French UniversiTy on Urban Research and Education

Skip to main content

Inventing the city of tomorrow

Exploring urban challenges entails knowledge production that is innovative and disruptive and that anticipates complex urban metamorphoses and proposes breakthrough solutions. With FUTURE and the support of our academic, societal and economic partners, our aim is to bring about a real paradigm shift in the approach to urban problems.


A major 21st century challenge

For the first time in history, over half of humanity is living in cities and this proportion continues to rise. Recent United Nations forward studies for the setting of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)1 and the new United Nations Conference agenda on housing and sustainable urban development (Habitat III)2 stress that humanity needs to tackle the pressing challenges of urbanisation while maintaining the planet’s social, economic, health, environment and climate balances. These studies indicate that 60% of the urban areas that will exist in 2050 have not yet been built.

A domain associated with a growing economic sector

The economic sectors associated with these challenges occupy a key position in France and the skilled jobs relating to them (e.g. engineers and senior managers) are those that register the highest rate of growth.

Forecast trends in France for the 4 key economic sectors associated with urban development and function



  • 5% of French GDP
  • 5% of investment in France
  • 1.3 million jobs (5% of France’s working population)
  • 4 major French companies in the European Top 10


Urban utilities (water, energy, waste management, mobility)

  • Cumulative revenues of €60 billion in 2012 (3% of French GDP): up 20% on 2004 

Digital technologies


  • 5.5% of French GDP
  • +3.1% direct job creation in the IT sector


Public works, transport and logistics

  • 5.5% annual growth expected between 2012 and 2022

N.B : These sector-based studies do not take into account the indirect jobs generated by major changes in urban organisation

3 major scientific challenges

FUTURE’s scientific programme is built around three major challenges.

The resource-efficient city

Designing, managing and developing efficient urban spaces and objects that are frugal in their consumption of natural resources and energy and guarantee good quality of life for users.

Cities are designed to provide their residents with water and energy, require materials for engineering structures, generate waste, provide transport networks and shape public spaces. They have a major impact on the consumption of natural resources, and by extension on the economy of the city and the health of its inhabitants.

Against this background, our aim is to offer:

  • a systemic understanding of the interactions between infrastructures or the different built structures in the urban environment, whether existing or under construction (buildings, transport systems, public spaces), the related services, and the consumption and implementation of resources (water, soil, air, materials, energy) at different territorial scales;
  • innovative tools, solutions and processes that minimise the use of resources;
  • knowledge and innovations that are simultaneously responsive to societal, technical and economic imperatives.

More specifically, we will focus on:

  • New methods of water cycle management that harness the materials and energy produced by wastewater at source.
    An holistic approach to air quality that links outdoor air, indoor air and resource optimisation (energy-efficient buildings, transport policy and urban planning policy).
  • The energy performance of cities at different scales, from individual buildings and facilities through to entire territories.
  • Food resources in cities approached in terms of the energy, environmental and health consequences of supply and distribution methods.
  • Technical solutions that limit or optimise the resources used in the construction and infrastructure sectors through the use of recycled or bio-sourced materials or through innovative and multifunctional arrangements.
  • New construction, renovation and maintenance techniques.
  • Transport solutions that offer new practices and new services for local actors and users, to reduce energy consumption and safeguard the health of citizens.

In the medium-term, this approach will help to reshape urban forms and organisation and pave the way for new infrastructures and related services that are more efficient and more satisfactory in terms of resources and human health.

The safe and resilient city

Understanding and managing “urban risk”

Urban territories are characterised by the presence of dangers or hazards of many kinds. Risks may arise from natural events (earthquakes, flooding, heatwaves, storms, etc.), as well as from exposure to chemical or pathogenic agents (urban pollution, industrial accidents), to accidental phenomena, to economic, migratory or social crises, and to terrorism.

Our aim is to explore the interactions between these different risks in order to understand how to make urban territories more resilient and safer for their inhabitants:

  • By describing and analysing the interdependence between these phenomena and understanding them from an economic, social or environmental perspective.
  • By devising measurement and modelling tools that provide a dynamic and geospatial description at the appropriate scales (from the infrastructural to the territorial) of interacting risks (heat peak/pollution/consequences for transport networks – flooding/damage to engineering structures /pollution/damage to communication networks – social segregation/health risks, etc.).
  • By proposing an urban territorial organisation (prevention, crisis and post-crisis management) appropriate to operational actors and residents.
  • By devising a range of innovative technical, organisational or methodological solutions to mitigate certain risks and enhance preventative – and especially adaptive – measures relating to “urban risks”.

In particular, we will explore freight and passenger transport and traffic networks and communication networks, which tend to be very vulnerable to these different types of risk. We will also focus on urban monitoring and modelling/simulation that takes account of social, geographical and economic factors by analysing the users, stakeholders, timescales and arrangements involved in the management of different risks.

The smart and connected city

Studying and developing the digital city and making it a catalyst for social, environmental and economic performance

The development of big data is radically changing how the city is made, through the emergence of the smart city concept. The major challenge for the coming 10 years is to produce data and related services that fulfil the imperatives of a sustainable and resilient city, capable of supporting the health and well-being of its inhabitants. This challenge is therefore common to the two previous priorities.

We will focus our research activities on:

  • networks of urban sensors (static or mobile) and actuators designed to produce relevant data at the right temporal and spatial scales to address the questions relating to the two previous challenges (environmental exposure, infrastructure maintenance and operation, crisis response, usage tracking);
  • innovative data handling methods (image interpretation, deep learning…) capable of representing urban systems in all their dimensions (societal, health-related, technical, architectural, economic, environmental) and of running infrastructures and networks;
    developing methods for the optimisation and statistical analysis of large volumes of data;
  • ownership of and access to urban data and the associated economic models;
  • service production.

This research will be used to produce digital and modelling tools for optimising infrastructure development and management. And advancing our understanding of urban complexity. It will also be utilised to pursue the modelling/simulation of the city at different scales.

The data handled and produced by researchers will be compared with the associated models and coordinated and maintained within a specific infrastructure that will be developed for the site’s scientific communities. This will allow data to be cross-referenced and provide services for the analysis and production of new information.

Our goal is to produce a “digital city model that is sensitive to people and social and economic relations”. It will combine a 3D visualisation of the city with nested scales that are able to show simulations of complex development scenarios and project choices, as well as new management techniques and impacts associated with uses.