UT Key Debates

What are the key issues faced by cities across the world today? How should we reflect on the past and anticipate the future in terms of developing and managing our cities effectively?

Leading thinkers in the urban studies field have been commissioned to grapple with such questions in the UT Key Debates Series. Each has been asked to write on a specific issue, such as the metropolis and mental life and devolution of powers to cities, in order to provoke discussion between scholars and practitioners.

A number of commentators have been asked to reflect on these position papers. We are keen to accept more reactions and comments, so please do get in touch if you have thoughts to add – Email us

Current debate

new urban agenda debate image

2030 Policy Endorsement of a Sustainable Future: Implications for Urban Research

by Susan Parnell, Owen Crankshaw & Michele Acuto

1. Introduction

Not since the United Nations was created after the Second World War has there been such a concerted effort to galvanize the global community to act differently and to manage cities and territories better, ‘for people, planet and prosperity’.[1] Unprecedented demographic growth, climate change, unchecked consumption and increased human exposure to natural hazards and other risks have precipitated a shift in the social norms of the international community, making many policy frontiers more receptive to ‘the city’. Several UN agreements now acknowledge the essentially urban character of our common future and set out a ‘2030 sustainable development agenda’, with specified goals that will frame national and local actions. In policy statements across the UN, a coherent view that cities and towns are a non-negotiable feature of the future is gradually emerging, marking out a distinctive new scale of global policy direction and opening significant questions for research.[2] The central concern of this paper is to interrogate what this shift to city-centric global thinking means for urban research and for intellectual leadership in the urban community more generally.

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Previous debates

Metropolis and mental life

The Neurosocial City

by Des Fitzgerald & Nikolas Rose

What are sociologists and urbanists to make of the characteristic patterns of mental disorder that have been observed in cities since the nineteenth century? What are planners and policy-makers to make of them? Do such patterns emerge because those with degenerate constitutions migrate to certain parts of the city where they feel comfortable or where they might indulge their vices? Do they come from the stresses and strains of the urban itself – the hubbub, the noise, the enforced proximity to strangers, the unnatural and frenzied atmosphere? Are they embedded in family structures that cluster in urban areas – whether small, single parent families, large, conjoined families, or loose strings of isolated men and women, seemingly cut free of the traditional bonds of affiliation? Is it that those who live in certain parts of the city are simply poor, deprived, excluded, and made repeatedly subject to the ongoing violence of race and class? Or should we focus more on environmental factors such as housing density, exposure to fumes from vehicles – even the weather? And how, in the middle of all of this, should we think about the differences between psychiatric diagnoses?

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