Published 2019-04-15

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Seminars to invite dialogue on future sustainable cities

Since its inception almost a decade ago, Mistra Urban Futures (MUF) has purposefully initiated public lectures and seminars. These events have been much-appreciated meeting places for practitioners, researchers, politicians and business people with an interest in developing the urban environment.

‘A report, however good it is, isn’t always read by that many people. We want to reach out with a simpler and more accessible format that can appeal to several target groups. Seminars and conferences are part of that aim,’ says Ulrica Gustafsson, MUF’s Event Manager.

The MUF research centre develops knowledge about sustainable urban development. The difficulty in reaching target groups, even with articles for the general reader and brief policy recommendations, led the management to invest purposefully in open seminars and lectures early on, according to Gustafsson.

‘We work with a consortium of partners with interests in various issues and projects. So for us, the events are a very important way to reach our target groups. They’ve also been a way to put Mistra Urban Futures on the map.’

In total, more than 250 lectures, seminars and conferences have been held at the centre since 2010, most of them at the Gothenburg platform. In addition, members of our projects participate in various conferences and hold workshops.

‘Although we have so many events, they’re often almost packed — it’s not unusual to have 50 to 150 people. Most of all, they attract researchers and practitioners in urban development, but people from business, politics and civil society also come,’ Gustafsson says.

The list of events over the past six months includes headings such as ‘How do renovations become more socially sustainable?’, ‘From waste management to waste prevention’, ‘Liveable Cities — Urban Futures, with Jan Gehl’ and ‘My dream city’. At the latter seminar, researchers, business representatives, writers and young people had the chance to describe their personal dream city. The seminar was also the 100th and last evening lecture in the Mellanrum (‘Space between’) seminar series, held by MUF jointly with organisations including the Museum of Gothenburg, the University of Gothenburg, Chalmers, the Gothenburg Region (GR) and the City of Gothenburg.

‘The seminars we hold, independently or jointly with others, span a wide range of subjects. Their common feature is that they’re all, in one way or another, about sustainable urban development,’ Gustafsson says.

Mistra Urban Futures operates in six locations, or platforms, around the world. Each platform holds its own seminars and conferences, but most of the events take place in Gothenburg. As well as annual international and domestic conferences, events with international lecturers and taking part in Almedalen Week, the Gothenburg Platform has grouped seminars in four ‘event series’.

Urban Lunch-time offers a lecture and lunch, and serves primarily to disseminate results from various projects. Urban Research offers in-depth half-day seminars: after an introductory lecture, each continues with a workshop in which all attendees share their knowledge. Urban Lecture provides lunchtime lectures with internationally known researchers. Finally, under the theme Mellanrum, the public has been invited to evening lectures on the social dimension of urban life.

‘Besides our unique events, we decided early on to start seminar series to create simplicity and efficiency. The same approximate format, times and premises recur. I also think that’s made it easier for the audience to find us.’

The seminars are intended to function as neutral arenas, where the centre’s target groups can network, learn and have discussions, Gustafsson relates. Disseminating project results has also been important: in Gothenburg alone, the centre has run about 80 research and knowledge projects, while the seminars have helped to develop the research.

‘Under the heading “Urban Research”, projects that have made progress in their work have invited participants to workshops and the researchers have then given the projects feedback on the discussion outcomes,’ Gustafsson says.

‘One in the autumn, for example, was about the challenge of creating vibrant ground floors with various activities.’

With Mistra’s funding of MUF due to stop at year-end 2019, the centre is being restructured, but Gustafsson expects the seminars to continue in some form in the years to come. A major review including in-depth interviews with, and email enquiries to, attendees in 2018 showed that the seminars had been appreciated.

‘It also emerged that many would have been keen to participate in more seminars if they’d had time, and that we should film the seminars more often, so that more people have a chance to hear them. That’s yet another sign that we’ve succeeded,’ Gustafsson says.