18 February, 2020

Professor of Urban Regeneration wanted!

The University of Luxembourg seeks to hire an associate professor (permanent position) in urban regeneration, for joining the Department of Geography & Spatial Planning within the Faculty of Humanities, Education & Social Sciences.

The new colleague is expected to provide excellent scientific impetus for fundamental research on urban development in the 21st century and will contribute to the study of urban planning challenges at regional, national and cross-border levels. Considering contemporary urban planning discourses and the ongoing territorial transition, the professorship will focus on urban regeneration processes. The candidate must demonstrate excellent theoretical and practical references in the socio-ecological transition of urbanised territories, both built and unbuilt.

The deadline for handing in your application (Ref: F3-130021) to the Dean of the Faculty is 18 March 2020. More information about the post, the required profile and how to apply is available here.

For any queries, please contact:
Prof. Dr. Christian Schulz
Telephone: (+352) 46 66 44 6327

A strongly committed team that works across the boundaries of planning, geography, architecture and other social sciences is waiting for you!

(c) Tom Becker, 2019

07 February, 2020

INURA 2020 in Luxembourg, June 18-24 - Early Bird Registration is open

Small State, Big Transitions - The 30th Annual Conference of INURA, the International Network of Urban Research and Action

June 18-24

The Urban Group at the Department of Geography and Spatial Planning at the University of Luxembourg is pleased to announce the 30th annual conference of INURA, taking place in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. Full of surprises and paradoxes, participants of INURA 2020 can look forward to an exciting set of tours (June 19, 20) that aim to show the range of challenges and contradictions that constitute this urban space — a small state, city-state, multilingual sovereign nation, European capital, financial capital, international business hub, and cross-border (sub)urban region. 2020 is also a special anniversary year of INURA, celebrating 30 years of research and action. Organised in co-operation with INURA and the ETH Department of Architecture, anniversary celebrations (June 21, 22) will feature confirmed keynotes,

Laura Colini (Tesserae Urban Social Research), Michael Edwards (The Bartlett School of Planning, University College of London), Roger Keil (CITY Institute, York University), Ute Lehrer (Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University), Marvi Maggio, (Confederation of Grassroots Committees, Region of Tuscany), Libby Porter (Centre for Urban Research, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology), Jennifer Robinson (Department of Geography, University College of London), Marit Rosol (Department of Geography, University of Calgary), Christian Schmid (Department of Architecture, ETH), and video screenings from Spectacle Productions.

We are excited to announce that Early Bird Registration is now open (until March 15, 2020). Please visit the conference website (https://inuraluxembourg.blogspot.com), learn about the fee structure at "Registration/Fees/Accommodation", and click on the link provided that will direct you to a secure online registration and payment system.

Please note that each individual must register separately (including spouses and children). Please, also note INURA 2020 does have limited capacity.  So, please take advantage of this early bird option, not only to take advantage of lower prices, but also to ensure a place for you.  Questions? Feel free to contact: luxembourg2020@inura.org

30 January, 2020

Call for Applications ARL International Summer School 2020 - "Smart cities and beyond", 7-9 Sept. 2020

Call for Applications
ARL International Summer School 2020 
“Smart cities and beyond” 

7 – 9 September 2020, Luxembourg 

The event is jointly organized by: 
German Academy for Spatial Research and Planning (ARL) 
University of Luxembourg / Department of Geography and Spatial Planning 

The German Academy for Spatial Research and Planning (Akademie für Raumforschung und Landesplanung, ARL) in cooperation with the University of Luxembourg is inviting applications for the ARL International Summer School 2020 on “Smart cities and beyond”, which will take place from 7 to 9 September 2020 in Luxembourg (arrival scheduled for 6 September 2020). Advanced doctoral students from all disciplines are invited to apply. The summer school will be held in English. The deadline for applications is 2 March 2020. 

In recent years, “smart cities” has become a hegemonic concept in urban discourses, referring either to the broad set of technologies introduced towards steering infrastructure and the intelligent use of resources, or to improving the built environment by clever planning approaches. Firms, transfer agen-cies and municipalities seem to be working hard on the implementation of smart metres, energy effi-ciency, intelligent mobility, and the like. 

However, the scholarly literature on digital cities clearly demonstrates that there are externalities, un-certainties and risks associated with the hype and the rash introduction of ‘smartness’. Also, open discourses should not be confined to a narrow understanding of smart technologies. As it is yet rather unclear what these may mean in urban and regional contexts, the ARL International Summer School 2020 is particularly dedicated to discussing these questions. Our aim is to uncover the whole range of issues, potentials and risks that are associated with Smart Cities, to reconstruct related policy narra-tives and to link research and practice insofar as it concerns the design of robust strategies of urban and regional development. 

The German Academy for Spatial Research and Planning (Akademie für Raumforschung und Lande-splanung, ARL) realizes its International Summer School 2020 in cooperation with the Institute of Ge-ography and Spatial Planning at the University of Luxembourg. Participants will have the opportunity to discuss conceptual, methodological, and empirical contributions that explore Smart Cities with a critical perspective, focusing on the relations between two major subjects of study: ‘smartness’, high-tech, Internet of Things, big data developments, infrastructure, and intellectual property on the one hand; and cities, urban regions and related governance processes and discourses on the other hand. The presentations and discussions should deliver insight into selected facets of smartness, relate these to the role they may play in/for urban and regional development, and address their consequences for spatial planning and development strategies. Specifically, we invite contributions from early career researchers whose approaches and early-stage analyses demonstrate a particular interest in:
  • Applying the Smart City so far (municipal experiences),
  • Planning the Smart City in spatial regards, 
  • Governance and policy dimensions, Smart City policy discourses,
  • The role of big corporations (such as Google, Amazon, Facebook etc.),
  • Smart City and the rise of platform economies,
  • Historical avenues of practicing ‘new technologies’ in urban and regional development, 
  • Conceptual and methodological approaches to studying digital urbanism,
  • Smart technologies as drivers for community based economies/collaborative endeavours,
  • Urban governance and the social construction of cities.


Prof. Guy Baeten, PhD – Professor of Urban Studies at Malmö University and Director of the Institute for Urban Research, Malmö, Sweden

Assoc. Prof. Andrew Karvonen, PhD – Associate Professor and Director of Doctoral Studies in the Di-vision of Urban and Regional Studies at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden

Priv.-Doz. Dr. Bastian Lange – Lecturer at Leipzig University and founder of Multiplicities – Office for Spatial Development and Urban Planning, Berlin, Germany

Asst. Prof. Dr. Agnieszka Leszczynski – Assistant Professor in Geography at Western University, London, Ontario, Canada

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Stijn Oosterlynck – Associate Professor in Urban Sociology at the University of Ant-werp and Chair of the Centre for Research on Environmental and Social Change (CRESC) and the Ant-werp Urban Studies Institute, Antwerp, Belgium

Prof. Dr. Liesbet Van Zoonen – Professor of Sociology and Dean of the Erasmus Graduate School of Social Sciences and the Humanities at Erasmus University Rotterdam, Rotterdam, Netherlands

The German Academy for Spatial Research and Planning (Akademie für Raumforschung und Landesplanung, ARL) is an independent non-university institution and one of the prime addresses in Europe for research and advice on sustainable spatial development. It consists of a network of non-paid academics and practitioners who participate in tempo-rary working groups on the regional, national, and international levels. The ARL is a think tank for interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary cooperation between research and practice on all important spatial issues. It is particularly committed to the exchange and dissemination of knowledge. Support for young researchers and practitioners is well-established at the ARL. The ARL is a member of the German Leibniz Association.

Research and teaching in the domains of geography and planning at the University of Luxembourg take place in the Department of Geography and Spatial Planning, part of the Faculty of Humanities, Education and Social Sciences. Established in April 2006, the Department comprises a 45-person strong team, including professors, guest professors, junior and senior researchers, and doctoral students. Its research focusses on areas such as environmental economic geography, political geography, urban studies and planning, architecture, and geographical information systems (GIS).

The Department has also strong links to practice. It hosts the National Contact points for ESPON and the European Migration Net-work (EMN). It is the seat of the GR Atlas and partici-pates in the Faculty‘s Key Area of “Migration and In-clusive Society” and is ac-tive member of the Centre for Border Studies of the UniGR (the University of the Greater Region). In terms of teaching, it runs a Master in Geography & Spatial Planning, a Master in Border Studies, and a Master in Architecture. The Department also offers the certificate program “Formation Continue en Aménagement du Territoire”, that certifies future planners in Luxembourg. 

The Summer School will take place on the University of Luxembourg’s Campus Belval in Esch-sur-Alzette. Situated on a former ironworks site in the south of the Grand Duchy, the campus is part of a dynamically developing urban district hosting various public research organisations, commercial office buildings, residencies as well as shops, bars and restaurants. The train station Belval-Université connects the campus with the capital city (30 minutes journey, every 15 minutes).

Our aim is to stimulate discussion, gain insight, and develop new research questions on the topics presented at the summer school. Participants will have the opportunity to present their research and receive individual feedback from international professors and experts. In addition, keynote speeches and plenary sessions offer the opportunity to intensify the debate and develop further research ideas. Field trips and shared social activities will help bring the topic of Smart Cities to life.

The summer school takes a critical and interdisciplinary approach to the study of Smart Cities. We invite applications from advanced doctoral students with a background in geography, urban and European studies, political sciences, sociology, spatial planning, public administration, social design, and related fields. We admit up to seven participants in a competitive application process. The ARL sponsors the accommodation and travel costs of all participants. A participation fee will not be charged. As academic institutions, the organizers encourage scientific publications and aim to compile an edited volume on the theme of the summer school. Participants should be willing and prepared to discuss their paper drafts during the summer school and to develop their papers afterwards.

Your application should include a motivation letter (max. 1 page), a short CV, and a short description of the project that you are going to present (max. 1 page). Please submit your application by 2 March 2020. Email applications are particularly welcome (compiled in one PDF file) to thimm@arl-net.de

Postal address: Akademie für Raumforschung und Landesplanung (ARL) Insa Thimm Vahrenwalder Straße 247 30179 Hannover, Germany 

You will receive a notification of acceptance by the beginning of April 2020. 

For further questions, please contact Insa Thimm, thimm@arl-net.de, Phone +49 511 34842-31.

15 January, 2020

New publication in the Journal of Transport Geography addressing fare-free public transport in Luxembourg

As of March, 2020, public transit will be fare-free in Luxembourg. As the date approaches, more and more people are asking us questions, calling us for comment, whether they be students, colleagues from abroad, or the media. Indeed, there is a lot to watch here. 

For now, we are pleased to be able to offer you this article published online this week in the Journal of Transport Geography where we argue that there are good reasons to reconsider whether fare-free public transit is a good idea:

Mobility policy through the lens of policy mobility: The post-political case of introducing free transit in Luxembourg

by Constance Carr & Markus Hesse

This viewpoint paper addresses the issue of fare-free public transport (FFPT) in the context of policy mobility, the strand of urban studies literature that examines how policy formulations developed in one place tend to ‘travel’ and inform and inspire plans elsewhere as good or best practices. We argue that the promotion of policies may not reflect a serious attempt to solve a sustainability or socio-economic issue. Rather, the institutions in charge have different targets in mind. FFPT in Luxembourg is thus more a reflection of a post-political process where politics are severed from the political. 

Free copies available at Elsevier here until March 04, 2020.
Or, you may request a copy here.

25 November, 2019

Urban development, urban governance, and Big Tech: A home-made mix

Bissen town meeting with Google, November 2019 (photo by Carr)

For the past year, we have been following Sidewalk Labs (sister company to Google) in Toronto, where it wants to build a digital city along Toronto's waterfront. With the support of CITY Institute at York University, Carr spent several months in 2019 researching this process from the point of view of urban governance. First of its kind, there are many dimensions worth observing and all manner of open questions still outstanding. However, what can certainly be ascertained as of yet is that Sidewalk Labs (Big Tech) has effectively become a new player in the field of urban planning and urban development in the City.

Part of the research on 'Google City' in Toronto is also research on Google itself. Thus, when Google comes to Luxembourg to build a data centre, it naturally grabs our attention. And, volià: Luxembourg has its own story about Google and urban development.

Not much is known about the project. In 2017, Google signalled its interest in building a billion-dollar data centre in Europe a couple of years ago, pitting European countries against each other (among them, Luxembourg, Denmark, Sweden, and Austria). In the scramble to put together a proposal, a piece of land in Bissen (a municipality north of the City of Luxembourg with a population of 3000) was found that could be put up for such use. Somehow, circa 50 million Euros changed hands to make this happen. Then, it was announced that Google would short list Luxembourg. And then, with a bit of research, one could discover that on December 12, 2017, LB Technology S.à r.l. was registered in the Luxembourg Business Registry (Registre de Commerce et des Sociétes) with an associated fixed capital of 50 million Euro, with two registered Board members, one in Mountain View California, the other in Luxembourg. Still, the go ahead depended on local approval in Bissen, as well as the results of a few feasibility studies.

By 2019, the land was re-zoned, and Google received the green light. By summer 2019, however, the Bissener council of aldermen had been dismantled, the mayor (CSV) had stepped down (after his own party members voted against him), and a new municipal government had formed. Resistance in Bissen and throughout the Grand Duchy had exposed that there were still so many unanswered questions.

Protest posters in Bissen, November 2019 (photo by Carr)
Last week, for the first time, Google came to the municipality of Bissen to present its plans for the data centre that it intends to build. The town hall was filled, the media was present, and a police presence was accounted for as well. Eager to know how Google presents itself in Bissen, Carr attended too.

Actually, the Google reps gave a rather predictable presentation with all of the standard program points that we have seen in other venues: First, admonish the audience that Google could go elsewhere; Luxembourg invited Google to build their data centre in Bissen, and not the other way around. The message here is that Luxembourg needs to sort itself out because Google takes no role in, or responsibility for, local (petty?) conflicts. Second, demonstrate how cool Google is: It is the biggest consumer of green energy; It will build "eco points": It supports diversity and the labour market (although evidence suggests otherwise). Third, show pretty pictures, and pastel coloured architectural renderings. Fourth, send Google employees to do the presentation, who will also be ill-equipped to answer difficult questions, referring to local procedures as the main inhibiting force.

This standard format certainly deserves some deconstruction. However, it needs moreover to be understood and recognised as a form of governance: This is how Google governs. And the consequences of it, and the sacrifices that will be made in order to accommodate it, should concern all levels of government in Luxembourg (including the EU), and anyone respecting civic responsibility and action.

Of course, yes, there are possible perks. And, yes, this is a consideration that ought to be carefully considered. Equally real, however, are the many questions and challenges, and associated knock-on consequences, that require answers now and will need answering later. Who did the deal? Who profited? Why? What will happen to transportation? What about water and electricity? What infrastructure will be needed and how, where, when, will it be built? Who will pay for it? What will the labour market be affected? Should Luxembourgers look forward to working in the digital industry? Or, should Luxembourgers look forward to 350 additional families from elsewhere (think Seattle)? How will gender equality be tackled (think Silicon Valley)? What about radiation of the workers and residents in the area? And what about sound? How will these affect the financial planning of local residents in Bissen or Roost or Mersch?

There are, of course, golden opportunities; But there are also potential tragedies, and this list is long. And, all of the open questions from today as well as those of tomorrow will need to be managed, and funded by someone. First and foremost, this needs to be articulated and acknowledged (to be a problem).

There are two further familiar patterns here. First, as is apparently the case in Toronto, it is up to local politics to push the issue of how to manage the cascade of challenges, while the central government makes obscure geopolitical decisions concerning ‘Digital Luxembourg”, AI and big data (all featured by Google on November 21). And, some ramifications for local government have already been seen; Municipal fragmentation is also a challenge. Second, is the clash between the Luxembourg central government and Luxembourg local politics. This is hardly the first time that the central government has asserted a certain vision over the Grand Duchy.
Carr, C., Hesse, M. 2019. Digital Urbanism and the Challenge of Urban Governance (DIG_URBGOV) – Short Research Summary
Carr, C. Hesse, M. New Publication on Smart Cities in Forum für Politik Gesellschaft und Kultur
Carr, C. 2019 Digital and city development and urban governance in Toronto
Carr, C., Hesse, M, 2019. Some notes on smart cities and the corporatization of urban governance
Carr invited to York University's CITY Institute as a Visiting Scholar, 2019
Carr 2018. Wagering the Waterfront? Angling the abc & xyz of Quayside Toronto
Carr, Lutz, Schutz, 2018 There is no one human scale - Reflections on urban development practice in Luxembourg
Carr/Hesse 2017. The Corporate City Looming? Part I
Hesse/Carr 2017. The Corporate City Looming Part II: The “smart” City competes
Carr 2017. Digital Cities - Toronto trying to get ahead
Carr 2017. Hipsterland in Toronto's East Downtown

31 October, 2019

1 Post-Doc Position and 3 PhD positions at the University of Bern

We are happy to draw your attention to 4 open research positions at the Institute of Geography, University of Bern (see attached links for more information):
  1. 4-year Postdoc position (80%) in Human Geography with a focus on political urbanism and sustainable spatial development [link1]
  2. Two 4-year PhD positions in Geography in the SNF project “Governing densification” (GoverDENSE) [link2]
  3. 4-year PhD position in the field of Geography/GIS-Analysis in the SNF project “Governing densification” (GoverDENSE) [link3]

22 October, 2019

Urban planning and the theatrics of aggressive scooter companies: This time the City sent the Bird flying

by Constance Carr

Tuesday October 8th, Luxembourg woke up and found that a scooter company had played a joke on the City. Burning the midnight oil, Bird Rides Incorporated had gone around and placed a bunch of its scooters on the streets of downtown Luxembourg City, in what on the face of it seemed like a comment on the City’s transportation problems. Or, maybe it was just a marketing gag. Whatever the objective was, it was certainly nicely timed with Silicon Luxembourg - an independent information platform and magazine dedicated to startups - judging by the three articles that were published the same day. After a week of controversy, the City eventually showed Bird the door, and demanded that the company pack away their scooter flock: The City wasn’t interested in making rash decisions under pressure. 

This little spectacle certainly wasn’t the usual urban planning, so it is worth a moment of reflection on what the performance was about. There are at least three issues here, which suggest that there is good reason to be, at least, cautious with the introduction of scooters.

Conversations take time and Bird didn’t have any.
The first question concerns urban planning, mobility, and the role that scooters might play. Clearly, Luxembourg has mobility problems, (as we have mentioned elsewhere, here, here, here, and here). Moreover, there is little political will in improving traffic circulation, especially as it concerns the 200,000 cross-border commuters or thousands of students and workers in Belval. Yet, while Luxembourg’s mobility challenges are deeply seated in the its framework conditions, it is rather optimistic and naïve to assume that a hundred extra scooters on the Kirchberg Plateau will alleviate the problem.

Certainly the role of scooters in urban planning is a relatively new phenomenon, and there isn’t much published on the topic in urban studies. So far, it seems reasonable to draw lessons from its closet cousin: bike share programs. And, these, have not proven problem-free (Médard de Chardon 2017). Nevertheless, so far, the main issues of scooters, in both scientific and public discourses, tend to revolve around sustainability, safety, and accountability.

Concerning sustainability, scooters are potentially very interesting, offering pedestrians and users of public transport quick and easy means of moving around. More research is also needed, however, to determine if the production of electric scooters, their batteries, and their computers are in fact sustainable. What are the value chains or systems of dependency are required in their production? Of course, we should not forget to compare this to the four-wheel clunkers that are the preferred mobility choice in Luxembourg.

Concerning health, scooters can be a source of fresh air and exercise. A favourite complaint, however, is that they also pose safety hazard and a burden to the health system. Of course, again, this complaint must be weighed against similar impacts caused by the gas guzzlers that dominate the roads. Still, a candid conversation about public health risks is justified in order to find the appropriate regulation.

Aizpuru et al. (2018) note that head injuries and lower arm fractures are the most common scooter injury. Kobayashi et al (2019) calculated that most cranial injuries involved alcohol. So, there is a discussion to be had about helmets. Yet, Allem and Majmundar (2019) observed that the vast majority of Bird's Instagram posts show users without protective gear. And, it has been observed that Bird, itself, is not thrilled about helmet laws, having gone after Californian scooter law. Others argue that helmet laws would kill its business altogether, given that spontaneous users would essentially need to, first, carry a helmet with them wherever they go.

Concerning accountability, free-wheeling global capitalists like the big players of e-scooters would probably prefer that everyone simply consider scooters as toys, there for the grabbing, and good for a joy ride. Yet, their distribution in urban space demands that someone take responsibility for cleaning up after them, bringing scooters back to docking stations (if there are any), collecting, repairing, recycling broken scooters, or removing forgotten scooters from tram tracks, etc. This is labour that costs.

It seems that Bird had a quick fix to sell to governing officials of a rather specific place and framework conditions. The scooter might be a good idea. But some balanced, tempered, process might be in order.

The business of data collection and analysis
The second point is that scooters are excellent data collectors, the fuel of the data economy (McNamee, 2019).

"[Users locate and unlock] scooters through a location-enabled smartphone. Throughout their ride, the app will track their progress, saving the path of their completed trip for later viewing. Scooter-mounted GPS units and wireless connectivity pair with the app-based tracking in order to verify app-based data and paint an accurate map of a user’s location. […] Although Bird, Lime, and Spin posit their electric scooters as environmentally friendly and accessible transportation, they also allow for unethical uses of user data through location tracking and extensive collection of personal information. Relying on loosely worded terms of service and privacy policies, these companies reserve the right to monetize customer data, allowing for sharing with governments and third parties" Peterson (2019, 191-192).

This raises yet unsolved questions about data sovereignty, regulation, and surveillance (Tusikov 2019a, 2019b; Zuboff, 2019). Bird is no exception here. Each Bird scooter, is furnished with a microcomputer that connects it to Bird’s digital platform, which presumably transmits some information about rider habits, location, etc. Certainly, according to the app permissions, each scooter user must provide access to location data, their photos, media and other files, camera, WiFi and Bluetooth connection, as well as control over the phone’s flashlight, vibration, and sleep mode. “Updates to Bird may automatically add additional capabilities within each group” (Bird Rides Inc., App Permissions, 2019). Triangulation of this data with other 3rdparty sources could provide rich information useful to City administrations. Yet, it would all sit within the confines of Bird Rides Inc.

The familiar pattern of rogue capitalists
The third point concerns the strategic if not aggressive behaviour of Bird and other e-scooter companies vying for market share in cities across the planet. Again, we are reminded that the smart city revolution is endorsed by industries who view cities are marketplaces for their products (Kitchen 2015). But it is striking that they also seem to think that they can simply do as they please as long as it is not explicitly forbidden by law.

Micromobility comes in many forms; 
some are also analogue (Carr 2019)
When City officials got wind of the scooters on October 8th, it was immediately annoyed (See Tageblatt article above and one from L'Essentiel): They had, after all, already denied Bird the permission to operate its business in public space. This, of course, was awkward for the City, having to publicly announce that they had denied a possible contribution to clean mobility and to ameliorating traffic circulation.

But Bird has a habit of dumping their scooters in cities without permission. Luxembourg wasn’t the first! In fact, it was simply a new character in a rather well-rehearsed drama that is characteristic of Bird's business model, and the wider 'scooter invasions' or 'scooter wars'. This 'war' is waged not just between scooter companies competing for market share, or between environmentalists and car owners as is often portrayed, but between City administrations and scooter companies themselves. Bird advertises that its scooters are already in use in over 100 cities worldwide; A quick internet search will reveal, however, that St Louis, San Francisco, Cleveland, Denver, Santa Monica are but a few that have kicked the company out, and other cities where Bird (and other companies) is permitted, such as Paris, Washington DC or Venice, found themselves scrambling to find a last-minute, befitting, traffic regulation policy.

This is a familiar pattern, isn’t it? Zuboff (2019) discussed this as characteristic os rogue capitalists to some depth in her book that is primarily about Google. First: Exploit a legal loophole. And, Bird CEO, VanderZanden, makes no secret of it: "Where there's no laws, that's where we go in." Second, dazzle everyone about the benefits of all sorts such as environmental friendliness, the ease of use, the practicality of the app, thereby throwing up smoke and mirrors. Via Silicon Luxembourg, General manager to Bird Luxembourg, Jonatan de Boer, adds flattery: “Luxembourg City is one of the most beautiful in Europe, and we want to keep it that way by not only helping to remove cars, but also making sure our scooters do not create clutter.” Third, generate some public controversy, branding its name, while it buys time for the fourth strategy: Cash in while local politics are sorting it out.

On one hand, such strategies reflect a certain business ethic that might be worth some discussion (Zuboff, 2019). On the other hand, in this case, it also reveals how weak cities can be when assigned authority over its urban space, and when confronted with such surprises. Could it be that Bird doesn’t care much for climate change or traffic safety? Could it be that it doesn’t even care if it is shown the door? Through its cloak and dagger operation, it may have already achieved its goal, after all: branding its name, and collecting, processing, selling data analytics.

The conversation is therefore not just about whether scooters are good or bad, or whether they are needed or not. There are questions about regulation, data protection, business development, and how City officials ought to react to rogue tech players and their urban theatrics.

Maybe for the same price (in the wider sense of costs to the system and to future generations), the government could put out its own scooters, give out fancy running shoes, or just work on getting the trains to move on time…

Aizpuru M.,Farley, K.X., Rojas, J.C.,Crawford, R.S., Moore, T.J., Wagner, E.R. (2018) Motorized scooter injuries in the era of scooter-shares: A review of the national electronic surveillance system, The American Journal of Emergency Medicine, 37(6) 1133-1138.

Allem, J.P., Majmundar, A. (2019) Are electric scooters promoted on social media with safety in mind? A case study on Bird's Instagram. Preventive Medicine Reports 13(March 2918), 62-63

Kitchin, R. (2015) Making sense of smart cities: addressing present shortcomings. Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society, 8, 131-136.

Médard de Chardon, C. 2017 A Geographical Analysis of Bicycle Sharing Systems

Peterson, A. B. (2019) Scoot over Smart Devices: The Invisible Costs of Rental Scooters. Surveillance & Society 17(1/2) 191-197.

Tusikov, N. (2019a). Sidewalk Toronto’s master plan raises urgent concerns about data and privacy. The Conversation. 

Tusikov, N. (2019b). “Urban Data” & “Civic Data Trusts” in the smart city.

Zuboff, S. (2019) Age of Surveillance Capitalism. New York: Public Affairs

16 October, 2019

Converting an office town for ‘people’? Re-designing Kirchberg, a public panel

by Markus Hesse,

I had another encounter with big politics and the planners from the famous office of Gehl Architects in Copenhagen, Denmark, on Thursday night 10th October. (See the entries on the 2018 podium and related issues in this Blog, here and here). This time they presented their ideas for renovating and upgrading public space on the Plateau Kirchberg, by means of urban design. For some awkward reasons, this meeting did not take place on the Kirchberg itself, which might have brought more life to the 1960s+ office town … but in the city’s quite wealthy Limpertsberg district. Anyway, it attracted a certain interest from the public, and including some attendees who obviously lived either on Kirchberg or in adjacent neighbourhoods. 

The Kirchberg is a 365-hectare site on Luxembourg City’s eastern edge which provides a home to the financial market and plenty of EU-institutions – the country’s built manifestation of its role as a hot spot of the services industries. At the meeting, Minister Francois Bausch – who is not only in charge of public works and transport/mobility, but is also the authority that oversees the state’s Fonds Kirchberg development agency – underlined the goals of his policy for the area, which aim to make the Plateau with its office blocks, motorway-like streets and voluminous urban layout more suitable for what he called the ‘human’ scale.

Following the minister’s introduction, two representatives from Gehl Architects presented their ideas on what to do with the public space on Kirchberg. They ignited a whole firework of urban design ideas that would help to improve the accessibility and usability of the site’s assemblage of boulevards, asphalt sidewalks and empty spots. Benches, cafes and shops, an open swimming pool next to the Coque-arena and a number of street design features are part of the plan, which will be discussed and assessed for implementation in the near future. Interesting also was their impression of the huge underground capacity on which the Plateau Kirchberg is actually positioned: According to the government’s plans, the public and private parking garages that currently provide parking for just under 28,000 vehicles, would be expanded to a level of more than 40,000.

This is really striking, but only one among several features that make the future development of the site a subject as exciting as it is delicate from an urban planning, policy and development perspective. While the Kirchberg is already subject to constant change in most general terms, the site is foreseen to increase the total job occupation from the roughly 42,000 that is there right now to more than 65,000 by the mid- or end 2030s; most of this growth will be covered by foreign employees. In contrast, the number of residents, currently counting less than 4,000, is foreseen to increase to 7,600 in the short term and about 14,000 in ten years’ time. These are the predictions of Fonds Kirchberg. The question is: How can one urbanize an office town, and what might the urban geographer’s contribution to this debate be? 

Of course, one aspect that deserves to be highlighted here is time: Kirchberg is built history – a child of the infamous 1960s/post-WWII planning guidelines and paradigms, with their overall functionalist and narrow-minded determination that left a legacy of major challenges for contemporary urban planning. However, the Kirchberg shouldn’t be simply assessed from today’s standards. It needs a fair judgement from a realistic perspective that reflects upon on-going planning practices and cultures, and doesn't simply blame its odd and outdated urban layout.(1) Secondly, urban design can indeed provide useful improvements to the overall shape of the site, and give, let's say, ‘new dresses to the emperor’. Yet, while one should welcome efforts towards the improvement of cities, the very expectations and promises that are associated with such new design features need to be cautiously balanced. In this respect, one should not confuse cause and effect: If Kirchberg will continue to be the machine that keeps much of the country’s (political) economy at work – and this is a reasonable expectation – then it requires the constant flow of people, jobs, investments into and out of the area. The related imperative of both providing sufficient office space and organizing seamless circulation (mostly cars bringing people from outer parts of the Greater Region) will determine the Plateau, regardless of whether or not there will be new benches to sit on or not. But seriously: will there be any enjoyable public space remaining if not 50,000 but 60,000 cars will be rolling up and down Kennedy Avenue on the average workday?

Thirdly, the future of Kirchberg as a site of residency also deserves cautious discussion. On the one hand, increasing the number of local residents on site is an indispensable requirement of any urbanization scenario. For this reason, housing plans are necessarily welcome. On the other hand, what urban planning will essentially ask for is: What sort of land use should go to what sort of location, and what will the future relation between jobs and housing look like? And, how will the new mixture then contribute to fostering a liveable urban district? As to the first question, there are massive plans for housing underway, including affordable housing, e.g. at the north-eastern end of Kirchberg. This brings more people in, particularly to the edge of the site. Given the high densities envisaged, this raises the question of designing the fringes properly. Since the Kirchberg ended up overly packed with office space, it might be unhealthy to do the same with multi-storey housing, simply because there is rising political pressure to do so and the land on Kirchberg is under state control. Filling empty slots with massive housing injections may include the risk of creating a new banlieue. As to the second question: If Kirchberg employment will increase further according to the government’s prediction, indeed, the job-housing mismatch will become more modest. However, the site as such will still be determined by its function as an office town. As a result, is it realistic to assume that all the measures mentioned above will have a causal effect in invoking liveable neighbourhoods, given that the DNA of Kirchberg remains unchanged?

View of the eastern end of Plateau Kirchberg from above/south, 10 yrs ago (Hesse)

Finally, when talking about the ‘human’ scale and politics for people, the question, of course, is: Who are the people? Are we referring to the global investment banker, the EU- or government official, the programming herds of the financial industries, the tram driver or cleaning staff, or the local residents? Given the variety of different interests and mindsets present in one city alone, it might be difficult to provide one-size-fits-all solutions. Cities have grown on an enormous degree of variety and diversity, and this applies to late-modern societies. This gives some reason to turn the attention to politics and governance in more general terms. The Kirchberg is an exciting case in this respect, as it offers a delicate policy constellation with a strong state and a barely visible municipality. The city was also absent from the panel discussion last Thursday, for whatever reason. So, the vertical arrangements as to how local and state authority interact, and include and negotiate citizens’ interests, is worth exploring in more detail. The same applies to the horizontal linkages between the various Kirchberg sites (office, retail, housing) and its adjacent neighbourhoods such as the long-existing Weimershof and Weimerskirch.

Having said that, the urban geographer’s (and geographers’) contribution to this debate would not be about arguing against improvements to an urban setting that is perceived as rather lousy so far. If such a judgement was shared by the public officials who were also attending the meeting, this alone would be considered a success. However, the real aim of the discussion ought to be about providing context and discussing the fuller picture within which the built environment and the whole revitalization efforts are embedded. While public urban space is only one component of the built environment, the full range of the associated interactions between people and space would deserve more attention, such as concerns about land use patterns, social composition, and governance strategies and the like.(2) On the next occasion, it might be wise to pay more attention to such fundamentals. This is nothing abstract, theoretical, or academic; rather, it merely points at the imminent characteristics of the site, which have direct ramifications for practice.(3) Of course, it would then be reasonable to hold such a meeting exactly on the site which is subject to debate, the Plateau Kirchberg, not in the central city or elsewhere.


(1) It is most likely that a huge development such as the Kirchberg may only change in the long run. However, past analysis has also pointed at the role that the site has played in the country’s planning practice elsewhere. Hence, a reflective modernization of planning attitudes may offer potentials for improvement more generally; cf. Hesse, M. (2013), Das «Kirchberg-Syndrom». Grosse Projekte im kleinen Land: Bauen und Planen in Luxemburg. disP-The Planning Review 49 (1), 14-28.

(2) In the urban studies literature, large-scale urban projects are observed to be quite persistent as building blocks that develop according to intrinsic logics, that might be less adaptive to changing demands or to other concurring interests. This may also have a significant impact on the ‘sense’ of place, which is the main target of urban design measures; see e.g. Breux, S. & Bédard, M. (2013), The urban project and its impact on sense of place: Methodological propositions. Geography Compass, 7(1), 75-84.

(3) Three aspects might be considered essential here: i) governance patterns and practices in the triangle between state, city, and citizens; ii) the relation between work and residency in general; and iii) the future trajectory of the office market as the major determinant of the site’s land use patt

07 October, 2019

DKG “50 years after Kiel”. Reflections on German-speaking geography

by Markus Hesse

During the last week of September 2019, the German Congress for Geography (DKG) took place at Christian-Albrechts-University (CAU) of Kiel, Germany, organized on behalf of the German Society of Geography and the Geographical Institute of the CAU. The leitmotif of the Conference, which had about 2,000 registered participants coming from the human, physical, didactical and whatsoever specialized streams of the discipline, was “Changes and new beginnings – Geography of the future”. 50 years after the eventful 1969 Kiel “Geographentag“ (as the format was once called), the community of geographers went there again, discussing how the discipline has changed since then and what the contemporary challenges for research, practice and education are about.

It was not necessarily the 50th anniversary as such that made this an important timeline but the myth that is yet surrounding “Kiel 1969”. On that precise occasion, the German part of the discipline had its coming out in the course of the 1967/68 revolts against the establishment, conservatives, authoritarian thoughts and practices. The main claim of the then young generation of assistants and students (profs are not known to having played a major role then) was that geography should get out of the narrow mainstream of descriptive “Länderkunde” (regional geography), and seek for new frontiers in both theoretical and applied, if not political regards. If there has ever been a particular sense of “critical”-ness in the country’s disciplinary formation, it was obviously coming into being exactly then. 

While there is no space here to get into the details of this controversy and how its outcomes and consequences are being judged 50 years after, there is also no need to do so. There are some excellent papers provided on the whole subject matter, regarding both its historical and contemporary meanings, which were published recently in the prestigious Geographische Zeitschrift (GZ). They are available online and open access here. A thorough reconstruction of post WWII-(West) German geography debates and developments in English can be found here. Of course, Kiel 1969 was prominently placed on the DKG’s Agenda, for example in a brilliant keynote conversation among two geographers, one young woman (Carolin Schurr, Berne University, Switzerland), and one emeritus (Peter Weichhart, University of Vienna, Austria). They talked about the outcomes and legacy of Kiel 1969, about today’s state of the discipline, and what the commonalities, differences and contradictions between a modern, post-structuralist and feminist take of geography on the one hand, and a more classical understanding of geography – even though pretty well reflected and theoretically informed – on the other hand could be.

The open question addressed in this conversation, which alone made the trip to Northern Germany worth undertaking, was the search for a conceptual if not theoretical centre of the discipline, and whether such a centre can possibly exist at all. Bakery products such as cruller (Krapfen), pretzel and donut were used as related imaginaries, with the donut eventually indicating the yet empty centre of geography. The debate, which actually took place in the absence of attendees of Kiel 1969 and thus rested on related memories rather than contemporary witnesses’ reports, was continued in a panel that discussed also more internal ramifications for the discipline. While Kiel 1969 apparently marked an era for new world views, approaches and methodologies to emerge and to be practiced by geographers, the hierarchical patterns within the discipline itself remained almost unchanged. Some argued that this would still be the case nowadays, also regardless of the age of today’s younger generation ordinarii.

Further consequences from Kiel 1969, such as for the sub-discipline called applied geography, were discussed as well. In this particular context, the debate about the role of geography as an academic discipline in society was especially inspiring. I was lucky to be part of a session that aimed at bringing applied and ‘critical’ geographies together, seeking some common ground of these two strands which are not only distinct and remote fields of engagement, but sub-communities with own journals, networks and habits. The question addressed to the applied colleagues was how to provide impact without being positivistic, which the organized applied geography community is sometimes held suspicious of, at least implicitly. On the contrary, those who label themselves as being critical are not only asked to concede that the rest of the discipline pursues critical engagement as well, but to situate themselves at the interface of research and practice, science and policy in a way that allows making a real impact (likewise, this certainly applies to the whole community …). The science-policy interface seems to become highly relevant and delicate in most general terms, as increasing parts of society expect certain political and practical impact resulting from academic contributions, not only on Fridays – while others wish to see exactly the opposite: the neutral search for truth and objectivity that may not disturb the political battles and monopolies. Hopefully, there will be a journal issue evolving from this truly inspiring debate in the foreseeable future.

The sheer number and variety of different topics, keynotes and sessions presented at the 2019 DKG was a real purchase for attendees, since it revealed that the discipline is actually in good shape. This also contradicts the usual complaint about geography in decline, for example as a subject taught in school classes. This is indeed dangerous for the discipline as a whole, given that academic geography once started in the late 19th century for the purpose of educating school teachers. So geographers’ associations call for urgent action in this regard, for very good reason. Nevertheless, while the large number of parallel sessions doesn’t permit making too general judgements on the conference’s outcome, I had a chance to attend and listen to a variety of excellent sessions with highly inspiring papers. To the positive side of a huge conference, you can easily inform yourself about developments in neighbour strands of your usual research interest as well. This tends to happen not too often, which is also a result of the latent pressure on academics to specialize. My participation in sessions on developmental geography, political ecology, geopolitics or responsibility in science and research was actually more than worth a try.

The nice campus venue and the perfect organization by very many colleagues and students involved made the 2019 DKG rather enjoyable. Also, the Audimax of the CAU provided a ‘central place’ in the very material sense of the term (at least in this respect, the donut was filled very well …). The venue offered plenty of opportunity to meet with colleagues whom you’re otherwise not used to run into. Hence my overall impression is that this was definitely one of the better geo-congresses I participated in, and the sample for comparison is quite large since I attended a “Geographentag” for the very first time (which was in Münster, 1983, at my own Alma Mater). So, well done colleagues, geography move on.

02 October, 2019

Program for Guest Lecture Series: Our Common Ground

Today, Christian Schulz and Florian Hertweck announced the program for the Institute of Geography and Spatial Planning's Guest Lecture Series, entitled, 

OUR COMMON GROUND: The political economy of land property and prospects for a post-growth society

Current debates on finite resources, on social inequalities resulting from financialised real estate markets, on biodiversity loss, or on the impact of land use on climate change have one thing in common: Sooner or later, they all problematise the question of land property, and increasingly question the prevalence of private ownership and speculation. In many countries, the decreasing share of public land has drastically reduced the capacity of local authorities or communities to decide upon and steer land-use patterns in a way that serves the common good. The lecture series “Our Common Ground” aims at discussing current development trends and their underlying mechanisms, as it strives to present innovative policy responses and progressive planning approaches in different European contexts. 

Tuesday, October 8th, 12:30-14h | MSH - Black Box
Jacqueline Tellinga, City of Almere, Homeruskwartier

Tuesday, November 5th, 12:30-14h | MSH - Black Box
Brigitta Gerber & Klaus Hubmann
Neue Bodeninitiative Basel & Stiftung Habitat

Tuesday, December 3rd, 12:30-14h | MSH - Black Box
Bernd Belina, Goethe-Universität Frankfurt a.M.

Tuesday, December 17th, 12:30-14h | MSH - Black Box
Christiane Thalgott, München - (lecture will be held in German)

Tuesday, January 21st, 12:30-14h | MSH - Black Box
Dirk Löhr, Hochschule Trier

Attendance is free. No registration. For further information contact malte.helfer@uni.lu