07 June, 2018

Combien ça coûte? A note on land, money, property & profit (Part I)

Sometimes it's really striking how random co-incidences of news items surface on one's screen simultaneously. As geographers and planners, we’re actually well aware of the unholy alliance of land and money, of property and profit, which is the subject matter of this blog entry. A huge body of literatures, both from theory and practice, reveals the prominence and ever-shifting nature of this relationship. Its significance for cities, people and urban life has increased dramatically in recent times, based on a weird assemblage of capital flows, speculative attitudes, and both absence and presence of governance.(1) Last week, such things came together quite nicely in the case of our capital, Luxembourg City, which is a small (roughly 117,000 inhabitants) but powerful economic centre, as the following four short vignettes may illustrate.

First, as to the more generic if not theoretical background of this issue, Robin & Brill explain why urban development that is grounded in private real estate particularly succeeds in times of financialisation, and how, in turn, the latter has increased the pressure on urban processes.(2) (Thank you, Tom Becker, for the hint!) Real-estate players are not only extracting value from transforming and trading urban property, but have become important “transfer agents in the global flow of urban models”.(3) Besides accelerating unaffordability in cities, this phenomenon helps mobilize different conceptions of what the city should be about, blueprints of which can then be found on display at real-estate fairs such as MIPIM, in Cannes, or EXPO-REAL, in Munich. This peculiar politics of land and territory is sometimes difficult to detect, as it is often hidden under the surface of the smart, competitive or sustainable city. Only accidentally do such issues become apparent and garner public attention.

This leads us to the second case in this context, which was raised by the on-line magazine www.reporter.lu, in Luxembourg, at the end of May.(4) One of the cover stories addressed the high-end property prices in the city’s "Oberstadt" – indeed, it is called ‘upper city’ (5) – a small area that was once the trading centre and political hotspot for the capital city and country. In its central parts, it now represents an assemblage of three different types of land uses: i) it is an overly polished retail space, with an increasing number of luxury chains; ii) it is composed of various commodified spaces with ascribed historical and heritage significance, attracting tourist flows (e.g. Place Guillaume II, Place d’Armes, the Casemates, the Notre-Dame Cathedral, etc.); and iii) it is a space of political power embodied by the Grand Duke’s urban palace, the National Chamber, and the Town Hall. Roughly 3,500 people live there on a territory of about 105 hectares – that is, the Oberstadt houses only 3% of the city’s overall population on little more than 2% of its territory. So far, the Oberstadt retains significant symbolic value and is considered to be high, just as the business opportunities offered for bars, restaurants and selected retail outlets are.

Figure 1: Luxembourg City, Square Marché-aux-Poissons /
rue Sigefroi 2008 (Source: Cayambe, CC-BY-SA 3.0).
While a significant portion of the built fabric remains unused (much of the upper stories above the retail shops located on the ground floors of the picturesque buildings are empty), the Oberstadt has recently become an enormously promising spot for land speculation, development and rent-seeking adventures. Reporter.lu reveals how the prices for luxury condos in two flagship projects have risen to twice the average level in the leading districts of the city. Flats are now coming on the market for up to 22-25,000 €/m2 – a significant re-urbanization of money, which was preferably invested there, ahead of McMansions on the periphery (not in the city centre). The institutional setting behind these profitable investments is based on securisation, a risky investment practice that was legalised in Luxembourg in 2004. The related investment funds are officially unregulated and targeted by a variety of customers, some of them suspicious of money laundering. Transparency, concerning who the concrete persons involved are, is limited. And, the level of taxation seems to be rather low, particularly where off-shore addresses are included, which seems to be the case here as well. Among the future owners of the flats are so-called High-Net Worth Individuals, super-rich business people, and industrialists who are supposedly quite international: “Europeans who lead an international life and are quite often on the road”, as we learn from the magazine.(6)

Third, another key site in Luxembourg City where the alliance of land and money is breeding profit, undisturbed - or even mastered - by politics and planning, is the yet brownfield “Place de l’Etoile” (Star Place) (figure 2). It is situated west of the city centre, where sub-urban and cross-border commuter flows meet the office enclaves of the Boulevard Royal and adjacent neighbourhoods, including the Limpertsberg area that was hit hard by the reconversion of flats to offices. On the 26th of May, media coverage revealed that Etoile won’t be hosting another mixed-use space of shopping, offices and apartments, as it was planned until now.(7) Instead, it is now destined to provide a massive injection of hundreds of luxury apartments. The key player in this respect is ADIA, the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, a sovereign wealth fund that is owned by the Emirate of Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates). ADIA has been active in Luxembourg for some time now. It is, for example, part of the first mixed-use flagship project Hamilius that is currently under construction in the central city (see former blog posts here, here, and here). ADIA had bought the approximately two-hectare piece of land at Place de l’Etoile, in 2016, for a reported amount of 150 million Euros. According to Jones Lang LaSalle, it was, “one of the largest land transactions ever made in Luxembourg”. ADIA not only provided the investment, but it will keep the apartments in its own portfolio and bring them on the market for rent. This is obviously more lucrative than renting out office space would be – and it is clear indication that the housing market will further rocket to a dimension that is entirely unaffordable for the average renter or buyer.

Figure 2: Luxembourg City, Place de l’Etoile 2017 
(Source: Zinneke, CC-BY-SA 4.0_lu)
The story behind the potentially new prospect for Etoile (official confirmation is still pending) is as delicate as many other land deals in the city are. Etoile is understood to be the terrain that was kept vacant the longest in the capital city, and speculation was probably the most important reason for this. However, the art of properly phasing investments and getting them nested in the local realm is always accompanied by complex processes of political decision-making and urban planning. In the case of Etoile, it seems a strange mix  has made it possible: a mix of both governance presence and absence, the active channeling of money flows through the complexities of rules and regulations, and the deliberate abdication of any substantial claims about affordability, social issues, urban design qualities and the like.

Fourth and finally, we can situate these observations in the context of comparisons on a broader scale. In light of the above, it is absolutely no surprise that Luxembourg City popped up in the 2018 edition of the Swiss UBS-report on Prices and Earnings in 77 top metropolises of the world, which was also published last week.(8) It ranks 3rd, 5th and 15th in terms of earnings, purchasing power, and price level, respectively. Cities of comparison are all major economic centres of the world, most capital cities of both leading and emerging economies, and also second-tier cities such as Frankfurt, Germany; Geneva and Zurich, Switzerland; or Lyon, France. The cities surveyed were labeled by the authors as ‘global cities’. Luxembourg City, probably the smallest of all the sample cases, is slightly cheaper than Paris, more expensive than cities such as Seoul, Dublin, or Brussels, but at the same time, one of the very richest.(9) The mismatch between size and function or power looks impressive, but it is also associated with an increasing amount of conflict and tension. While the setting is increasingly global and prices are rising, the middle-and lower classes are running into problems – most notably in terms of housing, for which even the higher average earnings no longer suffice. Thus, there are certain costs associated with grooming a small city as a hotspot in world’s economy. Yet, for various reasons, the capability to respond to these problems seems limited. Money (both as a resource and as a source of greed) is only one but rather powerful limiting factor here; others are simply successful lobbying, overall ideologies, or institutional inertia. This is seldom so clear as it was last week, when different news agencies reported on the peculiar links between land and profit.

Markus Hesse

Watch out for Part II of this entry that will follow next week, briefly discussing: what the lessons learned from these cases are, and what the takeaway could be in more general terms; for properly interpreting what financialisation means for urban development and policy; and, for estimating the ramifications for practice, such as policy and planning. 


1) Just to name a few and recent sources: Halbert, L./Attuyer, K. (2016). "Introduction: The financialisation of urban production: Conditions, mediations and transformations." Urban Studies 53(7), 1347–1361; Madden, D./Marcuse, P. (2016). In Defense of Housing. The Politics of Crisis. London/Brooklyn: Verso; van Loon, J. & Aalbers, M. B. (2017). "How real estate became ‘just another asset class’: The financialization of the investment strategies of Dutch institutional investors." European Planning Studies 25(2), 221-240.

2) Robin, E. & F. Brill (2018) ‘The global politics of an urban age: creating 'cities for all' in the age of financialisation’. palgrave communications 4:3, (DOI: 10.1057/s41599-017-0056-6)

3) Robin & Brill 2018, p. 2

4) Schmit, L. (2018) Der Trend zu Luxusimmobilien im Stadtzentrum. Neue Schlossherren im Stadtzentrum. 24 May 2018, with updates on 26 May 2018 (https://www.reporter.lu/luxusimmobilien-neue-schlossherren-im-stadtzentrum/)

5) The leftish German singer Franz-Josef Degenhardt had once put it as follows: „Spiel nicht mit den Schmuddelkindern, sing nicht ihre Lieder, geh doch in die Oberstadt, mach’s wie deine Brüder.“ (Please don’t hang around with the street urchins, don’t sing their tales, follow your brothers and go to the upper town), F.-J. Degenhardt, 1965 

6) Schmit 2018, p. 4

7) Trapp, W. (2018) Ausverkauf der Stadt? „déi lenk“ wehrt sich gegen neue Pläne. Tageblatt 121, 26./27.5.2018, p. 48.

8) UBS (2018) Prices and Earnings 2018. https://www.ubs.com/microsites/prices-earnings/en/

9) This global position of a small money enclave and political capital is also subject of our GLOBAL research project, which will reveal its first findings soon. Related conference appearances are foreseen this Summer for GCEG, Cologne, IGU Urban, Montréal, and RGS/IBG, Cardiff.

31 May, 2018

Keep off the grass - even if the grass is not grass

1. Some guerrilla commentaries about Campus greening. Someone has a sense of humour! 

1. The Large Scale Urban Planning of Nature

The ‘Cité des Sciences’ (Science City) in Belval – where our new University Campus was created on a brownfield site more or less from scratch (Becker/Hesse 2013) – is a template case of large-scale urban project policy (Leick 2016). In successive steps over a time span of roughly twenty years, 120 hectares of land are under development following a layout prescribed in a masterplan and commercial concept that leave little space for improvisation: Return on (public and private) investment is the key objective here. There are several large-scale projects in the small but rich nation-state of Luxembourg, developed in the context of a small but rich country, where stakes and ambitions are high (as are the buildings), but a sort of flawed urbanization and unintended improvisation is the outcome both in terms of settlement patterns and planning policy.

The country has a certain tradition with huge development sites, most notably visible in the case of the European district on the Plateau Kirchberg, formally located on the grounds of the Capital City, but implemented on behalf of the central government. On a massive 365-hectare plot of land, the office town stretches across both sides of the seven-kilometer John F. Kennedy Avenue like a city within a city. And, it is meanwhile part of a narrative of roughly 60 years of large-scale urban development, that includes its own rounds of upgrading and urbanization over the past three decades.

While Kirchberg struggles to fulfil the desire of becoming an urban environment, Belval inhibits respective hopes at the get go. Different from the strangely composed assemblage of office buildings, commercial sites, and pieces of infrastructure on Kirchberg that are garnished with empty slots in between, the case of Belval marks a new approach to big projects in the Grand Duchy: Belval is supposed to be about coherence and sustainability, attempting to mimic elements of the clichéd European city as a dense, mixed and quality space for everybody, designed to serve different purposes.

It is certainly too early to assess Belval in this particular context, but what is becoming increasingly clear is that density also has a certain downside (Affolderbach et al. 2018; Carr et al. 2015; Caruso et al. 2015). There are disadvantages and pitfalls of agglomeration that have to be taken into account, and dense/compact neighbourhoods need to be steered cautiously and wisely. (This, btw, is a planning approach rarely practiced in this country).

2. Promotional leaflet distributed by le Fonds Belval, 2018

Green space is one essential component of this debate. How can the dense and compact city ensure that living conditions do not suffer as a result of the sheer mass of built fabric? Is skyscraper living – as density is understood in other cities – in fact, healthy and equitable? There are studies that demonstrate otherwise (See older blog post). How can the creation of heat islands be avoided? This is an issue that may increase in importance and relevance due to climate change, as average temperatures and the likelihood of extreme weather events increase. Ignoring these debates (and coveting their profits), developers are rather consistently clear in that, firstly, density provides sustainability and thus contributes to solving a range of related problems, such as accessibility and circulation. Secondly, corporate PR suggests Belval offers a greenish, if not truly green setting (fig. 2).

3. Mastering nature contracted to Vulkatec
A closer inspection of both the grounds and aerial photographs of Belval may reveal a different picture (fig. 3). For various reasons, most land had to be sealed. Greenness was mainly provided on the roofs of buildings, which unfortunately has not yet really materialized on the ground surface, where residents, consumers and workers tend to interact and make use of public spaces. It is also controversially discussed whether one can adequately compensate for the lack of green space on site by providing a park situated almost a kilometer away – which is the argument brought forth by the developer.

2. Our solution: Let’s redesign and re-engage with natures!

4. Stadionbrache Hardturm, Zurich - A community meeting point and co-operative process

Yet, despite the grand plans and high hopes for what the Cité des Sciences’ will be, Belval is already a lived space, or in Lefebvre's (1974) words, a 'social space'. While Agora expects  a population of 8000 someday and 25000 work places, currently, there are over 2000 residents, roughly 5000 workers, and approximately 5,300 students on site (Agora 2018). And, some of these are already actively trying to generate a sense of place and a feeling of community. Whether this is about calls for improved publicly funded infrastructures (such as transport) or services (such as physicians, pharmacists, or postal services), some are trying to influence social space through nature. Urban gardening in Belval, organized by a local transition group, is one such example. Questions orbit around central dilemmas of who gets to style what nature and for what reason – debates that were not foreseen in the masterplan.

To step back from Belval and Luxembourg for a moment, one can draw a comparison by way of examples of urban gardening in Zurich. In Zurich West (District 5), on a derelict football stadium one can find a little paradise, called (simply) Stadionbrache Hardturm (fig. 4). Officially approved and funded by the City of Zurich, an association has the right to manage activities on the site until redevelopment plans are finalised. Over the past seven years, a rather extensive urban garden has emerged. While the specific activities and actors change through time (a recent list of individual projects can be found here), currently, the projects range from a community kitchen, a climbing wall, bee production, a kinder garden, and a skater park – in fact, the skaters in the skater park were the original initiators. (We have some older posts on Lux skaters too.)

5. Urban Gardening orchestrated by the SBB
The variety that can be found in this rather improvised and co-operative garden stands in stark contrast to the urban garden at Zurich's main station. Immediately upon arrival in Zurich by train one is met with the large-scale redevelopment site orchestrated by the SBB, called the Europaallee (picture), touted as "Zurich's newest district" of tower development for office, retail, and residential uses. Following this model, practices of urban gardening are restricted to 2 m flower beds distributed across a concrete pedestrian zone. The SBB also capitalize on the notion of urban gardening as a community experience by advertising workshops (fig 5.). In some respects, one might argue that urban gardening has reached the mainstream. But this, first, awakens debates about how to translate alternative practices to the mainstream without them being co-opted or losing their original meaning or intention (Carr/ Affolderbach 2014). It also raises questions about the techno-nature fantasies promoted by developers. 

The authors of this entry are the last ones who would reduce urban gardening down to these two scenarios: indeed, urban gardening is a vast and old subject in urban studies as it and otherwise general forms of food production in urban settings has taken on many forms, organizational structures, ideologies, and objectives, over the decades (and centuries!). However, the two opposing examples in Zurich offer some food for thought in terms of the role of institutions in greening urban space, which are cautionary tales that we can apply to Belval.

Returning to ‘Cité des Sciences’ in Belval, the Gaart Belval is a community garden project that aims at creating a green space open for everyone living or working in Belval. Located between the University’s cafeteria, the red Building and the new library, it will offer a place to let the soul breathe, work together or alone, and enjoy lunch in the sun. The asbl is the first local participatory initiative in Belval and works in close cooperation with the municipality of Esch and the CIGL, as well as the regional chapter of the Movement Ecologique and the Transition Town movement. Info: gaartbelval@gmail.com

The association aims to harness the positive effects of engagement with the natural environment: a place to eases stress, establish relationships and a sense of belonging, and care for each other and the environment. Working in a garden together side-by-side, be it silently, or in stimulating exchange, Gaart Belval aims to foster a sense of community.

The Gaart Belval is also an opportunity for the transition town movement in south Luxemburg to mobilize the resident and highly multicultural network, as it has served an important integrating function where people develop projects to work together, side-by-side, in hands-on projects that serve their community. The group recognizes that, as urban gardens have become popular in cities all over the world, they have become a place where immigrants and newcomers can find and develop shared experiences. They have even become something that they expect to find in a new place, not just as a leisure activity, but as a form participation in their social and build environment.

The benefits of a community garden on the Cité des Sciences go beyond the usual arguments for green and diverse urban spaces. In Belval, people from all over the world are working next to each other in highly specialized fields, while very few of them are actually living in Belval, let alone staying after work. Many only spend but a couple of seasons on campus and soon move on to other places. By the time students have understood how things are working here, they already have to think about the subject for their thesis and need to buckle down and focus on their dissertation.

Being part of a community garden project helps integration, and facilitates a means of connecting to Belval and feeling a sense of belonging. As people work side by side, networks emerge, and ideas are created and shared. Getting our hands dirty together during lunch break, or enjoying a beer in the garden in the evening sun contributes to an inspiring study work environment. Gaart Belval is an opportunity to develop the Cité des Sciences in a way that not only harnesses the motivation of local users of the space, but also enables a sense of connection and belonging.

Markus Hesse, Jan-Tobias Doerr, Constance Carr

Affolderbach, J., Schulz, C., Preller, B. (2018.) Luxembourg: A Policy-Led Approach Caught Between Green Growth and Affordable Housing. In: Affolderbach/Schulz (eds.) Green Building Transitions: Regional Trajectories of Innovation in Europe, Canada and Australia. pp 159-188.

Agora (2018) Belval - Market Figures 2017. Accessed May 31, 2018. Available here: http://www.agora.lu/fileadmin/AGORA/user_upload/06-presse/17_03_10_Presentation_Market_figures__Belval_FR.PDF

Becker, T., Hesse, M. 2013 “Building a Sustainable University from Scratch: Anticipating the Urban, Regional and Planning Dimension of the ‘Cité des Sciences Belval’, in Esch-sur-Alzette and Sanem, Luxembourg” In König, A. (ed.) Regenerative Sustainable Development Of Universities And Cities The Role of Living Laboratories. Edward Elgar.

Carr, C., Affolderbach, J. (2014) Rescaling sustainability? Local opportunities and scalar contradictions. Local Environment, 19(6), 567-571.

Carr, C., Becker, T., Evrard, E., Nienaber, B., Roos, U., McDonough, E, Hesse, M., Krueger, R. (2015) Raising sustainability/Mobilising sustainability: Why European sustainable urban development initiatives are slow to materialise/Territorial cohesion as a vehicle of sustainability/Sustainable urban development and the challenge of global air transport nodes and spatial integration/Distorted density: Where developers and non-governmental organizations on sustainable urban development agree/Overcoming politics with markets? The co-production of sustainable development in urban and regional planning. Planning Theory & Practice, 16(1), 99-125.

Caruso, G., Cavailhès, J., Peeters, D., Thomas, I., Frankhauser, P., Vuidel, G. (2015)."Greener and larger neighbourhoods make cities more sustainable! A 2D urban economics perspective" Computers, Environment and Urban Systems, 54, 82-94.

Lefebvre, H. (Translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith) (1992) The Production of Space. Wiley-Blackwell.

Leick, Annick, "Kleines Land, Große Projekte. Diskurse, Praktiken und soziale Welten im Entscheidungs- und Planungsprozess der Großvorhaben Belval und Kirchberg in Luxemburg" thesis successfully defended at University of Luxembourg, 2016.

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21 May, 2018

An event in Zurich on housing co-ops and cooperative living

Carr was invited this week to join a panel discussion on housing co-ops at an event organised by the INURA Zurich Institute, MAZI, Nethood, and Netcommonsentitled,

"Cooperative housing and beyond - The right to the hybrid city" 

In addition to tours of Swiss housing projects, Kraftwerk1 and Kalkbreite, and a collective pizza-making session, it will be two days of discussions about ongoing projects, current challenges as well as future possibilities related to self-management and collective decision-making, and alternative arrangements in housing.

Program details here.

07 May, 2018

Evelyne Stoll, IBLA, May 8, Campus Limpertsberg, BS 0.03, 19:00

When it comes to sustainability and sustainable development, food systems,especially at the farm level show great deficiencies. We are currently facing several environmental challenges, such as greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, soil erosion and soil degradation, biodiversity loss, and nitrogen and phosphorus cycles, on which food production can have substantial impacts. Socio-economic issues, such as poor labour conditions and financial viability of the farm, also play an important role with respect to the sustainability of food production. However, the question arises, what sustainable food production is. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has published the SAFA (Sustainability Assessment of Food and Agriculture Systems) Guidelines in an attempt to define sustainability in the food and agriculture systems and to provide a universal framework for the sustainability assessment of these sectors. The SAFA-Guidelines structure sustainability in 4 dimensions (Good Governance, Ecological Integrity, Economic Resilience, Social Wellbeing), 21 themes and 58 sub-themes. For each sub-theme, an absolute objective describes the target state of sustainability. The FiBL (Forschungsinstitut für Biologischen Landbau, the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture) has developed the SMART (Sustainability Monitoring and Assessment RouTine)-Farm Tool to operationalize the SAFA Guidelines: the tool models the sustainability of a farm with respect to the 58 SAFA sub-themes. This is an indicator based assessment of the level of goal achievement.

In this class, we will look at the possibilities of sustainability assessment in the food system, with focus on the indicator-based assessment using the SMART-Farm tool. We will discuss the benefits and limitations of such indicator-based assessments and will broach the challenge of defining internationally comparable indicators that are still applicable in diverse local conditions.

Evelyne Stoll (MRes) studied Environmental Sciences for her Bachelor in Science degree at the University of Aberdeen (UK) before attending the Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh (UK) for her Master of Research in Environmental Analysis and Assessment. After her studies, she worked for INCOTEC Sweden AB in their testing facilities in Uppsala (S) before returning to Luxemburg. Since 2013, she works in the research and development department of IBLA and has been responsible, among other projects, for the winter cereal variety trials and the European Core Organic Project „COBRA“. More recently, the focus of her work was on the holistic sustainability assessment of agricultural holdings, namely using the SMART (Sustainability Monitoring and Assessment RouTine)-Farm Tool. This topic will be further deepened in the project “SustEATable – Integrated analysis of dietary patterns and agricultural practices for sustainable food systems in Luxembourg” (2018-2021).

21 April, 2018

Special Issue by Hesse/Siedentop "Suburbanisation and Suburbanisms" is out!

Hesse and Siedentop's special issue of Raumforschung und Raumordnung on Suburbs and Suburbanisation in the European context is now out in hard copy (Volume 76, Issue 2, April 2018)

Entries include:

This paper provides a brief overview of recent developments and debates concerned with suburbanisation in continental Europe. While current discourses in urban research and practice still focus on processes of reurbanisation and the gentrification of inner-city areas, suburbia continues to exist and thrive. Depending on the definition applied, suburban areas still attract a large share of in-migration and employment growth in cities of the developed countries. Given that popular meta-narratives on suburbia and suburbanisation are often spurred by, or refer to, North American suburban studies, we take a different perspective here, one based on continental European trajectories of development in and across city-regional areas that are considered to be suburban, and on social processes that are associated with suburbanisation (suburbanisms). Thus, we aim to avoid a biased understanding of suburbia as a spatial category, which is often considered mono-functional, non-sustainable, or in generic decline. Instead, we observe that suburban variety is huge, and the distinction between urban core and fringe seems to be as ambiguous as ever. The paper, which also introduces the theme of this special issue of “Raumforschung und Raumordnung | Spatial Research and Planning”, bundles our findings along four themes: on suburbia as a place of economic development, on the shifting dynamics of housing between core and fringe locales, on the life-cyclic nature of suburbanisation, and on strategies for redevelopment. Finally, we discuss certain topics that may deserve to be addressed by future research, particularly on the European variant of suburbanisation and suburbs.

This paper addresses conditions of post-suburban urbanisation. Our empirical base is drawn from observations of integration initiatives in the region of the Glatt Valley, a rather undefined area extending from the City of Zurich towards the airport and spreading over a number of small municipalities. Under growth pressure, municipalities are coordinating housing, transportation, and economic activity, and this is generating new post-suburban forms. To understand these processes, qualitative methods were used, relevant documents surveyed, and conversational interviews with actors in the area conducted. A process of infrastructure consolidation was observed, which moved towards integrating functional pathways and optimising capital accumulation, and attracting and catering for business development and high-income earners. To date, the region has proved to be diverse and dynamic, while also furthering certain modes of fragmentation and social stratification. The results reveal post-suburban forms that are place specific and path dependent insofar as they are driven by particular arrangements of governance that emphasise a certain mode of integrative planning. This form of post-suburban growth is also producing new forms of fragmentation.

The rapid emergence and spread of new housing quarters that specifically address middle-class families is a striking feature of current urban development. Despite being located in or near the city centres, many of these ‘family enclaves’ display social and physical characteristics that so far have been firmly associated with suburban living. Against this background, the purpose of this article is twofold. The first objective is to argue from a theoretical perspective that the notion of ‘inner-city suburbanization’ is appropriate and helpful to capture the hybrid and contradictory nature of these projects as well as of many of the current socio-spatial developments in Western metropolitan regions. For this purpose, the paper draws on newer approaches that conceive of (urban or suburban) ways of living as independent of specific (urban or suburban) spaces or places. The second issue, based on empirical research, is then to sketch the essential qualities of newly built middle-class family enclaves and to highlight their propagation as a major characteristic of urban transformation in Germany. Their continuing expansion is interpreted as an expression and catalyst of ongoing processes of inner-city suburbanization. It is asserted that suburbanism has not only made its mark on the outskirts of the cities but is increasingly conquering growing parts of the inner cities as well.

The debate on the nature and state of peri-urban development in Europe is dynamic. While residents and their residential preferences have long been identified as strong drivers of the process of peri-urbanisation, other influences have also been discussed, such as the supply side of the housing market or job opportunities for residents. This paper analyses the population and job growth trends in the last five decades of 230 urban areas in mainland France. The results show that the pattern of peri-urban development of all the large and medium cities of the country have strong common characteristics. In particular, the areas around cities have proven dynamic both in terms of population, as would be expected in the peri-urbanisation process described by the literature in France, but also in terms of jobs, which have been less analysed. A review of the economic literature on the determinants of firms’ location choice puts forward some of the most relevant determinants that may explain a choice of location outside central cities. This helps put in perspective the role of job opportunities in shaping peri-urbanisation in France in the recent past.

This paper takes a spatially differentiated and temporally variegated perspective on suburban areas. It proposes a conceptual framework for studying the temporal variation and related trajectories of the subject matter, with suburban lifecycles being the key to our analysis. In empirical terms, the paper summarises the findings of research undertaken in 12 selected locales of four major metropolitan regions in Germany. Against the background of assessing the broader socioeconomic development of these regions, detailed local case studies have been conducted in order to reconstruct past and current development trajectories. Our analyses detected particular life cycles (and related segments) in the study areas, based on age and social composition, the physical conditions of the built environment and broader developments in the real-estate market. The different cycles include, in most cases, growth, maturity, transition and resilience, and they are also discussed in terms of their relevance for strategies responding to recent changes.

17 April, 2018

New Paper in Environment and Planning C: Politics and Space

Examining regional competitiveness and the pressures of rapid growth: An interpretive institutionalist account of policy responses in three city regions

Rob Krueger, David Gibbs, Constance Carr

Article first published online: April 16, 2018 

This paper is premised on the notion that actors play a central role in shaping their institutional contexts. The paper adds to scholarship in this area by bringing together three disparate cases with a common analytical entry point: the city region. Despite their multiple scales and different sites of governance, these cases are united by a common theme, exemplified in each city region: addressing the contradictions of rapid development, in particular rapid growth and competitiveness. Using the conceptual framework of interpretive institutionalism, we examine how dilemmas, in this case the pressure of rapid growth in regions, are informed by the different traditions for understanding the role of the market in delivering project outcomes. Our findings show this difference in institutional norms and the variance among the different paradigms.

16 April, 2018

IKEA’s locational strategy - ‘Back’ to the city, or just another facet of urban-economic development? UPDATE

Photograph: The picture shows the Magdeburg, Sachsen-Anhalt, facility opened in August 2017 as store no. 53 in Germany. It is probably one of the last ‘standard’ department stores of IKEA located on a more or less typical urban fringe location. Courtesy: obs/IKEA Deutschland GmbH & Co. KG/Stefan Deutsch

Last week the corporate headquarters of IKEA Germany announced a new locational strategy for the Swedish furniture and lifestyle provider, which would also have direct consequences on the company’s actual expansion plans. In the near future, IKEA says that it will be shifting away from the classical suburban big-box location choice – which was key to its market success in many countries for decades. In Germany alone, the company had regularly opened up two to three stores on average per year in the country’s 80m+ market. In order to ensure sustained growth in a changing market environment, additional stores would now be sought for in urban, rather than fringe, locations. This shift, so the company argued, was a consequence of the rising share of urban – not sub-urban or rural – population, and of changing consumer preferences to which any retailer would have to respond to. In particular, online sales are growing at a much faster pace than bricks and mortar retail, which obviously causes the entire industry to re-think related strategies.

Upcoming decisions to be made by IKEA include the following: The firm is considering a pause in its expansion plans, but may decide to implant a few new stores in core areas of metropolitan regions such as Cologne, Frankfurt, Hamburg or Munich. The first of the upcoming inner-city stores will be opened in Karlsruhe, in 2020. Meanwhile, planned investments in new facilities in, for example, Bottrop, North Rhine-Westphalia or Memmingen, Bavaria, might be cancelled. Thus, the store that was introduced in 2014 in the core area of Hamburg-Altona (probably the first-ever inner-city IKEA location), may serve as a general template for future expansion plans. While the old big-box locations remain the ‘standard’ department stores, one may also see new ‘fulfillment centres’ (a term frequently used by Amazon.com) emerging in due course, for instance in Memmingen or in Nuremberg. These would suit for the picking-up of stuff that was ordered online, meaning that these centres might look rather different compared to the all-in-one warehouse that IKEA is known for so well. 

How do we have to interpret this change? Does the firm’s announcement indicate a paradigm shift in the location choice of retail, or do we observe more of a successive transition? First of all, corporate data indeed reveal that IKEA’s market position has come under pressure, as the usual growth rates observed in the past have been dropping recently. This has questioned the firm’s traditional business model. Consequently, IKEA may seek to develop new market segments, in response to an aging average customer population (baby boomers) that may prefer to settle in cities rather than on the urban fringe, and which is less prone to car use than it was before. Of course, new technologies such as Internet-based e-commerce and related changes also play a role in this re-orientation.

It is thus likely that in the foreseeable future big- and small-box will be developing in parallel, as online and stationary retail will do as well. As of now, the company’s plans may represent a modification to, rather than rupture in, the locational dynamics, since no existing big-box facilities are about to be closed down at this point. Also, the recent move is not equivalent to a ‘back to the city’ strategy of something that had initially dispersed and is now re-centered. It is about additional investments that will primarily flow towards urban areas. This will also bring conflict and competition for space back to the city, which might be more difficult to resolve than the clean and green imaginaries of the smart city and booming metro narratives suggest. Another question is whether cities will benefit from the appearance of IKEA in areas that suit for take-away shopping, or whether the strong competitor will erase the last remainders of brick and mortar trade in these areas. Admittedly, it looks pretty significant if the Walmart of Europe, the trendsetter in big-box and drive-in shopping since the 1970s at least, is now turning to the city. However, while some commentators may feel inclined to read vital signs of an urban renaissance, it actually represents a rather normal adaptation of firms’ locational behavior to changing framework conditions. The case reveals many questions, not clarity about Billy, Köttbullar and the like to re-urbanize.

The lesson to be learned from this case is not necessarily a new answer to an old question: city or suburb – a question that seems also highly superficial in cases like the city of Bottrop, in the Ruhr area, which is simultaneously city, suburb and something in between the two. The most important point that this issue brings to the fore is, above all, just a fundamental property of the city: it is basically a case of logistical configuration, and this is now going to be re-configured. When agglomeration and associated socio-economic benefits appeared to be the strongest momentum for cities to emerge, it was in the exact context of the efficient management of flows that both the mercantile and the industrial city were taking the shape that became predominant for either period of urbanization. The former represents the dense, compact arrangement of land uses and economic activity within the urban core, and the latter evolved as an increasingly de-concentrated configuration of material flows, retail and commodity trade that was bringing about an associated landscape of urban centres, nodes and peripheries. The invention of logistics (not only the standard container, but also highly efficient techniques of the storage and in-house movement of items), the data driven management of supply chains, and the mere physical distribution of goods had a clear impact on the layout and design of buildings, development sites and step-by-step of urbanized areas as well.

In a nutshell, this story is perfectly told by Jesse LeCavalier’s dissertation on the case of Walmart, probably one of the first template corporations that brought the “rule of logistics” to some perfection (LeCavalier 2016). It thus had a major imprint on communities across North America, with consequences both good and bad. Obviously, IKEA demonstrates a comparable success in applying such principles to furniture and interior merchandise. With accelerating e-commerce gaining a higher share of the whole cake of retail and wholesale trade, the next transformation is likely to occur. It will bring another round of restructuring to the spaces of logistics, and thus to cities, particularly by adding an urban layer of distribution, as the case of IKEA indicates. Amazon.com seems best prepared not only to achieve leadership on related markets, by organizing the seamless flows of data, goods, workforce and money. Effectively, it comes close to market domination, which raises more general concerns about the societal importance of logistics (Hesse 2018). This is rarely taken into account so far. IKEA’s new plans remind us to think more about even small logistical changes that can have a huge urban-regional impact.

A piece that appeared in yesterday's edition of the Guardian makes the case of distribution centres that have mushroomed in the UK in recent times. They are transforming previously rural landscapes into sort of industrialised spaces that provide services once offered by inner-city retail, mostly triggered by online merchandise. The story of Dirft or Lutterworth, Milton Keynes Magna Parks and the likes evokes a classical phrase by the late architecture theorist Martin Pawley (1994), who emphasised the "abstract urbanism of trade routes" that would increasingly replace traditional, place-based urban economies. While Pawley seemed to be ahead of time then, it now looks as if we're getting closer to his predictions.

Markus Hesse


Hesse, M. (2018): ‘The logics and politics of circulation. Exploring the urban and non-urban spaces of ‘Amazon.com’, forthcoming in The Routledge International Handbook on Spaces of Urban Politics, ed. by A.E. Jonas, B. Miller, K. Ward & D. Wilson, 404-415. Oxford: Routledge.

LeCavalier, J. 2016. The Rule of Logistics. Walmart and the Architecture of Fulfillment. Minneapolis: UoMinnesota Press.

Pawley, M. 1994. The Redundancy of Space. Die Redundanz des urbanen Raums. In: Meurer, B. (ed.): The Future of Space. Die Zukunft des Raums, pp. 37-57. Frankfurt/New York: Campus.

Dr. Liang Emlyn Yang, April 24, Campus Limpertsberg, BS 0.03, 19:00

Globally, coastal cities are facing complex climate-related water risks along with an increasing intensity of population and properties.Growing concern on these challenges requires implementation actions that bring together vulnerability reduction and resilience building. This study applies the concept of vulnerability and resilience to urban communities in South China coasts facing climate-related water hazards. The study integrated a reanalysis dataset, model projections with literature results on long-term climate changes, which supported a comprehensive risk analysis of both floods and water shortages in the Pearl River Delta within the regional climate change context. A flood vulnerability assessment at the sub-region scale was further conducted adopting an indicator system. The results show that flood risk has several consequences at different urbanization levels under increased climate variability. Pre-existing vulnerabilities were exacerbated after flood or water shortage impacts. The main factors influencing the vulnerability of coastal communities are related to economics, institutional capacity, and the accessibility of knowledge for local community-based organizations.

However, other communities have been able to reinforce their resilience through local initiatives. Five principal priorities for resilience building emerge from the research evidence: Investing infrastructures, sharing responsibilities, diversifying engagements, networking recoveries, water security nets for the most vulnerable ones. To ensure the delta’s communities are well adapted to climate and water threats, it is clear that investing in building community resilience and safety nets for the most vulnerable is important. The local efforts, government supports and outside aid should be better organized to reinforce the ability of the people at local communities. This study further highlighted the importance of understanding how the urban communities are vulnerable to natural hazards and the strategies to increase their resilience, as well as identified a few research directions for future investigations.

Dr. Liang Emlyn Yang is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Graduate School of Human Development in Landscapes, Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel in Germany. Emlyn used to study and work at the University of Hamburg, Germany, where he received his PhD in Geography in 2014, focusing on urban water risks in the context of climate change. He got his master and bachelor in geography with a focus on urbanization in China. His recent activities include the study of long-term climate change and social resilience, in especially China and South Asia developing areas. Emlyn is recently carrying out three research projects funded by the German Foreign Ministry, Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). He has also served as a consultant in several international organizations regarding regenerative cities (World Future Council), resilient cities (Project RESURBE), climate entrepreneurship (EU Climate-KIC), low-carbon transition (MIT Climate CoLab), and climate solutions (Project Drawdown). He acted as assistant supervisor of four master students and assisted teaching in both the University of Hamburg and University of Kiel.

Emlyn has published about 20 peer-reviewed research papers. His research interests include climate-related water risk/vulnerability assessment, agent-based modeling of human responses to hydro-hazards, and he seeks to develop solutions for vulnerability reduction and resilience building in the socio-hydro field. Emlyn has a strong background applying stakeholder-based technologies within the above research fields. His research objective is to establish a new landscape of participatory resilience building in both theory and practice.

Prof. John Robinson, Tuesday, April 17, Campus Limpertsberg BS 0.03, 17:30

The social contract between universities and the society’s they serve is changing. It used to be enough for universities to do research and educate students. Increasingly, however, we are being asked to engage tangibly and actively with the problems faced by the societies which fund us. I will explore the challenges and opportunities facing universities attempting to respond to this demand with regard to sustainability. Based on an agenda which moves beyond harm reduction to what we call regenerative sustainability (human activity that improves both human and environmental wellbeing), and using examples from UBC, Copenhagen Business School, Chalmers University of Technology and the University of Toronto, I will outline an agenda for transforming the campus into a living laboratory of sustainability, where faculty, staff and students, along with private, public and NGO sector partners, use the university’s physical plant, as well education and research capabilities, to test, study, teach, apply and share lessons learned, technologies created and policies developed.

John Robinson is a Professor at the Munk School of Global Affairs, and the School of the Environment, at the University of Toronto;an Honorary Professor with the Institute for Resources, Environment & Sustainability at The University of British Columbia; and an Adjunct Professor with the Copenhagen Business School. At the University of Toronto, he is also Presidential Advisor on the Environment, Climate Change and Sustainability. Prof. Robinson’s research focuses on the intersection of climate change mitigation, adaptation and sustainability; the use of visualization, modeling, and citizen engagement to explore sustainable futures; sustainable buildings and urban design; the role of the university in contributing to sustainability; creating partnerships for sustainability with non-academic partners; and, generally, the intersection of sustainability, social and technological change, behaviour change, and community engagement processes.

More info here:

08 March, 2018

Filmreihe - Power to Change: Die Energierebellion

"Transition Our" und "Naturpark Our" organisieren eine Filmreihe und Diskussionsrunden zu verschiedenen Themen. Am 21.3. um 20Uhr, zeigen sie, 

"Power to Change: Die Energierebellion
von Carl Fechner (2016)  im

Ancien Cinema, in Vianden.

Eintritt frei

16 February, 2018

Dr. Christmann's research in 90 seconds

Now a postdoctoral researcher at Liège Université, Dr. Nathalie Christmann defended her dissertation entitled, "Wohnmobilität in der Großregion ­ eine interurbane Diskursanalyse mit Fokus auf den Städten Arlon, Thionville und Trier," ("Residential mobility in the Greater Region - An interurban discourse analysis with focus on the cities of Arlon, Thionville and Trier") at the Institute of Geography and Spatial Planning last fall.

Hear Dr. Christmann discuss her thesis (in Luxembourgish) at Science.lu. An English description is included.

12 February, 2018

New Book by Ariane König

Congratulations to Dr. Ariane König on her new book, published by Earthscan/Routledge:

Sustainability Science: Key Issues 

She will celebrate with a book launch party at the University of Luxembourg.

When: Thursday, 15 March 2018, 17:15 - 20:30
Where: Maison des Sciences Humaines, Black Box, Campus Belval 
How: To register for the book launch (free), visit Eventbrite

Find information here about specific program details of the launch party, and information on how to obtain a copy of her book at reduced rates  

25 January, 2018

The Corporate City Looming Part II: The “smart” City competes

Last week, Amazon.com announced that it has arrived at a short-list of preferred cities for its second headquarters (HQ2), after reviewing the incentives offered from 238 contestants (see Part I of this post). Listed in alphabetical order (it wouldn't want to play favourites), Amazon.com announced that the twenty runners-up that will move to the next level are: 

Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Denver, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Miami, Montgomery County (Maryland), Nashville, Newark, New York City, Northern Virginia, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Raleigh, Toronto, Washington D.C.

Holly Sullivan, on behalf of Amazon was gushing with well wishes: “Thank you to all 238 communities that submitted proposals. Getting from 238 to 20 was very tough – all the proposals showed tremendous enthusiasm and creativity. ... Through this process we learned about many new communities across North America that we will consider as locations for future infrastructure investment and job creation.”

This issue confirms that the search for for a place to build the HQ2 is a striking case of locational choice and related dynamics – a case that reveals current processes and power relations much, much, better than any textbook in economic geography or planning. Even though the shortlist consists mostly of the usual suspects and now doesn’t bear any big surprises, the full list of candidate cities and the different ways they sell themselves was rather revealing in this respect.

And what about the firm? Effectively, Amazon.com "expects" a number of things (nothing is promised, of course): It expects to create 50,000 high-paying jobs and invest over $5 billion in the city where it will open the HQ2; It expects that that the HQ2 will create billions of dollars in additional investment in the surrounding community; It expects to make a decision in 2018.

Furthermore, the firm is well aware that instead of simply bargaining with a mayor and then making a decision, this 2-stage selection process provides much more value in terms of the economy of attention. First, the competition works as a sort of theatrical staging, a huge show that provides massive PR for the firm. Second, it obviously allows another round of exploitation and race-to-the-bottom negotiation with candidate cities. There is much speculation around (and some indication as well) that the price is high for attracting Amazon.com to one's municipality’s territory. The unusually high share of local taxes in the North American system for instance, compared to other parts of the world, offers the right space for manoeuvre. Third, discursive upgrading is part of the story. So as we learn from a critical observer, HQ2 in Washington D.C. wouldn’t be seated in a mere business park, but on a “Campus” to which also an Amazon “University” be added.

So, at the end of the day, tech-firms will not only provide jobs and business solutions, but will actually replace municipalities and states in the process of city-building, infrastructure and higher education policy. It is part of a major transformation that was recently so nicely illustrated by the urban design magazine Bauwelt

Is this the future that we really want?

Markus Hesse and Constance Carr