Cities as Anticipatory Systems: Analyzing “Weak Signals” to Explore Beyond the Predictability of Their Future

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In the last decade, Future Studies have developed a very important corpus of theory and methods aimed to analyze the future of cities. Meanwhile the world is confronted with major challenges like climate change, global pandemics, migration, inequality and poverty, government agencies, professional urbanists, academia and other organizations, concerned with strategic planning, are looking for new ways to provide insight into how we approach unforeseeable challenges and integrate complexity and novelty for better futures.

In this paper we reviewed the notion of “weak signal” as a retrospective exploratory method to think of cities as anticipatory systems (Boer, Wiekens, and Damhof 2018) of future emerging problems. Using qualitative retrospective analysis and secondary research we focused on three urban innovations in transportation, workplaces and food domains at different cities to understand how to anticipate unforeseen scenarios and explore new ways of generating possible perspectives of the future.

Our findings showed that some urban innovations are preceded by a group of weak signals (usually low in visibility or too diffuse) that need to incorporate more robust signals in their own context but could be a starting point to identify people's underlying assumptions, to sketch collective scenarios and increase their capacity to think about the present in order to move toward a desired and possible future, concept that Miller (2011) describes as “Future Literacy”. Article citation: 2021 EPIC Proceedings pp 240–257, ISSN 1559-8918,

Keywords: Weak signals, Anticipation, Futures Literacy, Sharing Cities.

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