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Re-imagining the future: City region foresight and visioning in an era of fragmented governance

Deadline: 31 July 2020


In an era of fragmented, multi-level governance systems, short-term politics, and the lack of strategic spatial intelligence in shaping the prospects for the future of places, there is a growing need for coherent long-term direction for city regions. Growing austerity, emerging growth-agendas, neo-liberalism and the rise of populism have also seen a movement away from formal state-led strategic and sub-regional planning tools towards more flexible and informal alliances for longer-term planning and visioning. Today, more than ever, therefore, as climate change risks and socio-economic uncertainties also dominate urban agendas, city regions are under pressure to think and plan for the longer term (i.e. at least 15-20 years) beyond simply short-term horizons.

There is a growing need therefore to provide a critical reflection on urban and regional futures in theory and practice, drawing on, for example, anticipation studies and methods.  Some critical questions here include: How can city region foresight and visioning capabilities and techniques be developed and used within or alongside existing governance frameworks, by a range of public and private actors?  Foresight and visioning here includes a wide range of future studies, scenario planning, horizon scanning, transition management, community visioning, anticipatory policy intelligence, road-mapping and similar techniques. The common features of these include: (i) longer time horizons; (ii) wider communities of stakeholders; and, (iii) deeper layers of systems change, than can be addressed by mainstream functional planning. Typically, the use of these techniques can underpin new forms of strategic ‘quasi-planning’ (or visioning) for governance agencies yet, at the same time, may usurp existing planning or governance regimes, often through the development of what is termed ‘adaptive’ or ‘agile’ planning.

The special issue will explore, at a city regional scale (which includes cities within their regional context), how foresight, futures and visioning studies are being used to develop new spatial imaginaries and redefine strategic planning for both shorter and longer horizons. The critical questions here include: who initiates and controls city region foresight, futures and visioning? To what extent are these techniques embedded within existing formal and democratic forms of sub-regional government, or do they work better in alternative models of ‘adaptive’ or ‘agile’ planning?  How are established methods of futures / foresight studies being used in practice?  How might mainstream regional strategic planning and decision-making respond and learn from the city region foresight and visioning?

Submission Information and Timeline

The special issue will seek to encourage scholarly debate, and critique of theory, practice and outcomes, and will draw on multi-disciplinary and inter-disciplinary research with an international reach.  The issue will also encourage a wider contribution from research focusing on open innovation that has a long-term visionary component, and can be characterised by, for example, a co-production (and/or co-creation) ‘quadruple helix’ approach, and which also contributes towards ongoing debate on place-based leadership. In this respect, two strong cross-cutting (and multi-scale) themes for papers in the special issue will be (i) the relationships between infrastructure, governance, and the role(s) of anchor institutions in longer term strategic planning; and (ii) the relationships between the state, businesses, and citizen engagement in long term visioning.

We invite papers that address the following indicative questions:

  • Who or what shapes the long-term imaginaries and trajectories of city regions? 
  • How are different actors (such as the state, business, civil society or others) influencing the long term visionary perspectives of city regions? Which form(s) are the resultant foresight and visioning taking?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of foresight and visioning? What role can anticipatory intelligence and open (or transformative) innovation play in developing different ways of seeing the future?
  • What democratic or transparent form do these techniques take, and how representative and inclusive are their activities, in existing regional and sub-regional governance structures and processes? 
  • Are they allowing the emergence of excluded, ‘hidden’ voices to shape the city region, and how does the state react to this and how does it manage difference or conflict?
  • What methods and tools are being used for city regions’ foresight, futures and visioning, and how do they sit next to traditional planning methods and systems? 
  • How agile and co-creative, or how legitimised and accountable, are such foresight and visioning processes?
  • What considerations for governance qualities, systems and structures are implied in current foresight and visions about the future of city regions?
Submission guidelines

The Special Issue Guest Editors welcome papers for consideration from academics and researchers, especially those with an interest in planning, geography, urban futures, foresight and place-based studies.

Authors interested in publishing in the Special Issue should, in the first instance, submit a 400 word abstract to Tim Dixon by 31 July 2020.

Successful authors will be notified of abstract acceptance by 30 October 2020. Full papers must be received 31 January 2021.

Please note that all submissions are not guaranteed publication and will be subject to Regional Studies’ normal rigorous peer review process. Details of Regional Studies’ publication process, evaluation criteria and style are available on the journal’s website.

Submissions will be subject to the journal’s standard peer review process. Details regarding the publication process, evaluation criteria and style are available on the Regional Studies website.

Guest Editors

Tim Dixon (University of Reading) – [email protected]

Mark Tewdwr-Jones (Newcastle University) - [email protected]

Joe Ravetz (University of Manchester) - [email protected]

Geci Karuri-Sebina (University of Witwatersrand) -  [email protected]

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