New urban purpose: Q&A with Lasse Jonasson

Our upcoming SCENARIO report ‘New urban purpose’ will be launched at an open webinar on May 18th at 3PM CET. We have asked co-author and presenter Lasse Jonasson to give us a taste of what the report has to offer.

What makes this report different from other reports about the futures of cities?

To me, it seems that the overall expectation in society is that urbanisation will continue forever. But what drives us toward cities when, at least in the Western World, production has moved out of urban areas and knowledge workers are able to work from home? As we see it, liveability is going to be the key driver in the future, both in terms of overall health of urban populations but also in terms of their social and mental wellbeing, as well as access to a broad offer of services and experiences.

Another core question we ask is whether it will be possibly to create a regenerative city and what it would take. Since no one has been able to live up to the SDGs it might seem crazy to start looking beyond an agenda revolving around sustainability. But why shouldn’t we aim higher? We can’t afford sustainability and net-zero thinking to be the end goal, and we foresee an increasing focus on this in the years to come. The argument is that we need to get away from chasing reduction of existing bad habits and instead start looking at proactively creating healthy and regenerative ecosystems for the long-term.

Who is the report for?

Well, anyone interested in the future of cities. We want to challenge people’s thinking and provide some alternative perspectives and new approaches that might inspire people to act differently. We also see this as a call to everyone out there who want to join us in exploring how we can create better urban futures for everyone and investigate what a regenerative city would look like through our Regenerative Pathfinder tracks. To make systemic change, stakeholders from every part of the system must come together – and that is the platform, we want to build.

The area of urban development is crowded with many actors vying for a place at the table. What can CIFS bring to the discussion?

First of all, we are an independent institution, free from political bias. This means that we have a neutral platform from which to start discussions. We have a lot of experience in facilitating multi-stakeholder processes, for example recently within health and climate. We see a need for us to take the same role within urban futures.

Secondly, we speak from the future’s perspective. All too often, dialogues about the future become very unstructured and hypothetical, because everyone has their own agenda and perspective. In our approach, we always go a long way to ensure everyone gets a shared understanding of key societal developments, yet still make sure that we leverage the knowledge of the experts within each field.

Thirdly, as an institution, we have a holistic, systems-focused perspective. When you talk of mobility, you can’t just talk about the technological development of autonomous vehicles (AVs). Their actual implementation in our societies depends on so many other factors and all of them are important to understand the future of autonomous vehicles. For instance, can we develop the right infrastructure to complement the AVs? What will demographic changes and consumer demands mean for the rollout? What will ownership of the AVs look like? And what will be the implications on a broader societal level – it is not just about convenience when driving, it is about people will develop new relations to the concept of physical distance affecting where we want to live, where we want to work and how new logistic systems will affect how we trade. All this feed into the future of AVs and not just whether the technology is mature enough.

What is the reason for the Institute to focus on Urban Futures?

In the last few years, we have experienced an increasing need for providing future perspectives into projects centred around cities, especially within the intersection of mobility, retail, smart city technology and real estate. The increased focus on cities led us to move to BLOX and to develop the Urban Futures-initiative since last Fall. Now, with the release of the report, we are looking forward to joining forces with other urban actors to shape our future cities.

How was the process of writing the report?

As always here at CIFS, we work in a very collaborative way, trying to leverage our multidisciplinary staff as much as possible. This also meant that we had contributions from all employees – from interns to associated partners. As with all our processes, we like to start in a very explorative way and home in on the key developments and implications in the given area. I think it has been a fun process to be part of, to really be able to dive into the broad field of ‘cities’. As a concept, they are highly complex and really all parts of society are heavily affected by what is going on in cities, from governance decision-making to production to food supply chains.

Thank you, Lasse!