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Futures 43 (2011) 432439

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Urban futures in the age of unsettlement

Tony Fry *
Design Futures Program, Grifth University, Queensland College of Art, Australia


Article history: Rather than appealing to the agency of community and the received discourse of
Available online 28 January 2011 sustainability, this paper offers a critical perspective on both concepts. It puts forward a
contextually dynamic view of urban futures presented at a moment when the continuity
of human settlement in its current forms appears as increasingly problematic. Against this
backdrop, both community and urban futures are rethought and brought into relation with
(i) the emergent discourse of sustainment (named as a moment, project and process) and
(ii) the rise of redirective practice. Overall, the argument and ideas presented seek to
reframe how the fate of the city, its social fabric, economy and political structures are
viewed and engaged.
2011 Published by Elsevier Ltd.

1. Introduction

The ideas presented here aim to prompt thinking about urban futures outside any certainty that the future of the urban, as
we know it, is assured. The adequacy of existing scholarship on urbanism to confront unfolding defuturing forces is
challenged. Put bluntly, because the vast bulk of past and present literature is based on the assumption of the continuity of
the urban, it lacks the focus and agenda to confront what is actually happening. This is not to say there are no scholars
grappling with what presses, but that they are scattered across disciplines and thus dont add up to an identiable, strong
position.1 Thinking the fate of present forms of the urban as uncertain is not a position that stands or falls on empirical
evidence. Obviously there are empirical factors to acknowledge, but their causal consequences are by no means clear. This
situation to be evoked calls for original thinking, but as Martin Heidegger pointed out in What is Called Thinking: the more
original the thinking, the richer will be what is unthought in it [1]. The reader is thus now offered two challenges
discovering if what is presented offers any original thinking and then thinking the unthought. Reading in this context
becomes a work of creation more than an act of communicative consumption.
The urban environment, as the place where the majority of people live and work, will be where the future of humanity
will be signicantly played out. So said, if urban environments, in both the rich and poor worlds, remain as they are,
prospects are bleak the massing of people, thermal materials, energy and goods make them ever more vulnerable to a
dramatically changing climate.2 This is especially so with those cities that were initially inappropriately geographically sited.
It follows that is it is not a matter of sustaining urban environments in their current form. At best, some cities may be able to
retrotted and recovered; at worst many others will be abandoned. In both cases, new ways of living and working together
will have to be created. This transformation, as we shall see, cannot be done by merely adopting a biophysical approach to

* Corresponding author. Tel.: +61 07 4697 8082.

E-mail address:
Here one can cite for example: Geographer, Augustin Berque; Sociologist and Planner, Manuel Castells; Urban Theorist Mike Davis; and Architect/
Philosopher, Paul Virilio.
Climate impacts here not only include extreme weather events but, for instance, the increase of vector borne diseases and heat stress from heat
islanding see

0016-3287/$ see front matter 2011 Published by Elsevier Ltd.

T. Fry / Futures 43 (2011) 432439 433

greening cities or by using methods of sustainable urbanism based on designing with nature [2]. Such approaches are
totally insufcient given the increasingly alarming, empirically based, projections of rates of change of biophysical
Likewise, one can rightfully claim that the viability of community is a critical factor in securing human sustain-ability in
actuality, we need each other to survive as much as we need fresh air, clean water and nourishing food. In so far as we depend
on others, our singularity is illusory (biologically we are autonomous entities, at an autopoietic level, who exist within a
relational system of dependence [3]). Yet the question of what constitutes a viable urban community, begs examination. If
we view the ability to sustain the self in its material and socio-cultural condition of dependence as intrinsic to community, it
can be said that mostly what we call community currently exists in dysfunctionality. Such dysfunction in fact falls within the
contemporary global dynamic of unsustainability (a condition that can be dened as one wherein the combined inter-
generational actions of human beings have created circumstances that negate human futures). It will be argued that
community is something that is fragmenting or, at best, only functions inoperatively as an instrumental function rather than
socially cohesive structure. This is to say community is mostly mobilised as a hollow term. We cannot simply appeal to
something that is breaking into plural forms, many of which are terminal.
What now follows will consider: the future as framed in the unfolding present; why sustainment has to displace the
concept of sustainability; the importance of reconstituting the nature of community; and what now needs to be engaged and

2. The future in time

The future is not empty; it is not a void. Rather it is lled with all those things we have thrown into it as they travel back
toward us delivering either their futuring or defuturing potential [4]. In this respect, we travel toward the future while the
future travels toward us. The most obvious and often cited negative example of this is the defuturing action of those
greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere as they are changing the coming climate. It should be remembered that these
gases have a long life the atmospheric life of carbon dioxide can be over two hundred years. Problems are rarely presented
or seen in time (literally and metaphorically). IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) data on atmospheric and
deep ocean temperatures and the rate of sea level rises, indicate that irrespective of cause or responsive action, the impacts of
climate change will continue for 300400 years, even if human induced greenhouse gas emission ceased immediately. The
more of us we are, the more the future becomes lled with things that diminish our being in time. We are nite beings and
the consequences of our collective actions determine if we walk the planet for a long or short time.
While recognition of environmental problems has increased over the last fty years, and while climate change has
become a fear of the age, our demands upon, and abuse of, those environments that sustain us continue almost unabated. In
the face of that deep unknowing embedded in anthropocentrism, our defuturing action ever gains momentum. The
environmentalists call to save the planet is a mark of failure to confront our anthropocentric disposition. Moreover, we are
among that which is at risk. Certainly, human damage to the planet is undeniable, but it will survive long after we have
vanished. We cannot cease to be anthropocentric. But the more we recognise this and take responsibility for what we do, the
more time we will have (and the less damage we will do).
Part of the problem of how human beings act in, and on, the world rests with how time is felt and understood. Time is
predominantly viewed as a measure of duration refracted through the length of a human life. We can contemplate time as an
abstraction, as a relativistic construct and science has conspired with such a perception but we live by experiential time. A
more fundamental understanding of time as change and as a medium in which events occur, has been forgotten. Aristotle
understood time in this way, as did a number of contemporary thinkers and many non-modern cultures [5]. To re-
emphasise: time is not independent of what we do.
We also need to recognise that unsustainability is not merely a quality and consequence of a modern economy. It became
an inherent feature of our collective being which became amplied and made visible by modern modes of resource
extraction, production, exchange, industrial and domestic utilisation. Intrinsically, as soon as we denaturalised ourselves and
started intervening in the natural, the die of unsustainability was cast. In this respect, most people, cultures and civilisations,
in making a world within the world, failed to recognise what they were destroying as they created. But now, as is increasingly

From IPCC gures on the level of sea rises; to the rate of melting of glaciers in the Himalayas, the rise of deep sea ocean temperatures, the loss of
biodiversity globally, and more the grim announcements now come almost daily. As an example, in just the last week in Australia, the following made
headlines: a Federal government report estimated that by the end of the century between 157,000 and 247,000 homes would be inundated by rising sea-
levels (Australian Government, Department of Climate Change, Climate Change Risks to Australias Coasts: A First Pass National Assessment Canberra,
November 2009); a new category, catastrophic, was added to the national system for rating bushre danger as temperatures soared past 40 8C in towns and
cities across several states (ABC Radio National News, Friday 20 November, 2009); the latest Global Carbon Project audit of carbon dioxide levels from
human activities shows increases of about 2% per year, which if maintained for many more decades, takes the planet close to the worst-case scenario of
warming of up to 7 8C by the end of the century that level of climate change is in some sense unthinkable comments Professor Matthew England from the
University of New South Wales (ABC Radio National News Weds 18 November 2009); the US Navy issued its Arctic roadmap outline the potential for
competition and conict as the Arctic experiences nearly ice-free summers in just over 20 years time ironically, the object of competition will be newly
accessible oil reserves (The World Today, ABC Radio National Friday 20 November, 2009). We are swamped with data that fails to get relationally connected
and acted upon.
434 T. Fry / Futures 43 (2011) 432439

becoming clear, the ability to sustain our selves (and all we depend upon) is determined by establishing a futuring relation
between the processes of creation, destruction and renewal. Put simply, we have to know what we are doing.

2.1. Defuturing, unsettlement and conict

Defuturing can be characterised as a mode making that fails to comprehend what it destroys (as well as being a
interpretative method that reads such action). It is a specic process of unmaking that started with the very commencement
of human settlement, some twelve thousand years ago. This moment is marked by two moves both with massive
transformative consequences. First, was the abandonment of the world as home (which it was for nomadic people), and
second, was the making of a discernible world within the world (which led to a situation where surplus and excess was made
possible). Contemporary defuturing was pregured by these events (which are frequently claimed as having occurred in the
Fertile Crescent of the Middle East) [6]. The developmental trajectory of settlement of this moment has continued unabated.
It is epitomised by the notion of, and capitalisms adherence to, continual economic growth (the economic version of
perpetual motion). This suggests that defuturing, and thus unsustainability, is inscribed in the currently dominant system of
exchange of materials, good and services is at odds with the fundamental processes of exchange that constitute ecologies.
Put bluntly, not matter what is greened, capitalism is inherently unsustainable. Sustainable development does not interrupt
this trajectory; it is simply a qualier of capital logic more of the same with a little less negative impacts. It does not turn
back on itself and embark upon the development of sustainment.
The developmental trajectory of humanity combined with our anthropocentrically restricted vision, has triggered what
has been named here as defuturing, wherein the very forms employed to sustain humanity act against our futural potential
producing what James Lovelock calls the revenge of Gaia [7]. Dawning climate chaos is but one manifestation of this
situation. The conditions resulting from these circumstances, rather than being marginal to advancing sustainable urban
futures, are central to them.
Organizations as diverse as the World Bank, Oxfam, the International Red Cross and the IPCC are saying that there will be
tens or even hundreds of millions of climate refugees by the end of the centurythey could in fact number ten percent of the
human population [8]. There are projections that there will be 200 million such refugees by 2050 [9]. Even if these gures are
inated, the numbers will still represent a refugee problem of an unimagined scale. Already the international community has
problems accommodating the 3040 million refugees currently existing in the world.
Having perhaps 10% of the global population as refugees, together with large numbers of internally displaced persons
(IDPs), combined with the climate-forced relocation of many towns and cities, means that is possible that the twelve
thousand year epoch of human settlement will come to an end and be replaced by an age of unsettlement. This situation will
likely change the human psyche and create unprecedented risks of conict.
Notwithstanding what will be early efforts to control the situation with border protection measures and detention camps,
the situation will quickly escalate beyond any current means of containment. Clearly this would be replete with dangers and
could in fact threaten the very integrity of the state.
While the condition of unsettlement will result from, and be evidenced by, various kinds of environmental and social
impacts, what it will fundamentally mark is a change in the human condition, as the long period of climatic stability that
made permanent settlement possible, comes to an end these impacts include inundation from sea level rises, extreme
weather events (e.g., cyclones), heat (both res and heat islandingradiant heat from the hot thermal mass of the city), loss of
water supply, etc. The actual variation during this 10,000 year period has only been +0.5 8C to 0.5 8C, whereas for many tens
of thousands of years prior to this it was extremely unstable. In the immediate ten thousand years before settlement
commenced and the last major ice age ended (based on quasi-log scale gures) the temperature uctuated between 3 8C
and 5 8C measured against the current range [10]. The best estimate over the next 100 years from the IPCC (based on a range
between 1.1 8C and 6.4 8C) is for an increase between 1.8 8C and 4.0 8C. No matter what the increase or what the cause;
humanity is headed toward the same levels of instability that existed in its prehistoric past. To date he history of the
international communitys efforts reverse this trend has been pathetic, as most the recent climate summit Copenhagen in
2009 evidenced.
The instability that will underpin the condition of unsettlement will result from the combination of both the geophysical
and geopolitical impacts of a changing climate. Not least here will be climate-related conicts as large number of climate
refugees cross borders uninvited because they have lost their land, homes or source of food the prospect of climate wars is
already well recognised [11].
Consider for example Bangladesh it is one of the highest risk nations in the world and is exposed to sea level rises
estimated to inundate forty percent of the country displacing perhaps sixty million people. This volume of people moving up
into the highlands could well create major conict. Likewise, in a recently published Defence White Paper, the Australian
Government noted the prospect of climate-related social instability in the Indonesian Archipelago as a national security risk
from 2030 onward (the decision to increase the size of the Australian Navy can be seen partly in this context) [12].
Figures, including from the IPCC and Grifth University Centre for Coastal Management, indicate even if dramatic
reduction in greenhouse gases were achieved globally the problem will exist for hundreds of years CO2 has an atmospheric
life of 200 years plus, deep sea ocean temperatures (the planets thermostat) take around 200 years to adjust and sea levels
are set to rise for the next 300400 years. In such a setting, with the kind of problems en route it can be expected that the
sense of insecurity created by such situations will alter the psyche of almost everyone.
T. Fry / Futures 43 (2011) 432439 435

Early signs of insecurity are already evident. Some Pacic islands are now planning mass evacuations; in the Indian
Ocean, authorities in the Maldives are seeking help from other nations to accommodate 300,000 people; and wealthy people
in Bangladesh are already leaving the country. Unsettlement is also emerging in Australia. In February 2009, when many
small towns in the State of Victoria were destroyed by re and almost two hundred people lost their lives, the whole nation
was unsettled a condition that will be repeated and more deeply inscribed. Likewise, when areas of northern Australia were
ooded and stayed under water for months, or when parts of the City of Brisbane had two one hundred year oods in the
space of three months, conditions beyond existing historically formed imaginaries were experienced. Of course, in the
scheme of things to come, these events are perhaps minor, but they are still indicators of what the future holds.

3. The nature and imperative of sustainment

Sustainability has become an obsolete term, rendered vacuous use by its pluralistic appropriations within the status quo.
Dominantly, and notwithstanding some exceptions, it has become attached to sustaining the unsustainable as has its meta-
discourse (sustainable development).4 It folds into an arena of token gestures that fail to acknowledge the increasing scale of
the problem of misdirected development (which is in fact secondary to the primary course of unsustainability, which is our
collective anthropocentric being as it obscures our ability to see the consequences of what we do).
This is why a different naming is needed. In contrast, sustainment names a process of ontological transformation (our
becoming another way) and the project that accommodates this action. The latter can be characterised as the Sustainment,
thus acknowledging and expressing a project equal to, or exceeding, the Enlightenment.
The Enlightenment brought the modern world into being both its attainments and its failures. The Sustainment is what
has to arrive to deal with this situation. As such, it requires a new foundation of thought, science, rule of law and subject.
Clearly, the project is massive and long term. It implies: new values; a new economic paradigm not predicated on the fallacy
of continual growth; recognition that a great deal of education (especially instrumental education) is an induction into error;
reconguration of freedom based on imposed limitations of unsustainable action; acknowledgement that the ability to
sustain viable futures requires peace, equity and social justice as much as sustaining environmental circumstances.
Its driving force, like the Enlightenment, has to be belief in the need for a spirit of change. The Sustainment can only be a
plural project of common intent as such, it has a singular aim, in contrast to a pluralist character. Fundamentally, and above
all else, it has to lead to an ontological transformation of what we are, so that we live a common intent in difference.
While an elaboration of sustainment is well beyond the scope of this article, registering the imperative, and its ability to
bring so much of what is taken as given into question, is absolutely appropriate and germane to the task at hand.

4. Sustainment and community

Notwithstanding its continual rhetorical evocation, community is not available to be mobilised as if it were a coherent
and operable entity.
There are in fact three characterisations of community relevant to our concerns here. First, is community as it is now
absent here community rested on common and strong (religious) belief and limited socio-geographic mobility among
people bonded together as a functioning collective in delimited socio-economic circumstances. Second, is the inoperative
community the now dominant situation based on pragmatic interactions between people who lack fundamental and
common bonds. Third, is the dysfunctional community the generalised condition of breakdown to be found in large
sections of many nations, as a result of many factors including: the loss of belief systems; geographic displacement, including
labour mobility; family dysfunction; ethnic, religious and political conict and war; inequity; forms of urban development
that socially fragment groups and isolate people. The causes of the breakdown of community are thus numerous and inter-
Such breakdowns of community are elemental to unsustainability. We human beings cannot survive without others
alone we are simply unknowing, bare life. Our dependence on a social ecology is as great as it is on the biophysical ecology.
We come into being via the care and knowledge of others and remain ever dependent. As more than one philosopher has
pointed out, and in more than one way, we are born as an animal and become a human beings by dint of others. The project of
coming into community, gaining humanity and now, becoming part of a change community, is an increasingly vital
Globally, and in most cases nationally, the chances of any kind of theological hegemony in modernised nations, and thus
any commonality of belief in the sacred (the traditional basis of community) is non-existent [13]. The one contradiction here
is the Moslem notion of the Umma (the worldwide Islamic community that strives, but often fails, to bridge tradition and the
modern). However, notwithstanding the challenge, establishing a secular foundation of belief upon which to construct
commonality in difference is not beyond contemplation. Effectively what this means is that sustainment is not merely
deemed as a practice, process or pragmatic aim but also a transcendental ideality a condition that all people can aspire to
and work toward in their difference. As such, sustainment brings into convergence valuing the continuity of human life and

Sustainable Development effectively rests on the idea of economic perpetual motion (the notion of the necessity of continual economic growth).
436 T. Fry / Futures 43 (2011) 432439

valuing the conditions upon which it depends. It also makes our inability to transcend being anthropocentric evident, and so
creates a need for us to confront and take responsibility for what we are.
Sustainment, as outlined, potentially provides a gure of belief able establish a foundation for the revitalisation of
community. But to create this is no mere instrumental task. As Jean-Luc Nancy pointed out, community travels ahead of us, it
. . . is given to us or we are given and abandoned to the community: a gift to be renewed and communicated, it is not a work
to be done or produced [14]. Thus in the work of sustainment, a condition of possibility is formed out of which community
could arrive and be brought into collective being. Put simply, in striving to make sustainment, community is made.

5. Sustainment, futuring, engagement and proto-community

Now we are in a position to address the question of engagement not by an assumed, general community, but rather as we
see ourselves as a collection of practitioners able to constitute ourselves as a change community informed and directed by
the imperative of sustainment. The practices of such a pragmatic change community are necessary to create those forms of
futuring that can establish conditions able to generate proto-communities (united in a belief in sustainment).
Clearly, such activities cannot foresee and immediately solve all, or even many, pressing problems. But they can create a
disposition to act, orientate minds to the issues, and inuence decisions in the present able to pregure futures. To ground
this argument, a brief account of three enabling areas of action that in time could have major adaptive and community
formative capability, is now put forward.

5.1. Metrotting [15]

Many cities have long-term viability providing they are substantially changed. Metrotting names this transformative
process. It provides a conceptual and organisational approach able to direct government at all levels, as well as industry and
geographically specic inoperative communities this so that these constituencies can take responsibility for signicant
mid and long-term socio-environmental change. The cost of metrotting, while substantial would be negligible in
comparison to the cost of allowing systemic breakdown. Ad hoc responses to expected and unexpected events, means
effectively giving way, at best, to crisis management or, at worst, complete dysfunction.
Metrotting is about putting a city in a position to adapt to the relational environmental, economic and social complexity
of climate change. It is about recognising that the existing social ecology of the city (how decisions are made, who makes
them, and how community is formed or revitalised) has to be radically changed and placed within the frame of relationality.
As an idea, with a trace linking pre-Socratics and contemporary philosophy relationality transcends that reduction of the
complex to systems complexity and of design being predicated upon purpose and intentionality as registered by previous
discussions of complexity and design in futures for ontologically design the designed goes on designing and thus exits
outside any regime of control [16].
Metrotting is also about transforming the citys economy (with a bias toward localisation and improving the
sustainment performance of industries, products and services). It is also about social justice, equity and cultural sustainment
(for instance, dealing with the arrival of large numbers of environmental refugees and the fact that the poorer people are the
more they are impacted). But above all, it is about how we live and work together to secure conditions that deliver viable
The starting point of metrotting is not a physical engagement with the city, nor just drawing up a pragmatic agenda, but
risk mapping (of climatic impacts, health, re, conicts, etc.) and starting to imagine what a futural city (a metrotted city)
might be like and what it might look like. In other words, transformative action begins by gathering information and creating
a narrative and images that can be critically assessed, tested as appropriate and realisable (for example, buildings externally
insulated with green walls to reduce the heating of thermal mass; dramatic increases in shade provision; a proliferation of
urban farming and water harvesting; totally new and overt urban signage systems for escape routes, water level marking,
building safety classication and so on). Such action is precisely the stuff of design-based futuring design futuring (as a
redirective practice) now starting to be adopted by design and architecture schools around the world.
Two major design strategies are in play here and are emergent in architecture and the design professions in general: (i)
rethinking the new (be they cities, buildings, products or technologies that have sustain-ability); and (ii) the redirection of
what already exists which is a major challenge that the preoccupation with the new often obstructs. The basis of the
development of redirective practices is to work against creating more things and to give life to what already is. As such, it
goes well beyond current sustainability strategies like recycling.
Clearly, such a process requires detailed planning and co-ordination, plus well-executed designed action managed in
space and over time. Planners hidebound by regulatory controls and urban designers locked into spatial management
regimes and aesthetic preoccupations do not do this. Moreover, designing in time is massively underdeveloped in all the
design disciplines. It enfolds now obvious actions like improving energy, water and transport infrastructure but all in
alignment with redened needs and demands in accord with the imperative of sustainment. It equally means: dealing
sustainably with the diverse complexity of the built fabric of the city; the reconguration of work patterns together with
professional and trade practices. The semiotics of the city its total information ecology begs engagement, as does: the
climate appropriateness of dress; the production of food via urban farming; and education at every level. Essentially,
T. Fry / Futures 43 (2011) 432439 437

metrotting is no mere technical exercise but a project of redirecting what people know, how they live, along with their
economic and cultural practices.

5.2. Moving cities

In contrast to those cities able to be transformed in coming decades, there will be a large number that will be abandoned
because they have no future: such as cities that will be inundated, or become too hot to be inhabited (because their thermal
mass cannot be cooled). There will be cities that are destroyed by re, smashed by recurrent cyclones, deprived of a water
supply. Equally some cities will nd themselves in path of a conict of such a scale that they will become levelled,
depopulated and unlivable.
Isolated examples of cities at risk already exist: Dhaka from rising sea levels; New Orleans, arguably, remains at risk and
should have been moved after Hurricane Katrina; and Adelaide may well lose its water supply.
That most high impact events contemplated now might be several or many decades away is no argument against planning
now. Such planning should not be directed only at the city as built environment just as important is the question of how a
citys economy, culture and community life can be moved, modied and reanimated in alignment with the age of
So often adversity brings people together. The potential of making apparent the looming danger facing a city thus could
accelerate new socio-political formations and economic transformation. The coming condition of loss must also be taken as
an opportunity for positive change. Planning framed in this context is not merely an instrumental act, but an activity that can
be socialised and generalised as a community constructing sustainment practice. As such, it is a means of making sustain-
ability, including remaking the means of belonging in conditions of impermanence.
What has to be imagined here neither rests with the idea of the urban, the camp or the nomad. The technical starting
points are: portability and prefabricated design-for-disassembly and reassembly but, in terms of technology and social
structure, taken to a scale beyond anything so far created. The emergence of an age of unsettlement will be a massive
challenge because it implies the transportability socio-cultural relations, economy and structures over-riding current
investments in place. It could mean movement over vast distances but equally it could mean the form of the city being
The very sense of what it means to be secure and very possibility of our continuity will clearly be thrown into question by
unsettlement. In such a setting, having a sense of a future and making a future become indivisible. The act of futuring as
making time has to infuse culture per se. It has to become an ethos that parents hand to their children, who in turn hand it
on. Culture, as such, has in fact to become a slow revolution driving understandings translated into everyday action and
ways of living differently [17]. Yet the practice of constructing and using imaginaries of the future is little known. Scenario
planning is mostly a limited exercise that fails to arrive in popular consciousness. Yet it is almost certain that moving many
millions of environmental refugees, confronting (un)natural disasters on a scale so far unimagined, feeding huge numbers of
people and providing them with water and energy are unavoidable circumstances. Problems of this magnitude will invite
despair; notwithstanding they have to be faced. Somehow, the structural myopia of almost all human societies has to be
displaced eyes have to be lifted toward that future that is rushing toward us. Mid and long-term contingency and scenario
planning has to be made a commonplace and exible skill at almost every level of every organisation. Effectively, adaptation
to predictable socio-environmental change, as well as acknowledgement of the likelihood of unexpected, need to become
normalised and elemental to how we all think. The end of the urban as we know it can be placed in this frame.

5.3. Rapid cities, moved cities and population mobility

Moving cities is, of course, only half the story. In every case, new construction would be needed of both the material and
social fabric of the city recongured and radically transformed. Many cities might have elements of the old incorporated into
the new, to mark memory and create some sense of continuity. At the same time, it is likely that entirely new entities will
need to be built quickly.
Three implications follow: rst, the selection of sites for new cities and their design needs to be pregured and happen
now. Even if no construction happens for several decades, deciding where and how it should take place needs to be decided
very soon. Designing a city takes a long time, designing a new form of the city will take a lot of research and even longer.
Second, the rapid construction of such cities, especially if they are based on disassembly, transportability and reassembly,
requires a great deal of research in building materials, rapid construction methods, the design of industrial systems based
services and delivery logistics. And third, what has to be designed is more than a material fabric a transported or new
economy has to be designed in; and a social structure has to be imported or created.
This is to say that the design of a rapid and movable city does not have to deliver a totally resolved urban form, but rather,
a substrate of basic functionality upon which a proto-community could continue to design and innovate. These cities would
not assume sedentary settlement even if they stayed in place for many decades. Neither could they assume the transference

The combination of reguring the existing city and moving a large section of it was exactly what the Grifth University Design Futures Program/Gall &
Medek award winning national design competition entry for the Gold Coast did in 2009.
438 T. Fry / Futures 43 (2011) 432439

of existing forms of governance. The binary: Polis (regulated space) vs Nomos (the smooth space of the nomad) becomes
undone as the movement of humans reverts to being directed by the elements rather than being controlled by the state. At
the very least, climate change, as it produces unsettlement, will result in a breakdown in existing territorial regimes and the
control of space by the state. Such issues of spatial disruption have been discussed at length by, for instance, Deleuze and
Guattari [18].
Currently, moving cities and moving people, looks like it will centre on an unresolved equation of force and choice.
At a purely practical level, creating a construction industry for such cities is a massively complex exercise technically,
logistically and economically yet it begs to be done. The amount of material is vast; designing for different climates is
challenging; storing and transporting building components on the scale needed is logistically mind-blowing. So said, the
exercise is not beyond contemplation. In fact, it has in modest part, been considered.
In MarchApril 2009, a European Union funded city move workshop was conducted at Gellivare in northern Sweden an
area rich in mineral deposits. The workshop was organised by the Swedish Industrial Design Foundation and prompted by
the need to move the town of Malmberget (which is slowly sliding into a huge chasm created by mining subsidence when
the town was established over a century ago it was not realised that a rich seam of the highest quality iron ore (magnetite)
was directly below it. Blasting into the new ore body meant old workings collapsed, hence the pit that the town is falling into)
[19]. A key focus of the workshop was creating a new city and a desire to move. Among other things, this meant
conceptualising a new economy (one of the problems of the area being a lack of economic diversity). One of the workshops
design teams created the concept of establishing a new city based on the manufacture of prefabricated building components
for rapid-city construction.
This industry was conceived to exploit two waste materials, rock and slag, to manufacture pre-cast concrete building
components. The rock was available from an open cast copper mine not far from the iron ore mine, and the slag, from a steel
mill at a sea port one hundred a fty kilometres away the port to which Malmbergets pelleted ore is taken by rail. As the
rail trucks return empty, transporting the slag is easy. Crushers at the mine could reduce the rock to aggregate for concrete to
form the building components. As slag is a cementitious material, very similar to cement, it could provide the other
ingredient for making concrete. Because both the rock and the slag are waste materials from other processes (mining copper
and smelting iron) they are rated as having zero greenhouse emissions.
The construction concept, in simple terms, was to design the prefabricated building components, build the required
formwork, cast the concrete, store the components mostly in containers at the port from where they could be transported to
where they were needed (the containers themselves would also be used as building components). Of course, this method of
construction could also be used in building the new city itself. Economically, the cost of such a provision could be met, in
signicant part, by cities under threat via some kind of futures levy.
Needlessly to say this brief description gives very little sense of the great complexity of such an activity, at every level.

6. A new economy

Sustainment implies a new economic paradigm. As the still growing population of a nite species on a nite planet,
human beings will increasingly live with stressed resources, deepening problems of food supply, and ever increasing climate
change impacts which will create socio-political, as well as environmental, upheavals.
An economy based on continual growth increasingly looks to be completely awed; notwithstanding, it seems like almost
the entire economic community is preoccupied with tinkering with this outmoded systemradical reformers like Jeffery Sachs
included [20]. No one seems to notice that the foundation upon which the system stands is inherently defuturing. Critical voices
exist, but they are still marginal. On the basis of the unsustainability of an economy predicated upon constant materially
grounded growth, and with the immaterial economy being illusory (with its dirty industries simply displaced to newly
industrialising nations) it would seem evident that the quantitative model has to give way to the qualitative. The production of
wealth (and the generation of inequity) has to give way to the creation of sustainment within which any mode of exchange has
to be subordinate. This shift implies a new way of thinking and engaging with methods and objects of exchange.
It has been argued that we cannot survive if the kind of economy that currently rules survives. As Bataille argued, the
restricted economy (capitalism) is dislocated from the general economy (the biosphere) [21]. This means that the system
of exchange of the former is not articulated to the metabolic processes of the latter. Unless this situation changes, defuturing
consequences of environmental damage and resource stress can but get worse.
What is made, how it is designed, sold, used, and at the end of its life disposed of, all have to change. At present, the future
is taken away by design. So much is brought into being without its causal consequences being known. Moreover, authors like
George Monbiot and Gwynne Dyer who write on the future and argue that that the aim should be to protect current living
standards and lifestyles while saving the planet are so wide of the mark its not funny [22]. Such a perspective is ethnocentric
and politically naive. Universalising our current living standards is a recipe for accelerated defuturing. But there can be no
progress toward sustainment without advancing global equity and social justice. Put bluntly, this means that the poor have
got to get richer and the rich, poorer. The only way this can happen is to move into an economic paradigm based on quality
not quantity. In other words, and according to circumstances, ways of life have to improve while for some the standard of
living will rise and for others it will fall. As for saving the planet we are the problem. To do less damage to the planet we
have to save ourselves. Alternatively, we can continue as we are, make ourselves extinct and thus create the conditions that
allow the planet to recover as much as it can.
T. Fry / Futures 43 (2011) 432439 439

The kinds of shifts just indicated suggest that progressives need to move from sustainable development to the
development of sustainment. And in the context of the (re)formation and enablement of community, it means cultural life
and practice, social structures and relations, care for things and environments all have to acquire much more importance,
not least economically. Moreover, the rematerialisation and reanimation of community, as the basis of urban life in the
coming conditions of unsettlement, has to become a priority. For this to happen, community needs to be remade as moveable
(which means new bonding structures have to be created out of a belief in sustainment). Community has to transcend
geography and loose formations of social networking, etc.). Community equally requires massive development as a
foundation of exchange, with ownership, in many cases, becoming de-individualised (but not on the basis of idealised forms
of sharing).
The nature of the contemporary commodity-overloaded economy begs far greater exposure for its fostering of values that
increase social fragmentation as it serves global markets that create, appeal to and supply cultures of acquisitive
individualism. As said, a quality-based economy demands being created, in which goods and services are invested with
socio-cultural utility as well as functional and symbolic value. This economy while no doubt remaining capitalist requires
becoming capitalism socialised.

7. A postscript on political change

Sustainment changes everything, including the nature of the political. At the most basic, this change turns on sustainment
being made sovereign.
At the core of Enlightenment political theory and practice was the exercise of the sovereign power of the law the law
created the condition of limitation upon which the possibility of freedom stood. The unsustainable brings us all to a moment
when the rule of sustainment has to become the law of the law. It has to be grasped as an imposed limitation upon which the
future of freedom will rest. While the creation of the rule of sustainment would undoubtedly fold into the agency of the state
(while it lasts), it would be both very desirable and efcacious if it were embedded in the ethos of community remade. This
would mean that in time, the sovereignty of sustainment would become naturalised within the culture as an induced
Sustainment also poses a fundamental question for democracy: can it be transformed to deliver sustain-ability? Putting
the question another way: can people be induced to vote for the far-reaching and fundamental changes that sustainment
and thus a viable futurerequires?


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