17th N-AERUS Conference: 2016 Gothenburg (Sweden)
GOVERNING, PLANNING AND MANAGING THE CITY IN AN UNCERTAIN WORLD. COMPARATIVE PERSPECTIVES ON EVERYDAY PRACTICES
17-19 November 2016, School of Public Administration, University of Gothenburg
This conference strives to gather scholars and practitioners interested in exploring the everyday practices of both those who are involved in the governance, planning and management of cities, and those who are building the city from below. In the current context of political, financial, environmental, social and economic uncertainty, the conference also opens up for discussions revolving around issues of mobility, migration, segregation and integration in both global North and global South cities.
Part of the Organizing committee
Mistra Urban Futures, represented by Henrietta Palmer, Deputy Scientific Director is part of the Organizing committe for the conference.
About the conference
The variety of cities across the globe, their different pathways and trends of growth and decline, their cultural and social diversity and the ways they are inserted into, and shape, global processes, makes trying to analyse urban planning, governance and development a puzzling task. In coexistence with this urban complexity, there is a need to draw attention to the importance of local histories, experiences and actors and the contributions these make to urban planning, governance and development processes. In this respect, increasing the knowledge about individual cities is fundamental to generating better comparative theory of urbanization processes. Urban theory is increasingly criticized for excluding the knowledge and experiences generated in global South cities (Roy and Alsayyad, 2004). From different critical perspectives, such as post-colonial or post-political studies, comparative urban studies have emerged as a means of making the field global in its range and underpinnings. Accordingly, in this conference we would like to take a stand on the ‘comparative gesture’ (Robinson, 2005) as a strategy to contribute to build up a ‘world’ urban studies theory (Ong and Roy, 2011), thereby avoiding Eurocentric approaches.
Another point of departure for this conference is our concern about planning, managing and living in cities in contexts of uncertainty. Unpredictability and risk linked to rapidly spreading hazards such as pandemics, global warming, economic turbulence, and transnational warfare are just a few examples. Due to these uncertainties and unstable conditions, large population groups are forced to migrate and arrive/merge into unknown/inhospitable urban conditions. How do city planners and managers act, and what kind of everyday practices have they developed to deal with their work in an urban environment that is daily shaped by distant forces and hidden interdependencies? How can we rethink the planning and governing of the city in this context? Cities have become sprawling entities with complex dynamics that make them difficult to understand and govern. City planners face the dual challenge of intervening effectively in an urban system dominated by uncertainty and change, as well as finding ways to plan and govern in the context of globalization, through networks and connections with multiple nodes of authority and capacity (De Landa 2006, Amin, 2013).
The conference is thus oriented to (but not limited to) comparative analysis and discussion of the following main themes: everyday practices in planning, managing, and governing the city; building the city from below; mobility, segregation and integration in cities.
Everyday practices in planning, managing, and governing the city
Recent work in urban studies has shown an interest in understanding both the everyday practices of different actors involved in planning, strategizing, visioning, governing and managing the city, its infrastructures and built environment, and those who live the city.
Large inequalities in the distribution of resources and access to infrastructure exist within and between many cities of the south. Planned city centres supplied with formal services and infrastructures coexist with informal infrastructure and informal settlements, where critical services are increasingly provided by networks of local entrepreneurs, connected to markets, local governments, civil society organizations and public infrastructures. This raises questions such as what interests are represented and inscribed in these infrastructures and services? What formal and informal everyday practices are performed by this array of actors to supply the extant services? How are these infrastructures and services shaped by their users? And what individualized tactics, coping strategies, urban livelihoods and daily practices do city dwellers develop as a response?
Simultaneous to these micro-practices, in recent decades cities have been subject to large infrastructure projects, often internationally funded, aimed at enhancing the competitiveness of the city. Arguably this has led to a shift in urban government from managerialism to entrepreneurialism (Bridge and Watson, 2013), thereby transforming the city into a commodity -in the context of inter-urban competition – as well as privatizing functions, infrastructures and services provided by the city.
Recent research has also placed more attention on the actual running of the city. This includes a focus on how plans and decisions are translated into action and stone, and on the process of translating aspirations into results (Czarniawska and Solli, 2001). There has also been a focus on how daily practices make possible the delivery and functioning of critical services (waste management or transportation), the use of public space (street vending) or the provision of housing resulting in what has been called “urban informality” (AlSayyad and Roy, 2004).
Building the city from below
Residents do not only comply with plans, programs and rules. They also adapt, alter, make sense of, benefit from, resist or contest city plans and policies. Most importantly, beyond plans and policies, residents put their own practices. These, if successful, may be institutionalized into formal arrangements. This has occurred in the case of water supply and waste collection services provided by youthful entrepreneurs in many informal settlements. While the contribution of social entrepreneurs to social, environmental and spatial changes in cities has been lauded, scholars have also suggested that there is a risk that entrepreneurship in informal settlements is being romanticised. It may, for example, serve as a façade privatization of critical services and the withdrawal of the public sector from these parts of the city. Turning social problems into economic ones, citizens into customers, youth into entrepreneurs, and critical services into business opportunities may represent an alignment with neoliberal agendas which depoliticize the social.
Other grassroots responses expand through social movements which are increasingly locally and globally networked. In the conference we invite papers with a focus on the role of these bottom-up movements and networks in the planning, governing and management of cities and in the development of knowledge based on everyday practice.
In this vein, the recent shift towards a deliberative tradition redefines planning ‘expertise’ as partial and circumstantial, and fosters an understanding that interests in planning, management and governance are never neutral nor impartial. This, in turn, necessitates a redefinition of residents as active, knowledgeable subjects and stakeholders, and a reconceptualization of planning as the enrolment of both expert and lay knowledge, acting in an open, experimental, and democratic manner in an uncertain world. The conference also welcomes papers linking grassroots action and new deliberative planning practices.
Mobility, segregation and integration in cities
Issues of mobility, displacements of large populations, migrations from rural to urban areas have been central issues in the urbanization processes of cities in recent decades in the global South. Meanwhile, immigrant integration has been seen as one of the most challenging problems confronting cities in the global North. The recent so-called crisis of mass-migration from the Middle East has fuelled both segregationist and integrationist policies in European countries. In the conference we also look for contributions that critically interrogate issues of mobility, integration and citizenship and welcome proposals from cities of both the Global South and global North.