Imagining City Futures across Genres – New York, Antwerp, Helsinki 1990-2020

3-year research project, carried out at the University of Turku (2018-2020)

Lieven Ameel / lieven.ameel [a]

Cities by the water are situated at the forefront of global change, both as economic engines, as nodes in global information networks, and as sites that are vulnerable to environmental change and the effects of global dislocations. In literary fiction and in planning documents envisioning the urban waterfront, narrative strategies are central in framing such challenges and in negotiating between possible futures. Continuing earlier work in literary urban studies and narrative planning, this project analyses literary and planning narratives of the urban waterfront in crisis in three case studies, opening up new avenues of research and aiming its impact at the research community, the planning community and the broader public.

This research project analyses narratives of the post-industrial urban waterfront from two distinct, but intermingling perspectives. A first point of focus is on how narrative fiction frames the experience of the waterfront in crisis, and how literature presents possible futures and alternative courses of action in the face of crises. Second, the project will analyse how, in planning and policy documents of the waterfront, the simultaneous possibility of alternative storyworlds structures the way planning narratives are shaped. This research is interested, in particular, in how competing alternative storyworlds organize the narrative dynamics in both contemporary literary narratives and policy documents, juxtaposing desirable with undesirable storyworlds, and identifying moments of agency – the possibility to act towards a particular future. Three case studies will be addressed: the development of post-industrial waterfronts in the Low Countries (Antwerp; Amsterdam; Almere; Leuven), Helsinki; and New York City in the period 1990–2020. The juxtaposition of these two different sets of texts will put into greater focus the sense of urgency of many of the literary texts examined, while simultaneously drawing out the profoundly rhetoric and narrative strategies underlying policy documents.

Drawing on methodologies from literary and narrative studies, the analysis of crisis narratives in the context of three post-industrial harbours will gain new understanding of how urban crises and their solutions are couched in narrative terms. The specific emphasis on storylines related to the threat of rising sea levels in both sets of data adds further focus and, in terms of impact, further urgency.

Relevant publications (selection)

Narrative Forms of Adaptation, Retreat, and Mitigation in Richard Ford’s Let Me Be Frank with You.” Poetics Today, 2020/2021 (forthcoming).

“Rising Towers, Rising Tides: Competing Visions of the Helsinki Waterfront in Planning and Fiction.” In Markku Salmela, Lieven Ameel & Jason Finch (eds.): Literatures of Urban Possibility. London: Palgrave, 2020 (forthcoming).

“Flooded Cities in Low Countries Fiction: Referentiality and Indeterminate Allegory in Renate Dorrestein’s Weerwater and Roderik Six’s Vloed.” Green Letters 24 (1): 36-50. 2020. With Stef Craps. free copy

“The ‘Valley of Ashes’ and the ‘Fresh Green Breast’: Metaphors from The Great Gatsby in planning New York.” Planning Perspectives 2019, 34:5, 903-910.

“Agency at / in the waterfront in New York City: Vision 2020 and New York 2140.” Textual Practice 2019, 34:8, 1327-1343. link OA pdf

“Antti Tuomainen: The Healer.” In Goodbody, Axel, and Adeline Johns-Putra (eds.): Cli-Fi: A Companion. Oxford: Peter Lang, 2018, 165-170.

“Metaphorizations of the waterfront in New York City’s comprehensive waterfront plan Vision 2020 and Foer’s ‘The Sixth Borough.’” Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 2018, 60:3, 251-262. link