Social disruption and complexity: Transformative power of crises

Reading time: 10 minutes

Guest authors: Pinar Dörder (chair of the YA Coordination Team; Darmstadt University of Technology) and Flavia Giallorenzo (University of Florence)

The Association of European Schools of Planning (AESOP)’s Planning and Complexity Thematic Group is an open network aiming to explore and debate the connections between complexity sciences and spatial planning. Coordinated by Dr. Ward Rauws, the core components of the discussions are conceptual thinking (reconceptualizing city and planning), modelling (understanding city change), empirical studies (how to respond in a more resilient way), and planners’ response to cascading effects in cities. The discussions in the Thematic Group materialize in the form of publications to reach wider audiences. The 19th meeting of the Thematic Group meeting was hosted by Prof. Camilla Perrone and her team at the Laboratory on Critical Planning & Design, University of Florence, Italy with the technical support of Avventura Urbana S.r.l. (Turin, Italy) and co-organized by the University of Groningen, the Netherlands and Tallinn University of Technology, Estonia. The full summary report of the event is available here. In this blog post, we want to look into the main debates around which this event was shaped, but more importantly, based on the emerging cross-cutting issues, we want to delve deeper into the new added layer of complexity and uncertainty in the planning discipline introduced by the pandemic.

The event welcomed more than 120 participants on ZOOM and reached more than 370 views on YouTube (click here for the recording). It gathered together young and senior scholars from a variety of disciplines including planners, geographers, and political scientists. This alone shows that the event addressed a growing demand in our community and beyond to discuss planning and its cross-cutting issues, e.g. urban spaces, uncertainty, resilience, informality, and planner’s role.

  • Word cloud of the concepts that were most emphasized during the online event

The event started with an “ice breaking” session, a real-time survey for a quick and accurate analysis of the extent and the ways in which pandemic is impacting the participants’ day-to-day work. As it turns out, most participants were scholars and PhD students from Europe, and more specifically from the Mediterranean area. 77 per cent of all participants responded that the pandemic has impacted their work to a moderate or a high degree. Another important insight was the fact that the pandemic is making it impossible to travel and work in groups, a common problem that seems to be mitigated by more frequent contacts with other institutions as well as with colleagues in different countries, as exemplified by this very meeting itself.

Contingencies of social and physical distance

One interesting result from the polls was that, about 57 per cent of all participants see cities not as the problem, but rather as the solution to the problem. Now with the digital space gaining prominence with the pandemic, to what extent can it replace the material space, and not become a privilege? With an emphasis on the emerging conflicts and how they manifest themselves in cityscape, Prof. Richard Sennett addressed the unforeseen contingencies in his thought-provoking keynote speech.

Let’s take density as an example. We are discussing the 15-minute-city concept, an official policy emerging from Paris, where the goal is to even out the extreme pressure in city centers and redistribute it by promoting multi-nodal urban structures. Or in the context of the slums of the Global South, debates around redistributing density are now getting even more complex, as such informal settlements have always been ‘physically’ and ‘socially’ distant. Or introduced by the pandemic, if ‘distant’ becomes a synonym for ‘healthy,’ this may imply an entirely new definition for what a ‘healthy city’ is. Generally speaking, in the pre-pandemic world, we were used to imagining healthy cities as pleasantly dense, human-scale and green cities primarily supported by a well-functioning mass transit system. Will the automobile city have the upper hand in a post-pandemic world?

The challenge is that the planning as a profession needs “openness.” It cannot respond well to sudden changes if it operates in a rigid, heavy, and closed manner as it currently does. Only when a system is open, and dynamic can it foster adaptability in the long run. Seeing ‘informality’ as a natural by-product of complexity, could ‘planning the informality’ be a response and encourage user innovation instead of one-size-fits-all solutions, like nationwide lockdowns? As a rather business-not-as-usual practice, this would require us to not impose any desired outcome, like the nationwide lockdowns do, and provide the time and space (both in tangible and abstract terms) that adaptation needs on ground.

Screenshot of the event during the presentation by Professor Richard Sennett’s (Professor of Sociology at LSE)

Pandemic transforms the planning & complexity debate

The debates emerging from connecting planning and complexity are fundamentally enabling us to discuss the pandemic in the urban context. Borrowing the “complexity” vocabulary helps us planning scholars and practitioners to not limit the discipline to intentions and interventions but open up to discuss non-linearity, uncertainty, and sudden changes. The pandemic has been in this respect a wake-up-call that linking planning and complexity is not a matter of choice anymore. In turn, it also transforms the debate. These ideas have already materialized in the book “Handbook on Planning and Complexity,” which was presented during the event. The following paragraphs summarize the reflections on the thoughts by Moira Zellner, Gert de Roo, and Juval Portugali respectively. The front matter of the book is available here.

Communicate, cooperate, collaborate Planning takes place in three stages: First, we observe and acknowledge the complexity of cities, this is like looking inside from outside. Then comes the analytical phase and we start understanding from inside as we gain insight. The third stage is then moving toward practice, ideally putting the complexity insight in use. Incrementalism, i.e. big transformations via small interventions, can accompany all three stages and aligns with the view that it could be more beneficial to avoid fixed outcomes that are presumed to be “good.”  Incrementalism helps us refrain from over-planning. The success in managing our highly complex, uncertain systems will depend on the aspect of collaboration, but this is quite scale-dependent: what might work well in smaller scales is not necessarily manageable in larger scales. The planning discipline operates in a highly complex environment with lots of uncertainties, and collaboration, in combination with communication and cooperation, could enable decision-making in favor of the greater good, despite and/or because of uncertainties.

From traditional toward adaptive planning Contemporary planning operates on a scale from technical to communicative rationalities, and by doing so (e.g. nationwide lockdowns), it might risk missing out the possibilities which an adaptive planning approach could result in. Does planning lead the processes, does it react to the changes occurring, does it do both? In what we might call traditional planning, the ‘actual’ aspect, i.e. to eliminate the anomaly that is responsible for the disturbance, comes first. This is followed by the move toward the ‘desired’ outcomes, and the ‘potential’ is the means to reach that desired end-state. Adaptive planning, however, has the same aspects, but with different meanings and different order: the ‘potential’ capacity to navigate during change, followed by the ‘actual’ actions here and now, in response to change, and finally the ‘desired’ possibilities, the benefits a change might bring with it.

Planning for self-organizing systems Planning is not an external intervention but a participation in a much wider urban game. Since the 50s we have Cognitive Planning which relates to one of the main properties of human beings: every human being is inherently a planner, spending most of their awake time time-travelling (thinking about what happened in the past or what will happen in the future). Cognitive planning is an aspect of this kind of time-travelling capability and, therefore, every human-being is indeed a planner and a decision-maker as part of the urban dynamic as well as the planning processes. The outcome of this cumulates into what happens around us, the reality.

Questions of complexity, uncertainty, reactions, responses

During the event, three parallel sessions provided a platform to discuss major aspects concerning urban dynamics, planning, complexity, and the Covid-19 pandemic, a turbulent condition of exposed uncertainty and unforeseeable impacts. Three main questions, urged by a call for (re)thought and advancement in planning, guided the contributions. The following subsections bring together the highlights from each of these sessions. (The following is a brief overview of the inspiring presentations and thought-provoking discussions. We invite you to take a look at the collection of abstracts available here.)

How and in what ways does the Covid-19 pandemic expose the complexity of urban systems? The first session was a full-paper session and explored different aspects of the complexity in pandemics such as adaptation pace, bottom-up movements and the relation between the pandemic spread and cities, considering social, morphological and governance features. Two authors, Stefano Cozzolino and Guzin Yeliz Kahya presented the issue of the pandemic in the cultural and creative sector from two points of view. The first highlights the different adaptation pace of institutions and the cultural/creative sector which is trying to innovate itself facing immediate obstacles to its activities due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Recognising the cultural sector as fundamental in promoting cities and social capital, his reflections are based on 100 interviews with European cultural actors. Differently from Stefano Cozzolino, Guzin Yeliz Kahya focuses on the role of artists’ spatial intervention in urban and cultural policy frameworks in Turkey. The author reflects on planning improvements due to the operationalization of the self-organizing processes at the base of artists’ interventions and collective production of urban spaces. As far as spatial activities are concerned, Maisa Fakhoury and Nurit Alfasi delve into bottom-up approaches in coordination with local authorities promoted by private owners in Palestinian Israeli towns on their properties during the pandemic, evidencing a growth of this kind of spatial projects. Supported by a 7 years-research investigation, the authors evidenced the consistency of hierarchy dynamic semi-formal social institutions that enable the in-becoming, while the institutional level weakens doing the same. Hermann Haken and Juval Portugali conclude the session, opening the debate on the pandemic space-time diffusion patterns considering the city forms, social organization and the governance of welfare states, weakened by models of privatization.

Which reactions and innovations in response to Covid-19 may advance urban planning in addressing urban complexity? The question about urban planning advancements in addressing urban complexity drove the second session speed talks and pre-recorded video-pitches. Contributors, called to explore urban reactions and innovations in response to Covid-19, introduce results and reflections from different perspectives. Inês Boavida-Portugal presents results from an empirical research study about tourism in the pandemic, finding a general optimism about a ‘return’ to travel as before. The analysis on destination shows that secluded places are the best options in pandemic moments. About this ‘green and open space rush’, Flavia Giallorenzo highlights the need for studying Airbnb dynamics also outside the city centres. Indeed, the Covid-19 pandemic struck the Airbnb system, but it let its adaptability to new conditions emerge, a hint of complexity to be considered in governance approaches. A strategy inspired by Airbnb’s original sharing nature is proposed by Sharon Whol for adopting new planning strategies in facing sprawl issues. The pandemic seems to boost the appeal of countryside living, an unsustainable trend if planning doesn’t introduce soil consumption compensations, such as incentives for unused private lands rent for agriculture. As far as new planning tools is concerned, Micael da Silva e Sousa highlights the role of board games in creating a common understanding of the complexity also in non-technical actors. The Design Play Experience technology is a crucial method in approaching decision making design and people behaviours. Indeed, in transition turbulent phases, behavioural interventions can be addressed through complex thinking, as Ward Rauws argues. Fast changes in people behaviours challenge centralised planning, while a complex thinking perspective can identify enabling and constraining factors in adapting to behavioural interventions offering useful tools such as self-organization. The responsiveness of complex systems is underlined also by Beitske Boonstra, who reflects on the institutional and social different paces of response to crises. Civil society constitutes resilient systems characterized by informality, a crucial aspect to be considered in a long-term perspective, in a ‘normal time’ horizon.

Which lessons can be gained from Covid-19 on how planning can support urban societies in facing sudden global crises? The third session, consisting of speed talks and pre-recorded video-pitches, turns around the question of which lessons can be gained from Covid-19 on how planning can support urban societies in facing sudden global crises. Christian Lamker advances the idea that the pandemic taught urban planning the need to embrace the concept of uncertainty. A normative guide can support planners and thus urban society to cope with uncertainties. This topic is also brought to the table by Martina Bovo and Beatrice Galimberti’s contribution focussed on the concept of preparedness in planning processes. The contemporary system’s capability to respond to turbulent conditions takes centre stage to improve the system’s responsiveness and adaptive processes to disruptive events. Considering this unstable environment, Mark Zandvoort claims the need for adaptive planning approaches instead of central planners’ interventions. The urgency of mitigating the pandemic effects has increased the top-down direct governance, which caused conflicts of responsibility among the hierarchical levels. Federico Camerin proposes superblocks as a way to prevent and mitigate Covid-19 impacts. Indeed, they are assumed as neighbourhood units able to improve resilience, inclusivity and thus, safety. The role of urban spaces in social interaction is also investigated by Angel Aparicio. The efficacy of physical public spaces in enhancing socialization and confrontation is argued as unreachable by the virtual ones, such as Zoom or Teams, that the pandemic has made necessary. Nevertheless, technology can also have a positive role in this period, as Xiaoxu Liang suggests. Indeed, holistic cultural management is supported by technologies such as social media to perform participatory processes.

Looking beyond and ahead

Prof. Helen Couclelis held a groundbreaking keynote speech starting from the assumption that ‘There Will Be No Post Crisis City,’ also a central viewpoint in a recent paper of hers. Indeed, disruptive moments as such happened in the past, and they will happen again. All these unpredictable, complex transition phases did not annihilate cities, proving their resilience both in terms of material spaces and human relationship networks. Cities are complex systems, where sequences of epistemic planes–such as spatial structures, flows, functions, agents–form networks in spaces. The cities’ spatio-temporal nature coexists with human nature, fundamentally social and, therefore, deeply linked to the ‘real’ space. Based on this foundation, Couclelis argues that there will be no substitution between virtual and real. It is also to be considered that bits depend on atoms and not vice versa, and that’s why you cannot attach a pizza to an email!

Interestingly, despite different origins, there are clear parallelities with what Sennett also pointed out in his keynote speech: You cannot collect trash online and you cannot look after a patient online! Perhaps one thing to consider is whether being able to do home-office or working remotely is a privilege, particularly in terms of having the choice to avoid getting in contact with the virus itself.

To conclude, as Couclelis rightfully argues, the role of the planner needs to be revised in the light of changed conditions and assumptions. She proposes a shift of planner’s role from leading urban development to defending planning’s fundamental principles of fairness, efficiency, robustness, and wisdom (Susskind and Cruikshank 1987).

Slide from the presentation by Professor Couclelis (Professor Emeritus, UC Santa Barbara)

Finding our way out: Transformative power of crises

While initial questions guided the discussions in the event, further key questions emerged, too: What are the characteristics of the post-pandemic city? How technologies supported the lockdown period and promoted safe-home behavior are modifying the urban life and human relations? What planning approach could be more efficient in addressing abrupt transitions and embracing unpredictable human and non-human reactions?

Echoing Sennett’s words, we do harm to cities if we keep people apart instead of responding to the difference between social and physical distance, and to the fact that ‘virtual’ implying ‘separation.’ Referring to Couclelis’s remarks, virtual cannot substitute real interaction. As this debate strongly relates to inclusivity and justice, it is high time that planners (and planning discipline) need to rethink their role as defenders of fundamental rights. Planning needs to be aware of instability, changing conditions, and complex interactions triggered by disruptive moments. Reframing planning instruments and paradigms in the light of complexity may bring efficiency and resiliency in defending humans and non-human agents of cities.

Crises have transformative power, as resilience and systems thinking teach us. But crises do not guarantee a transformation towards a positive change. On the contrary, so far what we have witnessed with the pandemic is that it impacted the vulnerable portions of the societies, e.g. racialized, unemployed, inadequately housed the most. With this, the pandemic has rather ruthlessly shown us where socio-environmental injustices have always been occurring in the first place. It also proved that we cannot afford to delay embracing complexity, uncertainty, adaptability in the planning profession ‘in the case of a future disruption.’ As we are all witnessing, the future is now.


Susskind, L., Cruikshank, J. (1987). Breaking the impasse: consensual approaches to resolving public disputes. Basic Books, New York


Pinar Dörder is chair of the AESOP YA Coordination Team and PhD candidate at the Technical University of Darmstadt. Her research focuses on urban green spaces in transition across the region of Frankfurt Rhein-Main.

Flavia Giallorenzo is PhD candidate in Architecture, Urban and Territorial Planning at the University of Florence. Her research project is about strategic spatial planning and complexity, focusing on digital home-sharing platforms effects on public spaces.

Posted in Beyond planning, Planning, city, and society, Resilience, Sustainability and resilience, The YA network, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Scanning for disturbances in Munich: Resilience for the prosperous

Reading time: 10 minutes

Guest author: Markus Stenger (Stenger2, Munich)

Editor’s note: This post is a short paper that was submitted to the URNet conference ‘Reframing Urban Resilience and Implementation’ held in Barcelona in the winter of 2018.

Summary: To master the crisis of unlimited growth in limited boundaries, even prosperous cities have to develop methods of self-analysis and self-surveillance and create spatial manifestations of resilience.


The interesting thing about the word resilience is that the power of resistance meant by it should not be understood as opposition. ‘Resilience’ does not mean building a wall to keep Central American refugees out. It is the mastery of adapting to difficult situations; the capability of enduring crises without negatively affecting the existing order. A prerequisite for this mastery is the accessibility of resources and structures held available and prepared for this purpose. Just like preparing for it the effect of resilience is not a static event but rather a time-related, dynamic process. Its goal is securing the status quo.

Every urban agglomeration is a system of order aimed at retaining itself. Once this system faces external influences perceived as threats, the effect of its resilience emerges. When it comes to processing disasters such as earthquakes and floods, epidemics and droughts, we don’t doubt about the need of resilience. It’s a different story for “successful” cities, where inhabitants often relate their status as already representing a sign of resilience. Appearances can be deceiving. I have been living and working as an architect in Munich for some 20 years now. Raised in the countryside, I was forced to go to the big city to find work, like many others back then and today. The Munich of today lies in a beautiful landscape, is clean, rich, is considered the safest city in Germany, offers cultural highlights, has exemplary green zones and a self-confident bourgeoisie.

How can the concept of resilience be associated with these prerequisites?

Thanks to the fact that Munich combines all the above-mentioned features under the umbrella of quality of life but also due to global, national and regional developments, the city has been experiencing strong population growth for some years now. Over the course of the next 20 years this unlimited growth will boost the current population of 1,550,000 (2015), to 1,850 million people in 2035, according to the latest demographics’ reports.

The boiling frog

No reason to panic or to be resilient, one would say. Growth is a term with a positive connotation, after all. It only mirrors the trend of the last years and the peaks from the refugee crises are no longer reached. Also, a city that effortlessly manages to host more than 5.5 million people during Oktoberfest, should have no problem dealing with a mass influx of people. But there is a problem, and it is clearly illustrated by the way millions of visitors attend the annual Oktoberfest. Those visitors don’t need permanent housing, kindergartens and workplaces and don’t drive their own cars due to alcohol consumption. They thus require almost no room.

Oktoberfest and it seems almost alright – picture credits: Markus Stenger, 2015

But new citizens will all the more. The city, however, has no prepared capacities for such a growth. It is surrounded by strong, financially and politically independent municipalities, that do not offer any possibility of external expansion. Furthermore, at the same time as for Munich, the entire metropolitan region is growing as well too. Parallel to this stress, there is the already heavy commuters’ traffic. Today, 380,000 workers commute to the city. After deducting those who leave the city to work outside, this leaves 200,000 people who have to be set off against the urban population every working day. The number of these people will also inevitably increase. This might seem laughable compared to the Shanghai-Hongqiao train station with its 400,000 passengers per day. The difference is: Hongqiao has been designed to cope with such numbers. Munich’s infrastructure largely goes back to the time of massive building efforts initiated for the Olympic Games of 1972. For the following thirty years, Munich’s population has barely changed. The influx of more than 200,000 people since 2006 and the accompanying doubling of commuter traffic alone has not only pushed the infrastructure to its limits, it is on the verge of collapse. The decided new construction of the main station and the extension of the second S-Bahn trunk line will not prevent this.

The constantly increasing spatial requirements of the population and the traffic together with all other associated problems such as scarcity of affordable living space, gentrification, noise and congestion, represent the greatest challenge for the city since the end of WW II and the subsequent reconstruction. All of this was noticed too late. The control measures introduced are having far too slow an effect. Long processing periods result from the necessary coordination with a large number of participants, due to changing political objectives and changes in legislation. Urban acupuncture measures are taken in haste now with the aim of repairing a street here, a district there. In all this hectic rush, Munich has already been referred to as a ‘swarm city’. A term used for cities invaded by a young migrant population reminiscent of a swarm of birds. The development thus takes on an almost biblical dimension – one thinks of the punishment of the Egyptians by invading swarms of locusts. But this is only a distraction, because the immigration curve has been showing the same trend for 10 years. Nothing about it is acute.

Limitless migration was simply identified too late as a permanent fact and not only as a temporary phenomenon. It just cannot be stopped. The changeable factor therefore is not the extent of migration but how to deal with the existing urban fabric.

It’s a grotesque situation: Because of prosperity, cultural and economic appeal Munich is heading towards a crisis that will not yield any acute effects -like an earthquake or a flood- but will still cause lasting damage to the urban system of order. Specifically, this was exemplified as early as summer 2018 when citizens rallied in front of the City Hall in the form of novel massive demonstrations to demand the creation of new living space and alternative traffic concepts. The city lacks a sustainable and adaptable vision for the city’s future. It lacks a flexible master plan for dynamic growth within its limits.

Munich 2050 – toward transformation ?

With the help of a number of supporters our office faces this task and is currently preparing a visionary exhibition. The goal of ‘Munich 2050’ is to create an agenda that looks so far into the future that rushed problem solving could be turned into a structural handling of the challenge of growth. ‘Munich 2050’ means to constantly scan and question the most essential elements of the urban infrastructure using the means of architecture and urban planning. In this sense infrastructure not only comprises streets, bridges, above- or underground supply facilities, but includes also cultural, local recreation and sports facilities.

All these have to be regularly checked for their functionality. For every structure assessed the focus should be on questions, like:

  • Do we still need it (in its current size)?
  • What effects can turn a single function into a multitude of functions?
  • It’s about researching potential. Since an urban system, regulated or unregulated, is always dynamic and changeable, this monitoring must be carried out reliably and the agenda continuously reviewed.
  • ‘Munich 2050’ will therefore be an assessment of the status quo and in the future be subject to the same changes as the city itself. Once prerequisites change, one also needs to change targets and processes of the agenda.
  • Will there be no private cars in the city anymore?
  • Will drone landing sites replace multi-storey car parks?
  • Will the summers in Bavaria continue to be this hot?

Planning 30 years into the future requires guts. But it’s the only way to create a vision for the city’s inhabitants that they can get used to and to give meaning to citizen participation and discussion.

‘Munich 2050’ will therefore be an assessment of the status quo and in the future be subject to the same changes as the city itself. Once prerequisites change, one also needs to change targets and processes of the agenda.

Kraftwerk and the power of re-use – picture credit: Sascha Kletzsch, 2017

The trigger for our involvement with this topic was a project which took several years – the revitalisation of an obsolete former thermal power station in Munich. Some had already called for its destruction but we managed to establish a new value structure for the building. Today, the multi-functional building provides a new centre for the surrounding district.

We realised how much potential the conversion of previously unnoticed urban infrastructure has and actively started looking for more of such potential. Following the successful completion of this project we were again entrusted, among other projects, with the revitalisation of a large piece of infrastructure, a former heating plant that had been vacant for 40 years. In the next few years, a gastronomic and cultural centre will be built there on the border of two districts.

Heizwerk in the making – picture credit: Sascha Kletzsch

Such lighthouse projects are not suitable for large-scale residential construction; they do not solve problems of space. And yet they are located at the central seams of the city and offer the potential to make important functional additions to the urban space. They testify to the ability of obsolete infrastructural machine envelopes to be renewed.

To realise large living spaces, however, one needs to approach other areas of infrastructure and use different methods, e.g. to cover areas for flowing and stationary traffic. In Munich, this is already being considered. Retail chains have agreed to talk      about building structures on top of their parking areas, possibly to even act as developers themselves and to include new living space in their product range.

Last trip of the ‘Alte Utting’ – picture credit: Markus Stenger, 2018

The temporary acquisition of urban infrastructure is already being implemented in the form of pop-up architecture, also a pretty exciting development for Munich. Linked containers, an old excursion boat on a railway bridge, a roof garden on a multi-storey car park. Such impetus remains sporadic, however. Picturesque, immensely popular and lively, but in the end weak in the light of the gargantuan task of providing space for flats and jobs for 15,000 new citizens every year. The ‘Munich 2050’ agenda therefore will point out a large number of comprehensive measures to respond to societal change, e.g.:

  • Gradual ban of car traffic – indispensable for the periphery but toxic for the city.
  • Simultaneously: Construction of a firewall of electropetrol stations of the future, supply services centres with thousands of parking lots along all access roads and motorways. Connected to the public transport system to allow commuters to swiftly change to bicycle, bus or local passenger transport
  • Re-purposing of giant spaces that are used by stationary traffic (parking) today to create fast access bicycle paths, green areas, delivery zones and car sharing points.
  • Implementation of automated driving systems, urban cable cars, conveyor belts
  • Multi-functional use of parking spaces in industrial and commercial estates.
  • Elimination of parking space entitlements.
  • Conversion of non-fully utilised religious and cultural buildings into kindergartens and schools.
  • Re-zoning of allotment gardens to city parks.
  • Simultaneously: Covering of flat roofs in the city with urban gardening and urban agriculture.
  • Intensification of a reasonable mix of living and commerce.
  • Comprehensive use of open railway tracks, troughs, tunnel entrances with affordable forms of housing to be built on top.
  • Experimental high-rise planning, also built on top of existing buildings.
  • Area-wide extensions of buildings up to a limit that is still reasonable in terms of fire protection
  • Every individual citizen will be affected by these measures to varying degrees, for the good of this city’s sustainable development.

In all of this, we must not forget to avoid the big mistake made in international urban development in the past century: the irrational belief that everything has to be done exactly the same way even outside the respective city in question. Barcelona has different problems. So do Rome and Zurich. One possible solution, however, could be interesting for all of them: implementing an independent foundation-funded task force with a multi-functional and multi-disciplinary membership. This would be a commission of regularly elected and temporarily awarded experts that has the courage to hold on to a vision and to work on the spatial manifestation of resilience, especially in cities that seem to be working well at first glance.

It’s up to us as urban planners, engineers and architects who have the training to carry out the potential research for this. It might be a possible, wonderful future for our respective professions.


I would like to thank Mr. Amberger of the ALLGUTH company for the data concerning the issue of the petrol-station of the future. My special thanks are extended to my partners and the staff of my office, Stenger2Architekten und Partner.

Conflict of Interest

The author declares no conflict of interest


Markus Stenger is co-founder of the Stenger2 architectural office in Munich, founded in 2003. He studied architecture at Bauhaus University Weimar and at Ohio State University. The architectural office also curates the blog and sharing platform s2lab which delves into a wide range of architectural topics and issues from across the world (in German).

Posted in Architecture, Placemaking, Sustainability and resilience, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How planners can play a key role in addressing the climate crisis

Reading time: 4 minutes

Editor’s note: This post is part of the permanent call for blog posts to mark the European Climate Pact and Green Deal. Send your contributions about how spatial planning can help leverage climate transition to:

Guest author: Rebecca Windemer (Cardiff University)

Climate change is the biggest issue facing our planet and reacting to this challenge must be a priority. However, action must not disadvantage the most vulnerable members of society. Accordingly, the European Green Deal aims to achieve 2050 carbon neutrality in a way that is inclusive, ensuring that no one gets left behind. The Green deal action plan has two key aims; ‘to boost the efficient use of resources by moving to a clean, circular economy’ and to ‘restore biodiversity and cut pollution’. As planners we can play a crucial role in helping to achieve these aims.

Planners have a key influence in shaping the built environment, but planning roles differ and so do the ways that we can best have influence. Many of us are already doing a lot to help facilitate the transition to carbon neutrality, but perhaps there is more that we can do. In this blog I share my thoughts on the important roles and opportunities of influence for planners in policymaking, private and public practice and academia. My hope is that it motivates planners to do what they can to help contribute to this goal, and also raises awareness of the important role of planning in combatting the climate crisis.

Climate change as the overarching priority for planning

To achieve the scale and pace of change needed to meet the aims of the EU Green Deal, climate change and carbon reduction need to become the overarching priority of planning policy, influencing all spatial plans and development decisions. Changes to policy need to occur at every level from national to community level and thus all planners working in policymaking have an important role to play.

This is no simple task; we need to move away from short-term reactive planning policies to develop long-term approaches to land use planning that facilitate carbon reductions in an inclusive way. This will involve rethinking the design of places, reducing car dependence through locating homes close to schools, shops, healthcare and other essential facilities as well as prioritising greater levels of green infrastructure and biodiversity. Policy needs to be ambitious, enabling clean growth in all sectors of the economy. There are a host of policies that can be developed to facilitate positive changes including promoting developments that help to reduce emissions such as renewable energy, active travel and low carbon heating. From a design perspective, policies could include prioritising designs that lead to more environmentally positive behavioural changes and that re-use existing buildings and materials.

There is a need for collaboration here, sharing ideas across regions and countries, looking at policies that have worked well elsewhere and how they can be adapted to suit a particular area or scale. Communities can also play an important role here through being able to provide evidence and ideas on what would work locally. Policy would thus benefit through facilitating opportunities for local level participation as well as enabling bottom-up action such as community owned energy production.

Picture of what seems to be a street demonstration with sign that reads 'There is No Planet B'
There is only one planet: spatial planning cannot afford any ‘plan B’. Picture credit: free stock image.

Ensuring that policy leads to meaningful action

Public sector and private sector planners have the critical task of ensuring that policy leads to meaningful and ambitious action. They are at the forefront of what is happening on the ground and can act as key advocates of positive change. They are also able to share their knowledge and experience of what is working in practice, any difficulties that are being faced, and any parts of the community that are being disadvantaged as a result of policy change.

Both private and public sector planners will need to bring climate change to the forefront of discussions, considering the long term impact of proposed projects and actively encouraging developments to reduce emissions in an inclusive way. This includes working with developers to improve the performance and designs of all built developments, encouraging the efficient use of resources and the provision of green infrastructure and biodiversity improvements. Until climate change becomes a priority in planning policy, opportunities for influence may be limited, however sharing examples of best practice can generate a significant impact in terms of demonstrating what can be possible and inspiring others.

Sharing the latest academic knowledge

Academic research can provide vital evidence on how existing policies and potential solutions are working in practice and provide recommendations for policy changes. There is thus a need for planning academics to continue to develop research that investigates how planning can contribute to addressing climate change in an inclusive way. Due to the complex nature of this challenge, interdisciplinary research and discussions will be necessary. Knowledge sharing with industry and policymakers is a vital aspect of this. While academic papers have their merits, speed of publication and access create barriers to knowledge sharing. Academics should thus try to use opportunities to share key findings with industry in a timely way. Blog posts, policy suggestions, or video outputs provide ways to quickly share academic research and practical recommendations.

Climate change must also be at the core of educating future generations of planners. The importance of climate change and the potential impact of different policies must be integrated throughout the syllabus rather than forming optional modules. All planning students should be able to go into the workplace with the knowledge, skills and ambition to make a difference to addressing climate change.

Working together as a global community of planners

The climate crisis is huge and we need collective action to address it in a way that is inclusive. Together, as a global community of planners, sharing our knowledge and experience we can make a difference.


Rebecca is a postdoctoral fellow at the School of Planning and Geography at Cardiff University. Her research explores the use of time-limited planning consents for onshore wind and solar including how decisions are made regarding repowering, life-extension and decommissioning. You can contact her at

Posted in Climate change, Community engagement, Dissemination, outreach, communication, Ecology, Methodology and ethics, Resilience, Sustainability and resilience, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Why we should stop publishing in open-access journals with article processing charges

Reading time: 4 minutes

Guest author: Francesco Chiodelli (University of Turin)

In recent years, a new generation of academic journals has emerged and grown rapidly. It is a particular type of open-access journal with an article processing charge [hereafter: APC journal] . An APC journal is a scientific journal that requires authors to pay a fee to publish their article after it has been accepted. Such fees are usually quite high (ranging from around 1,000 Euros per article in most cases to over 3,000 Euros in some instances). The new generation of APC journals is not constituted by ‘traditional predatory journals’, that is to say a sort of fake-scientific-journals, characterized by false or misleading information, deviation from good editorial practices, and a lack of transparency and a serious peer-review process. This new generation consists of journals that appear to be more serious and on paper seem to respect the usual conventions of the field of academic publication, such as the existence of a peer-review process; therefore, in some cases they have also an impact factor. However, the quality and robustness of this peer-review process is highly questionable and the quality of the published papers is often quite low (obviously, there are exceptions).

The increased presence of these journals is linked, directly or indirectly, to several factors. Among these, there is the fact that many institutions (such as the European Union with the 2018 Plan S) support publication in open-access journals. But APC journals are mainly the byproduct of the current race to publish in the academic environment (i.e., the “Publish or Perish” dynamic). Academics are driven to publish quickly and in large quantities, but this clashes with the slowness and high selectivity of many traditional subscription journals. APC journals take advantage of this scarcity in traditional journals, providing an expensive loophole to the need to publish in international journals with an impact factor.

Two reasons are usually given to justify publication in APC journals. The first reason is the need to publish in open-access form. This answer, however, is unsatisfactory. In fact, the majority of subscription journals (that is journals which require readers to pay for the content that they read, but not authors for publishing) allow the open-access publication of post-prints (i.e., the final version of the articles accepted by the journal, prior to the layout work made by the journal staff). The Sherpa Romeo search engine enables you to find out publisher copyright and open access policies of academic journals across the world. Then, also true open-access journals (i.e., journals which do not ask authors for an article processing charge) exist. Hence, if the point is to publish research in an open-access manner, APC journals are not an obliged choice. The second reason for opting for an APC journal is the alleged need to publish quickly. It is true that many traditional subscription journals have very long publication times. But if the need is to make a piece of research publicly available, again, pre-prints can be published before the paper is accepted in any journal, also in forms that protect their content from plagiarism (such as SSRN’s eLibrary).

Within this framework, a question emerges: should we publish in these journals? My opinion is that we should not do it at all (for a similar viewpoint, see Eric Verdeil’s opinion). It is not only an issue of individual ethics, but of public ethics, which concerns the whole academic system. As a matter of fact, feeding the APC journal system has three serious negative consequences.

  1. It sets a barrier to access for those without research funds. This system creates a barrier for researchers who do not have access to substantial research funds (such as young or precarious researchers or scholars from not-so-affluent universities). This increases the hierarchical segmentation of the academic world even further.
  2. It risks not adequately guaranteeing the quality control of the scientific publications. “Predatory journals” have repeatedly been suspected of lowering the review process standards. Can the same suspect apply also to many non-predatory APC journals? My answer is affirmative. All APC journals make money and survive thanks to the articles sent to them. The very mechanism of requiring a fee from authors for publishing their article could push every APC journal to lower qualitative standards in order to publish as much as possible. The fact that, in many cases, the publication time of APC journals is very short (three or four weeks maximum, from sending the paper to its publication) seem to support these suspicions.
  3. It makes serious research work impossible. Many APC journals publish a significant number of articles. The case of Sustainability is blatant. During 2020, Sustainability published around 10,500 articles. For a researcher working on questions of sustainable cities, how is it possible to stay on top of everything that is published in this journal, so as to be aware of recent research developments in his/her field? Publishing a reasonable number of carefully selected articles is an essential task of scientific journals, which allows robust research work to be possible. In this regard, serious scientific journals are an essential component of the academic world: through their rigorous filter, they make the development of cumulative knowledge and robust research possible, as well as the flourishing of scientific debates. The publication of an exaggerated number of articles with almost no filter is, therefore, extremely detrimental to everybody’s research.
How sustainable are Article Processing Charges for the long-term development and quality of academia? APCs are a general trend that concern many journals and which all academics need to face in the race to publish. Picture credit: by the author.

Let me be clear: APC journals in of themselves are not THE problem. They do, however, contribute to aggravating the shortcomings of the current academic publication system. The need to reform the current academic publication system has been argued by various scholars. An increasing number of researchers is questioning some of its pillars, from publication metrics to the very principle of peer review. And we all recognize the paradox that our research, which is made possible thanks to our salaries paid by public institutions, enriches large private publishers, who publish it in subscription journals. However, while waiting for the scientific community to engage in an in-depth debate, I believe that any serious scholar can at least agree that the APC journals system is extremely harmful. The current international publication system is sick. While waiting to find a therapy for its disease, we should avoid aggravating its health by relying on something like APC journals, which do not constitute a viable treatment, but the death of trustworthy scholarly publishing.


Francesco Chiodelli is associate professor of urban and legal geography at the University of Turin. He is the director of OMERO – Interdepartmental Research Centre for Urban Studies at the University of Turin. He works on questions of urban illegality and informality, housing, diversity and urban conflicts. You can contact him at

Posted in Academia, research quality and assessment, Dissemination, outreach, communication, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

The YA blog in 2020

Reading time: 4 minutes

The YA blog in 2020

2020 broke a new record in terms of the number of visitors on the blog of the AESOP Young Academics network since its inception in 2014: over 11,000 visitors for more than 16,000 views. This is despite the generalised digital overload (Zoom, Teams, e-learning portals, Slack… ) we have all suffered from!

A big thank you to all those who shared great, inspiring insight and valuable resources on the YA blog in 2021!

The blog remains here to support you and provide an outlet to share your findings, thoughts and experience about all things spatial and planning-related. As a collective effort, we need each other to grow as researchers, teachers, activists and practitioners and support the communities worldwide that need quality spatial planning more than ever.

Three stellar blog posts that stood out in 2020

Word cloud about research methods by Viktorija Priļenska 

The posts with most views in 2020

Besides the post by Viktorija cited above, these earlier blog posts also caught readers’ attention:

Thematic highlights

Below are all the excellent posts published in 2020, by theme:

Getting to know the AESOP Young Academics network

The local committee for the YA conference in Tirana (Albania) meeting digitally at the beginning of the pandemic

Disaster management, resilience, sustainability and mapping

Placemaking & architecture

A creative rendition of the historical medina in Grand Tunis by Sarah Ben Salem

Being a researcher, networking & facilitation

Artistic rendering of screenshot of the online reading group
Community does not stop with covid! Being a researcher means staying resilient while asking the questions that transcend mainstream debates and framings. A familiar experience for all of us: The Urban Transitions Hub at the University of Lisbon meeting as usual – except online.

The state of the art

Calls for blog posts – get blogging as these are still open!

  • Planning around COP25 – a call for blog posts about what spatial planning can do for the climate and the environment, to mark the UN Climate Conference that took place in December 2019 in Madrid, and other landmark climate-related events and initiatives
  • The EU Climate Pact and Green Deal – similar to the above: a call for blog posts about all things environmental

Share your work and insight

2021 can be a stellar year for spatial planning community – so do send through your work and insight in the form of blog posts, artwork, podcasts, video abstracts, and so on. This can nurture the YA community in these challenging times. Sharing on the YA blog will boost the impact and dissemination of your work, as it connects thousands of spatial planning experts and aficionados worldwide. The YA blog provides a unique space to learn from each other and help move the field of spatial planning in the most desirable direction.

Here are some basic guidelines and ideas about how and what to share.

Looking forward to publishing your work on the YA blog in 2021!

Photo by Dimitry Anikin on
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Welcome 2021 – a fresh new start!

Reading time: 3 minutes

Goodbye 2020, welcome 2021

Without doubt, 2020 was a challenging year for all of us. Equally, the challenges came with a silver lining. Every challenge, personal or collective, is an opportunity to become more resilient and to identify what truly matters to us as individuals and communities. Paradoxically, our hyperconnected world has reminded us how much place matters. We have seen how the covid crisis has reinforced existing spatial inequalities in the societies we live in. More than ever, spatial planning plays a tremendous role in shaping the places, spaces, communities and ecosystems that matter to us.

May 2021 be the year communities worldwide join forces to make territories more collaborative, peaceful, joyful and harmonious for both people and planet! Make this spirit of joy and collaboration touch us both individually at a deep level, and collectively at a global scale. And may you keep safe, healthy and resourceful even as social restrictions and lockdowns come and go over the coming months.

Learning to make the best of suboptimal circumstance… Impromptu balcony concert in West Leipzig, during Coronavirus pandemic (June 2020). Photo by Miikka Luotio on Unsplash

A great place to start is the recent YA webinar about ‘Early-career phase for young planning researchers‘ hosted by Rozana Darwich, with great input from Prof. Alessandro Balducci (Politecnico di Milano, Italy), Dr. Beatrix Haselsberger (Ingenieurbüro für Mensch, Raum und Umwelt, Austria), and Dr. Christopher Maidment (University of Reading, UK).

As we all look forward to a more promising year, we can respond to John Forester’s recent call to embrace an ethics of kindness in spatial planning. Kindness, as a matter of profession and concern, would enable to provide a “practical response to the suffering or vulnerability of another”. A renewed focus on kindness would therefore help go beyond a sheer focus on ‘justice’, as justice alone can be colder and, ironically, less engaged, although also necessary. The more depressed or resentful we might feel about the current state of affairs, the greater the potential for solidarity and effective transformation.

Collaboration and collective efforts will be key. As Sir David Attenborough and IPCC scientists repeatedly remind us, we don’t have much time before Mother Nature reminds us who the boss really is on this precious blue planet. Given the chance, socio-ecological systems turn out to be incredibly resilient and can recover from trauma before critical tipping points are reached. The grim, extreme case of Chernobyl provides surprising evidence that, despite all odds, wilderness and wildlife are claiming back a large territory that will long remain inhabitable to humans.

The decade is still young and provides us spatial planners with a unique window of opportunity to give the Earth our very best shot. There are already plenty of initiatives to learn from. For example, one can cite the ambition of Freetown city council (Sierra Leone) to plant and nurture 1 million trees over a four year period to help restore vital ecosystems and help fight climate change locally.

The historic Cotton Tree in Freetown, Sierre Leone. This giant grandparent will soon witness 1 million young trees come to life across the city Picture by Kenny Lynch on Flickr.

Your blog in 2021

In these challenging times, the blog of the AESOP Young Academics remains yours to sustain and feed the AESOP community with your experience, thoughts and dreams about how spatial planning contributes to shaping places and spaces (for better or worse). By sharing on the YA blog, you help ensure the community thrives and flourishes. It goes without saying that you will also increase the impact and dissemination of your work with thousands of spatial planners and activists worldwide.

Particularly, as the EU Climate Pact kicks in and the UN COP 26 climate change conference is due to meet in Glasgow in November 2021, do share much-needed insight about the pivotal role of spatial planning in making our communities more resilient, inclusive and harmonious for both people and planet.

Do share your work, reflections, and dreams in the form of blog posts, artwork, podcasts, video abstracts or other engaging formats with:

Here are some basic guidelines and ideas about how and what to share.

Looking forward to publishing your work on the YA blog in 2021!

Picture by Markus on Pexels

Posted in Beyond planning, Blogging, Climate change, Community engagement, Disaster management, Ecology, Planning, city, and society, Resilience, The YA network, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Adapting PhD research during the Covid-19 pandemic

5 minute read

Guest author: Caitlin Hafferty (@CaitlinHafferty), PhD researcher at the Countryside and Community Research Institute, University of Gloucestershire, UK. Please note, this post was initially published on the author’s own blog,

The pandemic has had a substantial impact on the work of PhD researchers and research staff. As a UK-based PhD student (within geography/planning) who was about to start collecting data when the pandemic started, my own research has had to be almost entirely reconsidered.

In this post, I share some of my experiences from the process of adapting my PhD research. On one hand, this has been very challenging, but on the other has offered new and exciting opportunities. This post has been partly inspired by a Q&A I participated in recently during a great ‘Virtual Data Collection’ event with LiQUiD Lab (@LiQUiDLab), and follows some of the questions I was asked about how I adapted my PhD data collection from in-person to online methods. Hopefully sharing this willl be useful to others who might be in the same situation!

With regards to the impact of the pandemic on doctoral research more broadly in the UK (including the impact of lack of funded extensions on PhD researchers), you can find out more by following @PandemicPGRs on Twitter. They also have a very informative website:

Photo by Windows on Unsplash

What issues did you encounter during the pandemic and how did you respond?

At the start of the UK lockdown in March, I was in the middle of collecting data for my PhD. 

For context, my ‘original’ project aimed to build a toolkit for planners and local authorities to engage members of the public and stakeholders in planning and environmental decisions. I’d planned fieldwork throughout Spring/Summer 2020 which consisted of in-person qualitative methods for collecting data, including interviews and focus groups. One of the main methods I’d planned to use was “mobile interviews” (based on some work I’d done for my MSc), which involved walking with participants around an area of interest and mapping the conversation using GPS-tracking, audio recordings, and photographs. 

My fieldwork also involved quite a bit of travelling for meetings and site visits, also working closely with local authorities (e.g. councils) and community groups. This was all based around Gloucestershire (a county in South West England), so I had moved from Cardiff to Cheltenham in early 2020 to get started. 

It quickly became clear that I’d be unable to continue my research as planned. Under UK lockdown restrictions, it was not possible (or ethical) to conduct face-to-face methods for data collection with potentially vulnerable community groups. Public bodies and other organisations I was working with were also focusing on tackling new challenges and emergency Covid-19 relief. 

I made the decision to adapt my PhD quite early on (around April/May), not only because my original project was no longer feasible but because I wanted to do something which had the potential to be useful to those impacted by the pandemic (e.g. the groups and communities I had worked with). I discussed my concerns with my supervisors, who were (and continue to be) incredibly supportive of me and the new research direction of my PhD. However, this was not straightforward – these were all very unexpected, significant changes and it took a considerable amount of time to re-orient my work during an unpredictable and high-pressure period!

How did you navigate adapting your PhD fieldwork, particularly moving planned in-person methods online?

Re-orienting my fieldwork involved adapting some of the core aspects of my PhD. This included making relevant changes to the central aim, objectives, research questions, methods for collecting data, research participants, and case study areas. In addition, I had to re-submit two essential forms to enable me to carry out my research. These were a ‘project approval form’ (detailing and justifying my planned research) and ethical approval (i.e. showing that my research was compliant with the ethics and GDPR requirements of my institution and funding body). 

I’ve written about some of the ethical challenges I overcame during my PhD in this blog post, particularly with regards to my use of online interviews and automated transcription software applications. 

Importantly, I decided to use only online and remote methods for data collection for the entirety of my PhD – an online survey, online interviews (via Zoom and similar), and potential online focus groups. This involved thinking about new ethical and technical considerations (including what might be lost, or gained, by conducting remote/online interviews instead of face-to-face) and reading  about new theory, methods, and approaches. In October, I published a blog post (and infographic) on the merits and considerations of online and offline methods (and the importance of a ‘blended’ approach) within a planning and public engagement setting – however this also has some relevance for research! You can hear more in this Podcast with Bang The Table, where we discuss my research and the challenges of moving in-person engagement online.

Infographic on some merits and considerations for online engagement (source: Caitlin Hafferty for Commonplace).

Other changes to my PhD included shelving work and writing I’d completed for my original project (this was very hard to do!), however I did try to retain as much as I could in my new plans.

What advice would you give to other PhD students who might encounter similar changes and adaptations?

It’s been incredibly challenging, but in hindsight I’m glad I took the plunge and adapted my project. Of course, everyone will have differerent experiences depending on the nature of their project and the context in which they are carrying it out (I’ve been in a privilaged position in many ways, for example I do not have any caring responsibilities at home).

I’d recommend to anyone exploring online research methods to read around digital ethics literature. This is vast area of research, so it’s worthwhile focusing on your discipline and/or the methods you are adapting (e.g. the ethics of moving interviews online). For example, the SAGE Handbook of Online Research Methods is a great place to start, as well as this book by Christine Hine on Virtual Methods and Doing Qualitative Research Online by Janet Salmons. If you’re a geographer or social scientist, reading up on digital geographies is really interesting – e.g. this book by James Ash and Rob Kitchin. There are also lots of journal articles on adapting specific methods, e.g. online interviews – for example these articles in Area and the International Journal of Social Research Methodology.

When shifting methods online, it’s also important to think about the context in which you are using it – remembering that technology is not always ‘used for good’ and can increase social injustices. To quote this fantastic article by Tracey Gyateng:

“And it is because these inequalities exist, [we need to] understand the context & environment in which technology will be deployed, and work with the people who are most likely to be affected…

Have an understanding of the social, historical & political environment in which you are working. This requires you to do research, and actively include groups that hold less power in society.”.

As I mentioned, adapting my work has been exciting in many ways. This has included encountering new areas of research and engaging with a variety of different groups of people. For example, like my PhD the pandemic has had a significant impact on groups and individuals working within my research field (planning, policy, and the environment). Practitioners and policy makers have had to rapidly adapt their work and project strategies, involving picking up new methods and developing technical skills. My new PhD project researches within this area and has been adapted in a similar way, so I’m excited about the potential contributions of my research to knowledge and best practice.

Impact, engagement, and outreach have become central to my PhD (you can find out more here). I’m now more aware of, and my work is more focused on, the practical benefits and utility of my research output rather than purely academic debates (however, these are still very important!). This also inspired me to start a blog, which has turned out to be a great way for me to reflect on my PhD journey and share my experiences with others. 

Thanks for reading, and I hope that this post is useful to other researchers who might be in a similar position. Perhaps most importantly, reach out and connect with others and share your experiences – we are all in this together! 🙂

About the author

Caitlin Hafferty is a PhD student in environmental planning at the Countryside and Community Research Institute (CCRI). Her research is fully funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), and looks at the use of information, communication, and collaboration technologies in the planning and environment sector. Specifically, she is interested in how organisations (including planning and public bodies) engage the public and other stakeholders with environmental, planning, and policy decisions. She is an active member of the Participatory Geographies Research Group of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG), and has been involved with a variety of different events and activities. You can find out more here.

Get in touch: (email); @CaitlinHafferty (Twitter); (website and blog).

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Call for blog posts – EU Climate Pact & Green Deal

2 minutes read

Launching the EU Climate Pact

On December 16th, the EU will officially launch its Climate Pact.

Here is the official blurb on the EU Commission’s climate action web page, enticing you to join the online event on the said day:

“The European Climate Pact invites everyone to take action to fight climate change and work together for a climate-friendly society. Join us for the online launch event on 16 December 2020 at 09:00-11:00 CET […] The Pact’s main objectives are twofold:

  • Spreading awareness
  • Supporting action

The Pact will connect people and organisations from all walks of life to:

  • improve our understanding of climate and environmental challenges
  • develop solutions big and small
  • find ways to influence and change behaviours
  • trigger and scale-up positive change”

The EU Climate Pact is part of the EU’s Green Deal, which aims to make the European continent carbon neutral by 2050 in an inclusive way.

The Green Deal targets the following policy areas:

  • Biodiversity
  • ‘From farm to fork’ (i.e. sustainable food systems)
  • Sustainable agriculture (including the common agricultural policy – CAP)
  • Clean energy
  • Sustainable industry
  • Building and renovating
  • Sustainable mobility
  • Eliminating pollution
  • Climate action (i.e. climate neutrality)

While the Green Deal is a comprehensive package of multi-level actions, strategies, regulations and funds, the Climate Pact will aim to trigger a wide range of more granular, bottom-up initiatives. You can be part of the movement and create a Climate Pact satellite event. You can also become an ambassador with the dedicated hashtag #EUClimatePact.

The EU Climate Pact recognises climate action must happen now. Picture credit: Jasmin Sessler –, CC BY 4.0,

Call for blog posts

On this occasion, for the period from now until late January 2021, the blog of the AESOP Young Academics invites you to submit contributions, to share your research, insight, thoughts, reflections and/or ideas for how spatial planning can / does / should contribute to the EU Climate Pact, the Green Deal, and/or other relevant policies and initiatives for bold climate action.

Some key, burning questions include:

  • Does spatial planning address climate change and climate action sufficiently?
  • What agency do planning academics, educators and practitioners have to foster and amplify climate action from the level of individuals and neighbourhoods to the EU policy level, including at all intermediary spatial scales in between (e.g. local council, metropolitan, county, region, national)?
  • Is the issue of climate change really too big for spatial planning?
  • Is spatial planning all about adaptation to irreversible changes? Can / should we try to mitigate risks as well through careful design, planning, and management?
  • Any other relevant question for climate action at a wide range of spatial scales, geographies, and other types of space (e.g. digital, governance, infrastructure, temporal, built environment, public space, informal space, economic space, envisioned space, in-door space, spiritual space…) and places (including displacement).

Please send your contribution in any compelling format you would like: blog post, video abstract, podcast, artistic contribution… You can share existing research or thought pieces. You can also submit already published posts (the original publication source will of course be credited). Please send your contributions to: Text contributions can be between 500-1500 words. You can find basic guidelines and more inspiration here.

Looking forward to seeing your contributions showcased on the YA blog!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

You could be… the next editor-in-chief of the blog of the AESOP YA network

On behalf of the YA coordination team and the small but growing team of YA blog editors, I would personally like to invite you to consider a small but key move in your career as academic / researcher / spatial planning officer in the making.

I will begin by enticing you to jump on board the YA blog team, and then share the formal description of what the position entails.

Do you love to blog? Share cutting-edge research from others as well as your very own? Share insight about all the great spatial planning events and collaborations out there? Are you excited to nurture and enthuse a diverse, global community of scholars, educators, planning officers, consultants and activists? Then, you are standing on the shoulders of giants!

The AESOP and YA communities feature key leaders in the field (past, present and future), and you are one of them. We all lead by example, which means plentiful opportunities to learn and gain skills. So by helping to lead the blog’s activity you can also support the YA and AESOP communities in their endeavours to support, design, leverage and evaluate quality spatial planning policies and education that can benefit both present and future generations. Sounds like a big responsibility? That is what spatial planning can do (or perhaps should do, from a normative perspective). If we all get down to it. Lest we should forget about climate change and the rest of it, and just sit idle and wait till we don’t have the opportunity to act anymore.

All ‘calls to planning arms’ set aside, I can only entice you by saying it is a great and highly rewarding experience. As with most things worth pursuing in life: the more you give, the more you get. The good news is, the larger the YA blog editing team, the more tasks can be shared and blog activity will nearly effortless to manage.

The YA blog is all about nurturing your community! A globally active community that spans all sub-fields and types of careers around spatial planning.

Below is the an updated summary of the official call that was shared by my colleagues at the YA Coordination Team, which remains open:

The YA Coordination Team (CT) is seeking to appoint a new editor starting December 15, 2020, for a duration of 2 years. Please apply soon (the deadline has been extended till the position is filled) by sending you CV and letter of motivation (and your eagerness!) to Preference will be given to candidates who have been involved in YA activities in recent years and/or have previous experience in managing and/or writing a blog.

The YA blog welcomes contributions from members of the network and people interested in planning and research in the broader sense: early-stage researchers, students, activists, practitioners. This is a ‘quasi-academic’ tool, a place for the exchange of ideas, information about events of relevance both for members and non-members; dissemination of best practices, debate on planning/urban/environmental issues of interest to the general public. For reference, you can find out more about the YA blog here, including its creation of the blog in 2014, as well as yearly overviews of the activity. The list is growing, and open to innovation and new exciting projects led by the blog editorial team.

Your responsibility as Editor-in-chief includes

  • ensuring regular activity on the blog (~ 2-3 posts per month) by recruiting new authors and encouraging previous authors to continue sharing regularly, and seeking contributions from occasional authors,
  • developing and scheduling calls for blog posts and publication series around various themes, in collaboration with the other editors of the YA blog
  • managing the review and publication process of the blog posts and making sure contributions do not violate international standards of law, scientific practice and ethics, and observe as much as possible best practice in research dissemination
  • coordinating activity between the YA blog editorial board and the YA Coordination Team
  • overseeing the administration of the YA blog wordpress website:
  • thinking creatively and co-developing original and innovative ways of sharing research, insight and experience from YA members and non-members in various communicative and interactive formats (e.g. podcasts, infographics, video abstracts…)
  • showing enthusiasm for communicating about all the exciting activities which the YA community organises, in collaboration with the YA Coordination Team and other members of the YA community
  • a self-starter, proactive attitude whereby you will be able to test ideas for the blog, such as different types of resources to share and host permanently on the website (e.g. list of planning-related blogs, planning-related conferences, useful resources and practical information about research, lecturing and practice-based careers, activism in the field etc.)

Your work will be supported by additional supporting editors (currently Caitlin Hafferty, Nina Vidou and Ian Babelon). Future supporting members of the editorial board will be appointed by the Editor-in-chief in collaboration with the YA Coordination Team.


In closing, and to highlight there is a ‘leader’ in each and everyone of us, I will cite a quote attributed to novelist Henry Miller:

The real leader has no need to lead – he is content to point the way.

And if, like our brand new member Caitlin Hafferty, you would rather like to join as supporting editor, we would also be delighted to receive your expression of interest at

The more, the stronger – and merrier!

Looking forward to hearing from you!

Extract of an artist's graffiti displaying a woman's gaze looking into some distant space. painted with bright captivating colours.
Join the YA blog and help us continuously open our eyes to the many insights and outputs of the AESOP YA community and beyond. Photo by Vlad Kutepov on Unsplash. Graffiti on a building in Gleneigh South, Adelaide, (Australia).

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Public and stakeholder engagement, covid-19 and the ‘digital explosion’ – are we heading towards a more ‘blended’ approach?

4 minute read

Guest author: Caitlin Hafferty (Countryside and Community Research Institute, University of Gloucestershire, UK)

Note: this post was initially published on communications and consultation consultancy Grasshopper’s Insight blog on 27 July 2020. Republished with the kind permission of Grasshopper.

Our work and home lives have changed significantly over the last few months – across the board, we’ve witnessed an explosion in the use of digital technology. For many of us, this has had a significant impact on the way that we conduct public and stakeholder engagement.

Engagement and participation can mean different things to different people.  Here, engagement is considered as a process where individuals, groups, and organisations are actively involved in making decisions that affect them.

This may involve engaging with specific interest groups, and/or the wider public. Extensive and inclusive community and stakeholder engagement are fundamental to project delivery in many key areas of work; including planning, development, implementation, decision-making, research, consultation, information provision, and policy.


Lockdown has resulted in planned and ongoing engagement activities being cancelled, postponed, and/or moved online. While using digital and online tools for engagement is not new, there has certainly been a noticeable increase in the use of these approaches as face-to-face contact has been restricted.

Over lockdown, different groups and organisations have been using a variety of virtual tools such as webinars (e.g. Zoom), online surveys, social media, and virtual exhibitions. The use of specialist online consultation platforms (such as Commonplace, which uses a holistic, inclusive, and innovative map-based approach to online engagement) have become more widely used. Other interactive web-based platforms for place-making and community engagement include Participatr and The Future Fox. A multitude of tools are often used (and combined) at different stages of the engagement process, and selected based on their appropriate use for different audiences and/or project outcomes.

There’s been a lively discussion around which tools are available; what works well, what doesn’t work, and areas for future innovation. Grasshopper Communications have reflected on this since lockdown began on their insight blog (also see their digital community engagement group on LinkedIn, which was set up to connect engagement professionals and share resources). A great way to stay up-to-date with digital engagement events and resources is Twitter, by following others and using relevant hashtags.


COVID-19 has resulted in a huge shift in the way we use digital communication and offers extensive scope to drive forward change to community engagement around placemaking at a pace not seen before.

My PhD research aims to explore how digital tools help to improve engagement in planning and decision-making processes. By asking important questions about how we can engage with people in the most effective, fair, and inclusive ways possible, we can help keep important conversations going to inform strategies for the future.

My infographic “Considerations for digital engagement” summarises some key themes and important questions we can ask when developing engagement strategies in the future.  We need to think about:

Practical considerations for digital engagement; e.g. understanding what’s changed during the lockdown, what barriers exist to uptake, and important concerns such as privacy, security, and GDPR.

Ethical implications of using digital tools, and how this impacts the quality of the engagement process. This includes digital inclusions and exclusions, equality and power relations, and the ease of connecting and engaging with quiet, under-represented, or ‘hard-to-reach’ groups.

Future innovations and exploring whether there’s an optimum ‘blend’ of face-to-face and digital techniques. This includes considering how we can make well-informed choices regarding the most effective and inclusive approaches for different projects and audiences.

The lockdown provides a unique opportunity to understand the value and appropriate use of different digital engagement tools. We can consider people’s responses and attitudes towards different engagement approaches – do those involved (e.g. communities and key stakeholders) feel that engagement is a higher quality when online, or in-person? It’s useful to think about how we use different tools, their impact on the engagement process, and how these choices affect the knowledge produced.


Caitlin Hafferty is a PhD student in environmental planning at the Countryside and Community Research Institute (CCRI). Her research is fully funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and looks at the use of digital technology for public and stakeholder engagement in the environment sector. Impact, engagement, and outreach are key to Caitlin’s approach to research, and she is enthusiastic to collaborate with organisations in planning, decision-making, and public engagement. Caitlin recently published a blog post with communications consultancy Grasshopper UK (who specialise in planning, consultation and community engagement). This blog post was written for an audience of local authorities and planners and included the production of an infographic on some ‘considerations for digital engagement’. You can read the original blog post and infographic right here!

Get in touch with the author:


Twitter: @CaitlinHafferty

Website and blog:

Posted in Beyond planning, Community engagement, Methodology and ethics, Placemaking, Planning, city, and society, Technology, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment