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#CabotNext10 Spotlight on City Futures

In conversation with Dr Katharina Burger, theme lead at the Cabot Institute for the Environment.

Dr Katharina Burger

Why did you choose to become a theme leader at Cabot Institute?

I applied to become a Theme Leader at Cabot, a voluntary role, to bring together scientists from different faculties to help us jointly develop proposals to address some of the major challenges facing our urban environments. My educational background is in Civil Engineering at Bristol and I am now in the School of Management, I felt that this combination would allow me to build links and communicate across different ways of thinking about socio-technical challenges and systems.

In your opinion, what is one of the biggest global challenges associated with your theme? (Feel free to name others if there is more than one)

The biggest challenge is to evolve environmentally sustainable, resilient, socially inclusive, safe and violence-free and economically productive cities. The following areas are part of this challenge:

  1. Divided Cities/Inclusive Growth: addressing intra-urban spatial inequalities and economic segregation in cities, including across income groups and new arrivals to the city, the role of housing affordability and public transport accessibility in widening intra-city inequalities
  2. Providing urban services through effective governance, innovation and resilient infrastructures: the role of public policies in bridging urban divides and the relevance of the scale of analysis, developing insights to build effective cross-sector partnerships, including co-design and delivery of impactful projects, engaging communities and supporting inclusion
  3. Infrastructure resilience: smart and sustainable city infrastructure, adaptive to climate change, enabling low carbon transitions; sustainable financing and new multi-sectoral business models.

As we are looking into the future, what longer term projects are there in your theme?

At the University of Bristol, and within the GW4 Alliance, there are several groups seeking to make a positive impact on our urban futures. For example, there is an Urban Research Group in the Faculty of Social Sciences & Law, a GW4 Urban Humanities cluster, and some very large projects on smart and sustainable cities in engineering. Cabot has always managed to convene people with different interests, and the work of the Cabot City Futures theme is really composed of the multiplicity of individual projects that take place across the university. It is this variety of interests, particularly when discussed with a view to their role in climate-friendly and inclusive future cities, that captures what the theme is about.

Examples of research related to cities can be found by using UoB’s search engine with a keyword search. Staff self-identify as being affiliated with Cabot, and this is also visible through this search engine.

Across the portfolio of projects in your theme, what type of institutions are you working with? (For example, governments, NGO’s)

Theme members work with a wide range of institutions, as well as non-governmental organisations, businesses and community organisations within Bristol, and internationally.

Examples of research related to cities, and information about participating organisations, can be found by using UoB’s search engine with a keyword search.

What disciplines are currently represented within your theme?

On the City Futures Theme mailing list, the following disciplines are represented:

Accounting and Finance, Aerospace Engineering, Anthropology and Archaeology, Biological Sciences, Centre for English Language and Foundation Studies, Chemistry, Civil Engineering, Computer Science, Computer Science, Earth Sciences, Economics, Economics, Finance and Management, Education, Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Engineering Mathematics, English, French, Geographical Sciences, History, Italian, Law School, Management, Mechanical Engineering, Medical School, Philosophy, Physics, Physics, Policy Studies, Psychological Science, Sociology, Politics and International Studies, and Veterinary School.

In your opinion, why is it important to highlight interdisciplinary research both in general and here at Bristol?

Interdisciplinary research is key to addressing challenges that cut across social, cultural and technical boundaries, and challenges within cities tend to be characterised by this complexity. As such, systems approaches are needed to engage citizens, businesses, local government, and academia in shaping City futures. This means that we need to bring together disciplines that are:

  1. human-centred and focus on individual and collective learning processes
  2. traditional engineering disciplines that support many of the technical systems and increasingly digital infrastructures that underpin many of the services that citizens rely on for quality of life
  3. more foundational disciplines, such as, biology and chemistry that develop innovative approaches to nature-based solutions for cities to make them more climate-resilient.
  4. community medicines which help to develop a more holistic approach to notions of resilience in cities.

And of course, there are questions around the role of a city in international city networks so that learning is enabled, and this may require insights from political scientists, while there are also questions about urban histories and urban futures where humanities scholars and anthropologists may be particularly well-versed in helping us develop a better understanding of challenges. And there are most certainly many more disciplines where specialist perspectives, frameworks, and methodologies can contribute to help us genuinely develop novel approaches to city futures.

Are there any projects which are currently underway in your theme which are interdisciplinary that you believe should be highlighted in this campaign?

The theme has supported various interdisciplinary activities over the years. Please consult the Cabot Institute for the Environment.

A project that I am currently working on is a knowledge exchange project with West of England Combined Authority (WECA), where we’re developing Open Access toolkit to aid with sustainable business recovery in the City of Bristol and the wider region. The project cuts across questions of socio-economic mobility and HR diversity, sustainable business practices, and technological innovation, highlighting the need for interdisciplinary thinking in order to address challenges that pertain to inclusive urban prosperity, quality of life and sustainability .

For more information about this Cabot Institute for the Environment research theme, visit our website.

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