19 April, 2021

Two new Master Student Research Assistants for DIGI-GOV - Desmond Bast and Karinne Madron

April 1st 2021 marked the official launch of DGEO's new FNR funded project, entitled, Digital urban development - How large digital corporations shape the field of urban governance (DIGI-GOV).  And to help kick it off, we are pleased to welcome two new master student researchers to the project.

Joining us as a student researcher in his final semester at the Master of Architecture, European Urbanisation and Globalisation [MArch] here at the University of Luxembourg is Desmond Bast, who is also VP of the Architecture Student Association. He carries forth a considerable catalogue of work, primarily comprised of experience in an architecture office, working on three mixed-use CLT mid-rise structures for social housing purposes in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. There, he implemented an array of building information modelling skills with in-depth technical liaising he had acquired during his bachelor studies in Architectural Engineering and Technology at Thompson Rivers, University in Kamloops.

Desmond brings a developed interest in spatial politics and socio-ecologic discourse, leading him to his current master studies, where he is actively honing new methods of expressing multi-scalar ideas through a combination of written prose, cartographic, and graphic projection. Desmond’s interests lie at the intersection of urban governance, technology, and the harmonious welfare of individuals and planet-earth alike.

Desmond also tells us that as someone originally from Victoria, British Columbia, he is an O.K. flatland skim-boarder, a mediocre vegan cook, and a veteran of the Canadian Junior Hockey League. Desmond also loves art, photography, string-instruments, and sampling the occasional craft-beer with friends.

Also joining us is Karinne Madron who is currently completing her Master in Architecture, European Urbanisation and Globalisation here at the University of Luxembourg. Prior to coming to Luxembourg in 2019, she worked in architecture for nearly 11 years in Mauritius where she is from. She holds a BA in Architectural Studies from Newcastle University and an MSc in Development Studies from the University of Mauritius. Her research interests include spatial justice, planetary urbanization, urban innovation, urban governance and participatory development among other subjects.

Having obtained a scholarship from the Government of Mauritius in 2004, Karinne moved to the UK to study architecture in Newcastle upon Tyne. She developed an early interest in the relationship between the built environment and social change and chose ‘the rise and fall of high-rise mass housing in the UK’ as the subject of her dissertation. Pursuing her interest in housing, she worked as a trainee architect for a housing association in Newcastle for about a year after completing her degree.

She returned to Mauritius in 2008 and had the opportunity to work with communities living in informal settlements on slum upgrading and social housing projects. Over the years, she also worked on a variety of other projects ranging from the renovation of the Bank of Mauritius to luxury gated communities. Her work experience in both social and luxury projects allowed her to develop her insight into the socio-political underpinnings of land use and inequality in the small island of Mauritius. Seeking to deepen her understanding of these issues she decided to do a Master in Development Studies in 2012. Her dissertation titled ‘an analysis of the relationship between inadequate housing and the intergenerational transmission of poverty in Mauritius’ gave her the opportunity to discuss with local authorities, civil society groups as well as inhabitants of informal settlements. Having again an opportunity to pursue her academic interests in 2019, she chose the University of Luxembourg for her Master in Architecture because of the interdisciplinary nature of the programme.

Karinne has otherwise had the opportunity to be a volunteer teacher most of her life. As a teenager she used to teach the children in her neighbourhood. She was also an assistant teacher in English classes given to refugees and asylum seekers in Newcastle. Back in Mauritius she helped with academic support to children from underprivileged families with non-governmental organisations. 

We are glad to welcome Karinne and Desmond and are really looking forward to their creative and critical contributions to DIGI-GOV!

15 April, 2021

Tech update for this blog - Feedburner will discontinue its service

If you are reading this post because you are registered on the Feedburner and thus receive email updates, please know that Feedburner is terminating this service in July.  Thereafter, you will not receive any email notifications that we have updated this blog.

I just received notice about this today, so I am only just beginning to figure out what to do about this.

(It is also a kind reminder that the platform services we depend on can be revoked at any moment.  I wouldn't be surprised if Google terminated blogger at some point...)



Toronto versus Barcelona - Comparing smart city development at the University of Stavanger

It was a great pleasure to meet Dr. Ramon Ribera Fumaz, Director of the Urban Transformation and Global Change Laboratory, (TURBA), and Dr. Anders Riel Müller & Professor Bettina Bluemling of the UiS Research Network for Smart Sustainable Cities, University of Stavanger last month to talk about Actually Existing Smart Cities: Alphabet Inc. (Google) In Toronto and Commoning the "Smart City" in Barcelona.

Comparing smart city development in Toronto versus that in Barcelona is such a great comparison. There is so much to explore, address and discuss concerning scale (of corporate size, of financial power, of targeted technological reach), centralization versus fragmentation, knowledge differentials across institutions in charge of urban development, and the visible/hidden agendas of those in charge. Fascinating directions at the nexus of an old triad urbanplanning, urbanpolitics and techinnovation. If you missed it, it can be found at the University of Stavanger YouTube channel for smart cities (see below).

Abstract for Ramon Ribera Fumaz's Commoning the ‘Smart City’ in Barcelona 
There is a well-established consensus amongst critical scholars, activists, and, increasingly by the general public, that the Smart City practices are generating a new spatial fix for (tech) capital and depoliticise urban redevelopment and environmental management. Against this backdrop, Barcelona has attempted in the last years to harness digital platform technologies to enhance participative democracy and its agenda to secure technological sovereignty and digital rights for its citizens. In doing so, it has aimed to build a tech ecosystem that does not respond to corporate digital capitalism needs. This strategy's central tool has been the multi-purpose platform Decidim, built on FOSS and transparent and inclusive ethical principles. This paper explores the Decidim ecosystem – the network of developers, research centres, maintainers, advocates and activists, and city administrators – in Barcelona and beyond to establish the long term connections, the affordance and limitations of such initiative concerning its replication and scalability elsewhere. Thus, reflecting on its potential in challenging mainstream strategies.

Abstract for Carr's Alphabet (Google) in Toronto – Technocratic joint ventures of politics and large digital corporations (LDC)
The arrival of large digital corporations (LDCs) on the urban development scene is a relatively recent phenomenon, which has sparked concerns around data privacy, surveillance, and the implications of new technologies shaping supposedly smart urbanity. In this entry, I will present research that examined what happens when an LDC entered the field of urban development. Specifically, the empirical focus was on Alphabet Inc.'s failed digital city plans for Toronto’s waterfront. It is clear that the arrival of LDCs hardly signifies the sole and simple arrival of new palates of technologies. Rather, LDCs are new players in the field endorsing post-political modes of urban development. 

08 April, 2021

New Publication: Background on Urban and Regional Planning

Carr wrote the introductory chapter on urban and regional planning in the upcoming Palgrave Handbook of Global Sustainability edited by Robert Brinkmann.

Abstract of Chapter
Sustainable development has been a subject of urban planning for three decades now. Planners and practitioners now have a wealth of materials, catalogues, readers, and textbooks at their disposal that discuss local problems and practices. The problem, however, is that sustainable development is a very broad and often contradictory concept that is difficult to implement, and has since become a vector for market-led, exclusionary, urban development and planning. Little progress has been achieved, especially in regard to social equality. At the time of this writing, the global pandemic was also unfolding, which demanded priorities in health care on one hand and opened up new questions about sustainable development on the other. If sustainability and post-pandemic planning (for sustainability) is to be taken seriously, it is imperative to identify, reassert, and re-center social injustices in the productive processes that generate urban and regional spaces. There is a risk that social polarization will widen further still and that it too will be market-led as governments struggle with the crisis. Practitioners need to be careful about how people are included and can benefit from planning practice. There is inspiration from planning theory. Knowledge of public interest, differing epistemologies and ontologies, problems of racism and class, and a revival of kindness in political democratic are some ideas that publicly funded urban and regional planning offices can promote and assert – in the interests of sustainability.

The full article is available here at Springer or here at the archive of the University of Luxembourg (orbilu).  Don't hesitate to request access if you have any problems.

01 February, 2021


"Urbanisation, crisis and resilience: the multiple dimensions of urban transformation in Beirut, Lebanon"

Special issue of 'Urban Planning' (Cogitatio Press)

Beirut’s urban transformation is a subject of significant multi-disciplinary inquiry in the social sciences. Long considered as a crossroads between Asia, Africa and Europe, owing to its strategic location, Beirut gained prominence as a Levantine city in the mid-19th century. Since its independence (1943), the modern state finds itself subject to myriad external pressures which often have destabilising internal effects. The city’s traditional role as a maritime and commercial entrepôt and university city was widened to become a nascent financial centre in 1956 with the introduction of banking secrecy laws. Its subsequent international reputation as a diplomatic hub and tourist resort with various monikers such as the Switzerland or Paris of the Middle East coincided uneasily with growing geopolitical and migratory pressure flowing from the expulsion of Palestinians by Israel, and ended abruptly with the outbreak of civil war in 1975. 
    Periods of post-war reconstruction are the backdrop for new socio-economic and political dynamics. Reconstruction after the civil war had only limited success in achieving its ostensible aim of restoring the city’s former international status. Alongside the rise of centralised market-led urbanism, laissez-faire urban planning, the embedding of sectarian polarisation and neglect of basic infrastructure are all factors that raise questions about the model of urban regeneration implemented and arouse new socio-political tensions. Post-modern redevelopment of the inner-city as a site for speculative real-estate investment occurs alongside an intensive, unplanned urbanisation along the coastlines to the north and south, and in stark contrast to the ‘misery belt’ of informal sprawl on the periphery of the city.
    Recent crises not only comprise a long-standing concern about the state’s economic failure and clientelist political environment but were exacerbated by the outbreak of COVID-19 and also the 4th August blast in the port of Beirut. These events were seen by many as a crystallisation of Lebanon’s complex problems. However, these episodes do not supplant the rich historical setting both ancient and modern Lebanon represents for urban scholars. Beirut’s cultural and geographical liminality, and enduring role as a prominent urban confluence with multi-faceted geographic positionality, imbue it with an especially abundant empirical interest and topical relevance.
    This thematic issue has evolved from activities under the umbrella of the Urban Commission of the International Geographical Union (UGI-IGU), whose 2020 annual conference was supposed to take place in Beirut, Lebanon. It was eventually held as a digital conference, but already offered a first encounter of members of the Commission with a range of researchers from the Middle East, Lebanon and Beirut in particular, and discuss related topics of urban development, policy and research. The special issue offers a chance to shed some new light on Arab and Middle East urbanisms – not with respect to those places that received some attention in recent years (such as Dubai or Doha), but to focus on a place that enjoys both variety and rich history, while being subject to multiple political crises in recent times as well: Beirut, Lebanon.
    Currently the Urban Commission of the IGU-UGI plans to hold its 2021 Annual Conference in Beirut as an on-site event, to take place on 23-27 August 2021. Hoping that this will work out, the conference could offer a proper environment for discussing some of the issues that would fit here as well.
    Urban Planning (ISSN: 2183-7635) is an international peer-reviewed journal of urban studies aimed at advancing understandings and ideas of humankind’s habitatsUrban Planning is an open access journal (free for readers) with an article processing charge of EUR 900 per accepted manuscript. Please note that a certain budget is preserved for allowing up to seven papers be financed via the editors of this Special Issue.

Mediterranean/Middle East urbanism; Beirut, Lebanon; urban development; urban planning; resilience; urban geo-politics; post-colonial perspectives.

Academic Editors:
Buccianti Bakarat, Liliane, Professor, Université St. Joseph, Département de géographie, Email: liliane.barakat@usj.edu.lb; www.usj.edu.lb
Hesse, Markus, Professor, University of Luxembourg, Dept. of Geography & Spatial Planning, Email: markus.hesse@uni.luwww.humanities.uni.lu

Submission of Abstracts: 1-15 March 2021
Submission of Full Papers: 15-31 July 2021
Publication of the Issue: January/March 2022

Instructions for Authors:
Authors interested in submitting a paper for this issue are asked to consult the journal's instructions for authors and submit their abstracts (maximum of 250 words, with a tentative title) through the abstracts system (here). When submitting their abstracts, authors are also asked to confirm that they are aware that Urban Planning is an open access journal with a publishing fee if the article is accepted for publication after peer-review (corresponding authors affiliated with our institutional members do not incur this fee). Please also see the above condition for funding.

28 January, 2021

Fully funded PhD position available for DIGI-GOV

Applicants must apply online at: http://emea3.mrted.ly/2mgfn

***We are aiming for a start date in the spring or summer 2021. The deadline for application is March 10. If you are interested in this position, applicants must apply online but do not hesitate to inform me via email (constance.carr@uni.lu).***

The Urban Studies Group at the Department of Geography & Spatial Planning (DGEO), Faculty of Humanities, Education & Social Sciences (FHSE), University of Luxembourg (UL) invites applications for a Doctoral candidate (PhD student) to work on the research project entitled, “Digital Urban Development — How large digital corporations shape the field of urban governance (DIGI-GOV)”  

Project Summary is available for download here:

Area  Urban studies, urban governance, human geography or related field.

Your Role

  • Complete a dissertation in urban geography on a topic the fits the framework of DIGI-GOV, and submit it for defense inside of 4 years. 
  • Join the DGEO’s Urban Studies group and meet regularly with primary supervisor. 
  • Enroll in the UL Doctoral School in Humanities and Social Sciences (DSHSS) — and join the activities of the Geography PhD Seminar
  • Achieve 20 ECTS awarded through participation in the DSHSS. 
  • Assist the PI with in organising of conferences and meetings in the framework of DIGI-GOV
  • Organize meetings with her/his international advisory board throughout the programme

Your Profile

  • Master or Diploma in Geography or Spatial Planning, Urban Planning or related field, linked to geographical issues of urban development, policy and planning, including experience in interdisciplinary work and qualitative methodology
  • Excellent command of written and spoken English is required. Knowledge of either Luxembourgish, French, German, or Dutch would be considered an asset

We offer
DGEO is a 45-person strong international group of Professors, post-doctoral and senior researchers, and PhD students. Research follows different trajectories of human geography and spatial planning, notably institutional and actor-centred approaches, theories in the context of chains, flows and networks, and also approaches that are related to the cultural and spatial turn. Major fields of research include environmental economic geography, urban studies and metropolitan governance, spatial statistics and modelling, and architecture.

The UL offers the opportunity to participate in the development of a newly created university, an exciting international and multi-lingual environment, well-equipped research facilities, competitive salaries, and is an equal opportunity employer.

In Short
Contract Type: Fixed Term Contract 36 Month - extendable up to 48 months if required
Work Hours: Full Time 40.0 Hours per Week
Location: Belval
Internal Title: Doctoral Researcher
Employee and student status
Job Reference: UOL03910

Further Information
Applications should be submitted online and include:

  • CV and copies of diploma;
  • Motivation Letter;
  • Support letter from at least one recent scientific advisor/professor (preferably three);
  • A PhD proposal that fits the objectives of DIGI-GOV (max. 2 pages, single spaced, 11 pt font) including: 1) Introduction and literature review; 2) Research objectives and expected contribution to the field; 3) Methodology; 4) Work plan and expected timetable; 5) Bibliography.

Early application is highly encouraged, as the applications will be processed upon reception. Please apply ONLINE formally through the HR system. Applications by email will not be considered.

The University of Luxembourg embraces inclusion and diversity as key values. We are fully committed to removing any discriminatory barrier related to gender, and not only, in recruitment and career progression of our staff.  

Questions? Don't hesitate to contact Dr. Constance Carr, constance.carr@uni.lu

27 January, 2021

DIGI-GOV Project Summary available for download

Project Summary available for download here

Abstract DIGI-GOV is a research project that aims to understand (I) the role of large digital corporations (LDCs) in digital urban development, (II) how the presence of LDCs in urban planning practice challenge pre-existing modes urban governance, and (III) how LDC-led urban development constitutes a new relational geography of digital cities. DIGI-GOV is thus a chance to call attention to this critical shift in the ways that contemporary digital cities are constructed, planned, mediated and governed. DIGI-GOV expands on prior research that examined Alphabet Inc.’s digital city project in Toronto that raised a number of important issues for urban planners, development practitioners, and urban studies scholars – even if this particular digital city project was ultimately unsuccessful. DIGI-GOV expands this research because the range of services that LDCs provide has increased in both volume and centrality; more and more public and private institutions rely on LDCs for essential digital infrastructures. There is an urgent need to study the trajectories of urbanization that are rolled out under the leadership of LDCs and the tensions in urban governance that are unleashed. DIGI-GOV will shed light on four further cities in addition to Toronto, which have been challenged by the presence of LDCs—namely, Seattle, Washington DC, Bissen, and Eemshaven. The selected cities are some of the few exemplary cases available where LDCs have secured their position in the local urban field. Through qualitative methodological approaches, DIGI-GOV will tease out how these cities are relationally connected through LDC-led urban development, and what scholars and practitioners can learn from these experiences. Examined together, one can scratch at the surface of, and unearth, this new emerging relational geography. 

05 January, 2021

Hiring: Two Master Student Assistants

Department of Geography & Spatial Planning (DGEO), Faculty of Humanities, Education & Social Sciences (FHSE), University of Luxembourg (UL) invites applications for two Master Student Assistants on a Fixed-term contract, renewable up to 36 months, part-time (10h/week). 

Research Project: Digital Urban Development — How large digital corporations shape the field of urban governance DIGI-GOV

The DIGI-GOV research team is searching two motivated graduate students to join the team as assist with carrying out a variety of tasks associated with the project.

Your Role:

  • To provide on-going project management support assist the DIGI-GOV team (see urbanunbound.blogspot.com).To assist with Office Management, (e.g. web blog management, translations, database management)
  • Assist in organizing conferences and meetings related to the project (administration of registrations, reception, advertising)
  • Be professional and act as a liaison between the project team and outside bodies.

Your Profile:

  • You are currently enrolled full-time as a Master student at the University of Luxembourg and have a Bachelor degree in Humanities/Social Sciences
  • You are knowledgeable of online dissemination methods
  • You are interested in building a long-term team, and focusing on qualitative social scientific research methods
  • You have excellent command of written and spoken English and knowledge of either French/German/Luxembourgish.
  • Be inspired by the potential societal impact of DIGI-GOV

Applications must include the following:

  • CV and copies of Degree Certificates;
  • Motivation Letter;
  • 1-3 Reference Letters of previous employers or academic supervisors

For more information about DIGI-GOV visit urbanunbound.blogspot.com. Interested candidates should send a CV (in EN, DE or FR) to Dr. Constance Carr, constance.carr@uni.lu no later than May 1, 2021.

17 November, 2020

BIVEC-GIBET Transport Research Days 2021 (TRD 2021).


The Benelux Association of Transport Researchers (BIVEC-GIBET) invites you to submit extended abstracts for the next 'Transport Research Day' 2021, which will be held online only.

Because of COVID-19, several scientific meetings have already been cancelled or postponed during the past year. The safety measures currently applied in the Netherlands and at TU Delft do not allow the organization of any physical meeting. It is also unclear what the future holds. In order to create any clarity for TRD participants, we have therefore decided to continue with the TRD on 27-28 May 2021, but we will switch to an online conference. The registration fees have been adjusted accordingly. If the safety measures in May 2021 allow us to organize a physical event again, then there may still be a hybrid form of the conference (partly online for those who prefer not to travel to Delft, partly on-site but subject to compliance with the safety measure in place at that time). This will be communicated in due time.


In addition, the deadline for submitting 'extended abstracts' has been extended to 15 December 2020. You can submit your abstract on https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSf_3PwgBwIo1JCj3bBN74f8HBuop5t-dxPgjP0JrcZsvdT3Jg/viewform. This allows everyone to consider participating in the TRD in a safe way. 

The TRD are an ideal moment to get an overview of the state-of-the-art of mobility and transport research in the Benelux. Moreover, you can get to know colleagues at universities and research institutes just across the border in an easily accessible way.


We hope to ‘see’ you all at the Transport Research Days 2021.


Best regards,

Veronique Van Acker, secretary of BIVEC-GIBET

E-mail: Veronique.VanAcker@liser.lu 

08 November, 2020

New Project retained for funding, "Digital Urban Development — How large digital corporations shape the field of urban governance (DIGI-GOV)"

We are happy to announce that the following project was awarded funding by the Luxembourg National Research Fund (FNR) under its CORE Programme

Digital Urban Development - How large digital corporations shape the field of urban governance (DIGI-GOV, C20/SC/14691212)

Principal Investigator: Dr. Constance Carr, Department of Geography & Spatial Planning (DGEO)

Abstract (longer summary to follow soon!)
DIGI-GOV aims to understand the role of large digital corporations (LDCs) in digital urban development, how the presence of LDCs in urban planning practice challenge pre-existing modes urban governance, and how LDC-led urban development constitutes a new relational geography of digital cities. DIGI-GOV is thus a chance to call international scholarly attention to, and raise awareness among local practitioners concerning, this critical shift in the ways that contemporary digital cities are constructed, planned, mediated and governed.

DIGI-GOV is an expansion to DIG_URBGOV (Carr/Hesse 2019) that examined Alphabet Inc.’s (the parent company to Google) digital city project in Toronto that raised important issues for urban planners, development practitioners, and urban studies scholars everywhere (Carr/Hesse 2020a/b). DIGI-GOV expands on this research because the range of platform services provided by LDCs is not only increasing in volume but also in centrality, as more and more public and private institutions rely on these as essential digital infrastructures, modifying socio-political and intuitional patterns that characterize contemporary urbanity and challenging modes urban governance. There is thus an urgent need to study the trajectories of urbanization that are rolled out under the leadership of LDCs and the tensions in urban governance that are unleashed. Adding a comparative dimension, DIGI-GOV looks at several cities, in addition to Toronto, that have been challenged by the presence of LDCs—Seattle, Arlington, Bissen, and Eemshaven—and teases out how these cities are relationally connected through LDC-led urban development on one hand, and what practitioners can learn from these experiences on the other. The methodology is qualitative and focusses on the contextuality and processuality of urbanization in each case. It also reflective through open deep dives that ensure that the research is buttressed against latest developments in the field while awakening debate and fostering transversal knowledge exchange.

The DIGI-GOV project responds to challenges recognized at all levels of policy-making: The European Commission’s (EC) priority of “A Europe fit for the Digital Age” (EC 2020a) and strategy of “Shaping Europe’s Digital Future” (EC 2020b); and, the Luxembourg Government’s mission of “harnessing digitalization as a tool for positive transformation [and related understanding that] infrastructure [as] foundation for the future” (Digital Luxembourg 2020a, 2020b); and the Luxembourg government’s National Research Priorities, articulated in, “Sustainable and Responsible Development” (FNR 2020, 4).

This 3-year project will build a four-person team: a post-doc, a PhD, and two Master students. DIGI-GOV also looks forward to further collaboration with networks established through DIG_URBGOV such as the CITY Institute, York University, the German Academy for Spatial Research and Planning (ARL), the International Network of Urban Research and Action (INURA), and many other colleagues who supported DIG_URBGOV along the way.

Get in contact if you want to get involved!

Carr, C/Hesse, M. 2019. Digital Urbanism and the Challenge of Urban Governance (DIG_URBGOV) – Short Research Summary. https://orbilu.uni.lu/handle/10993/39673
Carr, C., Hesse, M. 2020a. When Alphabet Inc. Plans Toronto’s Waterfront: New Post-Political Modes of Urban Governance, Urban Planning, 5:1, 69-83.
Carr, C. Hesse, M, 2020b. Sidewalk Labs closed down - whither Google's smart city? RSA Regions 10.1080/13673882.2020.00001070
Digital Luxembourg 2020a. “Harnessing digitalization as a tool for positive transformation” https://digital-luxembourg.public.lu
Digital Luxembourg 2020b. Infrastructure, foundations for the future. https://digital-luxembourg.public.lu/priorities/infrastructure
EC 2020a. “A Europe fit for the Digital Age” https://ec.europa.eu/info/strategy/priorities-2019-2024/europe-fit-digital-age_en
EC 2020b “Shaping Europe’s Digital Future” https://ec.europa.eu/info/strategy/priorities-2019-2024/europe-fit-digital-age/shaping-europe-digital-future_en
FNR 2020. CORE 2020 Programme Description. https://storage.fnr.lu/index.php/s/wTjSHEqbzwcFOwN/download

09 October, 2020

The places and flows of labour: essential work, fragmented life-worlds, constrained mobilities -- Call for papers AAG 2021

Session Organizers: Nicolas Raimbault (University of Nantes), Peter V. Hall (Simon Fraser University) and Markus Hesse (University of Luxembourg)

Type: Virtual Paper Session 

The Coronavirus pandemic has made more visible the importance – as well as the difficulties – of the so-called "essential workers" (Sparke & Anguelov, 2020, 3). This notion, which is not scientific, covers a fairly wide range of jobs, mostly held by working-class people. Alongside care workers, it refers to employees, temporary and self-employed workers involved in activities essential to daily life. Typically, they cannot work remotely from home. They include manual workers, mainly blue-collar, in processing activities (manufacturing, food & meat industries, agriculture and construction) or in the physical distribution of goods (warehousing, transport, deliveries). And they include employees in direct consumer services (clerks, restockers), whose tasks are also physically intense. These workplaces are scattered in (sub-)urban spaces, from urban centres to peripheries, from public spaces (making deliveries) to warehouses, in a huge variety of old and recent industrial lands. The pandemic has thus underlined the diversity and the fragmentation of current working-class spaces (Rose-Redwood et al., 2020, 3).

This special session calls for papers engaging in the changing geographies and mobilities of the current essential workers – a problem epitomised by COVID-19, but that had long-existed. The session aims to connect analysis of the essential workers and working-class communities with the understanding of the production of the different industrial spaces in which they are embedded. Research shows that the jobs of the working-class communities have changed significantly: from the decline of the manufacturing sector, to the rise of the service sector, from casualization to the rise of the gig economy (Srnicek, 2017), which clearly contrasts with the imaginaries and the political power once attributed to the Keynesian blue-collar middle-class (De Lara, 2018). This session seeks to engage in conversations in geography and the social sciences more broadly on what is considered a new services precariat (Strauss, 2020). Moreover, the session also offers an opportunity to discuss the urban policy ramifications of these processes: the ongoing re-conversion of industrial lands, brownfield sites and waterfront areas is likely to increase the related pressure on working-class people, by creating spaces of affluence and exclusion rather than being part of a city for all.

In order to connect these conversations and to contribute to a better understanding of the recent evolution of working-class communities in urban regions, the special session looks for papers tackling one or several topics and dimensions alongside this broader agenda. Here is a sampling of some topics that might be addressed, but please do not feel constrained to these examples:

  • The transformations of working-class labour markets and workforces and the dynamics of the contingent employment.
  • The case of the delivery workers both linked to digital platforms (such as UBER, Deliveroo) and also in logistics and freight distribution (such as Amazon), which seem to be especially emblematic of these changes.
  • The nexus of precarious work, precarious livelihoods and mobility inequality.
  • The production of current workplaces, from mixed-used buildings in the context of urban redevelopment projects to scattered warehouses or specialized industrial parks.
  • The urban condition of working-class communities, considering residential as well as mobility inequalities, and spatial mismatch leading to the emergence of transit deserts.
  • The engagement of working-class communities and workforces in urban politics and the articulation of space and work in current urban and labour struggles.

The session welcomes papers presenting methodological considerations or case studies, qualitative or quantities works, ethnography, monographies or comparisons, at the neighbourhood, urban or regional scales, in northern or southern contexts. 

Please send abstracts of up to 250 words by October 24, 2020 to Nicolas Raimbault (nicolas.raimbault@univ-nantes.fr), Peter V. Hall (pvhall@sfu.ca) and Markus Hesse (markus.hesse@uni.lu). Feel free to ask any questions you might have.



De Lara, J. (2018). Inland shift: Race, space, and capital in Southern California. Los Angeles, University of California Press.

Korsu, E., & Wenglenski, S. (2010). Job accessibility, residential segregation and risk of long-term unemployment in the Paris region. Urban Studies, 47(11), 2279-2324.

Sparke, M., & Anguelov, D. (2020). Contextualising coronavirus geographically. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. DOI: 10.1111/tran.12389

Srnicek N. (2017), Platform capitalism. Cambridge, Polity Press.

Strauss, K. (2020). Labour geography III: Precarity, racial capitalisms and infrastructure. Progress in Human Geography44(6), 1212-1224.

Rose-Redwood, R., Kitchin, R., Apostolopoulou, E., Rickards, L., Blackman, T., Crampton, J., ... & Buckley, M. (2020). Geographies of the COVID-19 pandemic. Dialogues in Human Geography10(2), 97-106.

05 October, 2020

New Publication: Sidewalk Labs closed down - Whither Google's Smart City?

Our new publication on the development agendas of Alphabet Inc. at Toronto's waterfront is available at the e-magazine of the Regional Studies Association.
Find it here

21 September, 2020

Gold mine with green roofs: The latest vision for Luxembourg City’s ‘Place de l’Etoile’

Figure 1, taken by 'Zinneke' on 16 September 2017, CC 3.0

Luxembourg City is still struggling with the consequences of its rapid growth, as a range of large-scale urban projects are currently in planning, being built or finalised, while major pieces of infrastructure renovation (road, water, sewage) and hundreds of cases of micro-construction are going on simultaneously. The Capital City actually looks like a huge construction site, and the outcomes of some recent projects are disputed to say the least. There is disillusion about what has evolved recently in the shape of the 1980s urban design and motor-car dominated street layout of the district called ‘Cloche d’Or’. There are also high hopes as to flagship projects such as the light rail ‘Tram’ that will not only produce a smooth connection between the main central train station 'Gare' with the banking district on Kirchberg in due course, but will also turn the city centre quite visibly into a site of urban regeneration.

Moreover, after more than a decade of silence, rumor and speculation, one of the biggest fillets of urban development and property exploitation gets back to life: Place de l’Etoile, or Stäreplatz in Luxembourgish.(1) Having been a mere urban brownfield or empty spot for a long time (see Figure 1), this western entry point to the city centre already got some attention in the media a few years ago, when the lot was purchased by the state-led Abu Dhabi Investment Authority in 2016. For some time, it was supposed to host another large-scale urban project fit for commerce and office, following Hamilius and Cloche d’Or that were completed in the 2010s and the massive Porte de Hollerich that still looms on the planning stage. Given the peculiar mechanisms of the real estate economy, the new owners have obviously been waiting for a good moment to get market transaction and development unleashed, which seems to have arrived now.

Last Monday, city and government officials presented their plans for the Place de l’Etoile(2): a massive mixed-use development project comprising housing, office and retail, complemented by smart and clean public spaces. While its appeal seems to be in line with the projects mentioned above, a couple of interesting innovations could be noted on this occasion, also compared with earlier planning practices of the Capital City. First, the focus is switching from the once most lucrative office and commerce sectors towards increasing housing supply. Obviously, a significant market change makes luxury apartments and condominiums a promising addition to the city’s real-estate portfolio; due to humble policy goals, only a ten per cent-share of housing floor space is required by regulation to be devoted to housing at “moderate” cost (moderate by the country’s measure). By increasing focus on luxury housing by elevating the share of housing from 12 to 47 per cent of the total floor space provided, the existing building plan needs to be adapted to changing demands from the developer. (To apply such amendments after plans are politically agreed upon is actually a rather common pattern in the city’s planning practice).

Second, a green transport package is applied with which this project is sold to the public, which also explains the pro-active role taken over by the Minister for public works and transport who is from the Green Party. The package includes an additional leg of the tram system, connecting the city centre with the western suburbs. This is considered a smart move, as it legally ensures a major part of the infrastructure to be financed by the state, not the city or the developer. In addition, a sort of underground bus terminal will transform the Place de l’Etoile into a mobility hub, where major bus lines will feed into the tram system as long as this is serving the inner city only. Tram, trees and green roofs give the whole project an environmental appeal, without knowing how seriously this can be taken.(3) Third, it happened for the first time that we observed the developer in charge joining the press conference of Mayor and Minister. Usually this actor group remains as discrete as possible or invisible, even though there is some indication that they play a central role in the planning and building circuit of the country. It is not totally clear what this means, but it is of course pretty unusual and not often seen before, if at all.

Two questions remain as a consequence of this observation. One concerns the negative externalities of the project. Actually, the government’s official rhetoric deems a politics of ‘decentralised concentration’ necessary, in order to re-balance the overheated spatial economy of the country, with the Capital City being the sponge in the middle.(4) However, in fact Mayor and Ministers work exactly on the opposite: to shift an increasing amount of investment to Luxembourg City. While land is scarce and building high-rises is not considered appropriate, this also means that much of the construction goes to the underground: basement levels, parking garages, delivery zones and the like. “Urban fracking” was the term the former planning director of the city of Munich, Germany, used for this phenomenon.(5) As to the project as such, there are further questions: Who needs another polished, posh shopping district in the Capital? Who needs more of the same – office space, luxury lofts – while the real crisis is the dramatic lack of housing for both middle and working class? In case one is concerned about issues of affordability or social inequality, this is simply the wrong perspective: It’s the economy, stupid – particularly in an environment where the market rules, supported by the facilitating hands of the public sector.

This judgement leads to the second question that calls for making sense of the particular policy, or governance arrangement, that is at play here. Among the many frames academic debates have provided in the past for proper interpretation, feel free to choose what fits. Of course, one might be reminded of the “growth machine” approach from the 1980s, observing coalitions of public admin and politics, business and the media joining in their interest to foster economic development. This approach became outdated for a while but has been re-discovered more recently.(6) One of the currents that might particularly fit here is “entrepreneurial municipalism”,(7) backed by the enduring power of financialization.(8) While the former includes a rather pro-active role taken over by public actors, the latter emphasizes the influx of foreign capital into cities, simply for the purpose of creating revenue: Buying in and selling the city out for profit. As the new loft owners may rarely touch base in the city (which is often the case), this also means that housing construction for this target group won’t solve any related problem, but perhaps even increase scarcity.

Entrepreneurial municipalism represents a public administration composed of small state and capital city, being pro-business but only partly operating like an entrepreneur. Our take here was to merge the two in the concept of the ‘city-state formation’.(9) Luxembourg is a perfect example of this. At both levels of policy making, the undisputed goal is to create and maintain the definitive place for attracting businesses of all kinds (the triple-AAA rating being the holy grail of national identity); this desire is only poorly buffered by a re-dressing of public space and measures to make the city beautiful. Yes, the market rules, but it unfolds in real life only through the facilitating hands of city and state. This is a central framework condition for any practice in planning, building and urban terms. Therefore, it should not be neglected when present and future challenges are being discussed, such as climate change, social equity, or COVID-19.

Last but not least, the way the plans for Place de l’Etoile are brought to us like a revelation also poses key political questions.(10) One may wonder about the City’s promise to have citizens involved in major issues of urban development: It is not so long ago that the public realm was flooded with participation on the new land use plan (PAG) – highlighting thousands of details without discussing the general direction to take. Now, when plans are getting concrete and binding, citizens are not asked at all whether this would be appreciated or not. The new outline of Place de l’Etoile comes as tailor-made in the light of what development demands for. Hence the public will most likely miss the chance to intervene. Or is this wrong? One may ask whether this is better or worse compared to the projected new neighbourhood at Route d’Arlon, which is close by. For that development, one might recall that citizens were asked for their opinion on selected plans; however, the specific outcome of their involvement hasn’t been revealed to the public yet.(11)

Overall, this practice appears quite specific, as many other things going on in this country in urban terms. Sometimes it looks as if the urban process is driven by the controlled environment of a gold mining town, which is reluctant to become a city for all, not to speak of a real metropolis. Mir wëlle bleiwen …, yes or no?

Markus Hesse

1) See our related entry on this Blog from June 2018.
2) Details on the project can be obtained from the City’s webpage .
3) Suspiciously, the green tone in which the roofs appear has already been used for many other projects’ design brochures.
4) The scenario favoured by the government is termed ‘Organisé et harmonieux’, that is, a development of the country’s territory that is organic/evolutionary and harmonic. In fact, it doesn't really conform to that.
5) I am indebted to Stephan Reiß-Schmidt for framing this issue so nicely.
6) Lambelet, S. (2019). Filling in the resource gap of urban regime analysis to make it travel in time and space. Urban Affairs Review, 55(5), 1402-1432.
7) Thompson, M., Nowak, V., Southern, A., Davies, J. & Furmedge, P. (2020). Re-grounding the city with Polanyi: From urban entrepreneurialism to entrepreneurial municipalism. Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space, 52(6), 1171-1194.
8) Aalbers, M. B. (2020). Financial geography III: The financialization of the city. Progress in Human Geography, 44(3), 595-607.
9) Hesse, M. & Wong, C. (2020). Cities seen through a relational lens. Exploring niche-economic strategies and related urban development trajectories of Geneva (Switzerland), Luxembourg & Singapore. Geographische Zeitschrift (GZ), 105, 78-92.
10) Hesse, M. (2017). Herausforderung partizipative Stadtplanung. Ons Stad Nr. 115, 16-18.
11) See the establishment of a new NGO on participation exactly evolving from this case, also the press coverage in the Luxemburger Wort, 21 September 2020, 18.

01 September, 2020

Six Months of FFPT in Luxembourg

Don't forget to check out a survey on FFPT in Luxembourg, here


September 1st marks the sixth month anniversary of fare free public transit (FFPT) in Luxembourg. Compared to the fuss and PR-action that accompanied its introduction, there hasn't been much fanfare about this now. This happens probably for good reason: back in March, no one would have predicted that COVID-19 would have substantially quieted mobility in general, and public transit in particular, in the Grand Duchy.

COVID-19 was a wrench in the plans. Just days after FFPT in Luxembourg began, the lockdown kicked in and suddenly there were too many buses on the road and trains on the tracks. Luxembourg public transit service was thus set on quasi perma-Sunday schedule, which has in fact since been relaxed. However, summer vacation is also the time when railroads are worked on, so service is rarely smooth during this time.

The Rentrée will surely add further unpredictability as some workforces continue to stay at home. The geography of comfort and safety in travel will also likely change, as some routes will be empty while others— most likely the cross-border routes – will be overcrowded (and unsafe).

While other cities such as Paris or Brussels took the chance prompted by the COVID-19 outbreak and lockdown policies to improvise with pop-up bike lanes and green street layouts soon to be introduced, the government of the Capital City was quoted in the media that there “wouldn’t be sufficient space available” to do so. Further questions?

In the meantime, the central government is promoting Luxembourg's European transport leadership in terms of per-capita investment in railway infrastructure. While these temporary numbers are actually correct, this is not an overly strong argument, given decades of neglect and the fact that systemwide impact is still lacking. Further, the government still seems to be afraid of SUV-voters, so one does little to domesticate excessive car travel and related mobility habits, for example around schools. These observations actually don’t fit with Luxembourg’s self-assigned role as a forerunner that the country’s officials claim.

In a fast-growing urban environment, the most striking issue is the absence of any sort of planning that would convincingly aim to ‘integrate’ urban development and transport as a server, not master. The yet unquestioned practice of development that prioritizes growth by automobility can be best studied in the case of large-scale developments, most visibly those projects that were set up in recent times (Belval, Cloche d'Or), but effectively follow the 1960s blueprint of Plateau Kirchberg. While they are connected by the tram, now or in the near (and not so near) future, they ways are paved with 6 to 8 lane motorways still today, and provide on-site parking in the thousands. These serve a consumer and labour that are, for various reasons, car-oriented.

How Luxembourg’s developments are temporally out of step with modes of pedestrian and cycling transport is illustrated by two stories:

1) The recent construction of a foot and cycle bridge over the highways connecting Cloche d'Or to Hesperange. The speed of construction favoured office buildings, condominiums and road traffic. While better late than never, the danger that pedestrians and cyclists faced was only recognized as an after-thought. It also looks good. 
2) Large scale developments are developer led, private property led, where the interest is nothing more private profit. Check out Flavio Becca's views on Cloche d'Or development on 'his terrain' . Here, too, is a random real estate developer’s view of Luxembourg (it hits all the large-scale developments and is full of unverified 'facts') 

Six months later, we are also still being contacted for interviews, for PhD supervision. For us, it has been interesting observing the various levels of background research that interviewers do, or the expectations that researchers have on learning outcomes of this phenomenon. Of them all, we still like the ones from Der Tagesspiegel and Tom Scott the best. It has also been a lesson in how research fame works: popular subjects, big journals, circulate faster and further.

28 August, 2020

Research Survey on Fare Free Public Transit in Luxembourg

Murray Phillips, a student at the School of Geographical and Earth Science, University of Glasgow, is researching Luxembourg's system of fare free public transit for his honours degree thesis. In addition to conversational interviews that he is currently conducting, he has devised a survey that he would like to circulate to people living in and around Luxembourg.

Feel free to fill out the survey and pass it on to others who might be interested.

The questionnaire (in English, German and French) can be found HERE:

If you have comments or questions to Murray, you either leave them in the comments below or you can contact him directly by email: 2305189P@student.gla.ac.uk

13 July, 2020

Wohnungspolitik und Urbanismus in Luxemburg: Im Dickicht der Paragrafen und am ausgestreckten Arm der ‚longue durée‘

Ein Drama in mehreren Akten und eine vorläufige Zwischenbilanz. Vielleicht lohnt der Blick darauf, dass die merkwürdige Regulierung von Wohngemeinschaften nicht das zentrale Problem ist (nicht für Esch, nicht allgemein), sondern der spezifische Kontext und wie damit umgegangen wird.

Das Thema Wohnungspolitik in Esch-sur-Alzette schlägt weiterhin Wellen im öffentlichen Diskurs, ausgelöst durch eine eher als Petitesse fungierende Vorschrift im neuen Flächennutzungsplan (PAG), die Wohngemeinschaften nicht verheirateter oder verpartnerter Personen untersagt (siehe den Eintrag vom 21. Juni hier). In Reaktion auf die Resonanz in den sozialen Medien wurde das Thema auch in der Tagespresse behandelt. Tom Haas widmete am 6. Juli zwei Seiten im Tageblatt einem kritischen Essay, mit Argumenten, die auch die universitäre Forschung umtreiben ("Meine Stadt ..."). Im Zentrum seines Beitrags stehen Fragen der sozialen Ungleichheit, Segregation und Gentrifizierung, die im amtlichen Diskurs kaum vorkommen. Unausgesprochener (sic!) Konsens ist, dass man diese Fragen vermeidet, geschmückt mit eher halbherzigen Bekenntnissen zu „mixité“ (soziale Mischung).
 Am 9. Juli wurde Luc Everling, der Stadtarchitekt von Esch, von Tom Haas und Melody Hansen im Tageblatt zum Thema PAG und Wohngemeinschaften interviewt ("Diese Diskussion..."). Das Problem der Mikroregulierung von Mietverhältnissen und Mietparteien wird in allen juristischen Facetten der Praxis vorgestellt. Wahrscheinlich ist jede Antwort richtig, die der oberste Planer der Stadt auf die Fragen der Zeitung gibt; das Routinehandeln der Verwaltung ist gut nachvollziehbar. Erkennbar wird aber auch, dass diesem Gespräch die Perspektive fehlt; stattdessen dominiert über weite Strecken die Praxis der Feinsteuerung. Dies mag mit dem aktuellen Thema zu tun haben. Und doch illustriert diese Art der Auseinandersetzung in vollendeter Form das Dilemma, in dem sich die Akteure von Stadtplanung und Wohnungspolitik befinden: Extreme Detailorientierung in einem hochgradig verrechtlichten Umfeld einerseits, und andererseits Unklarheiten in der Richtung, die man ansteuert. Die manifesten Interessenkonflikte muss man an dieser Stelle noch gar nicht aufrufen.
Denn die (Fehl-)Steuerung von Wohngemeinschaften, hier hat der Stadtarchitekt recht, ist nicht der zentrale Punkt des PAG, auch nicht das zentrale Problem Wohnungsmarktes in Esch, wie in den meisten Gemeinden des Landes. Das Wohnungsproblem bettet sich ein in einen größeren Kontext von Wirtschafts-, Gesellschafts- und Raumentwicklung. Und da kommt man wohl kaum an der Einschätzung vorbei, dass die Petitesse von Esch nur ein Indiz dafür ist, wozu der liberalistische Zug aller Regierungen der letzten Dekaden geführt hat: soziale und räumliche Kohäsion nahezu bedingungslos der wirtschaftlichen Wettbewerbsfähigkeit zu opfern. Nirgendwo sind robuste, rechtssichere Konzepte erkennbar, mit denen überörtliche Entwicklungen konsistent gesteuert werden könnten (dieses Schicksal teilt das Großherzogtum mit vielen anderen Ländern); das Problem scheint sich aber auch auf der örtlichen Ebene fortzusetzen, wo man theoretisch wissen kann, wie gesteuert werden müsste. Der Mangel an Wohnraum ist indes nicht einfach ein Problem von Nachfrage und Angebot, dem man mit etwas beschleunigtem Zubau hier und dort begegnen kann. Er wird effektiv stark durch strukturelle Determinanten geprägt, die auf alle Handlungsebenen durchschlagen (Staat, Gemeinden, PlanerInnen, Investoren und Entwickler, Grundbesitzer).
Diskussionen wie die um Esch-sur-Alzette haben jedoch den Mehrwert, dass sie diese, dem Problem vorgelagerten oder zugrunde liegenden Dimensionen gut sichtbar machen – nicht zuletzt durch die Art und Weise, wie diskutiert und argumentiert wird. Abstrahiert man von dem skurrilen Tatbestand, wer mit wem „geht“, mithin zusammenwohnen darf, in Richtung der wirklich relevanten Dinge, dann lassen sich in einer kleinen Zwischenbilanz drei Beobachtungen teilen. Sie tragen vielleicht zum Verständnis des Planungs- und Entwicklungsproblems hierzulande bei. Erstens die hochkomplexe, komplizierte und zugleich (es geht um viel Geld) sensible Rechtslage; zweitens die Rolle, die der Faktor Zeit vor diesem Hintergrund im Planungsprozess spielt; drittens schließlich die oft erratische, reaktive und intransparente Debatte, die weitgehend durch taktische Motive bestimmt ist. Fragen der strategischen Orientierung haben in diesem Kontext fast zwangsläufig keine Chance.
Das Dickicht der Paragrafen, in dem sich alle Entscheidungen über Grund und Boden, Flächen- und Stadtentwicklung wiederfinden und bewegen müssen, gehört zu den großen Mysterien in der Planungsgeschichte dieses Landes. Es kontrastiert auf extreme Weise mit dem Image Luxemburgs als liberaler, agiler Wirtschaftsstandort, der geprägt ist durch kurze Wege zu den Entscheidungsträgern und schnelle Reaktion derselben. In der Stadt- und Raumplanung, diesen Eindruck muss man haben, herrscht das komplette Gegenteil: das Regime der Gesetze, Verordnungen und Paragrafen, das viele Akteure selbst kaum durchdringen; Planwerke, die auf scheinbar endlose Prozeduren geschickt werden, bis ihre Voraussetzungen fast wieder obsolet sind; Planänderungen, die nach Beschluss der Plangrundlagen implementiert werden, weil Investoren dies wünschen, etc. Recht anzuwenden wird einerseits komplizierter, weil externe Vorgaben im Laufe der Zeit zunehmend anspruchsvoller geworden sind, etwa das Umwelt- und Naturschutzrecht der EU. Andererseits werden wesentliche Entscheidungen über Bauvorhaben oft in einer Art Dunkelfeld vorbereitet und getroffen. Damit werden sorgfältige und transparente Abwägungsprozesse – der Kern des Planungsauftrags – schwierig. Hintergrund ist die Werthaltigkeit von Grund und Boden, die den weit überwiegenden Teil der Grundstücksgeschäfte im Wortsinn zu Millionendeals machen kann. Womöglich ist es diese delikate Situation, die konkrete Planungsfälle zum Gegenstand schwer nachvollziehbarer juristischer Prüfungen macht, deren wahrer Ursprung aber in vorauseilenden Gewinn- und Verlustrechnungen der Beteiligten liegt.
Dieses Problem ist ebenso hausgemacht wie die Eigenheiten des politisch-administrativen Systems. Vielleicht konnte man noch den Wachstumsdruck der 1980er Jahre auffangen. Heute ist das System nicht mehr der Geschwindigkeit gewachsen, in der Flächen bereitgestellt, entwickelt und vermarktet werden sollen. Eine Zweistufenverwaltung, die die Kernkompetenz der Bauleitplanung den Kommunen überlässt, muss diese angemessen mit Planungskapazität ausstatten. Ist dies nicht der Fall, sind private Akteure dankbare Partner, sei es im Management von überregulierten Planwerken, sei es als Entwickler und Investor; das Nachsehen hat die öffentliche Sache, die die Gemeinde vertreten muss. Unklare Arbeitsteilung sowohl zwischen Staat und Gemeinden als auch zwischen privat und öffentlich runden das Bild ab.
Mit dem Faktor Zeit sind nahezu alle Gemeinden im Entwicklungsprozess konfrontiert, vielleicht diejenigen ausgenommen, die primär ihre Bestände pflegen. Nehmen wir als Beispiel die Gemeinde Dudelange. Es handelt sich hier um die nach der Wohnbevölkerung viertgrößte Kommune des Landes, quasi Mittelstadt und Wachstumspol im Land der Kleinstädte. Dudelange profiliert sich durch neue Angebote als attraktiver Wohn- und Arbeitsstandort im Süden Luxemburgs und an der Grenze zu Lothringen (FR). Schwerpunkte der Stadtplanung liegen in der Modernisierung des Stadtzentrums (Wohn- und Geschäftsentwicklung, Verkehrsberuhigung) sowie der Auffüllung von weniger dicht genutzten Stadträumen im Bestand. Schließlich steht seit Jahren die Umnutzung einer großen Altindustriefläche im Süden des Stadtgebiets auf der Agenda; 2005 wurde das Stahlwerk der ARBED geschlossen, das wesentlich zum Wachstum und zur Migrationsgeschichte von Dudelange beigetragen hat. Es ist nun Ausgangspunkt einer Neuplanung unter dem Label „Néi Schmelz“.
Die Bevölkerungsentwicklung der Gemeinde blieb ungeachtet der Schließung dieses großen Arbeitgebers durchweg positiv, was sowohl an der Politik der Kommune wie auch an den Randbedingungen des Großherzogtums insgesamt liegt, wo keine Gemeinde in den letzten Jahren Einwohnerverluste vorzuweisen hat. Hatte Dudelange Anfang der 1980er Jahre gut 14.000 Einwohner, waren es im Jahr 2001 bereits 17.320. Als die Planungen für die Entwicklung des ehemaligen ARBED-Geländes konkret waren (2011), wurden 18.781 Einwohner notiert; am 1. Januar 2020 hat die Stadtbevölkerung den Stand von 21.291 erreicht (Daten nach STATEC). Allein in der letzten Dekade ist die Bevölkerung also um ca. 2.500 Personen gewachsen, die jeweils irgendwo auf dem Gemeindegebiet wohnen wollen und sollen.
Das Projekt Nei Schmelz soll auf einem ca. 40 ha großen Gelände ein neues Stadtviertel entstehen lassen, in dem ca. 1.000 Wohnungen für ca. 2.300 Nutzer gebaut werden sollen. Aus wohnungspolitischen Gründen wurde der staatliche Fonds du Logement Träger dieser Entwicklung. Seit Schließung der Usine sind nun 15 Jahre vergangen, just im Juli 2020 wurden die vier Teilbebauungspläne für das Areal im Gemeinderat beschlossen. Noch ist keine Wohnung gebaut. Die komplette Realisierung des Projekts wird für die nächsten 15 (!) Jahre erwartet. Als Mitglied der Jury, die 2009 einen internationalen städtebaulichen Wettbewerb zu beurteilen hatte, erinnere ich mich an die Aufbruchstimmung, die das neue Stadtquartier seinerzeit ausgelöst hat. Den Nimbus als potenzielles Vorzeigeprojekt hat Nei Schmelz behalten. Die reinen Zahlen (Bevölkerungswachstum vs. Planungszeitraum Nei Schmelz) sind aber auch klar: selbst die erfolgreiche Konversion einer Industriefläche vollzieht sich nur in sehr großen Zeitspannen, Wunder auf dem Wohnungsmarkt sind davon realistisch nicht zu erwarten.
Großer Zeitbedarf und -verzug in der Planung sind immanent in einem schnell wachsenden Umfeld. Darüber hinaus spielen weitere Faktoren eine Rolle. Die Konversion von Altindustrieflächen ist mit anderenorts wohl bekannten Problemen konfrontiert, insbesondere hohem Sanierungsbedarf und Interessenkonflikten zwischen öffentlichen und privaten Trägern (vor allem Eigentümern). Der Minette geht es hier ähnlich wie dem Ruhrgebiet, wo die Revitalisierung der Industrieflächen mit dem Verwertungsinteresse der Stahlbarone kollidierte und Entwicklungsoptionen auf Jahre hinaus blockiert hat. Natürlich spielen komplexe Rechtsfragen eine Rolle, und hinter diesen sachlichen Barrieren schimmert das spekulative Verzögern auf Seiten der Grundbesitzer, die unter Wachstumsbedingungen wenig Interesse an der kurzfristigen Mobilisierung ihrer Flächen haben.
            Schließlich lehrt die Aufregung um die verhinderten Wohngemeinschaften viel darüber, wie öffentliche Debatten zum Urbanismus geführt werden und wo sie enden. Dass sie sich vielleicht an einem zweitrangigen Detail aufhängen, mag Zufall sein oder ist der besonderen Absurdität dieser Regelung geschuldet. Es macht die Debatte aber noch nicht zwingend zum „Quatsch“, wie der Escher Stadtarchitekt im Tageblatt-Gespräch meint. Denn sie sind Teil eines größeren, zunehmend gravierenden Problems: der massiven Preissteigerung für Immobilien und Wohnraum, die bei weitem nicht nur gering verdienende Haushalte trifft. Das Land weist, hierauf hat auch das Tageblatt hingewiesen, nicht nur die höchste pro-Kopf Wohnungsbauintensität in Europa auf, sondern ist jetzt auch an der Spitze der Skala von Wohnkosten bzw. Kaufpreisen angelangt: “Luxembourg took the position of the most expensive country in terms of new apartment prices in 2019.” (Deloitte Property Index 2020, S. 3). Dieses Problem hat alle Aufmerksamkeit verdient, erscheint unter gleich bleibenden Bedingungen aber nicht wirklich lösbar. Wenn auch die statistischen Daten keine andere Schlussfolgerung nahelegen: Sollte man nicht verstärkt diese Bedingungen zum Thema machen? Urbanistische Diskurse sind jedoch ebenso wie partizipative Prozesse Spiegelbild der professionellen Praxis: Wir sehen eine große Hingabe zur Auseinandersetzung im Detail, dagegen stehen Struktur- und Richtungsfragen nicht zur Debatte.
            Kann die Universität, können Forschung und Lehre dazu beitragen, diese Situation zum Positiven zu verändern, über eine Kommentierung von der Seitenlinie hinaus? Vielleicht hilft hier ein konkretes Beispiel, und damit gehen wir nochmal nach Dudelange: die Weiterbildung Formation Continue Aménagement du Territoire (FCAT), die wir als einjähriges interdisziplinäres Programm für Planungspraktiker anbieten. In der letzten Woche hat der aktuelle Jahrgang seine Abschlussarbeiten präsentiert. In vier verschiedenen Gruppen wurden Entwicklungsperspektiven für ein unbebautes Gebiet in innerer Randlage der Gemeinde Dudelange bearbeitet („Rëllent“, siehe als Beispiel die Abbildung von B. Geisen, E. Rosin, M. Elter). Die Aufgabe war, entlang verschiedener Skalenniveaus die Planungsinstrumente Schéma Directeur (strategischer Richtplan), PAG und PAP anzuwenden und konkrete Vorschläge zur Umnutzung dieses Areals zu machen. Der Schwerpunkt lag auf Wohn- und Freizeitnutzung, unter Beachtung von Erschließung, grüner Infrastruktur und Einbindung in das Quartier bzw. bestehende Randbebauung. Die vier Gruppen haben dazu in sich unterschiedliche, aber insgesamt absolut praxistaugliche Entwürfe vorgelegt.
Die Gruppenarbeiten der Weiterbildungsstudierenden haben ein wichtiges Thema in den Fokus genommen: die eher kleinteilige, behutsame Stadtreparatur, Bestandsentwicklung und -ergänzung. Sie setzt nicht auf großkalibrige Projekte mit ihrer massiven Dominanz und Eigendynamik, sondern eine Planung, die sensibel gegenüber den bestehenden Kontexten und damit besser integrierbar ist. Sie löst mit den (im untersten dreistelligen Bereich angesiedelten) neu geschaffenen Wohneinheiten nicht das Wohnungsproblem (das – siehe oben – ceteris paribus ohnehin nicht lösbar ist). Aufgabenstellungen und Antworten wie diejenigen der FCAT können Planerinnen und Planer besser auf die Komplexität des Problems vorbereiten und dazu anregen, in Alternativen zu denken. Sie könnten auch dazu führen, mehr Experiment in Bestand und Neubau zu wagen, bzw. dies überhaupt zu ermöglichen. Eine praktische Konsequenz wäre, die oft formalen Inhalte von Bebauungsplänen und ihren vorbereitenden Studien stärker mit strategischen Inhalten zu füllen – also nicht nur vorgegebene Anforderungen einzuhalten (Listen abzuhaken …), sondern tatsächlich Ziele zu formulieren, Konflikte und Widersprüche aufzuzeigen und Abwägungsvorschläge zu machen.
Die Regulierung von Wohngemeinschaften ist, wie Esch-sur-Alzette zeigt, ärgerlich und überflüssig. Aber es ist bei weitem nicht das zentrale Problem der Stadtentwicklung und -planung; nicht für Esch, nicht für die anderen Gemeinden im Land. Die große Herausforderung ist der spezifische Kontext und der praktische Umgang damit. Dafür gibt es, Wiederholung macht diese Aussage nicht falsch, keine Rezepturen oder Patente. Große Projekte und entsprechende Erzählungen, mit denen hierzulande alles auf einmal grün und nachhaltig werden soll, sind zwar sehr beliebt. Doch sie dauern lange, sind nicht per se grün und schaffen oft eher neue Probleme als Auswege. So paradox es klingt: Luxemburg braucht sowohl Deregulierung als auch Behutsamkeit im Umgang mit urbanistischen Herausforderungen, und wenn der Fall von Esch auch ein Fall von rundherum missglückter Kommunikation ist, wäre der erste Schritt auf dem Weg zur Besserung eine offene, transparente Auseinandersetzung über das, was Stadt heute und künftig sein soll.

Markus Hesse