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Constructing the future of the city centre: realizing visions

As cities are being asked to transition to a new future shaped by significant social, economic and environmental challenges, renewed attention is being given to the urban development process, and on how this process has to be more inclusive, and the outcomes more coherent. With past notions of masterplans as a single, fixed visionary document being replaced with guiding strategies, open to interpretation, there is a greater need for different disciplines to engage together throughout the development process. In our recent paper, published in a special issue of Construction and Manangement Economics, we explore opportunities and needs for construction management to be more actively involved in the reshaping of the city centre, from the envisioning of its future to the realization of change.

We extend the case for greater engagement between construction management and other

academic disciplines and practitioners involved in city centre place making.

"Our central thesis is that there are mutual benefits to be gained by those, like ourselves as authors, in urban design, urban studies and architecture from collaboration with construction management; benefits which help to address challenges and issues faced in the implementation of visions and ideas seeking to transform and regenerate urban spaces."

There needs to be more consideration given to the construction element in ensuring that aspirations and intentions in urban planning and design are realized in a way that provides sustainable, resilient but flexible buildings and spaces; key elements in reducing energy usage, creating affordable and safe places to live and work, and reducing poverty and socio-economic inequalities that have been a systemic element of some cities.

To illustrate the potential and need for such collaboration, the CME paper explores four case study cities where transformation of the city centre is being undertaken but where the construction and development process of the built environment is raising challenges that threaten to undermine their declared vision for the future. In doing this, a key point is that across most urban disciplines, the city centre has attracted comparatively less academic attention than the city as a whole or the processes of urbanization and suburbanization. This absence reflects an assumed and largely unchallenged position that the downtown, as the centre of the urban agglomeration, has been able to regenerate itself continuously within the constant flux of the wider environmental, economic, social and political systems in which it operates. However, across the world, there is a growing awareness that major shifts in patterns of environment imperatives, economic activity, societal behaviour, and political change has raised new concerns about its long term sustainability and resilience. There is increasing alarm that new approaches to reconstruction and regeneration are needed to respond to the perceived risk of the centre being hollowed out.

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