A vital city can take a few knocks

Basic principles of future-proof city

EUR researchers set out basic principles of future-proof city

How can all people in a city develop a sense of belonging? How does your city emerge stronger from a difficult period? And what does a city need to be sustainable and just now and in future? Eight researchers from Erasmus University Rotterdam have set out what it takes to make a city vital and keep it that way in a co-authored position paper. The researchers call the basic principles ‘the lens of urban vitality’. The goal is to help organisations, businesses, and policymakers (including municipal ones) look through the lens so they can use that vision to work on creating a city that can take a few knocks.

More than half of the world’s population lives in cities, and because that proportion is continuing to grow, the social structure and culture of the city are becoming ever more complex and diverse. Researchers from the Erasmus Initiative ‘Vital Cities and Citizens’ (VCC) are investigating the conditions that are essential to a city when it comes to equality, safety, sustainability and coexistence. The purpose of VCC is to strengthen the quality of life within cities.

Interdisciplinary approach

The development of a city has an impact in several areas. For example, building a new housing estate affects nature and the social interaction among inhabitants. The VCC researchers are therefore able to draw on different areas of science, such as psychology, sociology, public administration, educational sciences, communication, art and culture, history, development studies and anthropology. This interdisciplinary approach helps us better understand the stubborn issues facing cities and to recognise and support initiatives that have social impact.

Four central themes

In their position paper, the researchers emphasise that the city is an organic and dynamic place with a wealth of informal relationships and networks that emerge from the bottom up. A vital city leverages those relationships and networks to maintain and improve its resilience. The researchers look through this lens of urban vitality and have identified four central themes that play an important role: Inclusive Cities and Diversity, Resilient Cities and People, Smart Cities and Communities, and Sustainable and Just Cities.

Inclusive Cities and Diversity is about how diverse and inclusive a city is. Being inclusive means that every citizen belongs. The researchers believe this to be a key ingredient for a vital city. By joining in with existing initiatives run by residents and others, municipalities can promote the positive energy of diversity and inclusion in a city. This can, for example, be accomplished with inter-domain policies for urban development and housing, economic development, education and social aspects.

Resilient Cities and People is about how citizens cope with changes in their surroundings. According to the researchers, resilience is an individual and collective capacity that is always present and can be activated. The lens of urban vitality helps us see how and when resilience works well and how it can be properly leveraged in times of urgency and crisis.

Smart technology has become indispensable to the governance of a city. In the Smart Cities and Communities theme, the researchers argue that smart developments should be at the service of people in the city: inhabitants should be stakeholders in the smart city and be able to share ideas on it and help build it.

Sustainable and Just Cities meet present needs without jeopardising the needs of future generations. The process of creating a sustainable and just city is not without its tensions. The researchers say that it is important to understand these tensions and manoeuvre between them.

Collaborative partners

On the basis of the position paper, Vital Cities and Citizens works in cities with administrators, business owners, community organisations and inhabitants. The Municipality of Rotterdam is one of those collaboration partners. Marco Bik, Knowledge Coordinator/Project Manager at the Municipality of Rotterdam: “The added value of the collaboration between EUR and the Municipality of Rotterdam is in the structural cooperation designed to create impact. The more science reaches the municipality, the more policy is based on knowledge. And vice versa: we can share knowledge gained in practice with science.”


The VCC researchers are interested in getting in touch with organisations, businesses, policymakers (including municipal ones), entrepreneurs and residents that are also committed to making their city vital. For more information, contact Mike Duijn (duijn@essb.eur.nl) or one of the other researchers.


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