Place Futures : Why Collective Imagination Is 2023’s Superpower

    • 16 January 23

New Year, New Perspectives. But 2023 is different. With a perfect storm of crisis hitting cities and landscapes, place foresight is now the most crucial element of regeneration, city making and place development. Work out where the future might be headed next, before you spend time, effort and budget designing for what you know now.

In 2022, the Place Bureau has been working with government stakeholders, communities, and students to imagine complex future scenarios beyond the realms of what we already know.

Being fluent in thinking and speaking about the future is a skill called ‘Futures Literacy’ — an essential tool for effective civic participation, developed by UNESCO to allow every citizen to contribute to a shared vision of the future. Whether you call it horizon scanning, place foresight, speculative thinking or critical design, the methods point in the same direction — project forwards to tomorrow to design better for today.

Why is this so essential? As our collaborator, world-leading sustainability expert Pooran Desai states : ‘We have crossed climate tipping points. We are out of time. Don’t kid yourself otherwise. Start looking at your community. The future, where we have one, is not in economic security or ESG, it is in building resilient, regenerative communities.”

We believe this is the foundation of all place work, because:

⏩ The crises we’re facing are so complex, that they need varied expertise and perspectives. Drawing on wider voices your communities makes sure your initiates and design has relevance and can tackle a number of challenges with combined solutions.

⏩ The next generation must be more involved in these visions as caretakers of that future. These imaginative digital natives are often expert communicators, able to rally groups of people behind a cause they believe in.

⏩ Future cities are often focused on technical advancements, but we also need to explore cultural drivers as well as environmental, economic and social. Culture drives huge value shifts that have impact how whole societies deal with such massive change, and uptake of new technologies.

⏩ Cities, but also natural places, are all defined by change. Yet changing contexts demand innovation to keep up, an area that is sorely underfunded in the built environment. The shifting patterns of working and living weather crisis better when our environment can adapt in agile and innovative ways.

At The Place Bureau we’ve worked on hundreds of visions for places around the world — and long saw this need for futures-thinking to kickstart the visioning process.

Last year, we started just that. Alongside Prior + Partners, we’ve been working with thousands of stakeholders in Huntingdonshire at regional government level to develop an innovative new ‘Futures Framework’.

We’ve also been exploring new foresight tools with next-gen designers. Supported by the brilliant minds at @aubinnovationstudio, and in collaboration with Protein Agency’s Gemma Jones and Hannah Swellim, we’ve worked ethnography and embodied design into civic and natural places.

We’ll be kicking off more applied place foresight practices to meet the challenges that will impact every place on the planet. And we’re shaping new toolkits and methods in collaboration with the brightest minds. When the only certainty is uncertainty, we need to be prepared for unusual, imaginative and out of the box thinking — and futures thinking is your competitive advantage.

If you’re interested in being involved, feeling uncertain about the future or want to know more, get in touch at