Introduction

Speculative Cities is designed to foster an international dialogue on the contemporary city, focusing on port cities and cities that have reinvented themselves in the past forty years. Bringing together architects, urban planners, artists, curators, and scholars from Dubai and Panama City with those from Vancouver, this roundtable will provide a valuable forum for an in-depth exchange of research on the intersections of urban studies, contemporary art, and public engagement that is relevant to all gateway cities.

One aspect that makes Speculative Cities distinct is the involvement of the voices of artists on issues that might seem outside of artistic practice. Many artists enact meaningful engagements with the urban environment in their work; they are uniquely positioned to make important contributions to Speculative Cities in proposing particular perspectives in the ways the city can be experienced and understood. In this context, bringing artists, urban planners, and architects together, most of whom are scholars that have demonstrated a committed investment in researching the cities where they live, will provide an opportunity to consider these cities in broader, diverse, and more nuanced ways. All of the participants support the project’s larger commitment to exploring the boundaries between contemporary art practice and imaginative urban planning and/or development.

With artists and writers on a level playing field with urban planners and architects, creativity and its transformational potential will be central to these discussions and will bring new dimensions to our perception and understanding of the city. There is a shift in a number of fields that recognizes creativity as a means for improved creativity, productivity, and mental/social health.

While Vancouver has developed a reputation for examining itself through various critical platforms—anthologies, symposia, civic community consultations—in which urban planners, architects, and cultural analysts have explored the evolving urban and social conditions of this city, rarely have these explorations been located in the context of other cities internationally. Dubai and Panama City share striking similarities with Vancouver: all are important gateways within their specific geographic and economic contexts and all have the reputation of developing innovative, at times controversial, experiments in urban planning. These “new world cities,” “gateway port cities,” and “terminal cities” have evolved or reinvented themselves through strategies that catalyze shifts from historical economies and civic functions towards other processes of exchange that signal a transition into globalization.

In bringing together these ideas for examination, Speculative Cities seeks to focus discussion around the complex strata of publics who inhabit such cities. In helping to understand the conditions that have produced various affinities across these urban sites, this roundtable will provide timely new knowledge on global urbanization and mobilities, as well as on the after-effects of late 20th century nationalisms. The objective of Speculative Cities is to present a platform in which Vancouver can both lead and learn from these examples, and its distinct identity within an international context can be more clearly articulated.