Waterloo launches Future Cities initiative

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

City view
New academic programming and novel research is leading the way in innovative thinking about the future of cities – both large and small, in Canada and around the globe.

The Future Cities, a Faculty of Environment initiative is formalizing a “futures lens” in urban-focused research, knowledge mobilization, instruction, and civic engagement.

It provides a platform for people to think beyond current realities to imagine and design the communities that they want.

“The Future Cities initiative is about looking at and thinking about how communities of the future will affect who people are and how they live,” said Jean Andrey, dean of the Faculty of Environment. “The point is to focus on the possible, from imagination to impact.”

The initiative aims to also address the climate crisis while tackling societal imperatives related to equity and justice across our communities

“With the application of a holistic and radical mindset, cities will be transformed in ways that integrate sustainability, climate change and social equity; and give voice to the many actors that play a role,” said Helen Kerr, practitioner-in-residence, Future Cities initiative.

Kerr is bringing with her three decades of expertise in industrial and urban design and deep expertise in applying foresight methods in both the private and public sectors.

“It is really important that we envision a new idea of what the future can be, but that is only half. The other half is about the capability and resilience in making that future we want a reality,” Kerr said.

Part of the components of the initiative is provision of specialized training and learning opportunities for tomorrow’s leaders through undergraduate and graduate education, financial support for students through scholarships, and work-integrated-learning opportunities.

“If we want to exercise any control over the future, we have to start thinking about the future and start making decisions that are going to work out in the long term,” said Marta Berbés-Blázquez, Caivan Communities Professor at Waterloo. “The idea is to attract a critical diverse mass that represents interdisciplinary cohort that can anticipate the factors and challenges that impacts our cities now and in the future.”

The initiative also will build research capacity in the field of “futures literacy” applied to cities.

Berbés-Blázquez brings experience in creating future-thinking capacity for social transformation from a perspective rooted in social-ecological systems, guided by participatory principles, and geared primarily to cities as agents of change.

The initiative will provide a forum for presentations, dialogue, and knowledge sharing. The first inaugural seminar series, Future Cities Reimagined: Paths to Transformation is planned for March 4, 2022.

Catalytic funding for the initiative comes from a grant from the Canadian government and donation from the Caivan Communities Co-Founders and CEOs Frank Cairo and Troy van Haastrecht.