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.