21 April, 2018

Special Issue by Hesse/Siedentop "Suburbanisation and Suburbanisms" is out!

Hesse and Siedentop's special issue of Raumforschung und Raumordnung on Suburbs and Suburbanisation in the European context is now out in hard copy (Volume 76, Issue 2, April 2018)

Entries include:

This paper provides a brief overview of recent developments and debates concerned with suburbanisation in continental Europe. While current discourses in urban research and practice still focus on processes of reurbanisation and the gentrification of inner-city areas, suburbia continues to exist and thrive. Depending on the definition applied, suburban areas still attract a large share of in-migration and employment growth in cities of the developed countries. Given that popular meta-narratives on suburbia and suburbanisation are often spurred by, or refer to, North American suburban studies, we take a different perspective here, one based on continental European trajectories of development in and across city-regional areas that are considered to be suburban, and on social processes that are associated with suburbanisation (suburbanisms). Thus, we aim to avoid a biased understanding of suburbia as a spatial category, which is often considered mono-functional, non-sustainable, or in generic decline. Instead, we observe that suburban variety is huge, and the distinction between urban core and fringe seems to be as ambiguous as ever. The paper, which also introduces the theme of this special issue of “Raumforschung und Raumordnung | Spatial Research and Planning”, bundles our findings along four themes: on suburbia as a place of economic development, on the shifting dynamics of housing between core and fringe locales, on the life-cyclic nature of suburbanisation, and on strategies for redevelopment. Finally, we discuss certain topics that may deserve to be addressed by future research, particularly on the European variant of suburbanisation and suburbs.

This paper addresses conditions of post-suburban urbanisation. Our empirical base is drawn from observations of integration initiatives in the region of the Glatt Valley, a rather undefined area extending from the City of Zurich towards the airport and spreading over a number of small municipalities. Under growth pressure, municipalities are coordinating housing, transportation, and economic activity, and this is generating new post-suburban forms. To understand these processes, qualitative methods were used, relevant documents surveyed, and conversational interviews with actors in the area conducted. A process of infrastructure consolidation was observed, which moved towards integrating functional pathways and optimising capital accumulation, and attracting and catering for business development and high-income earners. To date, the region has proved to be diverse and dynamic, while also furthering certain modes of fragmentation and social stratification. The results reveal post-suburban forms that are place specific and path dependent insofar as they are driven by particular arrangements of governance that emphasise a certain mode of integrative planning. This form of post-suburban growth is also producing new forms of fragmentation.

The rapid emergence and spread of new housing quarters that specifically address middle-class families is a striking feature of current urban development. Despite being located in or near the city centres, many of these ‘family enclaves’ display social and physical characteristics that so far have been firmly associated with suburban living. Against this background, the purpose of this article is twofold. The first objective is to argue from a theoretical perspective that the notion of ‘inner-city suburbanization’ is appropriate and helpful to capture the hybrid and contradictory nature of these projects as well as of many of the current socio-spatial developments in Western metropolitan regions. For this purpose, the paper draws on newer approaches that conceive of (urban or suburban) ways of living as independent of specific (urban or suburban) spaces or places. The second issue, based on empirical research, is then to sketch the essential qualities of newly built middle-class family enclaves and to highlight their propagation as a major characteristic of urban transformation in Germany. Their continuing expansion is interpreted as an expression and catalyst of ongoing processes of inner-city suburbanization. It is asserted that suburbanism has not only made its mark on the outskirts of the cities but is increasingly conquering growing parts of the inner cities as well.

The debate on the nature and state of peri-urban development in Europe is dynamic. While residents and their residential preferences have long been identified as strong drivers of the process of peri-urbanisation, other influences have also been discussed, such as the supply side of the housing market or job opportunities for residents. This paper analyses the population and job growth trends in the last five decades of 230 urban areas in mainland France. The results show that the pattern of peri-urban development of all the large and medium cities of the country have strong common characteristics. In particular, the areas around cities have proven dynamic both in terms of population, as would be expected in the peri-urbanisation process described by the literature in France, but also in terms of jobs, which have been less analysed. A review of the economic literature on the determinants of firms’ location choice puts forward some of the most relevant determinants that may explain a choice of location outside central cities. This helps put in perspective the role of job opportunities in shaping peri-urbanisation in France in the recent past.

This paper takes a spatially differentiated and temporally variegated perspective on suburban areas. It proposes a conceptual framework for studying the temporal variation and related trajectories of the subject matter, with suburban lifecycles being the key to our analysis. In empirical terms, the paper summarises the findings of research undertaken in 12 selected locales of four major metropolitan regions in Germany. Against the background of assessing the broader socioeconomic development of these regions, detailed local case studies have been conducted in order to reconstruct past and current development trajectories. Our analyses detected particular life cycles (and related segments) in the study areas, based on age and social composition, the physical conditions of the built environment and broader developments in the real-estate market. The different cycles include, in most cases, growth, maturity, transition and resilience, and they are also discussed in terms of their relevance for strategies responding to recent changes.

17 April, 2018

New Paper in Environment and Planning C: Politics and Space

Examining regional competitiveness and the pressures of rapid growth: An interpretive institutionalist account of policy responses in three city regions

Rob Krueger, David Gibbs, Constance Carr

Article first published online: April 16, 2018 

This paper is premised on the notion that actors play a central role in shaping their institutional contexts. The paper adds to scholarship in this area by bringing together three disparate cases with a common analytical entry point: the city region. Despite their multiple scales and different sites of governance, these cases are united by a common theme, exemplified in each city region: addressing the contradictions of rapid development, in particular rapid growth and competitiveness. Using the conceptual framework of interpretive institutionalism, we examine how dilemmas, in this case the pressure of rapid growth in regions, are informed by the different traditions for understanding the role of the market in delivering project outcomes. Our findings show this difference in institutional norms and the variance among the different paradigms.

16 April, 2018

IKEA’s locational strategy - ‘Back’ to the city, or just another facet of urban-economic development? UPDATE

Photograph: The picture shows the Magdeburg, Sachsen-Anhalt, facility opened in August 2017 as store no. 53 in Germany. It is probably one of the last ‘standard’ department stores of IKEA located on a more or less typical urban fringe location. Courtesy: obs/IKEA Deutschland GmbH & Co. KG/Stefan Deutsch

Last week the corporate headquarters of IKEA Germany announced a new locational strategy for the Swedish furniture and lifestyle provider, which would also have direct consequences on the company’s actual expansion plans. In the near future, IKEA says that it will be shifting away from the classical suburban big-box location choice – which was key to its market success in many countries for decades. In Germany alone, the company had regularly opened up two to three stores on average per year in the country’s 80m+ market. In order to ensure sustained growth in a changing market environment, additional stores would now be sought for in urban, rather than fringe, locations. This shift, so the company argued, was a consequence of the rising share of urban – not sub-urban or rural – population, and of changing consumer preferences to which any retailer would have to respond to. In particular, online sales are growing at a much faster pace than bricks and mortar retail, which obviously causes the entire industry to re-think related strategies.

Upcoming decisions to be made by IKEA include the following: The firm is considering a pause in its expansion plans, but may decide to implant a few new stores in core areas of metropolitan regions such as Cologne, Frankfurt, Hamburg or Munich. The first of the upcoming inner-city stores will be opened in Karlsruhe, in 2020. Meanwhile, planned investments in new facilities in, for example, Bottrop, North Rhine-Westphalia or Memmingen, Bavaria, might be cancelled. Thus, the store that was introduced in 2014 in the core area of Hamburg-Altona (probably the first-ever inner-city IKEA location), may serve as a general template for future expansion plans. While the old big-box locations remain the ‘standard’ department stores, one may also see new ‘fulfillment centres’ (a term frequently used by Amazon.com) emerging in due course, for instance in Memmingen or in Nuremberg. These would suit for the picking-up of stuff that was ordered online, meaning that these centres might look rather different compared to the all-in-one warehouse that IKEA is known for so well. 

How do we have to interpret this change? Does the firm’s announcement indicate a paradigm shift in the location choice of retail, or do we observe more of a successive transition? First of all, corporate data indeed reveal that IKEA’s market position has come under pressure, as the usual growth rates observed in the past have been dropping recently. This has questioned the firm’s traditional business model. Consequently, IKEA may seek to develop new market segments, in response to an aging average customer population (baby boomers) that may prefer to settle in cities rather than on the urban fringe, and which is less prone to car use than it was before. Of course, new technologies such as Internet-based e-commerce and related changes also play a role in this re-orientation.

It is thus likely that in the foreseeable future big- and small-box will be developing in parallel, as online and stationary retail will do as well. As of now, the company’s plans may represent a modification to, rather than rupture in, the locational dynamics, since no existing big-box facilities are about to be closed down at this point. Also, the recent move is not equivalent to a ‘back to the city’ strategy of something that had initially dispersed and is now re-centered. It is about additional investments that will primarily flow towards urban areas. This will also bring conflict and competition for space back to the city, which might be more difficult to resolve than the clean and green imaginaries of the smart city and booming metro narratives suggest. Another question is whether cities will benefit from the appearance of IKEA in areas that suit for take-away shopping, or whether the strong competitor will erase the last remainders of brick and mortar trade in these areas. Admittedly, it looks pretty significant if the Walmart of Europe, the trendsetter in big-box and drive-in shopping since the 1970s at least, is now turning to the city. However, while some commentators may feel inclined to read vital signs of an urban renaissance, it actually represents a rather normal adaptation of firms’ locational behavior to changing framework conditions. The case reveals many questions, not clarity about Billy, Köttbullar and the like to re-urbanize.

The lesson to be learned from this case is not necessarily a new answer to an old question: city or suburb – a question that seems also highly superficial in cases like the city of Bottrop, in the Ruhr area, which is simultaneously city, suburb and something in between the two. The most important point that this issue brings to the fore is, above all, just a fundamental property of the city: it is basically a case of logistical configuration, and this is now going to be re-configured. When agglomeration and associated socio-economic benefits appeared to be the strongest momentum for cities to emerge, it was in the exact context of the efficient management of flows that both the mercantile and the industrial city were taking the shape that became predominant for either period of urbanization. The former represents the dense, compact arrangement of land uses and economic activity within the urban core, and the latter evolved as an increasingly de-concentrated configuration of material flows, retail and commodity trade that was bringing about an associated landscape of urban centres, nodes and peripheries. The invention of logistics (not only the standard container, but also highly efficient techniques of the storage and in-house movement of items), the data driven management of supply chains, and the mere physical distribution of goods had a clear impact on the layout and design of buildings, development sites and step-by-step of urbanized areas as well.

In a nutshell, this story is perfectly told by Jesse LeCavalier’s dissertation on the case of Walmart, probably one of the first template corporations that brought the “rule of logistics” to some perfection (LeCavalier 2016). It thus had a major imprint on communities across North America, with consequences both good and bad. Obviously, IKEA demonstrates a comparable success in applying such principles to furniture and interior merchandise. With accelerating e-commerce gaining a higher share of the whole cake of retail and wholesale trade, the next transformation is likely to occur. It will bring another round of restructuring to the spaces of logistics, and thus to cities, particularly by adding an urban layer of distribution, as the case of IKEA indicates. Amazon.com seems best prepared not only to achieve leadership on related markets, by organizing the seamless flows of data, goods, workforce and money. Effectively, it comes close to market domination, which raises more general concerns about the societal importance of logistics (Hesse 2018). This is rarely taken into account so far. IKEA’s new plans remind us to think more about even small logistical changes that can have a huge urban-regional impact.

A piece that appeared in yesterday's edition of the Guardian makes the case of distribution centres that have mushroomed in the UK in recent times. They are transforming previously rural landscapes into sort of industrialised spaces that provide services once offered by inner-city retail, mostly triggered by online merchandise. The story of Dirft or Lutterworth, Milton Keynes Magna Parks and the likes evokes a classical phrase by the late architecture theorist Martin Pawley (1994), who emphasised the "abstract urbanism of trade routes" that would increasingly replace traditional, place-based urban economies. While Pawley seemed to be ahead of time then, it now looks as if we're getting closer to his predictions.

Markus Hesse


Hesse, M. (2018): ‘The logics and politics of circulation. Exploring the urban and non-urban spaces of ‘Amazon.com’, forthcoming in The Routledge International Handbook on Spaces of Urban Politics, ed. by A.E. Jonas, B. Miller, K. Ward & D. Wilson, 404-415. Oxford: Routledge.

LeCavalier, J. 2016. The Rule of Logistics. Walmart and the Architecture of Fulfillment. Minneapolis: UoMinnesota Press.

Pawley, M. 1994. The Redundancy of Space. Die Redundanz des urbanen Raums. In: Meurer, B. (ed.): The Future of Space. Die Zukunft des Raums, pp. 37-57. Frankfurt/New York: Campus.

Dr. Liang Emlyn Yang, April 24, Campus Limpertsberg, BS 0.03, 19:00

Globally, coastal cities are facing complex climate-related water risks along with an increasing intensity of population and properties.Growing concern on these challenges requires implementation actions that bring together vulnerability reduction and resilience building. This study applies the concept of vulnerability and resilience to urban communities in South China coasts facing climate-related water hazards. The study integrated a reanalysis dataset, model projections with literature results on long-term climate changes, which supported a comprehensive risk analysis of both floods and water shortages in the Pearl River Delta within the regional climate change context. A flood vulnerability assessment at the sub-region scale was further conducted adopting an indicator system. The results show that flood risk has several consequences at different urbanization levels under increased climate variability. Pre-existing vulnerabilities were exacerbated after flood or water shortage impacts. The main factors influencing the vulnerability of coastal communities are related to economics, institutional capacity, and the accessibility of knowledge for local community-based organizations.

However, other communities have been able to reinforce their resilience through local initiatives. Five principal priorities for resilience building emerge from the research evidence: Investing infrastructures, sharing responsibilities, diversifying engagements, networking recoveries, water security nets for the most vulnerable ones. To ensure the delta’s communities are well adapted to climate and water threats, it is clear that investing in building community resilience and safety nets for the most vulnerable is important. The local efforts, government supports and outside aid should be better organized to reinforce the ability of the people at local communities. This study further highlighted the importance of understanding how the urban communities are vulnerable to natural hazards and the strategies to increase their resilience, as well as identified a few research directions for future investigations.

Dr. Liang Emlyn Yang is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Graduate School of Human Development in Landscapes, Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel in Germany. Emlyn used to study and work at the University of Hamburg, Germany, where he received his PhD in Geography in 2014, focusing on urban water risks in the context of climate change. He got his master and bachelor in geography with a focus on urbanization in China. His recent activities include the study of long-term climate change and social resilience, in especially China and South Asia developing areas. Emlyn is recently carrying out three research projects funded by the German Foreign Ministry, Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). He has also served as a consultant in several international organizations regarding regenerative cities (World Future Council), resilient cities (Project RESURBE), climate entrepreneurship (EU Climate-KIC), low-carbon transition (MIT Climate CoLab), and climate solutions (Project Drawdown). He acted as assistant supervisor of four master students and assisted teaching in both the University of Hamburg and University of Kiel.

Emlyn has published about 20 peer-reviewed research papers. His research interests include climate-related water risk/vulnerability assessment, agent-based modeling of human responses to hydro-hazards, and he seeks to develop solutions for vulnerability reduction and resilience building in the socio-hydro field. Emlyn has a strong background applying stakeholder-based technologies within the above research fields. His research objective is to establish a new landscape of participatory resilience building in both theory and practice.

Prof. John Robinson, Tuesday, April 17, Campus Limpertsberg BS 0.03, 17:30

The social contract between universities and the society’s they serve is changing. It used to be enough for universities to do research and educate students. Increasingly, however, we are being asked to engage tangibly and actively with the problems faced by the societies which fund us. I will explore the challenges and opportunities facing universities attempting to respond to this demand with regard to sustainability. Based on an agenda which moves beyond harm reduction to what we call regenerative sustainability (human activity that improves both human and environmental wellbeing), and using examples from UBC, Copenhagen Business School, Chalmers University of Technology and the University of Toronto, I will outline an agenda for transforming the campus into a living laboratory of sustainability, where faculty, staff and students, along with private, public and NGO sector partners, use the university’s physical plant, as well education and research capabilities, to test, study, teach, apply and share lessons learned, technologies created and policies developed.

John Robinson is a Professor at the Munk School of Global Affairs, and the School of the Environment, at the University of Toronto;an Honorary Professor with the Institute for Resources, Environment & Sustainability at The University of British Columbia; and an Adjunct Professor with the Copenhagen Business School. At the University of Toronto, he is also Presidential Advisor on the Environment, Climate Change and Sustainability. Prof. Robinson’s research focuses on the intersection of climate change mitigation, adaptation and sustainability; the use of visualization, modeling, and citizen engagement to explore sustainable futures; sustainable buildings and urban design; the role of the university in contributing to sustainability; creating partnerships for sustainability with non-academic partners; and, generally, the intersection of sustainability, social and technological change, behaviour change, and community engagement processes.

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