Future of Cities  

Preparing urban practitioners for future challenges  

Picture of London's financial district with modern glass and metal office buildings with a graphic visualising data transmissions across the sky

How can we prepare for an unknown future when making decisions now about cities? Our research programme looks for inspiration beyond London and asks how built environment professionals can future-proof their projects.   

By 2050, two-thirds of the world’s population will live in urban areas (a projected increase from just over half in 2021). So the future of cities is likely to shape the future of life on our planet. 

We already know the way we tackle urgent global challenges such as the climate emergency will have a decisive impact on cities in 2050 and beyond. We also know there will be other challenges – we just can’t be sure what they are.  

Now in its second year, our Future of Cities action research programme looks beyond London to seek innovation and inspiration from other cities, to help our network of city makers respond to the big questions they’re asking. We aim to:   

  • inspire people working in the built environment to develop a mindset to act for the future
  • give them the insight, practical tools and skills needed to future-proof their decisions
  • encourage ingenuity, innovation and versatility, while also making the case to act now
  • showcase practical case studies and research from other cities.

There are lots of big ideas, and the topic is vast, but the outputs will be practical. We want to enable future urban leaders to prepare for an uncertain urban future while acting confidently and decisively now.  

What have we done so far? 

A person stands at a lectern with a small Swedish flag and Powerpoint slide that reads "What can London learn from other cities?"
Bridget Wilkins of DLUHC at the World Cafe event

The project’s first year focused on setting up international links, collecting data and insight, and co-creating the programme with our network and phase one sponsors Arup and Sheppard Robson.

We went on a virtual field trip to explore resilience in Sydney, Australia, and produced an innovative World Café, highlighting best practice from Sweden, Finland, Netherlands, Peru and the UK, among other places. Positive feedback demonstrated the value of Future of Cities to our network.

“It was a fantastic format that promoted international collaboration and innovation. We need more of this!” Future of Cities World Café attendee

Phase two: knowledge exchange and collaboration

Phase one focused on exploration, and now phase two will promote exchange. Over the next year, we want to grow existing and build new links with like-minded cities.

This will be a foundation for longer-term knowledge exchange and collaboration on major global challenges. This draws on our expertise in building interdisciplinary networks in London and Manchester.

Our goals for phase two are:

  • extending our connections in cities we’ve already worked with
  • showcasing practical case studies in more depth
  • developing meaningful connections with more cities
  • engaging our alumni and wider network as Future of Cities “ambassadors”
  • building links with international built environment networks and urban leadership programmes.

The programme will offer a mix of virtual field trips and in-person events (in London) throughout the year.

Future of Cities themes

Future of Cities will explore key themes of urgent global interest to future urban leaders. These will be decided as the programme develops, but could include:

  • Urban infrastructure hardware: data and AI, masterplanning, mobility, transport
  • Resilience, especially drought/flooding and other major events
  • Affordability of urban living
  • Wellbeing
  • Later living – ageing populations
  • Future generations – voices of young people
  • Culture and the city
  • Innovation and the knowledge economy

What is our goal?

The end goal of Future of Cities is to make deep links across sectors and disciplines around the UK and the world, to make better cities, far into the future.

This is a long-term programme designed to pinpoint the lessons London can learn – and what it can share with others.  

Get involved 

For more information about this project, please contact Sarah Yates. 

Phase one of Future of Cities supported by Arup and Sheppard Robson  


Future of Cities World Cafe
Our second Future of Cities event in January 2024, hosted by Arup, heard real-world case studies from cities across Europe, in South America and in the UK. Read the write-up here.

Scene of a bay in Sydney with wide boulevard and water in the foreground and sky scrapers in the background

Sydney and the resilient city
In November 2023 we went on a virtual field trip to Sydney, Australia, to find out how it is becoming a resilient city to prepare for future urban challenges. Read the write-up here.

Sign up to our mailing list to find out about the next stage in the Future of Cities programme first. 


We would love to hear from you if you have case studies or evidence of impact in other UK or in international cities. Contact us