Rustat Report on the Future of Homes, Housing and Urbanisation
On 27 September 2019, this Conference brought together a diverse range experts to explore the future of cities and housing, as technology, work, and lifestyles change. We welcomed 42 participants from academia, government, civil society, industry, law, and the media in this one-day roundtable discussion.
We are grateful to our participants for their generosity in offering their time and expertise. A list of the experts who attended the Conference can be found here. An infographic can be found below. The Conferences are conducted under a modified Chatham House Rule, and therefore only those willing to have material attributed to them have been quoted. The reports do reveal the identity and affiliation of speakers and participants, unless they requested otherwise.
The day began with the newly Elected Master of Jesus College, Cambridge, Sonita Alleyne , introducing the history of the Rustat Conferences and welcoming all attendees to the College. She noted how the issues of housing and urbanisation have come up many times in past conferences; in discussions of ageing, intergenerational distribution of wealth, migration, and the future of work, amongst other topics. It was therefore timely to convene a group of thought leaders across different discplines and professions for this more focused discussion. She expressed the College’s thanks to all who attend the Conferences and in particular, the Rustat Members, who kindly keep these wonderful and richly textured discussions going through their support, both intellectual and financial. They are currently: Nick Chism, Dr James Dodd, Andreas Naumann, AstraZeneca, Harvey Nash and Laing O’Rourke.
Dr Julian Huppert, Director of the Rustat Conferences, then highlighted how the Conferences seek to prompt discussion, considering provocative propositions and contentious points, as well exploring both what is and isn’t known. He suggested that, as always with such deep and complex issues, the Conference no doubt will raise many more questions than it answers. He noted that some of the discussion might well raise points that will be picked up in the future Conferences in 2020, which will discuss food and the future of the UK, amongst other subjects.
Building Sustainable Cities and Communities
Our discussion started by noting that humanity is increasingly urban. By 2050, about 70 percent of the world’s population will go about their daily lives in cities. This has major global consequences - for example, urban dwellers already account for three-quarters of all today’s greenhouse gas emissions. In keeping with recent news and activity around climate change and citizens’ responsibilities towards the planet there were lots of concerns about how we build cities and communities that are more sustainable in environmental terms. For those directly working in housing and construction this was a familiar topic that they were having to tackle routinely. There is growing awareness of the environmental impact of construction in carbon terms, as well as the large amount of resulting waste that goes to landfill. Increasingly, the sector was having to think about both initial embedded environmental harms as well as the ongoing effects of operating buildings.
Our experts started by questioning who it is who should take responsibility for improving the sustainability of the built environment. Does primary responsibility for action lie with consumers, users, citizens, developers, or the state? Do any of these groups get to rely on action taken by another, or is everyone responsible – and if so how can that process be managed in an effective way, given the tight timescales we have to act.
Our speakers put at the heart of the day’s proceedings the importance of a meaningful discussion of what purpose cities, building and construction serve for people. They emphasised that we most often use the terms of the market - consumers, buyers, users, clients - but this may not be appropriate for our discussion, especially in a time where the primacy of consumerism is being challenged. Our experts also raised the changing way people conceive of home spaces, work spaces, and communities in light of fluidity and increased movement.
This led the experts to discuss what we mean when we talk of cities. They emphasised how sometimes we use these words to discuss the physical space, and at other times we are referring to the inhabitants. Research on these informal urban developments shows, however, they offer significant accommodation and services to people across Nigeria and are a response to issues with the formal system of planning and development.
Consequently, our experts discussed how cities could be understood in human terms, with their density both the result of, and facilitating, interaction between people, government organisations and businesses, benefiting different parties in the process. In this sense, cities are part of the broader human recognition that we are often “better together”.
The discussion then focused in more detail about environmental sustainability. The construction industry faces a considerable challenge in the race towards the Paris Agreement 2050 goal of net zero carbon emissions. For example, in the UK :
the built environment accounts for 45% of total UK carbon emissions, of which 27% come from domestic buildings and 18% from non-domestic construction.
72% of domestic emissions arise from space heating and the provision of hot water.
32% of landfill waste comes from the construction and demolition of buildings.
13% of products delivered to construction sites are sent directly to landfill without being used.
Because of rapid growth in the building of new structures, the industry is significantly increasing its carbon emissions; despite the urgent need for new styles of construction, only 1% of current buildings are built to be net zero carbon.
Globally the picture is even more alarming. Around 38 percent of global energy related emissions come from building and construction. Over the next 20 years, two-thirds of the new homes expected to be built will be in countries that do not currently have mandatory building energy codes. Our experts concluded that achieving our climate ambitions requires intensified action across the sector and policy response to drive change.
It was pointed out that sustainability goes beyond the construction itself and into the long term use of the buildings as well as their ultimate demolition. It is critical to consider, therefore, how long buildings and structures can be used, how adaptable they are to alternative uses, and also how maintainable and reusable are the materials that into them. Our experts set out the tension often faced over whether it is more important to reduce the embodied energy in a building or the ongoing energy use. Should we have buildings that have a lighter footprint but a shorter lifespan? Or, rather, is true sustainability found in creations with heavier footprints that are designed to be flexible over time and use?
Reflecting the diverse occupations of the experts present, the discussion considered barriers to ‘better’ building. Some proposed a top down approach, with central control to ensure better construction. Policy changes and shifts in the financing of built environments came into the foreground. Some experts felt regulations and a model that moved beyond profit were necessary. It was observed that many current sustainability choices are determined by cost; profits for shareholders, rather than sustainability, often come to the forefront of decision-making when projects run over or cost more than expected. While great progress was made since the 1990s on investing in more sustainable building practices, making inroads into improvements and saving costs, several examples were given that showed how when projects came under financial pressure, sustainable practices and investments were often the first area to be sacrificed. There is therefore a need for cooperation and collaboration between the sector, national governments, cities themselves, and all those citizens within them.
That said, others highlighted how national policy and direction can negatively impact on sustainability. It was highlighted how, since the 1990s, Housing Associations have been forced to act more commercially in light of global financial crises, rent reductions, and then in line with government encouragement of new models on affordable rent. Experts gave the example of one London development that was deeply affected when its original developers dropped out and consequent financial pressures resulted in a creation of spaces that (according to our experts) were less suited to the community and more to the financial goals of the developers.
The focus then turned to the local situation, as Cambridge itself has seen considerable amounts of new building in recent years and further developments are planned. It was pointed out that while we knew that Cambridge needs further housing, for example, there is no fixed position on exactly how much should be constructed. It was emphasised that visionary strategy and true consultation are critical, as we need to consider not just where homes should be built, but also where new jobs should be located, what education facilities are needed and how people move between these homes, jobs and schools. There was tension in our experts’ views on whether people themselves should be dictating how we do this sustainably, or whether there was a stronger role for local government to move people in the right direction, say by disincentivizing car use and encouraging walking and cycling. Our experts further posed the question: Should the government provide financial support to companies to make ‘green’ choices or adaptations, or will consumers as conscious citizens drive demand sufficiently to change the market?
Our experts generally agreed that building regulations are designed to establish a minimum standard rather than an aspiration (and are not always enforced). As one of our experts observed, the historic fires at Kings Cross Station and Dusseldorf Airport were in facilities that were compliant with fire safety regulations. In the last four years, there have been tragic fires at Grenfell Tower in Kensington, the wooden balconies at Samuel Garside House in Barking, the George Bryan Centre in the Midlands, and at the Hamptons flats in Worcester Park. The Grenfell Tower cladding illustrates the tension between sustainability and aesthetic improvements and health and safety.
Indeed, our experts highlighted how there are many tensions that exist around sustainability that require a more coherent weighting of values and ideals. Our experts felt that approaches were often piecemeal, and that there was more of a “battle” approach to planning between opposing sides, rather than a collaborative outlook and coherent strategy. Such approaches not only have implications for repurposing and renovating existing buildings, but also for the creation of new towns. How one creates a new community, what infrastructure it needs, and consideration of how effective design all require input from various parties, and a co-production model was proposed. However, we were reminded by one expert that the most sustainable buildings are those that already exist, something also suggested in National Geographic recently. The tension between starting afresh with new ideas and ideals was placed against the imperative to use what we have and adjust it to be more sustainable.
This led the discussion to move towards a consideration of how to tackle the perceived decline of community in urban areas, with an increasingly ‘dormitory town’ approach in the UK. Our experts asked: What do we mean when we discuss a sense of coming together? How do we consult creatively existing and future communities? How can we better involve future generations in discussing what they will want in the future? Innovative examples rounded out the session as our experts detailed cases where children play with Lego to describe their vision for homes and communities, and where local schools, businesses and retail all combine to create reasons for citizens to connect with a place. There was a strong call for improved multidisciplinary methods to build better futures for all, including those not yet born.
Our experts also considered the effects of increased longevity: Should we now design built environments for greater adaptability? Should we be future-proofing our buildings for longer-life use or does increased mobility mean actually we are better designing for different people over time? Is the idea of a life-time home really a useful invention or are younger and future generations more likely simply to move more often?
Changing Patterns of Work and Lifestyles: Impacts on Future Cities
The second session started with an inspiring utopian vision for a future where a community lived sustainably and communally, supported each other, commuted less and sourced their food locally. This “best case” was placed against a “worst case” view which drew on many of the worst climate scenarios, and had people in conflict, under-resourced, ill and with poor well-being. What these scenarios painted was very different pictures of lifestyle and of the built environment and infrastructure needed. In many respects, our experts emphasised that our choices now will impact strongly what we need in the future, but that certainly our future is not wholly predictable.
What became clear from these two possible futures was what we already know: working patterns and lifestyles have fundamentally changed, and will continue to do so in the future. Our experts noted the line between work and leisure time has been blurred by mobile phones, emails, social media and the ‘always on’ culture; a point considered at our previous Rustat Conferences on Reconfiguring Careers, the Future of Work and Generations. Our experts discussed some of the consequences for the usage of space and for infrastructure and service provision.
Citizens use space differently now. It was noted that for some, coffee shops are places to get a beverage or snack, while for others coffee shops are ubiquitous flexible working space - and others it is a place for the specific work of serving coffee. It was emphasised that while for some the emergence of these quasi-social workspaces is desirable, for others it has been thrust upon them as some organisations have come to require people to work from home for part of the week.
However, our experts observed that work places and patterns have not universally changed. Many still work in traditional workspaces, including offices. But for many of these workplaces, social and cultural changes around space and concentration, as well as new technology, have shifted expectations around the working environment. The experts described how social norms in the UK, New Zealand, Scandinavia and elsewhere have become more conscious of the needs of the whole person, with well-being achieving increasing attention. As a result, some workplaces are being designed more holistically. A locally cited example was the new AstraZeneca building at the Cambridge Biomedical Campus, which rather than having traditional closed door labs and top secret spaces, was focused on light and open areas, creating a sense of openness, and looking like a ‘cathedral’ to one of the attendees who had had the opportunity to explore it.
It was emphasised that such choices reflect community or organisational decisions around values and what a building is designed to convey upon users. Highlighting how values matter, our attendees explored decision-making around regeneration and changing use of space. They compared two cities - Salford and Belfast – where very different approaches had been taken. Belfast has suffered a declining population since the 1970s, and now has as few inhabitants as it did in the late 19th Century. The city plans to reverse this decline by encouraging its citizens to live centrally and by promoting retail to regenerate the city. However, in an economy of reduced disposable income and with the rise of online shopping, our experts questioned whether this would be effective – it may create pockets of enterprise, but would be unlikely to reverse the overall impression of decay and dereliction. Reinvigoration is undoubtedly needed, but experts questioned whether seeking to encourage people to use 20th century business models was the answer.
By contrast, Media City in Salford was given as an example of planning designed to attract both business and people in a more contemporary fasion. It was explicitly designed to bring new enterprise and television shows to the area, while creating living and entertainment spaces for those who work in the media or around it, and thereby to regenerate the area by drawing entirely new populations for many of whom the key employment pattern was short term, contract-based, and involved long hours. The habitation is very dense with small private flats, often with very small kitchens, but with larger shared areas and restaurants to allow for eating and drinking outside of the home.
It was emphasised that in many respects the Salford experience highlighted the shift in the wider economy and culture. The idea of lifelong employment has changed and the gig economy and increased casualisation has arrived. Short term contracts or hourly working are much more normal, which means that people need to connect and identify themselves differently. Our experts questioned though, what these shifts mean for workplaces and homes: does more flexible working mean we need more space at home for a home office or do people work in more social spaces like coffee shops, meaning smaller homes and more retail floor space for dining? Do offices simply need breakout and meeting rooms, or does desk space still matter? Will we even need offices in the future or is the future one of telecommuting? If city centres are in decline, should we reinvigorate them with dining and social workspaces?
Our experts were keen to emphasise that regeneration has itself become contentious. For some, reinvigoration projects can bring new life to an area in decline, while for others it can mark gentrification. Local inhabitants can become concerned that regeneration could create or reinforce income or class divides. This took our experts back to questions about “who” we are designing, planning and building for, and called for inclusive practices with a large diversity being involved in developing projects to make sure projects didn't negative unforeseen consequences.
In considering inequalities, it was also emphasized that construction often relies on low-wage, insecure labour, with significant safety challenges. In some cases, especially overseas, this can be tantamount to slave labour. Examples were given of projects abroad where extensive problematic working conditions – including frequent deaths – were discovered. The role of construction workers and leaders at all levels in making sure human rights are upheld in projects was emphasised.
Returning to inhabitants, it was detailed how increasingly lower earners who provide critical services are being pushed away from their workplaces to more remote but affordable parts of cities, significantly increasing their travel times to work. Many of these moves are motivated not just be affordability, but also because of risk-aversion, as they come often to have less secure employment. The result, it was observed, is to detach, even alienate, these core workers from the areas in which they both work and live, as they come to shift backwards and forwards as commuters. Many aren't with the same employer or team long enough to create bonds, and therefore without a "neighbourhood" or network near the home, well-being was noted as a major concern.
Reflecting on the high costs of housing, our experts discussed the UK’s prevailing obsession with home ownership, and the consideration of a home as an asset, which is relatively unusual even in other developed countries. In Switzerland, for example, home ownership is often perceived as inefficient and the realm of the wealthy only. Our experts felt that in the UK it is as much about the idea of someone’s home being their “castle”, as it is an investment and accumulation of wealth. It was noted that this attitude to home ownership changes a community and culture’s relationship towards a place, towards transactional approaches rather than belonging. Our experts observed the paradox that the UK has only relatively recently, since the 18th century, moved away from a situation where the gentry built homes which they leased to citizens. This led to an expanded discussion of the importance of home, place, and what community means to individuals.
Our experts raised the local issue of homelessness and the community’s contribution to it. It was noted that while rough sleeping numbers were improving across the UK, similar successes were not being observed in Cambridge itself, perhaps because Cambridge is more welcoming. They also discussed the general inequality of the local society. It was emphasised that Cambridge is one of the most unequal places in the UK and also in Europe. Some of our experts exhorted us to use these changes to consider what we want as a society. This changing environment could be the opportunity to rethink our aspirations. We can prioritise wellbeing and shared spaces over property ownership and wealth accumulation. ‘Uber-isation’ and the shift to sharing rather than purchasing could lead us towards more communal living. Our experts suggested that we should we perceive ‘work’ differently and see investment of time in our community as work. Big Local and It Takes A City were two examples of programmes designed to invest in the local area, and address inequalities.
New Technologies and the Future of Cities
Moving from discussing potential changes to work, the experts discussed technological innovation and what this means in the future. They began by noting that for decades there has been no significant change in the methods of transport we have available – even the electrification of motor vehicles has not led to any fundamental change. However, what has changed is how we interface with methods of transport. There has been significant change in information provision and engagement mechanisms. The rise of portable technology has opened the door to uber-isation of transport mechanisms. Many people, especially in large cities, now rent-per-minute bikes, scooters and cars, or have on demand services to collect them.
In some respects this growth in sharing transport mechanisms enables efficiency, personalisation and leads to the use of more environmentally-sustainable solutions. However, it was also noted that the use of technology can be very limiting for some groups of people. If access to flexible and economical transport is limited by digital literacy and expensive smart phones, our experts questioned whether this can truly be seen as inclusive progress, as low income and older aged persons come to have reduced options and access. In order not to restrict movement to the digitally-enabled, our experts reinforced that provision of public services needs to remain universal. They emphasised that public infrastructure is still required: bus stops must be present; pavements must not just exist but be usable by different populations; parking could be restricted to ensure safe passage; access to road space not limited to those with the means. Interestingly our experts noted that recent local developments have not always included pavements - which can be seriously limiting for pedestrians and users of mobility aids. It was also observed that people pushing prams may often find cities difficult. Our experts noted that behaviours and interaction by diverse groups are influenced by the spaces cities choose to create. It was observed that technology can create innovations in those spaces too.
As an example of how regulation and decisions can change the use of spaces, our experts compared their experiences of e-scooters, which are located, unlocked, and returned via smartphone apps. It was noted that in some cities their use is ubiquitous but they are badly regulated and are a disruptive experience for pedestrians. Conversely, in other locations, where they are regulated and social-norms around their use have emerged, they are accepted and are widely used. In Israel, for example, it was observed that they meet a cultural need, allowing movement on the Sabbath when public transport does not run, but they are also used by many all week long. Regulators in Tel Aviv, for example, considered a wide range of benefits from scooters, with them taking up less parking space than cars and being less harmful in terms of carbon emissions. However, e-scooters were implicated in producing noise (e.g. the honking of horns in the evening), were being parked in an uncontrolled way, leading to blockages and unsafe conditions impeding flow in the city, and also were being used unsafely by some, including those too young to have engaged with road rules. Regulation put in place in August 2019 sought to remedy many of these issues by increase the observance of traffic laws, including wearing a helmet, not permitting riding on pavements, banning riding with more than one person on the scooter, and setting a minimum user age. Our experts noted that in the UK, by contrast, e-scooters remain illegal on roads and pavements, but could offer some benefits if established and regulated appropriately. I was noted that the British weather was different from that in Israel, which may affect uptake and safety.
The experts were keen to re-emphasise that technology has and will change the terms on which we interact with each other as humans in the real world. Meanwhile, interaction online is now so much easier that meeting in person is a deliberate choice. It was noted that for many, their world now revolves around mobile phones, which has changed how we connect with others - both in terms of how we consider relationships and physically meet, but also how we connect with transport and services like the scooters, and even how we find food. The growth of apps that deliver on-call sharing transportation options, deliver food, or even allow people to buy and collect food that would otherwise be wasted, demonstrated the power that these new tools have both over people and the form of cities themselves.
Our experts expressed differing opinions what the ubiquity of phones means for communication, however. They commented on the need for in-person meeting versus being able to work effectively remotely, calling, emailing and using apps to interact from afar. While for some jobs screens have enabled effective home working, greater freedom to make flexible lifestyle choices, and the opportunity to engage in business around the globe, for others the need to be in the room together continues to be an essential feature of relationship-building and collaborative working for many roles. Our experts agreed, however, the nature of engagement is changing, and this means many of the places we construct need to be flexible, repurposable, and even able to be shifted across the week as people use spaces differently with differing working patterns.
Technology also helps us gather data about people and place. It was noted how technology can be deployed for data gathering and surveillance. It was also mentioned how it can be deployed to aid public safety, changing lights to allow public service vehicles through, or deploying high-definition cameras and AI, or even signal detectors, to send enforcement notices to drivers illicitly using mobile phones. But technology can also tell us how people use their environment and how it makes them feel. It was noted that this data can then be used to ‘nudge’ or optimise behaviours; a subject that remains controversial. One expert, illustrated how data about a place can tell us about its culture by gathering data on street names. The names given tell us something about the history of a place and the choices of names given over time. For instance, Cambridge has named the street adjacent to the Cavendish Laboratory- where the Physics Department is situated- JJ Thomson Avenue. Our experts highlighted how these decisions about the name tell us about what people thought was important but can also show gender biases, and tell us about waning professions or trends away from supporting the monarchy.
However, the experts were clear that technology isn't just about exploring existing spaces and monitoring behaviour, but can enable planners to engage with citizens more meaningfully. New technologies empower planners to use visualisations to illustrate the impact of a space change or how an area will feel when it is built. Also, technology can supplement engagement and consultation of citizens, as VR allows visualisation and immersive experiences. From consultation through construction to evaluation, technology offers new possibilities and potentials for optimisation. An example given was whether to build additional capacity at Heathrow or to optimise use of the skies. It was noted that there were significant changes happening in the organisation and automation of our skies at NATS, that are largely passing people by, but that mark innovative uses of technology to create alternate approaches to pressing community issues.
However, ethical questions and trust continued to arise throughout the discussion of technology. Like past Rustat Conferences, the issue of trust in technology came up time and time again. Experts found it interesting that there is a high level of scepticism of driverless cars, but in contrast, people seem far less concerned about planes, which are largely self-flying. While it was noted that the assessment of risk is often about what one can perceive, experts in the building trades observed that there is a similar level of caution about building using technology. Relatively small numbers of houses are built using modern construction ideas such as bathroom pods - and indeed our experts disagreed as to their efficacy and widespread use. Some of the experts observed that these perceived risks have specific social elements to them. Speed cameras were not introduced for some time after the technology made them possible, as there were concerns that they would photograph men who were in places other than where they had told their wives. Indeed, issues like privacy are quite rightly raised when considering the use of technology to create smarter cities.
Cities in the Global Context
Although the conversation had largely considered the UK and other developed Western countries, our attendees were keen to consider the situation all across the world. The history, present and future of urbanisation are very different in different places. Differences include rapid urban growth, cultural differences about transportation and services, and differences in the nature of work. Technological access is not universal and where people live in the world is a significant consideration for how much emerging tech can impact on lives. Nonetheless, it was observed that there are many similarities across the world, and while cultures and place are different, humans often want the same things: young people want what other young people have across the globe. It was observed this is particularly being driven by technology that exposes us to different cultures and places around the world from our own homes and schools.
A major focus was population growth and the effects it will have on urbanisation. It was noted that the global population is likely to stabilize at between 10 and 11 billion, but as populations increases towards this, the rise of ‘mid-sized’ cities and mega-cities is likely to occur. Modelling offers some understanding of what this could mean; a threefold increase on the average population of existing cities or 625 new cities of 10 million people. Our experts discussed how differently shaped cities develop different cultures. Marakesh is designed to allow its citizens to manage the climate, and it creates a very different, more dense style than other more sprawling cities. In a world of increasing technology, our experts largely felt that global citizens should be connecting in new ways, rather than bringing more people into larger cities.
Our experts noted that people are often taken aback when told that 90% of this urban population growth will take place in African and Asian countries with rapid urbanisation placing huge demands on infrastructure, services, job creation, climate and environment. It was noted, though, that in places like Nigeria, much of the urban growth took place outside a formal planning system, and therefore controls around safety and buildings are often lacking. However, the styles of informal building reveal a lot about culture and priorities, which planners could draw from. Our experts saw significant opportunities in this growth too, with vast potential for emerging cities to act as powerful and inclusive development tools. In 2015, 85% of global GDP was generated in cities. Our experts noted that cities are more productive than other economic structures, attracting people and businesses, sharing knowledge and ideas, while creating pools of talent. Indeed, it was noted that cities are often less resource intensive per capita and thereby more efficient and sustainable.
Our experts felt that those making decisions about new cities and sectors would benefit from explicitly incorporating wellbeing and sustainability into their choices. The advantage of new cities is that they can learn from existing places. How a space is designed and constructed affects the environment and how people behave. The experts described cycling in the Netherlands, which has a population of 17.1 million people and about a quarter of those (4.25 million) cycle every day. There are 22.8 million bikes in the country, including nearly 2 million e-bikes, which have gained popularity especially amongst the elderly. Such a cycle friendly culture and infrastructure has pushed car use down, and promoted public health through active travel. Our experts observed that results like this come from conscious choices; the City of Amsterdam is investing around €120 million on bicycle infrastructure before 2020, €90 million of which is for creating 38,000 new bike parking places. They observed that while we need to plan for flexibility as communities need to evolve and people’s lives change, that infrastructure can shift behaviour itself, and therefore choices should be extensively and robustly considered.
Meanwhile, it was also highlighted how in Nigeria rapid urban expansion has manifested not only in an informal building sector, but also a wider informal economy. Roadside sales, with people conducting business outside of the retail setting one would expect, flourish as people conduct business where they can. In many respects this comes from people "needing to survive" and also as a result of corruption in the formal sector. Research has shown that unemployment, a need to be autonomous, corruption of government officials/agencies, participants' desire to pay less tax, and day-to-day needs not being met other ways all play a role in the evolution of the informal economy. Our experts were clear that while such a rich fabric of social life evidences that people can flourish as communities in differing circumstances, the lack of regulation applied to many informal dwellings and businesses, as well as a lack of structure and planning, mean that growth can often lead to unsafe and unhealthy conditions. They suggested that it is critical that capacity building in the construction and urban planning sectors be a focus, and also that learning should transfuse across borders.
Our experts had experience with experience travelling and building in places like Dubai and Riad, but asked us to explore and question whether indeed the intended utopian built environment had actually been created. It was asked whether high rise buildings were indeed a sensible or sustainable choice. They outlined some shocking safety issues and costs of human lives on sites where human rights concerns had fallen down in attempts to drive completion within budgets. Our experts clearly felt there were alarmingly different standards and ethics in some of the builds they described, raising the critical issues of professional ethics and also the need to couple urban development with other disciplines like human rights. It was widely agreed that urbanisation won’t cease but that we can expect it to change form and reflect some lessons of the past, while developing for all people in the future.
Several experts noted the complex nature of this system of systems, with so many actors and component parts. They highlighted the need to develop better approaches to sustainability to ensure appropriate decisions in all elements of planning, building, transport, and beyond. The health and wellbeing of the people who will live in cities and those who work within the industries involved in building them was a recurrent theme, as our experts were all conscious of the role of good policy and professional practice.
Repeatedly, our experts were keen to suggest that technology may be an excellent tool for enabling people but that ultimately people sat at the heart of development, urbanisation and construction. Empowerment of citizens through consultation and choice, in part enabled by technology, was a key topic. Designing space to change, adapting existing buildings, understanding the dynamic needs of future global citizens; all this requires flexibility of approach and of structures. Our experts concluded that a multidisciplinary approach, involving multidisciplinary discussions, much like the one had at the Rustat Conference, were crucial and should involve not just experts but individuals from all levels and environments, creating consultation, interaction and new thinking as we work out how to respond to growing populations and catastrophic climate change in the very near future.