Harvard Urban Theory Lab

The exploration of the “frontiers” of the planning discipline is one of the main concerns of the blog of the Young Academics of AESOP – and is a theme we’d like to receive contributions about. Multi-disciplinarity, trans-disciplinarity, infra-disciplinarity, meta-disciplinarity are concepts at the very core of the day-to-day activity of planning scholars and practitioners.
In an era marked by statuses of permanent crisis, in a continent (Europe) which is being profoundly transformed by the effects of, and the policies about, the so-called economic crisis, the local scale is, more than ever, interlinked with transnational issues and global trends. Not surprisingly, planner scholars have, in recent times, being looking with increasing interest at the works of critical and political geographers.
The recently founded Urban Theory Lab led by Neil Brennner at the Harvard Graduate School of Design is an important news for those interested in critical urban studies. In this short pamphlet, the reasons for the creation of the laboratory and its objectives. The emphasis on the importance of new theorisation about and around the processes of global urbanisation is of especial interest for planning research, especially for the studies that aim at better understandings of the relationships between local and global processes and the connected challenges for governance, government, and planning practice.

From the “vision”:

In the early 1970s, Henri Lefebvre put forward the radical hypothesis of the complete urbanization of society. This required, in his view, a radical shift from the analysis of urban form to the investigation of urbanization processes. The Urban Theory Lab-GSD builds upon Lefebvre’s approach to investigate emergent sociospatial formations under early twenty-first century capitalism.Our research starts from the proposition that inherited frameworks of urban knowledge must be radically reinvented to illuminate emergent forms of twenty-first century urbanization. In contrast to the urban/suburban/rural distinction that has long underpinned the major traditions of urban research, data collection and cartographic practice, we argue that the urban today represents a worldwide condition in which all political-economic and socio-environmental relations are enmeshed, regardless of terrestrial location or morphological configuration. This emergent condition of planetary urbanization means, paradoxically, that even spaces that lie well beyond the traditional centers of agglomeration—from worldwide shipping lanes, transportation networks and communications infrastructures to resource extraction sites, alpine and coastal tourist enclaves, offshore financial centers, agro-industrial catchment zones, and erstwhile “natural” spaces such as the world’s oceans, deserts, jungles, mountain ranges, tundra and atmosphere—are becoming integral to a worldwide operational landscape for (capitalist) urbanization processes.

(Simone Tulumello)

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About Simone Tulumello

Post-doc researcher in Planning and Geography at ULisboa, Institute of Social Sciences. Keen in cities, (Italian) politics, photography, electronic music, and food. Lover of cities, especially Palermo and Lisbon, in a complicated relationship with Memphis TN.
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