The art of mapping existing approaches to tackling unsustainability and injustice in European cities

Urban Arenas
Oct 17 · 3 min read
A first exercise in mapping at the UrbanA team meeting in Frieburg, Germany, January 2019.

By Karlijn Schipper, Dutch Research Institute for Transitions (DRIFT)

The starting point for UrbanA’s three-year journey is the mapping of existing approaches to tackling unsustainability, inequality and exclusion in cities.

The power and importance of making an inventory of what has already been done or is being done — before moving on to visioning, designing or intervening — should not be underestimated. From a transitions perspective, any attempt to transform a system, such as a city, should start with an in-depth understanding of how the system works, including the identification of existing pockets of change. Accepting and sensing what is already there is an important starting point in many other disciplines and practices such as design thinking, permaculture and sociocracy.

For UrbanA, the mapping phase is not only a matter of gathering data and understanding, but also of engaging people and of people feeling heard and acknowledged for their prior and ongoing efforts. The aim is not simply to create a comprehensive database but rather to serve the creative process envisioned for the UrbanA’s Arena events, which bring together European city-makers and city-thinkers.

The UrbanA approach

We are taking an explicitly transdisciplinary and co-creative approach to the mapping process, and the project as a whole. It is not only about researchers or other formal ‘experts’ collecting ‘data’, but rather a co-creative process in which a diversity of city-makers are engaged in identifying, characterizing, connecting and unlocking approaches and critically reflecting on relevant insights for enabling sustainable and just cities. The mapping process is a collective and iterative one. It is open to new input from city-makers and moves beyond EU-funded input that we — as the UrbanA team — have initially collected using the European Commission’s CORDIS database (see below).

Nevertheless we are playing a strong role in leading the mapping process, and in taking decisions on scoping, preparing and selecting what is included or excluded as a relevant approach. (By approaches we mean the diversity of interventions, actions, strategies, solutions or policies to tackling the urban challenges of sustainability and justice.) We are also navigating the conceptual paradoxes of inclusion and exclusion that arise in tackling these challenges. The art of mapping is thus a matter of being transparent about the decisions we make and how we make them, and about remaining open and critical of the process.

Read our full mapping guidelines here.

Send us a message

As we are in the middle of the mapping process, we would love to hear your thoughts! What are your top two or three approaches to tackling unsustainability and injustice in cities? And do you know of any great maps, databases or networks that would be interesting for us to check out? is our email.

Note: CORDIS holds all the primary results from projects funded by the EU’s framework programmes for research and innovation (FP1 to Horizon 2020).

Urban Arenas for sustainable and just cities

Distilling innovative #urbansolutions for #sustainablejustcities through a co-creative process with city-makers and city-thinkers #Horizon2020

Urban Arenas

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Urban Arenas for #sustainablejustcities. Distilling innovative #urbansolutions through a co-creative process with city-makers & city-thinkers

Urban Arenas for sustainable and just cities

Distilling innovative #urbansolutions for #sustainablejustcities through a co-creative process with city-makers and city-thinkers #Horizon2020

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