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Keynote Speakers

Robert Fishman (University of Michigan)

Perimeter Center: global suburbs and the transformation of urbanism

The history of suburbia is fundamentally the history of the momentous shift in human population from agrarian village to city, which required the explosive growth of the urban periphery we call suburbanization.  This history began with the first truly global city, 18th century London, and is now reaching its climax in the megacities of the developing world.  A century ago Ebenezer Howard looked at the megacities of his time (London, New York, Chicago) and posed the key questions about this explosive growth: what metropolitan/regional design at the edge would create a truly human city-form for its people?  And what form of ownership and land use would most equitably distribute the immense economic gains derived from urban growth?  The keynote will attempt to respond to Howard’s two questions from a 21st-century global perspective on sustainability and equity.

Robert Fishman is a professor of architecture and urban planning, teaches in the urban design, architecture, and urban planning programs at the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Michigan. With a Ph.D. in history from Harvard University, he is an internationally recognized expert in the areas of urban history, policy and planning, and author of several books regarded as seminal texts on the history of cities and suburbs including ‘Bourgeois Utopias: The Rise and Fall of Suburbia (1987) and Urban Utopias in the Twentieth Century: Ebenezer Howard, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Le Corbusier (1977)’. His honors include the 2009 Laurence Gerckens Prize for lifetime achievement of the Society for City and Regional Planning History; the Walker Ames Lectureship, the University of Washington, Seattle, 2010; the Emil Lorch Professorship at the Taubman College, 2006-2009; and Public Policy Scholar, the Wilson Center, Washington, D.C., 1999. He was recently historical consultant and “talking head” for the prize-winning documentary, ‘The Pruitt-Igoe Myth’.


Pablo Mendez (University of British Columbia)

What do we measure when we measure suburbanisms?

Understanding the changing geographies of North American suburbs has been an important task of the social sciences and humanities for more than half a century. A question that lies implicitly or explicitly behind these efforts is: what counts as a suburb? Or, to put it differently, where does the urban end and where do the suburbs begin? Various methodological strategies have been developed to address this question, shedding significant insights into the uneven development and constitution of metropolitan regions. But what happens when the focus shifts from suburbs as places to suburbanisms as ways of life? In this keynote, he explores some of the outcomes of a project to empirically examine contemporary suburbanisms in the Canadian context. Geographical considerations remain crucial to this effort, but in many ways they take a different form. He discusses how typical measures of suburban characteristics were modified in the course of this research, and illustrate the ways in which common notions of where the suburbs lie are both altered and confirmed by this approach. Novel perspectives on the importance of various settlement and development processes emerge, alongside new theoretical and methodological challenges and possibilities. he argues that the empirical investigation of suburbanisms opens up new and exciting avenues in our quest to understand the important transformations currently redefining deeply held notions of centre and periphery in an increasingly urbanized world.

Pablo Mendez is a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Geography at the University of British Columbia, where he works as part of a Canadian team of researchers afiliated with the Global Suburbanisms project. His PhD focused on the informal practices associated with accessory apartments in Vancouver’s inner suburbs, examining the complex relationships between tenants and landlords in this unorthodox type of housing. Pablo has also conducted research on the housing trajectories of newcomers to metropolitan Canada. This coming January, he will take up an Assistant Professor position in the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies at Carleton University.


Alan Mabin (University of Witwatersrand)

Researching African suburbanisms: lives, places, words, images and paradoxes

Researching African suburbanisms raises all kinds of questions both common to suburban research around the globe and, perhaps, special in the context of Africa’s varied cities.  The key issue is change: in lives, places, words, images.  Some African urban economies are growing at rates usually associated with eastern Asia, drawing many lives towards previously unthinkable resources.  Physical environments mutate too, in ways hardly distant from accumulation of new resources.  Vocabularies including those of place naming seem in flux too.  Images of all kinds splinter and diversify: mapping is a new challenge, representations in numbers and other realist forms diverge from experience, and artists often seem to engage more acutely with shifting sensations of the city than researchers.  How in these circumstances can suburbanisms in Africa be examined and reported?  This presentation traverses settings, methods and results of research into change in African cities, focused on African suburbanisms.  It contemplates difficulties of knowing and further considers ways in which new knowledges may relate to shifting patterns of power. Yet in the context of all these shifting and interwoven patterns of life, at least the following paradox remains: as most cities change with bewildering rapidity, social forms and modes of living that make up so much of African urban life persist even as the physical environments of cities undergo sometimes extreme alteration.  The final question for research, then, is as ever: how to inform thinking about how things may change into the unresearchable future?  

Alan Mabin is a Professor at the School of Architecture and Planning, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. He has spent time at Yale University, USA, Queen’s University, Canada, Université de Paris Ouest [X]-Nanterre-La Défense, Laboratoire Architecture Ville Urbanisme Environnement in Paris, Universidade de São Paulo and Sciences Po Paris. He has research experience in Brazil, France, Tanzania and South Africa amongst other countries as well as NGO, government and consulting experience. Alan has edited 3 books and published numerous articles and chapters, including recently ‘Suburbs in Africa?’ In R Keil (ed) Suburban Constellations (Berlin: Jovis 2013), and ‘South African capital cities’, in G Therborn and S Bekker (eds) Capital Cities of Africa (Pretoria: HSRC and Dakar: Codesria 2011); together with two other participants in the SSHRC funded Global Suburbanisms MCRI, he has written a review of suburbanisms in Africa: A Mabin, S Butcher and R Bloch, ‘Peripheries, suburbanisms and change in sub-Saharan African cities’, Social Dynamics 39 (1) 2013.


Emmanuel Brunet-Jailly (University of Victoria)

“Formal and Informal governance of territories – normative implications”

This keynote will explore issues pertaining to the formal and informal arrangements that govern territories, and in particular urban regions. A primary focus is defining forms of formal and informal governance; it is also to question those forms of governance in view of democratic theory and the norms that may be related, but also to raise questions comparative research may shed light on. Issues of governance, whether formal or informal, are grounded in fundamental theoretical and normative perspectives, which this paper attempts to confront and clarify. Thus while addressing the above questions, this paper discusses critical perspectives on institutional ideas based on normative or positive attitudes. What are conflicts and power struggles? What power is at stake?

Emmanuel Brunet-Jailly studied Law and Political Science at Paris IV- Sorbonne, and has a PhD in Political Science from the University of Western Ontario. He has taught at the University of Notre Dame (US), and is an Associate Professor of Public Administration at the University of Victoria, British Columbia. He is the Jean Monnet Chair in European Urban and Border Region Policy, Director of the ‘European Union Centre for Excellence’ (2014-16), SSHRC funded Partnership Grant leader for ‘Borders in Globalization’, and the editor of the Journal of Borderland Studies (Taylor and Francis/Routledge). He is also the author of 65 articles and chapters, and 11 books and special issues of scholarly journals in urban and border studies. His recent publications include Borderlands (2007), and Local Government in a Global World (2010). He is currently finishing a monograph on borders in the 21 century.


Christopher Niedt (Hofstra University)

Creative Destruction and Political Struggle in the Suburban United States.

For decades, sprawling greenfield development has defined the suburban morphology of the United States.  But today, capital faces rapidly changing conditions – ranging from build-out to environmental vulnerability to changing market demand – that are turning investment inward, towards the urban core and older suburbs.  At the same moment, suburban ethnic and class diversity is increasing, with minimal spatial (or social) integration at the neighborhood level.  This paper considers how the confluence of these trends sets the stage for intensifying conflict over who will control suburban redevelopment, who will reap its benefits, and who will bear its costs.  These struggles will parallel historical and present-day episodes of intensified urban redevelopment – such as those moments of “creative destruction” described by David Harvey, Marshall Berman, and others – while remaining distinctive, due to suburban affinity for homeownership, traditions of home rule, and ambivalence towards the state.

Christopher Niedt is Academic Director of the National Center for Suburban Studies and Assistant Professor of Applied Social Research in the Department of Sociology at Hofstra University.  His research is concerned with the effects of metropolitan change on race and class inequality, housing and homeownership, and suburban politics.  He is the editor of Social Justice in Diverse Suburbs: History, Politics, and Prospects, a volume on suburban social movements that have attempted to challenge exclusion.  He has examined the effects of the foreclosure crisis at national and local levels, and is the co-editor (with Marc Silver) of Forging a New Housing Policy: Opportunity in the Wake of Crisis.  His interests in politics of place and redevelopment have led him to research gentrification in the inner-ring suburbs and protests against the use of eminent domain.  Together with NCSS Executive Dean Larry Levy, he has contributed to a number of center initiatives, including the Hofstra Oral History Project and the center’s annual National Suburban Survey.  He has also collaborated with non-profit groups on studies of local living wage laws, the foreclosure crisis, and the uneven effects of redevelopment on Long Island.


Pierre Filion (University of Waterloo)

Suburban Infrastructure and Social Justice

This keynote will focus on the North American suburban model, an urban form that was pieced together in the fifteen years following World-War-II and that has since dominated urban development across the continent. It will chronicle major suburban infrastructure policies over the last 65 years and consider their social consequences from two perspectives: that of individual infrastructures and the aggregate effect infrastructures have had on the suburban form. The social impact of individual infrastructures can be seen from an environmental justice perspective: who is advantaged or disadvantaged by the effects, which are largely spatial, of a given infrastructure. In the case of the collective impacts of infrastructures, social effects are mostly a consequence of the imperfect match between suburban life styles and the income and values of different social groups. The keynote will end with a consideration of the role infrastructures can play in efforts to retrofit North American suburbs.

Pierre Filion is a professor at the School of Planning of the University of Waterloo. He has published 57 articles, most of them in top tier international journals, as well as 53 book chapters. He has also written or edited 11 books and special journal issues. He has co-edited four editions of Canadian Cities in Transition (Oxford University Press), which has become a foremost urban geography and planning university-level textbook. He has written 8 major reports for organizations including Statistics Canada, the Canadian Secretariat for Homelessness and the Neptis Foundation. In 2010 one of his contributions was selected as the best Plan Canada article of the year and one of his journal articles was chosen as the best Canadian planning article of 2012 and will be included in a book containing the best worldwide planning articles of that year. Pierre has served as a member and vice-president of the National Capital Commission Planning and Real Estate Advisory Committee and member of the Scientific Advisory Committee of the International Joint Commission (for the Great Lakes). On an annual basis he is interviewed an average of 50 times by the media, including Radio Canada, CBC, the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail, the National Post, Macleans, and Le Monde.


Louise Johnson (Deakin University)

Digital suburbs? Some policy implications of greater domestic connectivity

The saturation coverage of broadband and the looming National Broadband Network in Australia raises questions as to what it means for the design of houses and suburbs now that most have separate or wireless connectivity. Is there still a digital divide? What are some of the policy implications for those charged with managing and planning our cities of such developments? Has it indeed led to more people working from home rather than commuting (with implications for transport planning), with far more on line shopping (not just for clothing, books and music but a range of consumer goods with implications for retail planning), online socializing (with a corresponding drop in at home, neighbourhood or other forms of face-to-face interaction), and online service access (be it the shift to b-pay, robbing the local post office of custom, the use of online health and information services to replace or supplement local clinics or libraries). Or has it just meant that the form of information flow has altered but the physicality of service provision, job access and socialization is just if not more important? This paper will discuss some preliminary research work in Melbourne’s western suburbs which has been exploring and documenting some of the policy implications of the looming (or actual) digital suburb.

Dr. Louise Johnson is Professor in Australian Studies. A human geographer, she has researched the gendered nature of suburban houses and shopping centre, changing manufacturing workplaces as well as the dynamics of Australian regional economies. Major publications include Suburban Dreaming (DUP 1994) and Placebound: Australian Feminist Geographies (OUP 2000). Her most recent work has examined Geelong, Bilbao, Singapore and Glasgow as Cultural Capitals (Ashgate 2009) looking at how the arts have been re-valued and urban spaces remade by the creative economy. She is currently researching the nature of master planned suburban communities, waterfront renewal and post-colonial planning.


Richard Harris (McMaster University)

Suburbanisation? Follow the Money

Suburbanisztion is driven by many forces. To become effective, these must be channeled through the market for land. Suburban development, involving the conversion of rural land to urban use, and the creation of a built environment, is usually very profitable. To understand how, and to some extent why, it occurs we need to know the magnitude of those profits, and their distribution between several types of private agents and public agencies. This distribution is subject to an endless process of negotiation, sometimes transparent but commonly not. The basis, visibility and outcome of these negotiations depends on the extent to which those involved agree as to the source of increases in land values and the capacity of the state to enforce the public’s claim. These considerations suggest a vital, but neglected, research agenda.

Richard Harris is a Professor in the School of Geography and Earth Sciences at McMaster University, Canada.  He has received Fulbright, British Academy and Guggenheim Fellowships, is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. He received the 2013 Award for Scholarly Distinction of the Canadian Association of Geographers. His research interests include the patterns and processes of housing and suburban development since 1900, primarily in North America and the ex-British colonies. He has a particular interest in the social construction of land and housing markets. His books include Building a Market. The Rise of the Home Improvement Industry, 1914-1960 (Chicago, 2012), Creeping Conformity. How Canada Became Suburban, 1900-1960 (Toronto, 2004), Changing Suburbs: Foundation, Form, and Function (ed. with Peter Larkham), London, 1999, and Unplanned Suburbs. Toronto’s American Tragedy, 1900-1950 (Baltimore, 1996). Currently, with Robert Lewis, he is undertaking research on the social geography of Bombay and Calcutta, c.1901, and heads the foundational research program on Land for the Global Suburbanisms project.  


Anne Haila (University of Helsinki)

Development at the margin of transference

Two reasons for the spread of urban development in suburbs in Finland have been purchases of raw land by developers beyond the city limits, and the regulations such as zoning, height control and other norms restricting construction inside the city limits. In contemporary China, urban development flourishes in collectively owned land in urban villages beyond the control of town planners. In both of these cases, the suburbanization question is the land question. This paper analyzes the suburban land question, first, by analyzing the mobilization of land along three dimensions: horizontal (extending the use of land, subdivision of land and suburbanization), vertical (intensifying the use of land) and redevelopment (densification); and, second, by analyzing the payment for the use of land, that is land rent with its various forms and origins: the price of land, land speculation and public revenue. In order to explore the role of landownership and regulation in suburbanization processes this paper discusses two city-states, Singapore and Hong Kong, where there is a pressure to further development but where an extension to fringe land is limited. The paper asks why Hong Kong did not develop like Los Angeles despite huge low-density and vacant areas in the New Territories, and analyses regulations, price controls, land acquisitions and collective land sales in Singapore.

Anne Haila is Professor of Urban Studies, in the Department of Social Research at the University of Helsinki, Finland. She holds a doctorate in real estate economics (Helsinki University of Technology). The topic of her doctoral thesis was the theory of land rent. She has been professor of land use planning at Agricultural University of Norway, teaching for two years urban economics at the National University of Singapore, held visiting appointments at University of California Los Angeles and City University of New York, and worked one and a half years in Nordic Asian Research Institute in Copenhagen. She has been the Scientific Secretary and the Vice-President at the International Sociological Association’s (ISA) Research Committee on Urban and Regional Development (RC21), the member of editorial board of Planning Theory and Practice, Urban Studies and Urban Affairs Review, and the editor in chief of the Finnish Planning Journal.
She teaches urban studies, urban theory, comparative urban research and urban development. Her research focuses on urban development, property rights, property markets, state intervention in regulating property market, land and housing, especially the cases of Singapore, Finland, China and Hong Kong.