Recasting Urban Governance through Leeds City Lab: Developing Alternatives to Neoliberal Urban Austerity in Co-production Laboratories


This article reports on a research project, Leeds City Lab, that brought together partner organizations to explore the meanings and practices of co-production in the context of urban change. Our intention is to offer a response to the crisis in urban governance by combining the growing academic and practitioner debates on co-production and urban laboratories in order to explore radically different institutional personae that can respond to deficits in contemporary urban governance, especially relating to participation and disenfranchisement, and ultimately unlock improved ways of designing, managing and living in cities. Our analysis has identified four key ways in which co-production labs can recast urban governance to more progressive ends: by moving beyond traditional organizational identities and working practices, embracing grey spaces of new civic interfaces, foregrounding emotions and power and committing to durable solutions. Ultimately, what we point towards is that urban governance can be more effectively enacted in co-production labs that bring together universities and the public, private and civil society sectors on a basis of equality, trust and openness. These spaces have the potential to unlock a city’s knowledge, resources and assets, to unpack complex challenges and to build capacity to deliver improved city-wide solutions.