How can our cities become future-fit?

05 August 2013

A new type of city offering prosperity for its citizens and success for business is at the heart of a new book co-authored by Oxford Martin School senior research fellow Dr Mick Blowfield.

In Turnaround Challenge, co-written with Leo Johnson, he sets out the case for "a new form of industrial economy" fit to meet the social, economic, environmental and governance challenges confronting society.

The book is the result of a long-term collaboration between academia and the private sector; Blowfield is a Principal Investigator of the Oxford Martin Programme on Resource Stewardship, while Johnson, brother of London Mayor Boris Johnson, is a senior private sector figure.

Drawing from a number of fields of research - including economics, climatology, anthropology, sociology and history – Turnaround Challenge looks at the world business will occupy in the not too distant future.

It demonstrates how business can meet the new challenges, with the authors considering new business models, the role of established companies, and the role of an entrepreneurial state.

Aimed at academics, researchers, students, managers, consultants and policy-makers, Turnaround Challenge sets out three emerging types of future city: Petropolis, Cyburbia and the Distributed City.

Petropolis is a an increasingly less resilient city, locked into the century-old technologies of fossil fuel-driven mass production, with rising inequality, credit-fuelled consumption, off-shored jobs, climate volatility, and unsustainable household and national debt.

Cyburbia is the latest manifestation of science fiction’s city without pain, but one inhabited by voice-activated popcorn dispensers, running shoes with built-in Twitter feeds, and sensor-packed and censoring glass towers that risk reducing their citizens to digital factors of production in the supply chain of big data.

In the Distributed City, technology is deployed with the intent to connect us not virtually but physically - from Nairobi's network of innovation spaces to Hamburg's participatory budgeting experiments, from Barcelona's network for micro-manufacturing to Austin's distributed smart grid.

Dr Blowfield said: “These are the cities of society's future, and they have very different implications for business success, and for how we tackle global megatrends. We present the DNA of the winners of the future - high growth and disruptive businesses - emerging from the bottom up, and with the capacity to tackle society’s biggest challenges head on.

“There are long hard miles to be covered before successful transformation happens, but there is evidence from history and current experience that suggests change can happen. Moreover, the transformation could be very good for business as well as for wider society. But it requires significant changes to happen, and to start happening now."