Directed by Peter Ekman

During the 2023–24 academic year, the Center will sponsor a series of lectures, panel discussions, and other public events under the auspices of an Observatory on Urban Futures.

The series has three interlocking themes. First, it is interested in the history, theory, and practice of urban comparison, and in the circuits of reference through which knowledge about cities has passed and taken form. One of its overarching goals is to embed Los Angeles, so often discussed in exceptionalist terms, in a set of comparative and relational analyses that involve other cities entirely and often span national boundaries. Much scholarship and most popular discourse presumes that the place is unique, an “island on the land” and, for better or worse, a deviation from the inherited rules of urban development. The Observatory presumes that to theorize Los Angeles, and “the” city by way of Los Angeles, we must be willing to grapple with its most ordinary, unexceptional qualities.

Second, the series will address the temporality of the urban future, reflecting — often with novel technologies of visualization at its center — on the forms of prediction, projection, prophecy, modeling, simulation, planning, and mapping that have been enrolled to produce urban knowledge in an anticipatory key. What does it mean to imagine an “urban future”? What kind of object is that future? What kinds of knowledge or expertise lay claim to it? How to design and govern cities that do not yet exist? And how are these questions, subtexts to the entire history of city and regional planning, being posed at new spatial and temporal scales, along the horizons of planetary climate crisis? The Observatory will make a critical investigation into the temporal underpinnings of design and planning as forms of foresight. It will also make the case for historical inquiry as a necessary ingredient in any complex inferences made today about the “cities of tomorrow.”

Third, the series will experiment with the observatory as an organizational and epistemological form, both indebted to and immanently critical of that term’s valences within the history of urban research and the natural sciences. Through richly interdisciplinary conversations, it will debate the possibilities and limitations that attend any collective attempt to think processes unfolding at planetary scale by way of a single site.

For more information on any aspect of the project, check this page as it evolves or contact Peter Ekman at