City as Flux: Interrogating the Changing Nature of Urban Change

Type: Paper
Sponsor Groups: Urban Geography Specialty Group
Poster #:
Day: 4/7/2019
Start / End Time: 2:00 PM / 3:40 PM (Eastern Standard Time)
Room: 8224, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level
Organizers: Aseem Inam, Tigran Haas
Chairs: Tigran Haas


Urbanists – particularly those with backgrounds in the professional fields like architecture, landscape architecture, urban design and city planning – tend to be trained to view the city as an object that is planned, designed and built according to definitive visions. In reality, the city is constantly changing at different time scales: by the hour, the week, the year, the decade and the century. Thus, while urban geographers and historians have studied change for quite a while, such thinking has not permeated the world of practice in a meaningful manner. The philosopher Henri Bergson offered a diagnosis of this dilemma several decades ago [Bergson, The Creative Mind, 1946, p. 131]: "The point is that usually we look at change, but we do not see it. We speak of change, but we do not think it. We say that change exists, that everything changes, that change is the very law of things: Yes, we say it and we repeat it; but those are only words, and we reason and philosophize as though change did not exist. In order to think change and see it, there is a whole veil of prejudices to brush aside, some of them artificial, created by philosophical speculation, the others natural to common sense."

Following from Bergson’s comments, what would be the benefits if urbanism, both as an object of study and as a mode of practice, were to be approached from the perspective of flux more than just an object? Why would such a reversal of ontological priorities be helpful? It would be helpful for three reasons. First, it would enable researchers to obtain a more complete understanding of the micro-processes of urban change at work. For example, to more properly understand urbanism one must allow for emergence and surprise; that is, one must consider the possibility of urbanism having ramifications and implications beyond those initially imagined. Second, as well as not knowing much about the micro-processes of change, we often do not know enough about how change is actually accomplished. In order to understand this, we would need analysis of urbanism that was fine-grained enough to show how change was accomplished on the ground—how ideas were translated into action, and by so doing, how they got modified, adapted, and changed. Third, a major cause of dissatisfaction with the traditional approach to change—the approach that gives priority to stability and treats change as an epiphenomenon—is paradigmatic. Strategies for change that are informed by that view often do not produce change, let alone transformation.

The session consists of scholars who study urban change but are also interested in matters of practice, including practices that can lead to meaningful change, such as fundamental urban transformation. Each scholar will present research that challenges our conventional understanding of not only the city as a static object, but also challenges our understanding of how urban change actually occurs. The session will thus offer a series of valuable empirical insights as well as theoretical implications for different modes of practice that engage directly with urban change. The session is sponsored by the Center for the Future of Places at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.


Type Details Minutes Start Time
Introduction Aseem Inam Cardiff University 10 2:00 PM
Presenter Samuel Stein*, CUNY Graduate Center, Contesting Change in New York City 15 2:10 PM
Presenter Rachel Weber*, University of Illinois At Chicago, Money matters: How financialization affects the materiality of the built environment 15 2:25 PM
Presenter Emily Talen*, University of Chicago, Blueprints vs. Tactics: The Case of Neighborhood Planning 15 2:40 PM
Presenter Aseem Inam*, Cardiff University, Fits and Starts: Las Vegas and Changing Urban Landscapes 15 2:55 PM
Discussant Aseem Inam Cardiff University 30 3:10 PM

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