Urban Futures Research Domain

Department of Geography, King's College London

About Us

We are a group of critical urban geographers in King’s College London. As a multidisciplinary and collaborative group, we are interested in the question of the ‘future’ as a conceptual, analytical and methodological lens to understand contemporary and historical urban transformations. We are interested in challenging current paradigms of urban theory, practice and research through the interconnectedness of past, present and future time. We examine how alternative visions of urban futures in planning, governance, citizenship and everyday life are being imagined, contested and lived by people across the world. Our understanding of the ‘urban’ then is through a heuristic mode of analysis that is punctured through time by struggles for recognition, identity, survival and belonging.

Attending to where, how and when these struggles are initiated and fought, builds progressive urban futures.

Research Themes

Our research on urban futures has four connected but distinct themes – Postcolonial and Decolonial Visions of Urban Futures, Urban Cultures, Citizenship, Identity and Belonging and Technologies of the Future City. These research themes provide a more comprehensive explanation on what the Urban Futures research domain is all about.

Postcolonial and Decolonial Visions of Urban Futures

Cities, from the beginning of modern colonialism, have been formidable machines in articulating and spreading power relations in colonial territories. Yet, after decolonisation, ‘the urban’ has continued to represent the principal arenas in which the reconfiguration of those hierarchies is at stake, both in the former colonies and empires. Bearing in mind the colonial histories that globally mark postcolonial urbanisation, our research engages with powerful and disputed visions of urban futures in terms of the politics of speed and time, urban governance and governmentality, ‘coloniality’ and ‘de-coloniality’, social policies, working class communities and their struggles, the dynamics of urban transformations, path dependence and lock-ins, as well as destabilisation of industry regimes. By challenging the imagination  of urban futures which are often detached from political and cultural histories, we reappraise the crucial significance of economic, technological, social and material-aesthetic power in, for example, the emergence of new urban tropes of ‘smart cities’ and ‘eco-cities’; London’s changes from 18th to early 20th century, and the colonisation of urban ‘peripheries’. 

Urban Cultures

The Urban Cultures theme is interested in the ways that urban spaces are crafted, used, and imagined by the variety of cultures that inhabit or move through them. We are attentive to the ways that planning, architecture and other factors intervene in the urban landscape and impact these cultures. We are also curious about how existing physical and social architecture is appropriated by creative practices, including graffiti, street art, and urban inscription. How the urban form is re-imagined and represented in cultural artefacts, like the cinema, is also an avenue of intrigue for the group. Specific urban cultures that we have experience researching includes queer cultures, cultures of violence, volunteer cultures, and cultures of urban livelihoods and work.

Citizenship, Identity and Belonging

The future is embodied in the contested and unequal terrains of citizenship, belonging and identity in everyday urban life. We engage with the complexities of these terrains globally, through spaces of informal settlement, postcolonial urbanism, race and migration, social identities relating to race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, gender, sexuality, age, class and health. As such, we seek to understand better how claims for and on urban space occur between and across peoples subjected to social and spatial marginalisation. As international borders are increasingly securitised and national identities continually challenged and reasserted, research in the theme on the studies of migration and mobilities becomes increasingly important.

Technologies of the Future City

We examine the technologies through which experiences of urban change and transformation are structured and mediated. This draws upon the geography of socio-technical transitions (historical, current, future) as well as studies of risk, resilience and the politics of sustainability. Research on this theme is particularly concerned with socio-ecological resilience, the governance of sustainability transitions, energy systems, mobility systems, food systems and ICT and digitally mediated futures. Drawing upon recent work on urban infrastructure, we aim to bridge the divides between technology, people and politics in a digital urban age.

Watch the new King's College London Department of Geography-based 'Gendering the Smart City' research network project music video -'Khadar Ki Ladkiyan' [Khadar Girls] - a creative initiative exploring young women's stories of urban mobility and safety in Delhi's urban peripheries led by project Principal Investigator Dr. Ayona Datta, Reader in Urban Futures and chair of the #KCLUrbanFutures research domain.

Find out more about the initiative and research network by exploring their website here https://gendersmartcity.com.