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Welcome to Metro Millennium

Introduction:

The City Institute of York University is pleased to host the Metro Millennium workshop, May 11-12, 2008 at York University in Toronto. This event is organized by Professors Shelley Hornstein (Architectural History and Visual Culture) and Roger Keil (Environmental Studies and Director of the City Institute, York University).

This workshop has been designed to bring together teams of urban researchers from Berlin, Bologna, Denver, Helsinki, Manchester and Toronto for two days to focus on the comparisons of these cities and to explore their different perspectives and transformations. More importantly, this workshop intends to create an international consortium of scholars for exploring the ways in which these cities can engage in collaborative research and projects. In this way, York University and the City Institute in particular, we hope will enter into a new partnership relationship with each of these cities’ universities. The discussions will be interdisciplinary in nature and include the fields of history, geography, environmental and urban studies, architecture, literature, visual arts and communications, sociology, economics, anthropology, and archaeology.

We will analyze the specifics of place, its institutional orders, and its socio-spatial fragmentation. This type of collaboration is increasingly crucial as we live in a global world that incorporates the thick and highly variable character of place. If recent research has pointed out the multi-scaled and topological relationships between global and local dimensions of urban life, we would like to focus our attention on the term “urban” in the Lefebvrian sense of a level of human existence between the universal and the particular

Outline of the workshop:

In order to initiate discussions about the ways in which we may begin cooperation and collective research between these six institutions, The City Institute is proposing to initiate the workshop by investigating two specific thematic strands:

1. City-tourism and its implications: Starchitecture and Architourism: Reflections on Landmarks and the Grammar of City Space. This research unit will investigate the meaning of celebrity architecture in local urban sites and unpack notions of spaces of tourism through the lens of consumption, aesthetic economies, performative places, the exotic and the spectacular places of city life, and spaces of alterity or the architecture commodity as precious artefact or sought-after destination. We aim to provoke critical dialogue across disciplinary boundaries and epistemologies about the multiple relationships between tourism and the built urban environment. The current work of York University’s Faculty of Environmental Studies professor Ute Lehrer and Fine Arts professor Shelley Hornstein will provide excellent starting points for collaboration and discussion. Lehrer’s SSHRC-funded research into the advertising centres, construction sites and communities surrounding new condominiums has led to a collection of over 10,000 images — and to heightened concern around the future direction of the condo industry.

2. The relationship between Centre and Suburbia: Zwischenstadt and exopolis and the syntax of the urban region. Europeans and North Americans have thought in stereotypes of each others’ cities: Denver is a typical American city of automobilized sprawl, peppered with edge cities and ostensibly unsustainable as a human settlement and ecological region. Bologna and Berlin, as diverse as they are, represent the dense, built up environment of the European city, which allows public transit and cultural urbanity to flourish. Toronto – “Vienna surrounded by Phoenix”, as one planner once called it – lies somewhere in the middle? Our research will explore if such stereotypes still hold or if we need to recalibrate our thinking on the morphologies of those cities. Using Tom Sieverts’ term of Zwischenstadt (in-between city) and Edward Soja’s exopolis as starting points, we propose to rethink North American and European urban forms and relationships and the discursive dead ends into which we have conceptually backed ourselves with the stereotypes above. York faculty are already involved in critical debates about the politics of the suburbs, infrastructure provision and identity formation. City Institute director Roger Keil and Patricia Wood, chair of the geography department, are both currently involved in the In-Between Infrastructure: Urban Connectivity in an Age of Vulnerability research project to explore the connectivity between different scales through the lens of urban infrastructure. Environmental studies professor Stefan Kipfer’s current research critically engages with the writing of Frantz Fanon and Henri Lefebvre to explore everyday racism and the production of space in French suburban neighbourhoods designed in the post-war period.

These discussions will provide the starting point for future collaboration including:

  • Developing an international European Union/Canada course to be taught between our universities with the addition of universities in Canada and Europe;
  • initiating plans for two separate conferences (additional funding will be sought from SSHRC) to be held at York and Bologna;
  • to select and invite speakers for these conferences with a specific view to publishing a book each on the two themes;
  • and to develop proposals for the following exchange programs – 1. the Canada-European Union Programme for Cooperation in Higher Education and Training and 2. The Program for North American Mobility in Higher Education.
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