29 November, 2023

'This country is punching ...' Lecture documentation

As already mentioned in the previous blog-post, I was invited to give a lecture on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the University of Luxembourg. It was held on Thursday, 23rd November 2023, at Campus Belval in the Black Box of the MSH. This was a nice event visited by about 50 people, among them colleagues, students, and also a number of guests from outside the University.

(c) Olga Kryvets

I have documented the talk in a script that, for technical reasons, is stored for download on the University's repository orbilu.uni.lu (HERE). The text has largely remained in the form of its oral presentation, aiming to provide an overview of some key development dynamics and conflicts of the country. While sticking to the scientific method of providing a solid question, making empirical cases and also deriving robust conclusions, I tried my best to speak to the interested reader and the general public as well.

For further reading and sense-making, there is a number of sources mentioned at the end of the paper, which are all available on the repository. As a publicly funded institution, we are committed to inform the public, so feel free to consult our writings. (In my case, this includes both academic journal papers and book chapters, but also a range of shorter articles deliberately written for the interested public and the readers of magazines and media outlets such as 'forum', 'Letzëbuerger Land', 'ons stad', or 'Luxemburger Wort'.)

And for sure, we certainly speak to institutions outside of academia, to politics and practice about these and other issues as well, if this is desired.

12 November, 2023

'This country is punching far beyond its weight'-- Lecture on the occasion of uni.lu@20

Colleagues, students and the interested public are invited to this talk on behalf of the UL celebrating its 20th anniversary. It is one of the contributions selected from the Faculty of Humanities, and we are happy that this proposal coming from the Dept. of Geography & Spatial Planning was selected as well. 
    The quote in the title comes from an expert interview in recent research. It illustrates the foundational fact that Luxembourg has considerably more economic power and dynamism that its size and institutional set-up would allow to accommodate to. This is the basic problem that runs through all development and planning conflicts, reinforced by institutional and procedural complexity and inertia. Appropriate strategies need to be structural. However, current practice is constrained by three different sorts of illusion: a growth illusion; a steering illusion; and a sustainability illusion. The lecture will close by reflecting upon some thoughts on how to address structural challenges.
    The talk could be assumed as a menu composed of four courses. The ‘amuse geul’ (S1) includes a short note on where I obtained the knowledge that allows for to make today’s argument (aka my lenses). The 'entrée' (S2) refers to the work others have been doing on related subject matters in most general terms (aka theory). S3 may comprise the main course: the specificities of Luxembourg’s development trajectory, the dark side of being small-but-global, and the governance illusions that seem pertinent when it comes to policy & planning discourses. As to the dessert (S4), I know that I cannot finish this exercise without addressing what could, or should, be done in order to improve the real-world situation. I remain pretty cautious and won’t present solutions. Instead, I will name a few important requirements that need to be set in place, before one may think about anything that promises to resolve the underlying issues.
    Entrance is free (of course), but the organisers would like to see participants register in advance. This can be done HERE.

Markus Hesse

10 November, 2023

A podcast about Luxembourg for our swedish readers










Last October, Carr had the pleasure of greeting Håkan Forsell and Dan Hallemar in Luxembourg as they expand their catalogue of cities under exploration for their podcast, Staden Podcast. Swedish listeners can tune in here: https://www.stadenpodcast.se/avsnitt/luxemburg

05 October, 2023

Is Belval so cool that it needs redevelopment?

Surprise, surprise: we are slowly but surely moving towards a greener, safer, more human #Belval in Luxembourg’s old-industrial south. This pre-Christmas gift was presented to the public on the 29th September 2023, shortly before the national elections, by three ministers (Mobility & Public Works; Energy & Spatial Planning; Environment) jointly with the development agency #Agora and the two municipalities of Esch-sur-Alzette and Sanem. Their proposal for a new mobility design of the district was already called “an extensive redevelopment” of Belval by Delano-Magazine. The place is well known for some iconic buildings such as the red Dexia-tower or the old high furnace, which was refurbished as industrial heritage; last but not least, Belval hosts the University’s premises, among them the Maison du Savoir (House of Knowledge) and also the library with its impressive mélange of modern and industrial construction features.

The ‘redevelopment’ of development

Belval has emerged on the grounds of a steel-production plant about 20 years ago, after one of the two high furnaces had been decommissioned in 1997. Cleaning-up the site and initial development took place in the early 2000s, while most recent data from the developing agency Agora indicate that the site is meanwhile developed by about 60% of its floorspace and facilities and sold out to investors or users by about 80%, as of 2023. A true success story, as the government has put it. However, one may wonder why a new site that is even not yet completed already needs redevelopment, after a relatively short period of existence. Could it indeed be the case that the area is not yet the vibrant urban neighbourhood that was once promised by its founders and financiers? Did the government eventually recognize that its car-oriented layout and street design has fallen out of time, from the very beginning? Less than a year ago only, when our colleagues from Architecture @uni.lu had organised a set of roundtables on Belval, the community of developers (public, private) demonstrably claimed that if they would have to do it again, they would do it exactly in the same way (“by 100 percent”, quote). That must have been a different theatre.
    As members of the UL and thus one of the main public users of the Cité des Sciences, we just went through our rentrée number nine since we were moved to Belval in fall 2015. That gives sufficient evidence to discuss the pros and cons of the area and its environment, and to assess the most recent promises of the government. Our answers to both questions may add some ‘varieties of interpretation’, particularly when looking at the non-built environment, that is, people, community, politics and organization. (I leave aside the ways of how the University’s affairs, buildings and infrastructures are managed—a separate story).
    As to the first point, a lot has been written about Belval also on this platform, which does not need to be repeated. In a nutshell: one concern is about the overall development that has rendered the site a rather dense and sealed surface. There seems to be a significant lack of green space that has made Belval becoming a windy heat-island. The urban fabric obviously inhibits environmental problems that result from a narrow-minded reading of sustainability as density. Moreover, little to no space is offered for non-market based use, for example the self-organization of students. It looks as if every square-metre will have to find its ultimate market value, being subject to development, management, and control. Newly built large-scale projects often need decades to develop their urban patina, while the benefits of truly public spaces with social mix, accidental interaction across social classes, and adaptation to change are yet missing. Such properties are admittedly difficult to plan for, but one wonders whether this point has been part of the planning at all.
    Another source of long-standing commentary is its car-oriented approach to accessibility, which only recently started to become improved. This brings us to the second question: What to expect from the new plans presented by the government? Is it good to see that politics has actually acknowledged the poor shape of both mobility infrastructure and street-urban design with respect to the site? Yes, it is, improvements are as welcome as needed. However, it is hard to accept that a seamless, comfortable connection of the district to other nodes in the country, notably its capital – provided by the tram – will not be ready before 2035 or 2038. That would be more than two decades after the Cité des Sciences was inaugurated. In the light of this timing: Is it serious to install displays on Belval streetscape that announce the coming of the tram—as if it would be tomorrow, not in 15 years …? Also, it remains to be seen whether hastily painted ‘pop-up bike lanes’ will improve the real situation, or just indicate bad conscience of the authorities.

The politics of infrastructure and planning at large scale

Inertia in changing infrastructure systems is well-known, and it is a common question whether large-scale urban projects should precede the provision of infrastructure, or follow it afterwards. Answering that question depends on market conditions, the pace of implementation, state funding etc. In the case of Belval, the proclaimed mobility revolution will be late, if at all, given the persistent flow of the poorly occupied automobile that has already gained supremacy today. This is due to the ‘relational’ setting of Luxembourg that depends on the influx of remote (that is, foreign) workforce, thus linked to the necessarily unbalanced relationship between housing and occupation. How many of those who will work in Belval do live around, or will do so in the foreseeable future? Do we create just another ‘terminal’ that maximizes throughput (in order to generate taxes), without adding a sense of place to the area? These are structural questions that new projects can’t escape from, but that are rarely asked or answered in the phase of conceptualization.
    Apart from the technicalities that the concept brochure provides in the very detail over dozens of pages, we see some familiar patterns of development and planning policy, governance and governmentality (that is, the conduct of conduct). These include, first and foremost, the predominant state as the central actor. Municipalities use to play a minor role when it comes to strategic projects. This was already the case when Belval came into being; consequently, the mayors’ part in the presentation of the new project – while indeed being present at all – is limited to one out of 41 pages of the document. The lion’s share is taken over by state and state-led agencies. This principle already applied to the very beginning of Belval, which was localized based on state decision making in concert with the landowner, not following the preference of the municipality of Esch-sur-Alzette.
    The new plans for Belval also embody a strong emphasis on technology and infrastructure – a policy that seems typical for Luxembourg: building, building, building. Of course, catching up with growth means providing the required infrastructure, especially for the preferred means of a) land use and b) transport. However, in terms of steering transport demand and supply, infrastructure provision alone is necessary but not sufficient as a framework condition. Organisation comes into play as does the question of aims and objectives in more regulatory terms. We recall from early planning that connecting Belval to the train system (by the new gare Belval-Université) had made the government to predict a modal share between cars and transit of 60 to 40 percent for the future. We don’t know in how far this has been achieved, the new concept might be understood as an attempt to strengthen the policy. The open question is what else is foreseen to be implemented for steering the demand side other than the supply of infrastructure and a new street design. Otherwise, the desired outcomes would lack probability. It looks as if the provision of infrastructure is considered to be the end, not the means of the policy.

The conduct of conduct

Finally, the discursive framing of the project follows a common pattern. It includes a handful of steps that we do know too well: First, when a new project is presented to the public, it is sold as a game changer that will resolve the majority of current problems. In a development trajectory that is as complex as contested (such as planning for the small-but-global metropolis), promising “solutions” turns out to be a risky endeavour. As a result, in a second phase the projects earn critical commentaries, either on their outset or after realisation. For a while, this criticism is either rejected or ignored by the authorities. As soon as the deficiencies of real developments can’t be overlooked, officials start to contend critical voices. This criticism is then used in order to escape from the murky reality of today’s development pressure, moving on to praising future projects that would make everything better. This is a narrative cycle that goes on again and again …
    The speed of change in the Grand Duchy is enormous, not only compared with other countries. Development, wealth and growth have a massive impact on society and economy. which is by and large perceived as beneficial. Hence, development and growth enjoy political priority in most fields of practice, also revealed by the election campaigns. However, it unfolds at a certain price: The downside of growth is that both infrastructure and institutions can hardly catch up with the ever rising population of residents and employees. Most of the professional elites are aware of this, yet the underlying conflicts and contradictions are not addressed. 
    Only in rare moments these issues are openly articulated in public discourse. As a notable exception, the lead-candidate of the socialist LSAP conceded in a press-interview prior to the October 2023 elections: “Wir haben die Bedeutung des enormen Wachstums nicht richtig eingeschätzt” (‘We did not properly estimate the importance of the enormous growth’, Luxemburger Wort, 30th September 2023, p. 2). This concession, related to the pandemic and health policy, can certainly be applied to many fields of policy making, such as education, housing, or mobility. There is no solution in sight. However, a reflective, more cautious attitude to contemporary problems and possible mid- and long-term strategies would also be useful to apply in the ‘wicked’ field of development, movement, and mobility. And better remove the tram promotion for a while?

Markus Hesse

06 September, 2023

Mattiucci interviews Carr in ITEM Bookzine di arte e psicoanalisi

Earlier this year, Carr was interviewed by Prof. Cristina Mattiucci Dept of Architecture, University of Naples Federico II. The following is an English-language translation of the original conversation that Mattiucci published in ITEM Bookzine di arte e psicoanalisi N.2 - SI Artificiale - edited by Waiting Room Residency - Giusi Campisi, Sara d’Alessandro Manozzo, Luca Bertoldi - July 2023.

The urban heaviness of the digital / Politics of urban digital infrastructure

by Christina Mattiucci

The Premise: I met Connie (Constance) Carr at INURA - the International Network of Urban Research and Action - which is a network we have shared for many years.

Last year, in June 2022, at the close of the Retreat of the Annual INURA conference held in Luxembourg, she presented her research on - Digital Urban Development - How large digital corporations shape the field of urban governance (DIGI-GOV) - of which she is PI, at the Department of Geography and Spatial Planning, University of Luxembourg. The aim of DIGI-GOV is to explore the role of large digital corporations (LDCs) in digital urban development, how the presence of LDCs in urban planning practice challenge urban governance, and how LDC-led urban development constitutes a new relational geography of digital cities.

I was curious about Carr’s research because it questions dimension of digital urban transformations, and sheds light on 'the weight' of digital dimensions of urban spatial dynamics and in the context of the Urban Question.

Now, almost a year later, I come back to her to try to understand what are the main issues that emerged from that research, beyond the publications resulted from it so far.

Q: It seems to me that your work seeks to understand the on-the-ground politics of urban digital infrastructure. What are the broader questions that have guided your research and what kind of conceptualization of the digital dimension it challenged?

A: The broad aim of DIGI-GOV to examine and explain how large digital corporations such as Amazon or Google influence the development. This is the overarching goal. This research is funded by the Luxembourg National Research Fund. And I say this not only as a logo but also because people often ask me about who funds this research as they are suspicious that it might be Google, or some investor. So, as a small disclaimer, it is important in this context to mention that this is a university research project that is publicly funded and seated at the Department of Geography and Spatial Planning at the University of Luxembourg.

DIGI-GOV grew out and was inspired by a previous project, which looked at Sidewalk Labs in Toronto and what that one happened back then. (see paper[1] about Sidewalk Labs (SL) — a daughter company and urban development arm of Alphabet Inc. and sister to Google LLC— which won the competition to develop 4.9 hectares along Toronto’s shores of Lake Ontario, entering as specific and controversial actor in ordinary urban planning, ndr)

What was interesting about this so-called digital city project was that Sidewalk Labs was a new actor on the local field of urban planning and development. It wasn’t just architects and developers: It was a tech company. Of course, digital technology and urbanization have always gone hand in hand, so in one sense this is not new, but in this case we had a major tech company with enormous capital power, and with access to urban government in ways that were kind of new. This was back in 2017, 2018, and it got massive media attention, and dominated Toronto planning in the port lands until the pandemic hit. Sidewalk was claiming that it would build the most amazing digital city that was the world has ever seen and so on, but what was also remarkable was how it had all levels of Canadian government behind it, which were not only giving their public support, but also coordinating their public messages and appearances. So, we saw the CEO of Alphabet Inc. on stage with the Prime Minister of Canada and the Premier of Ontario. This is not easy to do, actually. So, obviously, there was some concentrated cooperation going on, in addition to the new digital gadgets that Sidewalk wax developing and preparing to sell.

From a research perspective, the next question was: How might this play out in other cities? And so, DIGI-GOV looks at six cities: the Washington Metropolitan Area, Seattle, Toronto, Amsterdam, Luxembourg, and Kiev. It’s a gigantic project -- and there is a fairly large team on it -- and we are currently in various stages of research in all these places.

Q: Let's talk back about DIGI-GOV. Your work also highlights "data matters" through their production/materialization/storage. The graphic you published on data centers in the Washington Metropolitan Area and respective kW needs is very significant in this perspective. It shows an interpretative map, where you show some significant implications. As you wrote, the map provides the visualization of the social spatial distribution of data centers and it points out the five implications you found: data centers are concentrated in metropolitan areas; they have a high demand for energy and water, competing with local residents for these resources; their 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 they require. In the related paper[2] you stated that ‘data centers present an under explored geography of cyberworlds. By means of that large digital corporations such as Amazon or Google are expanding their role in urban infrastructural development’. What are the main challenges of data centers for urban governance? Then, not forgetting that there are issues of visibility and secretness, what kind of data you were able to spatialize?

A: There are two main vains of research in DIGI-GOV. First, DIGI-GOV looks a symbolic places like Sidewalk Labs or the headquarters of Amazon. Second, the project addresses new kinds of telecommunications infrastructure, data centers in particular. Those are the two key foci. About the maps that we drew: We completed those at the beginning of the project because that was back in 2021 and we were all rather new to the topic of data centers. Actually, no one on the team really knew what a data center even was. Further, it was a rather under-researched infrastructure with most work limited to the domains of engineering and computer science. So, we were pursuing this very basic exploration: What is a data center? What are the varieties of kind of data centers? Where are they? What do they do? We were just exploring some basic facts about what we were dealing with. This is where we discovered, through publicly available sources, where they were, and what the basic characters of these locations were, from which we could extrapolate what this might mean or implicate in spatial terms.

We learned that it was a booming business, that their input needs (such as land) were expanding rapidly. We also found – and this was surprising at the time – that data centers were concentrating in metropolitan areas. I had gone into this thinking that data centers would be a rural phenomenon, which was not only totally wrong, it was predictable according to the urban studies literature, as telecommunications infrastructure have always concentrated in urban areas. So, if you look at publicly available maps (e.g. Baxtel.com), you'll find that the data centers are usually in big cities like Amsterdam, Frankfurt, London, Paris, Washington, Seattle. They're concentrating in the metropolitan areas.

We also noticed a certain set of institutions, carving out their economic positions. The one that really stuck out to us, of course, was the prevalence of Amazon particularly in the Washington Metropolitan Area. Of course, Amazon just does not disclose anything, actually, but they have 50 or so data centers in the WMA. We also know that they have the largest and most modern data centers with huge data input, storage and processing needs, so they must be enormous. But we can't access this in specific terms.

Q: As an exploratory work, I imagine the maps started to speak to your project. If you had to imagine to integrate your maps at the end of the project, do you think that are other elements that should be made visible or just the power of seeing the located data centers works in itself?

A: I don't know yet. On one hand, this was not supposed to be solely a story about location. But on the other hand, it is definitely interesting to think about how data centers are changing urban and regional landscapes. We did find that they are near waterways, so this is a territorial question. And, they're also in well-to-do neighborhoods (another surprise). Whether this should be ‘mapped’, per se, I don’t know. We can also illustrate with text.

Q: Going back to the challenges of visibility and secretness…

A: For us, secrecy was and remains the biggest problem. There is a lot of information out there about the massive amounts of electricity and water that data centers need. There's a lot available on industry websites about where data centers are and what they are willing to reveal about electricity consumption. There is also a lot of discussion about improving efficiencies. This is of course very important. But what we find is that we cannot really access what is behind these processes, which is also an interesting phenomenon. So, for example, there are a lot of engineers working on improving energy efficiencies, but very little about actual input needs. It's one thing to be efficient, but if your absolute input continues to grow then there's still an issue about availability of resources. So, that is an area that is not really clarified. And then of course, the issue of what data is being stored where, by what company etc., and this is all super-secret. There are of course good reasons for secrecy (e.g. security), but this also creates a situation where there is no room for public input and certainly no room for public debate. Further, it is worth mentioning that protests against data centers are becoming commonplace. So, there is a need on one hand for public conversation about these, but there is also a strong need for secrecy, which is driven by security concerns and, we cannot forget, corporate secrecy as is practiced in profit driven enterprises.

Q: It seems to me that it means looking at a kind of materialization of the data in the city. What would you say are the main challenges of this material dimension of data? And, let's think too about some of the political implication of your research questions. That is: What does this work bring out about the neoliberal directions of urban transformations?

A: There is more to explore in terms of neoliberal urbanism, and what that means when for-profit urbanism is driven by big tech that prioritize their agendas, under the veil of secrecy. This, I think is really interesting.

Q: What do you think are the "exportable" themes of your research, which can be a reference for a critical reading of the digital dimension in other urban contexts as well, where for instance processes related to resource consumption or to financialization are somehow less evident?  

A: Hard questions! <laugh> Okay, what we can learn from, which we would say as interesting? It's funny because I think maybe, maybe digital urbanization is a better term than smart cities or even digital cities, because for me urbanization implies a set of processes which then expose how cities form, produce and constitute each other. This refers to the urban theoretical concept of relationality: that cities are not atomized, particulate places, but mutually producing one another. This is a very broad field of urban studies research, which talks about urban comparison, how to conceptualize urban spaces as part of international networks of spaces and flows of many kinds. There is a lot there, and there are better urban theorists than me that discuss this. But here I can give you a simple but rather extreme example: I just got back from Washington DC where I observed that there were lots of protests about data centers. The repeating narrative was - and this is incredible if it's true - is that 70% of the internet goes through Virginia. If that is true, that's insane! Ok, because of secrecy we cannot actually verify it, but if true, it is not only extreme, it also shows how places are interconnected and involved in digitalization processes. Our (online, ndr) conversation here, the one between you and me, is going through another place, completely different, far away, in a different jurisdiction, and the spatial manifestation of both places – in this case, data center sprawl in Virginia and office development in Europe – define and shape one another. I think that this is very significant.

[1] Carr, C, Hesse, M (2020). When Alphabet Inc. Plans Toronto’s Waterfront: New Post-Political Modes of Urban Governance. Urban Planning, Volume 5, Issue 1, p. 69–83. DOI: 10.17645/up.v5i1.2519
[2] Desmond Bast, D, Carr, C, Madron, K and Syrus, AM (2022). Four reasons why data centers matter, five implications of their social spatial distribution, one graphic to visualize them. EPA: Economy and Space, p. 1–5 . DOI: 10.1177/0308518X211069139

20 July, 2023

Tracing Ukrainian tech-ecosystems at ICT Spring in Luxembourg

ICT Spring is a specialized exhibition held in Luxembourg that serves as a dynamic venue where start-ups can pitch their ideas to prospective investors. This event attracts tech enthusiasts eager to explore the latest trends and meet with influential figures sharing insights on innovative ICT developments.
It is arguably the most important event of the year in the field of ICT in Luxembourg. There, one can discover new start-ups, listen to panel discussions, and attend presentations by leading ICT experts. The exhibition covers diverse areas such as cybersecurity, data protection, digital infrastructure, fintech, cryptocurrencies, and the emerging metaverse, and cityverses as the future of smart cities. In terms of urban development specifically, one software company was developing a tool for monitoring air quality, and another for video surveillance in the garbage collection system. Global giants like Google, IBM, Microsoft, and PwC also showcased some of their newer innovations, while local Luxembourg companies like Luxinnovation and Luxconnect contributed to the ecosystem.  
Among the participants, Kryvets was particularly curious about the Ukrainian presence because these may lend clues to the make-up of the Ukrainian tech ecosystem which is diverse, fragmented, and dispersed all at once. The Ukrainian stand, organized by the Ukrainian-Luxembourg Chamber of Commerce and Industry, showcased five start-ups. One presented a blockchain-based agro-marketplace for Ukrainian farmers that could potentially render the market more transparent. Another was a virtual job search platform to stem the brain drain from Ukraine and optimize processes of finding an employer. One developer proposed a tool for easier coding. Another aimed to ease the search and selection of lawyers in various fields in Ukraine and the EU, and still another focussed on tools and solutions to promote e-business, digital marketing and sales.
-- Kryvets, Carr, Nicotra

18 July, 2023

New Project: "Digital urban futures - Urban reconstruction efforts in the headquarter City of Kyiv and the role of emerging tech-ecosystems (RE-DIGICITY)"

We are delighted to announce that Dr. Olga Kryvets was awarded a Marie Curie grant from the MSCA4Ukraine Fellowship Scheme under the supervision of Constance Carr.

Project Description

RE-DIGICITY will examine the tech-ecosystem in the City of Kyiv, an East-European headquarter city subject to multiple urban reconstruction efforts in response to authoritarian aggression. RE-DIGICITY aims to understand and explain how tech enterprises both big and small shape reconstruction efforts and contribute to multiple digital urban futures.

RE-DIGICITY is an extension to work (KYIV-DIGIURB) commenced at DGEO, exploring how large digital corporations such as Amazon or Google were involved in reconstruction and resilience in Kyiv. This work built on Carr’s (2021) project, entitled “Digital Urban Development - How large digital corporations shape the field of urban governance (DIGI-GOV).” Funded by the Luxembourg National Research Fund, DIGI-GOV examines the role of large digital corporations in digital urban development in Toronto, Seattle, Washington DC, Luxembourg and Amsterdam (Carr/Hesse 2020, 2022; Bast/Carr/Madron/Syrus 2022; Carr/Bast/Madron/Syrus 2022). RE-DIGICITY expands the horizon to include Microsoft and Samsung as well as smaller enterprises, which together constitute an emerging tech-ecosystem in Kyiv. RE-DIGICITY thus offers fresh insight into processes of urban digitalization (Ash/Kitchin/Leszcznski 2016; Karvonen/Cook/Harstaad 2020) looking at how tech-ecosystems affect digital urban futures in an East-European headquarter city (Gnatiuk/Kryvets 2018; Mykhnenko 2020) undergoing post-disaster reconstruction. RE-DIGICITY is thus a chance to call attention to the ways that contemporary digital cities are (re)constructed and (re)planned. 
Reconstruction and Digital Futures
The invasion, “caused an avalanche of civilian casualties and a large-scale destruction of civilian infrastructure, while Ukraine’s forced displacement and humanitarian needs continue to grow exponentially” (Mykhnenko/Delahaye/Mehdi 2022: 714). Despite ongoing destruction, in June 2022, the Ministry of Temporarily Occupied Territories of Ukraine (MTOTU) (2022) approved the ‘Transition Period Policy’ to begin reconstruction. Around this time too, Amazon, Google and Microsoft were awarded for their efforts in reinforcing Ukraine’s digital infrastructures/services (Nolan 2022). From pie-in-the-sky dreams of Eurovision 2023 in Mariupol, to dreams of modernized urban infrastructures/services (Hay et al. 2022), to immediate needs of clean water, medical supplies, and critical infrastructure (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) 2022), reconstruction in Ukraine was operating at various temporal and spatial scales, through a multitude of narratives responding to different imaginaries. Just as Paidakaki/Moulaert (2017) viewed resilience as granular, so too was the character of reconstruction and the multitude of coeval resilience agendas in Ukraine. It was “a highly political, continuously changing, socially transformative process,” (ibid. 2017: 4). RE-DIGIGOV explores these in relation to coeval efforts at urban digitalization.

An Eastern Headquarter City
Kyiv, the capital city and most economically prosperous area of Ukraine (Mykhnenko 2020), is recognized as Ukraine’s corporate centre, home to older oil, coal and steel production firms, and since the 1990s, home to more and more firms in finance. Recently, a number of international IT firms have also settled, solidifying new economic sectors and growth in the City and country—which, further, are components of wider processes of neoliberalization in the post-socialist, post-industrial city (Gnatiuk/Kryvets 2018; Gnatiuk/Melnychuk 2022; Havryliuk/Gnatiuk/Mezentsev 2021).Today, Kyiv’s IT sector has a broad inventory, and these tech-ecosystems signify the strengthening of new business sectors in a post-socialist, neoliberal economy, and the delivery of a new digital urbanism in Kyiv, a ‘relational’ (Wong/Hesse/Sigler 2022) headquarter city. 

Research Questions
RE-DIGICITY addresses research questions operationalized across three domains: i. reconstruction and digital urban futures; ii. relational headquarter cities; iii) tech-ecosystems in conditions of authoritarian aggression.

RE-DIGICITY’s methodological approach inspired by the processuality of urbanization (Carr/Hesse 2020), ‘interpretative institutionalism’ (Bevir/Rhodes 2006), and urban relationality (Wong/Hesse/Sigler 2022). First, understanding the complexities of urban tech-ecosystems in the context of urban reconstruction requires an examination of the processuality of urbanization. This approach has roots in urban political ecology and focusses on social productive processes because “‘the urban’ is a complex, multiscale and multidimensional process where the general and specific aspects of the human condition meet,” (Keil 2003, 725). Further, a qualitative approach respecting processes uncovers the “thick and rich description of the discourses” (Kenis 2019, 836).

Second, a qualitative approach can assess how institutions are shaped, emphasizing the rationale, background conditions, and justifications that inform decision-making processes, to explain why people/institutions behave as they do. The interpretive institutionalism approach developed by Bevir and Rhodes (2006) provides such tools to generate insight.

Third, by examining Kyiv as a headquarter city, RE-DIGICITY draws on the relational approach rooted in scholarly debates about urban comparison that expose how cities are interconnected and constitute one another (Robinson 2011). In this approach, urban spaces are not bounded territories, but conduits of connection and productive processes that reach and extend beyond specific territories (Uitermark et al. 2012). In this vein, RE-DIGICITY is inspired by Wong et al. (2022) who argued that a city’s positionality in international flows, “is derived from mediating between regionally and globally scaled processes” (Wong/Hesse/Siger 2022: 502): Kyiv’s headquarter strategy can also be conceived of as a “niche center of corporate domiciling” (ibid.: 503).

The conceptual approach translates into a rigorous survey of secondary sources, including media reports, government documentation, videos documentation, and more. The goal is to obtain an overview of the scope and volume of the discourse.  Narratives drawn from follow-up interviews can then be triangulated against the written discourse, to achieve a deeper understanding of discourses, conflicts, and positions. 

Ash, J./Kitchin, R./Leszcznski, M. 2016. Digital turn, digital geographies? Progress in Human Geography, 42:1,25- 43.

Bast, D./Carr, C./Madron, K./Syrus, AM. 2022. Four reasons why data centers matter, five implications of their social spatial distribution, one graphic to visualize them. Environment and Planning A, https://doi.org/10.1177/0308518X211069139

Bevir, M./Rhodes, R. 2006. Governance Stories. London: Routledge.

Carr, C. 2021. DIGI-GOV Project Summary. https://orbilu.uni.lu/bitstream/10993/45932/1/DIGI-GOV%20Brochure%20January%202021.pdf

Carr, C./Bast, D./Madron, K./Syrus, AM. 2022. Mapping the clouds: The matter of data centers. Journal of Maps

Carr, C./Hesse, M. 2020. When Alphabet Inc. Plans Toronto’s Waterfront: New Post-Political Modes of Urban Governance, Urban Planning, 5:1,69-83.

---- 2022. Technocratic Urban Development: Large Digital Corporations as Power Brokers of the Digital Age. Planning Theory & Practice, https://doi.org/10.1080/14649357.2022.2043717

Gnatiuk, O./Kryvets, O. 2018. Post-Soviet residential neighbourhoods in two second-order Ukrainian cities: Factors and models of spatial transformation. Geographica Pannonica, 22:2,104-120.

Gnatiuk, O./Melnychuk, A. 2022. Housing names to suit every taste: neoliberal place-making and toponymic commodification in Kyiv, Ukraine. Eurasian Geography and Economics, DOI: 10.1080/15387216.2022.2112250

Hay, A./Karney, H./Martyn, B.N. 2022. Reconstructing infrastructure for resilient essential services during and following protracted conflict: A conceptual framework. International Review of the Red Cross.

Havryliuk, O.,/Gnatiuk, O.,/Mezentsev/K. 2021. Suburbanization, but centralization? Migration patterns in the post-Soviet functional urban region – evidence from Kyiv. Folia Geographica, 63:1,64-84

Hesse, M. 2022. Project Description FINCITY. https://orbilu.uni.lu/bitstream/10993/50569/1/Excerpt%20from%20FINCITY%20Project%20Description.pdf

Karvonen, A./Cook, M./Harstaad, H. 2020. Urban Planning and the Smart City: Projects, Practices and Politics. Urban Planning, 5:1,65-68.

Keil, R. 2003. Progress report: Urban political ecology. Urban Geography, 24:8,723–738.

Kenis, A. 2019. Post-politics contested: Why multiple voices on climate change do not equal politicisation. Environment and Planning C, 37:5,831–848.

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Mykhnenko, V. 2020. Causes and consequences of the war in eastern Ukraine: An economic geography perspective. Europe-Asia Studies, 72:3,528-560.

Mykhnenko, V./Delahaye, E./Mehdi, N. 2022. Understanding forced internal displacement in Ukraine: insights and lessons for today’s crises. Oxford Review of Economic Policy, 38:3,699–716.

Nolan, B 2022. Zelenskyy awards Amazon the Ukraine peace prize after AWS helped save its ‘digital infrastructure’. Business Insider. https://www.businessinsider.com/zelenskyy-amazon-ukraine-peace-prize-digital-war-support-aws-2022-7?r=US&IR=T

Paidakaki A./Moulaert F 2017. Does the post-disaster resilient city really exist? International Journal of Disaster Resilience in the Built Environment, 8:3,275–291.

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Wong, C./Hesse, M./Sigler, T. 2022. City-states in relational urbanization: the case of Luxembourg and Singapore, Urban Geography, 43:4,501-522.

05 July, 2023

PhD-Candidate in Geography / Spatial Planning---There are 10 days left to apply

The University of Luxembourg is an international research university with a distinctly multilingual and interdisciplinary character. The University was founded in 2003 and counts more than 6,700 students and more than 2,000 employees from around the world. The University’s faculties and interdisciplinary centres focus on research in the areas of Computer Science and ICT Security, Materials Science, European and International Law, Finance and Financial Innovation, Education, Contemporary and Digital History. In addition, the University focuses on cross-disciplinary research in the areas of Data Modelling and Simulation as well as Health and System Biomedicine. 
The Faculty of Humanities, Social Sciences and Education (FHSE) brings together expertise from the humanities, linguistics, cognitive sciences, social and educational sciences. People from across 20 disciplines are working within the Faculty. Along with the disciplinary approach a very ambitious interdisciplinary research culture has been developed. The faculty’s research and teaching focuses on social, economic, political and educational issues with the common goal of contributing to an inclusive, open and resourceful society. The FHSE offers six Bachelor and twenty Master degrees and a doctoral school providing students with the necessary knowledge and high-qualified skills to succeed in their future career.

Your role: 

Prepare a doctoral thesis in geography and/or planning, within the context of global urban studies, as we explored it through our past research project GLOBAL and the ongoing FINCITY research. In this context, it is our particular interest to find out what being small-but-global means for development and planning. While the above projects were focussing on urban and metropolitan governance more generally (GLOBAL), and commercial real-estate markets in particular (FINCITY), we propose to study further fields of application. These could be, for example, the science-policy interface in geography and planning (aka transfer), or the notion of flows (logistics) and how it collides with the configuration of places. Apart from that, we are also interested in learning about candidates’ own proposals, as far as these are situated in the above broader context.
Assist in teaching activities, limited to a range of one to three hours per week.
Contribute to tutoring Master students.


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. (Knowledge of either French or German is an advantage).

In short:

Contract Type: Fixed Term Contract 36 Months 
Work Hours: Full Time 40.0 Hours per Week
Location: Belval
Internal Title: Doctoral Researcher
Job Reference: UOL05805

How to apply:

Applications (in English) should contain the following documents: A detailed curriculum vitae; Copies of Master Diploma; Motivation Letter; Support letter from at least one recent scientific advisor/professor; A PhD proposal (min 2,000, max 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.

Candidates should apply by 15th July 2023. Please apply HERE through the HR system. Applications by email will not be considered. The University of Luxembourg embraces inclusion and diversity as key values. We are fully committed to removing any discriminatory barrier related to gender, and not only, in recruitment and career progression of our staff.

Here's what awaits you at the University:

Multilingual and international character. Modern institution with a personal atmosphere. Staff coming from 90 countries. Member of the “University of the Greater Region” (UniGR). A modern and dynamic university. High-quality equipment. Close ties to the business world and to the Luxembourg labour market. Cooperation with European institutions, innovative companies, the Financial Centre and with numerous non-academic partners such as ministries, local governments, associations, NGOs …

03 July, 2023

We are delighted to welcome Prof. Rob Kitchin to the MSH in Belval, July 6 2023, 10:00-10:45 am

DGEO in co-operation with the ARL is delighted to welcome Prof. Rob Kitchin of Maynooth University will deliver a public talk on "Exploring Digital Space-Time" for the opening of the ARL International Summer School, July 6, 2023, 10:00-10:45 am

Abstract - Digital technologies are having a profound effect on the temporalities and spatialities of individuals, households and organizations. For example, we now expect to be able to source instantly a vast array of information at any time and from anywhere, as well as to buy goods with the click of a button and have them delivered within hours, while time management apps and locative media have altered how everyday scheduling and mobility unfold. The presentation will examine the relationship between time and space in the digital age, examining the production digital timescapes. It will illustrate the argument by charting the timescapes of smart cities

The Summer School introductory keynote is open for remote attendances via the Webex platform. 

  • Listen in at: https://tinyurl.com/4mjvkxvj 
  • Webex number: 2731 796 4397
  • Webex password: ARL2023
  • Webex host: Constance Carr (contact: constance.carr@uni.lu)
  • Link will open at 9:50 am

Those in Luxembourg are also invited to join in the Black Box, MSH, Belval Campus, July 6, 10:00-10:45 am.  Because space is limited, please RSVP to constance.carr@uni.lu by midnight on Tuesday, July 4th so that we can accommodate appropriately.

Digital technologies are having a profound effect on the temporalities and spatialities of individuals, households and organizations. For example, we now expect to be able to source instantly a vast array of information at any time and from anywhere, as well as to buy goods with the click of a button and have them delivered within hours, while time management apps and locative media have altered how everyday scheduling and mobility unfold. The presentation will examine the relationship between time and space in the digital age, examining the production digital timescapes. It will illustrate the argument by charting the timescapes of smart cities.


25 June, 2023

New Project - Relational geographies of the urban digital growth machine: Mapping the socio-spatial pathways (DiGiMap)

We are delighted to announce that the Luxembourg National Research Fund granted the AFR PhD project entitled, "Relational geographies of the urban digital growth machine: Mapping the socio-spatial pathways (DiGiMap)"  (Carr, PI). The Urban Studies Group looks forward to being joined by Desmond Bast, (who formerly worked on DIGI-GOV) to take on this project.

Project Summary
DiGiMap seeks out new geographies of what Rosen/León (2022) call “the digital growth machine” (DGM), how it emerges at various spatial scales, and changes contemporary urban realities of planetary urbanization (Brenner/Schmid 2015). DiGiMap is a PhD project that will expose spatial relations constituting new digital infrastructures, networked ‘cyberworlds’ (Kitchin/Dodge 2014) and their socioeconomic compositions. Engaging narrated cartographic illustrations and related qualitative analyses, new understandings of planetary urbanization will be platformed, highlighting irregularities of digital spatial development and the impacts on sociospatial disparities.

Rosen/León (2022) describe the DGM as combining traditional urban growth, spatial commodification patterns with that of digitally mediated accumulation dynamics, revealing increasingly asymmetric logics that shift urban processes to the authority of digital entrepreneurs—affirming work at DGEO that shows how large digital corporations are new ‘power brokers’ in urban development (Carr/Hesse 2022; Bast et al. 2022; Carr et al. 2022). Furthermore, articulating the new geographies of DGMs is urgent against escalating socioeconomic polarization, the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change: The search for “socially just and ecologically sound urbanism” (Graham/Marvin 2022: 6), confronting uneven spatial development (Brenner/Schmid 2015) is urgent.

At the same time, Rodriguez-Pose (2018) exposed a disparity between places able to propagate contemporary economic dynamics and those ill-adapted as ‘places left behind’.’ Vetting areas with poor development options, Rodriguez-Pose (2018) reveals the increasing disenfranchisement of ‘places that don’t matter’ that confront a “future offer[ing] no opportunities, no jobs, and no hope” (ibid:. 20). DiGiMap links this concept to DGMs and aims to expose the disparities caused when DMGs concentrate in certain cities spatially, (dis)advantaging social milieux, and generating new geographies of relational cities (Wong et al. 2022). Recent urban inquiry has addressed implications of such escalating digital architectures (Ash et al. 2016). DiGiMap will search out the (social)(Infra)structures that constitute DGM geographies, and expose spatializations of socioeconomic disparities, reforming our understanding of the urban in relation to advancing processes of digitalization:

“..complex geographies of selected connectivity […] need to be the focus of renewed research. Such analyses must address how the resulting infrastructural landscapes both enable and delimit new distanciated configurations […] patterns of urbanization, architectural and geo-political formations, geo-economic divisions of labour, and structures of social and political life” (Graham/Marvin 2022:4)

DiGiMap will search out answers to: What are the emerging socioinfrastructural components of DGMs shaping urbanity? How can DGMs be relationally understood? How do advancing geographies of uneven digital development spawn social inequalities?

Conceptually, DiGiMap draws on Brenner/Schmid’s (2015) planetary urbanization—which rests on Lefebvre’s (1991) concept of a mille feuille—to convey geographies of uneven spatial digital development. While planetary urbanization has invoked broad debate (Oswin 2018), planetary urbanization exposes spatial character/condition of contemporary urbanity, and DiGiMap can articulate the pastry of social spaces that constitute DGMs.

Methodologically, DiGiMap follows Diener et al. (2001) who empirically illustrated the urban mille-feuille by compiling a “thousand leaves” (Brenner 2015)—exposing Swiss (early millennial) infrastructures as relationally and functionally interconnected, with social spatial consequence: All of Switzerland was urban (ibid.) was the exceptional and profoundly influential finding, radically departing from standard knowledges of Swiss urban space, and overcoming the divided and vested interests of urbanists and ruralists. DiGiMap will similarly chart relational and functional interconnections of infrastructure with a reconfigured emphasis on the nuances of contemporary DGMs.

Empirically, DiGiMap will focus on Luxembourg and Zurich, comparable (Carr/Hesse 2022) in terms of economic growth agendas, high degree of internationalisation, patterns of urbanization, and targets of development/maintenance of innovation economies (Luxembourg 2023; Switzerland 2023).

DiGiMap will scope emerging digital infrastructures unfolding at multiple scales across Luxembourg and Zurich, crossplotting subtleties and differentiation between social, economic and political specificities related to digitalization at different spatial scales. By combining and interpreting diverse data, the workflow facilitates an understanding of how physical attributes and features can be linked-to and associated with various geographical features, relations and patterns.

Interviews with stakeholders will help to contextualise mapping, examining how participants view policies/knowledge/values and processes associated with DGMs.


Ash, J., Kitchin, R., Leszczynski, A. (2016) “Digital turn, digital geographies?” Progress in
Human Geography, 42:1, 25-43.
Bast, D., Carr, C., Madron, K., Syrus, AM. (2022) “Four reasons why data centers matter,
five implications of their social spatial distribution, one graphic to visualize them”
Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space.
Brenner, N., Schmid, C. (2015) “Towards a new epistemology of the urban?” City, 19:2-3,
Carr, C. et al. (2022) “Mapping the clouds: The matter of data centers” Journal of Maps
Carr, C. and Hesse, M. (2022) “Technocratic Urban Development: Large Digital Corporations as Power Brokers of the Digital Age” Planning Theory & Practice, 23:3,476-485.
Diener, R., Herzog, J, Meili, M., de Meuron, P., Schmid, C. (2001) “Switzerland - an Urban Portrait.” Birkhäuser, Basel.
Graham, S., Marvin, S. (2022) “Splintering urbanism at 20 and the “Infrastructural Turn”
Journal of Urban Technology, 29:1, 169-175.
Kitchin, R. and Dodge, M. (2014) “Code/space: Software and everyday life.” MIT Press.
Lefebvre, H. (1991) The Production of Space. Blackwell, London.
Luxembourg, Grand Duchy. (2023) “Digital Luxembourg: Initiatives”
https://digital-luxembourg.public.lu/initiatives Accessed Feb. 11, 2023.
Oswin, N. (2018) “Planetary urbanization: A view from outside” Environment and Planning D:
Society and Space, 36:3, 540-546
Rodríguez-Pose, A. (2017) “The revenge of the places that don’t matter (and what to do
about it).” Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society, 11 (1). pp. 189-209.
Rosen, J. and León, LFA. (2022) “The Digital Growth Machine: Urban Change and the Ideology of Technology” Annals of the American Association of Geographers, 112:8, 2248-2265.
Switzerland, Confederation of. (2023) “Transforming Switzerland into a Leading Digital Nation” https://digitalswitzerland.com/ Accessed Feb 11, 2023.
Wong, C., Hesse, M., Sigler, T. (2022) ‘City-states in relational urbanization: the case of
Luxembourg and Singapore” Urban Geography, 43:4, 501-52

15 June, 2023

DGEO looks forward to hosting the ARL International Summer School

The ARL – Academy for Territorial Development in the Leibniz Association in cooperation with the Department of Geography and Spatial Planning at the University of Luxembourg are looking forward to the ARL International Summer School 2023.

The topic of the summer school is 'A Contested Relationship? Urbanisation & the Digital, vs. Digitalisation & the Urban'. 06-08 July 2023 and University of Luxembourg, Campus Belval. 

This year, the Summer School is situated within recent debates and developments about what was initially called ‘smart cities’. Judging from our observations, related urban policy frames have reached another level of sophistication, after having undergone uncritical praise and popular tech-hype by the 2010s (in what could be understood as a Phase 1), and the more recent practice of policy formulation, implementation and aiming for local impact (which could be considered a Phase 2). We are now looking forward to discussing subsequent events and outcomes in the complex, often contested relationship between urbanisation and the digital, and digitalisation and the urban, respectively. These developments include the more subtle forms of how digital means and processes have become entrenched in urban practices, collective and individual. They comprise issues of surveillance and control (for example in urban domains, or at the workplace); components of infrastructure that provide the backbone of related systems (such as data centres); just-city frames that have risen in response to perceived digital divides in societies; or systems of provision in retail and services that tend to become hegemonic, if not totalitarian (such as Amazon.com). Various forms of governance are also involved here, not only at municipal levels, but also fostered by national and metropolitan governments, for example in strategies of smart specialization.

The programme
This year, we are delighted to welcome four distinguished experts who will contribute with keynote lectures, and tutoring to the Summer School programme: 

  • Prof Andrew Karvonen, Lund University, Sweden
  • Prof Rob Kitchin, Maynooth University, Ireland
  • Priv.-Doz. Dr Bastian Lange, multiplicities, Berlin/University of Leipzig, Germany
  • Dr Julia Rone, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom

In addition, contributions from 12 doctoral students are foreseen which have been selected through a competitive process internationally and across a range of disciplines, such as geography, planning, urban studies and other social sciences and humanities.

INURA 2023 - Kryvets and Carr talk about reconstrution in Kyiv - Part II

INURA conferences always have two parts: The City part, where local INURA organizers present the city through various tours, and the Retreat part where INURA participants gather to discuss their work and think about common projects and urgent urban issues. 

During the City part, Carr was invited to join a panel at the Zentralwascherei to comment on Zurich development from the perspective of Luxembourg, and drawing on past research in the Glatt Valley. Kryvets was also invited to speak about Kyiv reconstruction at a public panel discussion on “Crises and urban action”. Her statement can be found here. Both panels were chaired by Prof. Dr. Christian Schmid (D-ARCH, ETH Zurich).   

At the Retreat, Carr joined a panel with Anastasiia Ponomaryova (NGO Urban Curators, Ukraine); Mariia Prystupa (Kharkiv National University, Ukraine / University of Helsinki, Finland); and Dr. Gruia Badescu, (University of Konstanz, Germany) and reported on challenges articulated by their interviewees. Of course, the Ukrainian government has set broad reaching priorities; These include removing land mines, providing housing, becoming energy independent and working towards European integration. The challenges articulated in Kryvet & Carr's work is not intended to undermine these, but to underscore that at the urban level, recurring themes arose. These include fighting corruption, building systems of transparency and inclusion, addressing the question of who will come back to which cities, figuring out which businesses will new cities need, and determining where to make financial investment.

08 June, 2023

INURA 2023 - Kryvets and Carr talk about reconstrution in Kyiv - Part I

Dr. Olga Kryvets, Dept Geography & Spatial Planning, University of Luxembourg delivering her statement on Kyiv reconstruction at the 31st conference of the International Network of Urban Research and Action, 2023 in Zurich.

Last week, Kryvets and Carr attended the 31st conference of the International Network of Urban Research and Action (INURA), 2023 in Zurich
. During the public panels held at the Rote Fabrik, Kryvets joined Dr. Tammy Wong (Osaka Metropolitan University, Japan); Prof. Dr. Jorge Peña Díaz (CUJAE, Cuba), and Dr. Alokananda Mukherjee (Jadavpur University, India) on a panel entitled, “Crises and urban action” chaired by Prof. Dr. Christian Schmid, (D-ARCH, ETH Zurich).

Kryvet's statement, co-written with Carr and entitled, "From Maidan to resilient urban futures" is printed here.

"Good evening everyone. Hello, my name is Olga Kryvets.

Before the full-scale invasion began, I was the Head of the Patent and License Department at Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv, where it was my job to promote technology. I was also a researcher for the interdisciplinary think tank for socio-economic well-being and mental health. 

I have a PhD in economic and social geography, and it is also relevant to mention that I was also at Maidan 10 years ago. At that time, I was working with engineers in a scientific laboratory and together my colleagues and I came to support the students refusing the dictatorial policies of Kremlin-friendly Yanukovych, supported by his special police forces, the Berkut and the Titushky. Maidan represented the next generation of Ukrainians absolutely refusing to be subjugated to the criminal networks of corruption, and insisting on nothing less than policies and strategies towards the building of institutions that characterize modern democratic society. Today, many still do not realise that Maidan was a revolution, as afterwards Ukraine was able to orient to the west, and Yanukovych and his friends were overthrown. Of course, now, Kremlin aggression has come back with unspeakable ferocity.

As many of you know, I fled Kyiv in spring of 2022. In response to the war, the EU created a framework for Temporary Protection of Ukrainians, allowing them to live and work in EU countries. Furthermore, both the Luxembourg National Research Fund and the University of Luxembourg set up a grant system, and I along with 30 other Ukrainians, joined the Faculty of Humanities, Education and Social Sciences. As someone with a PhD in economic and social geography, with an understanding of innovation ecosystems, I was paired with Connie to work look at how Amazon and Google challenge urban development and governance.

It’s a gigantic project that looks at Washington DC, Seattle, Toronto, Amsterdam, and Luxembourg. My work formed a sixth pillar of the project that looked at Kyiv, and to understand the narratives around resilience and reconstruction in Kyiv, and how this is shaped by digitalization and innovation. We surveyed hundreds of documents, media reports, public speeches given by Ukrainian mayors, as well as the President of Ukraine. We also interviewed urban planners, architects, representatives from NGOs and international organizations involved in damage assessment, reconstruction, urban planning and development. 

Our research topic is unique because we are studying cities not after the war, but during it. The war is happening right now in Ukraine. Right now there are heavy battles for Ukrainian cities and villages. Massive missile attacks from the air, sea, and land on cities, including Kyiv, have resumed. Unfortunately, not only the military, but also civilians are being killed. Currently, these attacks are mostly carried out against residential buildings and less often against infrastructure. The rocket attacks are carried out at 2 am and 4 am to keep the population on their toes. People cannot sleep. They become very nervous.

The blackout period in Ukraine was also a challenge for us too. It was during this period that we started conducting interviews with experts, and at that time in Ukraine there was only 2 hours of electricity a day. Our experts got in touch from the unbreakable spaces (punkty nezlamnosti), from offices with electricity, or from home, turning on the generator and the starlink. 

So far, our results reveal (1) a snapshot of the scale of reconstruction needed after the first 14 months of the war, (2) an idea of how digitalization has become essential for resilience and (3) the diverse set of imagined futures unfolding at different spatial and temporal scales.

Assessing the scale of damage Ukraine-wide at any one point of time is difficult as there are various sources, that provide assessments at different points in time, and because reconstruction is already in process, moving at different speeds and reflecting a multitude of priorities: By August 2022 damage was recorded including over 300 bridges, 24,000 km of roads, 19 airports, 15,300 high-rise buildings, 116,000 houses, 390 businesses, 43,700 units of agricultural machinery, 2000 shops, over 500 administrative buildings, over 100,000 cars, 764 kindergartens, 934 medical facilities, 634 cultural buildings. At that time, drone photography revealed damage in cites at sites of commerce, gastronomy, education, sports facilities, churches, hotels, recycling, water and heating infrastructure, and housing.

According to Kyiv School of Economics damage to infrastructure, by December 2022 was valued at 137.8 billion Dollars. By February 2023, estimates reached 700 billion, and this did not include investments that would be needed for business growth.

While there were over 18,000 reports of damage inside Kyiv, including 6000 buildings, the city of Kyiv itself - which was not overthrown - is still relatively intact inside its perimeters compared to its suburbs and other parts of the country. According to the Kyiv Regional Military Administration, 252 settlements across the Kyiv region were occupied, and many territories have since been liberated back to Ukraine, although they are now full of mines.

Of course, the government has set priorities for reconstruction, and these include energy independence, removing the land mines, providing housing for internally displaced persons, combating corruption, and European integration. We also know that big tech – Microsoft, Google and Amazon – have all won peace prizes for their contributions to resiliency during the war.

But in terms of the future of Ukrainian cities, we heard a lot of optimism among our interviewees.

First, the cities should be smart, digital. Interviewees noted that the digitalization of management processes and the creation of digital solutions have already proven necessary for resilience, and they will continue to be important instruments to improve the lives of residents, simplifying the interaction of local governments with local residents, and enhancing transparency. Such digital services include various applications, but also open data, open maps and other sources of open information that can help local governments be more transparent, more open and understandable to local residents. 

Second, they should be cities with a vision and concept. Interviewees noted that an important condition for urban development was the availability of master development plans, restoring too the synergy between all actors at the local level, and reflecting local needs, such as housing, which was cited by many interviewees as a primary need because of the mass internal displacement. But it was also often said that the new cities will be cities of a new generation, of a new type: green and democratic. 

Third, they should be cities for the communities who live in them. Many said that the future cities should be for the residents. As post-war cities, they need to be safe cities, energy-efficient cities, and energy-independent cities. Of course, these visions reflect immediate needs, such as access to heat, electricity, and the internet. And hence Ukrainian cities are now characterized by personal generators, Starlink receivers and smart phone access to real time information. But it also reflected the need to build long term systems of resilience against further aggression. If we recall the revolution in 2014, we know that this conflict is ongoing.

Our interviewees were very aware of the diversity of needs across the different cities of Ukraine. There might be, for example, new cities that are symbolic cities, such as Kherson, Mariupol or Bakhmut. They also recognized that it makes no sense to restore cities to the state they were before. They will need to reflect the new situation: with the closed border, and with the war.

In this context, many interviewees also saw the new cities as opportunities to, fourth, rebuild with love and solidarity (Yes, we are reminded of Tammy’s work on Hong Kong!). Many dreamed of building comfortable cities; welcoming, inclusive, and sustainable cities in the environmental sense; and cities that reflected of belonging to the European community.

They will be better than they have been so far. …built on the motivation that is there now.