A 4-year international collaborative programme (2016—2019) designed and delivered by the Mistra Urban Futures centre, Realising Just Cities set out to coproduce knowledge and action to support more sustainable urban transformations in different urban contexts in the Global North and South.
Our distinctive approach has been to create platforms for organising knowledge from different urban stakeholders to support sustainable transitions. These Local Interaction Platforms (LIPs) work to co-produce knowledge and action through transdisciplinary and comparative urban research. LIPs are based in Gothenburg, Skane, Kisumu, Cape Town and Sheffield-Manchester.
The Sheffield-Manchester Local Interaction Platform has been hosted by the Urban Institute and Sheffield Methods Institute at the University of Sheffield. This website showcases our work.
We need both knowledge and action to radically rethink how to manage and develop our cities.
We have sought to:
- understand processes of urban transformation which facilitate or constrain cities in becoming more just
- develop social innovations to value and harness multiple forms of expertise to support more sustainable transitions
- improve decision-making and urban management practices to support more accessible, green and fair cities
Rather than simply interpreting the world as it is, we must learn from constant efforts to create a world that could be. This learning should be used to produce tools – knowledge of how we can do things otherwise – that can empower ourselves and others to produce more just, equitable, livable and ecologically sustainable societies.
We understand that we must be responsive and timely, undertaking research that responds to the specific conditions in which we find ourselves. Research must look to be visionary, driven by the necessity to overcome these conditions and challenge the limits of what we consider socially possible.
The Realising Just Cities research programme responded to this double imperative, starting from an analysis of the present but orientated towards producing strategies for ushering in different futures.
Cities in the North of England
The work has been located in Sheffield and Greater Manchester, both post-industrial cities in the north of England, situated 38 miles apart on either side of the Peak District National Park.
Greater Manchester is a city-region of 2.7 million people comprising ten Local Authorities: Manchester, Trafford, Salford, Oldham, Rochdale, Bury, Bolton, Stockport, Wigan and Tameside. Greater Manchester is now seen as the United Kingdom’s largest economy after London, contributing 4.3% of England’s economic output. Sheffield city-region consists of 1.4 million people comprising four Local Authorities: Sheffield, Barnsley, Doncaster, and Rotherham, and contributes just 1.7% of England’s economic output – a significant underperformance given its size.
Both city regions are home to leading universities with thriving student populations, and are ethnically diverse. However, there are also large social disparities within the city regions, being home to some of the wealthiest and most deprived districts in England, a situation exacerbated under austerity and successive reductions to local authority budgets.
Both have strong industrial heritage, but have had to recover from mass unemployment in the 1980s, when Sheffield lost 90% of its steel industry jobs, and both lag behind the England average across many key economic indicators, including productivity. They must also deal with poor and ageing infrastructure whilst trying to capture the potential of growth in the knowledge economy, particularly financial and insurance activities.
Governance arrangements are in flux. Following recent agreements for greater devolution to the English city-regions outside London, Greater Manchester elected its first Mayor, Andy Burnham, in 2017 which strengthened the Greater Manchester Combined Authority's remit to work across local authority boundaries. In Sheffield multiple options remain on the table for how to take advantage of new metropolitan powers, including formalising relationships within the Sheffield city-region or collaborating across the whole Yorkshire region.
Realising just cities
These commonalities and contrasts provided a platform for uni- and translocal work on how to realise more just cities.
Across both city-regions we have asked:
Who makes decisions, whose knowledge matters and who benefits from urban policies and processes?
Work in Greater Manchester has been more advanced, reflecting the roots of the platform within the city-region, but new projects have been planned and developed in Sheffield to share learning across both sites.