Modernist planning: What  went wrong?

Modernist planning: What went wrong?

Street view from Jane-Finch (Photo: Tuna Tasan-Kok)

“What went wrong with Bijlmer?” A student asked from the back of the class during the lecture on planning history in the Introduction to Urban Planning course that I’m coordinating at our Bachelor programme in UvA. We were discussing “city scientific”, a period of planning defined by Peter Marcuse (2016) referring to the products of modernity. Amsterdam’s Bijlmermeer project was one of those ‘scientific outputs’ of the era. This made me think of my own experience during a field trip for DIVERCITIES research in Toronto. While driving for the first time through the streets of Jane-Finch neighbourhood, another experimental product of modernist planning, I could immediately understand ‘what went wrong’. Forgotten human scale, disconnected spaces through high-way like infrastructure and borderless/meaningless empty “green” spaces, no shops or places to meet….feeling of loneliness and emptiness, feeling lost and out of place…kind of a feeling that makes you think something terribly wrong has happened. As elaborated elsewhere obsession with creating the ‘perfectly functioning space’ constricted modernist architects’ (like Le Corbusier) view of the people for whom they designed the city in the first place. This was the era where architects were envisioning and designing cities for people. This was before “planning” emerged as a discipline with its roots in diverse social sciences fields. Jane-Finch neighborhood in Toronto was developed as a modernist suburb during the 1960s, based on principles of large green space, wide avenues and high-rise apartment buildings. Today it is one of the most stigmatised neighbourhoods in the city with the largest concentrations of criminal gangs of any area in Canada. Jane-Finch is also one of the most diverse neighbourhoods in Toronto, although this does not get as much media coverage as the crime rates. Jane- Finch, houses a large immigrant population and diverse groups, but thanks to its community-planning tradition, some social transformations are taking place there and turning a stigmatised rundown area into a community hub. People of Jane-Finch find their own ways to make connections and create a very strong
feeling of “community”. Read more

We are organising a special session at AAG Annual Meeting in New Orleans

We are organising a special session at AAG Annual Meeting in New Orleans

CFP Session at AAG Conference 2018, New Orleans

New Investment Landscapes and Contemporary Urban Development: Exploring the Social Relations of the Real Estate Industry


Mike Raco, Nicola Livingstone (Bartlett School of Planning, University College London), and Tuna Taşan-Kok  (University of Amsterdam)


Fainstein’s detailed work on ‘The City Builders’ (1994) clearly defined property developers in the 1990s as the main agents of change within processes of urban development. The position of these actors, shaped by the global circulation of capital, has become more dynamic, and their identities more liquid and complex over time. The ‘social relations’ especially between developers and investors, and their relational positions in the real estate industry, have changed rapidly especially after the crises of 2008. Within the dynamism of the real estate industry, the variety, type, and purpose of market actors across the investment and development sectors has been both adjusting and transforming.


This Call for Papers invites contributions that explore the politics and practices of contemporary urban development with a focus on the real estate industry.  Our working hypothesis is that much of the critical literature on urban development, and many of the policy frameworks that shape planning systems, characterize the real estate and investment sector in a simplified way.  They are often presented, implicitly or explicitly, as a unified interest with a clear subjectivity built around: ‘fast’ returns from investment decisions; a lack of ethical concern with broader public interests; outlooks dominated by the conversion of diverse places into high-return, single-use investment spaces; and a bullying and aggressive approach towards citizens and government authorities who seek to disrupt their programmes and projects.


We call for papers that critically engage with Campbell et al.’s (2014) argument that ‘the view of real estate markets in much critical analysis is very one-dimensional, assuming an inevitability about the nature of development outcomes…researchers and practitioners should develop much more sophisticated understanding of the pressures and priorities of developers and their investors’. Moreover, under conditions of contemporary globalization we are also seeing the emergence of new investment landscapes underpinned by a plurality of institutions and actors.  Projects are now funded by complex investment vehicles with finance sourced through Sovereign Wealth Funds, private family-centred interests, foundations, charities, or even public sector authorities (including local governments and quangos).  There is thus no one ‘developer’ type and yet ‘despite their status as the drivers and coordinators of the property development process, relatively little is known about the perspectives, actions and strategies of property developers’ (Henneberry and Parris, 2013: p.242).


In this session we therefore call for conceptual and empirical papers that examine the diverse social relations of the property development sector.  Proposed papers should address one or more of the following themes or topics:


  • The diversity of property developers and the increasing complexity of property sector actors;
  • The form and character of investment landscapes that fuel urban development projects in cities;
  • Conceptualisations of the variety, type, and functions of the property development and investment sectors and the institutional landscapes of finance;
  • Explorations of the ethics of property development and their influence on projects and practices;
  • The modes of regulation and governance that are used to shape the activities of investors and their effectiveness and influence.


Please email enquiries and abstracts (250 words) to Mike Raco ( by October 13. Authors will be notified of acceptance by October 20, and must register for the conference and submit their abstracts through the AAG website by the October 25 deadline to be added to the paper session.