Designing the city of the future


Designing the city of the future

Queen’s researcher Grace Adeniyi-Ogunyankin has been named a Fellow of a new Canadian program examining the future of cities. 

April 14, 2023


[Photo of Dr. Grace Adenyi-Ogunyankin]
Grace Adeniyi-Ogunyankin, Canada Research Chair in Youth and African Urban Futures

The future is closer than we think when it comes to cities. By 2050, more than 70 per cent of the world’s population will live in an urban area. This population boom will transform the city as we know it, compounding the current challenges facing urban development in realizing a livable and prosperous city. The Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) has launched a new program, Humanity’s Urban Future, to understand what it will take to build successful cities. Using six locations from around the world as test-cases, researchers will look to the urban past to imagine its future – aiming to transform urban policy and planning, regulation, and infrastructure, inspire collective deliberation, and learn about the process to actualize better urban environments for all.

Queen’s researcher and Canada Research Chair in Youth and African Urban Futures Grace Adeniyi-Ogunyankin (Geography and Planning; Gender Studies) has been named a Fellow of CIFAR’s new program. She will join researchers from Mexico, United States, United Kingdom, Belgium, Italy, Austria, India, and Canada’s York University in studying how metropolitan centres have changed over time and space with the goal to engage policy makers, political advisors, and civic actors for future social impact. CIFAR Fellows are internationally recognized for conducting innovative studies that lead to high-impact advances in their research fields. The Queen’s Gazette sat down with Dr. Adeniyi-Ogunyankin to learn more about this new program and her thoughts on the future of the city.

Could you tell us more about CIFAR’s Humanity’s Urban Future program and your involvement with the project?

The central question driving the program is, “what is a good city of the future?” Our endeavor to answer this question seriously takes the connection between the urban past and future into consideration while examining many important factors, including infrastructure (both material and institutional), political divisions, questions of scale, climate change, and other potential crises. The program will use six cities as test-cases: Calcutta, Kinshasa, Mexico City, Naples, Shanghai, and Toronto. I’ll be part of the team conducting research in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo.

You currently hold the Canada Research Chair in Youth and African Urban Futures and are now a CIFAR Fellow. How are these programs helping to advance your research?

These programs have led to unprecedented opportunities for collaborative work and interdisciplinary conversations. As a result, my research scope now has more depth than initially imagined. I’m experimenting with different methods and integrating various theoretical frameworks as I think through the role that the intersections of neoliberal urban change, technology, global consumer culture, and labour play in (re)configuring youth identity and providing opportunities for youth to orientate themselves towards the future.

[Queen's Art of Research photo "Under the Umbrella"]
Queen's Art of Research 2020 winner "Under the Umbrella" by Dr. Grace Adeniyi-Ogunyankin.

You explained that the Humanity’s Urban Future program seeks to study what makes a “good city of the future.” How do you anticipate cities will need to adapt and will the definition of a “good city” vary regionally?

Right now, I’m in Lagos, Nigeria – and just behind where I am staying, I can see construction taking place. They’ve filled up parts of the Lagos Lagoon for estate development. And of course, these developments are taking place with a particular vision of the future in mind. It’s definitely not a future that has a wealthy ecosystem and privileges a dynamic co-existence with nature/non-humans. I strongly believe that the question is not so much how will cities need to adapt to the future, but more along the lines of will we adapt/change to ensure there is a viable future?

And yes, I definitely think the definition of a good city will vary – because context always matters and “good” will have various definitions. Nevertheless, I would like to think that there could be some sort of commonality – that is, for example, a “good city” would be one that rejects extractive capitalism and (neo)colonial norms.

What do you hope the outcomes of the CIFAR program will be?

My understanding is that the program will involve more than just academics. For example, in Kinshasa, we will collaborate with local scholars, local planners, NGOs, and other stakeholders. Thus, in terms of outcomes, beyond publications and training of early career scholars, the hope is that the projects we work on, in each test-case city, will lead to policy recommendations and infrastructural changes. We aim to provide insight on best practices for other locales beyond the cities involved in the Humanity’s Urban Future program.

To learn more about the Humanity’s Urban Future program, see the CIFARwebsite and visit Dr. Adeniyi-Ogunyankin’s website for more information on her research.

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