Automatgenererad bild.

15 April 2013

Rewarding get-together for Mistra Urban Futures in Cape Town

Mistra Urban Futures, a research centre for sustainable urban development, is now in its fourth year. In March the centre’s annual conference was held in Cape Town. There, the focus was on bridging the gap between theory and practice.

Every year, Mistra Urban Futures arranges an international meeting where representatives of the centre’s various platforms get together. This year the meeting took place in Cape Town, South Africa, from 13 to 15 March. During the conference, in five cities around the world (Cape Town, Gothenburg, Kisumu, Manchester and Shanghai), participants from the various platforms of Mistra Urban Futures met to learn from one another about the centre’s three focus areas: Fair, Green and Dense Cities.

‘Previous meetings have largely dealt with issues of form. Now, the focus was on content. The different platforms have varying conditions and challenges, and this made for rewarding exchange.’ The speaker is Mistra’s Johan Edman, who was on the spot in Cape Town with Fredrik Gunnarsson.

The challenges to the five cities diverge. Cape Town and Kisumu have their segregation problems, while Manchester has its industrial heritage and Gothenburg is at risk for raised water levels. But there are also many common denominators.

Researchers and civil servants swap places

This year’s conference was very much a matter of bridging the gap between theory and practice. Edman cites an example from Cape Town, where researchers and civil servants are to swap workplaces. As part of their work at the University of Cape Town, four researchers are included in the city’s administration and contribute to policy development in such areas as climate change, the green economy, urbanisation methods and energy management. Six civil servants in Cape Town will then work with researchers at the African Centre for Cities, which is arranging the exchange programme.

‘This is a concrete example of what Mistra Urban Futures seeks to achieve. It’s about joint learning and knowledge production involving research and practice,’ Edman concludes.

Common knowledge base emerging

Catherine Stone, City of Cape Town Director for Spatial Planning and Urban Design, can confirm that the exchange programme enriches academia and administration alike.

‘The researchers’ participation in our activities has been tremendously rewarding. It has reduced the gap between research and practical administration. I used to be frustrated by the academic world not taking political circumstances of decision-making into account. But now we’re establishing a common knowledge base,’ says Catherine Stone.

Zarina Patel, the coordinator of the local platform in Cape Town, is pleased with the conference.

‘It was an extremely useful meeting. One of the key results is that we’ve got to know the strengths of the various platforms. This bodes well for more focused collaboration among the cities,’ comments Patel, an environmental geographer at the University of Cape Town.

She describes the meeting as the culmination of a period of great activity in Mistra Urban Futures, which in 2012 concentrated on initiating a programme and projects.
‘For the rest of the year, the focus will be on consolidating knowledge within and among the platforms,’ she says.

Text: Thomas Heldmark, Vetenskapsjournalisterna

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