In the final analysis this conference seeks to better comprehend how, whether and why we need to turn our theorized holistic understanding of the urban condition into the reality of practice and whether, under current economic models, such an alignment is possible, or even desirable.

As the world’s population becomes predominantly urbanized, evidence mounts weekly that the technological, social and demographic changes involved will entail unpredictable shifts in the experience and design of our cities. While we can’t say exactly how our cities will evolve, we can say they will not be configured as per mid-twentieth century statist models, and possibly not according to the economic rationale of the Neoliberal fin-de-siecle. We can also say that, to date, architects, urbanists, planners, sociologists, human geographers and community activists have played only a limited role in informing the ongoing transformation – the forces of capital largely determining our modes of operation. 


From a consideration of this context, it is clear to the organizers that we need to critique our individual discipline practices and consider how the knowledge base of one discipline should more fully inform another. It is a process that requires a reframing of the questions we ask, a refocusing of the way we see ourselves as professionals, and a critique of what we can achieve through our current modes of practice.

Casting urban designers as data-driven problem solvers has too often produced little more than environments that realize the marketing projections of clients. Casting architects as artistic visionaries frequently produces little more than visually compelling ideas poorly connected to the reality of people’s lives. Engaging sociologists in design and planning is often nothing more than veneer to development processes that continues as they always have, while the engagement of community activists in redevelopment generally does little to halt urban regeneration becoming a by-word for gentrification.

At a moment when architecture, urban design and planning need to refresh their methods to respond to a changing world and ongoing problems, they risk operating as isolated and bad social science, bad management and bad art simultaneously. Sociologists and human geographers observe and sign post the changes affecting urban forms but often can do too little to inform or shape the debate.

The need to reframe the relationship between how we operate and the results we produce is obvious.


This conference takes place in Cleveland, a city sharing characteristics with numerous others defined today across Western societies as postindustrial. Disinvested cities such as Cleveland tend to exhibit high rates of poverty and vacancy creating demands for affordable housing, inclusive design, integrated affordable transportation and much more. Exhibiting a patchwork of economies, market conditions, and forms of social dislocation they provide compelling laboratories for examining the social, political, economic and design issues of concern at this conference.

However, the conference seeks to open its view to international experience. It seeks debate and critique of the changing nature of the city, the morphing patterns of life in cities and the economic and political forces that shape them in both developed and developing economies. In these terms it is interested in the lessons of informal settlements across the global south; the experience of the gated communities of the retired, the wealthy or unintegrated; the phenomena of gentrification; as well as the coexisting effects of shrinking and concomitant urban explosions in Asia and elsewhere.

Whether focused on urban growth, rural development or issues of suburban sprawl, the conference welcome practitioners, academics, and theorists interested in sharing their ideas and experiences with colleagues in other disciplines and from other countries. In doing this, it seeks an enlarged cultural, social and material understanding of the urban phenomenon as it is today and as it may be in the future.

Themes & Questions:

The conference seeks an array of content related to the development of an alternative present. We are interested in papers and project presentations exploring a full range of questions including, but not limited to:

  • What underlying social structures and changes are likely to demand new approaches to the development of the built environment in the coming years?
  • How can alternative ways of seeing, practicing, and constructing knowledge in the built environment disciplines lead to alternative frameworks for reconstructing the city?
  • How will the changing nature of work, leisure and housing in the 21st Century be constructively mediated by the environments we plan and build?
  • What are the methodologies embedded within or external to individual disciplines that need to be disrupted, expanded, altered or included?
  • What lessons are there for the post-industrial cites of North America from the economic failure of earlier cities in the Global South or does such thinking merely fetishize poverty? 
  • What are the historical or contemporary examples where shifting trends in urbanism have fostered novel alliances between disciplines and communities to re-shape material and urban culture?
  • How do participatory practices and the language of inclusion play a role in either supporting or challenging political policy or extant social norms and practices?

Papers on these and other questions from various discipline perspectives will be brought together in various strands at the conference. These strands will form the basis of contributions to the publications planned from the conference.