Mistra Urban Futures Conference 2018, Cape Town

View of Cape Town

‘Comparative Co-production’ was the theme of the 2018 Mistra Urban Futures conference in Cape Town earlier this month, which was attended by members of the Urban Institute’s Realising Just Cities team.


Opening drinks at the Two Oceans Aquarium presented the unusual sight of a welcome address being given by Professor David Simon, whilst Sand Tiger sharks drifted by just above his head. The rest of the week was equally stimulating, packed with a mixture of varied talks, roundtables and site visits which sparked a number of fascinating discussions and ideas for future collaborative work.


Nick Taylor Buck and Charlie Spring took part in the ‘Urban food security and value chain’ sessions throughout the week, representing their Self-organising Action for Food Equity (SAFE) project, which aims to evaluate and share insights on how expertise and information in our urban food systems is collected, presented and shared using ‘digital infrastructure’. The sessions were designed to allow academics and practitioners to share views on contentious urban food issues. The various international researchers within the Realising Just Cities network gave updates on mutual work and identified commonalities/differences and future ways of working and writing together. As such it was a useful platform for dissenting views to emerge and be discussed, as well as making new connections and receiving feedback. As part of this programme Charlie and Nick were panellists in a facilitated discussion between different urban thinkers; two officials, two “Southern” urban food researchers and two “Northern” urban food researchers, where comparative perspectives on how our different cities or regions are working at the policy/practice interface on these issues were provided. For more on this and the site visit to the Philippi Horticultural Area, see our blog.


Victoria Habermehl, Beth Perry and Nazem Tahvilzadeh organised a roundtable as part of the Participatory Cities project which brought together different perspectives and experiences from Cape Town of participatory planning in order to reflect on its success, challenges, opportunities and practices. Planning involves balancing complex tensions and interests, and there are often disagreements over what is prioritised in these plans. This session asked: how are these terms set and what do they exclude? Whose knowledge matters, is valued and reproduced in planning, under conditions of scarce resources? What does the organisation, operation and structures of the making of plans demonstrate about inclusive values in practice? What processes of progressive planning are most common, and how can small pockets of inspirational practice be identified and replicated? How are different expertise valued and included in participatory planning, and what do they challenge? Participants included Vanessa Watson, University of Cape Town; Adi Kumar, Development Action Group Cape Town; Olwethu Jack, Ubuntu Growing Minds, Cape Town; representatives from South Africa Slum Dwellers International Alliance, and Hannah Wadman, Malmö City Planning Office, Malmö. This proved a highly popular session within the conference.


Kristina Diprose and Nick Taylor Buck took part in several sessions on Comparative Urban Perspectives around Implementing the New Urban Agenda and The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) throughout the week. These involved Mistra SDG project researchers and city officials from partner cities in Cape Town, Gothenburg, Kisumu, Malmö and Shimla. This programme of activities was designed to facilitate knowledge-sharing between city partners that have been working remotely for a number of months, for cities to compare their experiences and learning from working with the SDGs, particular challenges such as informality (which we explored in a briefing from a Cape Town urban planner and site visit to Dunoon township), and to identify opportunities for strengthening cross-city collaboration both across our network of seven cities and by pairing cities with particular overlaps in their work. Kristina presented on the pilot work on the SDGs in Sheffield in an internal cross-city learning workshop and at a knowledge exchange event with the City of Cape Town with around 50 attendees from various local government departments. Kristina also took part in a panel discussion on the SDGs and integrated urban governance. Nick facilitated the final cross-city learning workshop, and through these activities we were able to gain a much more in-depth understanding of how our partner cities are working with the SDGs, what approaches they are using, the challenges and opportunities they face, and particular ways that we might work together going forward; as well as highlighting our ongoing work with Sheffield City Council on these issues.


Tim May had three engagements during the week. First, he organised a workshop as part of the Jam and Justice project with researchers and academics at the University of Cape Town, focussing on the challenges and issues in boundary work necessitated in co-production projects. He then took the stage in a book launch to promote two pivotal books published in 2017/2018: Cities and the Knowledge Economy (Routledge) and Reflexivity: The Essential Guide (Sage).  Finally, he actively participated in a workshop led by Zarina Patel on the challenges and issues of doing engaged PhD research. This was attended by Urban Institute researchers, Charlie Spring, Ryan Bellinson and Jenny Patient. This provided a rare space to reflect and discuss reflexivity and the challenges of doing co-production with peers.


As part of the collaboration between researchers in Sheffield and Gothenburg on “Participatory Cities”, Bert Russell and Beth Perry organised a workshop on the ‘meaningful participation’, with contributions from researchers at the University of Sheffield and Chalmers, along with presentations from strategic policy officers at the Greater Manchester Combined Authority. The collaboration is intended to understand how elite decision-makers - both elected and non-elected officials at the municipal level - understand the purpose, value and meaning of citizen participation. Taking place at a mid-point in the research, the workshop was far more than an opportunity for sharing the research thus far – it presented a critical moment to build on the insights from Greater Manchester and Gothenburg in a more international context and shape the ongoing research.  It was also significant to have two representatives from the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (David Rogerson and Nick Fairclough) and one representative from Jam and Justice’s Action Research Collective (Katie Finney) participate in the workshop and learn more about the Mistra Urban Futures network.


Later in the conference, Beth Perry participated in a roundtable discussion on Cultural Heritage and Just Cities, which explored the role of culture in promoting more sustainable, accessible and just cities. Reflections on the collaborative and comparative work across different city contexts (Cape Town, Kisumu, Sheffield, and Gothenburg) were given, exploring a range of creative processes and practices including cultural mapping and planning, festivals and heritage practices, and artful urbanisms. This also provided the stage for the launch of the Urban Institute’s new British Academy project, ‘Whose Heritage Matters?’ which focusses on understanding the potential and issues in harnessing tangible and intangible cultural heritage for more sustainable livelihoods in Cape Town and Kisumu.


All in all the conference was a great success, and we are looking forward to hosting the 2019 conference in Sheffield and Manchester next October.