Bristol Ideas launches programme for Festival of the Future City 2023

This year’s Festival of the Future City will take place from 17-19 October.


The biennial Festival of the Future City returns this year, with a range of experts and panellists discussing the challenges facing cities today, including the housing crisis, rising inequality, conflict and war, climate change and the failings of democracy. They will pose radical ideas about how we can build better, fairer, happier cities for all.

This year’s Festival of the Future City will take place from 17-19 October, with a line-up of thinkers and change-makers discussing the challenges facing cities today – and what we need to do to help build better cities of the future.

The Festival of the Future City aims to be the largest public debate about the future of cities. It brings together policy makers, academics, architects, writers, urban planners, scientists, journalists, activists, geographers, artists, philosophers, think tanks, businesses, charities and social enterprises with the people of the city.

More than half the world’s population live in cities and by 2050 it’s estimated that 66% will live in urban areas – but we are living in a time of crisis – and this year’s Festival of the Future City aims to address some of the challenges facing our cities. Panel discussions will explore the new geographies of inequality in UK cities today, asking how we can transform social mobility, while journalist Polly Toynbee joins us to question how we can end class privilege. Continuing much of the work it has been doing over its history, this year’s festival will look at the impact of women in cities, exploring how cities might look different if they were designed and led by women.

This year’s Festival of the Future City looks at cities recovering from conflict, with a focus on Syria and Ukraine. A panel of architects from Syria with the director of the Ukrainian Institute will explore the question of how we can rebuild cities after war – and what the UK can do to help. Conflict is often one of the leading causes of mass migration, a topic that will be at the forefront of our discussion with Ben Judah, author of This is Europe: the Way We Live Now. He will look at the changing populations around Europe and how migration has raised questions about identity and assimilation, work and housing.

With cities around the world emerging from lockdown, the festival will look at how we can create better, happier cities. Hillary Schieve – mayor of Reno, Nevada – joins us to discuss how she made creating better mental health in her city a priority – while a panel of architects and entrepreneurs examine the radical ideas for building better, fairer cities. Better living can’t be discussed without addressing better dying, so our panel of urban planners, anthropologists and funeral directors look at the future of death – and how this might evolve as we consider more environmentally sustainable practices in body disposition.


Housing is always a key topic at the Festival of the Future City, and this year our expert guests will tackle issues around the current housing crisis, high mortgage rates, insufficient social housing and rising house prices, and architectural theorist Reinier de Graaf joins us to explain why architecture is ‘too important’ to leave to architects.

Several events at this year’s festival will be focused on the concept of a ‘Just Transition’ out of the climate crisis and into a green economy, creating a society that’s better for workers, disadvantaged communities and the planet at large.

Also on the table for discussion this year will be the issue of democracy. Martin Wolf, author of The Crisis of Democratic Captalism, will examine why the marriage between capitalism and democracy has become so strained. There is also a two-part event on democracy and cities, exploring some of the new ideas and models for renewing and extending democracy through electoral reform, devolution and citizens’ assemblies.

While the festival looks at cities more generally around the UK and beyond, it will also focus on the city of Bristol specifically in many of its events. A panel of filmmakers, community activists and academics will delve into the issue of Edward Colston and his impact on the city, exploring how we move on, acknowledge and commemorate the trade in enslaved people and not leave the 2020 toppling of Colston’s statue as an isolated incident that is forgotten about. The Bristol Cable team will also be joining this year’s festival to discuss its Future of Cities series, which seeks to set out the challenges facing Bristol, uncover solutions from other cities and amplify grassroots solutions being pioneered closer to home.

Bristol Ideas celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, so will be reflecting on a major research project that looks into its impact and work over the last 30 years as well as debate new work on culture and inclusive growth.. Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees will also be giving his annual State of the City Address as part of the Festival of the Future City programme. This will be his last address in the role. The new committee system starts in May 2024 and work towards this will also be covered in the democracy discussions 17 October.

While many of this year’s events will be held at Watershed, there will also be several guided walks around different areas of the city centre. Bristol Steppin Sistas was a group created as a way of encouraging local Black women and women of colour to walk and thrive in open spaces. They’ll join the festival for the first time on a walk around the city centre, discussing the importance of being able to explore new places in the safety and company of others who share similar experiences of discrimination and disadvantage. Michael Manson will lead walks on the Bristol Bridge Massacre of 1793; the riots, postwar decline and subsequent rejuvenation of Old Market; and what Bristol might have looked like in Saxon times. Eugene Byrne will take walkers around the city to bust Bristol’s urban myths and discuss ‘Unbuilt Bristol’: the projects and ideas that never quite made it to fruition.


Also featured in this year’s Festival of the Future City is Suffocating City, a new public art installation projected onto the Arnolfini on the evenings of 18-19 October. Southwest artist Leo Jamelli created this new work to raise awareness of the worsening problem of urban air pollution and encourage people to adopt a greener approach to city living to help address the climate emergency. Air quality has been identified as the greatest environmental threat to public health globally. The project has been funded by Arts Council England.

Read the full programme


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