Spring Institute in Global Suburban Studies

Drawing on connections made through York International, the SSHRC-funded Major Collaborative Research Initiative Global Suburbanisms: Governance, Land and Infrastructure based at York University teamed up with the University Florence and Polytechnic University of Milan to present the Spring Institute in Global Suburban Studies. Aimed at early career scholars and advanced graduate students, the Spring Institute took place in Florence and Milan from April 30- May 11, 2018. On the Canadian side, York University professors Ute Lehrer and Roger Keil were joined by University of Waterloo professors Pierre Filion and Markus Moos, all theme leads in the MCRI on global suburbanization. Participants sponsored through the MCRI included 18 early career scholars and advanced graduate students from the Toronto and Waterloo region, as well as from other international institutions.

“As a postdoc, the Spring Institute in Global Suburban Studies provided me with a perfect opportunity to exchange ideas and get familiar with state-of-the-art academic thought on issues of contemporary sub/urbanization. Above all the Institute became a small community of international intellectuals where I immediately felt welcome and I acquired a strong sense of belonging.” – Yannis Tzaninis, postdoctoral researcher, University of Amsterdam

Using the suburbanization of Florence and Milan as examples, it was the purpose of the institute to study and discuss global suburbanization processes through conceptual and methodological collaboration during two weeks of intense and in-depth exchange. Structured around the themes of governance, land, and infrastructure, the institute combined formal and informal opportunities to study the sub/urban landscapes of Florence and Milan. The first week in Florence featured lectures on the multiplicity of Florence suburban landscapes by professors Giancarlo Paba, Camilla Perrone, and Iacopo Zetti from the University of Florence. It also included an introduction to suburbanization and suburbanisms by professors Roger Keil and Ute Lehrer, discussing their recently published works Suburban Planet and The Suburban Land Question. In addition to formal lectures and group discussion, the week featured suburban field trips and workshops, including a bike tour and a session on publishing for early career scholars.

Highlights from the suburban bike tour included visits to Parco delle Cascine, a historical public park that winds along the banks of the Arno River; Le Piagge, a modernist social housing development commonly called “the ships” due to their unique shape; and a visit to the proposed site for the Peretola Airport expansion which doubles as an important hydrological and agricultural landscape. The bus tour featured stops in Scandicci, a Florentine suburb connected to the centre by the city’s first tramway; Chianti, where participants observed the touch of urbanization on the rural landscapes of wine country; and Prato, a landscape of textile factories and home to a large Chinese community.

“The Global Suburbanisms Spring Institute provided me with an excellent opportunity to deepen my understanding of socio-spatial (in)justice and it's manifestations across (sub)urban landscapes. Thanks to this experience, I was able to develop a robust theoretical framework for my research, which explores community control of land and housing to address the inequitable spatial dynamics that shape our cities and suburbs.” – Aida Mas, MES planning student, York University

The workshop on publishing took place in Fiesole, in the former home of renowned Italian architect Giovanni Michelucci. In addition to the discussion on publishing featuring professors Ute Lehrer, Camilla Perrone and Roger Keil, Spring Institute participants were introduced to the life and legacy of this important architect by Professor Giancarlo Paba, the president of the Michelucci Foundation.

The second week in Milan featured lectures on post-metropolitan Italy by professors Alessandro Balducci and Valeria Fedeli, Polytechnic University of Milan; Suburban Infrastructure by Professor Pierre Filion, University of Waterloo; and Everyday Suburbanisms by Professor Markus Moos, University of Waterloo (with Lorenzo de Vidovich acting as a discussant). Moos’ lecture was based on his recently published book Still Detached and Subdivided? Suburban Ways of Living in 21st Century North America. The second week included a career building workshop on “Methods of Suburban Research” led by professors Pierre Filion, Ute Lehrer, and Markus Moos.

“As a student transitioning from a Master’s to a PhD program, the Spring Institute provided a wealth of knowledge in different aspects of research. In addition to learning about and experiencing Italian suburbs, the sessions at the Institute provided networking opportunities to share research ideas, methodologies, and strategies in an informal setting, which had prepared me better to carry out my own future research projects.” – Nabila Prayitno, PhD student, University of Waterloo

Field trips in Milan included walking and bus tours. The walking tour, led by Professor Valeria Fedeli, explored urban transformation in the central city of Milan. Stops on the tour included the newly developed Porto Nuova, a central business district that boasts that country’s tallest skyscraper as well as a visit to CityLife, a mixed use development project located on the former grounds of the Fiera Milano exhibition, featuring new condominium developments by international starchitects Zaha Hadid and Studio Libeskind. The bus tour, led by Professor Marco Facchinetti, Polytechnic University of Milan, brought the participants to a variety of communities demonstrating the vast differences in suburban development shaping Milano’s periphery. A highlight for many was visiting the famed Silvio Berlusconi’s exclusive residential enclave Milano 2, built in the 1970s and intentionally disconnected from the city by metro.