Sustainable Urbanism: Transport Hubs and City Exchanges

by Fiona Ferbrache

Rotterdam's Centraal Station as a gateway to the city

Rotterdam’s Centraal Station as a gateway to the city

Travel by train through Reading or Northampton and you will be able to observe the construction works of the station redevelopment programmes currently being carried out in those urban areas. According to last week’s Economist these are two of Network Rail’s 11 stations being redeveloped.

This development is not just about improving stations as transportation nodes, it is also about enhancing the city and making stations desirable destinations in their own right as ‘exchange spaces’ or ‘meeting places’ for city residents, workers and visitors.

“Without a bigger and better station, Northampton’s vital economic growth will be constrained” announces the Northampton Station website. “Cities now measure their appeal by their stations” claims the Economist, and if we consider St Pancras International, Rotterdam station in the Netherlands, or Schiphol Airportcity in Amsterdam, we can begin to understand how this might work, for in these locations one is encouraged to invest time and money, and to stay a while.

Developments of this type can complement sustainable urbanism, a theme taken up by Rapoport in Area.  Her 2014 paper explores the actors who guide sustainable urban projects – the masterplanners – of large-scale programmes that create sustainable urban areas or ‘eco-cities’ from scratch. Rapoport identifies an elite group of international architecture, engineering and planning firms known as the global intelligence corps (GIC), and analyses their role in shaping an international model of sustainable urbanism.  She unearths a rather standardised set of ideas for enhancing urban development that, she argues, creates a discourse defining what is unsustainable about current urbanisation patterns, and what solutions can and should be used in response (e.g. bus rapid transit, bicycle lanes, sustainable urban drainage systems, and renewable energy).

While sustainable urban projects such as Vauban in Freiburg, or the Bogotá and Curitibas bus rapid transit systems provide examples that GIC rate as ‘good practice’, Reading and Northampton might soon provide a template for visionary urban regeneration where the station is developed as a more sustainable and intricate part of contemporary urban living in Britain.

books_icon  Rapoport, E. 2014 Globalising sustainable urbanism: the role of international masterplanners. Area. DOI: 10.1111/area.12079

60-world2 Urban Planning: Rail ambition. The Economist (March 1st)

60-world2  Northampton Station redevelopment

Sochi and the spatialities of contentious politics

By Helen Pallett

2013_WSDC_Sochi_-_Zbigniew_Brodka_2

Image credit: Sacha Krotov

With the Winter Olympics drawing to a close at the weekend, global attention has moved away from Sochi, at least until March 7th when the Winter Paralympics begins. The Sochi Winter Olympics have been notable, not only for the achievements of the athletes involved, but for their politics. The site itself was heavily monitored and policed to curb the activities of ‘extremists’ out to disrupt and injure, and many activists were arrested or forcibly moved from the location. But Sochi itself also took on a broader political symbolism as an emblem of the struggle for LGBT rights. Some states such as the US deliberately sent prominent gay sports people to Sochi to head-up their delegations, whilst many news outlets, such as The Guardian, The New Statesman and Channel 4 in the UK, took the opportunity to highlight their support for the cause of equal rights, particularly through the use of the symbolic rainbow flag. President Putin meanwhile notoriously told gay people that they were very welcome in Sochi but that they should leave children alone.

The Sochi Winter Olympics then was a moment of contentious politics, created by the increasingly draconian laws being passed recently in Russia regarding LGBT rights, and the releasing of several prominent activists from prison, in the run up to when the world’s eyes would be on Sochi for the games. But there is also a complex spatiality to this contentious politics. In a study of the contentious politics of immigrant workers’ rights in the United States Helga Leitner, Eric Sheppard and Kristin Sziarto argued that it was important to understand the role of scale, place, networks, positionality and mobility in shaping and forming part of this politics.

Scale is important to understanding the contested politics of Sochi, as movements and debates occurred at multiple overlapping and interrelating scales. From the policing or transgression of the micro-spaces around the Olympic site, to the scale of Sochi as a city which became an emblem of the LGBT rights struggle, to the scale of Russia as a country and legal and political context of the Winter Olympics, to the global scale of the Olympics itself with the world’s attention on developments in Sochi. These different scales interacted with one another, influencing  other processes and producing new political effects, which in this case served to magnify the issue of LGBT rights beyond this one city.

The politics of place are also clearly at play in Sochi, with the city becoming so much of an emblem of broader struggles for LGBT rights, linked to its fleeting importance at a site for a major sporting event. Sochi’s reputation as a resort for Russia’s wealthy and extravagant elite only served to increase the controversy around the games. Like with many other social movements and instances of contentious politics the topology of networks was important to the visibility of the LGBT rights struggle around Sochi, connecting Russian and Sochi-based activists to other LGBT activists globally, and importantly, being passed through high profile media networks from Twitter to the international news outlets. The struggle for LGBT rights was also passed through significant sporting networks, reaching far beyond the pool of athletes involved in this Winter Olympics to the delegations sent by other countries to the games, or to other sportsmen and sportswomen who chose this particular moment to be open about their own sexuality or to affirm their support of LGBT rights.

The mobility of many members of these networks was also a significant factor in their success in making LGBT rights into such a significant issue around the games, whilst attempts to curb the mobility of activists’ and other individuals’ bodies around the Sochi site was an important way in which Russian authorities attempted to resist and undermine the struggle.

Finally, Leitner and colleagues assert that socio-spatial positionality is also an important component of such politics, bringing into focus difference and inequality. In this case, the difference in Russia’s stance on LGBT rights was an important vector of difference in comparison to significant moves towards the fulfillment of LGBT rights, such as gay marriage, in much of Western Europe and North America, which had important implications for how the political struggle played out and was resisted by the Russian Government. But equally the struggle for LGBT rights around the Sochi Winter Olympics was very successful at forging alliances between different groups of activists, different national LGBT rights movements, and between activists and sports people or sports fans. That prominent news outlets also felt the need to show their support to the cause shows the strength of such alliances.

Attention to the complex spatialities of social movements and contentious politics, such as the LGBT rights struggle, can illuminate the  interactions of different tactics, arenas, allegiances and oppositions in the movement, as well as highlighting the multiple locations or levers of the political struggle ‘on the ground’.

books_icon Helga Leitner, Eric Sheppard & Kristin Sziarto 2008 The spatialities of contentious politicsTransactions of the Institute of British Geographers 33(2): 157-172

60-world2 Pussy Riot members among group of activists arrested in Sochi The Guardian, February 18

60-world2 5 reasons why Sochi’s Olympics may be the most controversial games yet The Guardian, January 31

60-world2 Channel 4 goes rainbow to wish “good luck to those out in sochi” Channel 4, February 6

60-world2 Putin cautions gay visitors to Sochi BBC News, January 17

Renaming and Rebranding Place

By Chris Post and Derek H. Alderman

Terry McAuliffe, Democrat Governor of Virginia, USA, has a difficult decision to make. He has promised a change in Virginia school textbooks—to include “East Sea” as a name for the Sea of Japan. McAuliffe has recently backed away from this pledge, but rival Republican legislators are pressing the governor on the issue.  This name change, meant to satisfy a community (Korean-Americans) increasingly important to Virginia politics, has angered one of the state’s  major trading partners, Japan (Vozella 2014).  

Place names dot our maps and our imaginations on a daily basis. They are essential components to place-making and work as mnemonic devices in creating place and group identity. As such, place names, or toponyms, are inherently political and often contentious—as the East Sea/Sea of Japan example illustrates. Recent critical literature on toponymic change has focused on the role of government elites in controlling place names, but little has been written until recently about the role of companies and private financial interests in the naming process.

Using an example from Ohio, USA, we show in an Area paper how toponyms change over time and how these changes become socially charged debates over identity, nationalism, and economic development. This particular project looks at how New Berlin, Ohio, changed its name to North Canton. On the surface, this change looks relatively simple—wartime nationalism spurred the change from a name reflective of the area’s German ancestry to one that identified the village’s nearest major city. In New Berlin, however, national and global economics also played a large role in this sudden name change. More specifically, we discuss the influence that two related New Berlin corporations—the W.H. Hoover and Hoover Suction Sweeper companies—had on renaming New Berlin through their initiation and support of a public petition to change the name. Our analysis of this change focuses on three distinct forms: place re-branding, the “fetishization,” and symbolic annihilation of local Germanic identity, and the impact of regional and international economics on the local landscape. Today, only a hint of North Canton’s German heritage exists, a sign for New Berlin Bubbles and Suds laundromat.

New Berlin Bubbles and Suds on North Main Street in North Canton Source: Photo by Chris W. Post

New Berlin Bubbles and Suds on North Main Street in North Canton
Source: Photo by Chris W. Post

Place names are powerful symbols of identity, territory, and political power. We don’t know how the political tumult in Virginia—over the naming of a sea half a world away—will end. But, we have been here before. If not for the desires of a pair of corporations (which, combined, employed approximately 33% of their community), New Berlin, and its German roots, may not have been ‘wiped off the map’ of America.

About the Authors: Chris Post is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Geography, Kent State University at Stark, Ohio, USA. Derek Alderman is a Professor and the Department Head at the Department of Geography, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, USA.

books_icon Post, C. W. and Alderman, D. H. 2014 ‘Wiping New Berlin off the map’: political economy and the de-Germanisation of the toponymic landscape in First World War USA,  Area 46: 83–91. doi: 10.1111/area.12075

60-world2 Laura Vozella, 2014, Va. Textbook bill on alternative Sea of Japan name heads toward a partisan showdown The Washington Post, 29 January 2014

Rapid land-use changes are creating the geology of the Anthropocene

By Eli Lazarus

Deforestation, palm oil plantations, and erosion in Kalimantan, Borneo, Indonesia.

Deforestation, palm oil plantations, and erosion in Kalimantan, Borneo, Indonesia. Image courtesy of the NASA Earth Observatory.

From a historical perspective, land grabbing – deals involving acquisitions of large-scale land assets – is not a new global phenomenon. But it is a resurgent one. Investigative journalists and non-governmental organisations have been reporting on land grabs with particular attention since 2008, when a market-driven spike in food prices triggered a widespread geopolitical crisis over food security. The crisis is ongoing, further complicated by conflicting interests in land for water access, biofuel production, timber, mineral wealth, industrial expansion, environmental conservation, and the protection of local and indigenous peoples’ rights. Academic researchers have begun to examine the social, political, and institutional dynamics of land grabbing, but such expansive land-use transitions can also have profound, lasting effects on physical landscapes. In my article, published in Area, I consider land grabbing as a peculiar force of change in human–environmental systems.

Through agriculture, construction, resource extraction, and other activities, humans move around a lot of dirt. In terms of mass, we displace more of the planet’s surface on an annual basis than any natural agent of geomorphic change, including rivers, glaciers, wind, hillslopes, and waves. Sediment cores from Central America reveal erosion signals coincident with land clearing by Pre-Columbian empires. Lakes across the western US retain the sedimentary record of the catastrophic 1930s Dust Bowl, which followed the introduction of industrial agriculture to the Great Plains. Environmental historians suggest that humans have caused thus far three global-scale pulses of soil erosion in our time on Earth, and the volume of soil and rock we have moved since early millennia BCE has increased nonlinearly as a function of population and technology.

What makes land-use transitions driven by land grabbing so remarkable is their scale: no natural process of environmental change (aside from a cataclysmic event) operates as rapidly over such vast areas and in so many settings. Global landscape changes driven by human activities are the precursors to what will become the geology of the Anthropocene, an epoch characterised by the legacies, material and indirect, of our built environment. Could this new era of land grabbing ultimately register in sedimentary records around the world? Much as past climates have left their own geologic signatures, humans are already leaving our own in the volume of sediment we move – and in the astounding rates at which we move it.

About the author: Dr Eli Lazarus is a Lecturer at School of Ocean Earth Sciences at Cardiff University.

open-access-icon Lazarus E D 2014 Land grabbing as a driver of environmental changeArea, 46: 74–82. doi: 10.1111/area.12072

60-world2 Image of the Day: Kalimantan, Borneo, Indonesia NASA Earth Observatory, 7 July 2012

60-world2 Lakhani N, World Bank’s ethics under scrutiny after Honduras loan investigation The Guardian, 13 January 2014

60-world2 MacFarquhar N, African farmers displaced as investors move in The New York Times, 21 December 2010

60-world2 Vidal J, How food and water are driving a 21st-century African land grab The Guardian, 7 March 2010

60-world2 Vidal J, Major palm oil companies accused of breaking ethical promises The Guardian, 6 November 2013

Accommodating Students: recent trends and the University of the Channel Islands

by Fiona Ferbrache

Queen Margaret University Accommodation

Queen Margaret University Accommodation

Like many Channel Islanders, I attended university in the UK as there is no such establishment in the islands. Proposals are in place, however, to realise ‘The University of the Channel Islands in Guernsey’ – an institution that would eventually host up to 2,000 undergraduate and postgraduate students (from across the globe).

Accommodating students can be challenging anywhere, but the issues are often intensified on an island where space and land are at a premium.  While there has been much positive feedback for the proposals, concerns have been raised over where students would live, and what impact they might have on the existing community. In a radio broadcast, Susan Jackson (Executive Project Director) commented: “we will be very careful about preserving Guernsey as it is now” and “we aim to insert ourselves delicately in all around existing structures”.  These intentions differ to current trends of UK studentification, identified by Smith & Hubbard (2014), but I argue that this might be a key marketing perspective for the Islands’ University.

Providing an overview of student housing markets since the 1990s, Smith and Hubbard identify a shift from the integration of students within socially mixed neighbourhoods, to concentrations of student accommodation in purpose-built blocks, often on the margins of other social groups. This trend towards segregated living has had considerable consequences on social relations between students and longer-term residents.

In the case of Guernsey, there seems little inclination (or scope to build at the margins) to construct purpose-built student accommodation.  Hence, it seems likely that students and existing populations will have to reside more closely. Although Smith and Hubbard note that students appear to like living apart, the opportunities for students to live among Islanders could be employed as a key marketing strategy for the University of the Channel Islands.  Rather than a life apart, it might be an opportunity for students to interact with longer-term residents through daily encounters, and to the benefit of both groups.

 60-world2 BBC Radio Guernsey: Plans for a Channel Island University in Guernsey

60-world2  Channel Island ‘well equipped’ for university students

60-world2  The University of the Channel Islands in Guernsey – Vision statement 

books_icon  Smith, D. P. & Hubbard, P. 2014 The segregation of educated youth and dynamic geographies of studentification. Area. DOI: 10.1111/area.1205

From the bedroom to the nation state: the geographies of welfare reform

By Helen Pallett

bedroom tax

Image credit: Brian McNeil

Debates about the UK welfare or ‘benefits’ system have been difficult to avoid in the media over the past weeks, from the furore surrounding the Channel 4 programme ‘Benefits Street’, to the reception of UN housing envoy Raquel Rolnik’s report on the impacts of the so-called ‘bedroom tax’. These stories are also part of a larger shift in the machineries of the British welfare system and public attitudes to benefit claimants which have emerged during the reign of the coalition government, though which arguably began during previous administrations.

With around 70% of households in the UK receiving at least one kind of state benefit, the vast changes we are currently witnessing in the welfare system are likely to have wide-ranging impacts. Current and recent changes to the benefits system include; the introduction of a benefits cap of £26,000 per year, the withdrawal of child benefit from households with a single income greater than £60,000 per year, changes in modes of assessment and criteria for eligibility for disability living allowance, a reduction in housing benefit available to low income households with spare rooms (the ‘bedroom tax’), and a reduction in the number of benefits available to under 25s.

Geographers studying the benefits system have a particular interest in how the impacts of these changes are felt differently between different regions and local authorities. This concern with the distribution of harms and benefits is particularly apt given the rhetoric of ‘fairness’ which has been used by politicians to justify such changes. This is something which Chris Hamnett observes in a recent article in the Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. 

Hamnett draws our attention to several aspects of the changes to the welfare system which are of particular geographical interest. Firstly, he considers the national impacts of the welfare changes in the light of austerity and spending cuts, with attempts to reduce overall welfare spending and to move towards a ‘workfare’ system which puts more emphasis on rewarding those in work and forces those out of work to be actively looking for work in order to receive benefits. These changes have also occurred alongside a hardening of public opinion towards those facing benefits – for example 80% of people supported the benefits cap – which will make any attempts to reverse these changes in future difficult.

Secondly, against a backdrop of contrasting regional welfare bills and huge differences in the mix of benefits claimed in different regions, Hamnett concludes that the impacts of many of the benefits cuts will be socially regressive. For example, in old ex-industrial areas, such as the former coal-mining regions of Wales and North East England, there are twice as many people claiming disability living allowance than in the South of England. Thus the restrictions in those eligible to claim disability living allowance have a disproportionate impact on the old ex-industrial regions, which also have a higher proportion of people out of work and on low incomes.

A third geographical trend that Hamnett observes at the local authority level, relates to the housing mix of certain inner city areas. Whilst the £26,000 benefit cap appears very generous, it has resulted in reductions in the amount of housing benefit available to low income households living in areas of very high rent, such as central London. Hamnett predicts that this, alongside the impacts of the ‘bedroom tax’ will make certain areas of London and elsewhere uninhabitable for low income families, leading to a pronounced zoning of high income and low income areas.

When considering the potential impacts of future changes to the welfare system it is important to think not only of individual stories of poverty or dependency, but to consider how they might effect the  already highly uneven geographical distribution of needs, benefits and incomes. Welfare changes are likely to have distinctly ‘spaced’ impacts and furthermore will be increasingly written into the fabric of these spaces – from the nation, to the de-instrustialised region, to the layout of the inner city, down the appropriate usage of the bedroom.

books_icon Chris Hamnett 2013 Shrinking the welfare state: the structure, geography and impact of British government benefit cuts Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers Online first DOI: 10.1111/tran.12049

60-world2 Benefits street: the hard-working history that Channel 4 left out Guardian, 29 January

60-world2 Bedroom tax: Raquel Rolnik’s uncomfortable truths Guardian, 3 February

Inventing Italy and the circulation of geographical cultures

by Federico Ferretti

A 1828 Map of pre-unity Italy, made in Paris by A. Broué (Geneva- Bibliothèque de Genève, Département des Cartes et Plans, Tiroir Italie)

A 1828 Map of pre-unity Italy, made in Paris by A. Broué (Copyright-free, scanned from Bibliothèque de Genève, Département des Cartes et Plans, Tiroir Italie)

In the last 20 years, in Italy, the debates on territorial assets have been more intense than in all the preceding periods in the history of Italy as an independent nation. For the first time since the Italian unification in 1861, the concept of national unity and the very internal territorial organization of the country were being questioned, and sometimes openly challenged, by national political parties.

The first example is the party of the Lega Nord (Northern League), which claimed the territorial independence of Northern Italy in the 1990s, also proclaiming a virtual secession of the region called Padania in 1997.

At this time, several geographers started to work on this phenomenon. In a play on the slogan of the early national hero Giuseppe Garibaldi during the Risorgimento—“Making Italy”— John Agnew has referred to the movement as “Remaking Italy” (Agnew, 2007).

Now that the tentative of secession has failed and the Lega, involved in corruption scandals, is weaker than some years ago, federalism seems to be less attractive for the political debates, and the first territorial topic of the last year was an administrative reformation consisting in the abolition or redefinition of Provinces, considered too expensive. The last proposal, presented on 22 December 2013 by Minister Graziano Del Rio, is a plan to abolish these administrations but maintain the public services associated, which remains nonetheless a controverted and uncertain topic in the Italian political debate (Pipitone, 2013).

In any case, it seems likely that the political and administrative map of Italy will soon be redrawn. This implies a parallelism with more ancient periods of Italian history, like the long and complex process of national unification called the Risorgimento, during which Italian geographers for the first time took positions on issues of national identity and territorial affiliations, whose contributions I explore in a recent article for The Geographical Journal.

Debate promoted by geographers belonging to the federalist tendency of the Risorgimento, like Carlo Cattaneo (1801-1869), demonstrate that the oscillation between centralist and federalist proposals is not new in Italian political debates.

 About the author: Federico Ferretti got his PhD in Geography at the Universities of Bologna and Paris. He is now a researcher at the University of Geneva, within the NSF Project “Writing the World Differently” dealing with Elisée Reclus and the Anarchist Geographers.

books_icon Ferretti F 2014, Inventing Italy. Geography, Risorgimento and national imagination: the international circulation of geographical knowledge in the 19th centuryThe Geographical Journal, 2014, DOI: 10.1111/geoj.12068

books_icon Agnew J 2007 Remaking Italy? Place configurations and Italian electoral Politics under the ‘second Republic’ Modern Italy 12 17-38.

60-world2 Pipitone G Province, le morte che camminano, Il Fatto Quotidiano, 31 December 2013.