Being There: “Toponyms as Prompts for Presencing Place”

Looking forward to attending ” “Being There” in Fictional Worlds” in Turku in May of this year.

I’m presenting together with Terhi Ainiala a paper with as title “Toponyms as Prompts for Presencing Place – Making Oneself at Home in the Narrated City”.
Bound to be interesting.

Confirmed Key Note Speakers:
Prof. Ros Ballaster (University of Oxford)
Prof. Susan S. Lanser (Brandeis University)

Drawing on Local Narratives for Planning in San Francisco

Via  @Citylab: engaging with the local community through coherent narrative mapping proved to be a successful way forward in the planning of a former power plant in Bayview-Hunters Point. Interesting: the planners and architects brought in experts in storytelling, Storycorps, to contribute with their expertise:

“Inspired by the vivid stories that were emerging, the design team reached out to StoryCorps, the nationwide oral history project that captures stories of under-represented communities, and asked them to start recording at Hunters View. Instead of a bare-bones recording space, the team wanted to have a place where residents would feel welcome and comfortable as they recounted their memories of living in the shadow of the power plant. They created a listening booth, using a shipping container as a quick and economical structure.” (Lydia Lee,

Full text here.

More emerging documentation of the importance of local stories in planning processes, and the relevance of a coherent narrative mapping of place. A good case for narrative planning as an innovative and important paradigm.


Vantaa’s New Branding: Erasing Identity?

Don’t know whether one should laugh or cry about this: one of the most critical, and revealing, reviews of (sub)urban branding in Finland comes from “graphic designer of the year” Kasper Strömman’s blog, a satirical design blog.

Strömman examines the new branding effort of the city of Vantaa (due north from Helsinki). The blog (in Finnish) carries the title “how to erase a city’s identity by using graphic design” (my translation). I haven’t followed Vantaa’s branding campaign myself, and Strömman’s link to Vantaa’s “brand book” doesn’t work (anymore?), so I have no access to the relevant sources, but on the basis of the material, there may well be some truth in the blog post’s title. Strömman’s key critique is that Vantaa invested in branding because the city felt it lacked a strong identity, but that it turned to generic images instead of making use of genuinely local identity markers in the pictures it used. The campaign images apparently come from international image banks – and what, really, is left of the identity of a city when the very image that wants to display the specific feel of Vantaa can as easily be used to sell an Australian children’s contact centre or an American insurance company, as Strömman points out?



[source: / /]

By way of contrast, I just today reread Panu Lehtovuori’s article on Helsinki’s shorelines, in which Lehtovuori argues for urban planning that embraces differences, place-based solutions, and the uniqueness of a particular place, and emphasizes the stratifications of local meaning as potential cultural resources for the future. Couldn’t agree more.

Lehtovuori, Panu 2012: ”Rannat Helsingin seudun dynamoina.” In Lahti, Juhana; Paatero, Kristiina & Rauske, Eija (eds.): Rantaviivoja. Asuinalueita veden äärellä. Helsinki: Suomen arkkitehtuurimuseo, 20-31.

Spatial Criticism and Theory at MLA 2016

Stumbled across this cfp via Robert Tally: a call for a panel for the Division on Literary Criticism at the 2016 MLA convention in Austin. I’m unlikely to get there, but looks like an inspiring theme. Anyone interested in these thematics, but looking for something closer by (from a European perspective) in place (and in time), there’s still time for the call for the 2nd HLCN conference “Literary Second Cities


“Spatial Criticism and Theory

Forum: TM Literary Criticism

How have conceptions of space, place, and mapping affected recent work in literary and cultural studies? E.g., geocriticism, literary geography, the spatial humanities. 250 word abstract and vita by 15 March 2015; Robert Tally (”

Towards a Narrative Turn in Planning?

The latest edition of the Finnish Journal for Urban Studies, a theme issue on culture, design and planning, contains my first article on narrative planning, a short overview of the quite recent “narrative turn” in urban planning. The article was online for a moment, but has apparently been taken offline – the journal policy is to publish online after one year in paper. If you’re interested, contact me for a pdf.



Ameel, Lieven 2014: ”Kohti kerronnallista käännettä yhdyskuntasuunnittelussa.” (”Towards a Narrative Turn in Urban Planning.” Yhdyskuntasuunnittelu (”Finnish Journal for Urban Studies”) 2014 (2), 62-27.

Talk in Copenhagen 17 April 2015

Looking forward to give a talk at the University of Copenhagen, department of Nordic Research, 17 April 2015. The talk will be at the Institute of Name Research. Abstract below.

The talk is part of my research project on the narration of waterfront development in Helsinki.

See also the department’s website for more information:


In urban studies and urban planning, the last decades have witnessed something of a “narrative turn”: an increasing interest in the potential of narratives. In the case of Helsinki’s ongoing and large-scale urban projects, city narratives have been explicitly foregrounded by the City Planning Department.

The developments at Jätkäsaari and Kalasatama, two waterfront sites in central Helsinki, provide particularly complex case studies. The most conspicuous use of cultural narratives is the recent move of the Helsinki City to hire 8 artists to help the Planning Department to develop the city, the mediatized use of landscape art to help create spatial identities, and the commissioning of a literary novel in Jätkäsaari. It is possible to also identify several examples of less obvious, but at least as pervasive narratives, from official websites with historical information, to the fostering of narrative treads in social community websites, and the mini-narratives provided by street names and 3D-projections of how this neighborhood will look like in the future.

My presentation explores how methods from literary and narrative studies can bring new insights to the many – often very diverse – narratives that are used consciously and unconsciously in the development of new urban areas. How are such narratives structured? Are they used merely as vehicles to brand new neighborhoods, or as means to legitimize specific – perhaps controversial? – solutions? Or are they used to create more tangible experiences of belonging, and to strengthen a sense of personally experienced place? I will apply methodologies from narrative studies, such as genre, plot and metaphor, and conduct a close reading of the relevant planning documents. I will conclude with an examination of the toponyms of the streets, quarters and squares in Kalasatama and Jätkäsaari, and with an analysis of how these place names complement the planning narratives.