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Track 3: Difference

Conceptualizing the urban through difference in comparative studies


We live in a world of interconnected cities. Across disciplines there is a call to challenge how urban concepts have developed through a western-centric lens. This challenge is based on the growing presence of cities in Asia, Africa and South America. There is a need for concepts to explore cosmopolitan urban imaginaries and to build open theoretical assumptions. McFarlane and Robinson (2012) claim "new methods and approaches to comparison" are fundamental to work "across diverse urban experiences". In the last century cities’ social and political systems have been compared and subsequently categorised. Examples include developed and underdeveloped, mega and world-class. By analysing specific urban processes (speculation, segregation, renovation) different cities have been cross-compared. In this manner cities are described as converging, diverging or as exceptions to particular patterns. How can we conceptualize the urban through difference?

This track invites reflections and proposals that deal with the challenges of conceptualizing the urban through difference, based on comparative studies from different disciplines, methods and approaches. We are particular interested in contributions challenging the place of singularities, regularities, repetitions, generalizations or patterns in comparative studies.

Keywords: cities, urban processes, comparative studies, methodologies, difference

Chairs: Frances Brill and Camila Saraiva


Tehran as a Scene of modernity: The urbanization and modernization of Tehran since mid-19th century until today

Azadeh Mashayekhi, Faculty of Architecture, Spatial Planning and Strategies, Delft University of Technology

This project uses several events and particular national development plans in Iran during the last 150 years to launch a central argument about how Tehran’s urban form and social structure shaped within a range of different kinds of interactions and connections with different kinds of places and policies. This project presents a framework to show how modernization processes driving the transformation of Tehran’s urban form and Iranian social reform since mid-nineteenth century until today. Two elements of this framework stand out, first the concept of modernity, which emphasizes the condition of continuous change and innovation in the city. The second element is the ‘production of space’, plotted on maps, to reveal the simultaneous change and continuity of Tehran’s urban form through particular modernization projects. This research identifies four modernity periods that correspond with different autocratic rules and their respective visions of a modern nation state and society in Iran, as expressed through urban plans and practices that aimed to control Tehran’s urban changes, and which ultimately led to a particular production of space and socio-spatial order in the city. These distinct phases of modernity in Iran have each impacted the planning and socio-spatial form of the city in different ways. Each modernity phase presents historically-specific modern ideas and practices. These phases are:

Modernity.1. Expansion of the Walled City (Qajar Dynasty, 1850-1925)

The beginning of Tehran’s modernization process and the constitutional project for modernity.

Modernity.2. A Modern Capital for a New Nation: Opening up Tehran with a New Urban System  (First Pahlavi Monarchy, 1925-1941)

Building the nation state and the administrative and industrial projects for modernity.

Modernity.3. Dreaming of the American City (Second Pahlavi Monarchy, 1941-1979)

Nationalisation of the oil industry and the consumer project for modernity

Modernity.4. Islamic Capital City (Islamic Republic, 1979-present)


Guwahati: A melting pot of disaster risks in rural-urban divide

Sneha  Krishnan, Civil, Geomatic and Environmental Engineering, University College London

The northeastern region in India holds a unique feature of multiple ethnicities, identities layered with historical and political neglect. In the recent years Guwahati has witnessed a complex array of recurring floods, political unrest due to separatist movements and ethnic conflicts, illegal immigration and environmental risks of hydro-infrastructural projects in Assam. This presentation traces parallel threads to understand the conglomeration of factors that have resulted in influx of populations in the cities from the rural fringes and peripheries of the river Brahmaputra as well as in areas that have faced ethnic violence and tension. It presents data on artificial floods in Guwahati, the political history of the region through interplay of the various central-state actors, the incidences of violence clashes and state response to such events. The data shows that the perceived threat and violence in the region has led to mistrust, displacement of populations from their original homes, loss of livelihoods and access to basic facilities resulting in out-migration and poor living conditions in the city. However even in urban conditions, the lack of systems resilience has not guaranteed a better lifestyle or standards due to lack of power and water supply, health and education facilities. Therefore the constant pull and push factors in migration are defining the population movements that are manifested due to resilience of the system – the city as an interconnected unit in contrast to the rural independence and standards of living.


Towards Sustainable Streets - Transforming Processes and Space in New York and Berlin

Annika Levels, Center for Metropolitan Studies - TU Berlin

Since May 2012, I have been working on my dissertation titled "Rethinking the Street - The Politics of Sustainable Streets in Berlin and New York" within the International Graduate Research Program "The World in the City: Metropolitanism and Globalization from the 19th Century to the Present" at the Center for Metropolitan Studies of the TU Berlin.

The aim of my dissertation project is to explore the role of the urban street (1) as a distinct kind of urban space and (2) as an object of current political sustainability aspirations by analyzing visions, political processes, plans and projects of the sustainable street and transportation paradigms in Berlin and New York. On the one hand, the Berlin Senat puts a particular emphasis on the street as a transportation infrastructure and its function within the city-wide transportation system; on the other hand, the Department of Transportation in New York has mainly been working on the enhancement of the public space quality of the street at specific spots throughout the city. Hereby, they achieved a great visibility of projects of their new agenda within only a few years, while in Berlin the negotiation about these issues has been going on since the early 1990s with only little visible outcome. These different approaches to the implementation of the global sustainable urban transport agenda and their different spatializations render these 2 case studies especially interesting to compare. At the Stadtkolloquium, I would like to present the first draft of the chapter of my New York case study which will explain the vision, its circulation, appropriation and implementation and draw initial comparisons to what I found in Berlin. With my detailed empirical knowledge of these cases I hope to contribute to a broader theoretical debate about the limits and possibilities of urban sustainability governance in the 21st century.


Creative Cities Beyond Compare?: Making the case for a comparative perspective in urban cultural policy and planning

Kerri Arthurs, School of Cultural Studies and Humanities, Leeds Beckett University

Comparative modes of urban theory have begun to spawn a range of alternative approaches to urban studies. However, in practice, scholars have been relatively reluctant to pursue projects which promote the realization of comparative methodologies, pan-urban processes and patterns, or constructive dialogue across theoretical traditions and disciplines. This paper offers a case for pursuing a comparative approach to recasting uncritical theoretical notions that currently dominate discourses concerning urban cultural policy and the creative economy. The normative dimension of the paper includes the conflicts and contradictions associated with the two most influential policy paradigms of our age: globalisation, with its emphasis on competitive advantage; and the ‘creative city’, arguably the newest place-marketing slogan to be exploited in interurban competition. The growth trajectory of the cultural economy, the presence of creative industries within the contested spaces of the inner city, and the rise of a reputed creative class in gentrifying urban neighbourhoods have stimulated new scholarly discourses and debates. Within this framework, certain metropolitan areas are privileged within a global hierarchy as models for emulation. For urban policy, this has led to the appropriation and implementation of certain visions of the ‘creative city’ through the identification of model cities or best-practices from around the world. In this context, what patterns of policy-making are emerging, where, and with what implications? What can be learned by drawing on wider range of urban contexts with various forms governance? What are the risks and opportunities associated with applying a comparative perspective in a field that often relies on single case studies? This paper outlines the start of a research project that employs the exploration of comparative cases in an effort to overcome existing assumptions and biases concerning cultural policy and the creative economy in an effort to contribute to ongoing theoretical reconstruction and renewal.


Assembling Cities: A situated inquiry into the modes of comparison

Julio Da Cruz Paulos, CASE (Research Centre on Architecture, Society and the Built Environment) -ETH Zurich

Comparative Studies has a long tradition in the interdisciplinary field of urban research and represents an inherent conception to the practice of urbanism and planning (McFarlane 2010). In recent decades the urban realm has been increasingly defined, interpreted and studied by setting and fixing cities as interrelated and connected entities around the globe (Sassen 1991; Robinson 2011). In academia, Urban Studies predominantly addresses comparisons through methodological terms by dialectically analysing the interrelations between economic, social, spatial and environmental processes and their mutual impact on the built environment, public places and changing patterns of use, appropriation and residence (Ong and Roy 2011). In professional domains, urbanists, planners and architects objectify cities as highly performative competing hubs through orientation and coordination of expert knowledge around ‘travelling’ best case practices of urban developments, and the figurative motions of urban models, city rankings, and highly mobile policies (McCann & Ward 2011). Rather than focusing on normative scales, predefined classifications and questions of causality, which generate notable reductionist and imperatively deterministic abstractions - such as the terms and binary divisions between “Western cities” and “cities of the Global South” - the aim of this contribution is to challenge and rethink the epistemological production of the notion of comparison by examining the city as a heterogeneous, diverse and distributed assemblage (Farias & Bender 2009). This symmetrical and 'flat' analytical approach will explore new insights into the accumulated and dispersed complexity of the city (Latour 2011). Emphasising planning as an explicit and implicit black-boxed milieu, an analytical framework will be set up around the concept of actor-network theory (ANT) by exploring the zoning code as a tool for land use regulation (Latour 2005; McFarlane 2011). In this sense zoning shapes and is shaped through an assemblage of specific, locally framed sociomaterial interactions, networks, practices and judgements, by coordinating policies with a territorial impact defined as planning culture. Finally, while resetting the frame, the double-relationality between situation and context is established with a situated analysis of a case-study both enacted and embedded in multiple ways within the current 'Urban Age'.


Disassembling connections: placing local political actors in their telling of slum upgrading histories in São Paulo and Durban

Camila Pereira Saraiva, IPPUR (Institute for Urban and Regional Research and Planning) - UFRJ / Dept of Geography - UCL

Nowadays, slum upgrading is a relevant urban policy in Asian, African and South American cities which have experienced rapid urban growth since the last half of the 20th century. In parallel or cooperating with international agencies, these cities have been developing slum upgrading policies. Regarding this, it is possible to raise some questions: Are these policies the same everywhere? To what extent are they shaped by circulating policies? Also, how much have they been shaped by cities’ social, economic, political and institutional contexts? Answers for these questions calls for a comparative study.

This paper presents the methodology of my PhD research, which I am calling the method of disassembling connections. The overall aim of this research is to relationally compare São Paulo and Durban's experiences in slum upgrading. Drawing on the proposition of following existing connections, this research relies on the study of the three-year-partnership established in 2011 by the Municipalities of São Paulo and EThekwini (Durban) on upgrading informal settlements. Methodologically, I use this partnership as a case study to raise questions concerning the institutionalisation of slum upgrading policies in São Paulo and Durban.

These institutional histories of each city are apprehended from the political actors' narratives involved in the analysed partnership. Therefore after disassembling this connection for the study of its parts, the methodology involves to re-assemble it in a more complex way to understand the meanings and possibilities the mentioned partnership offers for understanding São Paulo and Durban's slum upgrading policies as well as for the studies on policy mobility.