Narrating the Waterfront in Crisis – Florence 27-28.6.

Presenting today a paper on narrating the waterfront in crisis at the University of Florence, at the conference “cross-disciplinary perspectives on urban space”. Full programme can be found here. Abstract below:

Narrating the Waterfront in Crisis

Juxtaposing Narratives of New York’s waterfront under threat in Literary Fiction and Planning
Lieven Ameel
dr., docent, university lecturer in comparative literature
University of Tampere, Finland

Urban studies has recently seen the emergence of a new paradigm: that of the resilient city, with its focus on urban readiness for disruptive change. The crisis-awareness in urban theory is aptly mirrored in contemporary city narratives, from literature to the big screen, in which urban dystopias as well as more subtle depictions of a city in crisis proliferate, attuning the public to unsettling possible futures and alternative storyworlds. Narrative is a key concept for how people make sense of the possibility of future threats, and for how urban policy projects action in the face of such threats. Following what has been called a ”narrative”, ”deliberative” or ”communicative” turn, city planners are increasingly making use of techniques from literary fiction, projecting scenario’s, and acting as curator’s of sorts between different story lines (Ameel 2014; Cohen 2008, 111-115). This paradigm shift in urban planning simultaneously highlights the importance of incorporating local voices and cultural stories into planning and policy, as well as foregrounding the communicative aspect of planning for the future.

In my paper, I will examine narratives of the New York waterfront from two distinct, but intermingling perspectives. First, I will look at how narrative fiction frames the experience of a waterfront in crisis, and how it presents the possibility of alternative futures. Ben Lerner’s novel 10:04 (2014) and Nathaniel Rich’s Odds against tomorrow (2013) are particularly revealing texts, but I refer also to other relevant novels such as Jonathan Lethem’s Chronic City (2009). Second, I will examine how, in the department of city planning’s comprehensive waterfront plans (1992, 2011), the simultaneous possibility of alternative storyworlds structures the way policy is shaped. I am interested in particular in the concept of temporal orchestration, which organizes the elements of the plot around the reader’s interest in alternative storyworlds (Dannenberg 2008).


Ameel, Lieven 2016 (forthcoming): “Emplotting urban regeneration: Narrative strategies in the case
of Kalasatama, Helsinki.” In Rajaniemi, Juho (ed.) DATUTOP.
Cohen, Philip 2008: “Stuff Happens: Telling the Story and Doing the Business in the Making of
Thames Gateway.” In Cohen, Philip & Rustin, Michael J. (eds.): London’s Turning: Thames Gateway: Prospects and Legacy. Aldershot: Ashgate, 99–124.
Dannenberg, Hilary P. 2008: Coincidence and Counterfactuality. Plotting Time and Space in
Narrative Fiction. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Alternatives to High-Rise? Peter Rees on Density, London-Helsinki

Interesting article in (via @OliMould) with an interview with Peter Rees on high density and high-rise in London.

His answer to the question of what alternatives there are to high-rise:

“The idea that to increase density you have to build high is, frankly, bollocks. To achieve high density, you build around the edges of a site, put a nice garden with trees in the middle, five to seven storeys tall. Cities from Helsinki to Naples have developed like that over 100s of years. When you build a high-rise block in the middle of a site, the open space is in the wrong place, it’s around the outside of the site where the traffic is. It doesn’t feel private. You don’t want to sit in your deck chair looking out on Vauxhall Cross.”

I’ve never heard someone sum up the key characteristics of the Helsinki inner/central city so well – or the alternative to such inner-city blocks. The plans for future Helsinki are emphatically designed to have more of such inner-city-like squares, with much urban life and bustle. So how come this will be the result?


Picture: Cino Zucchi Architetti

Part of my ongoing research is spent trying to put the pieces of those different story-lines together.