(Urbanization): Session at the European Association for Urban History Conference: Cities in Motion 2020

This session aims at putting into a historical context the urban transition. It proposes to analyse the technical solutions considered to pass through one urban system to another in world cities from 18th to 21st century.  Papers will also critically consider the notion of transition, discussing whether it is relevant to think the plurality of historical moments (past/present/future) of cities.


In a context of global environmental change, “Urban Transition” is nowadays a fashionable topic claimed by various stakeholders involved in urban planning, social or environmental policies. These actors aim at building a resilient city and propose technical innovations to move away from an urban model considered harmful or even potentially toxic for both the human health and the ecosystems.
If they propose a vision of urban future, they mostly focus on the technical, social, cultural and political means. The transition promotes a slow (and sustainable) transformation of cities to, paradoxically, address the climate emergency.

This session is intended to replace the notion of urban transition in historical perspective. It focuses on how the urban actors thought the future of their cities and analyses the technical solutions proposed to pass through one urban system to another. Have the concepts of environmental, energy or technical transition been operational categories for these actors? How did the notion of transition shape the way to think technical innovations in cities? What does it mean to think the future in terms of transition (vs revolution)?

We welcome contributions which analyse the historical changes in world cities taking into account the notion of “transition” from 18th to 21st century.

Papers may address the practical implementation of the urban transition in all its aspects: in environment, in energy and its translation in the economic fabric, in political management, in the reorganization of public policies, in society etc. Transition from wood to fossil fuel, from gas lighting to electricity, from open sewer system to wastewater treatment to improve health conditions,   from compact and pre-automobile city to new urban fabrics intended, in the 1960s, to become “city of 2000”, are examples of possible topics.

We are particularly interested in case studies focusing on the specific moments when two technical systems co-existed, as well as proposals which consider the urban improvement in the long term. Contributors are invited to consider the negotiations and conflicts lying behind the “transition” keyword, between public authorities, experts/scientists, private stakeholders, inhabitants.


  • Spokesperson: Stéphane Frioux, Université Lyon 2
  • Additional organizers: Charles-François Mathis, Université Bordeaux-Montaigne | Celia Miralles Buil, Universidade de Lisboa | 
  • Keywords: Urban transition | Early Modern and Modern history | Urban technical systems
  • Time period: Modern period
  • Topic(s): Social | Technology
  • Study area: More than one continent