4th Annual Conference Realising Just Cities in Sheffield


Between 13–18 October 2019, Mistra Urban Futures' partners gathered in Sheffield, UK, for the 4th international Realising Just Cities conference. 

- Lessons, impacts and outcomes

As an international research and knowledge centre, working to co-produce knowledge and action to support sustainable urban transformations across cities in the Global North and South, annual conferences are important as part of comparative learning process. They provide an opportunity to meet with stakeholders from the different local interaction platforms and exchange knowledge with participants including a wide range of people who live in or near the host cities.

Previous conferences have been held in Gothenburg (2016), Kisumu (2017), and Cape Town (2018). Approximately 190 delegates participated in the Sheffield-Manchester conference (2019) included Mistra Urban Futures representatives from those cities as well as partners from Buenos Aires, Malmö, Shimla, and Stockholm. As the Mistra Urban Futures programme is now drawing to a close, the overarching theme was therefore “Impacts, Lessons and Outcomes”.


Mingle in Wintergarden

As international guests, the programme began on Sunday 13th October, with a pie and peas supper at Sheffield Winter Garden. Many of those involved with Mistra Urban Futures have a strong interest in sustainability so RJC UK Director (and Urban Institute Co-Director) Beth Perry took care to tell everyone about the venue’s credentials: the temperate glasshouse is supported by larch wood from sustainable forests, and monitored by an intelligent building management system that maintains the climate required by the plants. David Simon, director of Mistra Urban Futures, held a welcoming speech, Faculty Director of Research and Innovation John Flint and Internationalisation lead Greg Morgan, both welcomed delegates on behalf of the University.


Mistra Urban Futures has worked to foster learning between different localities, and on Monday 14th October several comparative projects namely Cultural Heritage, Migration, sustainable Development Goals, Transport, Urban Food, an Waste Management met to workshop findings together. Workshop participants reflected that this was valuable in connecting across countries but also cities: For example, UK researcher Dr Charlie Spring reported new links made between her co-researchers on parallel projects in Sheffield and Greater Manchester. 

Site-visits highlights of "New and Old Sheffield" Kelham Island
That afternoon it rained, which was unfortunate for the multitude who departed on walks around Sheffield. With a professional tour guide, one group viewed the highlights of “New and Old Sheffield”. Others took a tour of Kelham Island, birth place of social justice activist Mary Anne Rawson (1801–1887) and winner of the UK & Ireland Urbanism Awards “Great Neighbourhood” category (2019). (Walk leader Anders Hanson explains more.)

Officers from Sheffield City Council involved a third group in a walking conversation about climate resilience, showing how the “Grey to Green” scheme has been transforming parts of the city centre — accompanied by RJC UK research student Ryan Bellinson. Meanwhile, Sheffield Hallam researcher Dr Aimee Ambrose took intrepid explorers along the route of Sheffield’s district heating system and into the incinerator — involving heights not recommended for the faint-hearted. Jenny Patient accompanied the group, lending out her umbrella to a few under-prepared visitors. (Read Aimee’s full write-up)

Heely city farm
For those seeking a gentler (and drier) outing, Dr Charlie Spring led a delegation to Heeley City Farm, a community-based enterprise south-east of the city centre. There, delegates learned about current experimentation with aquaponics —cultivating plants and aquatic life symbiotically; heard what ‘The Food Works’ are doing to tackle food waste in Sheffield; and shared some of their own learning from international contexts. 


Opening the 4th Realising Just Cities conference

On Tuesday 15th October, the doors of Cutlers’ Hall opened to welcome anyone with an interest in Realising Just Cities. The packed programme began soon after 8am with a blast of trumpets, courtesy of the University brass band. Conference-goers gathered in the main hall, to hear about the programme of research, and meet some of the key actors who had made it possible. We premiered a video prepared by the Mistra Urban Futures secretariat highlighting outcomes, and heard testimony  (ten years) from a range of stakeholders who spoke about how involvement in the research programme had affected them--including UK RJC co-researcher Sharon Davies of Mums’ Mart. Sharon has worked closely with Dr Sophie King and contributed much to the success of community-led organising work in Greater Manchester—including as a founder of GM Savers. She told delegates:
"All over the world women are living with the same issues, the same pressures, the same inequalities...We found we can support each other to change that. We need to challenge these systems that are holding us at disadvantage", Sharon Davis, Mums Mart. 
Testimony was also given by Maria Sigroth (Head of Department Regional Planning and Environment, Gothenburg Region); Peter Ahmad (Manager, City Growth Management, City of Cape Town); Sam Okello (Member of Kisumu City Board and Chairman Kisumu Local Interaction Platform); and Barry Ness (Skåne Platform Director, Mistra Urban Futures).

round table discussion

During the rest of the day, ten workshops served to exchange learning and share outcomes from Realising Just Cities research: 

•    David Simon hosted discussion about Realising just cities in the context of Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals with input from Carol Wright (Cape Town), Sara Pettersson (Gothenburg); Mariana Cammisa (Buenos Aires); Michael Oloko (Kisumu), Tarun Sharma (Shimla); Joakim Nordqvist (Malmö) and lead researcher Sandra Valencia. (Rapporteur: Barry Ness)
•    Tim May hosted a workshop about Universities and urban development: knowledge in action. Speakers included Zarina Patel (Cape Town), Mercy Brown-Luthango (Cape Town), Johan Larson Lindal (Stockholm), and Beth Perry (Sheffield-Manchester). (Rapporteur: Olivia Bina)
•    Eva Maria Jernsand and Emma Björner (Gothenburg) hosted and presented alongside Lillian Omondi (Maseno University) as part of the session Small but diverse: the role of urban and rural communities in place-based diversity and inclusiveness. (Rapporteur: Adrian Ball)

Henrietta Palmer Åsa Moberg

•    Henrietta Palmer hosted Building capacity for co-production: training the next generation of scholars and practitioners, with input from Zarina Patel, Eva Maria Jernsand, Maddy Hubbard (Sheffield-Manchester), Katie Finney (Sheffield-Manchester) and Jeni Vine (Sheffield). (Rapporteur: Sean Cooke)
•    Sylvia Croese and Liza Cirolia hosted Agenda 2030 and public finance: who pays for sustainable cities? The speakers included Liza and Frida Leander (Malmö). (Rapporteur: Michael Oloko)
•    Beth Perry hosted Participatory cities and alternative models of urban development. Speakers included Bert Russell (Sheffield-Manchester), Sanna Isemo (Gothenburg), Vicky Habermehl (Sheffield-Manchester) and Sara Ferlander (Södertörn University).  (Rapporteur: David Rogerson)
•    Warren Smit hosted the session What is meaningful collaboration? Reflections from work on food systems and urban regeneration. Speakers included Per-Arne Nilsson, Joakim Nordqvist, Monika Månsson (Malmö), Gunilla Almered Olsson and Mirek Dymitrow (Gothenburg); Charlie Spring (Sheffield-Manchester) and Gareth Haysom, Researcher (Cape Town). (Rapporteur: Kerstin Hemström)
•    Rike Sitas (Cape Town) led a session on the Practices, processes and politics of city-academic partnerships. Speakers included Sam Okello (Kisumu), Sean Cooke (Cape Town), Sylvia Croese (Cape Town) Mikael Cullberg (Gothenburg), and Vaughn Sadie, (Cape Town). (Rapporteur: Alexandra McVicar-Payling)
•    Sophie King (Sheffield-Manchester) hosted discussion addressing the question What do we need to do differently to co-produce knowledge and action with residents, activists and communities? Speakers included Sophie’s Greater Manchester-based co-researchers Sharon Davis, Maria Allen, Tina Cribbin, Hannah Berry and Isaac Rose, plus Jack Makau (SDI Kenya). (Rapporteur: Lyla Mehta)
•    Ryan Bellinson and Jenny Patient included a “live example” in their session on Co-production at pace: reacting to a climate emergency, with Jez Hall (Sheffield-Manchester). (Rapporteur: Carol Wright)

Rike Sitas of Cape Town Local Interaction Platform hosted “What have we heard”, a report back from each of the workshops, leading into a plenary reflection. Speakers Åsa Moberg (Mistra), Vanessa Toulmin (University of Sheffield), Mark Whitworth (Sheffield City Council) and Caroline Kihato (Mistra Urban Futures) were asked: “How can we support local action to address global challenges and realise more just cities?” 
“We need to dare… to show up without being able to predict the outcomes … [and] to dream in the funding space too.”
- Caroline Kihato, member of the board, Mistra Urban Futures. 

All who participated in the day conference were invited to give their own responses to the question, with answers recorded using the online tool Mentimeter. Suggestions included letting “human stories set the agenda”, using techniques such as citizen assemblies, and active “work to assert local knowledge, evidence and needs”. (A complete record of responses can be downloaded from the Realising Just Cities UK website.) One voice from the survey: 

“The energy and the expertise present in the rooms and the appetite for working together collaboratively” 


Field trips

The programme on Wednesday 16th October transported international delegates to Greater Manchester, with a fresh set of half-day field trips, offering insight into some local Realising Just Cities research:

Dr Charlie Spring led a trip to Hulme Community Garden, an organic garden centre where the visitors heard about experiments in food sustainability from Kindling Trust, and sampled seasonal fruit—a must during Apple Week. (Project: Self-organising Action for Food Equity)

Hulme Community City Garden Manchester

Dr Jon Silver and Dr Richard Goulding represented Greater Manchester Housing Action, exploring the topic “From homes to assets: Housing financialisation in Greater Manchester”. The energetic walkers travelled several miles, taking in the exhibition Whose Knowledge Matters? Platting, Pigeons and PFI. (Projects: Housing Futures; Whose Knowledge Matters) 

Britt Jurgensen and colleagues from Carbon Co-op adapted the Power in the City walk for daytime consumption, exploring the past and future of Greater Manchester’s energy supplies with immersive theatre techniques. (Project: Jam and Justice)

Dr Sophie King arranged a site visit to Wythenshawe to meet members of the Greater Manchester Savers network, in partnership with Mums Mart community association. The theme was “Community-led organising: lessons from the Global South” and visitors heard from a Kenyan representative of Slum/Shack Dwellers International as well as local community-led initiatives. (Project: Community-led organising: Seeing the inner city from the South) 

Manchester Settlement Chief Executive Adrian Ball welcomed visitors keen to learn more about Jam and Justice’s Action Research Collective and how it had shaped the work of his organisation. (Project: Jam and Justice)

A sixth group explored the question “Is Manchester Britain’s most political city?” with professional walk leader Ed Glinert.

International Policy Exchange


GMCA sessions


In the afternoon of Wednesday 16th October, delegates reconvened at the recently renovated home of Greater Manchester’s Chamber of Commerce. Here, we were joined by hosts of the afternoon workshop in the Greater Manchester Combined Authority and representatives from other local authorities for an afternoon workshop exploring co-production in urban policy.

David Rogerson, GMCA Policy and Strategy Principal, introduced six of his colleagues to share something about how the city-region was working together to govern in a more co-productive way. Jane Forrest and Jacob Botham spoke about the Greater Manchester Model for public services. Julie McCarthy spoke about cultural strategy as a means to tackle inequality. Paul McGarry outlined steps taken to make Greater Manchester “the best place in the UK to grow older”. Nick Fairclough explained the origins of GM’s new Good Employment Charter. And Phil Swan talked about the emergent blueprint for GM Digital.


GMCA sessions two


The importance of bridging gaps
Respondents from six international cities then reflected on what they had heard, and what their cities are doing. Carol Wright (Cape Town) spoke about the importance of bridging the gap so that economic growth benefits all, feeling that GM’s emphasis on work force was especially resonant. Stephen Agong Gaya (Kisumu) reflected on the importance of each sector thriving, and the role of international frameworks. Mariana Cammisa (Buenos Aires) spoke about the importance of data when addressing significant challenges such as public health and ageing. Per Arne Nilsson (Malmö) and Mikael Cullberg (Gothenburg) both reflected on the relationship between academics and the city, with Nilsson emphasising the importance of cities’ readiness to welcome researchers. Arnau Monterde (Barcelona) presented Decidim as an example of a platform that enables an inclusive alternative approach to citizen voice in municipal governance.


Workshop about strenghts and weaknesses
Throughout the responses, all participants were invited to work together to record insights about the strengths and weaknesses of co-producing, provide examples of personal learning, and suggest tools, resources and techniques that enable co-production. Hannah Williams of Scribble Inc Ltd created a graphic record of the conversations, completing her work just in time to accommodate a visit from Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham. A celebratory buffet provided occasion to celebrate four years’ of Realising Just Cities collaboration, and a decade of MISTRA Urban Futures.

beth perry hannah scribble inc andy burnham
Prof Beth Perry, Hannah Williams of Scribble Inc Ltd and Andy Burnham, Mayor Greater Manchester



On Thursday 17th October, Professor Lyla Mehta delivered the keynote lecture of Realising Just Cities 2019, Climate change, uncertainty and the city. 

As Prof. Mehta explained, the scale and impacts of climate change remain deeply uncertain. This is particularly true at the local level, where climate-related uncertainties combine with unequal capitalist growth trajectories often exacerbating social and political inequities and the vulnerabilities of marginalised communities. The talk was illustrated with examples from Prof. Mehta and her colleagues’ work at Sussex’s Institute of Development Studies, including photovoice work carried out with residents of coastal areas in India and Bangladesh. (A video of this lecture will be made available shortly.)

lyla mehta mistra urban futures

Thursday’s programme also included workshops to take forward comparative work. 

As usual in these circumstances, a meeting of the Mistra Urban Futures board and a separate meeting for Coordinators of the Local Interaction Platforms also took place in Sheffield during the conference week. International delegates thus departed iteratively, and with generous feedback, on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
When asked what they were taking away, participants told us “a strong and broad will of working together”, awareness of the need to “embrace different ways of knowing” and “a renewed sense of how important it is to listen… and to ask what you can bring to what is already being done”.

Thank you to everyone who helped make the conference possible. Thank you UK for being great hosts.


Photographer: Jason Lawton, Rike Sitas, Ulrica Gustafsson and Annika Källvik (Photographs: Jason Lawton for Realising Just Cities.)