In early 2013, a freshman post-doc fellow, I was struggling around the idea of creating a research blog. At that time, not many blogs in the field of planning and urban studies existed, and while the Open Access movement was leading the rush toward different forms of sharing and disseminating knowledge, I was feeling the urge to contribute to those dynamics. I was in need of a ‘community’, possibly made up of folks in earlier stages of their career, willing to engage in such an endeavour; and struggling to find one. In the midst of the pressures and uncertainties of finalising PhDs and starting up academic careers, the feeling was strong among my peers that writing for blogs was something that takes time from those tasks – writing articles, above all – necessary to survive in contemporary academia.
When I went to Dublin for the 2013 AESOP congress, I had almost given up the idea of launching a blog, and thought to join existing ones, or simply write a post from time to time. I went to the Young Academics assembly without even thinking about the blog, I remember. But while I was feeling the particular energy that YA assemblies at AESOP congresses have, I realised that, possibly, THAT ONE was the community I was looking for. During the debate I suggested the YAs could use an improved online presence and dissemination strategy, maybe starting by a blog; and the YA Coordination Team asked me to put together a proposal.
At the end of the assembly, one of the members of the Coordination Team of the time whispered: ‘why don’t you enrol in the upcoming elections for the Coordination Team? You may work to update our overall communication strategy!’. By October of that year I was elected in the Coordination Team, and, thanks to the support of the rest of the team, we launched the blog a few months after, in March 2014, during the YA Conference in Gothenburg. It seems yesterday, but more than four years have passed by since I submitted the first proposal for the blog. In the meanwhile, the YA blog has become a solid point in the planning and urban studies blogosphere; and hopefully an important place for those who either wrote or collaborated to it.
That ‘community’ I was struggling to find in 2013 has been materialising around this webpage in the following years. A community whose diversity is partially evident in the page of the contributors past and present; and much more in the richness of ideas and topics that have been hitting the pages of the blog. Though numbers cannot express this richness, they still provide some context: some thirty persons have contributed as writers or editors; almost 140 posts have been published; and 30 thousands views are about to be hit, not considering those by the hundred followers who receive the posts on their email or reader. What is most important to me is that those views arrived from more than a hundred countries in all continents, virtually the entire planet.
If I look back at the dynamics of the blog, I can perfectly see how what needed be pushed at first, started walking its own path in time. For instance, the editorial board, from being entirely constituted by members of the YA Coordination Team (me and Nadia Caruso at first, Mohamed Saleh afterwards), was enriched by Lorenzo Chelleri. While at first getting people to contribute regularly was quite a job, one that did not leave much energy for other things, more recently this became incredibly smooth and the editorial board could start to focus on new ideas and projects – news I’m sure you’ll hear about soon. Indeed, this didn’t happen by chance and many things have changed. On the one hand, the YA network is bigger and stronger, with many new projects that extend well beyond the action of the Coordination Team – for instance, the journal plaNext and the calls for YA members to organise the yearly conferences. On the other hand, blogging is now considered a natural component of academic work, and blogs in planning and urban studies mushroomed.
In a new context, amid new challenges, it was time for a change: it was time for the YA blog to have a new leadership, hence new ideas to explore new spaces, potentialities and possibilities. Personally, I am not even sure whether I’m still a ‘young’ academic – precarious, for sure, but that’s another story (or not). For sure, it is time to provide fresh energies to leadership roles in the YA network.
If I may, things seem to be walking a good path. After an open call, the YA Coordination Team has appointed editor-in-chief Ian Babelon, who has been for a couple years an extraordinarily consistent and inspiring contributor to the blog. I am more than sure we’ll witness the blog growing, and changing, for good. Leaving something one imagined, created and pushed is easier if they see that something evolving naturally, almost organically. It is also a good lesson at humility: ‘hey, don’t think you’re that important, this thing can well do without you’. I am sure it will!
Truth be said, I am not ready to completely abandon the blog. I will drop a contribution from time to time and plan to keep updating the list of YA journals together with the editorial team. I am still part of the YA community, and plan to be for some time to come. It’s the best way I can try to give back some of the energy it has given to me.