City Vision

City visions – the way a city sees itself both now and in the future – are increasingly common. Visit a city website and there is a good chance it will have some kind of city vision. Sometimes these relate very narrowly to just the planning of the urban space, but others take a much wider approach.

In working with teachers we experimented with the idea of using city visions together with the enquiry framework from the South African Cities Network (SACN) as the basis for an extended activity. The premise was to use the activity across a series of lessons (within or across subject areas) or as the focus for a suspended timetable, cross-curricula day.

Creating a ‘city vision’

The first part of the activity was to create a city vision. It was suggested that it might help to have a focus for this. Some of the ideas put forward were:

    * A vision of a safe and secure city
    * A vision of a cohesive city
    * A vision of a sustainable city
    * A vision of a city you’d like to live in

What vision would you create?

In thinking about how to create the vision a wide range of creative responses were suggested. Several of these could form the basis for extensive inter-departmental cooperation. The ideas included:

    * Local field visits to experience the city first hand – gather evidence, take photos, talk to people, ask questions etc;
    * Art and design approach using materials and different media to visually represent the city vision – promotional poster, futuristic image, scale model etc;
    * Media and ICT approach to mimic the slick PR visions that many cities now employ – video footage, graphics, multi-media etc;
    * Literature and biographies to imagine the city through different forms of text and different styles of writing – what is it like to live there? How has life changed?;
    * Tourist guide approach where students create a city-guide for their city of the future. What are the attractions? What makes it special? Why would people visit?
       What images are used etc.

The context for the vision is flexible. It could be that you are creating a vision for the city you live in (or near), or perhaps for one you have been studying or are interested in. It could be focussed on creating a vision for a new city that does not yet exist!

Using the framework – making the vision work

The second part of the activity is where the SACN framework comes in. We have been using this framework as a stimulus for a wide range of activities and discussion around cities and in South Africa from where it originates, it has become a core planning tool for 9 South African cities.

The activity uses the four elements of the framework as imaginary pillars. Each has a role in supporting the city vision that you have created in the first part of the activity. We need all four pillars in place to support the vision, but what goes into the pillars?

How do we make them strong enough to support the vision? What needs to happen in each? Who makes this happen and how?

If using this activity for extended work then considerable time could be spent exploring each of the pillars, but in a shorter activity it might be enough to get pupils thinking about just 2 or 3 things that would need to happen in each pillar to support the vision they have created.

A further extension to the activity was the addition of foundations for the pillars. These were interpreted as underlying principles such as human rights, international treaties (i.e. on climate change), regional/national laws etc. Embracing these provides an opportunity for students to explore UN agreements, international law and other global/local obligations (LA21 for example) through the lens of a real life context. This is another way that cities can help to unlock the global.

Presenting the vision

In completing the activity the idea of ‘Dragon’s Den’, ‘Apprentice’ type-competitions was raised by several teachers. These popular culture vehicles focus on selling an idea (a vision) and then justifying to a panel of judges how that might be delivered. It was felt this might lend itself well to a creative output for sharing city visions, especially if the activity has been used in a suspended timetable, cross-curricula environment.

This mode of presenting different visions is not that different to the real way in which many cities or city spaces are developed/redeveloped and also has close parallels with the bids made by cities to host events such as the World Cup or Olympics (London 2012 for example).

Unlocking global citizenship

Teachers who reflected on the potential of this activity for unlocking global citizenship in their schools raised the following points for others to consider:

    * Directly relevant to young people’s lives (even if not in a city they often have strong cultural connections with cities);
    * Provides a ‘concrete’ context for engaging with complex and often abstract global issues;
    * Lends itself very easily to cross-curricula scheme of work;
    * Each phase can be taken further, opening up opportunities for staff and pupil creativity and adaptation;
    * There is plenty of stimulus material for independent learning and research skills;

An alternative approach

One group of teachers who explored this model adapted it and pursued a particular global issue by processing it through the model. They chose water and began with the idea of a fundamental human right to water (this was their foundation). They then considered what the vision of that meant for their city (the city vision) and how the 4 pillars would interact to make this a reality.

Housing, health, education, food, energy etc could all be used in this way and provide endless opportunities to begin engaging in global issues to some depth. One logical approach would be to use the Millennium Development Goals as a framework for this and see how the city was responding to each.

What ideas can you come up with?

What else could we do with cities? What could you do and how might Tide support you?

We welcome feedback on all elements of our work around cities. If you would like to comment then please send feedback to