On 8 March, the African Centre for Cities (ACC) hosted a seminar with David Simon from Mistra Urban Futures (MUF) and Susan Parnell from the Environmental and Geographical Sciences department at UCT, who is also an affiliate of ACC. The purpose of the public lecture was to explore the first phase of MUF work, specifically unpacking rethinking sustainable cities around the concepts of fair, green and accessible.
Simon started the seminar by locating the work in MUF’s commitment to transdisciplinary collaborations involving researchers, practitioners and policy makers. He then went on to explain how the key concepts have been rethought as part of MUF’s global research agenda, and how they have found a place in the book that is currently under construction.
Firstly, Simon stressed the importance of contextual reckoning when thinking of the application of particular terms. He used the example of densification, demonstrating how the normative, largely Northern articulation of the concept did not adequately take different contexts – such as dense informal settlements all over the African continent, or densely populated Chinese cities – into account. The book argues that the notion of accessibility may be more interesting.
Secondly, he introduced the chapter by Susan Parnell that focuses on fairness. Parnell joined the presentation and unpacked how terms such as fairness and inclusion come to find their way into theoretical and planning discourses. Thirdly, Simon introduced the notion of green cities. He unpacked the evolution of urban planning discourses that revolve around the notion of sustainability. He identified an important gap within the literature: the glaringly missing urban agenda. He then went on to unpack some useful intersections between green and urban discourses that can generate more fair and accessible cities.
After presenting the contents of the book, Parnell took up the question of the concern for rethinking the academic project in the context of discussions of coproduction: ‘where the axis of scholarship is transformed’. The responsibility is less about words and concepts, and pushes an ‘intellectual path of construction’. The purpose is to locate cities as catalytic of solutions, and not just receptacles of problems. The academic project within these processes of coproduction are therefore simultaneously trying to speak into theory and strengthening practice.
An eager audience of over 50 academics, students and officials, stimulated a discussion about the nature and role of connecting theoretical and practitioner knowledge.