The Future of Urbanism is between cities and their regions


With all eyes on these shores directed firmly at our national position within the EU,
Steven Bee AoU highlights the Pact of Amsterdam’s view that it is in fact at city and city-region level that the future success of urban communities will be decided.

Steven Bee AoU

Steven Bee AoU

It is a happy coincidence that the Pact of Amsterdam – the ‘final draft’ of an Urban Agenda for the European Union, is published the week before The Academy of Urbanism’s Annual Congress debates The Future of Urbanism.

The Pact helpfully identifies just three principal improvements that will help ‘urban authorities’ realise the full potential of the EU. These are: better regulation; better funding; and better knowledge.

It is perhaps inevitable that beneath these high-level aspirations the draft descends into the spad-speak, double-speak and cognitive dissonance of just about any document drafted by more than two parties in a political context. But that should not shade the achievement of the Pact, and the efforts of the Netherlands Envoy, Nicolaas Beets, in getting it to this stage.

The Academy would put better knowledge ahead of the other two aspirations. We have gained and disseminated better knowledge and understanding through our Annual Urbanism Awards, Annual Congress and the many other events we host and partner in the UK and elsewhere in Europe. The Academy has already gathered a wealth of knowledge from the many places we have visited and explored, and the agents for those places with whom we have engaged, over the past 10 years.

So it is appropriate that for our 10th Anniversary Congress we should use that knowledge and our relationship with visionary thinkers, activists and practitioners to explore the future of urbanism; to offer evidence and examples of how a healthy quality of life may be secured for all urban communities. We look forward to using the output to help refine further the text of the Pact of Amsterdam to make it as useful and influential as possible.

There is much discussion in the UK at present of the principle of sovereignty. But for urban communities the relations between sovereign nations are not the most important. The future focus will be, as the Pact of Amsterdam acknowledges, between cities and their regions, and between city-regions. The cities celebrated by the Academy’s Awards in the past are successfully exploiting their regional potential. Rotterdam, San Sebastián, Marseille, Glasgow and many others are all demonstrating the importance and value of confident leadership, long-term vision and inclusive administration of the city and its hinterland.

The potential for wider improvement of urban management really is enormous. The present UK government’s denial of the regional perspective is proving increasingly irrelevant as urban authorities seek new ways of co-operating and new forms of partnership. Europe and the wider World offer lots of examples of the benefits of regional autonomy. The Academy is bringing together national and international experts together in London, 9-11 June, to energise the debate and help guide the future for the Academy as we enter our second decade.

Whatever your intentions for June 23rd, don’t miss the opportunity on June 10th and 11th to enjoy and be inspired by our selection of great speakers, and to engage in discussions of the crucial topics that we will have to address in the coming decade. And party with us on the evening of 10th June at Trinity Buoy Wharf to celebrate our first 10 years!

Steven Bee AoU
Chair, The Academy of Urbanism