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New Towns & Politics - Call for Papers
Conference organization: INTI (International New Town Institute), TU Delft (Design & Politics chair), UvA (Han Lammers chair)
Autumn 2010

The ultimate political act in town planning is the building of a New Town. Governments, developers and planners conspire to create out of nothing a brand new community, based on the latest models of social and economic behavior, and using architecture and urban design as symbolic vehicles for the power of the state to build the perfect environment for its citizens. Or is the idea to build a New Town from scratch just proof of a fatal misunderstanding of what makes a city a city? Is it a sign of a gross ignorance on the part of politicians, planners and all those involved in this process of the complexity and the unpredictabilty of the urban? The specialists have always been capable of accommodating the functions of the city, to house the workers of the new industry, to stop urban sprawl or to colonize the colony, but are they capable of predicting which kind of urban society they are actually building?

Apart from representing the most ideal image that political systems wish to project on society, New Towns have also become one of societies biggest political challenges. Starting from high ideals, their reality is often different, often even disappointing. Many New Towns have not fulfilled the economic task they were built for, the inhabitants have not gelled into the communities hoped for by the planners and architecturally their design has not proven to withstand the test of time. But is this really a problem for anyone but the founding fathers? Isn’t the unforeseen transformation of a planned community not just unavoidable, but even a condition to become truly urban? Shouldn’t we recognize that the planning and building of a New Town is but the first small step in the development of an urban community, and that the real work starts once the politicians and planners have done their job?

Whatever the situation might be, New Towns and Politics are closely related, even condemned to each other. When countries as disparate as China, the United Arab Emirates and Great Britain decide to build dozens, even hundreds of New Towns for the 21st century, politics becomes part of the story. How does the country wish to represent itself as the maker of communities? How do the architects deal with the representation of the very different political systems? Or is this question based on the fallacy of wanting to make a literal connection between politics and planning? Are politics and planning just two ships that pass each other in the night? Do they each have their separate agendas, ideologies and modes of expression; might they temporarily use each other for their separate goals, but are they on different trajectories all together? Could that explain the remarkable sameness of New Towns built in the communist block and the capitalist world, both products of diametrically opposed political ideologies? Does this make planning and architecture apolitical in its core? Or does it show that planning possesses its own political ideology, separate from the other ones?

Even when a country professes not to believe in social engineering anymore, and projects an idea of democratic and participatory urban politics, it will have to deal with the political problems posed by urban areas once built as shining new communities. Do we face the drifting apart of our cities in suburbs for the middle classes, gentrified inner cities and post war New Towns and satellite towns housing the poor immigrants? How can we involve citizens in the ‘rebuilding’ of their communities instead of solving the problems for them? Should we demolish and rebuild, renovate or just let things (d)evolve? Who’s in charge? Politicians, developers, the people, the architect, social institutions?

With the fourth INTI conference, New Towns & Politics, we wish to explore thoughts, analyses, projects, designs and political actions pertaining to the political dimension of New Towns, old and new. We invite researchers, writers, journalists, designers, artists, politicians and developers to send us ideas for papers and projects to be presented and discusses in the autumn of 2010 in a venue to be announced in The Netherlands. Authoritative and provocative keynote speakers will be invited to enliven the event with their presentations and a film program will open up unexpected vistas on the question of New Towns & Politics.

Three questions
We have formulated three main questions to further help along the flow of ideas, projects and papers.

How have political regimes influenced the design methods and outcomes for New Towns in the recent past? In what way have they been designed to represent the political regimes they were the product of? As New Towns are since long designed mostly by globally operating engineering and design forms, what body of knowledge took shape through the parallel engagement with contrasting political contexts? This theme is still very relevant with the latest generation of New Towns taking shape mainly in Asia. Is it so different to work for a totalitarian regime, as opposed to a democratic country? Where does the difference lie and how does it manifest itself? Is the difference moral? Technical? Organizational? Esthetic?

Democracy is widely regarded as the best - or least bad - form of government; at the same time democracy creates a complex and unpredictable context for the realization of long term projects like New Towns, or for the top down solution of urban problems often arising from New Towns. Democracy and large scale urban design and planning often seem at odds with each other. Are there forms or methods of planning and design that are democratic in themselves, that are tools for the community to help itself, or even to build itself? Is there an implicit conflict between planning and democracy?

Many New Towns, once build for the middle classes, especially in the western countries of Europe and the US face the influx of new groups, housing the poor and the immigrant part of the urban population. Does this explain the correlation between above average electoral results for anti-immigrations political parties in some of these New Towns? How should we judge these demographic processes: ghetto-ization as a result of a policy of gentrification of the inner city areas or - to the contrary - part of integrative and emancipatory processes based on the social ambitions of these groups? To what extent are social changes connected to problems of safety and criminality? How is this matter being dealt with in different countries and by different regimes? Which policies have been developed for and against it? Should we fear segregation or should we be more sensitive to the positive aspects of it? Are New Towns maybe the laboratories where new communities are arising, celebrating their differences, without frustrations about their separateness? Is the idea of a city as a collection of communities a viable option for their future development?


Please send your abstracts in English before June 1st 2010 to info@newtowninstitute.org.

The abstract submission should be on two pages, one page of text (max. 200 words) and one page of figures/images.

Don’t forget:

- Name, mailing address, phone, and e-mail of the author(s);
- CV and affiliation of the author(s)
- Explanation of the relation between abstract and the themes of the congress.

Please send your abstracts in English before June 1st 2010 to info@newtowninstitute.org.

The abstract submission should be on two pages, one page of text (max. 200 words) and one page of figures/images.