Urban Redevelopment and Revitalisation
A Multidisciplinary Perspective
ISUF President’s Report 2021-22
The forthcoming ISUF conference in Lodz and Krakow has a true symbolic meaning. After two virtual conferences, in Salt Lake City and Glasgow, which have been an organizational challenge for Brenda Case Scheer’s and Sergio Porta’s teams as well as a resilience test for our community of urban morphologists, the International Seminar on Urban Form will return to its in-person format later this year. Despite the high uncertainty, related not only to the two-years break of face-to-face events but also to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, there is a strong excitement among the ISUF community around the 2022 conference. Over the last months, the team coordinated by Anna Agata Kantarek, Małgorzata Hanzl, Tomasz Figlus and Łukasz Musiaka has been working hard to offer urban morphologists travelling to Poland a memorable return to in-person conferences (while still including some online sessions). The Lodz and Krakow event will take place in a geographical and cultural context that is relatively unknown for ISUF as an institution – Eastern Europe. Certainly, the cultural, political, and social specificities of these two Polish cities are well expressed in the different elements of their urban forms, making them attractive objects to visit and study. But the continuous geographical widening of our community is visible in other aspects of our activities. One examples the last number of the journal ‘Urban Morphology’ (26.1), where in a total of five papers, two are focused on China, one on Iran (suggesting the eventual formation of a new regional network), and a fourth paper has a focus on Poland and Serbia (the country which will host ISUF 2023).
In addition to ISUF2022, organized by the Polish Network of Urban Morphology, four Regional Networks – the Cypriot, Italian, Hispanic and Portuguese-language – are organizing their own conferences in 2022, expressing the strong vitality of these groups that today play a key role in the promotion of the study of urban form, processes, and agents of change.
One key expression of the Regional Networks’ collaboration was the realization of the first International Summer School of Urban Morphology (ISSUM) that took place in June 2022, in Rome. The nine-days event, notably coordinated by Giuseppe Strappa, gathered several experts in urban morphology and a selected set of fifteen students coming from ten countries (including one African student founded by an ISUF grant).ISSUM followed an overall structure of organization where mornings have been devoted to lectures on different aspects of urban morphology and the process typological approach, and afternoons have been dedicated to exercises, reading the fascinating and complex urban landscape of the Italian capital. In the few days I have been in Rome, I was able to confirmthe construction of a school of excellency, involving a group of highly motivated teachers and students.It is hoped that this Rome ‘experiment’ can be repeated in the next years in different cities of the Regional Networks.
The excellency of education of the next generation of urban morphologists is also at the centre of another event promoted by ISUF in 2022 – the J. W. R. Whitehand Prize for the Best PhD Thesis in Urban Morphology. The evaluation of the different theses is based on the work’s innovation, quality, and rigour. These are three of the central characteristics of Whitehand’s own work in the study of urban form, and in his deep and enduring influence on so many researchers around the world, including myself.
At the time of writing this report, a jury constituted by Susan Whitehand (president), Tolga Unlu and Marco Maretto is carrying out the difficult task of assessing the submitted proposals. A second ISUF tribute to Jeremy Whitehand will take place in the first day of the Lodz and Krakow conference, in a session devoted to his influential work, exploring how his main ideas are being developed by a new generation of urban morphologists. One year has passed since the sudden death of Jeremy Whitehand.
The weight of our loss is expressed in the first sentence of Peter Larkham’s last editorial: ‘Urban morphology as a discipline will have to change in the post-Whitehand era’ (Larkham, 2022). As Larkham reminds us, this change in morphological research must encompass a wider range of contents (the main societal challenges), landscapes (including the peri-urban and rural forms) and scales (where the scales of the city-region and territory are more present), and also a stronger collaboration between different approaches to offer research results that can have an influence in shaping our future landscapes.
ISUF’s governing roles are also changing. After the change of President and Secretary-General in 2021, this year is time for a change in a third key role, the Treasurer. ISUF has an enormous debt of gratitude to Michael Barke. In addition to his notable contribution to the development of the historico- geographical approach and the concept of fringe belt, over the last 15 years Barke has been assuring the financial health of ISUF – a time-consuming task, vital for an organization with limited resources like ours. Barke’s long term service and commitment to ISUF is only comparable to that of Whitehand, Larkham and Kropf in the establishment and development of ‘Urban Morphology’. While free of his financial responsibilities, I hope I can continue to benefit from Barke’s wise advice until the end of my mandate. Heather Barrett (who, in the past, has made important contributions to the concept of morphological region) will be the new treasurer after the Lodz and Krakow conference.
Over the last months, the topics of teaching urban morphology and the relation between scientific research and professional practice have been deserving the attention of some of our members.Progresses are being made and these should be able to frame our future debate. Throughout this period the ISUF Internet Task Force, coordinated by Alessandro Camiz, has been particularly active. The group has developed substantial reflection on this crucial topic and has developed concrete proposals for the creation of two websites, one for ISUF (substituting the current website, managed by Richard Whitehand) and one for the journal ‘Urban Morphology’.
ISUF must lead the debate on urban morphology. We should be able to state, as rigorous as possible, what do we know about urban form – what do we know to describe and explain the physical form of past and present cities, and what do we know to support the prescription of rules for conservation and transformation, or the design of future landscapes, focusing particularly on those aspects that have more impact on socioeconomic diversity and environmental sustainability. We should also be able to state what we do not know about urban form. Accordingly, we should be able to ask the accurate questions, and to design the proper methodologies to attain the right answers.
Larkham, P. (2022) ‘The need for change in the study of urban form’, Urban Morphology25,3-4.