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Track Summaries

Session A: Urban Futures

The presentations in session A brought together researchers from a diverse range of subject matter and discipline. There was also significant geographical diversity—over the course of the day we moved from Bogota to Barking, Karachi to Istanbul. Despite this diversity, these presentations converged to an extent around several key themes.

The first theme was around the meaning of modernity. How does the urban modern look and feel? The presentations demonstrated that ideas of “modern” vary. To some degree there appears to be a difference between ideas of modern in cities of the global North and those in the South. A recurring theme was whether residents of southern cities see as “modern” things that are no longer aspired to by their Northern counterparts. Kavita Ramakrishnan, in her presentation “Envisioning Urban Futures: The Influence of Discourse on Reconfiguring City‐space in Hyderabad” demonstrated that the ‘modernisation’ of Delhi is driven to some extent by the personal aspirations of the middle class. Their anxieties lead to legal action and discourse which changes definitions of urbanism.  Meanwhile, the urban poor accept that they are not modern, and that they will be marginalised as a result.

Marlene Schäfers’s presentation “Resettling the urban “other”: Imaginations of urban space in Turkey” discussed the Turkish government’s position that apartment living is a modern, civilised alternative to informal settlements. In this way, meanings are ascribed to the material qualities of architecture. Yet these meanings are not always taken up by new apartment dwellers, as demonstrated by the fact that many reject of the modern, open plan ‘American kitchen,’ that is a feature of new apartment blocks in Istanbul. Braulio Eduardo Morera’s presentation “Sustainable imaging in China: Towards an understanding of the politics of urban images” demonstrated the way in which images of eco-cities are used to show how China has progressed to foreigners. Using discourse analysis, Braulio showed how such images represent the social context in China, at least the one that officials in the Chinese Design Institute (who vet all such images) want us to see.

Braulio’s work also ties into a second overall theme, that of urban representations. Many of the presentations touched upon the way in which urban futures are represented, and the power and impact of these representations. Thomas‐Bernard Kenniff, in his presentation “The ‘dialogic assemblage’ of Barking” described the regeneration scheme for the town square in Barking, East London. The architectural drawings for this scheme presented a vision of Barking’s future. Yet the drawings that the community agreed upon and the scheme that was eventually built were quite far apart, demonstrating the distance that can emerge between vision and reality in designing urban futures. Yet these visions still have the power to bring people together, a point reiterated by Elizabeth Rapoport, in her presentation “In Search of the Eco-City: Exporting Sustainable Masterplans to the Global South.” Elizabeth proposed that the sustainable masterplan, with its attractive renderings and promise of a sustainable urban future plays an important role in pulling together the people needed to push forward a new urban development. However, as Tse-Hui Teh pointed out, many such plans are never built. Are planners and architects just dreamers?

A third theme which emerged from the presentations was of who controls the vision of the urban future. Are such visions always a top-down idea? Braulio’s presentation showed a country very concerned with maintaining control of external perceptions, while Elizabeth’s research into the design of new sustainable cities also demonstrated that top-down planning is still very much in existence.  Yet we also saw urban futures being generated from the bottom up, in particular in the presentation by Tatiana Ome, “Eco‐neighborhoods in Bogotá (Colombia): An analysis of the neoliberal urbanization and the ecocity planning from the urban political ecology perspective.” Tatiana’s presentation introduced the eco-neighbourhood programme in Bogota which, while originally a mayoral initiative, ultimately turned into a community-led, bottom-up programme. Tse-Hui Teh’s presentation “Hydro‐urbanism: reconfiguring the urban water‐cycle in the lower Lea river basin, east London” addressed the issue of how to harness people’s ideas and enthusiasm for bottom up solutions. Looking at actor-networks in urban water use, Hui’s research looks for opportunities for co-evolution within actor-network systems, integrating design and behaviour change.

In terms of methodologies, there was real interest among many of the presenters in looking at relations and networks, and the processes that people are going through to shape their cities. Hui uses actor-network theory to look at relations and networks with people and the water-related infrastructure around them. Elizabeth’s research looks at the relations between foreign planners and local planning cultures, and the way these mutually influence each other. Thomas, meanwhile, conceives of urban projects as a set of changing relations.

As for the cases the presenters are studying for their research, some highlighted this issue of interactions, while others emphasised the lack of interaction. In fact, there was a recurring theme of whether urban futures will mean divided cities. Jonathan Rokem presented the way in which he is applying the divided cities literature, traditionally focused on cities defined by conflict (Belfast, Nicosia) to the study of changes in European cities. Jonathan’s presentation “The Future of Diversity in Divided Cities: a Comparative Study of Urban Division and Diversity in Stockholm, Berlin and Jerusalem” questioned whether there is a convergence among European cities in terms of ethnic division. Jonathan’s research proposes that we should think about applying the idea of the divided city to ordinary, not just extraordinary cases. Divisions also occur along class lines. Tatiana pointed out that despite living in Bogota for many years, she had never heard of the eco-neighbourhoods programme prior to beginning her research, as it was an initiative targeted at the poor. Class divisions also emerged as a theme in Sobia Kaker’s presentation, “Space, Security and Circulation in Urban Pakistan: the case of Karachi.” Sobia demonstrated that there are two Karachis, a prosperous one south of the river, and a violent one north of the river. This raised the question of how violence shapes space.

While it was not explicitly addressed in group A’s discussions, one final theme seemed to underlie almost all of the presentations. This was the relationship between urban futures and social justice. As researchers it is difficult not to judge the projects and cities we study, and from a social justice perspective it seemed that many presenters were struggling with what they saw as a lack of commitment to social justice in the “urban futures’ under examination.

Session B : Urban Histories

Urban Histories took us on a journey from Manchester, to London, to Berlin, Amsterdam, Istanbul, Lagos, Glasgow, New York and Rome.

We witnessed glimpses of Victorian Manchester and London from the view from the window. Had 19th and 20th century Berlin, unified and divided, a developing municipality and a constricted island mapped, imagined and planned. We waded in the messy archive of the sand and sludge of Amsterdam and sought out the layers meaning in the public squares of Istanbul over 175 years. We viewed a planned Lagos through the text of the city in the last 50 years and revealed the shared characteristics of the musical networks of Glasgow and New York, and all with enough time left to explore historic architectural imaginations of a Rome interrupted in 1748 and exhibited in 1978.

Our panel began with Brian Rosa’s presentation on the production of Residual Space, infrastructure and indeterminacy which set the tone for discussion that repeatedly returned to infrastructural and sometimes transient sites, and the concerns of narratives of memory and spatial production. My own presentation hoped to demonstrate the significance of urban underground railways in recognising them as landscapes whose visual artistic representation reflected their various contextual concerns in London and Berlin linked to boundaries, rhythms, anatomy, critical cartography and notions of non-place. The landscape in city discussion was extended further by Sandra Jasper’s paper, which proposed a critical rethinking of landscape, city and infrastructure through cyborgism and a Body/City nexus and highlighted a width of rich narratives associated with phantom limbs of the disconnected city and landscapes of sound and the development of urban ecology besides the potential of memory to act as an overarching anchoring point. Following a brief discussion on archives, Karl Beelen introduced us all to the metaphorical archive of the sand of Amsterdam and his maps, themselves sites of both excavation and information and construction and narration, which highlighted the potential for cartographic representations to communicate issues besides simply the building of the Netherlands by focussing on sand as an external product that is increasingly used and required to manage land. The significance and influence of maps remained prominent in the next presentation of Tilo Amhoff, which situated 19th Berlin within discourses linked to the relationship between statistical mapping and town planning. In discussing the roles of Geog Von Meir and Hermann Schwarber’s approaches to statistical mapping Tilo demonstrated the social dynamic of population density maps and the role they played from 1896 onwards in shaping city plans themselves legal and governing devices. Julia Strutz introduced us to her investigation of the production of public space in Beyazit square in Istanbul over a period of 175 years with an approach that sought to problematize tradition arguments associated with democracy and gender in public space in Muslim countries whilst respecting the layering or physical space with narratives and imaginations including those associated with ideas of crypto-colonialism. Giles Omezi then provided a literary geography of Lagos, which sought to subvert established notions of the city as anarchic or chaotic that are often reinforced by visual representations of the city. With reference to of post-independence literary representations of the city Giles established historic locations within the city from different vantage points and lenses whilst demonstrating the historic planning of the city associated with the strategic plans of the post-independent command economy. Our penultimate presentation was given by Kevin Milburn, which excavated the shared characteristics of the musical geographies of Frank Sinatra and the Blue Nile arising from the historical connections between Glasgow and New York. His extensive discussion integrated some interesting material associated with advertising and place marketing besides referencing the creative connections forged by users of you-tube. Finally, Lea Szacka’s discussion of the 1978 Roma Interotta architectural exhibition, not so interrupted proceedings as concluding them with a discussion of a historic exhibition that has continued to command imagination and significance more recently and highlighted a shift in perception of paper plans as independent aesthetic devices.

In all then our discussion has highlighted issues of representation artistic, cartographic, literary, audio and so forth. Other key themes that have arose across many of the papers are those of infrastructure, landscape and memory. Theoretically and methodologically issues were raised about the best means to integrate concerns the concerns of performance and phenomenological perspectives whilst simultaneously recognising that such endeavours may only serve to complicate research strategies without necessarily adding any analytical benefit. I think some of us, myself included would like to have some guidance on if and how such perspectives should be integrated into our studies. Some concerns were also raised regarding the breadth and diversity of research areas as well as the benefit of comparative studies.

Session C: Urban Connections

Track C – “Urban connections”, was a session including diverse set of themes from different fields: geography, semiotics, anthropology and planning, studying a whole series of different geographical areas: South Africa, Sweden, Italy, Estonia, France, Kosovo, London and New York, and including doctoral students in very different phases of the research: from 2 months until graduation. The session was a platform for sharing suggestions how to proceed with one’s PhD project – a bit like a self-help group. Nevertheless, there were some common themes which I would like to point out here.

First, as the session title put it, the session was about connections, about different connections. There were temporal connections – what was the historical process to getting to the current situation? Multiscalar connections – institutions existing in different scales (international, state, local). Francesca Artioli pointed that out perhaps most clearly in her discussion on projects of urban governance and army restructuring in Toulon. Multilocal – connections between different cities, how ideas travel and how changes in one place can affect places far away. This came out in Sara Saleri’s presentation about Carmine neighbourhood in Brescia, Italy, where the meaning of the city centre has been re-enacted by immigrants while the centre is eccentric to many local people. Interpersonal – connections between migrants and locals, between key actors and ideas. Regan Koch in his presentation offered an excellent account how conviviality emerges out of unexpected connections between people, food and environment. The track, therefore, was a topological group – tracking connections despite temporal, scalar, spatial and personal distance.

Second, movements/mobilities in the city and from outside was a theme connecting presentations at the session. The presentations were dealing with dynamics and change, and also travelling of innovations and ideas. For example, Virginia Stephens discussed movements of people and their connections with the place using the example of internationals in Kosovo, while Tauri Tuvikene talked about urban automobilities in social change in the post-socialist city and Astrid Wood of travelling ideas on urban planning in South Africa. Urban is traversed by a bundle of people’s movements that makes urban perhaps much more open to small processes than usually imagined. In line with this point, Jana Wendler looked for playful ways in cities for achieving sustainability and Stephanie Mills analysed social innovations through small groups interacting in the city.

Third, we also discussed about practicalities of doing research: how to narrow down and do the thing! Thanks for Måns Norlin for asking almost in the end of every presentation, how one is going to do that, what are the methods used. Especially, the question how one can study practices, was a central, however, still unanswered question. Nevertheless, many of the themes presented are dealing with practices and try to get on grips with that elusive realm. Ethnomethodologies, practice theory, ethnosemiotics – were some of the mentioned approaches. Måns himself had used ethnomethodology to understand participatory planning processes that, has he explained, had instrumentalised the participants into categories. The questions of studying practices were what connected different disciplines present in our session.

These questions will now be worked out in every project individually. We’ll see the results soon.