York scholars play key role in major urban research project


Above: Arie van Wijngaarden from INURA Amsterdam, with some of the INURA researchers who were at York (Photo by Stefan de Corte, INURA member from Vrije University in Brussels)  

Urban scholars from around the world met at York recently to develop plans for a transnational research project that will critically study the far-reaching effects of globalization on contemporary urban life.

The project has been launched under the umbrella of INURA, the International Network for Urban Research and Action, which connects some of the best-known scholars in the urban field with municipal activists, professionals and city planners. INURA researchers from five continents will seek to develop a theoretical and practical understanding of the changes wrought on contemporary urban development under the influence of the current neo-liberal global economy.

A $10,000 internationalization grant from the office of York’s Associate VP International Adrian Shubert brought INURA researchers from 10 countries to York for a three-day workshop that helped define the shape and expected outcomes of the multi-year project. Further details will be elaborated at a conference in Amsterdam this summer.

The workshop also marked the release of INURA’s third major publication, a book called The Contested Metropolis: Six Cities at the Beginning of the 21st Century (bottom left). The book’s contributors include several members of the York community: Faculty of Environmental Studies (FES) professors Roger Keil (left), Barbara Rahder (right) and Stefan Kipfer (lower right); FES PhD candidates Susannah Bunce and Douglas Young; political science PhD candidate Ahmed Allahwala; and alumna Constance Carr (MES ’99) who is currently at Humboldt University in Berlin writing her doctoral dissertation.

In words and pictures, the publication, edited by the Florence group of urban scholars in INURA, challenges the stereotyped image of “success” associated with six of the world’s leading metropolitan regions: Berlin, Brussels, Florence, London, Toronto and Zurich. The Toronto book launch was co-sponsored by the local community group Planning Action.

Plans from the York workshop

The research proposed at the York workshop encompasses up to 16 cities affected in significant ways by globalization – Amsterdam, Beirut, Berlin, Brussels, Cape Town, Dortmund, Florence, Hong Kong, London, Los Angeles, Melbourne, Mexico City, Paris, Porto Alegre, Toronto and Zurich. The theoretical and conceptual part of the research will focus on urban everyday life, borrowing heavily from the scholarly perspective of the French sociologist Henri Lefebvre.

The empirical part of the project will consist of parallel case studies of privatization, examining the impact of this phenomenon on everyday life and municipal services in the cities studied.

“Although much work has recently been done on urbanization under conditions of neo-liberal globalization, no single project has attempted to approach its consequences in as broadly transnational a manner and on the scale proposed here,” explained Keil, one of the project leaders. One of the hoped-for results, he said, will be “a redefinition of global urbanization as seen from the bottom-up.”

Right: INURA researchers at a York workshop (Photo by Stefan de Corte)

This will be in contrast to the current model backed by international elites, in which the growth of cities and urban regions is overwhelmingly driven by profit-oriented economics, linked increasingly to global flows of trade and investment.

As is common in INURA projects, it is proposed that university-based scholars will collaborate with community and environmental activists and local administrators in each locality under study. These connections will help ensure that a meaningful link is established between research and civic action as well as policies. 

In addition, Keil said, a teaching strategy associated with the project will see students in each locality being involved with the research through pedagogical modules that will be developed through transnational collaboration. This way, students in different cities will work on similar research questions sharing similar methods and approaches.

More about INURA

Left: Book published by INURA: The Contested Metropolis 

The International Network for Urban Research and Action was founded in Zurich in 1991 by people who share a common, critical attitude toward contemporary urban trends. The network’s major objective is to promote the interaction of social and environmental movements with research and theoretical analysis. Self-organized and decentralized in structure, INURA currently has 16 regional offices that take turns organizing the annual conference and publishing the semi-annual bulletin. The last Toronto-based conference, on the “Diverse City” was in 1998.

Maxwell Brem, director for external relations in York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies, sent this article to YFile.