Institute for Social Renewal

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Newcastle’s approach to envisioning the future can be blueprint for other cities

The report, entitled Newcastle City Futures 2065, published today (Friday 17 July) says:

- People in cities often feel remote from policy making. This calls for coherent approaches that get citizens involved across entire urban areas. 
- Local Government has to find new ways to engage with all sections of the electorate, and with others who have a stake in the future of the city.
- Incremental project-by-project decision making is no substitute for long term thinking that can help make a city’s vision of the future become real.
- Universities have a key role to play in mobilising their intellectual resources to help organise this  Foresight process

The report also points to future developments for Newcastle including:
- New trade and transport routes to Scandinavian cities and ports.
- New jobs in low carbon technology.
- Biomedical advances in the city’s research hospitals linked to the needs of an ageing society in Newcastle.
- Expanding the Tyne and Wear metro and reopening disused rail lines, as part of a fully integrated public transport system with prominent role for cycling and walking.
- Making citizens in Newcastle part of the city’s forward looking initiatives, trialling new technological developments including smart metering for energy as well as electric vehicles

Many of these ideas fed into one of the scenarios for the future developed by the team – namely as a test bed for assessing the opportunities provided by new technologies and ways of working involving business, universities, public authorities and citizens that address the major future societal challenges.

Mark Tewdwr-Jones, Professor of Town Planning at Newcastle University and one of the report’s authors, explains: “The summer Budget made clear that devolution is a priority for the Government. Some cities will soon be getting new powers over transport, economic development and healthcare.  To get the most from these powers, cities need proper, collaborative participation from the academic community, business, citizens and public authorities in an ongoing debate about the future of the city.  Last summer’s City Futures exhibition, and the linked forums run in the Guildhall by the University, show exactly how this can be done.”

Report  co-author John Goddard, Emeritus Professor of Regional Development Studies at Newcastle University, said: “The exercise showed that a university can play an important civic role in bringing people and organisations together to consider the difficult challenges facing a modern city. Participants in the Foresight process will come up with brilliant creative ideas.  We believe innovation in designing the future shape of the city can be a discipline practiced by many, rather than an art mastered by few.”   

Collaboration 

To inform the report Newcastle University led a comprehensive engagement programme that spanned interests across the North East and across a diverse range of organisations. It involved:

• over 100 experts and stakeholders from diverse disciplines and organisations in the North East of England, from the public, private, community and voluntary sectors.

• over 100 pieces of evidence contained in official reports and academic papers, as well as a wide range of ongoing reviews and studies.

• the opinions of approximately 2500 members of the public at a special City Futures  exhibition and events series, generating over 100 comment cards and ideas alongside feedback in 24 public forum events.

Plans and models showing how past generations had envisioned the future of Newcastle were displayed at the exhibition.  A large aerial photograph of the current city was mounted on a pin board under the heading, ‘What would you protect?’ prompting visitors to identify buildings and places they liked by marking them with coloured pins.  And visitors could write a postcard to accompany the photograph, identifying possible future projects and new developments.

Sir Alan Wilson, Chair of the National Cities Foresight programme, added: “The task of looking 50 years ahead is seriously challenging. Our understanding of cities – the science – provides a foundation, but there are too many uncertainties to provide forecasts. What can be done is to broaden the foundation to encompass aspirations for the future and then combine these with plausible trends to generate a number of scenarios. This process has been achieved brilliantly in Newcastle. This report offers an excellent account of the baseline – where we are now and the challenges – and in highly innovative ways proceeds to identify what is important for the future as a basis for scenario development.

“The exhibition was an outstanding achievement which raised the awareness of the challenges to a wider community and was the basis for futures’ thinking. Three detailed scenarios have emerged from this process the first of which is essentially trend-based, the other two representing different kinds of aspirations based on alternative assumptions about the balance of economic development across the UK. What emerges is the beginnings of a route map to meet the challenges shown in the trends scenario to generate an exciting and prosperous future for the city and its’ region. These conclusions, and the engaging way in which they have been generated, represent a tremendous achievement”.

A competitive North East

Roy Sandbach, Chair of the North East LEP (NELEP) Innovation Board, was one of the participants in the engagement programme. He said:  "To be competitive the North East needs to develop a fully people-centric vision. I love the innovative way that this work uses challenging long-term scenarios to create dialogue on our future. If we can all work together to illustrate a vibrant and exciting vision then maybe we can move beyond the limited perspectives of local debate and think big in our quest for regional power. This way we'll attract innovative thinkers to bring their city-relevant projects to us first, create an example for the world and make people even prouder to live here."

The City Futures report has also led to a new partnership:  The City Futures Development Group is a collaborative arrangement between Newcastle and Northumbria universities and Newcastle City Council, the NELEP, and other policy organisations.  This partnership is a first for Newcastle and for northern core cities as a whole.  Its purpose is to provide a one-stop shop for academia, local government and industry to discuss emerging and new areas of research that could be of benefit to the city.

published on: 17 July 2015