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Urban Age Debates

Cities in the 2020s

An exploration of how cities are responding to profound global change

Watch the 'Changing Cultures' trailer. Watch the 'Changing Cultures' trailer.
Watch the 'Changing Cultures' trailer.

Building on the success of the Urban Age conferences and research programme, Urban Age Debates: Cities in the 2020s includes a series of live virtual events, newly commissioned short films with key urban actors and commentators, new data on city dynamics and the results of surveys on how we live, work and connect in the post-2020 city. The debates explored what could and should happen in cities around the following core themes: 

21 January 2021
Will changing patterns in knowledge work reduce or amplify the human need to meet in cities?

Event details

Cities have traditionally been the sites of economic agglomeration, reaping the benefits of a high concentration of economic activity, spurred by collaboration and innovation. However, the effect of COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns have forced offices to close, city centres to empty, with many knowledge workers operating from the safety of their homes.

While some trends indicate a return to office-based work patterns (which will be accelerated by access to a vaccine), some commentators welcome the greater personal flexibility and access to the global talent pool afforded by virtual technologies. The debate interrogates the impacts of the dramatic shift in working conditions, how sites of knowledge work have adapted, and how cities can maintain their economic and cultural vibrancy without negatively impacting on productivity, connectivity and personal freedom.


Richard Florida (@Richard_Florida) is a Professor of Economic Analysis and Policy at the University of Toronto School of Cities and Rotman School of Management, and a Distinguished Fellow at New York University’s Schack School of Real Estate. He is a writer and journalist, having penned several best-sellers including the award-winning The Rise of The Creative Class, and his most recent book, The New Urban Crisis. He is also the co-Founder of CityLab, the leading publication devoted to cities and urbanism.

Ayesha Khanna (@ayeshakhanna1) is the co-Founder and CEO of ADDO AI, an artificial intelligence (AI) solutions firm and incubator. She serves on the Board of Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), the Singapore government’s agency that develops and regulates its technology sector, digital economy and Smart Nation vision. She is also a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Councils, a group of experts who provide leadership on the impact and governance of emerging technologies.

Janina Kugel (@janinakugel) Non-Executive Board Member, Senior Advisor and Speaker. Prior to this, she has been Chief Human Resources Officer and a member of the Managing Board of Siemens AG with global responsibility for Human Resources. She is a non-executive board member of Konecranes Oy, Finland and the German Pension Benefit Guaranty Association. and a member of the international Advisory Board of Hertie School of Governance in Berlin Germany and IESE Business School in Barcelona, Spain.


Camilla Cavendish (@CamCavendish) is an award-winning journalist and Contributing Editor at the Financial Times. She was the former Director of Policy for Prime Minister David Cameron and now sits in the House of Lords as an independent peer. During the pandemic she has been working with the Department of Health as an adviser assisting on COVID-19 from March to November 2020. She is currently a Senior Fellow at the Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government at the Harvard Kennedy School, where her research focuses on demographic challenges. She is the author of the 2019 book "Extra Time: ten lessons for an ageing world", which is now being read in 16 countries.

Film, podcast and other debate materials

27 April 2021
Can the design of urban space promote cohesion and healthier lifestyles?

Event details

Throughout 2020, the shape of the city – its buildings and open spaces – has taken centre stage in our experience of everyday life. Living in lockdown has confronted urban dwellers around the world with the limits of confined domestic environments yet reminded us of the benefits of a well-designed and accessible public realm.  

Living together has been challenged as a concept and as a reality. How we spend time at home, on the street, and in the city over the next decade is being re-framed. How we re-calibrate urban centres where people can live, work and transact is open to debate. 

This Urban Age Debate brings together prominent city-shapers and commentators who are committed to making cities more liveable, more democratic and more complex. Using images of recent projects in Mexico City, Mumbai, New York, Moscow and London, architects and urbanists explore the deep connections between the design of public space and social inclusion as cities strive to become more humane, domestic, and home to diverse communities.


Elizabeth Diller (@DSRNY) is a partner of the architectural practice Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R) based in New York City.  Diller has been committed to an exploration of how democracy and the public realm intersect, realising  spatially-inventive and socially-progressive projects in cities across the world including the High-Line in New York City and Zaryadye Park in Moscow, as well as educational and cultural buildings that prioritise connection with the city and the creation of social space. 

Rozana Montiel (@rozanamontiel) leads the Mexico City-based architecture studio Rozana Montiel | Estudio de Arquitectura which has investigated how elegant, modest architecture can contribute to the creation of socially-inclusive urban spaces. She has transformed abandoned open spaces in a public housing project into active social facilities through the Common Unity project in Mexico City and completed a rural housing project for earthquake victims in Ocuilan, Mexico. 

Amanda Levete (@AL_Atweets) is one of the United Kingdom’s most respected architects who has consistently pushed the boundaries of architectural, technical  and social innovation. A regular commentator on design and urban society, she is the founder and principal of Amanda Levete Architects (AL_A) which re-engaged the Victoria & Albert Museum in London with the citythrough its award-winning  Exhibition Road project, re-animated Lisbon’s waterfront with the Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology, and is exploring the potential of regenerating inner cities across the United Kingdom.   

Suketu Mehta (@suketumehta) is a writer, critic and urbanist who focusses on the social and ethnic complexity of the contemporary city, and the deep connections between urban form and cultural vibrancy. Author of ‘Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found’, winner of the Kiriyama Prize and finalist for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize,  Mehta explores how cities sustain diverse urban communities, delving deep into the dynamics of migrant communities in the global cites such as New York City, Mumbai, and Rio de Janeiro. 


Ricky Burdett (@BURDETTR) is a Professor of Urban Studies at the London School of Economics, Director of LSE Cities, a global research centre at LSE, and co-founder of the Urban Age. 


Anna Herrhausen is the Executive Director of the Alfred Herrhausen Gesellschaft and the head of Deutsche Bank’s Art, Culture and Sports department.

Film, podcast and other debate materials

20 May 2021
Towards the 15-minute city or the one-hour metropolis?

Event details

For urban transport, the early 2020s are going to be an inflection point hard to  overestimate: digital connectivity will increasingly substitute physical access, public transport finance will require new business models, and fiscal recovery packages have the potential to either entrench transport-intense urban development or accelerate progress towards urban patterns based on density and mixed use. 

The greatest initial risk to sustainable urban transport could be the pandemic-induced increase in the use of private motorised modes of transport and car-centric urban development. At the same time many cities are witnessing increases in walking and cycling and are attracting significant investment to support these modes, alongside new forms of localising urban activities and transport. As a result, uncertainties exist in relation to future mode shares as well as travel distances within cities, including and beyond travel to work.  

Will we witness a shift towards 15-minute walkable urban districts utilising digital connectivity for wider metropolitan accessibility or the persistence of a physically  connected one-hour metropolitan region? 

Supported by SAP SE and knowledge partner Teralytics, this Urban Age Debate brings together prominent leaders in mobility and economics who have made profound impacts on the shape of cities, to discuss the future of urban transportation and accessibility over the next decade. 

Edward Glaeser is the Fred and Eleanor Glimp Professor of Economics in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University, where he has taught since 1992. He teaches microeconomics theory, and urban and public economics. He has served as Director of the Taubman Center for State and Local Government, and Director of the Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston. He has published dozens of books and papers on cities, economic growth, law and economics.  

Sir Peter Hendy (@SirPeterHendy) has been the Chair of Network Rail since July 2015, and Chair of the London Legacy Development Corporation since July 2017. Sir Peter was previously Commissioner of Transport for London for nearly 10 years. He started his transport career in 1975 as a London Transport graduate trainee. He is a trustee of London’s Transport Museum and of the Science Museum Group. He was knighted in the 2013 New Year's Honours List, having been made CBE in 2006.

Yolisa Kani is the Chief Business Development Officer (CBDO) of Transnet, a state-owned company which owns and operates South Africa’s rail network, ports, and pipelines. Yolisa has over 22 years’ experience in transport engineering, planning and operations. She previously served as Head of Public Policy in Southern Africa at Uber Technologies. Prior to that, Yolisa held senior government positions in the Ekurhuleni Metro, the Cross-Border Road and Transportation Agency as well as the City of Johannesburg. 

Philipp Rode (@PhilippRode) is Executive Director of LSE Cities and Associate Professorial Research Fellow at LSE. He is co-Director of the LSE Executive MSc in Cities and Executive Director of the Urban Age Programme. As researcher, consultant and advisor he has been directing interdisciplinary projects comprising urban governance, transport, city planning and urban design at LSE since 2003. His current work focuses on institutional structures and governance capacities of cities and on sustainable urban development, transport and mobility. 

Isabel Dedring is a Global Transport Leader and Group Board Member at Arup where she is responsible for Arup’s global transport agenda and cementing the firms integrated approach to transport and urban development. She was London’s Deputy Mayor for Transport from 2011-2016 where her major projects included a £1bn cycling programme, a £4bn progressive roads investment programme, and leading on major transport construction projects such as extensions to the underground and devolution of rail services. 

Film, podcast and other debate materials

13 October 2021
How are cultural institutions reframing their relationships with audiences, the community and the city?

Event details

Over the past three decades investment in cultural infrastructure – new performing arts centres, museum extensions and whole cultural districts – has become a familiar tool in urban strategies, place-making and branding around the world. Moreover, cultural organizations both large and small have sought to define themselves as much as community anchors, generators of social capital, promoters of social cohesion, as they have as hubs of artistic innovation or conservation.  

But the context in which cultural organisations are operating today is changing rapidly, and this will in turn, affect how they contribute to the quality and texture of urban life going forward. The longer-term effects of Covid 19 and growing pressures of climate change, combined with new tech-enabled possibilities of remote working, are changing the way we live, work, socialise, and travel, stimulating a new interest in more localised lives centred around resurgent town centres and neighbourhoods. 

Supported by knowledge partner Global Cultural Districts Network, this Urban Age Debate brings together emerging and established policy makers, academics, and culture leaders to rethink collaboration between the city, community, and culture today and over the next decades. 

Elaine Bedell (@ElaineABedell) is the Chief Executive of the Southbank Centre, the UK’s largest arts centre. She has worked for over 25-year in media, having  senior roles at the BBC and ITV, where she produced some of the UK’s most popular entertainment titles. Elaine served previously as Executive Chair of the Edinburgh International TV Festival and was appointed a Trustee for the V&A Museum by the British Prime Minister in 2015. 

Gabriella Gomez-Mont  (@Gabriella_Lab) is the Founder of Experimentalista, a novel creative studio that specialises in cities, public imagination, and system  change. She is the former Director of Laboratorio Para la Ciudad, the award-winning and experimental think tank of the Mexico City government. Gabriella is a documentary filmmaker, visual artist and journalist. She has worked as a creative advisor to several cities, and is a TED Senior Fellow, an MIT Director’s Fellow and a Yale World Fellow. 

Andreas Görgen (@AA_Kultur) is head of the German Foreign Office’s Culture and Communication Department. He began his professional career in 1996 at the Berliner Ensemble theatre before moving to the École Nationale D’Administration in France. He has worked in the public film finance sector and was a consultant to State and Federal management teams. Prior to joining the Foreign Office, Andreas held senior roles in the energy sector with Siemens south-west Europe. 

Adrian Ellis (@adrianellis_aea) is the Director of AEA Consulting and Chair of the Global Cultural Districts Network, a network of over fifty cultural districts committed  to improving the quality of urban life through knowledge-sharing in the arts and  culture and creative industries. Adrian is a board member of New York's Poets  House, and a past board member of the Getty Leadership Institute, and the National Museums and Galleries of Wales. 

Film, podcast and other debate materials

26 January 2022
Are new patterns of consumption an opportunity for reinventing urbanity?

Event details

Urban retail is being reinvented. Even before the pandemic, e‑commerce was challenging recreational shopping in cities, ethical concerns about cheap labour were becoming more prominent and the climate and ecological emergency was prompting questions about hyper consumerism, the accumulation of more stuff and ‘discard culture’. In the wake of the global pandemic, new lifestyles and consumption habits are emerging which will accelerate changes in the shopping and retail sector with profound implications for cities and their spaces of mass consumption. 

Concrete changes are already evident: we are witnessing the displacement of physical retail spending and other multiple structural changes in the sector such as the demand for grocery deliveries and direct wholesale delivery increases; the introduction of efficient e-commerce platforms and prompt fulfilment being developed; and product diversification pushed forward. 

As non-essential bricks and mortar retail stores had no other option than to close and move their business online over the course of multiple government lockdowns, vast numbers of consumers, turned to online shopping, and many customers are choosing not to go back once shops reopen. 

With online retail giant Amazon emerging as one of the winners of COVID-19 we should be realistic about the future of shopping districts in our cities by ask if these new patterns of consumption are changing our cities forever, and whether they could be a catalyst for positive change.

This final Urban Age Debate aims to address fundamental questions of sustainable urban consumption, local economic development, entrepreneurship and placemaking in bringing together leading experts and thinkers in urban retail, design, and sustainable development to discuss the future of retail.


Thomas Heatherwick is a designer and Founder of Heatherwick Studio. A British designer whose prolific and varied work over two decades is characterised by its ingenuity. Thomas founded Heatherwick Studio in 1994 to bring the practices of design, architecture and urban planning together in a single workspace. The studio is currently working on approximately 30 projects in ten countries, including 1000 Trees, a mixed-use development in Shanghai; and Google headquarters in California and London (in collaboration with BIG).

Andrew Murphy is Executive Director of Operations at The John Lewis Partnership (Waitrose Supermarkets, John Lewis Department Stores & John Lewis Financial Services) and a member of the Partnership’s Executive Committee, reporting to Chairman, Dame Sharon White. Andrew is responsible for all of the Partnership's technology, change delivery, property estate, supply chain network and customer payments. Andrew is also a Board Director of Clicklink - one of the UK’s leading eFulfilment logistics providers. 

Ewa Westermark is an architect and a partner at Gehl. She focuses on consulting with cities by developing Public Life and Public Space Strategies, Public Space Plans, Masterplanning Frameworks and guidelines which inform the quality of places. At the core of her work is the development of the Gehl methodology and thinking, within fields such as; regional planning, sustainable mobility, innovation quarters or smaller cities and suburban centres. 


Jonathan De Mello is a retail consultant and Equity Partner at CWM. Jonathan specialises in providing tailored solutions to the retail, retail banking and retail property sectors. He leads CWM's Retail Consultancy team and spearheads strategic retail consultancy projects for clients worldwide; creating strategies to help clients to maximise their retail potential. He is a member of the KPMG/IPSOS Retail Think Tank and regularly provides expert commentary on the retail and property sectors in national and international media. 


Philipp Rode (@PhilippRode) is Executive Director of LSE Cities and Associate Professorial Research Fellow at LSE. He is co-Director of the LSE Executive MSc in Cities and Executive Director of the Urban Age Programme. 

Film, podcast and other debate materials


Through interviews and live discussions, the series will feature urban leaders, practitioners and researchers who engage with profound global changes tied to the triple crises of the COVID-19 pandemic, new demands for social justice and the global climate emergency.

For more information on the Urban Age Debates, follow LSE Cities and the Alfred Herrhausen Gesellschaft on Twitter and subscribe to the LSE Cities newsletter.