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What is next? Urbanism!

POLIS Secretary General Karen Vancluysen on the need for inclusive, aligned and structured innovation

This might be the most frequent question we collectively asked ourselves over the past year – an overarching, hopeful question that encompassed our personal lives, as much as the future of our cities and communities. In fact, it is a question we had been asking ourselves at POLIS already before this pandemic. Sure, the future of mobility and the urban state and form is by definition uncertain – no urban planner or local authority can foretell what is ahead, and ideas, opinions and views on the matter often vary and cause an overall brain fog. But what we do know, is there are a number of technology innovations that have the potential to disrupt mobility and have long-lasting consequences on the transport system, and the urban fabric as a whole. What we also know is that whatever innovation or disruption comes next, it will most likely also look at the city as its main playground. At the heart of POLIS’ activities as a network, is to help our cities and regions navigate this innovation and disruption landscape and decide wisely on which novelties to engage with. Innovation just for the sake of it will not automatically lead to progress. We should rather look at the transport challenges cities and regions need to address and the policy goals they have set themselves, and then assess which innovations could be helpful in that respect. The pressing question is not technology-related, but how do we accelerate the shift to more sustainable mobility? How do we make sure changes serve the common good? All these innovations come with big promises, but public policy goals and private sector ambitions are not necessarily aligned and making innovation policy-responsive requires pro-active interventions from local and regional authorities. The aim is not to stifle innovation, but rather regulate it in a way that possible negative externalities linked to these new technologies are mitigated and potential benefits maximised. Our previous position and discussion papers on automation, MaaS and micromobility all illustrate how local and regional authorities can and should play a leading role in the deployment of innovation, and where opportunities and pitfalls lie.

On top of all of this, then came the biggest disruption of the past year, COVID-19, which accelerated some disruptions, such as e-commerce, but also put non-technological policy innovations on a fast track, such as the much-needed reallocation of space in favour of sustainable modes in our city centres. This issue of Thinking Cities highlights trends and innovations, such as new mobility, micromobility, data integration, e-commerce expansion and adaptation, automation, inclusive and safe spatial planning, and also ponders on how disruptive their implications for our cities are. All this and more made it an obvious choice for us to engage in Urbanism Next Europe! Precisely because it explores the connections beyond the transport silo, this conference is close to our POLIS heart and could not have come at a better time. Inspired by the annual Urbanism Next Conference in Portland, Oregon, USA, Urbanism Next Europe is the first European interdisciplinary convening of private, public, and academic stakeholders who shape the future of our cities and wish to cooperate to reach societal goals in the fields of land use, architecture, retail, transport, real estate, urban planning, environment, public health, equity, public space, economy, and governance. This stimulating three-day online conference takes place online on June 9, 10 and 11, 2021. Urbanism Next Europe is organized as a partnership between POLIS, the Urbanism Next Center at the University of Oregon, TNO, and NUMO, with the support of the City of Rotterdam and the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management of the Netherlands. What better occasion to launch this issue of Thinking Cities? Make sure to check out the Urbanism Next section in this magazine, featuring our partners and their precious insights on innovation and disruption!

Karen Vancluysen Secretary General of Polis

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