The post-pandemic right to the city
02 – 06 October 2021

[Conference Sessions

We welcome abstracts for presentations under one of the following sessions’ themes. Those who are willing can submit papers, which may, upon assessment, be published in one of the POLIS University journals. Please, see “Submission and Publication” for further details. 

Sessions’ themes are as follows:

Urban health transforming cities

Urban health and wellbeing, though not seen yet as critical factors of urban quality, constitute a stronghold in city-making. Healthy cities are not a mere status of the urban fabric, but a dynamic process whereby people create space and transform the solid to achieve liveability. This involves transformative improvements of the social and physical environment, and a continuous shaping of socio-ecological relations to boost cities perform all functions needed for communities, while safeguarding resources. Healthy cities achieve equilibriums between stakeholders and systems. Urban transformations should guarantee health and wellbeing in the city, promoting urban living that does not create adverse impact on people and resources. But, are our cities really planned and designed to offer safety and protect us from diseases, pollution and environmental toxicity, physical, psychological and mental stressors? Or urban living is preordained to produce health crisis? As urban health depends on living conditions, housing and infrastructure quality, poverty and deprivation, climate and the future of ecosystems, so do urban health transforming cities depend on the cooperation of multidisciplinary teams of planners, epidemiologists, health practitioners, architects, designers, etc. In this session, we welcome perspectives on multidisciplinary challenges of city-making from an urban health perspective, and the role of communities in mitigating these challenges while cooperating with researchers and practitioners.

Knowledge institutions in the post-pandemic city

Higher education and research institutions were directly hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, with most activities switching online and others temporarily suspended. These knowledge-making institutions proved agile in a critical situation of global crisis, but shifting to distance learning comes with threats to quality and results and also inequality of access to education services, use of technology, broadband, data and information, etc. At a scientific level, the pandemic has reinforced two major directions that need thorough investigation from higher education and research institutions. First, these institutions should be able to transform in a way that enhances their own institutional resilience during disaster events or societal transformative shifts, producing new, innovative and inspiring learning environments and methods. The challenges of online teaching and learning have once again emphasised the need for the society to move away from teaching to inclusive knowledge making and absorbing. Second, these institutions are the first to produce knowledge that adapts to and mitigates risks of the futures of the society. Planning and design education institutions in particular should focus more and more their research on city, spatial, socio-ecological, and governance resilience. Cooperation with other actors from non-academic institutions, such as private sector and governments, should increase to whole new levels, in order to foster a science-literate society, prepared to resist shocks and adapt to change. Contributions that respond to both these directions of research are welcomed in this session.

The dark side of diversity

Diversity keeps relations, cities and the society alive and appealing, promotes curiosity and instigates the search towards new horizons, stimulates vibrant social environments and open-minded communities. However, diversity is a coin that has its dark side, which, in absence of conscious inclusion and awareness of the benefits of integration, produces unjust, racist, unequal, conflictual, and unsafe cities. As Richard Sennett (2006, p.1) notes, “cities everyone wants to live in should be clean and safe, possess efficient public services, be supported by a dynamic economy, provide cultural stimulation, and also do their best to heal society’s divisions of race, class, and ethnicity”. Do our cities really welcome diversity, benefiting from it and nourishing it for liveability? So many conflicts and even tragedies are claimed on the grounds of diversity and, yet, cities have not been able to pursue diversity in ways where values, traditions, differences, cultures, faith, heritage, morality, and history are shared rather than mutually withheld and isolated. This session is willing to discuss cases and perspectives of diversity in the post-pandemic city. Natural or biological disasters have different effects on different groups of the society. Covid-19 has made the poor poorer and the marginalised more marginalised. Benefits and disadvantages of diversity and inclusion in the urban fabric could be confronted and analysed from a disaster resilience perspective.

Sennett, R., 2006. The open city. In Urban age, housing and urban neighborhoods. Newspaper essay, Berlin. 

Post-disaster democracy and ethics in the city

Disasters provoke shocks in economy, societal relations and family life, governance, markets, and power dynamics. Difficult decisions, often of ethical implications, are to be taken during the emergency and recovery phases, which may, inter alia, question the right of the citizens to participate or influence the decision-making process. Citizens that suffer the disastrous events may even opt for governments taking actions in a non-democratic way, as long as these actions are generally about bringing communities to the pre-disaster conditions, or mitigating the effects. While elitist centralised approaches to governance of the disaster ensure robust response from strong governments and organised experts, able to understand and control information, they may easily end up in manipulation, violation of basic rights, and a myriad of ethical failures. At the other end of the spectrum, libertarian approaches, fully democratic and participatory, risk producing uncoordinated, inefficient and unequal response. An all-of-society approach to response, mitigation and preparedness, is increasingly being promoted by scholars and policy-makers as the desirable communitarian effort. Concerted actions of governments and communities are said to foster participatory democracy and preserve morality and ethics in disaster governance. In this session we welcome contributions that discuss the governance of the pandemics and natural disasters at local and national level, spanning from policies and regulations to restrictions of mobility or transformation of public space and housing, in the view of preserving values of democracy and basic human rights.  

Urban ecosystems, the epitome of liveable cities

Natural ecosystems provide a great deal of services to humans. Their value is beyond utilitarian and still to be properly mapped and assessed, and integrated into city planning and city making. As part of the urban fabric, natural ecosystems should coexist with city artefacts, in public space, as green infrastructure, or as part of city structures, in a way that everyone benefits and everyone is engaged in maintaining them. This spatial interaction is key to the health and wellbeing in cities, not only to the quality of life, but also to the sustainability and resilience of urban space. The continuous commodification of urban space happens at the expense of natural ecosystem within the city or at the fringe, and therefore at the expense of values derived by their services. The Covid-19 pandemic provided yet another example of the immense value of ecosystems to urban citizens, through sustaining their physical and mental health. Many expert reports worldwide have argued that people living in cities suffering from higher air pollution were exposed more to the risks of the pandemic than those living in less polluted areas. Besides biological disasters, natural ecosystems protect settlements from other hazards such as floods, landslides, clime-change effects, etc. In this session we welcome contributions that discuss architecture and city planning and design vis-à-vis natural ecosystems and their services in the urban fabric. 

Sentient city – Data, information and technology in the post-pandemic city

The city, as the greatest creation of humanity, is a living organism, in a continuously evolving and learning state. Through digital and technological developments, the society is contributing to making cities smarter and even sentient. Buildings, infrastructures, public space may become able of perceiving, remembering and correlating human needs and moods, providing more security and suitable environments to people, while anticipating change and adapting to new circumstances. People harness technology while interacting with the city, the space and the built. But the smart city requires not mere development of technology and innovation in processing data and information. It also needs society developing at the same pace, having access to technology, enjoying the digital right to the city. The Covid-19 pandemics revealed a contemporary city that, though loaded with information and communication technology, it has yet to transform substantially to fulfil daily needs for the residents, from working an schooling, to receiving health care, shopping and socially interacting. The past biological disasters have changed the features of cities towards better hygiene and green infrastructure. This pandemic, will surely make a case for innovative technologies that increase safety and comfort in living the city, while maintaining privacy and ethics. This session is open to innovative design ideas on the sentient city. We welcome also critical discourses on the theoretical underpinning of smart city, including ethical implications and conflicts that may arise in an urban society that embraces technology. 

Circular design for disease resilient cities

Design activities, including but not limited to those related to product design, digital design, systems design, design for there-use, have a large impact on climate and environmental crises. Circular design, as a part of circular economy, aims to move from linear user-object relationship (take-use-discard-buy again) towards an alleged circular one (take-use-recycle-re-use) considering the urgent to need to diminish our impact on the planet’s resources and ecosystems. For this purpose, circularity is not something in retrospect to a product or service, but should be present very early in the design process, as of the outset, in order to affect product’s requirements, materials selection, and determine a longer-span lifecycle. Today, despite the development and marketing of more sustainable solutions, their limited success has not allowed the replacement of precedent products, and does not reflect people’s current choices and behaviours. Cities themselves are a huge portion of human production that can benefit from circularity. Urban centres, that in 2050 will accommodate two-thirds of the Earth’s population, are struggling to adapt to the effects of our take-waste-waste economy, and the recent pandemic has accentuated the need to redesign systems and move towards more resilient and long-term prosperity scenarios. In this session, we welcome contributions that discuss how circular design, and circular economy at large, can affect the urban condition of post-pandemic city either in its physical scale (buildings, spaces, mobility, services, etc.) or in the policy-making/decisional one. The aim is to open discussions on how to enable this circular economy/resiliency-based transition and which are the procedures’ gaps that still jeopardize such virtuous cycles.

Future scenarios for post-pandemic city

Architecture and urban design represent one of the most complex scenarios when it comes to imaging the new city that could flourish after the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the biggest challenges stands in how to properly synthetize the huge variety of scientific, cultural, political, and social outlooks, that actually characterized the last decades of anthropocentric condition. If cities will be still the centre of our lives and dwelling, concepts such as fast urbanization and uncontrolled growth should leave space to new ideas and strategies that can nurture more systemic and sustainable visions for the future of urban environments. “What will come” is not merely a new question for human society, but one of the most compelling to address right now. Future urban and design studies usually try to understand what is likely to continue and what might plausibly change. Forecasting is still the main trend within this field, where predicting the future is based on current trend analysis in a typical ‘present-to-future’ direction. But for architecture and urban design, and for their complexity, the latter might not be enough. John R. Robinson, in the 90s, proposed to operate ‘backward’ and to backcast instead of forecast. Backcasting, works on imagining a possible/desired future and then work backwards to identify policy and procedures that might connected that specific vision to our present. More than the future itself, this attitude focuses on the construction of a progressive knowledge and set of skills that can move from a future end point back to us, and relates more to the actions for reaching a certain goal than to the goal itself. With this mind, in this session we invite discourses that can reflect on the variety and diversity of backcasting studies and analysis, and how this relates to no-intervention trends. The different perspectives can contribute to defining a catalogue of methods and strategies to imagine “what the post-pandemic city” could or will be and to formulate “desirable future environments” for the human society.

Pitching Sessions

Interested participants are invited to submit concepts for presentation of:         

i.            Innovative projects implemented in cities during 2020        

ii.           Innovative ideas, projects, prototypes for the future