Gridding Equitable Urban Futures in Areas of Transition

Lancaster University, United Kingdom
21-22 September 2023

Join us in Lancaster in 2023 for this interdisciplinary conference
to explore critically and creatively these and related questions.

Critiques of technocratic approaches pervade much thinking and practice concerning transitions, sustainability, and development. These have shown the limitations of a range of instruments, from the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and the New Urban Agenda (Escobar 1995, 2018, Kaika 2017) through to the many and varied ‘smart’ solutions, concepts and indicators meant to chart the paths along which communities can become more sustainable, more resilient, and more adaptable to uncertain future conditions (Visvanathan 1991, Köhler et al 2019, Jirón et al 2021, Raven 2022).

The making of equitable urban futures with and by communities is intertwined with questions that are at once political, environmental, socio-economic, and cultural. These questions, in turn, include significant challenges concerning ethnicity, gender, class, age, the presence of violence, and the barriers that these pose to voice and representation. We invite contributions that engage with these questions and barriers in areas of transition, namely, areas undergoing change from one condition to another whether it involves: changes to particular ways of life; shifts in the use of technology; shifts in understandings of political regimes, local and national economies; the transformation of institutions related to, for example, transitional justice following periods of armed conflict, violence, and war; the transformation of legal frameworks and practices concerning the legacy of extractive industries; urban transitions and transformations research as defined by Torrens et al (2021); and more. The conference seeks to foster a debate about the various ways and means of ‘gridding’ equitable urban futures. Focusing on the verb ‘grid’ allows us to recognise, map, and develop the strong human ‘infrastructures of relational practices’ that are central to the making of futures (Simone 2015, 2004, Amin and Thrift 2017, Escobar 2018). 

How people ‘grid’ together social relations intersects with efforts that counter technical fixes designed with little concern for how they might be used by residents of, for example, informal settlements or popular neighbourhoods (via subsidies, or the direct provision of basic infrastructure). We wish to explore the multiple ways in which gridding practices come together, clash, and complement each other; and to learn from contributions that tell us about the politics, challenges and opportunities of gridding in particular places and times. We are interested in sharing experiences of generating critical participatory co-design processes which are integrative, holistic and seek to become sustainable in future.

As keystone contributions, the conference draws from and will include reports by members of the UKRI-GCRF project Gridding Equitable Urban Futures in Areas of Transition in Cali, Colombia and Havana, Cuba – GREAT, which brings together Lancaster University, University College London, Universidad del Valle in Cali and the Technological University of Havana “José Antonio Echavarría” CUJAE.

We welcome diverse contributions by policymakers and civic leaders, practitioners, activists, artists, and academics at all stages in their careers, who take communities and the social as their starting point to show how equitable urban and other futures can be conceptualised and acted upon. In particular, we want to discuss how exactly and under which conditions futures can become more equitable in relation to a range of specific challenges, including:

Land use, ownership and titling

Accessibility and equity in informal settlements or popular neighbourhoods

Evaluating transportation equity

Municipal solid waste management, circular economy, and zero waste experiences

• Infrastructures of care

• Relationships between on-grid and off-grid communities

• Intersectionality and the upgrading of informal settlements or popular neighbourhoods

• The role of gender, class, ethnicity, age in ‘gridding’ equitable urban futures

• Community data and technological infrastructures

• Methodological approaches to intersectional research and design for transitions

• The role of the arts in opening up different imaginaries of change


The conference welcomes panel proposals, full papers, posters, provocations, and art submissions. Abstracts (c.300 words, excluding references, for individual papers; panels should include c.300 words per paper) should be sent in Spanish or English to

Key dates

Open call: November 23rd 2022

Abstract submission deadline: May 19th 2023 (Extended)


⎯ Amin, A. and Thrift, N. Seeing Like a City (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2017).

⎯ Escobar, A. Encountering Development. The Making and Unmaking of the Third World (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995).

⎯ Escobar, A. Designs for the Pluriverse. Radical Interdependence, Autonomy, and the Making of Worlds (Durham: Duke University Press, 2018).

⎯ Jirón P, Imilán WA, Lange C, Mansilla P. Placebo urban interventions: Observing Smart City narratives in Santiago de Chile. Urban Studies 58, 3 (2021),601-620.

⎯ Kaika, M. ‘Don’t call me resilient again!’: the New Urban Agenda as immunology, or, what happens when communities refuse to be vaccinated with ‘smart cities’ and indicators, Environment and Urbanization 29, 1 (2017), 89-102.

⎯ Köhler, J. et al., An agenda for sustainability transitions research: State of the art and future directions, Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions 31 (2019), 1-32.

⎯ Raven, P. G. Smart cities: Policy without Polity. In C. López Galviz and E. Spiers (eds) Routledge International Handbook of Social Futures (New York and London: Routledge, 2022), 275-283.

⎯ Simone, A. M. Relational infrastructures in postcolonial urban worlds, in S. Graham and C. McFarlane (eds.), Infrastructural Lives Urban Infrastructure in Context (London and New York: Routledge, 2015), 17-38.

⎯ Simone, A. M. People as infrastructure: intersecting fragments in Johannesburg, Public Culture 13, 3 (2004), 407-08.

⎯ Torrens, J. et al. Advancing urban transitions and transformations research, Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions 41 (2021), 102-105.

⎯ Visvanathan, S. Mrs Bruntland’s Disenchanted Cosmos, Alternatives 16, 3 (1991), 377-384.