In recent decades, we have seen impressive population growth in metropolitan areas all over the globe. Both an increasing world population and strong migration from rural to urban areas have led to a stronger growth than ever. Cities are struggling with the consequences of their success: urban infrastructure is under pressure and planning issues have become more and more complex. It requires urban planning practices to be re-invented, states Professor Karin Pfeffer, who held her inaugural lecture as professor in Infrastructuring Urban Futures on Thursday 14 June.
How can we facilitate well-informed decision making in urban governance and planning processes? That is the key question in the research work of Karin Pfeffer. “I aim to investigate how different urban actors develop, organize and practice access to urban infrastructure - transport, energy, water, sewage, et cetera - and to what extent geo-technologies can improve the planning of and access to urban infrastructures. A particular challenge will be to make visible the tension between socio-spatial inequalities and how resources are allocated in resource-scarce urban environments exposed to the challenges of accelerated urbanization and climate change impacts.”
Major planning challenge
The 21st century is the age of accelerated urbanization. Cities are facing increasing complexities, dynamics and uncertainties; In particular, the cities in emerging economies face a major planning challenge to provide and improve access to basic services. Karin Pfeffer: “Conventional ways of knowledge generation are insufficient for responding to these challenges and relying on only one knowledge type or discipline - be it knowledge from data analytics or knowledge from experts - will not help us address the upcoming infrastructure challenges.”
A multi-, inter- and transdisciplinary research approach can shift our current understanding of the mutual relationship between urban development, infrastructures, services and people. It can inspire urban planners and professionals, but also citizens, to re-invent or re-organize their practices. “This shift in perspective is very much needed to reach the ambitions set out in Sustainable Development Goal 11 and the New Urban Agenda in securing access to urban infrastructures“, says Karin Pfeffer.
A diverse toolkit is necessary to get a grip on all aspects of urban transformations. It requires more than solely knowledge that is captured in documents, standard datasets and digital “smart” urban systems. Karin Pfeffer: “We also need informal knowledge te become visible, for which a longer-term engagement with citizens is necessary, for instance through community meetings, neighborhood safaris, walking interviews, but also digital community platforms and engagement with urban professionals.”
Building upon a firm and broad knowledge base, different strategies may help coming up with viable and sustainable solutions. By triggering creativity, prototyping within an urban living lab setting and new forms of co-creation, for example. “By appropriating a broad, integrated approach - bringing together different knowers and knowledge types, disciplines, actors, methods and tools - we will be able to get to know the city even better and will be empowered to infrastructure more equitable and sustainable futures”, says Karin Pfeffer.
About Professor Karin Pfeffer
Professor Karin Pfeffer obtained her PhD in Physical Geography at Utrecht University in 2003. Since, she has held various positions in the field of geography and planning at the University of Amsterdam. For Karin, it is a renewed introduction to ITC, as she has been working at ITC as a lecturer and researcher in 2004-2005.