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Exploring the smart natural city interface re-imagining and re-integrating urban planning and governance

09 Mar 2021

Globally, urban planners and decision makers are pursuing place-based initiatives to develop and enhance urban infrastructure to optimise city performance, competitiveness and sustainability credentials. New discourses associated with big data, Building Information Modelling, SMART cities, green and biophilic thinking inform research, policy and practice agendas to varying extents.  However, these discourses remain relatively isolated as much city planning is still pursued within traditional sectoral silos hindering integration.  This research explores new conceptual ground at the Smart – Natural City interface within a safe interdisciplinary opportunity space.  Using the city of Birmingham UK as a case study, a methodology was developed championing co-design, integration and social learning to develop a conceptual framework to navigate the challenges and opportunities at the Smart-Natural city interface. An innovation workshop and supplementary interviews drew upon the insights and experiences of 25 experts leading to the identification of five key spaces for the conceptualisation and delivery at the Smart-Natural city interface. At the core is the space for connectivity; surrounded by spaces for visioning, place-making, citizen-led participatory learning and monitoring. The framework provides a starting point for improved discussions, understandings and negotiations to cover all components of this particular interface. Our results show the importance of using all spaces within shared narratives; moving towards ‘silver-green’ and living infrastructure and developing data in response to identified priorities. Whilst the need for vision has dominated traditional urban planning discourses we have identified the need for improved connectivity as a prerequisite.  The use of all 5 characteristics collectively takes forward the literature on socio-ecological-technological relationships and heralds significant potential to inform and improve city governance frameworks, including the benefits of a transferable deliberative and co-design method that generates ownership with a real stake in the outcomes.

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