The Bartlett Development Planning Unit


Call for Contributions for DPU workshop on COVID-19 and urban transformations

13 July 2022

The Urban Transformations Cluster of the DPU is organising a workshop that will instigate critical discussions about the emergent forms of inequality and agency observed and experienced and during the pandemic. We welcome theoretical and empirical contributions.

The COVID-19 pandemic has produced profound and uneven impacts across the world. Although no longer in an acute phase, its legacies and lessons still must be unpacked if more just and resilient futures are to be pursued, especially in light of contemporary multiple crises. As inherently urban, the pandemic represented complex and interconnected challenges. To start with, because its emergence meant disturbances in time-space experiences (Preece et al., 2021), which for some meant being confined and immobile within the home environment, and for many meant being exposed, to care for others or to secure livelihood options. 

Tensions such as those between confinement and exposure, mobility and immobility, individualism and collectivism – shed light on both pre-existing and novel inequalities. For instance, requirements of isolation and ‘quarantine urbanism’ (Bianchetti et al., 2020) laid bare housing and infrastructural inequalities (Vilenica et al., 2020), and labour, tenure and food insecurities (Figliozzi and Unnikrishnan, 2021; Ruszczyk et al., 2021), as many urban residents simply could not avoid housing overcrowding (Keil, 2020) or sharing public infrastructures and facilities to work, access relief packages and maintain everyday life (de Groot and Lemanski, 2021). Even when isolation was possible, the bodily and mental health of more vulnerable groups were put at greater risk in diverse ways (Wilkinson et al., 2020), which can be illustrated by reports of domestic violence and abuse, rampant during the pandemic (Usher et al. 2020). On top of these issues, COVID-19 showed not only tensions, but also the interconnected nature of urban, peri-urban and rural environments, and contributed to elucidate that the health and resilience of an urbanised world depends on the fragile ecosystems and biodiversity that anthropocentric occupation patterns are destroying (Connolly et al., 2020; Gandy, 2021).

Meanwhile, governments showed different capacities and commitments to deal with the situation. In more drastic cases, the state was negligent, denied the pandemic, or actively stigmatised and persecuted already precarious communities (Boseley, 2020; Friendly, 2022). In many contexts, problems stemmed from the lack of coordination between central and municipal governments, agencies and sectors (Wilkinson et al., 2020). Data was notably scarce (Acuto, 2020), and national measures to alleviate the pandemic were commonly not sensitive to differences across cities and neighbourhoods. A broad look at the role of the state during the pandemic reminds us that, at the very least, coping with crises and moving forward in a just way requires multisectoral participatory governance, which means, among other things, questioning the politics of knowledge (Mcfarlane, 2021) and the ethical bases guiding planning action (Morrow and Parker, 2020). 

It is further noteworthy that in many cities, especially in the postcolonial geographies of the south-east, the pandemic added up and intensified crises that were already fracturing space and human relations – the case of Lebanon illustrates this (Fawaz et al., 2021). Continuous wars and ethnic conflicts, migratory flows, climate disasters and the loss of biodiversity, inflation and market crashes are among the major events that connect to the pandemic, and that its lessons can help to navigate. 

The temporariness of many aspects of urban living became more evident during the pandemic by continuous ruptures, which reminded us of the need to incorporate unpredictability and uncertainty into planning (Leach et al., 2021). Yet, it illuminated once more the capacities and agency of poor and marginalised populations, who already rely on and build socio-material networks of care and solidarity (Simone, 2004) to alleviate the impacts of periodic shocks and create precedents that may inform future responses to crises (Bhan et al., 2019). Countless bottom-up actions in precarious spaces showed us that fairer and more democratic futures are not just about recognising the significance of ‘knowledges born from the struggle’ (de Sousa Santos and Meneses, 2019). It is about incorporating them into the production of more agile, effective and context-sensitive urban policy and planning. 

Call for Contributions

Drawing on the above reflections, the Urban Transformations Cluster of the Bartlett Development Planning Unit (University College London) is organising a Workshop that will instigate critical discussions about the emergent forms of inequality and agency observed and experienced and during the pandemic, and how they may inform more just urban futures. We welcome theoretical and empirical contributions that enrich the pool of accounts on the effects and responses to the pandemic, as well as works which speak to the pandemic in a forward-oriented way - using it as an entry point to think of multiple urban crises. The following themes and questions should guide contributions. Proponents are invited to refer to one or several of them:
1.    Interrogating productions and changes of urban spaces and livelihoods
•    What kind of changes - temporary or persistent - were observed in space and how do they contributed to exacerbate or mitigate inequalities beyond the pandemic?
•    Which disturbances did the pandemic produce to urban livelihoods and what do they tell us about the challenges of contemporary and future urban life?
•    How did spatial and livelihood changes illuminated dependencies between urban, and peri-urban environments, and between natural and built environments?
•    How does the pandemic reshape our understanding of urban infrastructures? 
•    How does post-pandemic thinking contribute to multi-scalar/multi-sectoral responses?

2.    Reimagining urban visions and ethics
•    To which degree has the pandemic changed agendas and visions for cities? Which themes it illuminated?
•    How or to what extent has the pandemic re-oriented the ethics and principles in urban planning and design? To what extent has it opened avenues for bottom-up responses to crisis?
•    In which ways did the pandemic contribute to thinking and planning for more caring cities?

3.    Towards more democratic and just urban politics 
•    How has the politics of data observed during the pandemic contribute to expand the role of knowledge in planning?
•    How has the pandemic triggered reflections about the role of the state, and government capacities and openings for democratic decision-making?
•    Which lessons could be drawn in terms of effective and defective governance arrangements?
•    How do bottom-up responses during the pandemic inform future democratic governance? 

Format and key dates 
If you are interested, please submit a long abstract (500-700 words) to Barbara Lipietz (b.lipietz@ucl.ac.uk) and Thaisa Comelli (thaisa.comelli@ucl.ac.uk) by 05 August 2022. Abstracts will be selected within two weeks, and authors will be invited to a workshop (8-9 September 2022) at the UCL campus. The format of the workshop is likely to be in-person, but hybrid options may be available. There are also plans for the workshop to result in a collective publication, which will be communicated to participants in due course. 
Acuto, M. (2020). COVID-19: Lessons for an Urban (izing) World. One Earth, 2(4), 317-319.
Bhan, G., Caldeira, T., Gillespie, K., & Simone, A. (2020). The pandemic, southern urbanisms and collective life. Society and Space, 3, 2020.  
Bianchetti, C., Boano, C., & Di Campli, A. (2020). Thinking with quarantine urbanism?. Space and culture, 23(3), 301-306.
Boseley, M. (2020). Melbourne public housing Covid lockdown violated human rights, Victoria's ombudsman finds. The Guardian. Available at: <https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/dec/17/melbourne-public-...
Connolly, C., Ali, S. H., & Keil, R. (2020). On the relationships between COVID-19 and extended urbanization. Dialogues in Human Geography, 10(2), 213-216. 
de Groot, J., & Lemanski, C. (2021). COVID-19 responses: Infrastructure inequality and privileged capacity to transform everyday life in South Africa. Environment and Urbanization, 33(1), 255-272. 
de Sousa Santos, B., & Meneses, M. P. (Eds.). (2019). Knowledges born in the struggle: Constructing the epistemologies of the Global South. Routledge.
Fawaz, M., Harb, M., Nammour, K., Salka, F., Lancione, M., & Vilenica, A. (2021). How the COVID-19 pandemic has shaped housing struggles in Lebanon. Radical Housing Journal, 3(May), 61-74. 
Figliozzi, M., & Unnikrishnan, A. (2021). Home-deliveries before-during COVID-19 lockdown: Accessibility, environmental justice, equity, and policy implications. Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment, 93, 102760. 
Friendly, A. (2022). Insurgent planning in pandemic times: the case of Rio de janeiro. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 46(1), 115-125. 
Gandy, M. (2021). The zoonotic city: urban political ecology and the pandemic imaginary. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research.