21 May, 2018

An event in Zurich on housing co-ops and cooperative living

Carr was invited this week to join a panel discussion on housing co-ops at an event organised by the INURA Zurich Institute, MAZI, Nethood, and Netcommonsentitled,

"Cooperative housing and beyond - The right to the hybrid city" 

In addition to tours of Swiss housing projects, Kraftwerk1 and Kalkbreite, and a collective pizza-making session, it will be two days of discussions about ongoing projects, current challenges as well as future possibilities related to self-management and collective decision-making, and alternative arrangements in housing.

Program details here.

07 May, 2018

Evelyne Stoll, IBLA, May 8, Campus Limpertsberg, BS 0.03, 19:00

When it comes to sustainability and sustainable development, food systems,especially at the farm level show great deficiencies. We are currently facing several environmental challenges, such as greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, soil erosion and soil degradation, biodiversity loss, and nitrogen and phosphorus cycles, on which food production can have substantial impacts. Socio-economic issues, such as poor labour conditions and financial viability of the farm, also play an important role with respect to the sustainability of food production. However, the question arises, what sustainable food production is. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has published the SAFA (Sustainability Assessment of Food and Agriculture Systems) Guidelines in an attempt to define sustainability in the food and agriculture systems and to provide a universal framework for the sustainability assessment of these sectors. The SAFA-Guidelines structure sustainability in 4 dimensions (Good Governance, Ecological Integrity, Economic Resilience, Social Wellbeing), 21 themes and 58 sub-themes. For each sub-theme, an absolute objective describes the target state of sustainability. The FiBL (Forschungsinstitut für Biologischen Landbau, the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture) has developed the SMART (Sustainability Monitoring and Assessment RouTine)-Farm Tool to operationalize the SAFA Guidelines: the tool models the sustainability of a farm with respect to the 58 SAFA sub-themes. This is an indicator based assessment of the level of goal achievement.

In this class, we will look at the possibilities of sustainability assessment in the food system, with focus on the indicator-based assessment using the SMART-Farm tool. We will discuss the benefits and limitations of such indicator-based assessments and will broach the challenge of defining internationally comparable indicators that are still applicable in diverse local conditions.

Evelyne Stoll (MRes) studied Environmental Sciences for her Bachelor in Science degree at the University of Aberdeen (UK) before attending the Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh (UK) for her Master of Research in Environmental Analysis and Assessment. After her studies, she worked for INCOTEC Sweden AB in their testing facilities in Uppsala (S) before returning to Luxemburg. Since 2013, she works in the research and development department of IBLA and has been responsible, among other projects, for the winter cereal variety trials and the European Core Organic Project „COBRA“. More recently, the focus of her work was on the holistic sustainability assessment of agricultural holdings, namely using the SMART (Sustainability Monitoring and Assessment RouTine)-Farm Tool. This topic will be further deepened in the project “SustEATable – Integrated analysis of dietary patterns and agricultural practices for sustainable food systems in Luxembourg” (2018-2021).

21 April, 2018

Special Issue by Hesse/Siedentop "Suburbanisation and Suburbanisms" is out!

Hesse and Siedentop's special issue of Raumforschung und Raumordnung on Suburbs and Suburbanisation in the European context is now out in hard copy (Volume 76, Issue 2, April 2018)

Entries include:

This paper provides a brief overview of recent developments and debates concerned with suburbanisation in continental Europe. While current discourses in urban research and practice still focus on processes of reurbanisation and the gentrification of inner-city areas, suburbia continues to exist and thrive. Depending on the definition applied, suburban areas still attract a large share of in-migration and employment growth in cities of the developed countries. Given that popular meta-narratives on suburbia and suburbanisation are often spurred by, or refer to, North American suburban studies, we take a different perspective here, one based on continental European trajectories of development in and across city-regional areas that are considered to be suburban, and on social processes that are associated with suburbanisation (suburbanisms). Thus, we aim to avoid a biased understanding of suburbia as a spatial category, which is often considered mono-functional, non-sustainable, or in generic decline. Instead, we observe that suburban variety is huge, and the distinction between urban core and fringe seems to be as ambiguous as ever. The paper, which also introduces the theme of this special issue of “Raumforschung und Raumordnung | Spatial Research and Planning”, bundles our findings along four themes: on suburbia as a place of economic development, on the shifting dynamics of housing between core and fringe locales, on the life-cyclic nature of suburbanisation, and on strategies for redevelopment. Finally, we discuss certain topics that may deserve to be addressed by future research, particularly on the European variant of suburbanisation and suburbs.

This paper addresses conditions of post-suburban urbanisation. Our empirical base is drawn from observations of integration initiatives in the region of the Glatt Valley, a rather undefined area extending from the City of Zurich towards the airport and spreading over a number of small municipalities. Under growth pressure, municipalities are coordinating housing, transportation, and economic activity, and this is generating new post-suburban forms. To understand these processes, qualitative methods were used, relevant documents surveyed, and conversational interviews with actors in the area conducted. A process of infrastructure consolidation was observed, which moved towards integrating functional pathways and optimising capital accumulation, and attracting and catering for business development and high-income earners. To date, the region has proved to be diverse and dynamic, while also furthering certain modes of fragmentation and social stratification. The results reveal post-suburban forms that are place specific and path dependent insofar as they are driven by particular arrangements of governance that emphasise a certain mode of integrative planning. This form of post-suburban growth is also producing new forms of fragmentation.

The rapid emergence and spread of new housing quarters that specifically address middle-class families is a striking feature of current urban development. Despite being located in or near the city centres, many of these ‘family enclaves’ display social and physical characteristics that so far have been firmly associated with suburban living. Against this background, the purpose of this article is twofold. The first objective is to argue from a theoretical perspective that the notion of ‘inner-city suburbanization’ is appropriate and helpful to capture the hybrid and contradictory nature of these projects as well as of many of the current socio-spatial developments in Western metropolitan regions. For this purpose, the paper draws on newer approaches that conceive of (urban or suburban) ways of living as independent of specific (urban or suburban) spaces or places. The second issue, based on empirical research, is then to sketch the essential qualities of newly built middle-class family enclaves and to highlight their propagation as a major characteristic of urban transformation in Germany. Their continuing expansion is interpreted as an expression and catalyst of ongoing processes of inner-city suburbanization. It is asserted that suburbanism has not only made its mark on the outskirts of the cities but is increasingly conquering growing parts of the inner cities as well.

The debate on the nature and state of peri-urban development in Europe is dynamic. While residents and their residential preferences have long been identified as strong drivers of the process of peri-urbanisation, other influences have also been discussed, such as the supply side of the housing market or job opportunities for residents. This paper analyses the population and job growth trends in the last five decades of 230 urban areas in mainland France. The results show that the pattern of peri-urban development of all the large and medium cities of the country have strong common characteristics. In particular, the areas around cities have proven dynamic both in terms of population, as would be expected in the peri-urbanisation process described by the literature in France, but also in terms of jobs, which have been less analysed. A review of the economic literature on the determinants of firms’ location choice puts forward some of the most relevant determinants that may explain a choice of location outside central cities. This helps put in perspective the role of job opportunities in shaping peri-urbanisation in France in the recent past.

This paper takes a spatially differentiated and temporally variegated perspective on suburban areas. It proposes a conceptual framework for studying the temporal variation and related trajectories of the subject matter, with suburban lifecycles being the key to our analysis. In empirical terms, the paper summarises the findings of research undertaken in 12 selected locales of four major metropolitan regions in Germany. Against the background of assessing the broader socioeconomic development of these regions, detailed local case studies have been conducted in order to reconstruct past and current development trajectories. Our analyses detected particular life cycles (and related segments) in the study areas, based on age and social composition, the physical conditions of the built environment and broader developments in the real-estate market. The different cycles include, in most cases, growth, maturity, transition and resilience, and they are also discussed in terms of their relevance for strategies responding to recent changes.

17 April, 2018

New Paper in Environment and Planning C: Politics and Space

Examining regional competitiveness and the pressures of rapid growth: An interpretive institutionalist account of policy responses in three city regions

Rob Krueger, David Gibbs, Constance Carr

Article first published online: April 16, 2018 

This paper is premised on the notion that actors play a central role in shaping their institutional contexts. The paper adds to scholarship in this area by bringing together three disparate cases with a common analytical entry point: the city region. Despite their multiple scales and different sites of governance, these cases are united by a common theme, exemplified in each city region: addressing the contradictions of rapid development, in particular rapid growth and competitiveness. Using the conceptual framework of interpretive institutionalism, we examine how dilemmas, in this case the pressure of rapid growth in regions, are informed by the different traditions for understanding the role of the market in delivering project outcomes. Our findings show this difference in institutional norms and the variance among the different paradigms.

16 April, 2018

IKEA’s locational strategy - ‘Back’ to the city, or just another facet of urban-economic development? UPDATE

Photograph: The picture shows the Magdeburg, Sachsen-Anhalt, facility opened in August 2017 as store no. 53 in Germany. It is probably one of the last ‘standard’ department stores of IKEA located on a more or less typical urban fringe location. Courtesy: obs/IKEA Deutschland GmbH & Co. KG/Stefan Deutsch

Last week the corporate headquarters of IKEA Germany announced a new locational strategy for the Swedish furniture and lifestyle provider, which would also have direct consequences on the company’s actual expansion plans. In the near future, IKEA says that it will be shifting away from the classical suburban big-box location choice – which was key to its market success in many countries for decades. In Germany alone, the company had regularly opened up two to three stores on average per year in the country’s 80m+ market. In order to ensure sustained growth in a changing market environment, additional stores would now be sought for in urban, rather than fringe, locations. This shift, so the company argued, was a consequence of the rising share of urban – not sub-urban or rural – population, and of changing consumer preferences to which any retailer would have to respond to. In particular, online sales are growing at a much faster pace than bricks and mortar retail, which obviously causes the entire industry to re-think related strategies.

Upcoming decisions to be made by IKEA include the following: The firm is considering a pause in its expansion plans, but may decide to implant a few new stores in core areas of metropolitan regions such as Cologne, Frankfurt, Hamburg or Munich. The first of the upcoming inner-city stores will be opened in Karlsruhe, in 2020. Meanwhile, planned investments in new facilities in, for example, Bottrop, North Rhine-Westphalia or Memmingen, Bavaria, might be cancelled. Thus, the store that was introduced in 2014 in the core area of Hamburg-Altona (probably the first-ever inner-city IKEA location), may serve as a general template for future expansion plans. While the old big-box locations remain the ‘standard’ department stores, one may also see new ‘fulfillment centres’ (a term frequently used by Amazon.com) emerging in due course, for instance in Memmingen or in Nuremberg. These would suit for the picking-up of stuff that was ordered online, meaning that these centres might look rather different compared to the all-in-one warehouse that IKEA is known for so well. 

How do we have to interpret this change? Does the firm’s announcement indicate a paradigm shift in the location choice of retail, or do we observe more of a successive transition? First of all, corporate data indeed reveal that IKEA’s market position has come under pressure, as the usual growth rates observed in the past have been dropping recently. This has questioned the firm’s traditional business model. Consequently, IKEA may seek to develop new market segments, in response to an aging average customer population (baby boomers) that may prefer to settle in cities rather than on the urban fringe, and which is less prone to car use than it was before. Of course, new technologies such as Internet-based e-commerce and related changes also play a role in this re-orientation.

It is thus likely that in the foreseeable future big- and small-box will be developing in parallel, as online and stationary retail will do as well. As of now, the company’s plans may represent a modification to, rather than rupture in, the locational dynamics, since no existing big-box facilities are about to be closed down at this point. Also, the recent move is not equivalent to a ‘back to the city’ strategy of something that had initially dispersed and is now re-centered. It is about additional investments that will primarily flow towards urban areas. This will also bring conflict and competition for space back to the city, which might be more difficult to resolve than the clean and green imaginaries of the smart city and booming metro narratives suggest. Another question is whether cities will benefit from the appearance of IKEA in areas that suit for take-away shopping, or whether the strong competitor will erase the last remainders of brick and mortar trade in these areas. Admittedly, it looks pretty significant if the Walmart of Europe, the trendsetter in big-box and drive-in shopping since the 1970s at least, is now turning to the city. However, while some commentators may feel inclined to read vital signs of an urban renaissance, it actually represents a rather normal adaptation of firms’ locational behavior to changing framework conditions. The case reveals many questions, not clarity about Billy, Köttbullar and the like to re-urbanize.

The lesson to be learned from this case is not necessarily a new answer to an old question: city or suburb – a question that seems also highly superficial in cases like the city of Bottrop, in the Ruhr area, which is simultaneously city, suburb and something in between the two. The most important point that this issue brings to the fore is, above all, just a fundamental property of the city: it is basically a case of logistical configuration, and this is now going to be re-configured. When agglomeration and associated socio-economic benefits appeared to be the strongest momentum for cities to emerge, it was in the exact context of the efficient management of flows that both the mercantile and the industrial city were taking the shape that became predominant for either period of urbanization. The former represents the dense, compact arrangement of land uses and economic activity within the urban core, and the latter evolved as an increasingly de-concentrated configuration of material flows, retail and commodity trade that was bringing about an associated landscape of urban centres, nodes and peripheries. The invention of logistics (not only the standard container, but also highly efficient techniques of the storage and in-house movement of items), the data driven management of supply chains, and the mere physical distribution of goods had a clear impact on the layout and design of buildings, development sites and step-by-step of urbanized areas as well.

In a nutshell, this story is perfectly told by Jesse LeCavalier’s dissertation on the case of Walmart, probably one of the first template corporations that brought the “rule of logistics” to some perfection (LeCavalier 2016). It thus had a major imprint on communities across North America, with consequences both good and bad. Obviously, IKEA demonstrates a comparable success in applying such principles to furniture and interior merchandise. With accelerating e-commerce gaining a higher share of the whole cake of retail and wholesale trade, the next transformation is likely to occur. It will bring another round of restructuring to the spaces of logistics, and thus to cities, particularly by adding an urban layer of distribution, as the case of IKEA indicates. Amazon.com seems best prepared not only to achieve leadership on related markets, by organizing the seamless flows of data, goods, workforce and money. Effectively, it comes close to market domination, which raises more general concerns about the societal importance of logistics (Hesse 2018). This is rarely taken into account so far. IKEA’s new plans remind us to think more about even small logistical changes that can have a huge urban-regional impact.

A piece that appeared in yesterday's edition of the Guardian makes the case of distribution centres that have mushroomed in the UK in recent times. They are transforming previously rural landscapes into sort of industrialised spaces that provide services once offered by inner-city retail, mostly triggered by online merchandise. The story of Dirft or Lutterworth, Milton Keynes Magna Parks and the likes evokes a classical phrase by the late architecture theorist Martin Pawley (1994), who emphasised the "abstract urbanism of trade routes" that would increasingly replace traditional, place-based urban economies. While Pawley seemed to be ahead of time then, it now looks as if we're getting closer to his predictions.

Markus Hesse


Hesse, M. (2018): ‘The logics and politics of circulation. Exploring the urban and non-urban spaces of ‘Amazon.com’, forthcoming in The Routledge International Handbook on Spaces of Urban Politics, ed. by A.E. Jonas, B. Miller, K. Ward & D. Wilson, 404-415. Oxford: Routledge.

LeCavalier, J. 2016. The Rule of Logistics. Walmart and the Architecture of Fulfillment. Minneapolis: UoMinnesota Press.

Pawley, M. 1994. The Redundancy of Space. Die Redundanz des urbanen Raums. In: Meurer, B. (ed.): The Future of Space. Die Zukunft des Raums, pp. 37-57. Frankfurt/New York: Campus.

Dr. Liang Emlyn Yang, April 24, Campus Limpertsberg, BS 0.03, 19:00

Globally, coastal cities are facing complex climate-related water risks along with an increasing intensity of population and properties.Growing concern on these challenges requires implementation actions that bring together vulnerability reduction and resilience building. This study applies the concept of vulnerability and resilience to urban communities in South China coasts facing climate-related water hazards. The study integrated a reanalysis dataset, model projections with literature results on long-term climate changes, which supported a comprehensive risk analysis of both floods and water shortages in the Pearl River Delta within the regional climate change context. A flood vulnerability assessment at the sub-region scale was further conducted adopting an indicator system. The results show that flood risk has several consequences at different urbanization levels under increased climate variability. Pre-existing vulnerabilities were exacerbated after flood or water shortage impacts. The main factors influencing the vulnerability of coastal communities are related to economics, institutional capacity, and the accessibility of knowledge for local community-based organizations.

However, other communities have been able to reinforce their resilience through local initiatives. Five principal priorities for resilience building emerge from the research evidence: Investing infrastructures, sharing responsibilities, diversifying engagements, networking recoveries, water security nets for the most vulnerable ones. To ensure the delta’s communities are well adapted to climate and water threats, it is clear that investing in building community resilience and safety nets for the most vulnerable is important. The local efforts, government supports and outside aid should be better organized to reinforce the ability of the people at local communities. This study further highlighted the importance of understanding how the urban communities are vulnerable to natural hazards and the strategies to increase their resilience, as well as identified a few research directions for future investigations.

Dr. Liang Emlyn Yang is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Graduate School of Human Development in Landscapes, Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel in Germany. Emlyn used to study and work at the University of Hamburg, Germany, where he received his PhD in Geography in 2014, focusing on urban water risks in the context of climate change. He got his master and bachelor in geography with a focus on urbanization in China. His recent activities include the study of long-term climate change and social resilience, in especially China and South Asia developing areas. Emlyn is recently carrying out three research projects funded by the German Foreign Ministry, Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). He has also served as a consultant in several international organizations regarding regenerative cities (World Future Council), resilient cities (Project RESURBE), climate entrepreneurship (EU Climate-KIC), low-carbon transition (MIT Climate CoLab), and climate solutions (Project Drawdown). He acted as assistant supervisor of four master students and assisted teaching in both the University of Hamburg and University of Kiel.

Emlyn has published about 20 peer-reviewed research papers. His research interests include climate-related water risk/vulnerability assessment, agent-based modeling of human responses to hydro-hazards, and he seeks to develop solutions for vulnerability reduction and resilience building in the socio-hydro field. Emlyn has a strong background applying stakeholder-based technologies within the above research fields. His research objective is to establish a new landscape of participatory resilience building in both theory and practice.

Prof. John Robinson, Tuesday, April 17, Campus Limpertsberg BS 0.03, 17:30

The social contract between universities and the society’s they serve is changing. It used to be enough for universities to do research and educate students. Increasingly, however, we are being asked to engage tangibly and actively with the problems faced by the societies which fund us. I will explore the challenges and opportunities facing universities attempting to respond to this demand with regard to sustainability. Based on an agenda which moves beyond harm reduction to what we call regenerative sustainability (human activity that improves both human and environmental wellbeing), and using examples from UBC, Copenhagen Business School, Chalmers University of Technology and the University of Toronto, I will outline an agenda for transforming the campus into a living laboratory of sustainability, where faculty, staff and students, along with private, public and NGO sector partners, use the university’s physical plant, as well education and research capabilities, to test, study, teach, apply and share lessons learned, technologies created and policies developed.

John Robinson is a Professor at the Munk School of Global Affairs, and the School of the Environment, at the University of Toronto;an Honorary Professor with the Institute for Resources, Environment & Sustainability at The University of British Columbia; and an Adjunct Professor with the Copenhagen Business School. At the University of Toronto, he is also Presidential Advisor on the Environment, Climate Change and Sustainability. Prof. Robinson’s research focuses on the intersection of climate change mitigation, adaptation and sustainability; the use of visualization, modeling, and citizen engagement to explore sustainable futures; sustainable buildings and urban design; the role of the university in contributing to sustainability; creating partnerships for sustainability with non-academic partners; and, generally, the intersection of sustainability, social and technological change, behaviour change, and community engagement processes.

More info here:

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 (nothing 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: