Bus Stations as a transition zone to deal with safety

Authors: Manisha Sharma and Chandrima Mukhopadhyay

Users of bus services in Delhi, India, have identified safety as a vital factor to deliver quality services and attract users towards public transport, as based on a recently completed undergraduate dissertation (Sharma, 2019). We use the findings as the starting point of this blog, to highlight the importance of safety in public transport. Safety has recently become a critical component at a much wider scale in Indian context, and specially, Delhi’s context. Amongst multiple other variables, we consider that globalization partially contributes to the rising level of crime that leads one to safety concern. It is a societal problem at a larger scale. As per the study done by Ola Mobility Institute in 11 Indian cities including New Delhi, only 9% of women feel public transport is safe (Shah & Raman, 2019). While discussing the topic of safety in Public Transport, there are definitely societal change and psychological issues at stake, which are not discussed here. We rather focus on how built environment  can address the issue of safety. The effect of the built environment on public transport  ridership is often broken down into 5 D’s: density of development, diversity of land uses, design of the environment, destination accessibility, and distance to transit (Ewing & Cervero, 2010). We focus on the design of environment surrounding bus stations/ stops and on the design of bus stations/ stops (and other mass transit stations). We focus more on bus services than other forms of public transport, based on the background of increasing attention towards improving ridership in bus because buses provide mobility to the majority of the population, and meet the “first mile-last mile” connectivity better than rail (Centre for Science and Environment, 2018). 

Indian cities have given much attention to surveillance system like CCTV or panic buttons to improve safety in buses. The provision of CCTV cameras and alarm buttons (the most common and famous measure) are important, but they cannot stop crime. They become useful only after a crime has been committed. It is clear that “the environment around bus stops or stations makes a difference in both safety and perceptions of safety”. Therefore, we discuss here how conceptualizing and designing a bus station would ensure one’s safety. Also, many studies have suggested that improving the design of bus stops/ stations have huge importance and it can also help in enhancing safety in bus transport services. For instance, over-crowdedness within public transport modes contributes towards wrong behavior from fellow passengers and becomes a threat to safety. As per a study done in Delhi by Jagori in 2010, 51% of women have faced sexual harassment in public transport, while another 42% while waiting for public transport. 

We argue that a focus on the design of bus stations would assure both ridership and safety at bus stations. In terms of designing bus stations, there is already quite a bit of focus on innovative designs of bus station, in order to attract users, across the globe. It also encourages one to use the bus if the bus vehicles are designed innovatively. However, there is more to this. Bus stations in Delhi context has to be explored in terms of available facilities, such as, seating area, space for wheelchair, bus shelter, information screen, real time information kiosk, and even small-scale shopping areas in case of really high-density bus stops.

Moreover, there are recent research projects that are investigating public transport, both public transport mode and public transport stations, as public spaces. This is a very strong point that requires to be more highlighted. By public transport, we mean both within public transport and public transit stations. In specific, public transport stations, should be reshaped into something more than static transit infrastructure, but a vibrant public space that foster community engagement and enhance users’ experience. Therefore, Safety at b us stops can  be enhanced by integrating the bus stations with its surrounding by contributing to the attractiveness of bus stations. On one hand, it improves one’s tendency to use public transport, and on the other, improve the safety of the bus station as this is not a deserted place otherwise. A study done by Translink in 2010, showed that 45% of residents along Main Street in Vancouver are more likely to choose transit after improvements to s sidewalks and bus shelters were made in 2005 (NRG Research Group, 2010). Because riders expend a great deal of time, energy and patience outside of buses while waiting or transferring (Taylor, Iseki, Miller, & Smart, 2007), enhanced passenger amenities are greatly valued by passengers (Jenks, 1998). Alternatively, lack of adequate design leads to commuters feeling undervalued and thereby view the waiting experience as an impediment to choosing transit (Hess, 2012; Wardman, 2001). As bus stops are embedded into the neighbourhoods, integrating it with surrounding land use will not only benefit the riders, but also improve the immediate urban realm. A more comfortable waiting environment leads to greater rider satisfaction and shorter perceived wait times, leading to higher ridership (Zhang, 2012).

Picture of bus stop in Pittsburgh designed as public space

Pittsburgh bus stops as public space. Credit: Project for Public Spaces, https://www.pps.org/article/engaging-pittsburghs-bus-stops-bus-stops-as-public-spaces

In this regard, the debate can also be related to Transit Oriented Development. While at the city scale, the built environment is developed along the mass transit corridor with high density, however, there is still a high demand for parking. Real life examples show that such TOD becomes a neoliberal tool, as properties are sold at a high expense which is affordable only by high income groups. This makes the affordable housing communities who are also essentially public transport users physically stay at a distance from the public transport stations. In addition, since those who are residing close to public transport stations do not use public transport, it is likely that public transport stations would have safety issues. Hence, from these perspectives, integrating bus stations as a transition zone between community space and pedestrian infrastructure would make sense. In fact, developing the pedestrian infrastructure, be it under the framework of designing street for all, or reclaiming street, as an integrated network with bus stations, would improve both the ridership of public transport and safety at the bus stations. However, considering the financing may have to come from the private sector (for profit), there could be challenges in doing so. This is discussed below in detail. This idea should fit well under the broader framework of street for all design and reclaiming public space. It is already mentioned in studies that bus users are also happy pedestrians. Designing bus stations in an elaborate scale would also allow integration of bus stations within surrounding land uses. This is again helpful both in terms of improving ridership and safety.

Following Manuel Castells, infrastructures have been treated either explicitly or implicitly in the built environment depending on contemporary urban challenges. Infrastructures remained black-boxed as long as they worked smoothly. Once it was not working well, there was a need to open the black box. Following that line of logic, it is time to reconsider the role of bus stations in the urban design exercise. Highlighting the bus station design would fit well on the backdrop of Street for all design framework. Hence, from an urban design perspective, bus stations would become a very prominent component of the pedestrian infrastructure landscape. With a focus on climate change mitigation and low carbon infrastructure, it is a contemporary urban issue, and hence, with that background, it is required that such infrastructures are highlighted in designing the built environment.

While the literature on this has been dominated by a positivist approach, it is time to use non-positivist approach too. While non-positivist approach does look like non-technical to some extent, and hence, is undermined in certain context, what we are discussing here still remains strongly technical. This is also supported by the fact that there are strong governance and finance issues related to the topic. Technical doesn’t only mean engineering considerations, which is also something relevant in this case; technical means consideration of governance and financing issues, which are highly relevant in this case. 

From a governance perspective, it is useful to highlight bus stations, on the one hand, as a community space to be maintained by the community, and on the other, as part of prominent pedestrian infrastructure at large. In order to be considered as a community space, bus stations are required to be physically integrated with surrounding land uses. However, to be considered as part of pedestrian infrastructure, it is required that bus stations are physically part of the pedestrian infrastructure. These two parameters clearly indicate how bus stations could be treated as a transition area between the public space (pedestrian infrastructure) and the semi-public space (community space). For obvious reasons, the integration has to be more than physical integration, also in terms of integration  of governance and finances.

Currently, private sector operators deliver and maintain bus stations on contractual basis. Financing of bus station delivery and maintenance is particularly important for more elaborate bus station designs . From a financing perspective, it is helpful to consider bus stations as part of the community space, as financing for maintenance would come from the community itself. The other source of funding could be the charges from commercial buildings like sales tax, betterment levis or shops and establishment levies etc. where these stations are located. Presently, private developers generate money from advertisements for maintenance of these bus stops. It is often argued that public transport vehicles and stations are part of public infrastructure, and hence, should be financed and owned by the public sector. However, it is a matter of context-specific issues at hand. For instance, the central government of India issued grants through programs like JNNURM, AMRUT etc. to invest in pedestrian infrastructure. In case bus stations are promoted as an integrated part of pedestrian infrastructure, it is more likely that they can access the required funding. Moreover, there are other ways of cross-subsidy with revenue generated through private vehicle infrastructure like parking charges, congestion pricing, road tax  etc..  To make cities more sustainable and environmentally friendly, focus is shifting from private vehicles to public transport, thus multiple urban challenges related to hard and soft infrastructure of public transport are increasingly attracting attention.

Centre for Science and Environment. (2018, September 4-5). Retrieved from Centre for Science and Environment: https://www.cseindia.org/state-of-urban-transport-systems-8971

Cervero, R. E. (2010). Travel and the Built Environment: A Meta- Analysis. Journal of the American and Planning Association, 3(76), 265- 294. doi:https://doi.org/10.1080/01944361003766766

Florida Planning and Development Lab, Department of Urban and Regional Planning. (2008). Accessing Transit: Design Handbook for Florida Bus Passenger Facilities. Florida Department of Transportation. Retrieved from http://teachamerica.com/TIH/PDF/2008_Transit_Handbook.pdf

Johnston, I. (2014, September 15). Taking public transport instead of driving to work makes people happier, study suggests. Retrieved from Independent: https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/taking-public-transport-instead-of-driving-to-work-makes-people-happier-study-suggests-9732535.html

Menon, R., & Khan, A. (2015, August 15). That Dingy Bus Stop is Hindering India’s Progress – An Economic Case for Safe Public Transport. Retrieved from WRI India: https://wri-india.org/blog/dingy-bus-stop-hindering-india%E2%80%99s-progress-economic-case-safe-public-transport

Nelson, D. (2014, October 6). Engaging Pittsburgh’s bus stops: bus stops as public spaces. Retrieved from Project for Public Spaces: https://www.pps.org/article/engaging-pittsburghs-bus-stops-bus-stops-as-public-spaces

Shah, S., Viswanath, K., Vyas, S., & Gadepalli, S. (2017). Women and Transpot in Indian Cities. New Delhi: ITDP and Safetipin.

Sonal Shah, A. R. (2019). What do women and girls want from urban mobility systems? Ola Mobility Institute.

Zhang, K. J. (2012). Nine Techniques for Enhancing Bus Stops and Neighbourhoods and their Application in Metro Vancouver. The University of British Columbia.


Posted in Planning, city, and society, public transport, Sustainability and resilience, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Is the Spectrum dead?

This post is republished from Changeology, a highly insightful blog by community engagement practitioner Les Robinson about how to engage communities effectively. The post was initially published in August 2016 and is highly relevant to anyone researching or conducting public participation, community development and is also relevant for participatory research with communities. The post also provides tips to help overcome Chronic Engagement Deficit Disorder (CEDD) and suggests the use of an innovative engagement design and assessment tool: the Curiosity-ometer.

Guest author: Les Robinson (Changeology) (LinkedIn)

Is the Spectrum dead?

Or more accurately, is the Spectrum of Participation an intellectual zombie – a model that stays alive despite being functionally useless?
For those of you not familiar with the Spectrum of Participation, it’s the central conceptual framework for community consultation in planning, especially in local government. It’s so central to thinking about planning that it’s almost impossible to contemplate community consultation without invoking the Spectrum.
But here’s the problem. I just reviewed a host of contemporary community consultation methods (to make an slide show for a new training workshop). No matter how much I bent the definitions, I couldn’t make what we actually DO in community consultation fit the Spectrum.
Here, item by item, is the problem:

INFORM: “To provide the public with…information…” 
Er yes, we always communicate. Yet disseminating information alone can’t, by definition, be a form of consultation. And communication is, yes, inevitable. So having an INFORM level is kind of superfluous. The only reason for including it in the Spectrum is to make the point that it’s never enough by itself. In that case, why is it ON the Spectrum?
(There is an amazingly tense and fraught, and ultimately funny, LinkedIn thread where engagement consultant Brett Sangster innocently asked the question “Is ‘inform a legitimate level of ‘engagement’?” and prompted, so far, 327 comments, revealing a chaos of diasagreement on this question amongst engagement professionals.)

CONSULT: “To obtain public feedback…”.
Yes, that sounds exactly like what community consultation does and is. And, despite all sorts of attempts to push the boundaries, that’s where the great majority of community consultation efforts, and platforms, continue to lie. The reason being that’s all most authorities want or have time for. And, mostly, all that the public have time for as well. (Many of the really interesting innovations in community consultation are about mobile-enabled ‘1 minute consultations’, where the effort demanded from the public matches their actual level of interest. Those are definitely on the CONSULT level.)

INVOLVE: “To work directly with the public…”
Ah. This is the level I enjoy. Sitting down with people face-to-face. People can learn, and alter their positions, and relationships can be made, creating the possibility of trust. However it’s very hard to initiate this level, for the reason that most planning processes are so conventional, dull and irrelevant that it’s impossible to get citizens to give up their time. And fair enough too. If the issue is a ‘hot’ one, however, it’s easy to fill a workshop, and workshopping is infinitely better than the blood sport of public meetings. I personally think this is an area where we can do with a lot more fun and innovation.

COLLABORATE: “To partner with the public…”. 
Here’s where the Spectrum floats away into fantasy. In principle, it’d be nice to partner with the public. However, partnering is about equivalence of power. And there is a immense disparity of power in plan-making that makes ‘collaborate’ only ever an aspiration. A nice one, but, sorry, the final decision is always with the power-holder, and it would be ridiculous, and disingenuous, to pretend it’s anywhere else.
Also, looking at real life examples, I really can’t distinguish Involve and Collaborate in the field. They end up being kind of the same thing: basically a group of people being workshopped by a facilitator, who occasionally allows them to influence the process.
(OK, I know of a couple of examples approaching partnership, but they are in only after near-death experiences by public agencies. They are exceptions that prove the rule.)

EMPOWER: “We will implement what you decide…”
This is where the Spectrum gets completely silly. In our society, power is not relinquished. The perceived risks for authorities are too great. I can see it’s nice to have there, like a glowing light on the hill, but when I train public officials I face a seemless wall of scepticism and self-doubt about this level. If I am being realistic it’s not a serious option. I suspect it’s just there as a fossil from Sherry Arnstein’s original 1969 Ladder of Citizen Participation. It’s neat. I can see it looks right. But it’s not the job of government to hand complete power to citizens. It’s not even a good idea most of the time. When agencies have ceded power, it’s almost always when citizens force their way onto the table, and even then it’s grudging and temporary. Take Landcare as an example: it looks like empowerment, but the funding schemes are withdrawn at a whim, and action is so mired in paperwork and accountability that it wears down active citizenship.

In summary:  3 of the 5 levels in the Spectrum do seem to have conceptual or reality problems. They don’t seem to make sense as intellectual categories either because they can’t be implemented or, in the case, of INFORM, aren’t actually a category of consultation. With this in mind, perhaps it would be more rational to have a Spectrum of Consultation with just two components:


I think that would be a much closer simulation of reality.

WHAT’S MISSING: Just listening
Interestingly, there’s a whole class of community engagement that’s absent from the Spectrum. It could be the most important kind of all.
Most of our public organisations have lost contact with their publics. They suffer from Chronic Engagement Deficit Disorder (CEDD) which cannot be solved by yet more formal and structured engagement processes. Exactly the opposite is required: engaging tactics that make possible just plain listening, where agency staff meet citizens without an agenda, and hear from each other as human beings.

Wyndham City Council have adopted the ‘listening post’ but really, it’s a ‘pop-up council’. You can see lots of different formal consultation processes under way in a central public space, combined with music, food and something for the kids, but what’s also happening is LISTENING WITHOUT AN AGENDA. Just getting the council managers, executives, the CEO, the Mayor and councillors, out of their offices and meeting rooms, and LISTENING to citizens, one-on-one.

I watched one of Wyndham’s council executives reporting on this experience in an internal forum, and his body language said it all. He was frankly delighted, and bubbling to express his appreciation of the process. For him it was a revelation. I would even say that CEDD is a disorder that public officials are hungry to have relieved.
Of course, such a tactic (actually any successful community engagement) depends on a commitment to hear. And that depends on one thing that isn’t measured in formal models: genuine curiosity.

With this in mind, I want to propose an alternative spectrum to help organisations decide on their community engagement tactics: the Curiosity-ometer.

The idea is: before any community consultation, honestly answer this question: “Where are you on the spectrum between ‘endorsement seeking’ and ‘open-mindedness’?” Being bracingly honest about this might reduce a lot of the wasted effort and conflict around community consultation.


Editor’s P.S. Finally, if you are short of ideas about how to make engagement fun , have a look at other resources and articles on Changeology, including: the practical 6 dimensional enchanting event constructor.

Posted in Beyond planning, community engagement, Conflict, Methodology and ethics, Planning, city, and society, Sustainability and resilience, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

You used LEGO(R) in your Viva? You must be kidding!

Guest author: Chrissi Nerantzi (Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching at Manchester Metropolitan University)

The LEGO® kit I made and used in my viva

The LEGO® kit I made and used in my viva

You used LEGO(R) in your Viva? You must be kidding!

Well, I did! I used a handful of LEGO(R) bricks in my viva. Some or many may think that it would be a very risky strategy and avoid anything that is not traditionally used in a viva. I had prepared by little LEGO® kit, tested it and tested it again to see if it really worked and truly helped me to explain the basics of phenomenography, the methodology I used, to explain it to the examiners if I was asked about my methodology, a common question in a viva. I would then decide if it would be useful to explain it using the bricks. It wasn’t that I had to build this in regardless. On the contrary, it was an informed decision and only if I felt that the examiners were open to such an approach. And they were. I have written about my viva experience but also my preparation on my blog and you can find my reflections there together with resources you may use if you are preparing for your viva or help others in this process. Have a look here and you will find further posts linked to my PhD journey.

After my viva, I wanted to explore the use of LEGO(R) and LEGO(R) SERIOUS PLAY(R) in the context of doctoral students development and doctoral supervisors development. That led me to another phenomenographic study in this specific area and a dissertation through which I got an MA in Coaching and Mentoring in Education. This time, I reached out for help during the analysis stage and Margy Macmillan and Paul Kleiman helped me make sense of the data through which the categories of description and the outcome space emerged. A paper has also been published in a special issue around the use of LEGO(R) in higher education, based on the following study.

So why LEGO(R)? I have used LEGO(R) SERIOUS PLAY(R) and other LEGO(R)-based approaches since 2010 when I reached out to the bricks to make professional discussions on the PGCAP (Postgraduate Certificate in Academic practice, also PGCHE) at the University of Salford where I was working at the time, more meaningful, less stressful and more enjoyable for colleagues. How it worked was captured in a paper we wrote with a colleague at the time on the programme with whom I had also discussed the idea before introducing it. This work was done before I had read anything about LEGO(R) SERIOUS PLAY(R). I used it intuitively as part of my practice to experiment with different approaches. Then it snowballed from there. I used LEGO® in various sessions, read about LEGO(R) SERIOUS PLAY(R) which since 2010, that same year I started experimenting with LEGO® became available as an open source method (see the full guide), did the facilitator training and started sharing my work via social media, conferences and publications. I also started connecting with others who were using it at the time such as Pfr Alison James and Pfr David Gauntlett. You must check out their work in this area!

Through my experiments and applications with staff but also with students (a further related publication and example of how I used it with students), especially after arriving at Man Met in October 2013 and the workshops and courses we have offered, I could clearly see that the method that uses the bricks is very versatile and very useful when exploring complexity in a higher education context. So when I completed by doctoral studies, I wanted to see if and how LEGO(R) could be useful for PhD students especially. Opportunities were there to connect with our Graduate School and soon started offering LEGO® sessions to prepare for a viva. I love being among PhD students and helping them grow their confidence and self-belief. A short while I was a PhD student myself and really valued any help I would get from my supervisors and the wider support network, in my case the Global OER Graduate Network (GOGN) as my research was in open education.

So if you are preparing for your viva, think about something that you may struggle, or, ok, have difficulty explaining just by talking about it.

If you can think of something, it could be the methodology, just like in my case, or something else, like your theoretical framework or a model you created perhaps, explore if LEGO®, or any other material(s) could help you visualise with clarity the key points you want to make and to illuminate specific connections. Believe me, it is easier to have something in front of you to talk about, be focused and articulate an informed response, instead of steering into the empty space. We all learn best when we combine pictures and words (check out Mayer’s multimedia theory of learning) and building a model can help you tell your story with greater clarity, precision and focus. Have a look at Seymour Papert’s work around constructionism). Furthermore, using a model, an artifact or an object will move the attention to this, which will be much less stressful for you.

Of course it doesn’t have to be LEGO(R). You may reach out to other materials. Whatever works for you. Give it a go during your viva preparation and see how it goes. Transform your viva into a more hands-on experience.

Acknowledgements: Thank you for giving me the opportunity to offer the “Bag of LEGO® for your viva” workshop at the recent Royal Geographical Society Postgraduate Conference 2019, that took place in April at the Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester. I really enjoyed being among many PhD researchers. Thank you also for this kind invitation to write a little something here for your blog. I hope it will be useful for colleagues. Let me know if I can help in any way.

Dr Chrissi Nerantzi is a Principal Lecturer in Academic CPD (continuing professional development) in the University Teaching Academy at Manchester Metropolitan University. She is also Certified LEGO(R) SERIOUS PLAY(R) Facilitator,. was National Teaching Fellow 2015, ALT Learning Technologist of the Year 2017, and received the GO-GN Best Open Research Practice Award 2018. Follow her on Twitter @chrissinerantzi

Posted in Academia, research quality and assessment, Beyond planning, conferences, Lego, Resources, Uncategorized, VIVA | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Sandra Annunziata, in memoriam

Guest authors: Marco Cremaschi (Sciences PO, Paris), Carlotta Fioretti (European Commission, Joint Research Centre), Clara Rivas (University of Leicester)

On Friday, 4th of January, a few days before turning 40, Dr. Sandra Annunziata passed away suddenly. A regular contributor to the AESOP’s initiatives, she was a tireless and committed researcher, bringing the whole of her originality and curiosity into her studies.

Profile picture of Sandra Annunziata

Sandra was incomparable: a force of nature, a well of never-ending generosity and openness, on top of an outstanding academic, an expert of her field, a dedicated researcher that never ceased to question injustices, a kind colleague that always had time for anyone and everyone, regardless of the status they held and the field they worked in.

Sandra graduated in Architecture at the IUAV of Venice in 2004. In 2008, she defended her Ph.D. thesis at the University of Roma Tre. “Un quartiere chiamato desiderio: la transizione dei quartieri popolari in Brooklyn e Roma”. Prepared under the supervision of Marco Cremaschi, the dissertation dealt with the processes of gentrification and neighbourhood change in contemporary cities in Rome and Brooklyn (NY), investigating the process of change occurring in two neighbourhoods in Rome and New York. The complete empirical fieldwork comparison, can be found in Later, she investigated the forms of urbanity in a few newly built urban developments in Rome. After her PhD, she carried out studies and fieldwork at Columbia, New York (2007), Cornell, Ithaca (2011), as well as at Weimar (2008-9), the Institute de Research Social of the University of Genève (2012) and Leicester University. 

Between 2008 and 2009 she directed with Marco Cremaschi the Strategic plan of the city of Arezzo, coordinating the research team of the Department of Urban Studies. The Plan was the first awarded by the Region Toscana.

The team included a number of young researchers and doctoral students from the same Department that became eventually a close-knit group of friends and the core of Eticity. Sandra established this association with Mara Cossu, Claudia Faraone, Carlotta Fioretti, Claudia Meschiari, Viola Mordenti and Alice Sotgia with the motto “Exploring Territories, Imagining the City”. A successful crew of reflexive planners and engaged young women that often met around a dinner looking in turn after the children of Mara, the first to experience motherhood.

In 2009 she was awarded the Giovanni Ferraro Award for her PhD dissertation; and in 2011 the prestigious Clarence Stein grant for independent research as Visiting Scholar at the Department of City and Regional Planning of Cornell University, USA. The scholarship allowed her to carry on an interesting study on tenurial change in historical garden cities comparing Garbatella in Rome and Sunnyside in New York (Annunziata, 2017). Once back in Rome, Sandra continued her collaboration with Cornell University, being involved from 2012 to 2018 as visiting critic for the course European Cities, held in Cornell in Rome.

Sandra was an enthusiastic teacher, who transmitted to students most important challenges European cities are facing (housing, migration, gentrification) through direct experience: often lecturing not in class but in the lively spaces of the city, involving local communities as well as international scholars.

Between 2013 and 2015 Sandra has been involved in a research project of national interest (PRIN) on the inclusion of migrants in small municipalities. The project was aimed at shading light on a phenomenon not enough studied yet but increasingly relevant especially in Italy where nearly half of the foreign-born people lives in small sized urban centres. Sandra conducted a thorough fieldwork in Roccagorga, a town of 4500 inhabitants located in the mountains of Lazio region, in central Italy. In particular, her research was able to highlight strengths and criticalities of the Italian reception project for refugees known as SPRAR (Asylum Seekers and Refugees Protection System), showing the potentiality for combining the inclusion of migrants with the local development of inner areas. The results of the research have been published in several articles (Annunziata, 2015; 2016; 2017) which are even more valuable today, that the existence of SPRAR has been questioned in the national debate.

Thanks to a Marie Curie, she engaged in her postdoc work with Prof Loretta Lees in Leicester where she met Clara Rivas. Together, they wrote articles wondering about resistance to gentrification, trying to push forward other understandings of resistance that were more inclusive, questioned themselves, and whatever hierarchical systems they might be inadvertently reproducing.

Sandra’s knowledge of gentrification theory framed the initial articles on resistance to gentrification: from a literature review to actual resistance practices, Clara and Sandra sought to understand better how gentrification could be fought and possibly defeated. The path carved as writing partners was promising: every new article found a new focus that would be more interesting than the previous one.

Recently, Sandra and Clara worked on how everyday practices and visible acts of protests were tied together when conceptualized as resistance to gentrification. She had a way of coming up with fantastic ideas, calling at any time of day or night and letting you in some exciting breakthrough thought. Such enthusiasm was contagious, as it coloured the conversations, texts, presentations and random encounters she participated in. 

Working within the framework of her Marie Curie project allowed her to bridge that gap between academics and activists, and helped her put her ideas in action: fostering spaces of exchange and activism in the face of acute dispossession. Her knowledge and work was always a source of inspiration. Beyond our academic musings, or probably because of them, we shared plenty of discussions, arguments, drinks, dinners, projects, conferences, laughter, worries.

Clara and Sandra had a baby almost at the same time, and in her true unique fashion, Sandra managed to grow into a beautiful mother whilst developing her academic career almost without pause.

She did a million things at the same time, relentlessly, and she managed to shine through most of them. That light she irradiated will live on in her work, projects, as a little voice inside our heads whenever I’ll be looking for the right words, in all her friends and colleagues and people she tried to help, and of course in Elena, her daughter. 

A selection of papers

(2010). with Cossu, M., Urbanity beyond nostalgia: discovering public life at the edge of the city of Rome. In Suburbanization in Global Society (pp. 131-152). Emerald Group.

(2011). Evolving urban citizenship and the erosion of public space in Ponte di Nona, Rome. Cremaschi and Eckardt, Changing Places, pp. 63-81.

(2011). with Violante, A.,, Rome-Model: rising and fall of an hybrid neo-liberal paradigm in Southern Europe. In Annual RC21 Conference, Amsterdam (pp. 7-9).

(2011). The desire of ethnically diverse neighbourhood in Rome. The case of Pigneto: an example of integrated planning approach. Future Urban Research Series, (4), 601-614.

(2011). with Cremaschi M., “Strategie vs. strateghi: una riflessione a partire dall’esperienza del Piano Integrato Urbano Sostenibile della città di Arezzo”, Atti della XIV Conferenza Nazionale SIU, Torino, 24-26 marzo 201, Planum, The European Journal of Planning online, ISSN 1723-0993,

(2013). Eticity ed., “Rappresentazioni urbane/Urban Representations Quaderni di Urbanistica Tre, 3, I, sett.-dic.

(2013). with Manzo, L. K. Desire for diversity and difference in gentrified Brooklyn. Dialogue between a planner and a sociologist. Cambio. Rivista sulle trasformazioni sociali3(6), 71-88.

(2013). with Banfi, E., Snowboarding on Swiss Islam: petit guide illustré pour découvrir l’islam en Suisse. Ed. Alphil-Pr. univ. suisses.

(2015). with Fioretti C., Casa e immigrazione nei piccoli comuni, tra inclusione abitativa e sviluppo locale. Proceedings of the National Conference of the Italian Society of urbanism. Venice, 11th-13th June. Planum Publisher. 841-848.

(2016). Aria di montagna, percorsi di integrazione nei Lepini. In Fioretti, C. “Inclusione fragile. Migrazioni nei piccoli comuni del Lazio/ Fragile inclusion. Migrations in small municipalities of Lazio”, i QUADERNI – URBANISTICA tre 11(4).

(2016). with Lees, L., Resisting ‘austerity gentrification’ and displacement in Southern Europe. Sociological Research Online, 21(3), 1-8.

(2017). Exploring the incidence of ownership: evolving forms of tenure in iconic garden communities. The case of Sunnyside, New York and Garbatella, Rome. Planning Perspectives, 32 (1): 1-22.

(2017). Fare spazio all’accoglienza, note a partire dallo SPRAR di Roccagorga, Italia. Mondo Migranti. 1

(2018). with Rivas-Alonso, C., Resisting gentrification. Handbook of Gentrification Studies, 393.

(2018). with Lees and Rivas-Alonso, C. Resisting Planetary Gentrification: the value of survivability in the fight to stay put. Annals of the American Association of Geographers108(2), 346-355.

(2019). “Pratiche e discorsi anti-sfratto a Roma in clima di austerità” in Roma in Transizione. Governo, strategie, metabolismi e quadri di vita di una metropoli, Coppola A. e Punziano G. eds., Planim Publisher, Milano. ISBN 978-88-99237-13-4.

(Under revision). Urban displacement in Southern European cities during a time of permanent austerity. Evidence from Italy, Spain and Greece, ACME: International Journal for Critical Geographies, special issue Narrating displacement: Lived experiences of urban social and spatial exclusion.

(Under revision). with Rivas-Alonso C. “Anti-gentrification practices and the every day life” in Resistances: Between Theories and the Field serie speciale Resistance Studies: Critical Engagements with Power and Social Change, Sarah Murru e Abel Polese eds., Rownam & Littlefield International, London.

(Under revision). with Rivas-Alonso C. e Lees L. “Segregation, Gentrification and Social Mix”, in Companion to Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Urban and Regional Studies, Anthony Orum, Javier Ruiz-Tagle, Serena Vicari eds., Wiley-Blackwell, London.

(in press). with Rivas-Alonso C. e Lees L. “Resisting Planetary Gentrification: The value of Survivability in the Fight to Stay Put” in Justice and the City, edited by Heynen N., Aiello D. Keegan C. & Luke N., Routledge, ISBN: 978-1-138-32274-5.

(in press). “Probing the right to buy: changing forms of tenure in Garbatella, Rome” in Iconic Planned Communities: Challenge of Change, Freestone R., Corbin Sies M. and Gournay I. eds., Pennsylvania UP, Philadelphia.

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Conference locations and sustainability aspirations: towards an integrative framework?

Editor’s note: The blog of the AESOP Young Academics network is a great place to share and showcase your research about a wide range of topics related to spatial planning. Here is a timely case in point, published on the final day of the YA conference 2019 in Darmstadt. 

Authors: Fabian Wenner (Munich University of Technology), Freke Caset (Ghent University), Bart de Wit (Ghent University).

Academic conferences convey many benefits. They facilitate knowledge exchange, foster personal networks and expose participants to different and inspiring spatial and socio-institutional environments. They may furthermore offer escape from daily routines and provide the chance of experiencing new, perhaps exotic, places. Unsurprisingly, over the last decade academic conferences have grown strongly in number and size. This is a trend that has been supported by the expansion of universities and the differentiation of disciplines, but also by the relative reduction of the costs and effort to participate. Some conference series have developed into global events attracting scholars from all over the planet.

These general trends also affect the academic disciplines concerned with spatial planning and research. Take the case of the Association of European Schools of Planning which was founded in 1987 and has meanwhile diversified into a number of sub-associations, each with their own conferences, such as AESOP Young Academics, the AESOP Transport Laboratory of Thought or the International Academic Association of Planning, Law, and Property Rights, alongside the almost 1000 attendees strong annual meeting.

The proliferation of international academic conferences nonetheless poses some considerable questions concerning its sustainability. From an economic sustainability point of view, conferences should aim to bring together a large and diverse group of attendants at low financial and non-financial costs. From an environmental point of view however, the climate impact of international conference mobility is increasingly recognized as problematic and has recently received much scholarly attention. From a social sustainability perspective, international conference organisers should ideally pay attention to the spatial distribution of conferences, since they allow local participants to tap into global knowledge networks. At the same time, they may generate other positive externalities such as local added value in the hospitality industry.

Organising a conference thus comes with a range of (more or less explicit) decisions, which result in differentiated ecological, economic and social sustainability outcomes. Our recently published paper in disP – The Planning Review “Conference Locations and Sustainability Aspirations: Towards an Integrative Framework?” focuses on two of these decisions in particular: the deliberation regarding conference location(s) on the one hand and conference format on the other hand.

As for conference locations, there may be a deliberate focus on geographical proximity between the conference venue and the pool of participants. Alternatively, a more secluded location or additional touristic benefits in less accessible or more ‘peripherally’ located areas may be explicitly desired. Another, arguably prevailing, logic is ad-hoc, based on candidacy and thus involving a fair dose of coincidence. As for the conference format, a variety of possibilities also exist. For example, while the majority of academic conferences are single-venue meetings, there have been recent experiments with multi-venue conferences, where a conference is hosted simultaneously across several venues which are interconnected by video-telecommunication. Conferences may also change locations from year to year, typically rotating among member institutes, or they can be organised at the same location each time.

Each particular combination of conference location and conference format alternatives will lead to different sustainability outcomes in terms of ecology, the economy and society. We contend that these considerations and their implications seem particularly relevant to the disciplines of spatial planning and research, as balanced sustainability is a widely acknowledged disciplinary goal. Nonetheless, there seems to be only little debate on this topic among scholars working in the field.

Against this backdrop, the paper develops a conceptual framework for conference location and format decisions. Afterwards, the framework is applied to the 2017 edition of one of the largest annual academic conferences within the domains of spatial planning and research: the AESOP conference.

Following these theoretical and empirical explorations, we conclude that one of the combinations of format and location decisions distinguished in our conceptual framework may be of particular interest in order to meet meaningful sustainability aspirations. A rotating multi-venue format with centralised secondary venues seems most promising in delivering the most sustainable outcomes. Depending on the geographical reach of the conference, a replacement of one global with multiple continental venues or one continental with multiple national/regional venues, supported by teleconferencing, could drastically reduce the environmental impacts of conference-related travel. In terms of social sustainability benefits, such actively-pursued, programmed spatial rotation of venues among members could furthermore ensure a fairer distribution in outcome rather than a “neutral” location application process, disseminating more widely the local planning issues and challenges of the host locations. From an economic perspective, we nonetheless hypothesise reduced advantages in terms of the agglomeration economies, exchange of knowledge and the potential for serendipitous contact. The exact outplay of these economic effects will nonetheless depend on the number of secondary venues and other parameters involved. Positive economic benefits may however arise due to increased efficiency gains (reduced travel times and, most likely, travel cost).

Hence, a crucial avenue for further research is to increase our understanding of the extent to which the social practice of interaction with fellow academics at conferences, and the scientific progress that may arise from it, could be jeopardised by this new type of academic conference. Future research and practical experiments should therefore aim to elicit preferences, values and expectations of academics in order to identify the conditions that are necessary to render multi-venue conferences an attractive and broadly-supported option.

On our (sustainable?) way to Venice… the AESOP 2019 Congress will be the next big conference for the AESOP community. Photo credit: Roberto Trombetta on Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0

We conclude with the contention that in particular spatial planning and research organisations dealing with sustainability issues should translate these concerns more explicitly through their decisions on conference format and location. More than in other disciplines, location is crucial, as the “laboratories” of planning are the very cities and regions. While currently these considerations may be of a pragmatic nature, we assert that conference committees should aim for emission-minimising and spatially-balanced conference locations in the longer term by pursuing a more active strategy.

Fabian Wenner is Research and Teaching Associate at the Chair of Urban Development at Munich University of Technology; Freke Caset is PhD researcher in Geography at Ghent University; and Bart De Wit is a geomatics expert at the Deparment of Geography at Ghent University.

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Venice had its own ‘Airbnb problem’ during the Renaissance – here’s how it coped

Guest author: Rosa Salzberg (University of Warwick)

Editor’s Notes: 1) This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

2) In the run-up to the AESOP Congress this summer, many of us will likely explore AirBnB solutions. This timely post shows Venice already faced some aspects of current dilemmas regarding shared urban economies. The “AirBnb problem”: a balancing act?

A balancing act. Picture credit: “Venice, Italy” by Pedro Szekely on Flickr, CC BY-SA.

Cities around the world have had difficulties balancing the interests of visitors with the needs of residents, as holiday rental platforms such as Airbnb have grown in popularity and size. Evidence shows that the conversion of rented homes to short-term accommodation contributes to housing shortages, raises house prices, speeds up gentrification and erodes local communities.

Cities including Amsterdam, Berlin, Barcelona and London have acted to curb these negative effects, imposing new taxes or limiting the number of nights that a property can be rented out. Today, Venice is one of the worst affected cities: the resident population has fallen to its lowest level in centuries and city leaders are looking for ways to mitigate the ill effects of mass tourism.

Yet the city also has a long history of managing the pros and cons of migration and tourism, and finding ways to profit from – but also integrate – foreigners. Indeed, in Renaissance Venice, a huge influx of foreigners fuelled the rise of a large informal lodging sector, which was difficult to tax and regulate and had a major impact on the urban community. Sound familiar?

Renaissance boom town

By the 16th century, Venice was the capital of its own huge empire and a major crossroads of trade and travel between mainland Europe and the Mediterranean. At the same time as painters including Titian and Giorgione were making the city a centre of Renaissance culture, the population surged from around 100,000 to nearly 170,000 in just 50 years.

Unlike today, the people drawn to Venice at the time were mostly international merchants and entrepreneurs, migrants looking for work in local industries, or refugees from war and hunger. But the first tourists also arrived in this period, such as the French writer and nobleman Montaigne, who came to explore the city’s cultural treasures. And all of these people needed somewhere to stay.

Painting of Venice, 15th century

Buzzing. Image credit: Vittore Carpaccio’s painting showing a miracle healing in Venice, circa 1496. Wikimedia Commons.

My research has shown how hundreds of ordinary Venetians at this time saw a chance to make money on the side by renting rooms or beds. Many were women who struggled to earn a living in other ways: people like Paolina Briani, who in the 1580s rented rooms to Muslim merchants from the Ottoman empire, in her home a few minutes’ walk from Piazza San Marco.

By opening up their homes to migrants and travellers, these accommodation providers – unlike the mostly absentee Airbnb owners of today – shared intimate spaces with people who spoke different languages and practised different religions.

Regulating the informal economy

The rapid growth of this informal economy of lodging alarmed the Venetian government. Fearing the spread both of diseases and of threatening political and religious ideas, the government was anxious to regulate and monitor the presence of foreigners in their city. They also wished to minimise competition with the city’s licensed inns – a profitable source of tax revenues.

So, a bit like today, the government made efforts to register and tax lodging housekeepers, and force them to report on the movements of their tenants. Though this regulation was very difficult to enforce because of the informal nature of many lodging enterprises, Venice’s rulers did not try to eliminate this sector altogether.

While wanting to control the movement of people, they also saw that migrants and visitors were crucial to the city’s economy and its cultural power. They wanted to welcome anyone who brought valuable goods, innovative ideas or essential manpower.

At the same time, the government took into account that ordinary Venetians – especially vulnerable and poor groups such as widows – also profited from the influx. And the money that residents made by offering lodging might be essential to their survival.

A delicate balance

To be sure, Venice’s authorities did not welcome all comers. They took aggressive action to stop “undesirables” (such as beggars and prostitutes) from entering the city. They also put more and more pressure on religious minorities to live in segregated spaces – most famously the Jewish Ghetto.

But they also saw the benefits of promoting a diverse and flexible hospitality industry that could serve the interests of locals as well as visitors. Licensed lodging houses were allowed to flourish and, alongside the inns, became a central part of the city’s emerging tourist infrastructure.

Many newcomers who came to stay in residents’ homes – where they might learn something of the local language and customs – went on to settle and integrate into the community. In its regulation of the hospitality industry, Renaissance Venice struck a delicate balance between the interests of foreigners and locals, which was crucial to the city’s economic, cultural and political strength.

Today, such a compromise appears very difficult to achieve. There are differences between then and now: in the reasons people come to the city; in the nature of competing urban needs; and in the likely solutions and policies. But it seems that cities can take a lead from Renaissance Venice, and act to promote meaningful interactions between visitors and residents; for example, as Berlin has done, by banning people from renting out entire flats on Airbnb. The Venice of 500 years ago challenges people to think about “the Airbnb problem” in a more nuanced way.The Conversation

Rosa Salzberg is Associate Professor of Italian Renaissance History at the University of Warwick. 

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“Relational” ecology : rethinking relationships between man and the natural environment

Guest authors: Damien Deville (Paul Valéry University) and Pierre Spielewoy (Rouen University & French Natural History Museum)

This post is a free translation of an article originally published in the French edition of The Conversation on 21 January 2019.

« Eco-logy » : the science of “home”, “habitat”, or even the natural “environment”. Coined in the late nineteenth century by the biologist Ernst Haeckel, the term has since generated an impressive terminological diversity : plant ecology, urban ecology, conservation ecology, conservation, agroecology, reflecting reflects an increasingly precise understanding of ecological diversity on earth over time.

Photo credit: Palmyre Roigt

However, it is interesting to note that the term has long been anchored in the following paradigm : the understanding living beings by through the construction of two separate realms, the one being human, and the other being nature. Several authors have since challenged this dualistic approach to ecology.

We propose to shed new light on these criticisms and explore a new approach to ecology : the discovery and the potentialities offered by the study of the links between the human and the non-human, which we call “relational ecology”.

Find a new frame

In his book Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, Richard Rorty was interested since the 1970s in the use of the term “nature” in the Enlightenment.

He shows that the term “nature” quickly replaced the term of “God”, becoming a new “absolute” from which philosophers imagine the world without ever questioning the limits of these notions. This philosophical orientation has tended to impose itself globally, with major consequences in the ways of thinking and inhabiting the world.

However, a look on the diversity of cultures and territories tells us that this approach is far from universal. For anthropologist Philippe Descola, the radical separation between culture and nature that results from it, is even one of the specific characteristics of “modern” societies : a position that the author calls “naturalism”. This paradigm considers the interiority of human beings as discrete and thus relatively autonomous from environmental constraints. While this view of the world is widespread in Western societies, it remains but one particular view within the diversity of human-nature relations that characterise individual societies.

By way of example, the Cartesian dualism between those who “think”, humans, and the non-thinkers, the non-humans, has brought to light a division of the world between subjects and objects within political philosophy, which does not provide a sufficient political and legal response to the current climate crisis. This approach confines the non-human to the status of resource to be exploited and reduces the possibilities of its protection, while inhibiting many legal jurisdictions to recognize the responsibility of humans in environmental crises.

It is therefore urgent to find a way out of this dualism to tackle the challenges of our world differently. Relational ecology can constitute a new method of thinking about our relationships with others living beings and territories. We will describe it in its three founding moments: reconsidering diversity, acknowleding vulnerability and imagining new spaces of connection.

Reconsidering diversity

In The Order of Things, Michel Foucault explains the extent to which the practice of « making things similar » (i.e. categorising, or naming) in modern societies is the foundation for the construction of knowledge.

While this logic has been able to produce exceptional scientific results, it does not enable us to consider diversity. Indeed, according to this logic, new knowledge can only be apprehended from an “a priori” of a previous knowledge. Thus this “a priori” carries a risk of neglecting the particularity of the object that is considered. Ecological sciences have fallen prey to this logic as well.

For a long time, animal and plant species have been considered only because of their fundamental distinction with humans. Yet new reseach shows that any species can be seen to display societal behaviour in its own way. The studies conducted by Sabrina Krief’s teams at the French National Museum of Natural History on chimpanzees are an important case in point. And just as great apes have their own cultural codes, crows do mourn their loved ones, beavers are able to alter streams and plants collaborate with another one. Humans are not the only ones who can built complex social worlds.

A tool that takes into account this diversity is what Raimon Pannikar calls the “dialogical dialogue”: to extend the practice of dialogue beyond reason to include sensibility, sensations and emotions, which taken together enable one understand both the specificity and plurality of other beings.

Acknowledging vulnerability

In her book Elements for an Ethics of Vulnerability, French philosopher Corine Pelluchon defends the idea that every living being (humans included) remains permanently vulnerable to others. This vulnerability is first materialized by all the cycles of life and, by extension, the finite nature of bodies. Vulnerability is also evidenced in all the daily acts that connect us to others, such as acts of feeding, clothing, healing, working, or transporting us. To fully acknowledge vulnerability is to accept a relationship based on the interdependence between humans and their environment.

Research in geography and anthropology shows that societies have always been subjected to the constraints of the natural environment, forcing them to adapt and modify their practices and cultures. Conversely, human actions have deeply shaped landscapes and territories. Societal trajectories are therefore the consequence of complex, historically rooted relations between a society and its natural environment.

New spaces of connection

Finally, to do justice to diversity and reconsider human-nature relationships in a more holistic perspective is also means to rethink spaces of connection between humans and non-humans.

Three connective spaces seem particularly interesting.

The first relates to encountering. In her latest book The Mushroom of the End of the World, anthropologist Anna Tsing gives the example of the matsutake mushrooms growing in the deep forests of Oregon, to emphasize that the encounter between human and a non-human leads to something much greater than the sum of the parts. The relationship that is established brings out intelligence, friendship, memories, and dialogue. In short, a world of interactions that is specific to the individuals that engage in it.

The second space of connection is anchored in the spatial planning process. In recognising the singularity of every single region, city and rurality and integrating what anthropologist Tim Ingold calls “a radical ecological sensibility” or a realignment of our personal subjectivity and emotions with territorial actions, we enable new ways of inhabiting territories to emerge and are then able to value a diversity of shared modes of existence between humans and the non-humans.

The manufacture of legal rights is the third relational space. Some authors see in these spaces, which they call spaces of “coviability“, the possibility of creating new norms extend beyond strictly human categorizations. The end result would be a legal system that is enriched by the diversity of both humans and non-humans, and would therefore be less anthropocentric and better adapted to the ecological realities of the world.

By focusing on the relationships that interconnect us, “relational ecology” is a proposal to reintroduce, in both thought and action, spaces of understanding and sharing between humans and non-humans. By doing so, it enables us to refresh our knowledge about the links between societies and their environment, and proposes to focus on territorial diversity in order to provide relevant responses to social and ecological crises.

Photo credit: Palmyre Roigt

Damien Deville is PhD in geo-anthropology of nature at Paul Valéry University in Montpellier, France, and co-founder of the AYYA movement which works to integrate relational ecology methodologies in spatial planning.

Pierre Spielewoy is PhD and lecturer in international environmental law at Rouen University, and CBD (Convention on Bioligical Diversity) project leader at the French Natural History Museum in Paris. Also co-founder of the AYYA movement.

Posted in Beyond planning, Ecology, Heritage and Planning, Methodology and ethics, Nature, Planning, city, and society, Sustainability and resilience, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment