Annual theme and forum

Each year, the Master of Urban Design program chooses a theme to help organize our studies and contributions to regional and global dialogues on urban design. In 2016, we aligned our forum with Placemaking Week, held September 12–17. Our primary focus was the one-day-long Future of Places Summit, held on September 15. The summit is part of a larger set of activities to occur that week, including the Pro Walk / Pro Bike / Pro Place conference and the Placemaking Leadership Forum.

About the Future of Urban Places Summit

Building on the momentum of the first three Future of Places forums, this year’s summit will pursue an urgent agenda for the implementation of tangible, evidence-based methods by international practitioners and policymakers to advance placemaking both locally and globally. This is of particular importance as global leaders prepare for the United Nations Habitat III conference the following month.

The purpose of Habitat III in Quito, Ecuador, in October 2016 is to define a “New Urban Agenda” that guides the rapid global urbanisation that will continue to increase over the next twenty years. Results from previous Future of Places forums have already contributed a number of key messages to initial drafts of this document. To ensure that the potential impacts of applying a placemaking lens to urban and economic development are fully realised, the Vancouver summit will focus on tangible strategies that member states can implement with their local partners.

Specifically, who will implement the New Urban Agenda? What tools and strategies will they use? Where can these resources be found? How can they be developed, shared, and refined for local application under diverse conditions?

Past themes and forums

Re-imagining the city, 2015

Forty years ago, Vancouver hosted the first UN Habitat Conference. In 1976, cities were struggling to survive, global warming was only feared by a tiny few, and the global rural to urban migration had just begun. Now cities are “thriving” but with economic disparity more glaring than ever. Cities like Vancouver are magnets for unimaginable personal wealth, while cities like Surrey accommodate wave after wave of immigrants of vastly lesser means. What are we to make of these transformations? What role, if any, can urban design play? Design, the very thing that made Vancouver so attractive as a place to invest, and, ironically, may have helped price Vancouver homes out of reach of average families.

Key to the concerns is this: A new city is emerging unnoticed within the shell of the old. As the centre city chokes on its own wealth, the surrounding city assumes roles shed by the center—for jobs, for homes, for immigration, for real community, and for citizenship.

Five critical decades of city building, 2014

In 2013, the world passed a threshold. Over half of the world’s population of seven billion people now live in cities. The continued population growth and an unrelenting migration from rural areas will pour another five billion people into cities by 2060. However, if current demographic trends continue, global population will stop growing at about the same time. Simply put, cities will grow at unprecedented speed for five decades and then stop growing altogether. Thus, the cities of 2060 might be the cities of 2160 and 2260.

What form will this new and possibly permanent city take? At least two distinctly different directions have begun to emerge: concentrated and dispersed city patterns. How might the attributes of these two patterns increase livability, economic and social vitality, and indeed the long-term sustainability of cities?