Key Thinkers on Cities (Sage, Oxford)

KTOC book

A new addition to the Sage’s Key Thinkers range focuses on Cities and thinkers who are at the vanguard of contemporary scholarship that helps to shape our understanding of what city life is like. Key Thinkers on Cities presents the work of 40 innovative scholars who underscore the breadth and depth of urban research. These are writers whose ideas have sculpted how cities around the world are comprehended, researched, debated, and acted upon. Impressively, the book is not restricted to narrowly defined writers of ‘the urban’. The book contains fields as diverse as art, architecture, computer modelling, ethnography, public health, and post-colonial theory. In doing so, the book provides space for a group of thinkers who have started to shape knowledge of cities through these different disciplinary guises.  The range of 40 thinkers include; Ash Amin, Jason Corburn, Natalie Jeremijenko, Enrique Peñalosa, Jennifer Robinson, Karen C. Seto, Abdumaliq Simone, and Mariana Valverde. Key Thinkers on Cities foregrounds writers who have strived to engender a concern for the life of, and within, cities to a wider audience.

 

The book introduces a way to think about cities that provides a mapping of the current transdisciplinary field as well as disposition for the enquiry of all sorts of different cities. The authors have explained that “Key Thinkers on Cities is book that promises to be an essential text for anyone interested in the study of cities and urban life. It will be of use to those in the fields of anthropology, economics, geography, sociology and urban planning”. Key Thinkers on Cities is sure to be an essential tool in the urban scholar’s arsenal for many years to come.

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EU Mobility Week: Inside the Sofia Metro

The European Union’s Mobility week is a continent-wide event that opens doors to mobility and transport operations for all citizens for free from 16th – 22nd of September. The 2017 edition of European Mobility week has been organised under the theme of clean, shared and intelligent mobility. The slogan is ‘Sharing gets you further’. The use of shared forms of transport can reduce costs and lower carbon emissions. The idea is to also encourage meetings between new people and make journeys more sociable. The thinking behind mobility week 2017 is to enable the public and local officials to experience the benefits of shared mobility. The week consists of 2,422 towns and cities with 605 mobility actions registered.

 

In Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, the Metro opened their doors to anyone who wanted to learn more about how the system operates and the new third line which is due to open in 2019. The third line will have 14 new stations built and will connect to lines 1 and 2 in 2 existing stations. The Sofia Metropolitan began operation on January 28, 1998. In July 2016, the metro opened the interconnection between lines 1 and 2. There are 35 stations and the total route length of 40.0 kilometres (24.9 mi) is among the top 30 of the most extensive European metro systems. The Metro provides fast connections between the densely-populated districts of Lyulin – Mladost (Line 1) and Nadezhda – Lozenets (Line 2). In April 2015 Line 1 was extended to Sofia Airport terminal 2.

 

The Mobility Week tour started at the Metro head office. It began by a tour of the control room for line 1 and 2 as well as the police security control booth. We observed how the lines are monitored and the trains instructed throughout the line. We also received a detailed presentation about the construction of the third line. It is a big construction that will traverse the city north-east to south-west. At present the number of passengers the Sofia metro carries daily is 350,000 with the third line it is anticipated the metro will carry 500,000 passengers. The construction entails 1000 workers building 16 stations (including 2 stations that are extensions of two on Line 1 and 2) and will generate 600 new jobs in the city.

 

The metro dates to the State-Socialist regime of Bulgaria. As such, the original two lines can be seen as socialist infrastructure. The new line presents an interesting counter point, as it has been built to European and not Soviet designs and operations; the new cars will be European rather than Soviet. The metro offers a window through which to explore the uses, adoption, and contestations of socialist and post-socialist infrastructure as they work in unison. Urban projects such as the metro showcase the competing urban cultures that continue to be at play and drawn into conversation over time and space.

 

For more info on Mobility Week: http://www.mobilityweek.eu

For more info on the Sofia Metro: http://www.Metropolitan.bg

Pictures awaiting endorsement

Matter and Memory

There has been a lot written, tweeted, and argued recently about the place of statues and monuments in cities throughout the world. The arguments made by young scholars at elite British universities and citizens in American cities highlights the emotional, political, cultural, and imaginative power these objects hold. In Eastern Europe, particularly former state socialist countries, the debates over socialist era monuments have been part of life since 1991. In some cases, the argument about trying to erase history by removing socialist era monuments echoes the attempts of the state socialist regimes who erased history both materially and immaterially. This included new construction of monuments, roads, and plazas, and the renaming of existing places, rewriting educational material, and mass cultural programmes.

 

In Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria after the end of Todor Zhikov’s regime in 1991 the mausoleum built for Georgi Dimitrov, the founder of the People’s Republic of Bulgaria, was demolished in 1999. The area next to the city park in the centre of Sofia where the mausoleum stood remains empty with many plans about what to do with the space nearly twenty years later. Anthropological and geographical studies of Central and Eastern Europe have highlighted the multitude of experiences in the years following the collapse of state socialism across the region. The role of memory is a central part of post-socialist experiences. Creed (1998, 1999) has drawn attention to the ways that socialist memories are used to propose questions of the post-socialist present, emphasising the power of ritual to inform understanding of political and economic changes in everyday activities. Light and Young (2014) argue, through their study of residents contesting the renaming of socialist-era squares and boulevards in Romania, that everyday habits and memory remain stable despite rupture.

 

On July 28th 2017 the socialist era monument “1300 years of Bulgaria” in Sofia was demolished after several years of plans, legal actions, and protests and counter protests. The monument was unfinished at the time state socialism ended in the country and was in a serve state of disrepair. The decision to remove the monument was taken by the Sofia Municipal Council in 2014. However, the decision was repeatedly challenged in court by the monument’s sculptor Valentin Starchev. As part of the controversy around the monument have been efforts to restore the original monument to the Bulgarian army that the socialist regime replaced with ‘1300 years of Bulgaria’. In 2014, a group of 1,400 activists gathered together and organised a petition to restore the earlier Known Warrior Memorial for the 1st and 6th Infantry Regiments. The plans to restore the Known Warrior Memorial comes at a time when charges of erasing history are levelled at anyone disagreeing with monuments. However, in Sofia this memorial will stand in the shadow of the National Palace of Culture built in 1981 by Todor Zhikov’s socialist regime. At least here the relationship between different histories and regimes will be in constant conversation about the past and possible futures.

 

 

Site of the Monument of 1300 years of Bulgaria in Sofia. The former monument and the view towards the National Palace of culture.

Images courtesy of Anna Plyushteva and Desire&Subtext

 

References

Creed G (1998) Domesticating Revolution: From Socialist Reform to Ambivalent Transition in a Bulgarian Village . University Park, PA: Penn State University Press.

Creed G (1999) Deconstructing socialism in Bulgaria. In: Burawoy M and Verdery K (eds) Uncertain Transition: Ethnographies of Change in the Postsocialist World. New York: Rowman & Littlefield, pp. 223–243.

Light D and Young C (2013) Urban space, political identity and the unwanted legacies of statesocialism: Bucharest’s problematic Centru Civic in the post-socialist era. Nationalities Papers41(4): 515–535.

Light D and Young C (2014) Habit, memory, and the persistence of socialist-era street names in postsocialist Bucharest, Romania. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 104(3): 668– 685.

A Weeping Elephant

In the central Brussels neighbourhood of Ixelles, a fifty-metre-tall elephant has been introduced to Place Flagey. The place is an open square where people gather, young children splash around in water fountains, and each weekend a vibrant market transform the square to bustling, throbbing mass of colours, smells, and textures. The sculpture is called a weeping elephant and has been positioned in the northern corner of the place across from the imposing Flagey building that houses a cultural centre and the school of architecture from the Université libre de Bruxelles. The elephant is part sculpture, part performance art, and part provocation and will stand in position from July 12th until September 22nd 2017.

 

Images courtesy of Anna Plyushteva

 

The elephant is part of a series called Ode to the Wilderness by Dutch artist Jantien Mook who has been fascinated by rhythms and patterns from childhood. Her love of nature and animals is part of the rationale behind the weeping elephant, looking to explore the subtleties and movements of the natural world. The weeping elephant is a sculpture of an African elephant, made of beech stems, patterns in steel, segments of bark and knots for the eyes.

 

Jantien Monk explains that the sculpture ‘travels around the world and appears in cities, she ‘weeps’ to make her presence felt’. The elephant provokes the public to think about the daily presence of such creatures and the interactions between nature, animals, and humans. At the same time the weeping elephant is an interesting object that draws attention. Children will play with the sculpture, people sit at the elephant’s feet, and others just enjoying taking pictures as the colours change in sunlight.

 

The elephant certainly brings about changes in the felt atmosphere of the square, at the same time it helps to make a direct and daily confrontation to people’s awareness and appreciation the role urban places have on the wilderness and wildlife. The elephant will travel around Europe till the end of the year, instigating daily confrontations and atmospheres.

 

For more see: http://www.hln.be/regio/nieuws-uit-brussel/weeping-elephant-vindt-plek-op-flageyplein-a3207588/

 

 

Running Plan: encouraging running in cities

Running is a burgeoning activity in cities across Europe. In some cities, it is a prominent activity while for others it is a nascent practice. In all cities running speaks to the desire to encourage citizens to adopt healthier practices as well as being part of a suite of ideas to foster more sustainable urban places. In Brussels, recently there have been calls for running to feature more prominently within the city. In the Brussels Parliament, Flemish Socialist politician Jef Van Damme introduced an initiative that brought together a broad coalition of colleagues to propose the implementation of a running (or jogging) plan. The idea is to help to promote running as an everyday practice by improving visibility and availability in public spaces. In addition, the plan will aim to make Brussels the running capital of Europe. Brussels has several parks that are popular for running this includes the Bois de la Cambre and Parc Cinquantenaire. The plan aims to improve running in places that are not as picturesque or attractive to runners. In recent years, the city authorities have renovated Parc Josaphat and the pathways around the Ixelles lakes which has opened these areas to more runners and people wanting to use the spaces to relax. These spaces are now friendlier for families and people of all ages with the addition on new surfaces, lighting, and regular maintenance. The aim of the plan is to encourage city authorities to improve public running infrastructure. This would entail providing signs for routes, improving lighting, and providing toilets, lockers, and fresh drinking water. If the plan is adopted it could become a blueprint for other cities across Europe.

http://www.lesoir.be/96346/article/2017-05-27/un-plan-jogging-pour-la-capitale

Brussels Runner Canal.BE

Photo courtesy of Canal.Brussels

Building Cycling Infrastructure in Cities

An increasingly important focus in cities around the world is how to improve quality of life in terms of sustainable travel and associated health benefits. Cycling is a big part of these endeavours. Much has been written on the different ways to improve cycling and increase the uptake in cyclists. For example, there are a number of different ‘schools’ to follow (Danish, Dutch, or somewhere in between). But, there are many issues for getting different groups interested in cycling and for developing cycling in cities where cycling is either a low priority or little prevalence.

The first is an issue in big diverse cities with populations from all corners of the globe. For women, ethnic minority groups, and children cycling can be perceived to be dangerous and the city unwelcoming for the practice. Colleagues at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine have examined such issues with regards to encouraging a wider uptake in cycling for short trips or commuting within under-represented groups (Steinbeck et al, 2011). This is a complex problem that involves many different things from learning new skills, cultural norms, costs, and perceptions of what cycling involves.

The second is a problem that is associated with how to integrate new or sustainable infrastructure in cities that are envisioned as the preserve of the private motor vehicle. Ageing infrastructure is a growing problem in most cities. The case for infrastructure maintenance and renovation is a key theme in Amin and Thrift’s recently published “Seeing Like a City” (2017). But, there are many problems when it comes to actually trying to build new infrastructure like cycling paths where one doesn’t already exist. In Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria is a prime example of a city with low but growing cycling rates and cycling infrastructure that is best described as patchy (with good and bad elements – Barnfield and Plyushteva, 2016). Recently the municipal authorities have outlined ambitious plans to include a cycle path in the renovations of Dondukov Boulevard in central Sofia (the road surface requires repairing and the renovations will include a cycle path).

The photo below shows the current situation, with sparse current cycling facilities. The addition of a cycle path will be a big change: materially, spatially, and culturally. In the plans set out by the municipality in their cycling programme 2016-2019 (Програмата за развитие на велосипедния транспорт на територията на Столична община за периода 2016 – 2019) the exact finalised provision hasn’t been settled. Local advocacy groups are concerned by the lack of detail with work due to commence in June 2016. The decision whether to include two one-way cycle paths or a two-way single path is still unresolved (See the images below on the visualisation of one of the potential options). The challenges faced by Sofia and other cities in the region on how to integrate sustainable travel within existing and new infrastructure will be part of efforts to shape urban space and cultures for many years to come.

 

 

 

Amin, A., & Thrift, N. (2017). Seeing like a city. John Wiley & Sons.

Barnfield, A., & Plyushteva, A. (2016). Cycling in the post-socialist city: On travelling by bicycle in Sofia, Bulgaria. Urban Studies53(9), 1822-1835.

Steinbach, R., Green, J., Datta, J., & Edwards, P. (2011). Cycling and the city: a case study of how gendered, ethnic and class identities can shape healthy transport choices. Social Science & Medicine72(7), 1123-1130.

MAKING KIN WITH EARTHLINGS: An evening with the children of compost and Donna Haraway

On March 31st, I was fortunate to attend one of three events that Donna Haraway held at the BOZAR in Brussels. The themes of the events covered varied ground but were held together by Haraway’s work and interest in exploring the potential of living-with others. The first two events focussed on film. The first was a series of videos that were the result of the joyful interactions between documentary filmmaker Fabrizio Terranova and Donna Haraway. It included “animation shorts of militant cows, anti-globalization preaches, GoPro cameras strapped to aquatic animals, anti-Trump folk songs… as rituals of resistance and dance against the horror and stagnation”. The second was the presentation of film Donna Haraway: Story Telling for Earthly Survival by Donna Haraway and Fabrizio Terranova. The film foregrounds Haraway’s unique intellect and warmth of character that has explored planetary life for over 40 years. The final event was Donna Haraway reading from her new book Staying with the Trouble. Making Kin in the Chthulucene. The event was based around Haraway presenting her science-fiction short story The Camille Story, Children of Compost, an inter-species fable for making a liveable world for all. It is this final event that I attended and found extremely engaging, interesting, and informative for thinking through the potential of living differently with all sorts of beings on an equal footing.

donna-haraway

Image courtesy of BOZAR Brussels.

Haraway’s idea of living-with is a philosophical lineage that includes work by Jean-Luc Nancy and ideas about co-existence and being-with explored in Being Singular Plural and stretches towards Latourian Actor-Networks and Bergsonian-Spinozian explorations of affective potential. It also incorporates Feminist scholar’s attention to alternative political acts and interconnectivity of complex systems that Isabelle Stengers has explored via speculative philosophy. A further tradition that emanates from Haraway is American pragmatism. In de-centring the human as the main principle of action and foregrounding how to improve the future against what we’ve learnt in the past Haraway is continuing the work of William James and James Dewey. Keeping these ‘traditions’ in mind Haraway’s fable is as powerful as it is though provoking and opens up many avenues for urban scholars. I do not want to focus on the story but the sentiment. Haraway’s argument is that due to human influenced effects on the climate and how these are changing the planet “the earth is full of refugees, human and not, without refuge”. The planet had afforded safe spaces to all sorts of species to hide and find refuge from natural disasters but these are no longer available.

 

The answer in The Camille Story, Children of Compost is to make kin by humans taking on the characteristics of an endangered species and even grafting some of their attributes. In this way, making kin is something more that ancestry or genealogy to unite beings. The results could seem an aberration but after time it will have proven itself equitable. The idea of ‘kin-making’ therefore is the notion of making persons not tied to being as humans or individuals. In a time when the notion of refugee is used as a political and social lightening rod to demarcate which section of our species is welcome in which manmade and enforced division of the planet, the answer is to be-with others as Haraway advocates. To live-with others is to reformulate the idea of refuges and refugees. To generate flexible biological-cultural-political-technological healing, rehabilitation, and remaking, some of which Haraway argued must include mourning irreversible losses but not raising the dead. As Haraway sums up in a recent commentary in Environmental Humanities “renewed generative flourishing cannot grow from myths of immortality or failure to become-with the dead and the extinct”.