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Welcome to the Collaboratorium side of the Future-wise Cities theme at the Manchester Urban Institute:

(This is a holding page while the phase 2 program is finalized)


Cities are the hubs and crucibles of change, both local and global. The notion of a city is also changing – not only physical areas on the map, but many other kinds of reality – peri-urban metro-scapes, regional constellations, or multi-local-global networks.   

There’s also a strong imperative for change and transformation, towards cities of low carbon, social justice and liveable communities. Such changes are generally inter-connected (social, technical, economic, political, cultural). They are complex and dynamic (beyond rational governance or analysis): and they are often controversial (different actors with conflicting agendas).

And at a time of pandemic-induced flux and disruption, there’s a strong case for looking ahead, for exploring the dynamics of complexity and turbulence – so we look for ways to future-proof and ‘Future-wise’ the city

This ‘urban transition / foresight / futures / innovation’ cross-cutting theme explores such dynamics of change: how to understand and analyse, how to manage and plan, how to experiment and learn, how to build capacity and resilience, and how to look ahead and envision viable futures. 

This theme is a networking, synergistic, inter-connecting program, which involves each of the MUI themes, along with others around UOM, MMU and Salford. There is also a multiplicity of global networks, adding value, generating insights and exploring frontiers.



This image shows urban development as a dynamic cycle of ‘panarchy’, with four main phases – (from Deeper City Ch 4) 

  • rapid material growth
  • climax condition leading to instability
  • collapse and crisis
  • regeneration for & by the elite…

coudl there be an alternative?  … this would aim to think ahead, grow in a sustainable way, strengthen its resilience, manage the crisis when things change, regenerate around social justice, and then learn from all that, for the next cycle….


Current & recent events




Local-wise – 30th March 2023:  launch of the innovative project ‘Urban participatory research & knowledge loops’ – with local demonstration exploring how useful knowledge is shared & co-produced;


towards a ‘collective urban intelligence’ in planning and environmental management

February 8, 2023, 12:00 pm – 1:30 pm

Cities are the hubs of transformations such as low carbon, social justice and economic resilience. Such changes are generally inter-connected (social, technical, economic, political, cultural): complex and dynamic (beyond simplistic solutions): and often controversial (multiple actors with conflicting agendas). Details on Future cities seminar – Joe Ravetz – 08-02-23 – also the recording



World Planning Schools Congress:  31st Aug 2023: ‘Breakfast with monsters’:  ‘how to use the synergistic toolkit for resilience in territories and ecosystems’

Planning Research Conference 2022, 6th Sept 2023, University of Manchester UK: Round table on ‘where is the peri-urban’

Workshop on Agroecology: IITM, Chennai, 26th August 2023:


Current projects

These are recent / current projects which are more directly ‘urban’ – for more see the co-productions/

Peri-cene (Peri-urban eco-anthropocene)

From space, the human impact on the planet is seen by the spread of cities, but cities themselves are spreading into much larger areas of sprawl, around and between them. The planet has arguably entered the ‘Peri-cene’ – a new global human-environment system shaped by peri-urbanization. The PERI-CENE project provides the first ever comprehensive assessment of global peri-urbanisation, with its climate impacts, risks and vulnerabilities. For more see


Local-wise (‘Urban participatory research loops & knowledge loops’)

From the local neighbourhood to the city-region, urban policy revolves around the ‘collective urban intelligence’ – the capacity for mutual learning and co-production, for a wider community of interest and further horizons of change. Here the role of knowledge is a key – especially when co-produced by ‘participatory research’ where academics work in close combination with policy, business or civil society.   This pilot Urban-Loop, with funding from the UOM Participatory Research program, has three strands: 

  1. demonstrate by example how this works in practice
  2. provide training materials for other projects
  3. evaluate recent projects in that light.


Looper(‘Learning Loops in the Public Realm’ ) 

We set up 3 experimental zones / ‘Living Labs’ in Brussels, Manchester, and Verona. These are new models for experimental design and innovation at the community level, for practical problems such as air quality, road safety, noise, crime or greenspace. The Looper aims to explore the ‘learning loops’, adapted from Synergistic thinking, which helps to define direct ‘single loop’: strategic ‘double-loop’: and reflexive ‘multi-loop’ learning for the Lab itself. More on – looper-learning-loops-in-the-public-realm/

The follow-on ‘Loop-3’ takes this forward with an interactive platform on


Ground zone / Liveable city toolkit

The Ground Zone project is an Innovation Lab collaboration between the Manchester Urban Institute, and architects Callison RTKL.  In a 4-month pilot we aim to produce:

  • ‘Liveable city pilot’: a case study of ‘social city design’, which demonstrates by example, how physical development can combine with ‘social design’.
  • ‘Liveable city toolkit’ (demo version) – as a practical resource for general use.




Future proofing the pandemonic city

(this was a general deliberation over 6 sessions 2020-21, including the World Planning Day & the UNESCO Futures Literacy conference. Some results are in infectious-futures–  & .

At this moment it’s an open question whether the Covid-19 epidemiology continues to multiply, mutate or re-emerge. It’s also unknown as to how social and economic and political systems interact with this epidemiology.   It’s also a deeper unknown (perhaps ‘unknowable’), whether or not social-economic-political systems could return to the old normal, or transform towards some kind of ‘new normal’, (either positive, negative or mixed).  So on the ‘future-proofing’ track we could map out the combinations, as possible ‘what-if’ scenarios, each with a mix of danger and opportunity – on the right –

  • ‘new panarchy’: (societal transition with pandemic solved). Here we ask, what-if progress is resumed and the pandemic solved, while staying vigilant for the next one? 
  • business as usual’: (societal inertia with pandemic solved).  This looks like the general direction of most official prospectives (OECD, MGI etc)… aiming to reconstruct the familiar game of techno-capitalist production and consumption.
  • ‘real virtuality’: (societal transition with pandemic ongoing): technology is the enabler for hyper-networked- isolationists, a new normal of video-holograms, decontamination suits and sterile pods.
  • ‘lock-down’: (societal inertia with pandemic ongoing) – a techno-dystopia of ‘Blade-runner’ surveillance / disaster capitalism…. where ‘safe zones’ turn into zones of exclusion and oppression.

On such landscapes of possibility, we can overlay other challenges and disruptions – climate change, financial extraction, invasive technology, social divisions, mass psychosis and many others.  The point is here, what can cities do in the face of such challenges, to enhance their resilience and turn crisis into opportunity? 

For a longer story –

Similar themes were debated for World Planning Day Nov 5th –





Scoping the future-wise city

Futures and foresight (the science and art of anticipatory intelligence) has many dimensions – cities and urban / regional  systems  are one.  These are actively explored in the Foresight 3.0 series of  synergistic  conversations/  (e.g. the Foresight 3.0 event – Dec 10th 2020 with the UNESCO Summit on Futures Literacy –

The mapping here shows some of these dimensions – on the left side of the diagram there is a tendency towards a rational-techno-economic mindset, where the future is a framed as a projection of the present, with minor variations.  On the right hand side are more disruptive ideas on the social and cultural side, and where the climate-environment nexus is both a scientific agenda, and an existential dilemma…

Then we can explore some cross-cutting agendas and insights –

  • foresight / futures as transformation & post-colonial challenge
  • foresight / futures as community & network
  • foresight / futures as learning & innovation
  • foresight / futures as management systems
  • foresight / futures as ‘collective anticipatory intelligence’….


JPI-Urban Europe & ‘Driving Urban Transitions’

As part of the preparation of the next European Research and Innovation Framework Programme – Horizon Europe – new mechanisms for public-public partnerships are under development. One of the candidates for such a European partnership is Driving Urban Transitions to a Sustainable Future (DUT).  This partnership builds upon the achievements of JPI Urban Europe and aims to strengthen our joint efforts towards sustainable urban development and bringing knowledge and evidence into action.

For MUI this raises some topical questions: how can academic research best fit with policy innovation?  Behind the typical upbeat project webpage is a frequent story –  lost in translation, slipped deadlines, real-world complexities, policies vs personalities and so on. At a recent SUGI-NEXUS meeting we discussed how the typical £1m grant is rarely enough to follow through – so how challenging would it be to coordinate 15 such grants…

There’s also (imho) a strong case for taking a step back.  It’s important to push for clean green cities:  but equally important to understand the typical urban realities, of social dysfunction, urban disarray, failing systems, extractive finance and corrupted institutions (but not to be downbeat..).

And thirdly there’s a universal problem, of embedding policy-facing research – typically the final deliverables are delivered, and then policy continues to fire-fight / muddle through / resist change (depending on the point of view). Here and there is discussion of alternatives – a multi-helix civic university, or indeed a city-wide multi-versity, where everyone can learn from everyone….



This agenda has taken shape over 5 years with a program of symposia around Europe –



The research framework takes an interesting approach to urban ‘dilemmas’ – the JPI Urban Europe Strategic Research and Innovation Agenda (SRIA) 2.0 identified a set of key dilemmas and ‘wicked issues’ that are crucial for urban transformations. This becomes more clear as we move beyond the (relatively) ordered cities of Europe, into the wider world of planetary urban expansion, slums and sprawls, peaks and troughs in the human habitat.

As for the multi-versity…

EC-JRC ‘industrial transitions’ program

The Industrial Transitions project aims to apply state of the art thinking – transition theory, multi-level perspective & discourse analysis – to the growing challenge of industrial decline and transition…. first as a demonstration, and then as embedded in the vast machinery of the European Cohesion Funds.  

So the first question is – how do such transition theories work, in the real world of  extraction and inequality, paranoia and confusion, inter-generational trauma and simple inertia?

No simple answers – but it seems an opportunity to learn & think into new spaces of possibility.  It seems new ideas on ‘collective economic intelligence’ can help with mapping and design of such ‘deeper complexity’. And the ideas on ‘collective anticipatory intelligence’, or Foresight-3.0 – can help to navigate an endless labyrinth of possibilities.

Then we can revisit practical challenges – for instance, the UK2070 project on ‘levelling up’ in one of the most centralized / uneven states –

This is to be debated at the Local-onomics-3.0 Conversation 26th January