people will still want to come together for cultural events. Strong collaborative development to expand the city will provide multiple locations with high quality indoor and outdoor civic spaces.

The Q&A session covered how to engage the elderly and encourage them to stay in Cambridge, and also how to improve the quality of life to tempt professionals away from competing cities.

(Banner image from William Murphy via Flickr)

  • 18 March 2015, 6pm

    Connectivity and flows in future cities

    CSaP, the Cambridge Forum for Sustainability and the Environment, and the Energy@Cambridge Initiative are co-hosting a Science Festival evening event where a panel of distinguished speakers will talk about their vision for a sustainable city and how increased connectivity and the flow of resources, people and energy could help to shape cities in the future.