International Lecture Series - Planning in Transition

New concepts and challenges for sustainable urban and regional change.
This public lecture series engages with contemporary critical challenges in urban and regional development such as climate change, digitalization or social inequality. Bringing concepts from a range of academic fields such as STS, cultural, infrastructure, and transition studies as well as urban and regional planning in conversation with each other may help to re-frame these problems and deal with them in new ways in research and policy making. 

Coming lectures

Urban planning meets socio-technical transitions: Informal settlement upgrading reconfiguring the infrastructure-livelihood nexus

Prof. Bernhard Truffer, Eawag/Utrecht University


May 25, 2023 at 15.00


Informal settlement upgrading is one of the important and urgent urban planning tasks in developing cities around the world. Despite increasing resources devoted to these projects and mainstreaming participation as a planning tool, impacts on livelihoods of residents were often limited or sometimes even negative. We propose to analyze the impact of infrastructures on livelihoods by mobilizing – but also substantially extending – concepts of recent theorizing in sustainability transitions research. More specifically, we elaborate how the “socio-technical regime” delivered with the new infrastructure can produce manifold “structural tensions” with the rules and practices that structure the livelihoods of the residents and how they in turn “appropriate” these by either aligning, ignoring or even destroying the offerings. Empirical cases related to informal settlements in Nairobi and in secondary cities of Kenya.


Bernhard Truffer is full professor at Utrecht University on the geography of transitions and group leader at the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (Eawag). He has worked on transitions research by contributing to the core conceptual frameworks in the field, in particular extending it into the fields of geography and neo-institutional approaches.

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Earlier lectures

Place-based approaches to sustainable and just urban and regional development: Exploring methodologies to more effective policy and practice

Niamh Moore-Cherry, Professor, School of Geography and College of Social Sciences and Law, University College Dublin

Date May 4, 2023 at 15.00

In recent years, a strong “place-based turn” has become evident in public policy in Ireland and elsewhere. Urban and regional development policies and programmes that strive to achieve sustainability must be carefully developed and implemented to ensure that they do not compound pre-existing social and spatial inequalities. New methodologies are required to support the state and other actors in identifying key challenges and developing appropriate policy responses. Drawing on two recent projects, one in Dublin City and the other focusing on three areas outside the large metropolitan areas, this paper demonstrates the value of meaningful co-creation in developing and implementing more place-based urban and regional policy.

Niamh is Professor of Urban Governance and Development in the School of Geography, Deputy College Principal in the UCD College of Social Sciences and Law, and Honorary Professor at the Bartlett School of Planning, University College London. Her research is focused on understanding the governance of (re)development, metropolitanisation and the impact of territorial politics on urban and regional outcomes. She founded and leads the Cities, Governance and Sustainability ( research group in UCD which brings together academic, policy and community engaged work. In summer 2022, she was appointed as an independent member of the advisory National Economic and Social Council (NESC) by the Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister).

Digital Food Systems: New challenges and opportunities for urban food policymaking

Nevin Cohen, Associate Professor, CUNY School of Public Health Director, CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute

April 13

Cities have implemented innovative policies and programs to reduce food insecurity, encourage healthier diets, shorten food supply chains, and support food justice. But as cities implement these innovations, the food system is changing dramatically due to digitalization. In just the past few decades, the growth of e-commerce, app-based labor platforms, and digital marketing have transformed urban foodscapes, with positive and negative consequences for public health, urban planning, and social equity. The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated these trends as food businesses shifted to online sales and locked-down consumers embraced digital food provisioning. These are not just NYC phenomena: China and India are rapidly adopting digitalization in food distribution, and Europe is too, notwithstanding long traditions of public markets and short food supply chains. A lesson of the pandemic is how rapidly seemingly entrenched practices can change and the perils of not imagining and planning for socio-technical shifts.

Our existing efforts to improve the food environment risk becoming less effective, or anachronistic and obsolete, if food retail continues to shift from primarily brick-and-mortar retail to a mix of conventional and online purveyors, or in some cases to entirely online distribution channels. Forecasting the types of impacts that will arise can help us develop policies and programs to ensure that the shift online improves health and sustainability and does not exacerbate existing social and environmental inequities. This talk will review the known and potential effects of digitalization of the food system, on food access, prices, diets, urban mobility patterns, food labor, social equity, and the environment. It will discuss research imperatives and steps for planners and policymakers to integrate such research into food policy.

Nevin Cohen is an Associate Professor at the City University of New York (CUNY) School of Public Health and Director of the CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute. His research explores the policies, governance systems, practices, and infrastructure to support just, healthy, and resilient urban and regional food systems. Current projects include the development of a food environment equity dashboard for New York City, a five-country study of the food, water, and energy nexus of urban agriculture, research on changing mobility patterns and food retail access, and a study of online grocery use by SNAP participants. Dr. Cohen is the co-author of Beyond the Kale: Urban Agriculture and Social Justice Activism in New York City (University of GA Press), which examines the potential of urban farms and gardens to address racial, gender, and class oppression. He has a PhD in Urban Planning and Policy Development from Rutgers University, a Masters in City and Regional Planning from the University of California, Berkeley, and a BA from Cornell University.



Territory, economy, society, and institutions in transition: new challenges for planning

Alessandro Balducci, Polytechnic University of Milan.

March 16, 2023 at 15-16.30

Temcas, Tema Building, Campus Valla

This lecture will focus on how planning has been marginalized by the passive adaptation of space to the need of an economic development driven by globalisation, financialization and digitalization. I will analyze the most relevant processes of change, visible and sometimes invisible, that are affecting the economy, society and institutions as well as their impact on the physical space to propose a vision that starting from the last ring in the chain, the physical space, could be able to deal with some of the most negative effects of the current development model.

Architect and PhD in Planning. Professor of Planning and Urban Policies at Politecnico di Milano. He has been Vice-Rector of Politecnico di Milano, Deputy- mayor for Urban Planning of the City of Milan, President of AESOP, the Association of the European Schools of Planning, Chair of the Italian Society of Urbanists (SIU), founding member of the European Urban Research Association (EURA), first president of Urban@it - National Centre for Urban Policies Studies.
He has been responsible of European and National research projects; and as a planner he has been responsible for many projects in Italy and abroad (Shanghai, Xi'an, Dubai).
He has been teaching at the Faculty of Architecture of Pescara (1992-1995), has been visiting scholar at U.C. Berkeley, USA, and visiting professor at the University of Reims, France, Tongji University, China, Aalto University in Helsinki, Finland, MIT Cambridge, USA, at the Accademia di Architettura di Mendrisio, Switzerland, and at the Zhejiang University of Huangzhou, China.
He is author/editor of 24 books and of articles and essays in Italian and English.
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Territory, economy, society, and institutions in transition: new challenges for planning

Teis Hansen, Professor at the Department of Food and Resource Economics, University of Copenhagen, and Senior Research Scientist at the Department of Technology Management, SINTEF, Trondheim

February 23, 2023 at 15-16.30

Temcas, Tema Building, Campus Valla


Regional development policy has for long been centred on promoting a specific part of the economy: exporting industries, in particular those characterized by high R&D intensity. A central assumption is that growth in these industries will trickle down to other sectors and create value that can finance a well-functioning society. However, this approach has not managed to convincingly address a number persistent problems, in particular social polarization, interregional inequality and environmental sustainability. Consequently, this has provoked multiple attempts to rethink our approach to development including Doughnut Economics, the Everyday Economy, and the Foundational Economy. This talk focuses on the latter of these approaches, which suggests that the centre of development policy should be the part of the economy that directly supports everyday life, i.e. health and welfare services, education, transportation, utilities, and food processing and retailing. Drawing on empirical work and insights from other literatures, the talk provides a sympathetic critique of this approach to regional development.


Teis Hansen is Professor at the Department of Food and Resource Economics, University of Copenhagen, and Senior Research Scientist at the Department of Technology Management, SINTEF, Trondheim.

Teis has an interest in the relations between geography, innovation and sustainability. His research focuses on the importance of spatial aspects of innovation processes for sustainability transitions; transformative innovation policy; green urban and regional development; foundational economy; and technology transfer from developed to emerging economies. Empirically, his research is focused on the energy system, energy-intensive industries, maritime transport, and the bioeconomy. He is also a member of the Danish Government’s expert group on the role of research in the green transition.




Reparative urbanism and the construction of urban futures in the Anthropocene

Professor Vanesa Castán Broto, University of Sheffield 
January 12, 2023 at 15-16.30
In the shadow of global environmental challenges, international policy discourses tie the future of humanity to the future of cities. The planning of cities, but also how they are lived and experienced, shapes the use of energy and resources, the production of carbon emissions, and the vulnerabilities to climate change and other environmental impacts. A recent intervention in this debate, UN-Habitat’s 2022 World Cities Report, links urban futures to the recognition of diverse modes of settlement that require detailed attention to addressing differential vulnerabilities linked to processes of marginalization and inequality. In the context of climate change, however, this acknowledgment entails understanding the complex linkages between imperial projects of economic exploitation that have driven environmental impacts on a global scale. Reparative urbanism refers to people’s active processes of socio-material engagement, from repairing infrastructure networks to cleaning public spaces, that enable the city to host those people’s lives. In a precarious urban environment, citizens engage routinely in reparative urbanism, sometimes linking their actions to wider future aspirations, such as reducing carbon emissions and improving wellbeing through built environment innovations suited to local needs and capacities. The question here is the extent to which the work of maintaining the city is indeed reparative.

  • In which ways do such reparations address the inherent injustices embedded in the built environment?
  • How do these forms of reparative urbanism tackle the roots of urban vulnerability, and challenge its constitution in imperial histories?
  • How does reparative urbanism reconfigure environmental responsibilities in the urban environment?
  • What role does reparative urbanism play in the constitution of urban futures?


Planning urban infrastructures across Berlin’s turbulent modern history

Hon.-Prof. Dr. Timothy Moss, Senior Researcher, IRI THESys

February 2, 2023 at 15-16.30
Temcas, Tema Building, Campus Valla
In my talk I unpack what urban infrastructure planning can mean – as a concept and as a practice – using the experience of Berlin’s infrastructure history as a generative case. I take a rich variety of future-oriented interventions from the Weimar Republic, the Nazi era, socialist East Berlin, the insular West Berlin and the reunited city to illustrate diverse modes of infrastructure planning that reach far beyond standardized, formal planning procedures. This historicized ‘technopolitics’ of infrastructure planning I use to consider how past planning of infrastructure can be rendered relevant to today’s challenges.

Tim is a Senior Researcher at the Integrative Research Institute on Transformations of Human-Environment Systems (IRI THESys) at the Humboldt University of Berlin and Honorary Professor at the Leibniz University Hannover. His research is distinctive for connecting historical studies of infrastructure with contemporary debates on sociotechnical and urban transitions.