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Research Strategy 2018+ [English]

Editor: ILS – Research Institute for Regional and Urban Development

Dortmund 2018, 49 p.

PDF (2,26 MB)

Urban and spatial development in the early 21st century is not only characterised by the enormous expansion of urbanised spaces, but also by the heterogeneity of the economic, social and structural transformation of cities and urban regions. To this extent, urbanisation cannot be seen as a unitary phenomenon that gives rise to universally replicable forms of the urban, but has rather to be seen as a phenomenon that displays highly contrasting results in each of its respective regional forms around the world. An – often crisis-ridden and conflictual – process of reorganization and restructuring goes along with the growth of cities. This process gets expressed in a profound transformation of the economic, demographic, socio-spatial, and structural configurations in urbanised regions.

More than ever, urban spatial development is marked by discontinuous and disparate developments and inner contradictions, thus confronting actors in politics, planning and the economy with a high degree of uncertainty and unpredictability. A better causal understanding of these processes is the prerequisite for shaping liveable and sustainable cities and urban spaces.

To this end, the ILS deals with the development of historically evolved, “mature” urban spaces, which – while still exhibiting a basic tendency towards expansion – are subject to an ongoing internal restructuring. Our overriding research objective is to achieve a better understanding of the interaction between higher-level social, economic and technological change, on the one hand, and changes in structural and socio-spatial configurations in cities and urban regions, on the other.

From a development point of view, the structuring impact of political action has special significance in this context. Social liberalisation, economic deregulation, and privatisation of public goods and services have durably transformed the institutional framework of political and planning action. This gets expressed in changed actor and governance arrangements and in a transformation of planning culture. Urban and regional planning is now more growth- and competition-oriented than it was before. At the same time, discursive non-hierarchical forms of governance, which aim at collective self-regulation, have gained in importance. Answering the questions of the extent to which this has changed the modes of action and steering capacities of urban actors and how it affects processes of “city making” is a further key objective of our urban research.

Starting from these guiding objectives, the present 2018+ Research Strategy carries forward the longer-term research perspectives of the ILS. Thematic corridors for the coming years are demarcated and our epistemological stance is being outlined. In the future, the institute will devote greater attention to the heterogeneity of urban change and further develop its internationally comparative perspective. “Think the urban through the diversity of urban experiences” – in this phrase, Jennifer Robinson has aptly expressed the claim to a newer theorisation and thereby to corresponding empirical research. An open, reflexive and self-correcting culture of theoretical and empirical examination presupposes spatial openness, in the sense of an interest in urban development in different world regions. The unveiling of commonalities and diversity in urban development in different locations, while showing the greatest possible sensitivity to the respective contextual conditions, can be described as both mission and ethos of globally-acting comparative research.

Another major concern of urban research in the ILS is the integration of regional studies and urban research which have historically evolved in different disciplinary contexts and, at least in part, have produced little relation to one another. This implies not only interdisciplinary bridge-building between economically oriented regional research and socially as well as planning-oriented urban research, but also a consistently multi-level perspective for empirically addressing urban change. That means thematising the different territorial levels on which socio-economic or structural changes are studied in their interrelations, their mutual interdependencies, their contradictions and also their synergies.

The present 2018+ Research Strategy formulates four main research areas, which will be examined in the next five years by way of both self-financed and externally financed research projects:

  • Spatial Development and New Work Environments
  • Transformation of Urban Mobility
  • Migration and Integration in Urban Neighbourhoods
  • Development of Sustainable Built Environments

This thematic structure provides new thematic directions, while, at the same time, preserving continuity with thematic areas in which the ILS is long established. A key concern here is the increased internationalisation of our research, which will be consciously accelerated by taking up international debates and developing international research networks and comparative research designs.

But an urban research that is internationally oriented and visible in this sense still needs a strong regional anchoring. The ILS situates itself in urban research that is basic as well as applied. We are committed to the role of a dialogue partner and provider of impetus for politics, administration, the economy, and the public in both national and regional contexts. New forms of trans-disciplinary research come along with this role. The shaping of sustainable and socially inclusive cities can only succeed by way of cooperation between researchers, municipalities and actors from civil society. This is connected to, among other things, new forms of collaborative projects in which researchers and partners from the field of practice have equal input. Our contributions to solving problems of urban society and urban space are, however, always based on knowledge-oriented fundamental research.

The design of this research strategy was elaborated in a broad in-house discussion process that began in 2016, and it was intensively discussed over the course of 2017 with both the scientific advisory board and the user advisory board of the ILS. The research strategy applies for a period of around five years and it provides the framework for the research programmes to be developed every three years. In this regard, we refer to the 2018-2020 research programme, which emerged in parallel to this research strategy and which takes up substantive impulses from it and develops them in so-called focus projects.

The 2018+ Research Strategy is also connected to the objective of a “semantic purification": Earlier ILS research strategies distinguished between research areas and research topics assigned to them. Following a further increase in thematic focus, our research will in the future be structured solely by research areas. We hope this will allow us to achieve greater communicative clarity in presenting the core contents of future ILS research both to the research community and to our addressees involved in practice.

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