08 March, 2018

Filmreihe - Power to Change: Die Energierebellion

"Transition Our" und "Naturpark Our" organisieren eine Filmreihe und Diskussionsrunden zu verschiedenen Themen. Am 21.3. um 20Uhr, zeigen sie, 

"Power to Change: Die Energierebellion
von Carl Fechner (2016)  im

Ancien Cinema, in Vianden.

Eintritt frei

16 February, 2018

Dr. Christmann's research in 90 seconds

Now a postdoctoral researcher at Liège Université, Dr. Nathalie Christmann defended her dissertation entitled, "Wohnmobilität in der Großregion ­ eine interurbane Diskursanalyse mit Fokus auf den Städten Arlon, Thionville und Trier," ("Residential mobility in the Greater Region - An interurban discourse analysis with focus on the cities of Arlon, Thionville and Trier") at the Institute of Geography and Spatial Planning last fall.

Hear Dr. Christmann discuss her thesis (in Luxembourgish) at Science.lu. An English description is included.

12 February, 2018

New Book by Ariane König

Congratulations to Dr. Ariane König on her new book, published by Earthscan/Routledge:

Sustainability Science: Key Issues 

She will celebrate with a book launch party at the University of Luxembourg.

When: Thursday, 15 March 2018, 17:15 - 20:30
Where: Maison des Sciences Humaines, Black Box, Campus Belval 
How: To register for the book launch (free), visit Eventbrite

Find information here about specific program details of the launch party, and information on how to obtain a copy of her book at reduced rates  

25 January, 2018

The Corporate City Looming Part II: The “smart” City competes

Last week, Amazon.com announced that it has arrived at a short-list of preferred cities for its second headquarters (HQ2), after reviewing the incentives offered from 238 contestants (see Part I of this post). Listed in alphabetical order (it wouldn't want to play favourites), Amazon.com announced that the twenty runners-up that will move to the next level are:

Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Denver, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Miami, Montgomery County (Maryland), Nashville, Newark, New York City, Northern Virginia, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Raleigh, Toronto, Washington D.C.

Holly Sullivan, on behalf of Amazon was gushing with well wishes: “Thank you to all 238 communities that submitted proposals. Getting from 238 to 20 was very tough – all the proposals showed tremendous enthusiasm and creativity. ... Through this process we learned about many new communities across North America that we will consider as locations for future infrastructure investment and job creation.”

This issue confirms that the search for for a place to build the HQ2 is a striking case of locational choice and related dynamics – a case that reveals current processes and power relations much, much, better than any textbook in economic geography or planning. Even though the shortlist consists mostly of the usual suspects and now doesn’t bear any big surprises, the full list of candidate cities and the different ways they sell themselves was rather revealing in this respect.

And what about the firm? Effectively, Amazon.com "expects" a number of things (n
othing is promised, of course): It expects to create 50,000 high-paying jobs and invest over $5 billion in the city where it will open the HQ2; It expects that that the HQ2 will create billions of dollars in additional investment in the surrounding community; It expects to make a decision in 2018.

Furthermore, the firm is well aware that instead of simply bargaining with a mayor and then making a decision, this 2-stage selection process provides much more value in terms of the economy of attention. First, the competition works as a sort of theatrical staging, a huge show that provides massive PR for the firm. Second, it obviously allows another round of exploitation and race-to-the-bottom negotiation with candidate cities. There is much speculation around (and some indication as well) that the price is high for attracting Amazon.com to one's municipality’s territory. The unusually high share of local taxes in the North American system for instance, compared to other parts of the world, offers the right space for manoeuvre. Third, discursive upgrading is part of the story. So as we learn from a critical observer, HQ2 in Washington D.C. wouldn’t be seated in a mere business park, but on a “Campus” to which also an Amazon “University” be added.

So, at the end of the day, tech-firms will not only provide jobs and business solutions, but will actually replace municipalities and states in the process of city-building, infrastructure and higher education policy. It is part of a major transformation that was recently so nicely illustrated by the urban design magazine Bauwelt

Is this the future that we really want?

Markus Hesse and Constance Carr

19 January, 2018

Call for Papers: RGS-IBG 2018 Annual International conference, Cardiff (UK), 28.31 August 2018

Over-Researched Places

Certain places are magnets for researchers and sometimes we bump into other researchers or share interview times with them. The ‘Ghosts of Researchers Past’ linger at the case study sites we visit and traces are present in the work we produce. There has been recent interest in the problems of large numbers of researchers in places as diverse as Hackney (Neal et al, 2016), the Shatila Palestinian Refugee Camp in Lebanon (Sukarieh & Tannock, 2013), and Transition Towns (Taylor Aiken, 2017). This body of literature focuses primarily on reasons that particular places are popular with researchers or on research fatigue of respondents. There is a need for reflexive interrogation of the issue of this researcher saturation and its consequences. The research itself, and theory building more widely, can be weaker where it is over-reliant on examples which may prove to be outliers or the applicability of generalisations over-claimed. Over-research also produces a sample bias: familiar cases are easier to communicate to other researchers; possibly easier to publish; or conversely, researchers wring dry popular cases. This also raises questions on the nature of research itself: is it possible to over-research anything, or is seeming over-research just poor research? We could even ask if the research encounter is singular? 

This session aims to explore the consequences of theory being developed from research on places that are saturated with other researchers from multiple disciplines. Papers are invited to bring case studies of urban or rural landscapes anywhere in the world to address such issues as: Theoretical links and implications; Methods and Positionality; Research (and researcher) fatigue; Researching researchers; Encounters. Papers that use a reflexive approach or consider the conceptual complications of researching in researcher-saturated landscapes are particularly welcomed.

Please submit abstracts of no more than 200 words to Dr Cat Button (cat.button@ncl.ac.uk) and Dr Gerald Taylor Aiken (gerald.aiken@uni.lu) by 10th February 2018.
  1. Neal, S, Mohan, G, Cochrane, A & Bennett, K 2016 ‘You can’t move in Hackney without bumping into an anthropologist’: why certain places attract research attention Qualitative Research 16(5) 491-507.
  2. Sukarieh, M & Tannock, S 2013 On the problem of over-researched communities: The case of the Shatila Palestinian Refugee Camp in Lebanon. Sociology, 47(3), pp.494-508.
  3. Taylor Aiken, G 2017 Social Innovation and Participatory Action Research: A Way to Research Community? European Public and Social Innovation Review 2(1).

17 January, 2018

Call for Papers: RGS-IBG 2018 Annual International conference, Cardiff (UK), 28.31 August 2018

Cross-border areas, macro-regions: Rethinking the EU spatiality? 

RGS Session sponsored by the Political Geography Research Group

Conveyors: Estelle Evrard (University of Luxembourg) and Franziska Sielker (University of Cambridge/University of Erlangen-Nuremberg) 

Over the last few years, scholars have attempted to capture EU spatiality. The concept of territoriality was coined as a useful tool to examine the spatial significance of the EU as a political system transcending nation states (Moisio & Lukkonnen, 2014). The different accession phases (“widening”) and integration phases (“deepening”, e.g. Euro currency, Schengen Area) have been analysed as “differenciated integration” (Schimmelfenning, 2016). Over the last two decades, national political parties and public opinion have played a larger role in the integration process. This progressive shift towards the EU integration was described as a move from a “permissive consensus” to a “constraining dissensus” (Hooghe and Marks, 2008). “Disintegration” is part of the political science literature since about a decade (Bartolini, 2004). Brexit represents a direct manifestation of such a shift. The later geopolitical change influences how other member states position themselves within the EU and their respective neighbourhood.

This session suggests taking territorial cooperation within the EU and with its periphery as the entry point to interrogate how EU spatiality is constructed. In this endeavor, cross-border cooperation areas and macro-regions are considered as examples of laboratories of cooperation across national and regional boundaries. These are horizontally at the crossroads of transnational flows and interdependencies fostered by the EU integration process. Vertically, they are often symptomatic to power shifts from the national level to the EU and subnational levels. They therefore allow reflecting on the challenges faced by diverging manifestations of territoriality, in an increasing differentiated integrated EU.

The RGS conference 2018 takes place while the Commission has released a White paper on the future of Europe suggesting different paths to pursue the EU integration. The overall ambition of this panel is to discuss the plasticity and meaning of EU territoriality against the backdrop of the wide ranging experiences from cross-border and macro-regional cooperation, and bottom-up initiatives without direct relation to EU cooperation formats. In our understanding, these forms of territorial cooperation question the concept of territoriality on the one hand and invite rethinking the EU integration on the other. We understand territoriality as a construction that can play different roles in different cooperation initiatives. We therefore seek both theoretical contributions questioning the core concepts as well as empirical contributions about regional experiences. The session conveyors intend to contribute to the overall reflection of EU spatiality.

The selected research papers will be allocated a slot of 15-minutes.

Please send abstracts of no more than 250 words to Estelle Evrard (estelle.evrard@uni.lu) and Franziska Sielker (fs421@cam.ac.uk) by 2nd February 2018 (5pm). This should include title (max. 15 words), author affiliation and email address.

  1. Bartolini, S. (2004): Political territoriality and European (dis)integration: https://openaccess.leidenuniv.nl/bitstream/handle/1887/13883/IChapter5pdf.pdf?sequence=12
  2. Hooghe, L., & Marks, G. (2009). A Postfunctionalist Theory of European Integration: From Permissive Consensus to Constraining Dissensus. British Journal of Political Science, 39(1), 1-23. doi:10.1017/S0007123408000409
  3. Moisio, S. & Lukkonnen, J. (2014): European spatial planning as governmentality: an inquiry into rationalities, techniques, and manifestations, Environment and Planning C, 32, p.1-18
  4. Schimmelfenning, F. (2016): Good governance and differentiated integration: Graded membership in the European Union, European Journal of Political Research, 55, p.789-810

12 January, 2018

Garden Cities and the Suburban Antidotes

New theme issue of Urban Planning out now, coordinated by guest editors, Markus Hesse and Geoffrey Caruso, University of Luxembourg

Urban population is definitely increasing worldwide and what is known as “urban sprawl” in particular has been largely depicted as a problematic and unsustainable form of urban development. Compact city principles have been presented as perfect antidotes and became the flagship of urban policy over the last 15 years in many Western countries. Increasingly, however, it becomes obvious that too simplistic density policies have been trapped in many difficulties, e.g. low level of acceptance, gentrification and segregation, health and pollution exposure impacts, limited impact on the increasingly complex mobility patterns, mismatch of location, buildings and neighbourhood qualities to lifecycles and new family organizations, difficulties to adapt building stocks to innovative energy infrastructure, urban infill with halo effects on biodiversity corridors, etc. Those traps reflect a still limited understanding of the functioning of suburbs and of the complexity of suburbanization processes.

Rather than equating suburbs to sprawl, the selection of papers in this themed issue of Urban Planning considers suburbs as an in-between space—between the city and the countryside, between urban and suburban politics—whose sheer existence and broad distribution across the world calls for transformation towards more sustainable forms of development. More particularly the issue proposes complementary approaches that provide analytical insights into suburban problems and developments. They all challenge the practice of planning for and in suburbia in light of its in-betweenness or of some remoteness from central locations, hence question the necessary ingredients for brewing an antidote, needed perhaps, to counteract the bads of suburbs.

In a starting commentary, Pierre Filion stresses the transitory nature of suburbs as they emerged over the last 70 years in order to remind us of their transformative potential rather than as lock-ins. The article by Hendrik Jansen’s contributes likewise into showing the continuous transformation of a spatial stock by taking the example of the infill and retrofitting of suburban businesses around Zürich. The other three contributions prolonge and bridge the suburban dynamics and configurational aspects with the concept of Garden Cities supposedly allying the goods of cities and countryside. Alexander Wandel depicts the spatial connection between the ‘urban' and the ‘green’ in suburbs, including gardens, and propose an analytical method to measure fragmentation and accessibility in this particular interface. Nicolas Vernet and Anne Coste contrast the Garden City with sprawl. They highlight the configurational benefits of the Garden city concepts when environmental and energy preoccupations are integrated within a systemic and multi scalar approach. In a second commentary, Samuel Clevenger and David Andrews invite cautiousness. They show how deeply Garden Cities models and its early practice were rooted in elite sanitary views, with little, if any, interest for social inclusion. A dangerous trap one cannot fall again in if garden city configurations are revisited to operationalise today's revived interest for urban nature and health as important parts of urban sustainability agendas. 

Find free access to the full papers here.

07 January, 2018

PhD Defence, Evan McDonough, Geography & Spatial Planning

This Tuesday, Evan McDonough will be defending his thesis entitled, 

Global flows, local conflicts and the challenge of urban governance: Managing the urban-airport interface in London, UK

January 9, at 14:00
in the Black Box of the MSH
Campus Belval

Whilst often taken for granted, transport flows, airspace and urbanisation at ‘ground level’ are deeply intertwined. This dissertation situates London’s current controversy regarding aircraft noise and within new understandings of urbanisation and the role of transport flows within the urban realm, analysing the contested spatial relations stretched across the three-dimensional terrain, where the urban-rural, global-local and public-private spatial divisions are polarised by the negotiation of aircraft noise. Drawing from empirical evidence related to existing noise pollution issues and the expansion of aviation infrastructure in the South East, airspace will be interpreted here as part of the transformation and extension of the urban fabric above the built environment of the urban region, comparable the peri-urban extension and dispersal of the urban across the horizontal plane. Specifically, this study draws from empirical qualitative evidence of London Heathrow Airport, Gatwick Airport, and the local places which experience noise pollution emanating from the various, changing flight paths to and from these airports within and surrounding London’s urban boundary. Theorised as the relational, interscalar urban-airport interface, constructivist approach focuses on the constellation of public and private institutions and actors who co-constitute this interface and manage aircraft noise in the context of ongoing airspace modernisation, the intensification of aircraft activity and pending airport expansion. The aim of this study is to contribute a nuanced understanding of the relationship between places and flows to urban geography.

17 December, 2017

The corporate city looming? Part I

U.S. high tech and Internet giants such as Amazon, Apple, Google and Microsoft recently raised attention as they were, or are, investing heavily in the built environment, or at least plan to do so in the near future. Departing from previous experience, these investments are not solely about building trendy new headquarters for their own private use (such as Apple’s new ‘Spaceship’-HQ in Cupertino, Calif.). Rather, they are also about the development of new urban districts (such as the Smart Neighbourhood that Google is planning to develop in an as of yet still derelict part of the urban waterfront of Toronto, Canada), or the construction of an entirely new city located on a of desert west of Phoenix, Arizona for 100,000 people, as Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, envisages (apparently). 

Amazon is trying its hand at urban development with plans of building a second headquarter (HQ2) somewhere in North America. While Seattle, currently home to the seat of the company (which is actually registered in Delaware, MD), is somewhat nonplussed both with the prospects of a second Amazon city popping up elsewhere far away and with the present results of its domestic HQ2, Amazon is pushing ahead spearing new forms of urban development in the name of economic and community development and sustainability. If you want to investigate the Kool-Aid, you can find Amazon's promotional material here.

To help in the choice of location (or to help with squeezing as much profit out of this process as possible, depending on how you look at it), last fall Amazon.com launched a competition, where city administrations could present their efforts trying to convince the firm that they are the real place to be. So far, 238 cities have tried to butter up the business giant, and this "groveling ... has gotten embarrassing" (Los Angeles Times, 2017), with cities offering all sorts of extravagant gifts. Take, for example, the New Jersey Senator Chris Christie (close circle Republican of Trump). He was voted out of office in the senate elections just last November, but he was ready to give HQ2 the biggest subsidy offer of all -- in the order of billions. Indeed, as the mayor San Antonio predicted, exceeding the 3-billion-dollar gift that Wisconsin gave to Foxconn in September of this year. The desire of cities to – excuse our English – prostitute themselves to tech firm seems unlimited. And, for urban geographers, the massive output of media releases on this case provides a telling story of how location choice is negotiated and practiced nowadays. (Students may learn from this much more than is revealed in textbooks, btw).

The shadow sides of an investment as huge as the establishment of a headquarters of Amazon, however, not unbeknownst to some City representatives. Such a change could easily translate to the immigration of a work force up to 50,000-strong, many of whom would also demand housing for themselves and their families. The related strain for the real estate market can be easily imagined (unless, of course, we are referring to Amazon's CamperForce Program, which would open up a different set of sociopolitical and infrastructural questions). Moreover, some cities interestingly declined to become part of this race to the bottom at all, for good reason. This open letter to Jeff Bezos from the Mayor of San Antonio is really worth a read for several reasons. First, because the letter outlines why their city will NOT compete for Amazon. Second, and moreover, he points at the lurking malicious intents behind Amazon's generation of competition between cities. San Antonio has "long been impressed by Amazon and its bold view of the future. Given this, it's hard to imagine that a forward thinking company like Amazon.com hasn't already selected its preferred location." The outstanding question is then what would motivate an IT giant to generate a media extravaganza around competing cities, a process that in itself already exhausts state resources? Is it about billion dollar gifts, perhaps? Is it about becoming one of the new city builders, or a leading stakeholder or decision-maker in urban development processes?

It is now extensively discussed that the rising power of the 21st century tech moguls has neither evolved from genius alone, nor from knowing their customer best, but from political power to perform. This power materializes in giant tax exemptions awarded to them, as Luxleaks, Panama, and Paradise papers have revealed recently. These advantages foster their ability to establish huge, system-wide monopolies, feeding into a loop of self-fulfilling dynamics of growth and competitiveness. This is only possible through making use of public infrastructure of all kinds (legal, physical, educational), to whose financing, however, they don’t want to contribute. This letter to Tim Cook, CEO of Apple from the editor of the Süddeutsche Zeitung (in English) underscores the lack of financial commitment that these companies are willing to make, the lack of transparency around private profits and their redistribution within and/or across state borders, and their ability to engage legal resources to protect themselves against accusations of tax evasion. The implications are, in fact, more than "embarrassing": They pose a danger to financial sovereignty of cities (and nations), and democratic control over development.

From a scholarly perspective, then, obvious questions can be posed to this post-capitalist urbanism: What are the emergent urban geographies, pathways of dependency of these urban configurations? What kind of cities can we expect will be built by business giants with neither credible knowledge of the subject, nor willingness to make serious long-term commitments to the cities in which they settle? And what sort of society can we expect will dwell in these places?

Constance Carr /Markus Hesse

27 November, 2017

Playing D&D with students of Master Planning and Urban Governance

Thank you to Sina Telaar for preparing the Character Sheets in Wizards of Coast's D&D format, and lending me her dice.
I had a great time playing Development & Discourses with the students of Master Planning and Urban Governance today. The goal of the class is for students to survey different Master Plans from around the world, and learn to analyse and evaluate them, taking into account the differing institutional contexts and planning cultures. With role-play, today, students could hopefully get a sense of the kinds of dialogues that might arise when a Master Plan is presented in a public forum setting.

Opening the game with a roll of the dice by the Game Master (GM), me, the atmosphere was set: 4/20. Ouch! That's was bad news: It meant that there, "was a tense atmosphere at the City Hall today". But congratulations to the five students who played the characters of Mayor, Head Planner, Assistant Planner, Real Estate Developer, and Starchitect, who valiantly defended their fictitious Official City Plan to the attendees at the make-believe City Hall, who were not an easy bunch to convince. The housing activist wasn't particularly pleased about the growth agenda. The environmental activist threatened to block the next meeting with a protest, if promises could not be made about the greenbelt that was going to be built on. Older residents were also not particularly ready to give up property. One resident, who had lived in the neighbourhood for 70 years, as his father and grandfather before him, and as his son will as well, had no interest in the new developments whatsoever.

The students need to be thanked. The five defenders of the City Plan had 15 minutes to come up with an example plan and defend it. Everyone was super spontaneous and ready for the combat of words. Some unexpected outcomes arose, like how should the public respond when the government says, "Thank you for your feedback, we will take that into account"? Or, what how should planners react when the public presents facts about the area that s/he was neither cognisant of, nor were taken into account in the plan?

As for teaching methodology, this was also a learning experience for me. I definitely need to polish my GM skills for one. Constructing a game play, or "Campaign" in D&D lingo, takes quite some planning, and I could have dedicated more time to this. But there is a lot of potential here for role-playing as a teaching method in urban geography: This, of course, is also not new (Livingstone, 1999; Meligrana & Andrew 2003; Oberle 2007).  Livingstone (1999) used role-play as a way to investigate public inquiries in urban development. Providing a number of different settings where role-play could be a useful learning tool, he argues  "Mimicking the public inquiry format in the context of a geography curriculum provides an excellent opportunity to deliver a whole range of pedagogic objectives, associated both with the geographical course content and with key skills" (p. 64). The flexibility of role-playing allows for a variety of different kinds of real world settings that could be tested in the classroom. 

To get more out of the exercise in the format that we pursued today, Oberle (2007) also provides some inspiration. Time in class could be used to research a real-world situation. Further, students could be given time to research and develop a character in greater depth (Oberle 2007). Together, these steps could be then combined with written work that could be graded and in the end could be used as preparation for the game. So far, it seems that everyone agrees: It's fun.

...and in case you haven't caught wind, D&D is currently experience a major comeback (WIRED, 2017).

  1. Livingstone, I (1999) Role-playing Planning Public Inquiry. Journal of Geography in Higher Education. 23(1). 63-76.
  2. Meligrana, J. F., Andrew J. S. (2003) Role-playing simulations in urban planning education: A survey of student learning expectations and outcomes. Planning Practice & Research 18(1) 95-107.
  3. Oberle, A. P. (2007) Understanding Public Land Management through Role-playing. Journal of Geography. 103(5) 199-210.
  4. WIRED, 2017, It's a Living: Meet one of New York's professional D&D Dungeons Masters

21 November, 2017

CFP: IGU Urban Geography Commission annual meeting

IGU Urban Geography Commission annual meeting

Montreal, 12th -17th August 2018

URBAN CHALLENGES IN A COMPLEX WORLD: Key factors for urban growth and decline


Deadline for abstract submission (within the template for abstract submission available on the website): 5th February 2018
Acceptance of abstracts: 1st April 2018
Registration and payment: 1st April– 15 May 2018

The IGU Urban Commission in collaboration with the team VRM (Villes Regions Monde) of the Canadian INRS is pleased to invite you to the next commission meeting. This meeting will take place after the IGC-CAG Quebec Congress.

In 2018, the special focus for this conference will be on Key factors for urban growth and decline. Papers addressing these issues are particularly welcome for the 2018 Annual Urban Commission Meeting.

In addition to the theme on "Key factors for urban growth and decline", participants are invited to submit individual papers, and/or proposals for panel sessions or roundtables on the following thematic foci of the commission. See further explanation of the content of the topics on here: Project Urban commission 2016-2020:

  1. Complex Urban Systems and processes of cities’ transformation
  2. Technological innovations, creative activities in cities,
  3. Innovative and smart building and transportation in cities
  4. Polycentrism, small and medium size cities
  5. Sustainable to resilient cities
  6. Shrinking and aging Cities
  7. Urban Governance, planning and participative democracy
  8. Contested Social Spaces
  9. Subjective/objective Well-Being in cities
  10. Urban Heritage and Conservation
  11. New concepts and methods in urban studies

Mario Polese, Professor of Geography (Emeritus), Centre Urbanisation Culture Société, INRS-Montréal, "Why Cities fail, and why the roots of urban failure are rarely local?"

ABSTRACT: That “Cities are engines growth” has become somewhat of a mantra among urbanists and urban geographers. Jane Jacob’s now famous thesis that cities are the drivers of national wealth has become mainstream. This presentation challenges that thesis. There is nothing automatic, I shall argue, about cities as creators of wealth. Some cities fail miserably. The reasons for such urban failures, whether in the developing or developed world, can generally be traced back to actions by national and other senior governments. Detroit’s failure was no accident, but the predictable outcome of a governance structure imposed by senior levels of government. Buenos Aires’s descent from global metropolis, the equal of Paris and New York, to third world city had little with local failures. At a more technical level, there is scant evidence for the existence of dynamic agglomeration economies. Agglomeration is an outcome of economic growth, not its initiator. Cities - how they create wealth (or not) – mirror the societies that created them. 

15 November, 2017

RTL Documentary -- Documenting Hamilius Part III

Many thanks to Kevin Schutz, master student in our first year course "Urban Studies and Spatial Planning," who alerted me to Serge Wolfsperger's documentary, Was Iwwreg Bleift (What Remains) published earlier this month by RTL, which documents how the lives of the construction workers and those of residents at 49 Boulevard Royal intersect in surprising ways. In the process we learn about the memories of the residents, such as those of a 90 year-old resident, Arnaldo Ferragni, who arrived in Luxembourg in 1960 to work at the European institutions and can recount how the neighourhood has changed since he moved to the building in 1964. He recalls, for example, how the area used to have trees, gardens, children playing, and people on bicycles. We learn too of another resident who arrived Luxembourg after the war working in manual labour. And lastly, we learn about the construction workers themselves, and their thoughts about their work and their general outlook on life.

This short film (fr/it) is a very nice addendum to previous blog posts:

06 November, 2017

Hipsterland in Toronto's East Downtown

The from forgotten greasy spoon to jam packed hipster diner
From Greasy Spoon to Hipster Diner
Sitting at the George Street Diner for the first time in over 20 years was quite a shock. The old layout of the restaurant was preserved, but now it has a fresh coat of paint (inside and out), a new kitchen complete with a flashy splash behind the new fryer, and new upholstery in the booths. There is friendly and outgoing staff, new music humming over blue tooth, vegetarian burritos on for offer, art for sale hanging on the walls, and 20-somethings everywhere. "Good thing we decided to meet on a Tuesday," Prof. Ahmed Allahwala (Human Geography, University of Toronto) tells me, "because on the weekends there would be line-ups to get in." This happy jazzy joint, an obvious magnet in this boomtown, was quite the contrast to my memories of the place, where cigarettes, instant coffee, white toast and ketchup, canned beans, old homeless men, addicts, the dingy colours of yellow and brown and long silences prevail.

The changes in the George Street Diner are kind of indicative of change in the whole neighbourhood. The eatery used to be called a greasy spoon (i.e. a place whose food and service was dubious at best, but where judgement was withheld), and was surrounded by homeless shelters, soup kitchens, second hand flea markets (not "antique markets"), substandard housing, parking lots -- lots of parking lots -- pawn shops, strip clubs, and mostly dark empty streets. Nowadays, Toronto's downtown east and the rapidly integrating waterfront are hip and cool.

There is much that has been written on the area. Bunce, Desfor and Laidley, Desfor and Keil are obvious starting points here for a deeper analysis into these processes and the interrelations between urban development and politics. My view is somewhat more personal, as this was the neighbourhood where I grew up. What shocked me so much last summer was the change. I knew it was coming. "It's just incredible how many people there are walking around these streets these days," one resident said to me back in 2014. 

From the St. Lawrence Market over the Gooderham and Worts Distillery and towards the Don Valley, developments along the northern coast of Lake Ontario boast a new George Brown College for students of Health Sciences, a booming set of film production studios and IT firms, skater parks and galleries, re-naturalized parks, and an ever expanding palate of gastronomic services. Red Path Sugar, still in operation, is also now visible from the lovely new Sugar Beach, where students can watch the arrival of shipments of sugar upfront and close while sun bathing or -- during the longest season as it were -- making snow angels or otherwise mucking about in the slush. There is a latter or a smoothie at every corner, and every coffee table is equipped with a USB port.  

Condominiums are everywhere. Again, condo development in downtown Toronto has not gone unnoticed in the scholarly community.   AmborskiKerns,  Lehrer et al., or Moosare good starting points here. High rise condominiums have been shooting out of the earth like wild mushrooms for about 15 year now, apparently keeping pace with the rapid population growth in the city. Condo developers advertise fabulous apartment views -- with those facing southwards towards the lake being the most prized -- dense and therefore "good" urbanity, optimal location to employment, and general lively urban life. Many buildings claim sustainability, waving LEED certification of their green building standards. Not terribly surprising, many apartments are rather pricey (Amborski 2016). Equipped with swimming pools, gyms, and concierges, condos also represent a new style of life – upscale, private high-rise living. Developer led, it is a life popular with singles, couples, elderly, and youth.

While the promise of piece of the sky is clear, there are a variety of issues that still seem a little hazy:

  • How do families fare in this environment? Earlier studies (e.g. here and here) have shown that apartment block living is difficult for families, especially those with young children where buggies can be awkward of windows can be dangerous. In the case of recent condo developments in Toronto, rapid population increases have also led to overfilled schools and residents now complain that children have to trek across the city to attend school. Condo developers are now required to demonstrate whether or not the children of buyers will have a spot in a local school.
  • What will happen when buildings age? How will this affect health and safety? There have already been reports of falling glass. Of course, recent tragic events in London are a reminder to the dangers, and social inequities therein, of what happens when building managers decide to invest in cheap building materials such as flammable siding. And, while every condominium development is different, some residents complain that companies do not keep up with maintenance, or that Condo Boards are not responsive (or co-operative) to complaints. (Websites that have condo reviews, are a good source of data.)
  • There are also several uncertain dimensions concerning governance. First, one might ask who the developers are and what their interests might be. Some buyers have also complained of construction timelines (late), that developers are not responsive, or that the company telephone is suddenly out of service. Second, while apartments are for sale (and an endorsement of the 1st housing sector), there is no guarantee that owners will be involved in decisions concerning property management (e.g. security, décor, maintenance). High monthly operating costs indicate that developers have a stake in making further profits after sale. Third, some have discussed recurring tensions between, and diverging interests of, owners and renters, between wealthier owners (who can afford prize apartments) and those with less financial backing. While these can lead to social conflicts and grievances between neighbours, the larger problem might be about how these occupants can forge and make democratic decisions.
  • In terms of the sociology of housing, some have observed that a shift is taking place as life within many of these developments are over securitized. It has been observed, for example, that when party rooms are booked, extra security is ordered in order to keep party guests from wandering to other parts of the building. A new normal has developed.

The area is clearly cool now where it wasn't before, and while I am the last one to romanticise the memories of these neighbourhoods - I didn't like eating at the George Street Greasy Spoon or even particularly enjoy being anywhere within a kilometre radius of it (which included my own home, on George St South) -- one might wonder, as Ahmed reminded me: Where are all the homeless people now? Where can one get cheap 2nd hand clothing these days? Is this, in fact, what the neighbourhood was intended to be about all the long?

Digital Cities - Toronto trying to get ahead

View from rooftop of Woodsworth Housing Co-op, overlooking the co-op's 40 year old housing stock below, the eastern Gardiner Expressway, waterfront condo developments, and other derelict industrial lands that will be sold to Alphabet/Google.

Trudeau made the international headlines again at the end of October, not only because of his grief over the passing of Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip whose Secret Path is hopefully not only an operatic requiem to his own life but to colonial power in Canada as well (one be hopeful), but also because Toronto will be home to Alphabet's new smart city and Trudeau was there ready to lend a face to the project. Given recent policy initiatives back home on this side of the pond -- the 3rd industrial revolution, wooing Google, and ogling at asteroid necklaces -- I can't help but wonder if Luxembourgish leaders are either getting jealous or starting to salivate at the possibilities.

Below are a collection of newspaper articles (EN and DE) that will give you a taste of the project, so it in unnecessary to reiterate that content here. In short the, project:

"is a joint effort by Waterfront Toronto and Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs to create a new kind of mixed-use, complete community on Toronto’s Eastern Waterfront, beginning with the creation of Quayside. Sidewalk Toronto will combine forward-thinking urban design and new digital technology to create people-centred neighbourhoods that achieve precedent-setting levels of sustainability, affordability, mobility, and economic opportunity," (Sidewalk Toronto).

Needless to say, the project has larger implications for urban development in general, as it is targeted for an area that is currently undergoing massive transformation as a result of certain policy frameworks that enable various kinds of interrelated turbo investments. In fact, as information about Sidewalk Toronto hit the newspapers, I was already preparing a blog post on this topic, because I took two tours of the area this summer (more on this in a follow-up post).  But this project has received widespread attention in the news in recent weeks -- most of it rather skeptical, asking some rather hard questions.

English Articles

German Articles

01 November, 2017

PhD Opportunity in Urban Geography

The University of Luxembourg invites applications for its Faculty of Language and Literature, Humanities, Arts and Education (FLSHASE)

Doctoral candidate (PhD student) in Geography and Spatial Planning
Ref: F3-130010
14 months fixed-term contract, renewable up to 48 months, full-time (40h/week)

Student & employee status
Area: one of the research fields mentioned below, such as Human geography, i.e. with regard to conceptions of space and territory, Urban studies, preferably theoretical or empirical explorations, Urban and metropolitan governance, i.e. conceptions of power, The science-policy interface in geography and planning, Port cities, logistics and urban planning, Land use planning, housing and sustainable spatial development

Your Role

  • Prepare a doctoral thesis in Geography (see the possible research fields above)
  • Assist the professor in his teaching activities, one to three hours per week.

Your Profile

  • Master or Diploma in Geography or Spatial Planning/Urban Planning; Master or Diploma in Political Science, History or other Humanities/Social Sciences linked to geographical issues Strong interest in urban development, policy and planning Interest in interdisciplinary work and a reflective methodology
  • Excellent command of written and spoken English. (Additional knowledge of either French/German/Luxembourgish is an advantage)
We offer
  • Opportunity to participate in the development of a newly created university
  • An exciting international environment
  • A competitive salary
  • Well-equipped research facilities
Applications must include the following:
  • CV and copies of diploma
  • Motivation Letter
  • Support letter from at least one recent scientific advisor/professor
  • A PhD proposal (2,000 - 2,500 words excluding bibliography) using the following format:
  • Introduction and literature review
  • Research objectives and expected contribution to the field
  • Innovation/originality
  • Methodology (including intended dataset to be used if empirical analysis)
  • Work plan and expected timetable
  • Bibliography

Interested candidates are invited to send their complete application exclusively through the on-line application system of the UL (http://recruitment.uni.lu/), until 30th November 2017.

The University offers highly competitive salaries and is an equal opportunity employer.

The University of Luxembourg is a multilingual, international research University. For further information, please contact: Prof. Dr. Markus Hesse, Institute of Geography and Spatial Planning: Tel. +352/466644-9627

More info here

26 October, 2017

FCAT - finding the relationships

Steinsel, photo from Constance Carr
I had fun guest lecturing to future Luxembourgish planners, architects, and urbanists at the School of Geography and Architecture's certificate course, "Formation continue en aménagement du territoire" (FCAT). The best part was discussing how the landscape emerging at Hamilius Station is related to landscapes beyond the city, such as Steinsel (above). Of course, one could extend the discussion to how these two landscapes are related to those beyond the national border, as Christmann's (2017) dissertation has demonstrated.

23 October, 2017

Congratulations to Dr. Nathalie Christmann

Congratulations to Nathalie Christmann who successfully defended her dissertation on October 19th entitled, "Wohnmobilität in der Großregion ­ eine interurbane Diskursanalyse mit Fokus auf den Städten Arlon, Thionville und Trier,"  ("Residential mobility in the Greater Region - An interurban discourse analysis with focus on the cities of Arlon, Thionville and Trier").  Her work delivers important lessons in border studies and transnationalism with regards to labour movements in cross border agglomerations.  Her work will soon feature on science.lu in Luxembourgish with English subtitles.

Effects of residential mobility that is moulding uneven development in border regions can be perceived very differently by city councils, planners and local populations. This research focuses on the perceptions of population mobility and housing in the Greater Region, a transnational cross-border polycentric region in western Europe. Recent economic development of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg has called for a constant expansion of the labour market, attracting cross-border commuters, and highly mobile professional elites. The concomitant rises in property prices as well as the extreme housing shortages in Luxembourg have led to an expansion of the housing market into the border regions. So far, studies have mostly dealt with the socio-demographic characteristics of the transmigrants. This research aims to detect people’s perceptions of the phenomenon by applying a discourse analysis, and thus aims to trigger an increasing awareness of the various dimensions concerning the emerging transnational housing market.

Sitting on her panel were Prof. Dr. Markus Hesse, Prof. Dr. Ulrike Sailer, Prof. Dr. Birte Nienaber, Associate Prof., ph.d. Martin Klatt, und Prof. Dr. Christian Schulz

Congratulations Dr. Christmann!

19 October, 2017

Reconstructing the Hypercentre - Documenting Hamilius Part II

photo from Dr. Nathalie Christmann
The construction site at Hamilius has become a regular pit stop on the tour of the City of Luxembourg that first year Master students in our Geography and Spatial Planning program take. This year, in preparation, I dug up some media concerning the site.

   This entry may be seen as a follow-up to a previous blog entry "When the Heart Went" (April 2015) where I published a short photo essay of some of the graffiti art that was dismantled before construction began. There I also provided a link to a Luxembourgish film, "Hamilius," that documented the underground art scene that used to gather in the passageways underneath the bus station. More on this can be found with a simple search of skater/hip hop/breakdance/Hamilius in youtube. A couple of examples are Here or Here. While on the topic, it can also be noted that since construction began, the new Skatepark Peitruss has opened. While it certainly looks "impressive" and well supplied, I am curious to what degree this was a satisfying replacement. 

   The following list of articles focus conflicts around the construction site since 2015. This is by no means an exhaustive list of articles (One might notice the lack of German language articles, for example!!). But some of the general discourses can be reconstructed, and some of the primary stakeholders can be identified.  Following the list of newspapers and communications is also a list of web addresses of some of the main stakeholders of the site.

Newspaper Articles and Communications

Websites of some stakeholders

  • Before construction, the Ville de Luxembourg either owned or was able to buy many of the properties currently under construction.  The City's website has plenty of videos to watch on the.
  • The Real Estate Developer in charge of the site is Codic. More info here.
  • Giogetti is one of the real estate developer that lost the bid, and then later bought 40% of the units at 49 Blvd Royal.
  • The Foster + Partners were the (Star)chitects who won the design competition. Click around this site and notice that they have a knack for opulence being famous for signature projects such as the Reichstag in Berlin, the Great Court at the British Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the headquarters of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank, Al Faisaliah Centre in Riyadh, or The One in Toronto (the upcoming tallest building in Canada).....and they claim a "sustainable approach to architecture".
  • Back at 49, Boulevard Royal L-2449 Luxembourg, there are still some businesses in operation. See Institut-Royal

25 September, 2017

New Publication from Prof. Sandra Sprenger (University of Hamburg) and Prof. Birte Nienaber (University of Luxembourg)

(Education for) Sustainable Development in Geography Education – Review and Outlook from a Perspective of Germany

in Journal of Geography in Higher Education


Nearly fifteen years after the Rio Conference and ten years after the Lucerne Declaration on Geographical Education for Sustainable Development we are interested to what extent the goals of this declaration have been implemented? What role does Geography play in Education for Sustainable Development in higher education? Therefore, we analyzed the modules of 107 degree programs with Geography as a degree major or as a teacher training subject at 55 German universities, technical colleges and universities of education. We conducted a quantitative text analysis in which we searched the key words “Sustainability”, “Sustainable Development”, “Education for Sustainable Development” and “Nature-Society Studies” in the Module Regulations. Our data indicate the existence of a great heterogeneity between the degree programs. The key words were predominantly found in majors in “Human Geography”, “Geography” and teacher training programs for “academic high schools”. In this article the conceptual aspects can be derived on the basis of results: (a) differences in the orientation of degree programs, (b) varying degree of implementation in the modules, (c) different conceptual understanding of the principles of sustainability, (d) the concepts of Environmental Education and Education for Sustainable Development are individually and sometimes mixed and (e) heterogeneity between mandatory courses and electives.

DOI 10.1080/03098265.2017.1379057