UTPS 2018 explores dilemmas in the pathways to urban transitioning

Urban Transitions Pathways Symposium (UTPS) 2018 unravelled in Prague on the 4th and 5th of October, aiming to support the development of JPI Urban Europe’s Strategic Research and Innovation Agenda (SRIA 2.0). However, “supporting”sometimes equals challenging and questioning, and so we did. Urban innovators and researchers from around Europe gathered to unpack, repack and reflect on the draft of the SRIA 2.0. Two days later, the symposium had gathered the insights needed to re-write and further sharpen the SRIA to be launched in February next year.

 

The refurbishment of the JPI Urban Europe Strategic Research and Innovation Agenda (SRIA)  goes on, ranging from public consultations, to the Agora event in Bucharest in April 2018 as well as through national consultation processes managed by member states, and now at UTPS 2018 in Prague. A central component and addition to the SRIA 2.0 compared to the current SRIA is the usage and adaptation of a dilemma driven approach in urban research and innovation.

Everyone who is somehow involved in city development knows the wicked issues that emerge from strategic decision making in this context. In a moving, interconnected and hyper-complex environment urban practitioners and strategists oftentimes encounter dilemmas. Thankfully, participants in the process of updating the SRIA 2.0, not least at UTPS in Prague, have contributed with helpful and useful insights on this matter.

During the symposium, after a warm welcome and an introduction to the SRIA 2.0’s purpose and process by Jonas Bylund, the symposium was safely up and running with enthusiast facilitator expert Christine Bell together with the JPI Urban Europe team. The discussion went from academic and critical to creative and explorative and back again. The symposium design helped participants go deeper into the subject, but also to explore how to explain the complexity of urban dilemmas to other key players, keeping our eyes on the pathway towards sustainable and liveable cities. While considering how to make this pathway circular rather than linear, participants literally swam in workshop materials of never-before-seen quantities and selections, prototyping our way forward (and around).

Two main metaphors helped pave the way: folding and using cake boxes, and Parkour. Yes, you read it correctly. Sometimes these two metaphors were adopted quite literally, as the venue of Villa Lanna would represent theorizing and reflecting inside the box, and the following “walkshop” through the streets of Prague helped visualise the outside, the practical reality. The boxes were also, with similar reference, used to demonstrate the complexity of the dilemma as it unfolds, and on the outside the city practitioners are eagerly awaiting solutions and answers to get to work with. Seeing the dilemmas as boxes of inside complexity and the urgent need for progress knocking from the outside, helped unlock certain barriers to the importance of adopting this dilemma driven approach. In addition, the Parkour-like obstacles hiding within the box proved to demand and promote creative, brave and energizing navigation- rather than removal of obstacles. Although, exactly in what way we arrived at this conclusion, remains a secret of the participants present that October afternoon at Villa Lanna.

The SRIA 2.0 acknowledges and embraces the complexity of urban transformation and does not simplify it. Matters like public space, digital transitions, robustness and infrastructures are never zero-sum games, but almost always dilemmas. Sharing good practises are important, but the transformation needed goes beyond. One synergy of all the urban dilemmas we are faced with is not enough- but four is a starting point. How many and which ones will end up in the SRIA? Stay tuned- and keep your eyes, and mind, open for the launch and policy conference in Brussels 12-15 February 2019.

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This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 857160.