The New Urban Agenda of the United Nations presents itself as a blueprint for governments globally. Through it, UN-Habitat seeks to combine the material, social and environmental agendas molding the urban world. The American Planning Association reflects this, advocating for planning that promotes social equity, inclusive communities, and expanded opportunities for all. The International Union of Architects speaks of revolutionizing design to ensure sustainable human settlement, while the AIA champions livable communities. In the UK, the RIBA links housing design and social inclusion and the National Housing Federation connects the provision of homes to public health. All this reflects the field of sociology and geography with the ISA identifying cites as the principle site of social conflict and political contestation and the American Association of Geographers linking the notions of resilience and urban justice.
This apparently holistic view suggests that 20th Century top-down and disciplinary reductive understandings of the urban condition, such as those attributed to the Athens Charter, are a thing of the past. It also suggests a scenario in which social equity is fully integrated into notions of development. However, even a cursory glance at the reality of early 21st Century urbanism shows this is clearly not the case. On the one hand, individual disciplines still tend to work in isolation and even in competition, while on the other, Neoliberal agendas still represent the raison d’être of most development projects. The Alternatives to the Present conference seeks to critique the dichotomies involved in this increasingly confused scenario by bringing together various disciplines to interrogate the diversity of factors either limiting or activating the possibilities of an equitable urban future.