The 2013 RC21 conference took place one month ago in Berlin with the tittle “Resourceful Cities”. During the conference, the limits of existing Urban Theory to explain urbanisation processes in ‘global south’ were explored in different ways. In a plenary session, Jeremy Seekings talked explicitly about ‘Urban Theory: the dream and its limits’,stressing that influence of cities on urban theory has been uneven, with some cities being deeply analysed and studied and others being misregarded. For instance, prior to the rise of London, Istanbul and Beijing were the most populated cities, but they were neglected until recently. Conversely, Chicago and Los Angeles were at the forefront of Urban Theory due to their concentration for material and academic resources through universities. Seekings analysed to what extent there exist different modernities and thus, different patterns of urbanisation and modernisation. Seekings conference will be available at the RC21 website as part of the IJURR series.
This debate somewhow continued in the plenary debate ‘Reloading urban studies beyond the intrinsic logic of its planetary confines?’ with the participation of Martina Löw, Neil Brenner and Michael Storper, with Roger Keil as a chair. Storper defended the existing tools to analyse urban change, depicting how agglomeration still matters even that we are witnessing a process of massive urbanisation. Brenner, by his side, publicised his forthcoming book going to appear at the end of the year defending a new urban theory approach based on Lefebvre (Storper has a new book too, but he was much more subtle in advertising). It was a pity that Martina Löw, one of the most relevant urban sociologists in Germany, was shadowed by their colleagues and the chair.
During the conference four books were presented in ‘Author meets critics’ sessions, in which the author receives criticisms of his/her book and there is the opportunity to debate ideas. The books presented in these sessions were:
- Bridge, G., Butler, T. and L. Lees (2013) Mixed Communities – Gentrification by Stealth?
- Marques, E. (2013) Opportunities and Deprivation in the Urban South – Poverty, Segregation and Social Networks in Sao Paulo
- Moulaert, F.. Maccallum, D., Mehmood, A. and A. Hamdouch 2013) The International Handbook on Social Innovation
- Hall, Suzanne (2013) City, Street and Citizen – The Measure of the ordinary
These sessions are very fruitful to know more about the books and to discuss significant issues. One of them, that appeared during the conference as well as in plenary and paper sessions was Gentrification. This is not surprising given the fact that Berlin is strongly affected by gentrification dynamics since the last 20 years as different scholars such as Andrej Holm have analyzed. These dynamics are more complex than similar trends in english and northern american contexts given the specificity of the city. In fact, Berlin, as a city-state and one of the poorest Lands of Germany is fascinating from the point of view of urban research. Its uniqueness as a city divided by the iron curtain, the reunification of the city under optimistic visions, its crisis and the capacity of its citizens to develop innovative forms of social action and self-organisation makes the city an interesting case study that shows that informal practices, self-organisation and ‘different’ dynamics are also visible in the ‘global north’, and in the capital of the most advanced European continental economy. This fascination generated great interest in a special session of the conference labelled ‘Questioning Berlin’ in which different Berlin scholars such as Margrit Mayer, Andrej Holm, Mathias Bernt and Johannes Novy, together with Claire Colomb and Sabina Uffer from UCL (both of them working on Berlin) showed local debates bridging them with international research. If you are interested in this debate, there is also a new book The Berlin Reader, that collects relevant articles on Berlin translating some of them to English for the first time.