La Puissance Projective

For more than two decades, I’ve been working on and off together with scholars of the Ghent Urban Studies Team, and in particular with Bart Keunen, on questions of city literature, narrative urban planning, and the urban humanities. As part of that collaboration, I’ve been involved in collaborating on the volume La Puissance Projective – Intrigue narrative et projet urbain, which has just (5 March 21) been published with the Geneva publisher MétisPresses.

The book examines the narrative properties of urban planning, drawing on a wide range of examples, from post-I-World War Ypres to Disneyland Paris. As can be expected from a book published with an architectural press, the book is beautifully illustrated. Throughout, it connects well-established narrative theories of plot structure and narrative rhetorics with in-depth analysis of particular planning cases. The book brings together, in particular, long-standing work of Pieter Uyttenhove in the field of architecture and planning (architecture, Ghent University), the extensive work of Bart Keunen in the field of chronotopes and urban planning (comparative literature, Ghent University) with some of my more recent thinking on narrative and planning (see, in particular my recent book The Narrative Turn in Urban Planning).

With the collaboration of Johanna Godefroid, Noemi Loeman, Hendrik Sturm, Sofie Verraest & Tom Ysewijn.

Abstract:

“L’imagination narrative, telle qu’envisagée en littérature, joue un rôle tout aussi important dans la conception urbaine et paysagère. Concevoir l’environnement urbain, n’est-ce pas aussi raconter et imaginer un réseau qui réunira en une trame consistante des personnes, des espaces, des objets, des activités, des images éparses?

Depuis les années 1990, le «tournant narratif» nous aide à mieux comprendre les processus créatifs qui accompagnent la conception de projets urbains et de paysage. Par le récit, urbanistes et paysagistes anticipent des situations futures, les organisent en des ensembles cohérents composés d’une multiplicité d’images et de leurs interactions — comme le ferait un écrivain.

Le présent ouvrage, faisant référence à des figures mythologiques comme à des penseurs modernes, jongle entre textes, projets et images, analyses et analogies et approfondit par là ce parallèle littéraire. Différentes disciplines sont conviées: l’anthropologie, la chronophotographie, l’art de la promenade, la philosophie, la sémiologie, la mythologie et l’histoire de l’art. Des ruines du Saillant d’Ypres à Disneyland Paris, de la périphérie romaine à la Défense, cet ouvrage développe des études de cas variées et crée ainsi un terrain fertile pour repenser l’urbanisme et ses enjeux.”

More information here.

London 4 June 2019 – Infrastructural reading workshop

Just arrived in London for the ”Infrastructural Reading. Fragments, Flows, Forms” workshop at the University of London – a workshop that ”sets out to explore how literary, visual and other narrative forms mediate and intervene into current debates on cities, urban spaces and sustainable infrastructure developments”.

Sounds like exactly the kind of thing I have wanted to participate in all these years!

The workshops includes participation and keynotes of a.o. Dom Davies, Matthew Gandy, Keller Easterling, Caroline Levine.

Really excited to have the opportunity to present my work to this interdisciplinary audience and to learn more from all the other attendants and from the artist’s and intervention speakers’ talks.

I’ll give a talk on ”Formal Adaptation and Retreat in Contemporary Fiction of New York and New Jersey” and on how in selected literary fiction, the engagement ”with climate change [and] … with disruptive practices in the twenty-first city, takes shape in literary form itself: in the adaptation of particular tropes and in the retreat of literary language through a deliberately sparser vocabulary, gaps at sentence level, or lacunae in the narration. Looking at such instances of retreat and adaptation on a formal plane may also reflect on non-fictional narrative models for living in a coastal city under threat, including those found in urban planning, policy, and future scenarios.” (Ameel 2019)
The talk is part of my broader project on future narratives of cities at the water in planning and fiction – more here.

A big thank you to the powers that be for freedom of movement and excellent train connections in Europe, which has given me the possibility to travel to Germany and now to London for work, and to France and Italy on holiday the past six months, all smoothly via rail.

Out now! “Agency at/of the waterfront in New York City”, in Textual Practice

Really glad to see the latest article in my research of future narratives of cities at the water, “Agency at/of the waterfront in New York City: Vision 2020 and New York 2140” just being published in Textual Practice. The article approaches the question of narrated agency in future narratives through the lens of the New York waterfront, explored as a site for enacting and critiquing the possibility to act towards the future. Who is described as having the possibility to act at the waterfront, and to what extent is the water seen as a force in its own right? These questions are addresses by examining two key texts imagining a future New York City: the New York Comprehensive Waterfront Plan Vision 2020 (2011) and Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140 (2017). I argue that both texts gesture towards an acknowledgement of possible agency of the water, while continuing to reiterate an instrumental relationship with the environment that focuses on processes of appropriation, distribution and production. Ultimately, this article considers the implications for the implied readers’ agency, and for their possibilities to take meaningful action to interact with, and make changes in, their relationship with the water.

Ameel, Lieven 2019. “Agency at / in the waterfront in New York City: Vision 2020 and New York 2140.” Textual Practice. ahead of print

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/0950236X.2019.1581250

From the introduction:

“The future, in the words of Bertrand de Jouvenel’s The Art of Conjecture – a founding textbook of futures studies – constitutes a ‘field of uncertainty’ and a ‘field of liberty’ – the domain of the not-yet, onto which everyone is free to project anything one wants. But the future is also a ‘field of power’, and, as de Jouvenel points out, ‘the future is our only field of power, for we can act only on the future’ (emphasis added). In a time of global warming and radical climate change, I would add, the future has also become the field of both a shared and individual ethical responsibility. Examining narratives of the future is one important way to address this interplay between uncertainty, liberty, power, and responsibility. From literary fiction to planning and policy visions, narratives frame, question, and shape the future and our possibilities to act upon it. Crucial for how different forms of storytelling act as storehouses of knowledge with which we approach the future is the question of agency. Who is described as possessing the possibility to act, and how is this ability carried out?

This paper approaches the question of narrated agency in future narratives through the lens of the New York waterfront, explored here as a site for enacting and critiquing the possibility to act towards the future. In the texts examined here, the urban waterfront appears as an arena of transformation, both in material and in allegorical terms, the place where the city’s – and city dwellers’ – coming-of-age rituals are performed time and again. But this is also an area where the water itself appears as a force in its own right, acting upon the environment. The texts examined here are the New York Comprehensive Waterfront Plan Vision 2020 (2011) and Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140 (2017).”

From the conclusion:

“Rather than an optimistic and ‘surprisingly utopian’ view of human defiance, as some critics have it, I would argue that New York 2140 offers a bleak examination of the limits set to action by monetary structure, and the power of financial liquidity to embrace even the noblest of causes and have them enmeshed in the ebb and flow of global finance. Such a view is in part compatible with a range of recent research, critical of the prose novel’s affordances to describe meaningful possibilities for action beyond the immediate personal circle. Similarly, Vision 2020 can hardly be blamed for doing what a planning document is supposed to do: setting out how it will order, arrange, and develop the planning area for the overt benefit of its citizens (and that of the less explicated vested interests jostling for predominance). If neither of these two texts give exactly cause to celebrate the possibilities to act towards a better future of and at the waterfront, Vision 2020 and New York 2140 do provide a number of insights. Citizens can act, in Vision 2020, to propose change, protected as they are by the New York charter and in the form of ‘197-a plans’ that enable communities to initiate development initiatives. In both texts, the water can be thought of as possessing legal status and independent agency, even if only as a thought experiment. The waterfront, even if relentlessly reclaimed, appropriated, redistributed, capitalised upon, does retain a measure of its transformative power regardless; a sense of openness from which a new order can arise, only partially shaped by conscious and intentional efforts – and so does the future.”

Thanks to everyone at the research seminar of comparative literature, University of Turku, and Tintti Klapuri, in particular, for helpful comments. Thanks are due also to the anonymous reviewers.

Many thanks to everyone at Textual Practice for excellent work on the volume and providing a stimulating forum for literary research.

If anyone from Taylor & Francis is reading along: Textual Practice is a Taylor & Francis journal. The recent developments (time of writing: February 2019) in the dispute between Taylor & Francis and Finnish national and university libraries have caused me, and most academic researchers I’m aware of, to reconsider whether or not we will want to continue publishing in Taylor & Francis journals. Current publishing practices are not sustainable and a move to increased open access publishing will be necessary, hopefully in collaboration with publishers and with university research assessment schemes.

Contested Planning, Persuasive Storytelling – with James A. Throgmorton – 15.8., Helsinki

Ever since I began to be interested in the narrative structures in planning, I have been quoting, teaching, and using the work of James A. Throgmorton. Throgmorton’s texts on planning as a form of persuasive storytelling are still some of the most accessible and lucid reflections on the fundamentally narrative features of planning – and they remain part of the foundation of any narrative theory of planning.

(source: Chicago UP)

So I’m understandably exited to participate in the event “Contested Planning, Persuasive Storytelling”, with James A. Throgmorton, in Helsinki, 15.8. The event is organized by the Academy project SCENSLECO – “Strategic spatial planning with momentum gaining scenario storytelling: legitimacy contested?”, with ao. colleagues from the time when I was a visiting researcher at the YTK Land Use Planning and Urban Studies Group at Aalto University.

I will present on metaphors in the planning of the New York waterfront, and in particular on how metaphorizations from The Great Gatsby have had a continuous influence on thinking of New York’s development.

More on my current research here – and on my publications here.

Examining City Futures in Literary Urban Studies – London 2 August 2018

Presenting today at the “Big Data and Urban Governance on the Margins of the City” workshop at King’s College, London. The workshop is part of a two-day kick-off of smart city / urban futures research projects. My presentation, “Metaphor into Matter: Examining City Futures in Literary Urban Studies”, looks at the use of metaphor in urban planning and policy. The aim is to use metaphor analysis to unpack rhetorical strategies in planning, and to bring into focus competing planning visions. I also argue that metaphor analysis can be applied not only an instrument for critical analysis, but also as tool for planning. There is considerable potential for a more conscious inclusion of metaphorizations of personal and communal relations to urban environments in PPGIS. Metaphor, and more broadly concepts from literary and narrative studies, can play a role in moving from quantitative “smart” technologies to more qualitative approaches.

I will examine the development of the Kalasatama district in Helsinki, with specific reference to Kalasatama’s smart city aspirations.

Many thanks to Ayona Datta and everyone at the research project for inviting me to participate!

source: hel.fi

I’m drawing in part on some earlier published work:

Ameel, Lieven 2016: “Emplotting urban regeneration: Narrative strategies in the case of Kalasatama, Helsinki.” DATUTOP 34. Re-City. Future City – combining disciplines., 222-240. 19 pages.

https://tutcris.tut.fi/portal/files/6896312/DATUTOP_34.pdf

 

Starting a new project at the Turku Institute for Advanced Studies!

Excited to embark on a new research project at the Turku Institute for Advanced Studies, with an affiliation at comparative literature, University of Turku. In this three- year project, I will examine narratives of urban futures, with a specific focus on how the (near) future of cities at the water is negotiated in different textual genres, including literary fiction, future scenarios, and urban planning and policy documents. One of the key issues is the hypothesis that different narrative genres have different abilities (and different limitations) in how they can posit personal and communal choice and agency. At the background of this project is the notion that the stories we tell of the future are in large part responsible for how we see our own possibilities of action towards a possible future.

In this research project, I will focus on Helsinki, New York City, and urban futures in the Low Countries, in the period 1990-2030.

More information here.

If you would like to collaborate or want to hear more, please contact me at lieven.ameel [a] utu.fi – I’m interested in hearing more from other people (academics, policy makers, media) working with similar issues!

Humanities and the City

Very much looking forward to tomorrow’s “Humanities and the City” conference at the Singapore University of Technology and Design, where I will give a keynote on “City Scales and the Urban Humanities”. Thanks to Nazry Bahrawi and everyone at Singapore University of Technology and Design for making this event possible.

“This one-day conference proposes yet another angle that can possibly inject fresh perspectives to discourses about the city. What if we factor in the humanities? Here, we invite policymakers, academics, scientists, engineers and curious city dwellers to think with us how humanities disciplines such as philosophy, literature, history, art, cultural studies, and others can play a role in the constitution as well as the development of a city. Our conference will attempt to rise to that challenge by engaging with international speakers and Singapore-based researchers.”

Conference Programme

  • 8.30am-9.00am Registration with refreshments
  • 9.00am-9.10am First opening address
    Prof. Sun Sun Lim
    Head of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences (HASS)
    Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD)
  • 9.10am-9.20am Second opening address
    Prof. Chan Heng Chee
    Chairman, Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities (LKYCIC)
  • 9.20am-10.50am Keynote Discourse/Roundtable Discussion
    “The Good City: Justice and Technology in 21st Century Capitalism”
    Dr. Paolo Di Leo (HASS, SUTD)
    Dr. John Powers (LKYCIC)
    Dr. Nazry Bahrawi (HASS, SUTD)
    Moderator: Prof. Jane M Jacobs, LKYCIC/Yale-NUS
  • 10.50am-11.10am Coffee Break
  • 11.10am-11.50am “City Scales and the Urban Humanities:
    New Perspectives for Developing and Understanding Cities”
    Prof. Lieven Ameel, University of Helsinki
    President, Association of Literary Urban Studies
  • 11.50am-12.30pm “The Communicative City in Asia”
    Prof. Audrey Yue, National University of Singapore
  • 12.30pm-1.30pm Lunch
  • 1.30pm-3.00pm Film screening at Albert Hong Lecture Theatre
    The Sound of Old Rooms (2011), a documentary set in Kolkata
    Post-film discussion with Dr. Sandeep Ray (SUTD HASS), Director
  • 3.00pm-3.40pm “Maps in Post-Reunificaiton Hong Kong”
    Dr. Elizabeth Ho, Assistant Professor, University of Hong Kong
  • 3.40pm-4.00pm Coffee Break
  • 4.00pm-5.00pm Panel discussion on literature and the city
    Prof. Philip Holden, NUS (on Singapore)
    Dr. Pallavi Narayan, NUS Press (on Istanbul)
    Dr. Nuraliah Norasid, author of The Gatekeeper (on Singapore)
    Moderator: Dr. Rhema Hokama, HASS, SUTD
  • 5.00pm-5.20pm Closing remarks by Drs. Paolo and Nazry
  • 5.30pm End of conference

Moving towards Possible Cities

Moving towards Possible Cities: Future Urban Waterfronts in Contemporary Fiction
Speaking at the Association for Literary Urban Studies conference (Im)Possible Cities about my current research: future urban waterfronts in contemporary fiction, and what literary texts of the waterfront can tell us about the future and about our possibilities to prepare for and act upon the future. From the abstract:
“In contemporary fictional texts describing the urban waterfront under threat, crossing urban borders is conditioned by competing pathways towards the future, which appears in early 21st century literature as a crucial conceptual and ontological border zone for understanding the present. Moving into this border zone thus also entails becoming aware of questions of agency and moral responsibility, as is exemplified by the trajectory of the protagonist in Odds Against Tomorrow, who moves from the question “What was possible? What should we be afraid of?” (Rich 2013: 7) to asking: what would be “the right thing to do” (Rich 2013: 161)?”

Planning for the Future – Narratives of Urban Waterfronts at Plannord2017

Speaking today (17.8.2017) at Plannord2017 on the topic of “Planning for the Future – Narrating crisis and agency in literary fiction and planning narratives of the urban waterfront”

From the abstract:

“What can be known about the future, what is there to fear, and what role is there for human agency, individually or collectively – for acting upon the future? These questions are addressed here from the perspective of narrative frames, with a specific reference to the stories that are told of the near future of the New York waterfront in. Drawing on a range of textual sources, from policy documents and strategy texts to literary novels that dwell on the challenges and possibilities of the urban waterfront, this paper wants to sketch a move, in narratives and research, from knowledge to action, from preparing for the future to acting upon the future. In doing so, this paper also traces the narrative limits of policy and planning texts, and of fictional texts, when envisioning slow-burning crises.”

The paper is part of my ongoing research of future visions of cities at the water: more about that here.

Interview with Radio Moreeni – what narratives for urban planning?

I was interviewed (in Finnish) by Radio Moreeni (Tampere/Finland) about my research, and specifically about my research project on urban planning narratives.

A list of my recent publications with immediate reference to my post-doctoral research project on narrative and urban planning can be found here:

https://blogs.helsinki.fi/urbannarratives/narrative-planning/publications/

The interviewed aired yesterday (19.4.), and is available on soundcloud: