The New Urban Profession: Entering the Age of Uncertainty
2. Urban Planning, Urban Design and Urbanism
2.1. Urban Planning
“The master-economist must possess a rare combination of gifts.... He must be mathematician, historian, statesman, philosopher—in some degree. He must understand symbols and speak in words. He must contemplate the particular, in terms of the general, and touch abstract and concrete in the same flight of thought. He must study the present in the light of the past for the purposes of the future. No part of man’s nature or his institutions must be entirely outside his regard. He must be purposeful and disinterested in a simultaneous mood, as aloof and incorruptible as an artist, yet sometimes as near to earth as a politician.”—John Maynard Keynes
2.2. Urban Design
2.5. Global Problems
2.5.1. Climate Change
- Leave no one behind by ending poverty in all its forms and dimensions;
- Ensure sustainable and inclusive urban economies;
- Ensure environmental sustainability.
2.7. National Confrontations
- The pace of carbon emission reduction needs to be doubled to reach the reduction target for 2030 in order to reduce emissions by 49% compared to the level of 1990 . The reductions realized by end-users, renewable heat and fuel and the reduction in energy demand are all behind schedule. The energy transition, although on its way, lacks the impact required.
- The Dutch food system in its current form is not maintainable. Food is essential for life, but the way it is produced causes environmental and climate problems. The amount of land and resources used threaten biodiversity and is unhealthy, and overconsumption of food increases obesity and other food-related diseases .
- The deposition of nitrogen has profound impacts on biodiversity and the quality of nature and prevents building activities. Not everything is possible anywhere . Moreover, there are stealthy effects of nitrogen on nature and health , and reducing deposition is surrounded with doubts about its execution .
- The country needs to adapt to the local impacts of climate change, such as fast change in climatic conditions; effects on sea level rise; larger differences between high and low water levels in rivers; and increased probability of droughts. Specific weather conditions occur over prolonged periods (dry, hot, cold and wet), and urban areas will face extreme precipitation events, heat and rainfall .
- The country has a shortage of affordable and quality of housing. In the period 2021–2034, the total amount of households increases with 849.000, a growth rate of 10.5% . Moreover, the Delta Commissioner has announced that a large part of the current housing development areas is in highly risky areas, and it can be questioned whether these houses should be built in these areas and, if so, with what fundamental adaptations .
4.1. Urgent and Upcoming
- First and foremost, biodiversity loss and climate emergencies are expected to dominate challenges for urban professionals. This has profound impacts on the role for nature-based design, adaptation of land use to climatic impacts and adjustments to the water system.
- Secondly, societal polarization is observed as an increasing problem, resulting in distrust and fear amongst citizens, who on their turn show increased opposition to plans and have sharp, confronting opinions. This is exaggerated by the manner social media is influencing political decision making and the debate in general. The distribution of wealth is under pressure as, for instance, the battle for housing illustrates, placing equity issues and just urbanism on the agenda.
- A third cluster of topics is found around circularity, including reuse and recycling of materials; use of prefab and wooden materials; the energy transition and reduction in carbon emissions; and smart use of resources. Hyperlocalization of urban flows, for instance, in the manner food is grown with nature-inclusive and urban agriculture methods is essential for closing cycles.
- A fundamental point is made regarding economic mechanisms. If a transformation of urban environments is desired and even deemed necessary for human survival, the current economic laws must be put to use for supporting that transformation. Principles such as degrowth [107,108], finance of sustainable building materials, the affordability of the housing stock and novel international patterns of job locations require an alternative view, i.e., Modern Monetary Theory . Current political contrapositions and interests, generally reaffirming the existing financial–economic reality, need to be overcome.
- The fifth category of urgencies is related to urbanization. In a country such as The Netherlands, the pressure on land is high, land is scarce and the battle for space is ongoing. At the same time, not every area is free of the risk of climate impacts, which in the end increases pressure. Additionally, the growing housing demand is translated in higher density urban centers while urban systems themselves are no longer seen as stable as they were, resulting in social unrest perverse mechanisms related to housing prices and a danger of reduced quality of living. Simultaneously, rural areas are left to their own devices, ultimately ending in a conservative worldview where livability is under pressure and amenities are reduced to minimal levels. Finally, there is a well understood need for green urbanism, bringing nature as a driving force in urban development and viewing nature as an inseparable part of the urban environment.
4.2. Suggested Approaches
- What if questions.To respond to fundamentally different futures, climate change impacts will need to be taken as the core questions of research and education. Muddling through is not an option. In this context, confronting planning for urban environments with ‘what-if’ questions is suggested. In apocalyptic design studios, unorthodox and effective solutions embracing rigorously different futures can be explored and imaginary scenarios can be crash-tested to anticipate disruptive futures. Challenging questions are posed; curiosity and improvisation are stimulated; and the headspace for unexpected outcomes is created, digging into the so-called unknown unknowns. In the process of raising awareness for large transitions, a strategy of ‘wait-and-plan’ could be applied in which the processes of change become necessities, the real urgencies become clear and the need for innovation and ‘away from the average’  planning is created. This process emphasizes fluidity, creativity and temporality and raises tensions and uncertainties such that adaptive, agile and resilient designs can be conceived, anticipating black swans  and nonlinearity. In this environment, innovative thinkers, who deal with change through creativity and intuition, phantasy and imagination, flourish and will come up with contingencies in designs, incorporating space for something it is not meant for, which is exactly the type of flexibility in planning that is needed in an era of uncertainty.
- Teaching a region.The second suggestion is to start teaching the region instead of a series of subjects. This could take a shape in the form of a regional design atelier in which spatial solutions, scales and time horizons are integrated in a design-led method of approach. When the region is the subject of spatial investigations, the findings can be stacked to draw conclusions based on multiple years of aligned research. This demands a structured process, starting with the definition of a brief, spatial-analytical research and data visualization, followed by a ‘research-by-design’ phase, in which the power and limitations of a range of spatial interventions are determined, after which the design propositions are sketched, modelled and reviewed. The subject of study, the region, is viewed as an organism that is constantly undergoing change and transforming and seeking optimal resilience. This requires a permanent process of questioning the brief at multiple scales, which includes constantly asking the following question: ‘What will the adaptability in the future be?’ and how can the plan be beneficial in multiple ways. By taking the region as the focus of teaching, but also for policy making and social cohesion, it is deemed to become an accepted part of the planning process and political decision making.
- Non-rationality.A third element arising from conversations is the new mentality that is essential for dealing with the complexity of changes. Creativity, intuition and imagination for a new set of values aim to contribute value instead of depletion. In this context, we can learn from indigenous ways of knowing, i.e., oral learning. When we make use of our senses, beyond rationality, we can connect to the ‘Land,’ to Country and learn from the stories of the traditional owners of the land. In the Dutch context, this would mean that we start collecting stories of traditional knowledge, the way the land was used and treated and the cultural dimensions of living together in the lowlands of the delta. This understanding can be used when decisions are made for the future and how these fit (or misfit) with the regional cultural system. This implies a diversion from the belief in technology and hyper-specialization as the one and only method to deal with problems (Table 1). Design can soon be freed from technology and return to its purpose of creating a living condition that makes people happy.
- Integrated design.In times of growing uncertainties, the need for a beckoning perspective that is coherent and attractive is needed more than ever. Instead of separating problems in sectoral departments and sections, integration in a design is unavoidable for shaping this perspective. In a national area development process, guided and led by young people, such a perspective solves the tension between the long period of time needed for urbanization processes and the urgency of problems, which require immediate action. In a national lab for virtual collaboration, long-term and large-scale perspectives should be synergized in a holistic vision connecting understanding, awareness and enthusiasm. Integrated thinking and planning would connect content and process; public and private interest; and place participation and communication at the heart of the process to gain nationwide support. In such a national area, development thinking should take ecological and water systems as the point of departure for an integral plan starting with the landscape and nature, in which land is reversely engineered and de-cultivated. This prioritized process should be realized and exploited under the responsibility of the government. This would then be followed by housing and be exploited by the market. In this manner, a strong link can be established between the values of water, ecology and soil systems in combination with the economic value of the land, and synergies emerge between nature and housing. The role of the (national) government is to be a fair and strong entity, guiding content and process with overview.
- Landscape-driven design.The final cluster of suggested approaches to urban and regional planning is to take the landscape as the first point of entrance. A landscape-driven design and planning process would take the understanding of the landscape, its water and ecological systems, as well as its cultural heritage and beauty, as a guiding principle in any planning, design, development and building process. When landscape and nature is placed first, second and last when designing our (urban) environment, natural principles, processes and concepts will direct urban patterns, uses and functionalities, respectively. The ‘ecologized’ city will be turned into a rewilded bioregion by applying ‘building with nature principles.’ For land-use, coastal protection, the food system, life and learning from nature will make society healthier, more resilient and happier. Green, nature- and landscape-inclusive urbanism places (socio-ecological) resilience, climate sensitivity, adaptivity and flexibility at the core of urban development.
4.3. Required Skills and Competences
- To extend the scope and number of future talks beyond the current and grow to 50, to 100 and to 500 in the next 5 years;
- To select priorities in the abundance of requirements, expectations, competencies, outcomes and knowledge that the new urban professional should comprehend. This should be based on further research into the most important transformational changes.
- To elaborate a process design that can function as the core policy process at national and regional levels. Due to the fact that every area and local context differs, it is a mistake to define a prescriptive set of competences. However, it seems clear that, in a shift from a technocratic method of responding to problems to greater empathy, an increased ‘feeling for society’ and increased oral ways of knowing are needed to discover the DNA of the region and turn that into a beckoning perspective.
Institutional Review Board Statement
Informed Consent Statement
Data Availability Statement
Conflicts of Interest
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|From: Mechanical||To: Organic|
Controlling the water system
A certain world with patches of uncertainty
Homogeneity, regulatory, globalized
|Organic self-organization and emergence|
Dynamic water system shapes the landscape
An uncertain world with patches of certainty
Localized expertise, methods, and culture
|Way of Thinking||Competences/Skills||Roles|
|Visionary view||Oral learning|
Out of the box
Adaptivity, survivability, preservability
Frugal and bright future
Connecting spatial patterns with technical attributes
City/landscape as an organism
Dare to innovate
Anticipate fast changes and surprise
Ability to improvise
|Poetic designer, beautification idealist|
Design team builder, bring multiple disciplines together
|Process sensitivity||Inter- and cross-disciplinary|
Social cohesion, citizen engagement
Transparent and debatable design process
|Collaborative problem solving|
Teamwork and trust
Feeling for society
Comprehend the policy process and decision making
Understand/convince opposing powers and polarization
|Professional citizen, connect professional practice with citizens|
Take a leadership role
Organizer of community support for decisions
Designer of the process
Builder of social capital and enhance learning capacity
Creator of environment for self-determination
|Actual knowledge||Specialist generalist|
Place expertise in broader context
Resilience and regeneration; socio-ecological systems
De-cultivation of the landscape
Financial systems for sustainability
Urban systems logistics
|Sharp and Friendly Advisor|
Curator of the city
Presenting complex information in attractive and easy understandable way
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Roggema, R.; Chamski, R. The New Urban Profession: Entering the Age of Uncertainty. Urban Sci. 2022, 6, 10. https://doi.org/10.3390/urbansci6010010
Roggema R, Chamski R. The New Urban Profession: Entering the Age of Uncertainty. Urban Science. 2022; 6(1):10. https://doi.org/10.3390/urbansci6010010Chicago/Turabian Style
Roggema, Rob, and Robert Chamski. 2022. "The New Urban Profession: Entering the Age of Uncertainty" Urban Science 6, no. 1: 10. https://doi.org/10.3390/urbansci6010010