Discussions about cities are increasingly becoming a central issue globally. In recent years, widespread consensus have been achieved on some of the key attributes that should characterize our cities: protection of ecosystems, biodiversity, water; driven by low carbon energy matrices and increasing reliance on renewable energies; economies that aim to meet human needs instead of over-consuming (or even exhausting) natural resources; compact and polycentric territorial models and continuous, non-fragmented urban morphologies with increased efficiency in terms of land uses and distance management; constructive technologies that maximize energy efficiency of homes and other buildings; austere styles of collective and domestic consumption; surface connectivity and mobility by means of non-motorized modes as well as comfortable, fast and predictable public transport driven by clean technologies;; waste reduction, recycling and reuse policies; explicit housing, land and habitat policies that ensure the territorial, technical, economical and legal accessibility of different social strata to networks of urban utilities and to social equipment in terms of public spaces, education, healthcare culture and leisure; social diversity, equity and inclusiveness, with high levels of involvement and participation from local communities in decision-making processes related to uses of land and space, technologies, strategies and ways to grow and develop.
But these agreements and consensus are controversial, as those attributes often assume different meanings: ‘sustainability', ‘urban development', ‘environmental quality', ‘resilience' of cities, ‘appropriate technologies' or ‘social accessibility' do not mean the same for all those who propose or advocate these concepts. Projects and initiatives with different and conflicting approaches claim to be guided by these same principles, aimed at 'sustainability' or 'social equity' goals in the medium and long term. 'Virtuous' discourses often blur, mask or distort decision-making mechanisms and processes that actually produce unsustainability. Occasionally, proliferations of sectorial programs and projects with high visibility and communicational impact (eventually disconnected between them) may disguise the fact that the policies contained in them are often disjointed, which in turn reflects the fragmentation of institutional visions and representations of the city. The role of urban planning in reducing vulnerability or in building sustainable cities is not always clear or obvious and - too often - is barely visible to the population at large or even to government agencies themselves.
Significant segments of the current field of debates have been shaped through discussions, agreements and controversies around these concepts, their instruments, tools and applications. Many milestones in this visible evolution were also recorded throughout the 10 IUPEA previous International Symposia.
Contrarily, consensus on strategies and practices, options and trajectories, instruments and measures through which these "virtuous" and desirable cities could be locally built have not yet reached high visibility or are not as univocal.
In fact, the quest for sustainable futures is not only about imagining, designing or envisioning the ‘virtuous' next city or its components but about explaining and debating how we propose to make it, in which directions and using which policies, measures and instruments as well as by explicitly stating who is "we".
These proposals are not only technical decisions but political wills and inventions and social practices that direct, guide and shape the paths, trajectories and processes that structure - via producing, modelling, (re) building, renovating and transforming - the city.
The stakeholders' choices which surround the design of alternative trajectories, their strategic decisions and debates and the itineraries that build the cities' agendas constitute the political dimensions of urban and environmental planning, in its double meaning of 'policies' (purposeful and intentional guidelines that articulate and give meaning, orientation and significance to various combinations of intervention instruments and urban and environmental management policies) and 'politics' (relationships, oppositions, agreements and coalitions among diverse socio-territorial actors about scenario formulation, identification and assessment of alternative options and decision-making processes related to possible paths in building those cities.
IUPEA's 11th Symposium in La Plata aims to focus precisely upon these decision-making and political processes that steer the many different transitions that will define (give its form, contents and purpose to) the socio-territorial liveability and equity of our next cities.