Design thinking to co-create cities of the future

Jim Sims

By Jim Sims, on February 16th, 2018

> Read Jim Sims's articles

The future of urban development and co-creation of solutions to challenges cities are facing were at the core of discussions at the City Development Forum held in Poznan (PL) on 6 and 7 December 2017.

Poznan_CityDevelopmentForum_2Speakers included city leaders such as Jacek Jaśkowiak, Mayor of Poznan (PL), Paweł Adamowicz, Mayor of Gdansk (PL), Giuseppe De Biasi, Chief of Cabinet of the Metropolitan City of Bologna (IT) and Andriy Moskalenko, Deputy of Lviv City (UA) as well as a mix of sociologists, economists, urban planners, academics, business owners and innovation and design specialists.

With more than 400 delegates from all over Europe, they discussed issues such as:

  • How to stimulate, foster and support increased civic participation;
  • The importance of integrated policy making in urban development;
  • The changing face of sustainable urban mobility;
  • The role of Technology in shaping the future of a ‘Smart City’;
  • The role of the Cultural and Creative Industries in Placemaking; and
  • Utilising ‘design thinking’ to develop effective policy interventions;

The event pushed the idea that a two-way process of co-operation and exchange of ideas between the institutions and the residents is required to help shape the future direction of the modern city.

Here are five ‘take-aways’ from the forum:

1.     New ‘collaborative’ governance models boost sustainable urban development

“In such uncertain times, it is vital for cities to build solid and balanced structures for governing their development, that can replace the somewhat traditional, inefficient models of the past” noted Dr Jerzy Kociatkiewicz, Senior Lecturer in Management from The University of Sheffield .

He advanced the idea that cities should become increasingly important in development terms (because they are free from nationalist interests) and  argued strongly for the adoption of more collaborative governance models, which place a stronger emphasis on cooperation, rather than competition or individualism.

2.     Open, flexible, participative processes empower citizens to discuss and confront their ideas about how the city should develop

Jerzy HausnerIt is important for cities “to define and establish rules for managing the city and conducting urban policy, which is binding upon both the municipal authorities and the citizens” argued Professor Jerzy Hausner , Head of the Department of Public Economy at Cracow University of Economics.

He made the case strongly for a flexible, open process of engagement, which incorporates the views of other stakeholders – and innovative actors.

3.     Clear away the clutter and focus on key strategic priorities

Whilst digital technologies provide cities with phenomenal opportunities to enable them to collaborate with large numbers of people in designing the city, this extended participation can also bring some challenges, in terms of the volume of ideas, underlined Roberto Verganti. In light of this situation, he argued that, in a world overcrowded by ideas, it is vital for cities to clear away the clutter and nurture a meaningful vision that people love, that can drive collective change

4.     ‘Walk the talk’ to fully engage with citizens

Poznan_CityDevelopmentForum_6The Urban Development Forum afforded the residents of Poznan the opportunity to submit ideas for a competition to design innovative new public services, which were then further developed in a number of participative workshops, utilising the tried and tested Design Sprint methodology. These workshops were aimed at residents who wanted to create urban Think-Tanks and/or support community-based initiatives to solve identified social problems.

5.     Cities learn from each other

Getting inspired by other cities practices is a very valuable policy tool. Two URBACT Good Practices demonstrated the impact of citizen initiatives and user-centred policies on the development of cities.

The City of Lodz (PL) presented how it has revitalised its historic districts by involving its inhabitants and the City of Kazincbarcika (PL) explained how it supported intergenerational cooperation for urban social renewal .

The use of exchanging between cities at European level was further demonstrated by URBACT Networks such as GEN-Y CITY, which looks at how cities can develop, retain and attract young entrepreneurial ‘tech’ talent, to help them develop and prosper; Citi-MobilNet on the development of sustainable urban mobility; TechTown, which leads cities towards their digital future; and the Interreg project SULPiTER on freight in functional urban areas.

Poznan_CityDevelopmentForum_5Discussion at the Forum focussed on differing stakeholder’s views of the participatory planning process and the need for cities to move away from an overly ‘top down’ approach to urban planning (which places too strong emphasis on telling, selling or consulting) to one which places high-quality citizen engagement at the heart of a collaborative process of co-creation.

Delivered as a highly participative event, the 2017 Forum provided another opportunity for the residents of Poznan to learn and collaborate with city leaders, academics, policymakers and business people, to begin to shape the future of the city.

As Iwona Matuszczak- Szulc, Director of City Development Department, Poznań City Hall explains, “Social innovation and residents’ projects are becoming more and more significant in Poznan, enabling residents to create new possibilities to establish relations and make changes in the urban space.

The relation between the urban space and invention is becoming increasingly important. Taken up by residents, such initiatives lay down – often through innovative actions – new patters for relations, types of practices, offers for the space. In the urban space which has always been a distinctive feature of the cities (exchange of products, goods, services, information, and attitudes) is currently experiencing dynamic transformation.

Keep an eye out for some of the potential urban innovations likely to flow in future, as a result of this excellent collaborative, co-creation process!


The 2017 Forum Rozwoju Miast (City Development Forum) was supported by URBACT through GEN-Y CITY Network, which looks at how cities can develop, retain and attract young entrepreneurial ‘tech’ talent, to help them develop and prosper. More information on the City Development Forum

Find speakers mentionned on twitter:


Leave a Reply