Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Urban Futures

This theme is linked closely to the City of Culture 2021 theme.

Key Questions:

  • How are cities likely to evolve in the 21st century?

  • How should cities evolve and sustain themselves in the 21st century?

  • What role do the arts and humanities have in determining the future of urban life?

Theme summary

The 21st century has witnessed a marked and continuing expansion of the overall urban demographic on a global scale. The space of the city is where the business of ‘life’ takes place now for the majority of the global population. This by no means presents an even picture, there obviously being significant discrepancies of economic prosperity, political power, socio-cultural infrastructure and resource in cities not only across continents but also just within an advanced country such as the UK. So, some cities are subject to greater and more rapid degrees of population expansion than others, and for a variety of complex contextual reasons that cannot easily be generalised. For example, sometimes such growth serves primarily as an indicator of relative prosperity (with mobility occurring as a product of socio-economic privilege), sometimes of relative poverty (with mobility occurring as a product of economic destitution or political aggravation). The assumption of growth itself is arguably bound up with privilege; a relatively prosperous and stable city can choose to maintain its equilibrium as it heads into the future, while ‘exploding’ cities of the developing world typically have far less capacity to exercise such control. Global differences of growth rate are nowhere more marked than in the statistic that nearly a third of current city inhabitants live in slums, of which 90 per cent are in developing countries. That aside, it is fair to assert that all cities are engaged not only in continual processes of adaptation and transformation, however incremental, but also in assessing how they may best operate in order to maintain their viability as places in which people may reside and survive.

The question of urban space use is paramount, then, to understanding and shaping the future of civilisation and in recent times there have been numerous developmental projects related to the implementation of ‘smart technologies’ that carry the promise of planning for functioning, efficient cities. Broadly speaking the majority of initiatives relating to academic research and innovation for urban sustainability involve either the industry-related disciplines of engineering and science (in their respective and various forms) or those of the social sciences. Typically such projects implement the latest data gathering technologies – such as digital sensors – to study how cities operate from various perspectives, and in order to develop radical, problem-solving infrastructural utility projects or make concrete recommendations towards improved, more sustainable cities in the 21st century: how transport networks can be optimised in their efficiency; how to track and bring under control the spread of infectious disease in urban environments; how to prevent urban flooding in increasingly adverse climate conditions.

But what of the arts and humanities? Arguably, via their inherent pre-occupation with critical discourse, creativity and culture, they also have a decisive role to play in shaping, as well as drawing conclusions about the constitution of urban futures as public, habitable and sustainable space. With the city of Coventry itself undergoing regeneration and preparing to become UK City of Culture in 2021, many of these issues and questions currently resonate right on the University of Warwick’s doorstep, as the Coventry Cultural Strategy 2017-2027 outlines.



Get in Touch!

Theme Lead for City of Culture 2021:

Dr Helen Wheatley (Film & TV Studies)

helen dot wheatley at warwick dot ac dot uk

Partner groups:

GRP on "Sustainable Cities"