Urban Asia Futures: Futures present, past, and yet to come

22-23 February 2016 

Block AS7, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, National University of Singapore, Kent Ridge Campus


Programme available here: Urban Futures Asia Programme

The final workshop funded by the Urban Aspirations grant, this workshop seeks to explore ways in which the future, or futures, of Asia are being constructed, imagined and produced, not only from the ‘outside’, but from within Asia itself. It seeks answers to the questions, “What urban futures does Asia conjure? What role do forms of the future play in urban lives and material transformation in Asia today?”

Through a series of short blog-style pieces, presentations and discussions during the workshop, this workshop aims to bring together areas of thought and learning for scholars and practitioners invested in reflecting upon, and critiquing new urban futures in Asia. The project has in mind development of an edited collection of longer academic pieces after the workshop.

Until the middle of the twentieth century, dominant imaginings of many parts of Asia were not urban at all. And to the extent that specifically urban futures were imagined for Asia, prior to the past couple of decades these were often fashioned in the image of various (capitalist and communist) elsewheres. Today, in contrast, urban futurity is commonly located within Asia – demographically (having become the ‘centre of gravity’ of the world’s urban population), economically (as presenting miraculous growth and emerging opportunity), as a leading edge of innovations in urban governance (subaltern as well as ‘formal’), and in the realm of urban theorization (as a region from where responses have been made to the call for ‘new geographies of theory’). Even Ed Soja who famously cast greater Los Angeles as the most ‘advanced’ form of late twentieth century urbanism — which could supposedly be seen in earlier stages in every other metropolitan region in the world — has decentred urban theory to cities in Asia: ‘We can learn as much if not more from understanding what is happening in Mumbai, Delhi, Singapore, and Shanghai than we can from Los Angeles, New York, London, and Paris’ (cited in Harris, 2012: 6). Similar spatio- temporal remapping is evident in popular cultural depictions of urban futures. Much of the backdrop to an LA of the ‘slight’ future in Spike Jonze’s 2013 movie Her, for example, was filmed in Shanghai.

This workshop will bring together a diverse range of scholars examining the urban and Asia’s futures – past, present and yet to come. Extending from ongoing research at the National University of Singapore as part of a collaborative project on ‘Aspirations, Urban Governance and the Remaking of Asian Cities’, our interests span: historical forms of Asian futurity and associated legacies; contemporary (re)imaginings of Asian urban futures; and the active, constitutive role of various forms of the future in and beyond urban Asia. This could include (but is not limited to) consideration of the following questions:

  • –  At what point(s) did imagined futures of/for Asia become urban?
  • –  What are the legacies of futures past, both for urban experts and in the lives of 
ordinary urban dwellers in Asia?
  • –  Where have (and do) imaginings of Asian urban futures come from? Through what 
geographies is ‘the city yet to come’ imagined and sought? (Simone, 2004)
  • –  What role do culture (Appadurai, 2004), heritage, nostalgia (Lagerkvist, 2010) and 
religion (van der Veer, 2015) play in individual and collective imaginings of urban 
  • –  What temporalities frame future imaginings and horizons of possibility?
  • –  What are the effects of predictions, plans, projections and prophesies? And in what 
ways are urban lives in Asia played out in relation to risk and uncertainty (Zeiderman 
et al., 2015)?
  • –  What is the role of aesthetics in the power of urban futures in Asia?
  • –  In what ways are power, privilege and authority implicated in – and reconfigured by 
– visions of the future?
  • –  To what extent are futures centred upon the city? In what ways do imaginings of the countryside feature in the aspirational futures of Asian urbanites? (Gillen, 2015)
  • –  What do urban futures mean in an era of ‘planetary urbanization’ (Brenner and Schmid, 2011)?
  • –  How do and should urban scholars relate to urban futures in Asia and elsewhere?



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