‘The beautiful Scandinavian city nobody thinks to visit’…

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By Hannah Hickman, Katie McClymont, Adam Sheppard and Stephen Hall

This is how the Swedish city of Gothenburg was recently described (Leadbeater, 2018), yet here we were in July 2018, four members of UWE’s planning research team. We were attending the Annual Congress of the Association of European Schools of Planning (AESOP), the biggest planning research conference in Europe, designed to promote excellence in planning education and research.

The UWE team (all first-time visitors to Gothenburg), were impressed by its charms. Being planners, we made much of the excellent tram system, the impressive architectural diversity of recent waterfront development, the preservation of the historic city against the dramatic backdrop of the working shipyards. We marvelled at the ease of access from the city to the thousands of islands constituting the Gothenburg archipelago. This creates an enviable relationship between the city and the sea.

But with such a city as the backdrop, it was essential that the conference, themed this year on the subject of ‘Making Space for Hope’, provided enough stimulation to maintain the attention of delegates.

It more than succeeded in doing this, and the breadth of content was aptly represented by the papers delivered by UWE members themselves, covering such subjects as the politics of growth governance in Oxford and Cambridge (Hannah Hickman), the credibility of development in the absence of legitimacy (Katie McClymont and Adam Sheppard), spaces of secular faith (Katie McClymont), contractual control instruments of the public sector as new forms of accountability in urban development, a comparison of public-private-partnership schemes in Brazil, the Netherlands and the UK (Rob Atkinson, David Williams and Andrew Tallon), and, a Q Methodology Study of climate change activists (Stephen Hall).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the real value of the conference was the opportunity to gain the input of a wide range of international perspectives to challenge one’s own research agendas and findings, as well as the opportunity to foster new collaborations.

Highlights and surprises?

“A definite highlight for me was a roundtable discussion on how to bring an ethos of hope into planning education, and how this might align with students’ early experiences of practice, oh … and the quick dip in the free public swimming pool in the harbour looking on to the city and its working cranes” (Hannah Hickman).

“I was staggered by the revelation that the City of Gothenburg’s planning department has over 300 planning staff, something most Council’s in the UK could only dream of …” (Dr Katie McClymont).

“The diversity of contributions at AESOP never ceases to surprise me; it is such a rich learning environment with the added potential of making new contacts and creating opportunities for future work. As a space for reflection, review, creativity, and inspiration it is hard to beat. As an aside, the Maritime Museum is brilliant!“ (Adam Sheppard)

Looking ahead …

In 2019, the City of Venice will hold the AESOP Congress, hosted by the Department of Design and Planning in Complex Environments at the University Institute of Architecture in Venezia.

More importantly however, in 2020, it is Bristol’s turn, with the Congress being hosted by the University of the West of England. This is a huge opportunity and plans are already underway to ensure the best possible experience for delegates to support the growing international reputation of both the University and the City.

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