10 February, 2019

Carr invited to York University's CITY Institute as a Visiting Scholar, 2019

Carr, an Alum of York University's Faculty of Environmental Studies, is super excited to be  joining the scholarly community at the CITY Institute, York U, as a Visiting Scholar (2019) -- an application that was generously supported by CITY members, Professors Gene Desfor, Roger Keil and Linda Peake.

Inspired by constructivist and critical scholarly takes on the digital turn in urban geography, corporatization of urban governance, policy mobility, market-led land-use and sustainability, Carr's goal during her time in Toronto is to research Sidewalk Lab's involvement in urban development along the lakeshore. This topic is generating widespread international attention, and seems to hold a mine field of lessons about smart city development. Exploring this is part of a project that she is pursuing together with Markus Hesse examining the social production and governance of digital cities. 

It will be a great opportunity to link urban studies research at CITY to that of the Institute of Geography and Spatial Planning at Uni Luxembourg. In this spirit, Carr also looks forward to joining seminars hosted by CITY, and leading seminars on issues, such as small state governance, cross-border suburban development, critical takes on European sustainable urban development, and/or other topics related to her current or previous work.

Further readings at Urbanisation Unbound

09 February, 2019

Carr/Hesse presenting at the Smart Cities International Symposium

We (Carr/Hesse) look forward to presenting our paper, entitled Some notes on smart cities and the corporatization of urban governance at the 

10th International Symposium "The emergence of the Smart City: stakes, challenges, practices and impacts for public governance" organised by the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST) together with the Luxembourg Institute of Socio-Economic Research (LISER).

March 5 & 6, 2019
Venue: University of Luxembourg, MSA

A provisional program is available here
Registration and Pricing is available here
Contact information here

Accepted Abstract

Part I Difficulties of Smart Cities
This paper aims to bring forward some interweaving strands of international scholarly literature in urban geography that raise urgent questions concerning the smart city agenda. These are: 1) the digital turn in urban geography (Ash et al. 2016) and the corporatisation of urban governance and algorithmic capitalism (Bilić 2018; Fuchs 2017); and, 2) policy mobility, examining the difficulties of implementing standardized policy solutions as answers to specific urban problems (Baker/Temenos 2015; Carr 2014).
  Clearly, digitization and technological developments have revolutionized geography in many ways. And, broadly speaking this is nothing new. Roughly twenty years ago, triggered by the rise of the Internet, speculations forcasted that information and communication technologies would lead to the dissolution of material spaces, leaving little behind but the ‘City of Bits’, as research from the prestigious MIT suggested (Mitchell 1995). However, back then, voices were already pointing at the technological determinism of these early predictions (Graham/Marvin 2002), emphasising the complex relationship between urban development, and recalling that urban planning and technological innovation was neither totally new, nor would this relationship be so trivial that tech itself would necessarily be productive and beneficial to cities.
  What has changed in recent times is the proliferation of digital technologies and the diversity of applications. Following Ash et al. (2016), we contend that geography has experienced a ‘digital turn’ with urban geography being produced by, through and of digitization. And, while digitalization has provided benefits, these have also come sidelong a series of unsolved critical evaluations, which remain pertinent to current agendas on smart cities.
  First, there are certain epistemologies behind the production of big data, algorithms, digital technology design (Ash et al., 2016): Data is not value-free (Kitchin 2015). Rather, data are indicative of end processes of political ideologies – e.g. neoliberal urban agendas – and associated methods and processes of framing that structure the production of data. If, "we now live in a present characterized by an abundant and diverse array of spatially-enabled digital devices, platforms, applications and services that have become ordinary and expected presences in our everyday lives," (Ash et al. 2016: 28), how are these processes and algorithms informed by socio-economic inequalities and how do these technologies reproduce them? Or, how far does the corporatization of city services resemble ideologies of technological solutionism(Ash et al., 2016)?
  Second, the circulation of data around the globe sparks debates as to who owns and regulates the data that gets stored and processed in remote geographic locations. This, too, is not new, but scholars are increasingly wondering about the implications of data-driven markets and algorithmic governance (Bilić, 2018). There remains, “the need to examine the ownership and control of data; the integration of data within urban operating systems, control rooms, and data markets; data security and integrity; data protection and privacy, data quality and provenance and dataveillance,” (Ash et al., 2016).
  Third, the smart-cities agenda is being heavily pushed by companies who view digitizing urban environments as a burgeoning market for their products (Kitchin 2015). This could have a number of undesirable externalities: a) the commodification of public services, as city services are administered for private profit; b) technological lock-in effects that may render the city less resilient against bugs, viruses, crashes, and hacks; and, (c) processes of standardization that overlook specificities of places, and fixes municipal administrations to narrowly defined technocratic modes. Are we aware of these downsides? Can we manage their outcomes?
  Another set of relevant literatures is that on policy mobility, that focuses not specifically on the digitization of cities, but the circulation of policies. Developed as a critique of new urbanism, or business improvement districts, the central point is that urban policies are not one-size-fits-all templates that can simply be transferred from one place to another: local context and specific historical trajectories matter. This is an important message perhaps to technologists who develop their products in and for one context and then attempt to export or sell them elsewhere. It is also relevant to Luxembourg, where the specificities are rather evident.

Part II Alphabet City
In 2017, Waterfront Toronto, a public entity in charge of managing land-use along Toronto's lakeside, announced that Sidewalk Labs – a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc.(formerly known as Google) – won the international competition to develop Quayside, a derelict piece of land wedged between Lake Ontario and an expressway. This generated a worldwide media storm, announcing that Google was getting into urban development, and rightly so. After all, why would a company that runs an annual revenue of roughly USD110 billion (Alphabet, 2017) based on “algorithm capitalism” (Fuchs 2017) get into urban development?
  The exact plan remains unveiled; however, Sidewalk maintains that it will develop Quayside into the best smart city ever, learning from past urban planning projects, and building improvements into the design. Quayside will be environmental with climate positive passive buildings, which will be flexible and multi-purpose. Garbage will be automatically removed, smart cars will ferry people about, and sensors will monitor air pollution. Quayside will also be social: Development will be participatory and to this end, Sidewalk has already engaged a series of Public Roundtables, Neighbourhood Meetings, Workshops, Design Jams, Kids Camps and more. Inhabitants will also profit from a system that integrates health services. Quayside claims also to aid in the economic development of Toronto, by reducing the costs of government and ensuring affordable housing (reversing the trend of gentrification otherwise sweeping the city).
  These pillars of sustainability will be delivered by Sidewalk’s “single digital platform” that is widely advertised but hardly explained. Certain is only that this will be a powerful data collection machine, and that the undefined governance of this data is raising red flags, displayed by several significant resignations from Waterfront Toronto and local activism (Bliss 2018; Lorinc 2018). In the light of the scholarly literature above, there is good reason for caution concerning Alphabet's promises and phantasies. Hence, our critical stance on this case.

Part III Lessons for Luxembourg?
What can Sidewalk Labs at Toronto Quayside teach scholars and local Luxembourgish policy-makers?
  First, Quayside brings into focus that Alphabet Inc.is entering urban policy as another developer on the field: It is getting territorial. (See also Amazon.com’ssearch for HQ2). In this respect, logics of market-driven land use remain unchanged. However, gaps in discourse at Quayside concerning data governance suggest hidden dimensions to this process, and perhaps even a new dimension in the digital turn: geographies forthe digital, and not the other way around. Second, as Kitchin (2015) said, smart city agendas entail the international circulation of knowledge followed by the application of standardized instruments that mismatch the specificity of place. The lessons of policy mobility are relevant, especially for the rather specific context of Luxembourg.
  So, we suggest that we identify the real urban problems in this country, and consider whose problems the smart-city agenda is responding to: We seek to avoid discussing a product beforeclarifying whether there is proper need. In a nutshell, based on a decade of our empirical research, the urban problems of this country are: extreme economic and population growth pressure, associated imbalances of jobs and housing (especially a lack of affordable housing), increasing transport congestion, and limited governance capacities to steer these phenomena. Most importantly, the political majority in Luxembourg believes that growth should continue. Contradictions and externalities of growth are viewed as problems of second order, and simply in need of technical fixes. Growth is almost sacrosanct and must not be criticised, even in future discourses (e.g. Rifkin). Given the absence of openurban debates in Luxembourg, the question is what benefits of smart cities bring beyond opening up new fields of tech engagement and business? We maintain that it would be beneficial to begin with an open discussion about cities first and smartness second. After developing a critical awareness of Luxembourg local development, one could then explore the nexus of cities and smartness, how the two could be brought to productive conversation, what the cost and benefits of implementation and experimentation would be. Smartness, itself, cannot guarantee better urban life.

Alphabet Inc. (2017) Alphabet Announces Fourth Quarter and Fiscal Year 2017 Results. 
Ash, J./Kitchin, R./Leszczynski (2016) Digital turn, digital geographies? Progress in Human Geography, 25-43.
Baker, T./Temenos, C. (2015) Urban Policy Mobilities Research: Introduction to a Debate. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 824-827.
Bilić, P. (2018) A Critique of the Political Economy of Algorithms: A Brief History of Google’s Technological Rationality. tripleC: Communication, Capitalism & Critique, 315-331.
Bliss, L. (2018) How Smart Should a City Be? Toronto is Finding Out. CityLab. 
Carr, C. (2014). Discourse Yes, Implementation Maybe: An Immobility and Paralysis of Sustainable Development Policy. European Planning Studies, 22(9), 1824-1840 
Fuchs, C. (2017). Social Media: A Critical Introduction, 2nd Edition. Sage
Graham, M./Shelton, T. (2013) Geography and the future of big data, big data and the future of geography. Dialogues in Human Geography, 255-261.
Graham, S./Marvin, S. (2002) Cities and Telecommunications. Routledge.
Kitchin, R. (2015) Making sense of smart cities: addressing present shortcomings. Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society, 131-136.
Lorinc, J. (2018) The post-Will era begins. SpacingToronto. 
Mitchell, W. (1995) City of Bits. MIT Press.

31 January, 2019

An Afterword on Free Transit in Luxembourg

under the Red Bridge, Luxembourg City (photo by Carr)
Earlier this month, we published an article in ‘The Conversation’ on Luxembourg’s decision to introduce free public transit for everybody in the spring of 2020. Shortly afterwards, the government (the Minister of Transport himself) confirmed that the measure will be effective as of March 1st, 2020 — even though there are a couple of open questions that still need clarification beforehand  and will cost about 41 million Euros annually. All the while, our article continued to generate further media coverage both locally in the Luxembourger Wort and internationally at the BBC (revealing, too, that the attention economy can shower benefits not only politicians but academics as well).

In our contribution, we aimed to make two critical points: On one hand, we wanted to provide a general comment on the weakness of the free public transit measure, since we believe that it is far too over-simplified a concept given the wicked nature of the problem. Price is only one of many factors that explain, trigger, and determine modal choice. In his instructive overview, Annema (2013, 112) concluded that ‘empirical research worldwide shows … that the responsiveness to price changes is fairly modest in most cases’. Keeping a complex issue short: this means that pricing alone is not likely to spark major changes in travel behavior, and thus remains largely neutral to the overall transport system. Is it then worth such an expensive attempt?

On the other hand, we mentioned three further arguments considering how free transit could be even detrimental to the health of the transport system, apart from the weaknesses mentioned before. First and foremost, there are dozens of million Euros to be spent (btw, for something that nobody asked for …) that will most likely have no visible impact systemwide. This means there is real money lost that cannot be used for more urgent measures, such as good bike networks, or a better protection of pedestrians. Second, a rush of passengers to a crappy system would disappoint many people and make them lost for alternatives to the motor car, which are actually much needed. Third, most seriously, free buses have potentials to cannibalize walking and biking (instead of reducing car travel, i.e. if the latter is not constrained…). As a consequence, such measure is neither good for the transport system, nor would it have a positive impact on the environment. It could even mean the opposite.

One may also spend a few thoughts on the “social” dimension of the measure – the soundtrack with which the whole decision is now being sold to the public, as other arguments are proving less convincing. However, a social benefit could only be expected in the event that public transport fares are deepening social inequality. Unfortunately, statistical data is lacking on this issue, as transit is not included in the official consumer-price index, unlike cars or petrol. However, the factor that is most effective in creating inequalities (and also most rapidly increasing in this respect) is obviously the housing sector. So, if the government would like to undertake effective measures in combating inequality, it is rather clear what sector would come into play here. Hence, one may ask: What’s the problem? What political action is needed?

Governance lesson to be learned
Many of the points above were also the reasons behind the wide spread critical views on free transit about two years ago when it was discussed in the Grand Duchy – a discussion that included decision-makers who are now proposing the measure. Why and how have things changed since then? The answer to this question is most likely related to the policy process, and it looks as if the various ways this measure has been treated politically sheds some light on peculiar governance patterns and practices – politics “made in Luxembourg”. In this case, one could surmise the following: 1) politics prefer proposing solutions over examining ‘real’ problems; 2) it is more important to create an imaginary to sell good news, than it is to be stuck in ‘wicked’ problems; and, 3) issues are easily driven by the most powerful governance authorities from above, which in small states usually implies the central government.

Concerning the first point: There is a certain tradition in this country, in terms of planning and building policy, of discussing a solution before the nature of the problem has been identified. To name these spatial planning problems that are specific to Luxembourg: It is a small but fast-growing archipelago, which brings a striking mismatch between size and function to the fore, quite visible by the unbalanced relationship between the number of residents and that of workplaces. However, taking a closer look at such real problems would necessitate proposing measures that are either overly complex or that would go against vested interests (or both). This makes the search for complex, interdependent strategies actually inconvenient for policy makers – who seek to be judged as power people who are good at implementation. In this context, professional politics seem to be more inclined to stick to PR and the symbolic. Concerning the second point: It is fantastic to see how the imaginary is circulating and changing the message! This seems to be a paradigmatic case of policy mobility, or trans-local policy.

Would you like some evidence? Look at what the Minister confirmed in his press conference (according to a snippet from the local Luxemburger Wort, 22nd January): “We don’t expect an increase in the number of passengers to occur. The free ride is primarily a social measure, a cherry on the cake which yet needs to be baked.” On the same day, the international press (in this case the German Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, see the second snippet) confirmed another narrative: The government aims to ease congestion on commuter trunk roads and reduce transport related air pollution. These are not only two entirely different messages (in circulation), they implicate different strategies and scales of impact. The mere rise of the number of transit users is an immediate, primary, goal. Achieving such a comprehensive, system-wide result is a secondary goal and would require associated changes in other transport modes (such as mitigating the motor car and the like). So far, this is unlikely to occur. However, it can be said that the imaginary worked well, in order to spread good news about the famous country.

Luxembourger Wort, January 22, 2019

Regarding the third point: in a press-conference, the Minister unintentionally confirmed that the nature of decision-making and governance practice in this country is primarily state-centred. When questions from the press turned to local bus services, the response was that the municipalities would, of course, remain autonomous and retain the power to choose to either continue with charging for transit use or to follow the central government’s proposal. It came out that the capital city, whose bus service is probably carrying a large portion of daily transit customers in the country, was not consulted by the government before it announced the policy scheme. To long-time observers of governance practices in the Grand Duchy, this looked like pretty common business-as-usual policy-making.

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, January 22, 2019
The flawed and unconsidered way of decision-making does not do well in presenting the measure as well-considered. In this sense, the measure was actually rather populist (in a more critical meaning of the term), because it potentially discredits institutions and their ability to deal with genuinely complex problems. It is post-political– not in the sense that civil society would take over responsibility from institutions in charge, but given the lack of a clear, balanced but effective framework of analysis, intervention, and evaluation. However, it is not politically neutral: It is riding on the surface of media and public perception, and thus has some geo-political underpinnings (see Kȩbłowski et al. 2019).

Besides ticketing details and this and that, the actual lesson to be learned from the whole story, for Luxembourg as well, is that the free ride takes the country to the screen of the international press, but does not bring us closer to a robust, appropriate strategy and practice for getting around.

Annema, Jan Anne (2013): Transport resistance factors: time, money and effort. In: Van Wee, B., Annema, J.A. & Banister, D. (eds.), The Transport System and Transport Policy, p. 101-124. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.

Kȩbłowski, W., Tuvikene, T., Pikner, T. & Jauhiainen, J. S. (2019). Towards an urban political geography of transport: Unpacking the political and scalar dynamics of fare-free public transport in Tallinn, Estonia. Environment and Planning C: Politics and Space, 2399654418821107.

Similar articles at Urbanisation Unbound:
Hesse/Carr (2018) The post-politics of offering free transit
Hesse, M (2018)  Another tale of large-scale urban planning: The quandaries of mobility into and out of Campus Belval
Carr, C., Lutz, R., Schutz (2018) There is no one human scale - Reflections on urban development practice in Luxembourg
Hesse, M. (2018) Come, let’s watch a film and discuss cities!!

IGU 2019 in Luxembourg Call for Abstracts extended until February 15th

The Call for Abstracts for the IGU conference to be held later this year in Luxembourg is open until the end of this month. Papers are invited to address the special topic, 'Urban geographies of the new economy, services industries and financial market places'. Our aim is to emphasise urban-regional development patterns of phenomena under the influence of economic change, digitalisation  multi-level governance and sustainability imperatives. Papers are also welcome that are linked to the thematic foci of the Urban Commission!

Find details in the flyer below, which is also available for download here
Feel free to circulate!

07 January, 2019

Registration Open: Society for Risk Analysis (SRA) -Benelux Conference 2019: "Reasoning with Uncertainty"

Registration is now open for the 2019 SRA-E Benelux Chapter annual meeting/conference “Reasoning with Uncertainty” to be held March 25-26, 2019, at the University of Luxembourg in Luxembourg.

Experts, practitioners and policy makers often have to make decisions under conditions of uncertainty. This sometimes leads to catastrophic outcomes, but often also results in averted disasters, innovation and unexpected discoveries. This conference, is devoted to how risk research(ers) can better inform decision-making in the face of uncertainty, anticipate negative outcomes, increase the propensity for positive outcomes, and better communicate uncertainty. The event brings together researchers from the Benelux region and globally to present their latest research on the following themes:

• Systemic Risks 
• Brexit and future stability of the EU 
• Climate change 
• Health and safety 
• Energy 
• Education 
• Cybersecurity 
• Artificial intelligence 
• Smart cities and urban development

Highlights: We have an excellent lineup of high-level speakers from academia, industry and government speaking on three special panels on "Brexit and the Future Stability of the EU", "Space Exploration" and "Digital Futures". See Conference highlights for list of speakers.

Registration (here) is free but mandatory. In order to be included in the participant list, please ensure that you register before 8 March 2019.

The Venue
University of Luxembourg, Belval Campus
Maison des Sciences Humaines
11, porte des Sciences
L-4366 Esch-sur-Alzette

For more information contact Dr. Catherine Wong (catherine.wong@uni.lu)

15 December, 2018

Call for Papers: "Housing on the edge" Deutschen Kongress für Geographie 2019, Kiel

CFP for session, "Housing on the edge: considerations of land and ownership, urbanization, and the possibility of recentering non-market housing" at the Deutschen Kongress für Geographie 2019, Kiel.

organised by Jennifer Gerend (gerend@uni-trier.de) and Constance Carr (constance.carr@uni.lu)

Session Description (Leitthema 8. Stadt-Land-Welten Fachsitzung: L8-FS-201)
Housing is a problem across many urban regions experiencing growth pressure. Recent patterns of development are characterized by reduced protections from negative effects of market-led land use. As the finance/management of housing was abdicated to finance-strapped municipalities, as public properties were sold/demolished, or as global financial markets capitalized on housing as an investment asset (Rolnik 2013), market-oriented forms of lodging reign supreme. All that remains is a peripheral bricolage of actors/institutions and their disparate sets of resources to address non-market housing. This condition rests on certain notions of land and property value. By seeing “property as a social institution and a set of contested practices” (Safransky 2017, 7), the assumed neutrality of market-led land use development can be questioned (Blomley 2017). Additionally, “the urban world has fundamentally changed [… with] a wide range of urbanisation processes […] generating a multitude of urban outcomes, resulting in differentiated, complex and often surprising urban landscapes,” (Schmid et al. 2018). There are comparative dimensions to consider: just as urban space is changing, so too are housing/land problems/solutions. Approaches to housing aiming to mitigate market-led development cannot be one-size-fits-all: context matters.
  To open up this conversation, we aim for a session (EN/DE) comprised of 15-minute presentations followed by brief discussions. We welcome abstract proposals addressing non-market housing and the land question against the background of new and changing social spatial urban imaginaries. Topics may include (but are not limited to): institutionalist readings of urban growth pressure/planning/non-market housing, and discursive constructions of value/scarcity, comparative analyses, and related considerations of housing and periphery.


Blomley, N. 2017. Land use, planning, and the “difficult character of property,” Plan Theory & Pract 351-364

Rolnik, R. 2013. Late neoliberalism: The financialization of homeownership and housing rights. Int J Urban Reg Res 37 1058-1066

Safransky, S 2017. Rethinking land struggle in the postindustrial city. Antipode 1079-1100
Schmid, C., Karaman, O., Hanakata, N.C., Kallenberger, P., Kockelkorn, A., Sawyer, L., Streule, M. & Wong K.P. 2017. Towards a new vocabulary of urbanization processes: A comparative approach. Urban Stud 19-52

Submission Procedure: Abstract proposals (in English or German) can be submitted online until January 25th at:


or, directly to the organisers by January 15th: Jennifer Gerend, University of Trier (gerend@uni-trier.de) and Constance Carr, University of Luxembourg (constance.carr@uni.lu)

To submit to this session (Fachsitzung: L8-FS-201), please select the session number provided by the pull-down menu on the online form. Each contribution can have a maximum of two authors. The online form will ask that you please include a title of maximum 160 characters, a short abstract (max. 200 characters) to be published in the program, and a longer abstract 'exposé' (max. 2500 characters) for the conference website. Accepted papers will be confirmed by March 25th. 

07 December, 2018

The post-politics of offering free transit

In a blog entry posted earlier this year, we provided some background information on, and context to, the mobility quandaries that are associated with Luxembourg’s new Science City and Belval Campus. Since then, nothing has actually improved. In fact, things have gotten even worse, given the various road blockings, construction projects, and general transit chaos organised by the set of transit infrastructure providers in the area. All of this renders the seamless journey into and out of Belval even more difficult than before.

On that note, and more as a joke, we also referred to some of the fantasies that were circulating during the summer election campaigns, where some political parties were promising free public transit across the entire country should they win the national election in mid-October. Now, after the new coalition government comprising the blue (right liberals), red (apparent socialist) and (light) green governing parties has agreed upon a new agenda for the coming five years, and the ministers have been sworn in, it’s all there: Free transit will be introduced across the whole country by some time in 2020. The news on this decision then spread across the planet, with massive media coverage in outlets such as the Guardian’s international edition, the New York Times, the BBC, Forbes, Time Magazine, other broadcasts across Europe, North America, Asia, and Australia, and in different languages. The news even reached Bernie Sanders who congratulated the Grand Duchy on its (apparent) accomplishment, which has already received 13,000 likes on facebook.

Yet, the perception of free transit is as divided as the view on our shiny new Belval Campus: While visitors from abroad are struck by the architecture and the urban design, those who have to commute to Belval and inhabit the offices for work every day have a different view. In the light of the cold and windy setting of the urban fabric that lacks green space, offers overpriced commercial outlets, and leaves little to nothing for people to self-organise (Gaart Belval remains one of the few examples), the pre-fab character of the site is only topped by the building, property, and infrastructure management that usually appears rigid, random, and not particularly devoted to users needs.

Likewise, that Luxembourg should receive such vast international (not domestic) praise as the second country (not the first!) worldwide after Estonia to implement free public transit nationwide is rather irritating to those who are actually using the system on a daily basis. A small reminder here as well: Luxembourg is, indeed, a country, but it is also a de facto city-state, whose urban agglomeration spans three borders. Admiration of its nation-wide free transit as if this were any kind of beacon to other countries around the world is thus blown entirely out of proportion. But more to the point, fees are clearly not the problem – not in an admittedly small (and wealthy) country where you can travel from the Belgian to the German border for just 2 Euros, buy a daily ticket for 4 Euros, or invest in a subsidised annual pass for less than 200 Euros (which many of us are using). The problem lies in the recent socio-economic evolution of Luxembourg, in its structural framework conditions, and in the state of transit provision which an evaluation of 'poor' would actually be rather generous.

These issues were already outlined in an earlier blog-post last June, so there is no need to be overly repetitive. However, in a nutshell there are three factors that come into play here. Firstly, there is the rapid growth of the country that has recently added 100,000 people to its population every eight years, while annual GDP growth has steadied at 2-4% for some time now. Secondly, many infrastructures (including roads, rail tracks, stations and rolling materials) are already in a critical state, meaning that catching up with these growth rates is almost impossible to achieve. Thirdly, it is the path dependant, old-school organisation of transit provision and the really poor customer dedication that make the daily commute definitely not fun (which might be too high an expectation). Effectively, it is a mess, very slow, and completely unreliable.

In the light of these deficiencies, should we really care about fees? No, of course not. What will happen when transit will be offered for zero? Here, the public transit system will quite likely become even more crowded and dysfunctional. And, as soon as the free riders notice that it doesn’t work, they will be lost for change. Many will decide instead to get into their cars, because they are simply faster and more reliable. Those who can't afford, are unable, or are simply not a fan of driving, will be punished further. Free transit also tells a delicate political story, in two parts. Firstly, the 40-60 million Euros per annum that will need to be compensated by tax-payers will also be collected from cross-border commuters, who, by the same token, won’t benefit significantly from the last penny-free mile into or out of Luxembourg. More crowded trains and buses will make their journey even more difficult. Thus, the society’s divide between foreign and autochthon might only be further reinforced.

Secondly, it is no coincidence that the idea was not born of the (green) transport minister – who is against it, as his party is as well. Suspiciously enough, the proposal came from the Prime Minister, whose political party has the least affiliation to public services, rail and transit across the political spectrum: The right-wing liberals. And, they probably just weren’t aware what they were doing. One can assume that they have little experience with the local trains and busses, because one might otherwise expect a more convincing set of proposals to improve the system as a whole. However, this would necessarily mean going against the vested interests of automobilists, a risk that liberals are never prone to take. (Also, on a more non-scientific note, it is curious that the announcement of free transit came alongside the legalization of cannabis, which was proposed by the same government accord: Is there a reason that the two are brought together?).

So, free transit in Luxembourg is not a recipe that others ought to copy and follow. It can run a system to its death that is already beyond its limits, thus revealing that the priorities set in the political realm are more or less going wrong. And, the verve with which Luxembourgers now appreciate the global media attention that their small country has received triggered by the free transit ticket, provides a further indication that this idea was, from the very beginning, not conceived of in order to solve real-world problems. It was a political stunt whose purpose was purely about media coverage and PR – a sort of, “mobilities of nation branding,” if you want. From this perspective, it was a brilliant stroke.

This impression coincides perfectly with a recent reading of Crystel Legacy’s (University of Melbourne) nice paper on ‘The post-politics of transport: Establishing a new meeting ground for transport politics,’ published in 2017, in the Australian Geographical Research. By referring to the earlier works of scholars who observed a drying out of the political caused by managerial policy-making, she addresses post-political governance environments described as ‘a situation in which the political– understood as a space of contestation and agonistic engagement– is increasingly colonised by politics– understood as technocratic mechanisms and consensual procedures that operate within an unquestioned framework of representative democracy, free market economics, and cosmopolitan liberalism’ (Wilson & Swyngedouw, 2015, p.6).

In such contexts, free transit is nothing more than a post-political pill that pretends to do good and is easily sold to the rest of the globe, while all the wicked, real world problems of getting from point A to B and back again remain unsolved. Reacting to the international media that has praised and fawned over Luxembourg in the past couple of days: i) the framework conditions in the Grand Duchy and the Greater Region urban agglomeration are really challenging; ii) the current state of the public transit system is the backlash of three decades of ignorance and non-action in the transport and infrastructure domains; and last but not least iii) the addiction to the motor car that makes small but powerful Luxembourg look increasingly like SUV-country is far from overcome. Free transit will not lead to improvements in terms of functionality or sustainability. And, if the price is not the problem, then the rest must be tackled first. But this less appealing bitter pill, would neither make the headlines nor place the country spotlight of the global media.

And now for a couple of factual corrections to the errors that were circulating in the international press (see statistiques.public.lu):
- There are no 400k commuters swarming into the City of Luxembourg; rather, there are approximately 422k work places, total, across the Grand Duchy;
- The population of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg is 602k as of 2018;
- The population of the City of Luxembourg is 116k as of 2018 - By day, the influx of workers employed in the City roughly doubles this population;
- The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg receives a daily influx of 192k cross-border commuters from the border regions of Germany, France, and Belgium.

Markus Hesse and Constance Carr

See also
Hesse, M (2018) Another tale of large-scale urban planning: The quandaries of mobility into and out of Campus Belval

Carr, C., Lutz, R., Schutz (2018) There is no one human scale - Reflections on urban development practice in Luxembourg
Hesse, M. (2018) Come, let’s watch a film and discuss cities!! 

Some further, relevant, publications of ours
Krueger, R., Gibbs, D., Carr, C. (2018) Examining Regional Competitiveness and the Pressures of Rapid Growth: An interpretive institutionalist account of policy responses in three city regions. Environment and Planning C: Politics and Space
Caruso, Geoffrey; Gerber, Philippe; Hesse, Markus; Viti, Francesco (2015). Editorial: Challenges, specificities and commonalities of transport research and policy within the BENELUX countries–the case of Luxembourg.European Journal of Transport and Infrastructure Research (2015), 15(4), 501-505
Carr. C. (2013) Discourse Yes, Implementation Maybe: an Immobility and Paralysis of Sustainable Development Policy. European Planning Studies. 22(9), 1824-1840.

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22 November, 2018

Paper Presented at the Affordable Housing Forum: Towards new Cultures of Affordable Housing?

Big thank you to the ETH-Wohnforum and the Luxembourg Institute of Socio-Economic Research (LISER) for organising the 3rd Affordable Housing Forum: Towards new Cultures of Affordable Housing? last week, November, 12-13, in Luxembourg. A complete programme overview is available at LISER's website, here.  I had the pleasure of being one of the speakers. My paper,The socio-spatial production of non-market housing in urban regions under growth pressure: Thinking comparatively and relationally, is available in this entry of Urbanization Unbound. A pdf version of this is downloadable here.

This paper explores non-market housing in urban regions under growth pressure, and aims to open up a conversation about how modes of housing and related policies might be conceptualized in urban geographical scholarship, in order to broaden the possible range of housing policy measures beyond the rather narrow imperative of market solutions, that prevail here and elsewhere. The project is extension of a larger project that I have been working on for many years together with Markus Hesse examining spatial planning problems in urban regions under growth pressure. We began with exploring sustainable spatial development in Luxembourg, then we studied of regional governance in Switzerland for comparison, and now we are moving on towards one component that is central to the topic: housing and housing in non-market contexts. But how might one effectively conceptualize housing, given what we know about recent scholarship in urban studies? I'd like to argue that (1) there is much to be learned with urban comparison; (2) following the policy mobility literature, simply importing ready-made templates would be, at best (!), risky; (3) Storper's (2014) application of bricolageis useful inspiration for understanding urban transformation processes that are forever changing and in flux.

The idea to dive deeper into the study of non-market housing arose out of two previous research projects (SUSTAINLUX and SUSTAINGOV). The aim of the first was to understand the governance processes behind spatial planning for sustainable development in Luxembourg. The second added a comparative dimension by examining the similar processes in a second urban region, the Glatt Valley located in the Canton of Zurich. Bolstered by conceptual approaches in urban studies, such as policy mobility, scale theory, enclave urbanity, integrative planning, and discourse theory, and armed with constructivist methodologies, these projects revealed the hidden dimensions of policy-making and challenges associated with urban growth pressure (see Affolderbach & Carr 2016; Carr 2014,2018; Carr et al. 2015; Carr & McDonough 2016; Hesse 2014; Krueger et al. 2018).It was found that the pursuit of sustainable urban development was wrought with contradictions, in respect to planning styles and/or patterns of governance, and there were a number of discrepancies between the objectives of planning policies and the complexity of problems. Intense strains on land, infrastructural and human resources, the dominance of market actors, and the dilemmas these issues raised, left policy-makers in both the Grand Duchy and in Switzerland ineffective in steering urban development in sustainable ways. A number of problems have been generated while some worsened. Some of these – the mobility issue – for example, many of you probably experienced just getting to this conference. But immediate social necessities, such as the generation of liveable neighbourhoods, cohesive communities, or other typologies of housing that might provide healthy means of living to wider portions of the population, certainly fell by the wayside (Hesse & Becker 2010) or were limited in their capacity to provoke change beyond the micro-local scale (Carr & Affolderbach 2014; Carr & McDonough 2016; Doerr & Carr 2014).

So, our research so far contributed to the loudening chorus of scholars who recognize that sustainable urban development is wrought with problems, contradictions and paradoxes (Krueger & Gibbs 2007; Elgert & Krueger 2012; Curran & Hamilton 2018; Temenos & McCann 2014; Bunce 2018; Anguelovski 2014), and from this the goal is to drill down on problems of housing in urban spaces under growth pressure, where development is market-led.Clearly in Luxembourg today, while the economic successes are repeatedly acknowledged, the negative consequences – especially with respect to housing – remain well known. Take these two examples:

“Luxembourg has become the victim of its own economic success affecting urban design, the development of housing and the programming of the built environment. It has led to the imbalanced ratio between work places and available dwellings, as well as to a dysfunctional housing market driven by speculation and unable to satisfy the needs of many people. […] It is no longer given that people who live and work in Luxembourg are able to find affordable housing there. In reaction, people are increasingly moving to the adjacent regions of neighbouring countries in order to fulfil their needs and dreams of housing there,” (LUCA 2016: 8).

Or, from the Prime Minister himself:

“The major challenges faced not only by Luxembourg, but by most European countries [is] to detect and decry the shortage of living space, […] to show new concepts […] paving the way to both socially and economically sustainable solutions,” (LUCA 2016, 4).

In fact, housing is clearly a major challenge in many urban regions across Europe and North America where local policy-makers and inhabitants are confronted with growth pressure (Porter & Shaw 2009; Hulchanski 2010; Hesse & Becker 2010; Christmann 2018; August & Walks 2018, Moos 2016; Krueger et al. 2018;).For decades in the post-war years, non-market forms of housing – that is, housing kept off the market and controlled by the state (Walks & August 2008) – was understood as a key protection against displacement and other negative effects of market-led land use, and indeed were largely successful in making housing available to lower income households. However, the onset of new socio political economic values (i.e. neoliberalization) across Anglo-American cities and many European cities changed all this. In some instances, central or federal governments downloaded responsibilities of finance, provision, management and maintenance of housing to finance-strapped municipalities. In other instances, the state simply sold publicly owned properties or demolished them (Bernt 2017). Recent work also exposes how housing has morphed into a major investment asset in globalized financial markets (Rolnik 2013; Walks & Clifford 2015). The net effect of these changes has been the formation of a market-oriented, commercialized, and competitive form of housing provision.Where welfare states have abdicated responsibility of housing provision to private property markets, they are today either no longer willing or able to intervene (Czischke 2009; Porter & Shaw 2009, Rolnik 2013). Housing shortages and limited options outside of the private ownership or landlord-tenant models are nowadays the norm. Alternatives to the for-profit approach to housing and structures of provision that meet current needs and are in short supply to say the least.

How might housing be conceptualized differently?
Because such housing problems are not unique to the urban areas that were the focus of our previous research, (i) it is essential (and essentially instructive) to learn from cases abroad, while ii) avoiding the trap of the copy-and-paste belief that is so common in urban policy circles. More broadly, there are good reasons to view urban spaces in comparison (see Robinson 2011; Ward 2009). One of these reasons is that there is an interest in learning more about how challenges are addressed in different places, by different sets of actors, and different institutional constraints/possibilities. This is clearly possible with housing – and it has been done before (!). Because housing isunderstood to be a central component of sustainable urban development – or even the “secret life of cities” (Jarvis et al. 2001) and important spaces of, “sharing, environmental awareness, and citizen participation,” (Bresson & Denèfle 2015, 14) – a range of housing forms have been studied and documented that offer insights into new modes of housing, such as eco-urbanism, such as housing co-operatives, eco-villages, or cohousing. Holden (2018), for example, has compiled an impressive catalogue at Ecourbanism Worldwide. These offer insights into possible alternatives to home ownership or classical landlord-tenant arrangements, which might also ameliorate problems associated with existing patterns and structures of market-led land use. There is a lot to explore. However, as Schmid et al. (2018: 21) state, “the urban world has fundamentally changed in the last few decades [with] a wide range of urbanisation processes … generating a multitude of urban outcomes, resulting in differentiated, complex and often surprising urban landscapes.” This challenges conventional understandings of urban space, and so as the authors argue, comparative studies can facilitate further common understandings. In the same vein, it is a call to understand housing challenges in their urban context. The policy mobilities literature (Ward 2017) iterates a similar message: Urban comparison cannot simply be about finding solutions/recipes because policies cannot simply be transferred from one place to another. Context matters.

For the current investigation, the four cities of focus are Luxembourg, Zurich, Freiburg, and Toronto. All urban regions under growth pressure, experiencing both heightened economic activity, increased immigration of businesses and labour, and in each case market-led development is yet to provide any solutions to the housing challenges. At the same time, all have different shifting socio-political geographies of alternative non-market housing. I argue that it is necessary to seek out these different experiences, the different lessons learned, and aim to understand them contrasted dialectically with one another, while engaging with Schmid et al.'s (2018) ever-renewing urban imaginaries. So far, what we observe from preliminary tours of the areas and a couple of interviews is that it is still not clear if the alternative developments are in fact alternative. While many practices such as shared financing or living environments are a stark departure from the model of single-owner occupancy, many – especially recent ones – are in the form of posh urban renewal projects that serve upper and middle classes. Modes of non-market housing that can secure affordability for lower income or precarious groups are still relatively seldom. To understand why this is so, it is necessary to explore the relationship between these innovative housing projects and wider socio-political economic urban transformation processes. A conceptual approach is thus needed that will move beyond a straight forward compendium of innovative and sexy projects, and enables us to understand what is under the hood where clues to some of the unanswered critical questions might be found (Sørvoll & Bengtsson 2016; Scheller & Thörn 2018). For example, to what degree are existing so called alterative projects part and parcel of wider for-profit systems of land use? Or, how do alternative projects deepen social polarities more than they ameliorate?

I would like to argue that Storper's (2014) concepts of bricolagein urban governance are of use here.It is well known that bricolagerefers to the kinds of practices that unfold when notfollowing a recipe, or a prescribed routine. Rather, bricolageis, "the putting together of multiple cultural forms in order to innovate and create something new or more fit for purpose," Phillimore et al. (2016: 7).Storper extended this concept to consider how metropolitan urban spaces are managed, and argued that bricolageis a means of conceptualizing how actors mobilize resources, sometimes in spontaneous and unexpected ways to generate an end result. He argued that even if “tinkering is far from perfect, [if] there is little or no tinkering, it is probably a sign of a paralyzed political system.”Bricolage, he argued, is a very useful lens because urban regions are necessarily fragmented and forever in flux, polities and actor constellations are shifting, needs are continually changing, and the mysterious workings of the invisible hand is forever at work (ibid.).

Drawing inspiration from this, the de facto bricolage of non-market housing can be examined – i.e. the assortment of actors and institutions and their disparate and unexpected sets of resources of non-market housing approaches – in order to understand their institutional contexts, their socio-spatial modes of production, and respective socioeconomic and political implications. Bricolagecan be harnessed to do this from a variety of angles. First, it allows for an investigation of socioeconomic systems that structure non-market housing, while also looking at the role of actors and institutions in the production of those systems. Second, the gap between different belief systems/traditions/intentions and processes/outcomes/consequences can be scrutinized. This has methodological ramifications as well, as it resembles Krueger et al.'s (2018) ‘interpretive institutionalist’ approach, where the beliefs and traditions of actors and associated institutional arrangements in regions under growth pressure were examined. Third, bricolageenables an examination of the pressure points in existing networks of bricoleurs, exposing moments of risk or frailty. This approach can thus offer insight into the grounded context – i.e. the specific processes that structure the political economy of, housing – that simultaneously expose inhibiting factors of successful policy implementation. As an example, Walks and Clifford (2015) invoked the concept of bricolage to demonstrate how neoliberalization and state-led financialization of the housing market went hand in hand, where "the federal state and key state institutions as core ‘bricoleurs’ in this system" (pg. 1625).

The need to investigate non-market modes of housing is more than obvious, given that the orthodoxy of market-driven development is demonstrably flawed: Supply is always lagging demand (which means that we need a politic about the building stock). It delivers to the highest bidder and thus cannot provide a social need to less competitive or precarious portions of the population, and its main beneficiaries are land owners and developers. One might also observe that the call for new housing guided by the rules of the market consistently fall short because new supply continually lags demand (which means that we need a politic about the existing stock, Bestandspolitik). These trends have been observed over and over again in many cities that are floundering under their own growth pressure. This alone is reason enough for comparative study, but so is a nuanced study of the bricolageof institutions and actors that structure the systems of non-market housing that require attention. As for the real-world search for ways to ameliorate the housing crisis, exposing a bricolage of practices may also elucidate some inspiration for local problems that are locally specific – solutions that might promise alternative options precisely because they are i) notthe big-bang that politics and the media are always waiting for but that never come to fruition, and ii) they are not ready-for-wear recipes transferred from elsewhere. Rather, they would be solutions that reflect actual local processes, dilemmas, and contradictions, involving the necessary set of local actors and institutions in the position to endorse relevant change.

Constance Carr

Acknowledgements – I am grateful to the members of the Urban Geography group at the Institute of Geography and Spatial Planning for continued feedback and support. These include Markus Hesse, Tom Becker, Michael Rafferty, and Catherine Wong. I also thank the many partners in this research: Claude Ballini, Susannah Bunce, Jennifer Gerend, Annika Mattissek, Rahel Nüssli, Christian Schmid, and Nory Schneider. Thank you, too, to the critical and constructive feedback from the audience of the Affordable Housing Forum, 2018.

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