29 January, 2022

New research project FINCITY

European Financial Centres in Transition

FINCITY is a multidisciplinary research project that focusses on how major global events coincide with broader processes of economic restructuring and financialisation in Dublin, Frankfurt/Main, and Luxembourg City —three of Europe’s most significant financial centres. More specifically, it aims to understand how these cities and other major European financial centres have been restructured in re-sponse to Brexit— which has expelled a large number of financial services firms from the UK, and COVID-19— which has redistributed population away from major urban centres toward smaller agglomerations and fundamentally altered the ‘labourscape’ in favour of telework. Both effects may also have ramifications for urban development and planning. The project is inspired by the dual nature of current conditions in continental European financial centres. 

(Dublin, Ireland, Waterfront 2015)

On the one hand, Brexit acts as a centripetal force, attracting large numbers of firms and employees to Luxembourg, Frankfurt, and Dublin (among other cities). To date, 7,600 financial sector jobs and €1.5 trillion in assets have relocated from London (Jones, 2021). According to the Financial Times, Luxembourg “has emerged as one of the biggest winners from the shift out of the United Kingdom: 72 companies, nearly all of them in financial services announced plans to relocate their EU operations from London” (Stafford, 2020). Similar figures support the migration of firms and their employees to the Dutch and German financial hubs. 

On the other hand, COVID-19 acts as a centrifugal force, with strong evidence suggesting that the cumulative impacts of telecommuting, firm restructuring, long-distance commuting, and firm decentralisation are likely to cause de-agglomeration. Within Europe, a recent EU report found that while only 15% of employees had teleworked before the pandemic, 25% of jobs were ‘teleworkable’ (Fana et al., 2020). Of the EU member states, Luxembourg has the highest proportion of jobs fit for telework (Fana et al., 2020). Similar patterns have emerged in the United States, where cities such as Austin, Texas, and Boise, Idaho, have absorbed a large number of Silicon Valley firms and workers, many of whom may never re-turn to the office. In Europe, further decentralisation is possible if banks’ back-office staff are permanently dislocated from central offices.

Our research programme

To explore the socio-spatial impacts of the current state of affairs, this project first builds an updated profile of each financial centre by investigating how the corporate geography of banks and financial services firms has changed over the past five years. Firm-level data will be compiled from various proprietary databases with a view to understand how Brexit and COVID-19 have reoriented the character and composition of advanced producer services within each city. Second, the reorientation of each city’s services agglomeration will be related to its spatial impact through a detailed investigation of local property markets as key indicators.

The nature of commercial property has changed considerably with a pivot to teleworking, larger floorplates (allowing for distancing) and the requirements of global firms whose foot-print extends far beyond the walls of their offices. Residential property has also been brought into sharper relief, with a greater preference for working from home, meaning that proximity to urban centres is potentially less important than space. This may affect small-but-global financial centres more significantly than global metropolises. 

Based on a combination of empirical data, extensive stake-holder interviews and focus group meetings, we interrogate which changes may play out in each market’s property sector, and how these relate to both global and industry trends. Finally, given the importance of regulation, the project concludes by investigating how policymakers and urban planners have responded to these multiple crises and their significance for urban policies and planning.


FINCITY seeks to hire a post-doc in global urban studies (contract with UL; duration 3 yrs) and a PhD-student in urban studies or economic geography (contract with LISER, duration 3+1 yrs). Pls consult the recruiting portals of the two institutions, see the links above. Applications are accepted online only. Both institutes offer a highly inspiring international work environment.

More information:

PIs: Prof Dr Markus Hesse, UL, Dr Sabine Dörry, LISER. Partners: Assoc. Prof Dr Thomas Sigler, University of Queensland, Australia/UL, Prof Dr Susanne Heeg, Goethe University Frankfurt/Main, Germany, Prof Dr Martin Sokol, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland.
Duration: 1 June 2022 – 31 May 2025. Funding provided by Fonds National de la Recherche (FNR), Luxembourg/CORE.
Contact: markus.hesse@uni.lu

28 January, 2022

New Publication in Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space

The growth and consequences of data centres is not known and largely not public. Great to see our map of data centres in the Washington Metropolitan Area and their impact published in Environment and Planning A.

Four reasons why data centers matter, five implications of their social spatial distribution, one graphic to visualize them

by Desmond Bast, Constance Carr, Karinne Madron, Ahmad Mafaz Syrus

Abstract Data centers constitute a new kind of telecommunications infrastructure that demands attention for four reasons. Data centers are under-examined in the social sciences literature, urban studies, in particular. Data centers present an under explored geography of cyberworlds. Large digital corporations such as Amazon or Google are expanding their role in urban infrastructural development (such as data centers), and it is necessary to research and explain this phenomenon. Data centers present challenges of urban governance. The graphic provided here visualizes the social spatial distribution of data centers in the Washington Metropolitan Area. There are five implications of their social spatial distribution. Data centers are concentrated in metropolitan areas. Data centers have a high demand for energy and water, competing with local residents for these resources. The data center industry is a state-led niche economy. The uneven distribution of data centers can invoke inter-county competition for tax revenue, in addition to access to the water, power, and land resources that data centers require. The scale of the problem is unknown because the input needs of many data centers are not publicly available.

You can read the full text and download the map here (Open Access):

This is the first publication resulting from Carr's FNR funded project entitled, “Digital urban development - How large digital corporations shape the field of urban governance, (DIGI-GOV),” (C20/SC/14691212/DIGI-GOV).

12 January, 2022

PhD-Student wanted: Ghent University, Belgium, Dept. of Geography

Overview of the position

Colleagues @UGhent are looking for a PhD student who will join the Social and Economic Geography (SEG) research group at the Geography Department of Ghent University, Belgium. The appointed PhD student will work on the project titled “The effect of teleworking on travel and well-being”, funded by the Research Foundation – Flanders (FWO) and supervised by prof. Frank Witlox (Ghent University) and assoc. prof. Jonas De Vos (University College London). They are seeking a candidate for a 4-year term. At Ghent University the PhD student will work at one of the leading universities in Western Europe. The SEG research group has conducted high-quality research on travel behaviour over the past years, collaborating intensively with experts in the field from universities abroad. 

Project summary

The current COVID-19 pandemic is likely to trigger more teleworking for a substantial share of employees in the coming years. However, existing studies have not yet come to a consensus on whether or not teleworking results in less overall travel, since fewer commute trips may be compensated for by more or longer trips for other purposes or even by workers relocating farther away from their work. Additionally, no studies have yet analysed the nature or extent of how people may change their daily time use and how not commuting may influence their subjective well-being. 
The proposed study has four core objectives: 1. To determine the relationship of teleworking with commuting patterns and the residential location; 2. To analyse the nature and extent of the effect of teleworking on workers’ activity-travel behaviour; 3. To evaluate the impacts of teleworking on the subjective well-being of workers; 4. To create a new comprehensive framework for the relationships between teleworking, and (changing) travel patterns, activity participation and well-being.

Required qualifications

- MSc degree in Geography (and broader social sciences), Spatial planning, Transport planning/engineering, or related field - Excellent written and oral communication in English - Knowledge of Dutch is an asset - Knowledge of statistical analyses (e.g., SPSS, AMOS), and GIS applications and techniques are an asset - Familiarity with travel behaviour literature is an asset Conditions of employment We offer a full-time position (38 hours/week) for a period of four years (2 + 2 years). The minimum net monthly salary is € 2.116,90 (depending on experience) + benefits. Employees of Ghent University have 39 days of (paid) leave per year. The PhD student will have office space at Ghent University’s campus “Sterre”. Ghent University is an equal employer institute.

Application instructions 

All individuals interested in this position must submit a short motivation letter, CV, and MSc academic transcript (in one PDF file, named “Last name_First name_FWO”) to prof. Frank Witlox (frank.witlox@ugent.be) and assoc. prof. Jonas De Vos (jonas.devos@ucl.ac.uk) by February 4th, 2022. The appointed PhD student is expected to start around April-May 2022.