Theme 5

Theme 5: Urbanisation and cities in the 21st Century

Chair: Wanda Verster, University of the Free State,
In the 21st century urbanization and the challenges related to our built environment, from mega cities, metropoles to small towns and rapidly growing infrastructure demands, is a key concern for sustainable living in the coming years. Inter-disciplinary research is highly relevant in this field, as combined methodologies and expertise can most effectively solve the demands of our urban environment. When approaching urbanisation, it is especially challenging to consider its socio-material, symbolic and historical complexity, hence giving due attention to conceptual frameworks from an environmental humanities point of view
This is a broad field, and a theme with layers and levels of complexity similar to the most diverse of cities across the globe. The subthemes that form part of an investigation into urbanization, the built environment and 21st century demands is in our view the following:
The rural-urban dynamic. These imbalances are intimately linked to globalization and although challenges in this regard differ between the global north and south, the relational influences remain key elements in Sweden and South Africa.
The evolution of cities. The evolution and survival of 21st century cities is linked to the decisions made in the past, whether these are based on legal constraints, physical or geographical dynamics or political shifts, challenges may be traced to past decisions. Past problems need to be addressed in order to find future solutions.
Infrastructure and economics. This sub theme is linked to the supply-demand distribution issues at the core of welfare politics. The complexity of urban infrastructure and the role it plays in the welfare of citizens is highly relevant in terms of inter-disciplinary research.
Safety and other socio-economic issues such as segregation, surveillance and informal economies. The role of urban design and the challenges faced in terms of safe public spaces generate several questions around economic security, immigration, institutional power and political processes.
Sustainable cities and urban economy. Economy and urban sustainability cannot be approached as separate entities and must be viewed within robust democracies. This is also linked to the political components of urban centers. In this field the emphasis on the role of cultural practices and redistribution of agency, the function of the arts as well concerns around the production of space.
Finally smart cities and the datafication processes. The power dynamic in cities are changing with local political actors and global movements that influence the functions of cities. Complex system thinking and automation is also influencing urban environments.

Keywords rural urban, infrastructure, policymaking, smart cities, ecosystems, safety, sustainability, economies, urban design

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