We are living through a period of profound change. Fundamental shifts occurring economically (increasing leadership in Asia, new opportunities in Africa, raising connectivity through global investment flows), demographically (aging populations, migration), politically (resurgent secession movements, isolationism and protectionism), democratically (unexpected electoral outcomes), technologically (Industry 4.0, ‘big data’), environmentally (smart urbanism), and socially (raising inequalities, security concerns) all have important implications for cities and regions. In times of growing uncertainty and instability, regional research is vital to inform public debates and invoke appropriate policy responses. Indeed, regional research can once more be seen spearheading major efforts to provide the type of reliable, robust knowledge necessary to correct the opening up of gaps between people and places which are emerging as winners and losers from these processes. But the stakes have never been higher, and with more major changes on the horizon – e.g. Brexit, post-2020 EU Budget – there is an urgent need to examine how they will impact the futures of cities and regions, and equally important, the nature of regional research in the years ahead.
The Regional Studies Association Winter Conference 2018 presents a timely opportunity to discuss and debate these important issues, to establish the need and nature of future research imperatives in the field, and to address the concerns and challenges confronting practitioners and policymakers. The focus on ‘horizons’ is an invitation to step outside the narrow confines of existing debate to address issues of profound relevance, significance and importance to the rapidly changing urban and regional world(s) in which we live and work.