Today is #WorldTownPlanningDay 2018 and I feel it is important to reiterate the crucial role planners are playing across the world in shaping sustainable and resilient cities and trying to create better places for all. Those tasks are highly challenging specifically in some of the African countries where I am currently conducting research where there is a very little number of planners and huge pressures and responsibilities given to them.
In that regard, and drawing upon the results of the SAPER project, I presented back in October, at one of the plenary sessions of the 2018 Planning Africa Conference (15-17 October 2018) some results of SAPER and how they can inform the achievement of the New Urban Agenda (SDGs). The panel was comprised of Dy Currie, Peter Geraghty, Viral Desai and Kristin Agnello. Amongst the key areas, Stuart Denoon Stevens Martin Lewis and I highlighted were first the challenges facing the implementation of SDGs in South Africa due to a) the complexity of policies (by different government departments and levels); b) the significant resource and personnel constraints, which are particularly acute in small to medium municipalities (esp. rural) and c) the fact that SDGs still appear as secondary challenges in contrast to other ‘perceived’ priorities (for example housing and poverty alienation). As to move forward we suggested looking at a more holistic approach to urban planning and development breaking a too siloed approach still in place and also fostering planners’ capacity building (targeting skills needed once in practice and training after graduation).
To celebrate #WorldTownPlanningDay 2018 we have been posting a set of tweets highlighting some of the key results of SAPER to date. I am including them below:
It has been a while since I posted news about the Temporary Urbanism Lab. The last six months have been extremely busy with the SAPER project (see the range of posts in this regard - http://www.saperproject.com/blog) and air pollution related research activities (related to the ASAP project and beyond).
I am very pleased to report that Yueming Zhang and I have signed a contract with Springer for an edited book on “Transforming cities through temporary urbanism: a comparative overview”. This edited collection provides an international overview and furthers understandings of how temporary uses and projects participate to the transformation of cities across the globe. Temporary urbanism has been elevated as a core concept in urban development building upon the work of architects and urban designers, and its application has been crossing the borders of both the North and the Global South. There is thus a need to reflect upon and discuss the diverse ways of understanding and implementing "the temporary" in the production of space internationally. It should be in press by the end 2020.
The temporary urbanism Lab is also growing.
I have welcomed two new PhD students.
First, Paul Moawad joined the University of Birminhgam and GEES in September. He will be working with me and Paul Richardson. Paul is an architect and urban designer with an M.Arch (American university of Beirut) and a MSc. in Real Estate Development (Columbia University, GSAPP). His doctoral research examines contested borders and transient spaces.
Second, Ritu George Kaliaden, who was already a member of TUL, has successfully secured a PhD scholarship at the interdisciplinary Centre for Ecological and Revitalizing Urban Transformation (IZS) in Goerlitz for a PhD position in Urban Transformation. She will be looking at the temporary space usage in the city of Görlitz: an investigation of its potential as a tool for urban transformation. I will act as external supervisor and look forward to starting this collaboration early December.
Finally, I am pleased that Dr Michael Martin accepted to join the lab as an affiliable member. Michael is Assistant Professor (Lecturer) in Urban Design at the Department of Architecture & Design, Aalborg University (Denmark). He is a UK/IRE academic with a PhD in Planning from the University of Manchester. His research on temporary urbanism discusses the role and function of interim solutions within the context of the development process and urban regeneration. He exploits the opportunities presented by mixed methods research to highlight what multi-city, longitudinal, statistical and mapping approaches can offer to temporary use scholarship. His datasets comprise over 5,000 cases of temporary development, available on request.
In early May 2018, with my colleague Peter Kraft, I visited Sao Paulo to work on our EPSRC/FAPESP-funded project ‘Reinhabiting the City’. I am including some of the brief we published in the GEES School bulletin.
The project is exploring the issue of vacant and derelict urban spaces, focused on the area around Sao Paulo’s city centre. For a range of historical reasons, several once prosperous inner-city neighbourhoods have seen a mass exodus of residents, leaving vacant plots, empty buildings and a degraded urban environment that is increasingly subject to desertification. In some areas, such as Luz (also known as 'crackdown'), where we are focusing our work, poorer city dwellers have begun to settle in some properties, although they are generally deemed illegal ‘invaders’ by the city and it is often hard to tell whether properties are inhabited or not (an issue highlighted by the recent major fire in Sao Paulo). This was my first visit to Brazil and to the city of Sao-Paulo, hence a fantastic opportunity to immerge myself in the quite brutalist modernism of the megalopolis.
The project, which is a collaboration between architects in the Faculty of Architecture at USP (FAUSP), architects at the University of Nottingham, and geographers and planners in GEES, aims to explore socially-inclusive mechanisms whereby the city can be ‘reinhabited’. The term ‘reinhabit’ is used deliberately as a way to move beyond the common problems associated with gentrification and regeneration. Although focused on a range of temporary built interventions – such as the use of shipping containers to create community performance and arts spaces (see http://www.ciamungunza.com.br/conteiners) –we are interested in how small-scale transformations in the built environment could act as anchors for larger-scale community development and improvements to the built environment and infrastructure of neighbourhoods like Luz.
The visit in early May included field visits to Luz, invited presentations at the NUTAU conference on architecture and urbanism at USP, and a series of team meetings.
With my colleague Peter Kraftl, we recently hosted the first workshop of the “Re-inhabiting the City: Bringing new life to city centres of emerging economies in a changing climate” project (31 Jan – 2 Feb). This interdisciplinary project, gathering architects, urban designers/planners and urban geographers, funded by the EPSRC/FAPESP, is led by Dr Lucelia Rodrigues (University of Nottingham) and Dr Joana Soares Gonçalves (University of Sao Paulo). It connects directly with my interests towards temporary urbanism as it questions the re-use/re-design of vacant spaces in Sao Paulo's vacant urban core.
The team spent the first two days deconstructing individuals’ understandings of the challenges undergone by central urban spaces and related methods used to conduct research in those fields. Drawing upon this, we revisited the bid and agreed on tasks and outputs. Discussions also led to identifying the set of case studies which will be used in Sao Paulo to conduct in-depth research and data collection. On the third day, the team headed to London to explore a range of initiatives, temporary and more permanent, aiming to bring new life to changing spaces and neighbourhoods. This included visiting temporary projects in Loughborough Junction led by Meanwhile Space Enterprise, meeting with the delivery lead of Pop Brixton, meeting with the place shaping manager of Team London Bridge, visiting Shoreditch and finally heading to Future Cities Catapult for an end of the day meeting and wrap-up.
The UK team will be off to Brazil in May and I am looking forward to being in the field and querying those spaces in need for transformation!
I am copying below what my colleagues (Francis Pope (PI of this project) and Rhiannon Blake) have written for our School bulletin as per the first inception workshop we hosted a couple of weeks ago in Birmingham .It was a fantastic opportunity to meet with our project partners and move forward with this fascinating project.
At the end of January, the ‘A Systems Approach to Air Pollution (ASAP) – East Africa’ (www.asap-eastafrica.com) UK team hosted a conference at the University of Birmingham, as the first workshop of the major international research project looking at how rapid urbanisation in three African cities - Addis Ababa, Kampala and Nairobi impacts upon air quality. ASAP members from GEES include Francis Pope (PI), Lauren Andres, Ajit Singh and Rhiannon Blake.
Delegates that attended included scientists from our three study countries; Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda, but also from many different institutions such as the University of Nairobi, African Centre for Technology Studies, Uganda National Roads Authority and the Ethiopian Public Health Institute to a name a few.
The beginning of the workshop was structured around the inception phase of the ASAP-East Africa project, with discussions of work planning, ideas for stakeholder engagement and understanding different perceptions of what the pressing issue of air quality looks like for East Africa. As well as cementing the strong bonds the UK team has with our international partners, relationships were formed across the different countries which is vital for strengthening our research across the interdisciplinary, multinational project.
The ASAP-East Africa consortium were then joined by a group of leading experts in the field to discuss possible scenarios for Nairobi’s air pollution in the year 2030. We had delegates from the UN, the African Development Bank, the Overseas Development Institute as well as academics from within our University, Professor Roy Harrison and Professor Nic Cheeseman to engage in this session, chaired by Professor Tim Softley, University of Birmingham Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Knowledge Transfer.
The outcomes of the high level workshop were very positive, identifying major themes such as how new technologies such as electric cars can reduce air pollution emissions, the benefit of conveying positive messages of air pollution reduction to engage both the public and governments and the importance of tailoring our research to each city to ensure the most impact.
I have written a lot about Lausanne and one of its flagship neighbourhood, the 'Flon'. I was recently back in the city and it was a real pleasure to stroll in the streets and reflect on the changes that have marked this former industrial neighbourhood. I started to gain an interest from this area back in 2003 when I was a geography student, in Grenoble. I then discovered this place which was about to change dramatically. I studied it as one of my case study for my PhD and since then I have always tried to go and check it, once in a while. While the site is indeed exemplary of a trajectory of gentrification which has been marked by significant displacements and mutations, he has still kept its unicity which makes it an 'urbanist hotspot': it is one of those places which triggers thoughts, ideas, visions about urban changes, temporalities, architecture, design ... in other words a place to go to think about cities and how to built, develop them, change them for everyday uses and for the future generations...
I have been blessed recently with two new projects for which I am acting as co-investigator. First with Emma Ferranti (PI), Andrew Quinn, we have secured internal EPSRC-funding and GEES pump priming funding to look at the transport legacies of recent mega-events in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and Cape Town (South Africa) with regard to sustainability and climate resilience ambitions. Second we have just been notified that our UoB/Nottingham/FAPESP research grant application led by Lucelia Rodrigues (University of Nottingham) has been successful. Along with other colleagues in Nottingham, Birmingham (incl. Peter Kraft) and in Sao Paulo we will explore the issue of 'Re-Inhabiting the City' and question the re-use/re-design of vacant spaces in Sao Paulo's vacant urban core.
I am also very pleased to say that the GEES Urban Initiative has been successfully launched and is already demonstrating the School strength in promoting new innovative urban research while being an incubator for other collaborations across the university and beyond, while being a great asset for our students and external partners.
More of both items soon...
My former doctoral researcher, who is now a research fellow at city-REDI, working on the Urban Living Birmingham Project, has been awarded the annual prize by the Economic Geography Research Group, Royal Geographical Society, for the best PhD thesis in the field of economic geography submitted at a UK institution during 2016. Chloe’s thesis (Satellite, Rockets and Services: a Place for Space in Geography?) explored the competiveness, organisation and governance of the UK space sector and was praised for the quality of the research, the novelty of the empirical context and the approach taken. There is no word to say how proud and happy I am for her. This is a fantastic achievement for such a stellar early career scholar. Well done Chloe!
Graduation ceremonies are always a very special day in British Universities (shame we don't have this in France!) for students, parents and of course us, as academics. This year was particularly special for me as three of my former PhD students graduated. Lovely memories worth sharing in the pictures below. Well done again to Chloe, Janna and Bin!
I am very pleased to be leading the new urban initiative in the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences which will be launched in September 2017. This interdisciplinary virtual centre will bring together researchers from the School in the areas of human (particularly urban and economic) and physical geography, urban planning, environmental and health sciences. It will also include undergraduates, postgraduates, alumni and stakeholders interested in the urban and will collaborate with other scientists and research units across the University and beyond. The Initiative will open new avenues for collaboration, funding and engagement for the School, the College and the University.
The Urban Initiative will make world-leading urban research produced in the School much more visible externally. It will generate original and transformative research as well as creative thinking based on interdisciplinary collaborations amongst researchers interested in the various aspects of urban environments and systems.
The Urban Initiative will also ensure that GEES’s urban research strength becomes a much more visible feature of our teaching offer. It will support research-led teaching, in the School, in line with the TEF strategy. It will engage students with the range of interdisciplinary urban research while giving them new skills and opportunities for work experience. It will also help build stronger links with graduates, developing a network of successful alumni.
The Urban Initiative will enhance existing connections and networks to reinforce the School and University’s influence and engagement, locally, nationally and globally. It will more efficiently capture the School’s spheres of influence, making its activities much more visible for external stakeholders and funders.
The website is currently under development and more information will be circulated soon.
Meanwhile you can follow us and contact us via twitter: @GEES_Urban