22 November, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or, from the Prime Minister himself:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Constance Carr

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

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21 November, 2018

Planning 2020 - The Raynsford Review of Planning in England

Just yesterday, the Town & Country Planning Association (TCPA) of England released a review of the English planning system, called "Planning 2020". The review process was guided by the President of the TCPA, the former UK Minister of Housing Nick Raynsford, and was supported by a Review Task Force composed of professionals, representatives of related associations, and academics. The review gives an excellent overview of the current state of the English planning system, which was discussed against the background of its basic commitment to co-ordinate land use decisions in a way that provides better (sustainable) places for people. Over a total of 128 pages, the review demonstrates how this commitment has become difficult to achieve, for reasons that were situated both within the planning system and beyond, in framed in increasingly difficult conditions, and embedded in messy politics.
Even though the review assesses spatial planning in the rather specific English context, readers can nevertheless learn about the current state of planning in places characterised by deindustrialisation and rising services and tech economies, resulting in uneven development (pressure of growth here, and emptiness there), environmental degradation, a palate of mobility issues, and institutional inertia and blockades. In the light of such developments, planning is not only facing complexities of all sorts, but is also confronting massive lobbying and political pressure from processes of deregulation and neoliberalisation that has made planning officers appear as the "enemies of enterprises" (according to the former UK Prime Minister David Cameron, who is quoted by the report).
So, while the report is rather specific as to the overly centralised (and massively contested) political and institutional system of England, the review brings together some striking assessments concerning how healthy (or unhealthy) planning ought to be considered in more general terms. It is thus an exciting read, and actually a "must read" for anybody interested in spatial planning. For this purpose, the eight different sections of the report can also be read separately, and the same applies to the background papers that are provided on TCPA's website as well. There is a lot to learn from this, and to reflect upon: the fundamentals of planning (what is planning, and why should we care about it?); the institutional background and its evolution (why do we have a planning system? what went wrong with planning?); and, the kinds of recommendations that might make the planning system more effective.
I have already recommended this piece to the students of my planning class, as I believe that it is definitely worth taking into account. One might wish such an informed, fair and independent review of planning systems and practices could also be undertaken in other countries, such as some of those on the European Continent. (Any idea which one comes to my mind first?).
Markus Hesse

19 November, 2018

A manuscript on Adventures in Sustainable Urbanism goes into production

There is good news from Tim Freytag (University of Freiburg), Rob Krueger (Worcester Polytechnic Institute & Guest Professor at our institute), and Samuel Moessner (University of Münster). Their manuscript, Adventures in Sustainable Urbanism, was checked by State University New York Press and turned over to the production and marketing units. According to SUNY, the project was assigned a release date of November 1, 2019. I am humbled to count myself among a long list of esteemed contributors who include Tim Baird, I-Chun Catherine Chang, Susanne Frank, David Giband, Michael Hall, Trina Hamilton, Freya Kristensen, Michal Kohout, Marit Rosol, Cristina Temenos, and Winifred Curran.

This promises to be a good read!

Constance Carr

16 November, 2018

2HQ2 – Two new seats for the new Amazon.com Headquarters, not one

Screenshot of an article by J. David Goodman and  Emma G. Fitzsimmon published online 
at the New York Times, November 6 (2018). Photo by Hilary Swift

The race is over now. As the result of a widely communicated search for its new North American headquarters (HQ2) that began back in October 2017, Amazon.com announced last Tuesday that it would place its new basecamp in two cities: one in Long Island City in Queens, New York, and the other in Crystal City, Arlington, a suburb of Washington D.C. The search campaign was part of a massive orchestration by Amazon that turned out to be extremely clever, given that this campaign received wide spread media coverage for which the firm did not have to pay a cent. The campaign comprised of a public call for tender, which found almost global recognition; 238 municipalities and regions applied for the honor of being the host city/region; and this was followed by a months-long speculation as to who would eventually make it, and for what reason … By last week, well informed sources already assumed that there might be two localities – not one – to be chosen, and these two would be most likely located on the East Coast, close to major metro areas, and not in North Dakota or the sunny side of Phoenix, Arizona. The existing breed of “world-class talent”, so the company told us, was the decisive argument for choosing the two, not proximity to money (NYC) or politics (DC). Believe it or not. (-1-)

The search for HQ2 and the associated bid campaigns were run by city and county governments across the continent, supported by economic development boards, policy alliances and a broad range of planners and stakeholders, and even academics. Thanks to the Internet, even remote observers were able to follow this process and reconstruct the current state of urban-regional competition, which provided a perfect sense of how that game is played under today’s framework conditions. Much of this is already public, such as the contracts that Amazon agreed upon with the selected municipalities (which included the incentives and subsidies to be paid for every job created). Great stuff to read that probably offers more instruction on how places sell themselves and are being evaluated - and will thus be ‘produced’ - than any economic geography or planning textbook. (-2-)

Actually, one may wonder whether city managers and economic development board chairs could have afforded not to run for such an offer. (We know that a few decided in the very end not to apply, see our entry here). Obviously, the temptation and excitement about this opportunity – 50,000 jobs created, an overall investment of about US$5bn – and hence the desire to apply was much greater than any doubts and reservations might have been, which might have prevented public officials from bidding. No, almost everybody in charge of urban and regional policy and practice had to run for this: That is at least what the competition (and the way it was publicly framed and perceived) looked like. Whether the offer will indeed be a great chance for the selected cities, or whether it will make them even more overcrowded and divided, remains to be seen.

The benefits provided by the huge number of highly paid jobs that will be created (or moved there) will have to be balanced against public cost, i.e. the massive tax discounts that Amazon was successful in negotiating with the authorities of New York City and State, and the State of Virginia, respectively. “New York promised Amazon $1.525 billion in incentives, including $1.2 billion over the next 10 years as part of the state’s Excelsior tax credit. The state also pledged to help Amazon with infrastructure upgrades, job training programs and even assistance ‘securing access to a helipad’ — none of which came with a price tag. Virginia promised Amazon an incentive package worth $573 million, including $550 million in cash grants — $22,000 per job. The state also pledged $250 million to help Virginia Tech build a campus in Alexandria, near the Amazon site in Arlington, offering degrees in computer science and software engineering. (Virginia, too, offered to help the company get a helipad.)” (New York Times, 14 Nov 2018, p. B1)

In terms of the definitive location choice, the pros and cons of agglomeration were obviously carefully weighed and balanced – actually more carefully than one would have expected in the beginning. Even Amazon officials might have learned from the well disputed prospect of placing 50,000 employees at one single locale – a promise that quickly turned into a threat for many. Some commentators were also pointing at an earlier blogpost by Joe Cortright who expected nothing but a split of the big HQ into at least a few locations; otherwise cities wouldn’t be able to handle that injection of money, buildings, people and their demand. How is it possible to suddenly provide housing for that sheer number of people? How is it possible to add so many daily trips to transport networks that are already working far beyond limits? Seriously, why not take into these issues into account and dedicate a subway line for the exclusive use of Amazon staff, as The Onion has already suggested (thus evoking the Google-bus controversy from the SF Bay Area …)?

Now the cake is divided into two, with each city getting 25,000 jobs each, plus another 5,000 for a tech-fulfilment basis in Nashville, Tennessee. We will have to wait and see how this sort of massive place-making will work. Soon after the decision went public, Crystal City seemed already re-branded into the somehow superficial “National Landing”. There will be more of this coming up in the near future. Inserting a global player’s headquarters into actually existing urban life-worlds (i.e. places that already tend to suffer from having too much of everything…) will become a rather exciting experiment for urban studies. Current and future student generations are well advised to keep an eye on the framing, implementation and contestation of all of this.

Of course, the race is not over yet in more general terms as well. Amazon.com will likely continue to fight its “store wars”, trying to achieve hegemony in the retail business – not only through running its e-commerce platforms, but also with brick & mortar-outlets that are fully equipped with digital devices and algorithms, and almost no staff; in Seattle, this model has already proven to work quite efficiently. The company will also move on with trying to squeeze out as many tax rebates and subsidies from the public (state and local governments’) budgets as possible, when the next promise for investment will be made. The firm will continue to pursue its mission of becoming the one ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution for everything that customers need; driven by a first class combination of spaces and flows, thus becoming really hegemonic and leaving behind a devastated landscape of traditional retail (and in terms of competitive power, most likely providing less, not more choice to customers). (-3-)

Last but not least, if the planet is going to get desperate with the never-ending race to the bottom for more, then Bezos will bring those who can afford outer space, where ‘Blue Origin’ will offer them a safe, extraterrestrial haven. Cynical? No, it’s just about customer dedication, technology and the modern world, stupid.

Markus Hesse

Further related readings
Hesse, M./Carr, C. (2018) The Corporate City Looming Part II: The “smart” City competes
Carr, C. (2018) Wagering the Waterfront? Angling the abc & xyz of Quayside Toronto
Carr, C./Hesse, M. (2017) The Corporate City Looming? Part I
Carr, C. (2017) Digital Cities - Toronto trying to get ahead

-1- Those who are interested in learning more about this case: Planetizen.com provides an excellent overview on the subject matter and various responses from cities, stakeholders, observers.
-2- Wondering to what extent the new, tech- and data-trading big corporation, its locational imprint and the associated ramifications for people and place(s) have already been covered by textbooks. They actually deserve the same treatment as it was the case with the industrial corporation (see e.g. Phillip O’Neill: The Industrial Corporation and Capitalism’s Time –Space Fix. In: Trevor J. Barnes, Jamie Peck, Eric Sheppard (eds.) The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Economic Geography, pp. 74-90. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell).
-3- See my book chapter on “The logics and politics of circulation. Exploring the urban and non-urban spaces of Amazon.com”, in K. Ward, A. E. Jonas, B. Miller, D. Wilson (eds.) Routledge Handbook of Spaces of Urban Politics, pp. 404-415. Abingdon/New York: Routledge (2018).

07 November, 2018

IGU Urban Geography Commission Annual Meeting - Call for Abstracts

IGU Urban Geography Commission Annual Meeting
August 4th to 9th, 2019, in Luxembourg

URBAN CHALLENGES IN A COMPLEX WORLD: Urban geographies of the new economy, services industries and financial market places
The Urban Commission of the International Geographical Union (IGU) in collaboration with the Urban Studies team of the Institute of Geography and Spatial Planning, University of Luxembourg, is pleased to invite you to its 2019 Annual Conference, taking place on Campus Belval at the University of Luxembourg, in Esch-sur-Alzette.

Deadline for abstract submission: 31 January, 2019

Papers are invited to address the special topic 'The urban geographies of the new economy, services industries and financial market places’. Our aim is to emphasise urban-regional development patterns and phenomena under the influence of economic change, digitalisation, multi-level governance and sustainability imperatives. Besides focusing on services and tech capitals as well as financial market places, this includes related processes that are shaping cities in general terms.

Besides, participants can submit individual papers, and/or proposals for panel sessions/roundtables, that are linked to the following thematic foci of the Urban Commission:
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-sized cities
5 - Sustainable to resilient cities
6 - Shrinking and ageing 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

Dr. Sabine Dörry, LISER, Luxembourg, on “Urban geographies of financial market places and business services centres”
Prof. Natacha Aveline, CNRS-Geographie Cités, Paris, France, on “The financialisation of real estate in East Asian cities”
Prof. Manuel Aalbers, KU Leuven, Belgium, on “The financialisation of housing”
Dr. Iván Tosics, Metropolitan Research Institute, Budapest, Hungary, on “The failure of EU efforts for an urban policy and the promise cities can offer”

Abstracts may be submitted via, and following the recommendations indicated on, the commission website, where more detailed scientific and practical information is also available. Please note: only abstracts submitted via the platform will be accepted.

University of Luxembourg – Campus Belval
2, avenue de l’Université
L-4365 Esch-sur-Alzette, Luxembourg

We will be delighted to welcome you to this conference,
Prof. Dr. Celine Rozenblat, University of Lausanne, Chair of the IGU Urban Commission
Prof. Dr. Markus Hesse, University of Luxembourg, for the Local Organising Committee

Further contact information: IGU2019@uni.lu