17 December, 2017

The Corporate City Looming? Part I

U.S. high tech and Internet giants such as Amazon, Apple, Google and Microsoft recently raised attention as they were, or are, investing heavily in the built environment, or at least plan to do so in the near future. Departing from previous experience, these investments are not solely about building trendy new headquarters for their own private use (such as Apple’s new ‘Spaceship’-HQ in Cupertino, Calif.). Rather, they are also about the development of new urban districts (such as the Smart Neighbourhood that Google is planning to develop in an as of yet still derelict part of the urban waterfront of Toronto, Canada), or the construction of an entirely new city located on a of desert west of Phoenix, Arizona for 100,000 people, as Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, envisages (apparently). 

Amazon is trying its hand at urban development with plans of building a second headquarter (HQ2) somewhere in North America. While Seattle, currently home to the seat of the company (which is actually registered in Delaware, MD), is somewhat nonplussed both with the prospects of a second Amazon city popping up elsewhere far away and with the present results of its domestic HQ2, Amazon is pushing ahead spearing new forms of urban development in the name of economic and community development and sustainability. If you want to investigate the Kool-Aid, you can find Amazon's promotional material here.

To help in the choice of location (or to help with squeezing as much profit out of this process as possible, depending on how you look at it), last fall Amazon.com launched a competition, where city administrations could present their efforts trying to convince the firm that they are the real place to be. So far, 238 cities have tried to butter up the business giant, and this "groveling ... has gotten embarrassing" (Los Angeles Times, 2017), with cities offering all sorts of extravagant gifts. Take, for example, the New Jersey Senator Chris Christie (close circle Republican of Trump). He was voted out of office in the senate elections just last November, but he was ready to give HQ2 the biggest subsidy offer of all -- in the order of billions. Indeed, as the mayor San Antonio predicted, exceeding the 3-billion-dollar gift that Wisconsin gave to Foxconn in September of this year. The desire of cities to – excuse our English – prostitute themselves to tech firm seems unlimited. And, for urban geographers, the massive output of media releases on this case provides a telling story of how location choice is negotiated and practiced nowadays. (Students may learn from this much more than is revealed in textbooks, btw).

The shadow sides of an investment as huge as the establishment of a headquarters of Amazon, however, not unbeknownst to some City representatives. Such a change could easily translate to the immigration of a work force up to 50,000-strong, many of whom would also demand housing for themselves and their families. The related strain for the real estate market can be easily imagined (unless, of course, we are referring to Amazon's CamperForce Program, which would open up a different set of sociopolitical and infrastructural questions). Moreover, some cities interestingly declined to become part of this race to the bottom at all, for good reason. This open letter to Jeff Bezos from the Mayor of San Antonio is really worth a read for several reasons. First, because the letter outlines why their city will NOT compete for Amazon. Second, and moreover, he points at the lurking malicious intents behind Amazon's generation of competition between cities. San Antonio has "long been impressed by Amazon and its bold view of the future. Given this, it's hard to imagine that a forward thinking company like Amazon.com hasn't already selected its preferred location." The outstanding question is then what would motivate an IT giant to generate a media extravaganza around competing cities, a process that in itself already exhausts state resources? Is it about billion dollar gifts, perhaps? Is it about becoming one of the new city builders, or a leading stakeholder or decision-maker in urban development processes?

It is now extensively discussed that the rising power of the 21st century tech moguls has neither evolved from genius alone, nor from knowing their customer best, but from political power to perform. This power materializes in giant tax exemptions awarded to them, as Luxleaks, Panama, and Paradise papers have revealed recently. These advantages foster their ability to establish huge, system-wide monopolies, feeding into a loop of self-fulfilling dynamics of growth and competitiveness. This is only possible through making use of public infrastructure of all kinds (legal, physical, educational), to whose financing, however, they don’t want to contribute. This letter to Tim Cook, CEO of Apple from the editor of the Süddeutsche Zeitung (in English) underscores the lack of financial commitment that these companies are willing to make, the lack of transparency around private profits and their redistribution within and/or across state borders, and their ability to engage legal resources to protect themselves against accusations of tax evasion. The implications are, in fact, more than "embarrassing": They pose a danger to financial sovereignty of cities (and nations), and democratic control over development.

From a scholarly perspective, then, obvious questions can be posed to this post-capitalist urbanism: What are the emergent urban geographies, pathways of dependency of these urban configurations? What kind of cities can we expect will be built by business giants with neither credible knowledge of the subject, nor willingness to make serious long-term commitments to the cities in which they settle? And what sort of society can we expect will dwell in these places?

Constance Carr /Markus Hesse

27 November, 2017

Playing D&D with students of Master Planning and Urban Governance

Thank you to Sina Telaar for preparing the Character Sheets in Wizards of Coast's D&D format, and lending me her dice.
I had a great time playing Development & Discourses with the students of Master Planning and Urban Governance today. The goal of the class is for students to survey different Master Plans from around the world, and learn to analyse and evaluate them, taking into account the differing institutional contexts and planning cultures. With role-play, today, students could hopefully get a sense of the kinds of dialogues that might arise when a Master Plan is presented in a public forum setting.

Opening the game with a roll of the dice by the Game Master (GM), me, the atmosphere was set: 4/20. Ouch! That's was bad news: It meant that there, "was a tense atmosphere at the City Hall today". But congratulations to the five students who played the characters of Mayor, Head Planner, Assistant Planner, Real Estate Developer, and Starchitect, who valiantly defended their fictitious Official City Plan to the attendees at the make-believe City Hall, who were not an easy bunch to convince. The housing activist wasn't particularly pleased about the growth agenda. The environmental activist threatened to block the next meeting with a protest, if promises could not be made about the greenbelt that was going to be built on. Older residents were also not particularly ready to give up property. One resident, who had lived in the neighbourhood for 70 years, as his father and grandfather before him, and as his son will as well, had no interest in the new developments whatsoever.

The students need to be thanked. The five defenders of the City Plan had 15 minutes to come up with an example plan and defend it. Everyone was super spontaneous and ready for the combat of words. Some unexpected outcomes arose, like how should the public respond when the government says, "Thank you for your feedback, we will take that into account"? Or, what how should planners react when the public presents facts about the area that s/he was neither cognisant of, nor were taken into account in the plan?

As for teaching methodology, this was also a learning experience for me. I definitely need to polish my GM skills for one. Constructing a game play, or "Campaign" in D&D lingo, takes quite some planning, and I could have dedicated more time to this. But there is a lot of potential here for role-playing as a teaching method in urban geography: This, of course, is also not new (Livingstone, 1999; Meligrana & Andrew 2003; Oberle 2007).  Livingstone (1999) used role-play as a way to investigate public inquiries in urban development. Providing a number of different settings where role-play could be a useful learning tool, he argues  "Mimicking the public inquiry format in the context of a geography curriculum provides an excellent opportunity to deliver a whole range of pedagogic objectives, associated both with the geographical course content and with key skills" (p. 64). The flexibility of role-playing allows for a variety of different kinds of real world settings that could be tested in the classroom. 

To get more out of the exercise in the format that we pursued today, Oberle (2007) also provides some inspiration. Time in class could be used to research a real-world situation. Further, students could be given time to research and develop a character in greater depth (Oberle 2007). Together, these steps could be then combined with written work that could be graded and in the end could be used as preparation for the game. So far, it seems that everyone agrees: It's fun.

...and in case you haven't caught wind, D&D is currently experience a major comeback (WIRED, 2017).

  1. Livingstone, I (1999) Role-playing Planning Public Inquiry. Journal of Geography in Higher Education. 23(1). 63-76.
  2. Meligrana, J. F., Andrew J. S. (2003) Role-playing simulations in urban planning education: A survey of student learning expectations and outcomes. Planning Practice & Research 18(1) 95-107.
  3. Oberle, A. P. (2007) Understanding Public Land Management through Role-playing. Journal of Geography. 103(5) 199-210.
  4. WIRED, 2017, It's a Living: Meet one of New York's professional D&D Dungeons Masters

21 November, 2017

CFP: IGU Urban Geography Commission annual meeting

IGU Urban Geography Commission annual meeting

Montreal, 12th -17th August 2018

URBAN CHALLENGES IN A COMPLEX WORLD: Key factors for urban growth and decline


Deadline for abstract submission (within the template for abstract submission available on the website): 5th February 2018
Acceptance of abstracts: 1st April 2018
Registration and payment: 1st April– 15 May 2018

The IGU Urban Commission in collaboration with the team VRM (Villes Regions Monde) of the Canadian INRS is pleased to invite you to the next commission meeting. This meeting will take place after the IGC-CAG Quebec Congress.

In 2018, the special focus for this conference will be on Key factors for urban growth and decline. Papers addressing these issues are particularly welcome for the 2018 Annual Urban Commission Meeting.

In addition to the theme on "Key factors for urban growth and decline", participants are invited to submit individual papers, and/or proposals for panel sessions or roundtables on the following thematic foci of the commission. See further explanation of the content of the topics on here: Project Urban commission 2016-2020:

  1. Complex Urban Systems and processes of cities’ transformation
  2. Technological innovations, creative activities in cities,
  3. Innovative and smart building and transportation in cities
  4. Polycentrism, small and medium size cities
  5. Sustainable to resilient cities
  6. Shrinking and aging Cities
  7. Urban Governance, planning and participative democracy
  8. Contested Social Spaces
  9. Subjective/objective Well-Being in cities
  10. Urban Heritage and Conservation
  11. New concepts and methods in urban studies

Mario Polese, Professor of Geography (Emeritus), Centre Urbanisation Culture Société, INRS-Montréal, "Why Cities fail, and why the roots of urban failure are rarely local?"

ABSTRACT: That “Cities are engines growth” has become somewhat of a mantra among urbanists and urban geographers. Jane Jacob’s now famous thesis that cities are the drivers of national wealth has become mainstream. This presentation challenges that thesis. There is nothing automatic, I shall argue, about cities as creators of wealth. Some cities fail miserably. The reasons for such urban failures, whether in the developing or developed world, can generally be traced back to actions by national and other senior governments. Detroit’s failure was no accident, but the predictable outcome of a governance structure imposed by senior levels of government. Buenos Aires’s descent from global metropolis, the equal of Paris and New York, to third world city had little with local failures. At a more technical level, there is scant evidence for the existence of dynamic agglomeration economies. Agglomeration is an outcome of economic growth, not its initiator. Cities - how they create wealth (or not) – mirror the societies that created them. 

15 November, 2017

RTL Documentary -- Documenting Hamilius Part III

Many thanks to Kevin Schutz, master student in our first year course "Urban Studies and Spatial Planning," who alerted me to Serge Wolfsperger's documentary, Was Iwwreg Bleift (What Remains) published earlier this month by RTL, which documents how the lives of the construction workers and those of residents at 49 Boulevard Royal intersect in surprising ways. In the process we learn about the memories of the residents, such as those of a 90 year-old resident, Arnaldo Ferragni, who arrived in Luxembourg in 1960 to work at the European institutions and can recount how the neighourhood has changed since he moved to the building in 1964. He recalls, for example, how the area used to have trees, gardens, children playing, and people on bicycles. We learn too of another resident who arrived Luxembourg after the war working in manual labour. And lastly, we learn about the construction workers themselves, and their thoughts about their work and their general outlook on life.

This short film (fr/it) is a very nice addendum to previous blog posts:

06 November, 2017

Hipsterland in Toronto's East Downtown

The from forgotten greasy spoon to jam packed hipster diner
From Greasy Spoon to Hipster Diner
Sitting at the George Street Diner for the first time in over 20 years was quite a shock. The old layout of the restaurant was preserved, but now it has a fresh coat of paint (inside and out), a new kitchen complete with a flashy splash behind the new fryer, and new upholstery in the booths. There is friendly and outgoing staff, new music humming over blue tooth, vegetarian burritos on for offer, art for sale hanging on the walls, and 20-somethings everywhere. "Good thing we decided to meet on a Tuesday," Prof. Ahmed Allahwala (Human Geography, University of Toronto) tells me, "because on the weekends there would be line-ups to get in." This happy jazzy joint, an obvious magnet in this boomtown, was quite the contrast to my memories of the place, where cigarettes, instant coffee, white toast and ketchup, canned beans, old homeless men, addicts, the dingy colours of yellow and brown and long silences prevail.

The changes in the George Street Diner are kind of indicative of change in the whole neighbourhood. The eatery used to be called a greasy spoon (i.e. a place whose food and service was dubious at best, but where judgement was withheld), and was surrounded by homeless shelters, soup kitchens, second hand flea markets (not "antique markets"), substandard housing, parking lots -- lots of parking lots -- pawn shops, strip clubs, and mostly dark empty streets. Nowadays, Toronto's downtown east and the rapidly integrating waterfront are hip and cool.

There is much that has been written on the area. Bunce, Desfor and Laidley, Desfor and Keil are obvious starting points here for a deeper analysis into these processes and the interrelations between urban development and politics. My view is somewhat more personal, as this was the neighbourhood where I grew up. What shocked me so much last summer was the change. I knew it was coming. "It's just incredible how many people there are walking around these streets these days," one resident said to me back in 2014. 

From the St. Lawrence Market over the Gooderham and Worts Distillery and towards the Don Valley, developments along the northern coast of Lake Ontario boast a new George Brown College for students of Health Sciences, a booming set of film production studios and IT firms, skater parks and galleries, re-naturalized parks, and an ever expanding palate of gastronomic services. Red Path Sugar, still in operation, is also now visible from the lovely new Sugar Beach, where students can watch the arrival of shipments of sugar upfront and close while sun bathing or -- during the longest season as it were -- making snow angels or otherwise mucking about in the slush. There is a latter or a smoothie at every corner, and every coffee table is equipped with a USB port.  

Condominiums are everywhere. Again, condo development in downtown Toronto has not gone unnoticed in the scholarly community.   AmborskiKerns,  Lehrer et al., or Moosare good starting points here. High rise condominiums have been shooting out of the earth like wild mushrooms for about 15 year now, apparently keeping pace with the rapid population growth in the city. Condo developers advertise fabulous apartment views -- with those facing southwards towards the lake being the most prized -- dense and therefore "good" urbanity, optimal location to employment, and general lively urban life. Many buildings claim sustainability, waving LEED certification of their green building standards. Not terribly surprising, many apartments are rather pricey (Amborski 2016). Equipped with swimming pools, gyms, and concierges, condos also represent a new style of life – upscale, private high-rise living. Developer led, it is a life popular with singles, couples, elderly, and youth.

While the promise of piece of the sky is clear, there are a variety of issues that still seem a little hazy:

  • How do families fare in this environment? Earlier studies (e.g. here and here) have shown that apartment block living is difficult for families, especially those with young children where buggies can be awkward of windows can be dangerous. In the case of recent condo developments in Toronto, rapid population increases have also led to overfilled schools and residents now complain that children have to trek across the city to attend school. Condo developers are now required to demonstrate whether or not the children of buyers will have a spot in a local school.
  • What will happen when buildings age? How will this affect health and safety? There have already been reports of falling glass. Of course, recent tragic events in London are a reminder to the dangers, and social inequities therein, of what happens when building managers decide to invest in cheap building materials such as flammable siding. And, while every condominium development is different, some residents complain that companies do not keep up with maintenance, or that Condo Boards are not responsive (or co-operative) to complaints. (Websites that have condo reviews, are a good source of data.)
  • There are also several uncertain dimensions concerning governance. First, one might ask who the developers are and what their interests might be. Some buyers have also complained of construction timelines (late), that developers are not responsive, or that the company telephone is suddenly out of service. Second, while apartments are for sale (and an endorsement of the 1st housing sector), there is no guarantee that owners will be involved in decisions concerning property management (e.g. security, décor, maintenance). High monthly operating costs indicate that developers have a stake in making further profits after sale. Third, some have discussed recurring tensions between, and diverging interests of, owners and renters, between wealthier owners (who can afford prize apartments) and those with less financial backing. While these can lead to social conflicts and grievances between neighbours, the larger problem might be about how these occupants can forge and make democratic decisions.
  • In terms of the sociology of housing, some have observed that a shift is taking place as life within many of these developments are over securitized. It has been observed, for example, that when party rooms are booked, extra security is ordered in order to keep party guests from wandering to other parts of the building. A new normal has developed.

The area is clearly cool now where it wasn't before, and while I am the last one to romanticise the memories of these neighbourhoods - I didn't like eating at the George Street Greasy Spoon or even particularly enjoy being anywhere within a kilometre radius of it (which included my own home, on George St South) -- one might wonder, as Ahmed reminded me: Where are all the homeless people now? Where can one get cheap 2nd hand clothing these days? Is this, in fact, what the neighbourhood was intended to be about all the long?

Digital Cities - Toronto trying to get ahead

View from rooftop of Woodsworth Housing Co-op, overlooking the co-op's 40 year old housing stock below, the eastern Gardiner Expressway, waterfront condo developments, and other derelict industrial lands that will be sold to Alphabet/Google.

Trudeau made the international headlines again at the end of October, not only because of his grief over the passing of Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip whose Secret Path is hopefully not only an operatic requiem to his own life but to colonial power in Canada as well (one be hopeful), but also because Toronto will be home to Alphabet's new smart city and Trudeau was there ready to lend a face to the project. Given recent policy initiatives back home on this side of the pond -- the 3rd industrial revolution, wooing Google, and ogling at asteroid necklaces -- I can't help but wonder if Luxembourgish leaders are either getting jealous or starting to salivate at the possibilities.

Below are a collection of newspaper articles (EN and DE) that will give you a taste of the project, so it in unnecessary to reiterate that content here. In short the, project:

"is a joint effort by Waterfront Toronto and Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs to create a new kind of mixed-use, complete community on Toronto’s Eastern Waterfront, beginning with the creation of Quayside. Sidewalk Toronto will combine forward-thinking urban design and new digital technology to create people-centred neighbourhoods that achieve precedent-setting levels of sustainability, affordability, mobility, and economic opportunity," (Sidewalk Toronto).

Needless to say, the project has larger implications for urban development in general, as it is targeted for an area that is currently undergoing massive transformation as a result of certain policy frameworks that enable various kinds of interrelated turbo investments. In fact, as information about Sidewalk Toronto hit the newspapers, I was already preparing a blog post on this topic, because I took two tours of the area this summer (more on this in a follow-up post).  But this project has received widespread attention in the news in recent weeks -- most of it rather skeptical, asking some rather hard questions.

English Articles

German Articles

01 November, 2017

PhD Opportunity in Urban Geography

The University of Luxembourg invites applications for its Faculty of Language and Literature, Humanities, Arts and Education (FLSHASE)

Doctoral candidate (PhD student) in Geography and Spatial Planning
Ref: F3-130010
14 months fixed-term contract, renewable up to 48 months, full-time (40h/week)

Student & employee status
Area: one of the research fields mentioned below, such as Human geography, i.e. with regard to conceptions of space and territory, Urban studies, preferably theoretical or empirical explorations, Urban and metropolitan governance, i.e. conceptions of power, The science-policy interface in geography and planning, Port cities, logistics and urban planning, Land use planning, housing and sustainable spatial development

Your Role

  • Prepare a doctoral thesis in Geography (see the possible research fields above)
  • Assist the professor in his teaching activities, one to three hours per week.

Your Profile

  • Master or Diploma in Geography or Spatial Planning/Urban Planning; Master or Diploma in Political Science, History or other Humanities/Social Sciences linked to geographical issues Strong interest in urban development, policy and planning Interest in interdisciplinary work and a reflective methodology
  • Excellent command of written and spoken English. (Additional knowledge of either French/German/Luxembourgish is an advantage)
We offer
  • Opportunity to participate in the development of a newly created university
  • An exciting international environment
  • A competitive salary
  • Well-equipped research facilities
Applications must include the following:
  • CV and copies of diploma
  • Motivation Letter
  • Support letter from at least one recent scientific advisor/professor
  • A PhD proposal (2,000 - 2,500 words excluding bibliography) using the following format:
  • Introduction and literature review
  • Research objectives and expected contribution to the field
  • Innovation/originality
  • Methodology (including intended dataset to be used if empirical analysis)
  • Work plan and expected timetable
  • Bibliography

Interested candidates are invited to send their complete application exclusively through the on-line application system of the UL (http://recruitment.uni.lu/), until 30th November 2017.

The University offers highly competitive salaries and is an equal opportunity employer.

The University of Luxembourg is a multilingual, international research University. For further information, please contact: Prof. Dr. Markus Hesse, Institute of Geography and Spatial Planning: Tel. +352/466644-9627

More info here

26 October, 2017

FCAT - finding the relationships

Steinsel, photo from Constance Carr
I had fun guest lecturing to future Luxembourgish planners, architects, and urbanists at the School of Geography and Architecture's certificate course, "Formation continue en aménagement du territoire" (FCAT). The best part was discussing how the landscape emerging at Hamilius Station is related to landscapes beyond the city, such as Steinsel (above). Of course, one could extend the discussion to how these two landscapes are related to those beyond the national border, as Christmann's (2017) dissertation has demonstrated.

23 October, 2017

Congratulations to Dr. Nathalie Christmann

Congratulations to Nathalie Christmann who successfully defended her dissertation on October 19th entitled, "Wohnmobilität in der Großregion ­ eine interurbane Diskursanalyse mit Fokus auf den Städten Arlon, Thionville und Trier,"  ("Residential mobility in the Greater Region - An interurban discourse analysis with focus on the cities of Arlon, Thionville and Trier").  Her work delivers important lessons in border studies and transnationalism with regards to labour movements in cross border agglomerations.  Her work will soon feature on science.lu in Luxembourgish with English subtitles.

Effects of residential mobility that is moulding uneven development in border regions can be perceived very differently by city councils, planners and local populations. This research focuses on the perceptions of population mobility and housing in the Greater Region, a transnational cross-border polycentric region in western Europe. Recent economic development of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg has called for a constant expansion of the labour market, attracting cross-border commuters, and highly mobile professional elites. The concomitant rises in property prices as well as the extreme housing shortages in Luxembourg have led to an expansion of the housing market into the border regions. So far, studies have mostly dealt with the socio-demographic characteristics of the transmigrants. This research aims to detect people’s perceptions of the phenomenon by applying a discourse analysis, and thus aims to trigger an increasing awareness of the various dimensions concerning the emerging transnational housing market.

Sitting on her panel were Prof. Dr. Markus Hesse, Prof. Dr. Ulrike Sailer, Prof. Dr. Birte Nienaber, Associate Prof., ph.d. Martin Klatt, und Prof. Dr. Christian Schulz

Congratulations Dr. Christmann!

19 October, 2017

Reconstructing the Hypercentre - Documenting Hamilius Part II

photo from Dr. Nathalie Christmann
The construction site at Hamilius has become a regular pit stop on the tour of the City of Luxembourg that first year Master students in our Geography and Spatial Planning program take. This year, in preparation, I dug up some media concerning the site.

   This entry may be seen as a follow-up to a previous blog entry "When the Heart Went" (April 2015) where I published a short photo essay of some of the graffiti art that was dismantled before construction began. There I also provided a link to a Luxembourgish film, "Hamilius," that documented the underground art scene that used to gather in the passageways underneath the bus station. More on this can be found with a simple search of skater/hip hop/breakdance/Hamilius in youtube. A couple of examples are Here or Here. While on the topic, it can also be noted that since construction began, the new Skatepark Peitruss has opened. While it certainly looks "impressive" and well supplied, I am curious to what degree this was a satisfying replacement. 

   The following list of articles focus conflicts around the construction site since 2015. This is by no means an exhaustive list of articles (One might notice the lack of German language articles, for example!!). But some of the general discourses can be reconstructed, and some of the primary stakeholders can be identified.  Following the list of newspapers and communications is also a list of web addresses of some of the main stakeholders of the site.

Newspaper Articles and Communications

Websites of some stakeholders

  • Before construction, the Ville de Luxembourg either owned or was able to buy many of the properties currently under construction.  The City's website has plenty of videos to watch on the.

  • The Real Estate Developer in charge of the site is Codic. More info here.

  • Giogetti is one of the real estate developer that lost the bid, and then later bought 40% of the units at 49 Blvd Royal.
  • The Foster + Partners were the (Star)chitects who won the design competition. Click around this site and notice that they have a knack for opulence being famous for signature projects such as the Reichstag in Berlin, the Great Court at the British Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the headquarters of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank, Al Faisaliah Centre in Riyadh, or The One in Toronto (the upcoming tallest building in Canada).....and they claim a "sustainable approach to architecture".
  • Back at 49, Boulevard Royal L-2449 Luxembourg, there are still some businesses in operation. See Institut-Royal

25 September, 2017

New Publication from Prof. Sandra Sprenger (University of Hamburg) and Prof. Birte Nienaber (University of Luxembourg)

(Education for) Sustainable Development in Geography Education – Review and Outlook from a Perspective of Germany

in Journal of Geography in Higher Education


Nearly fifteen years after the Rio Conference and ten years after the Lucerne Declaration on Geographical Education for Sustainable Development we are interested to what extent the goals of this declaration have been implemented? What role does Geography play in Education for Sustainable Development in higher education? Therefore, we analyzed the modules of 107 degree programs with Geography as a degree major or as a teacher training subject at 55 German universities, technical colleges and universities of education. We conducted a quantitative text analysis in which we searched the key words “Sustainability”, “Sustainable Development”, “Education for Sustainable Development” and “Nature-Society Studies” in the Module Regulations. Our data indicate the existence of a great heterogeneity between the degree programs. The key words were predominantly found in majors in “Human Geography”, “Geography” and teacher training programs for “academic high schools”. In this article the conceptual aspects can be derived on the basis of results: (a) differences in the orientation of degree programs, (b) varying degree of implementation in the modules, (c) different conceptual understanding of the principles of sustainability, (d) the concepts of Environmental Education and Education for Sustainable Development are individually and sometimes mixed and (e) heterogeneity between mandatory courses and electives.

DOI 10.1080/03098265.2017.1379057

Appointment of Dr. Constance Carr to Palgrave’s new book series: Environmental Sustainability

Constance Carr was appointed to the Editing Board of the Palgrave's Book Series on Environmental Sustainability, alongside Professors Robert Brinkmann of Hofstra University (Series Editor), David Gibbs, (University of Hull), Innocent Chirisa (University of Zimbabwe), Grigione, Melissa Marie (Pace University), Heidi Hutner (Stony Brook University), Michael Mann (Pennsylvania State University) a group of physical and social geographers and others.  Bringing together this board of physical and social geographers, Brinkmann aims to tackle one of the main pillars of sustainability -- the environment -- producing books on climate change, greenhouse gas management, circular and sharing economies, environmental education, urban studies, natural resource management and ecosystems, and resiliency.

If you have a book idea that might fit for this series, feel free to contact Constance. She would be be happy to discuss possibilities with you.

Appointment of Dr. Catherine Wong to Palgrave’s new book series: Palgrave Studies in Environmental Sociology and Policy

Dr. Catherine Wong of the Institute of Geography and Spatial Planning has recently been appointed to the Board of Editors for Palgrave’s new book series “Palgrave Studies in Environmental Sociology and Policy”. She is the only early career researcher represented on a highly international board alongside some eminent sociologists including Prof. Ortwin Renn (Series Editor), Prof. Riley Dunlap, Prof. Magnus Boström, and Prof. Gabriela Marques Di Giulio, among others. This exciting new series is dedicated to environmental sociology as a distinct field with emphasis on theoretical grounding, empirical validation, evidence–based research and practical policy application. The aim of the series is to inform decision makers about potential options for viable and socially desirable strategies to deal with environmental challenges and problems. The series will include titles that cover a broad range of environmental issues, from climate change to pollution, from biodiversity to landscape engineering. Each book in the series will bridge the gap between sociological, conceptual and empirical insights and practical policy issues providing a platform for interdisciplinary but theoretically well- grounded analysis and practical guidance towards applications in numerous policy arenas.

See attached flyer for contact details and more.  

27 August, 2017

PhD defence François Sprumont, and Afternoon Seminar on Urban Mobility

On Tuesday 29th of August, at 10:30 am, Francois Sprumont, a graduate of the Master Program at the Institute of Geography and Spatial Planning, will defend his PhD thesis. That afternoon, his supervisor, Franceco Viti, organized a public seminar along similar themes of urban mobility. Francois would like everyone to know about this day of events. Below, you will find more detailed information on the schedule. Please feel free to share this information in your networks.  

When: August 29th, 10h30 - 17h00
Venue: Black Box, Maison des Sciences Humaines (MSH), Campus Belval

10:30 - 12:15 PhD defence François Sprumont
Title: Activity-travel behaviour in the context of workplace relocation
Abstract: Travel behaviour analysis is a complex task because of the myriad of determinants influencing decision makers. The commuting trip constitutes an important travel purpose, but is not the dominant one. Because of its spatial and temporal concentration, the commuting flow is an ideal target for mobility management measures aiming at decreasing its negative externalities. Nevertheless, commuting travels are done in the frame of a more complex activity-travel chain, and some choices, whether on the short term (e.g. commuting mode choice) or in the longer term (e.g. where to live, buy a car) are done considering an ensemble of trips. Our research hypothesis is that workplace relocation, or more generally an event that strongly affects travellers’ trip chains, induces different and interrelated responses. Our research aim is to gain insight into this complex decision-making process, in order to better understand its relation with transport policy measures.

12h15 - 13h00 PhD committee discussion and deliberation

13h00 - 14h00 Celebration & lunch and drinks

14h00 - 14h45 Prof. Caspar Chorus, TU Delft
Title: Random regret minimization: a no-regret approach
Abstract: Since their relatively recent inception, random regret minimisation (RRM) models of discrete choice behaviour have found their way towards commercial software packages, textbooks, and policy briefs. They have now been used in a variety of fields to analyse and predict choice behaviours of travellers, consumers, patients, voters, tourists, politicians, visitors of dating websites, etc. RRM models postulate that the attractiveness of an alternative depends on how it compares, on each attribute, against every competing alternative in the choice set. This talk presents the derivation and properties of the newest and most powerful RRM model. This so-called muRRM model nests the linear RUM model as well as the earlier proposed RRM model as special cases. Estimation results on a series of data sets show that when regret aversion is a relevant factor underlying choice behaviour, model fit differences between muRRM and linear RUM tend to be very substantial (in favour of the former). When regret aversion is no relevant factor, the muRRM model collapses to a linear RUM model; as such, the model is a ‘no-regret’ tool for choice modellers.

14h45 - 15h30 Dr. Eric Cornelis, University of Namur
Title: Synthetic population and mobility
Abstract: In this talk, we will present how micro-simulation could be useful in modelling mobility. More especially we will first give an insight on synthetic population methods. Then we will detail the method we used for simulating the Belgian population. With this synthetic population and statistics drawn from the national mobility surveys, an activities diary will be associated with all the Belgian individuals. This will provide us a spatially disaggregated mobility demand. Finally we will give avenues on how this demand could be assigned on the roads network.

15h30 - 16h15 Dr. Véronique van Acker, Luxembourg Institute of Socio Economic Research

Title: Lifestyles and modal choices: Defining, measuring and using the ‘lifestyle’ concept in travel behaviour research
Abstract: Although there is not a formally stated agreed definition of it, the ‘lifestyle’ concept gains interest in travel behaviour research. Some studies analyse what they would call lifestyles, but in fact combine various objective socio-economic characteristics and rather refer to stage-of-life or household composition. This presentation therefore provides a structured overview of the ‘lifestyle’ concept (definitions, measurement methods) and illustrates the usefulness of three different lifestyle approaches based on sociodemographics (i.e., demographic lifestyle approach), attitudes toward family-work balance and leisure time (i.e., sociographic approach), and holiday and leisure activities (i.e., mechanistic approach). Using data of an Internet survey organized in 2007 in Flanders, Belgium, this presentation illustrates how lifestyles are associated with modal choices for leisure activities.

16h15 - 17h00 Closing remarks & drinks

09 August, 2017

Grenzen und Planungskulturen, Borders and Planning Cultures

Over the past year or so, Estelle Evrard and Nathalie Christian from our Institute have been meeting with planners from the Greater Region. The focus has been on how to develop planning processes across national borders.
Click here if you would like to learn more about this great initiative. Information is available in German, English, and French.

03 August, 2017

Call for Contributions "Encyclopedia of Sustainability in Higher Education" (Springer)

Dear Colleagues,

Reference: Encyclopedia of Sustainability in Higher Education - Invitation to authors

The Inter-University Sustainable Development Research Programme (IUSDRP) https://www.haw-hamburg.de/en/ftz-nk/programmes/iusdrp.html is leading the production of the "Encyclopedia of Sustainability in Higher Education". This is a unique, high calibre, peer reviewed publication, will provide a substantial addition to the body of information and knowledge on matters related to sustainable development in higher education.

The Encyclopedia of Sustainability in Higher Education will be published by Springer, as part of the "World Sustainability Series" http://www.springer.com/series/13384. It consists of 500 terms, to be compiled by senior academics on the one hand, but also by by PhD/Masters students performing work on sustainable development issues on the other, providing them with the opportunity to engage in scientific writing, and to become part of the next generation of professionals familar with concepts related to sustainability. We therefore warmly encourage teaching staff to bring this to their relevant PhD/MSc students performing research on sustainability issues, since they might be able to provide quality inputs which may pass peer-review.

Since accepted inputs to the Encyclopledia are official proofs of high level academic performance which may be used for promotion/tenure purposes, certificates will be sent to authors whose works have been accepted, which may add them to their CVs.

Further details on the project, and on how to contribute to it, it can be seen here:

We look forward to interesting inputs from across the world.


Walter Leal
Chairman, IUSDRP
Hamburg University of Applied Sciences (Germany) & Manchester Metropolitan University (UK)

Prof. Dr. (mult.) Dr. h.c. (mult.) Walter Leal 
Leiter, Forschungs- und Transferzentrum „Nachhaltigkeit und Klimafolgenmanagement" Head of the Research and Transfer Centre „Sustainable Development and Climate Change Management" Hochschule für Angewandte Wissenschaften Hamburg /Hamburg University of Applied Sciences Fakultät Life Sciences /Faculty of Life Sciences Ulmenliet 20, Sector S4 / Room 0.38 21033 Hamburg

17 July, 2017

UL Geography and Spatial Planning meets U Trier's Governance and Sustainability Lab

It was a great pleasure to greet and host Prof. Dr. Antje Bruns and her talented team from the Governance and Sustainability Lab, University of Trier,  who visited our Institute last Thursday.  Thank you to Gerald Taylor-Aiken who organised the event.

After a round of introductions, it was quickly clear that there was a lot of overlap in terms of research and teaching interests in urban and regional development and political ecology. It was unanimous that these connections should be explored further. 

We look forward to further exchanges this fall! 

Bericht zur Tagung des AK Wohnungsmarktforschung

Tagungs: „Internationalisierung des Wohnens – Marktentwicklung, Politiken, Forschungsansätze“*  des AK Geographische Wohnungsmarktforschung gemeinsam mit der Universität Luxemburg  am 15./16. Juni 2017 in Luxemburg 

Der aktuelle Trend einer zunehmenden Internationalisierung der Wohnungsmärkte schlägt sich u.a. in veränderten Eigentumsstrukturen, neuen Finanzierungsmodellen und anlageorientierten Anbieterstrategien nieder. Aufgrund ihrer Bedeutung für die Stadtentwicklung haben diese Veränderungen verstärkt das Interesse der Stadt- und Wohnungsmarktforschung gefunden. Diese Entwicklung aufgreifend, veranstaltete der Arbeitskreis bereits 2013 in Bonn eine erste Tagung zur Internationalisierung der Wohnungsmärkte. In Fortsetzung der wissenschaftlichen Auseinandersetzung mit dem Themenfeld hatten das Institut für Geographie und Raumplanung der Universität Luxemburg und der Arbeitskreis Geographische Wohnungsmarktforschung am 15. und 16. Juni 2017 zu einer gemeinsamen Tagung nach Esch/Belval zum Thema Internationalisierung des Wohnens eingeladen.

Exkursion durch Esch/Belval    
Am Beginn der Tagung stellte Jean Goedert im Auftrag des Fonds Belval in einem Vortrag und Rundgang den Standort Esch/Belval vor. Im Süden Luxemburgs gelegen, entsteht auf dem Gelände eines früheren Stahlwerks mit drei Hochöfen seit den 2000er Jahren ein neuer Bildungs- und Dienstleistungsstandort zu dessen Magneten die Universität, Forschungsinstitute, Banken, eine Konzerthalle und ein Industriemuseum zählen. Im Tagungsprogramm folgten zehn Vorträge und eine Diskussionsrunde zu Erscheinungsformen und aktuellen Herausforderungen der Internationalisierung des Wohnens.

Einen Überblick über die aktuellen Rahmenbedingungen und Entwicklungstendenzen der Internationalisierung bot der Vortrag von André Scharmanski (Quantum Research). Ausgangspunkt bildete dabei die Feststellung, dass seit einigen Jahren die Investitionen in Wohnimmobilien deutscher Großstädte boomen. Grund dafür sind positive Rahmenbedingungen, zu denen die Beschäftigungskonjunktur, das Einwohnerwachstum der Städte, die Niedrigzinsphase sowie die Stabilität und gute Kalkulierbarkeit des deutschen Mietwohnungsmarktes zählen. Diese Internationalisierung der Wohnungsmärkte zeigt sich dann im wachsenden Besitzanteil ausländischer Unternehmen am Mietwohnungsbestand in deutschen Städten. Die internationalen Anleger treten dabei als Wohnungsunternehmen oder als investierende Anteilseigner auf. Letzteres gilt auch für die großen Wohnungsunternehmen, die in den letzten Jahren im Zuge des Verkaufs öffentlicher Wohnungsbestände und in Folge von Fusionen enorm gewachsen sind. So ist ein großer Teil der Aktien der beiden größten „deutschen“ Wohnungsunternehmen, der Vonovia und der Deutsche Wohnen, im Besitz internationaler Anleger, darunter sind vor allem Investmentbanken, Staatsfonds und Versorgungswerke. Die Bedeutung internationaler Investments ist weiterhin hoch. So waren an 25 Prozent der Transaktionen von Wohnungsbeständen internationale Anleger beteiligt. Ein besonderer Schwerpunkt der inzwischen oft längerfristig orientierten Anlagen bildete dabei Berlin.

Exkursion durch Esch/Belval
Wie international agierende Anleger vorgehen, stellte Stefan Kofner (HS Zittau/Görlitz) am Beispiel der Akelius Residential AB vor. Dabei handelt es sich um ein inhabergeführtes Wohnungsunternehmen mit internationaler Portfolio-Strategie, das aus Schweden stammt und seinen Unternehmenssitz auf den Cayman Islands hat. Auf dem deutschen Markt ist das Unternehmen seit 2006 präsent. Die Investitionen erfolgen ausschließlich in wachsenden Großstädten, darunter vor allem in Berlin und Hamburg. Das Geschäftsmodell sieht vor, Wohnungsbestände mit hohem Modernisierungsbedarf zu kaufen, und diese anschließend hochwertig zu sanieren und im hochpreisigen Segment unter der Marke „better living“ zu vermieten. Die Modernisierungen erfolgen dabei allerdings nur nach dem Auszug eines Mieters, so dass dem Unternehmen nicht unterstellt werden kann, die Mieter aktiv zu verdrängen. Nach Stefan Kofner kann diese Form der Aufwertung als „kalte Gentrifizierung“ bezeichnet werden.

Dass die Investitionstätigkeiten internationaler Anleger wesentlich von den Beschreibungen der privaten Wohnungsmarktbeobachtung beeinflusst werden, stellte Susanne Heeg (Uni Frankfurt/Main) in einem Beitrag über Praktiken der privatwirtschaftlichen Wohnungsmarktbeobachtung und deren Framing von Märkten vor. Demnach lassen sich drei Praktiken unterscheiden: normative Praktiken – mit denen anhand von Basiskennzahlen, relationalen Indikatoren und Modellierungen Märkte vermessen werden, verbildlichende Praktiken – die Marktbewertungen anhand von Grafiken, Karten und Berichten aufbereiten sowie Praktiken des Austausches – bei denen auf Messen, Vorträgen und Workshops die Marktbeschreibungen vermittelt werden.

Nathalie Christmann und Tom Becker (Uni Luxemburg) betrachteten in ihrem Vortrag die Wohnungsmarktentwicklung in Luxemburg, bei der sich Tendenzen der Internationalisierung auf Seiten des Angebots und Nachfrage zeigen. Bei wachsender Zuwanderung und Einwohnerzahl steigt die Nachfrage, was zu Knappheiten führt, insbesondere im Mietwohnungsmarkt, der nur einen Anteil von 30 Prozent am Wohnungsbestand umfasst. Aufgrund dieser Situation wächst der Anteil der Pendler und der Luxemburger, die in Frankreich, Deutschland oder Belgien Eigentum bilden. Erst in jüngerer Zeit wird der Mietwohnungsbau wieder forciert, allerdings überwiegend im hochpreisigen Segment. Zu den größten Projekten zählt die Erweiterung des Dienstleistungsstandortes Kirchberg, an dem Wohnungen für rund 10 000 Einwohner geschaffen werden. Eine ausgewogenere Wohnungspolitik wird durch die bestehenden Governancestrukturen in Luxemburg verhindert. Diese sind durch einen großen Einfluss der Landbesitzer und global agierender Unternehmen geprägt. Anhand der Analyse des Luxemburger Wohnungsmarktes wurde abschließend ein Modell entworfen, das eine zusammenfassende Übersicht über die Akteure, Themenfelder und Strukturen des Wohnungsmarktes bietet.

Einen weiteren Blick auf die Governancestrukturen des Luxemburger Wohnungsmarktes boten Markus Hesse (Uni Luxemburg) und Thomas J. Sigler (University of Queensland). Aus ihrer Sicht lässt sich für Luxemburg eine sehr starke Orientierung der Politik auf die Interessen der für den Wirtschaftsstandort bedeutsamen Finanzdienstleister erkennen, so dass von einem „property state“ gesprochen werden kann. Auch der wieder beginnende Wohnungsneubau und die umfassenden Neubauplanungen folgen dieser Strategie, dienen sie doch als Anlagepotenzial mit denen ein „spatial fix“ des Kapitals erreicht wird. Interventionen werden zudem dadurch erschwert, dass Kompetenzen und Ressourcen der Wohnungspolitik auf verschiedene Institutionen verteilt werden. Die aktuelle Wohnungsmarktsituation und Wohnungspolitik in Luxemburg wurde im Rahmen einer Abendveranstaltung, auf der die Veranstalter mit Diane Dupont (Ministerium für Wohnungswesen) und Daniel Grünkreuz (formsociety) diskutierten, nochmals aufgenommen.

Eva Kuschinski (HCU Hamburg) stellte ein Forschungsprojekt vor, in dem die Funktionsweise und Strategien wohnungspolitischer Bündnisse untersucht werden. Das 2011 erstmals in Hamburg erprobte Format eines Bündnisses für Wohnen hat seitdem eine große Verbreitung gefunden und dabei auch einen Skalensprung von der lokalen auf die bundespolitische Ebene vollzogen. Die Untersuchung des auf Bundesebene initiierten „Bündnisses für bezahlbares Bauen und Wohnen“ zeigt aber, dass dieses sehr stark von den Interessen der Bau- und Wohnungswirtschaft geprägt wird. Bisher abgeleitete Instrumente nehmen überwiegend die öffentliche Hand in die Pflicht. Die bisherigen Wirkungen sind daher begrenzt und liegen wohl eher in der Suggestion von Handlungsmöglichkeiten und damit auf Ebene der symbolischen Politik.

Auch Steffen Wetzstein (Universität Erfurt) legte den Fokus seiner Betrachtung auf den multiskalaren Charakter der Wohnungspolitik. Themenfelder, Ideologien und Strategien der Wohnungspolitiken lassen sich dabei auf internationaler, nationaler und lokaler Ebene in gleicher Weise beobachten und, darauf lag der besondere Schwerpunkt der Betrachtung, werden zwischen den Skalenebenen übertragen. Gezeigt wurde dies am Beispiel der Mobilisierung des „Wiener Modells“, das als positives Beispiel einer sozial verantwortlichen Wohnungspolitik auf „Europareise“ geht. Es wurde aber auch die Frage gestellt, warum wohnungspolitische Fragen in der Europäischen Union kaum eine Rolle spielen, d.h. warum dieser Skalensprung nicht gelingt.

Weit offensichtlichere Formen der Verdrängung hat Brigitte Zamzow (Uni Bonn) am Beispiel des New Yorker Stadtteils Harlem untersucht. Mit dem politischen Ziel einer „deconcentration“ der afro-amerikanischen Bevölkerung kam es zu einer umfassenden Verdrängung der Quartiersbevölkerung, die in die benachbarten Quartiere oder weiter stadtauswärts ausweichen musste. Der räumlichen Konzentration sozial Benachteiligter in Harlem wird damit zwar entgegengewirkt, da deren persönliche Situation sich sonst aber nicht ändert, ist zu vermuten, dass die Segregationserscheinungen nicht verringert, sondern lediglich räumlich verlagert werden.

Mit dem Phänomen der buy-to-let-Gentrification stellte Antoine Paccoud (Luxembourg Institute of Socio-Economic Research) eine Spielart der Gentrifizierung vor, die vor allem seit 2000 in Großbritannien enorm an Bedeutung gewonnen hat. Dabei wies er darauf hin, dass es in der frühen Zeit der Gentrifizierung vor allem um eine Verschiebung vom Mieter- zum Eigentumsmarkt kam: Mietwohnungen wurden zu Eigentumswohnungen umgewandelt. Beim buy-to-let-Prinzip handelt es sich auch um Eigentumswohnungen, doch werden diese von den Eigentümern vermietet. Erwerb und Vermietung dienen dabei als Wertanlage. Besonders verbreitet ist dieses Geschäftsmodell bei Neubauten und bei Projekten der Revitalisierung sozialer Wohnungsbestände. Insbesondere in London sind dabei auch internationale Erwerber am Markt aktiv.

Bruno Glumac (Luxembourg Institute of Socio-Economic Research) stellte die Entwicklung eines methodischen Instruments vor, mit dem die Gestaltungs- und Ausstattungspräferenzen im Wohnungsneubau ermittelt werden sollen. Ziel der quantitativen Erhebungsmethode ist es, auf der Grundlage von Schlüsselfragen und relativ weniger soziodemographischer Daten die Präferenzen der Nachfrager zu erfassen und mit Hilfe dieser Daten Neubauprojekte zu entwickeln, die eine höhere Akzeptanz erreichen.

Die Tagung wies auch in diesem Jahr auf das große Spektrum und die vielen praxisrelevanten Fragen der Geographischen Wohnungsmarktforschung hin. Wir freuen uns, dass der Arbeitskreis mit der Jahrestagung wiederum nicht nur Geographen an Hochschulen angesprochen hat, sondern der Diskurs über die Grenzen des Faches hinaus und mit Vertretern der Praxis geführt werden konnte. Die Ergebnisse der Tagung werden auf der Homepage des AK Wohnungsmarktforschung (http://www.ak-wohnungsmarktforschung.de/) dokumentiert. Die nächsten Veranstaltungen des Arbeitskreises finden im Rahmen des Deutschen Kongress für Geographie im Oktober 2017 in Tübingen statt.

Tom Becker, Nathalie Christmann, Jan Glatter, Markus Hesse

*Jahrestagung des Arbeitskreises in Luxemburg
Am 15. und 16. Juni 2017 fand in Esch (Luxemburg) die Jahrestagung des Arbeitskreises statt, die sich dem Thema der "Internationalisierung des Wohnens" widmete. Die Ergebnisse der Tagung wurden auf der Homepage des Arbeitskreises dokumentiert: