Symposium - Transatlantic Rust Belts
Poster Credit: Anni Reeh/Stefan Dierkes.
Image Source: Trafficways for 3 million people, Detroit City Plan Commission, 1954. For educational use only.
Transatlantic Rust Belts - Scripting Urban Future(s)
Stories matter in times of urban transformations. For decades, Rust Belt cities on both sides of the Atlantic have undergone and continue to undergo radical changes in almost all areas of urban life. Due to processes of deindustrialization and urban decline, these cities face the challenge to redefine their urban landscapes – both physically and metaphorically. The much-proclaimed ‘narrative turn’ in city planning (see Throgmorton 1996 and Throgmorton/Eckstein 2003; Sandercock; R. Lindner/Moser 2006) has highlighted the importance of stories and images in processes of revitalization and urban renewal.
A growing number of municipalities, institutions of higher education, private enterprises, as well as NGOs work hard to strategically decode their respective cities’ present state and reimagine its future as more sustainable, creative, or socially inclusive. However, complex realities and path dependencies manifest themselves in the cultural, social, and ecological heritage of industrial times, and need to be considered forsuch deployment of optimistic scripts for urban futures.
The Graduate Research Group understands City Scripts as giving new storylines to so called “legacy cities” (Mallach/Brachman 2013, backcover; Florida 2011; Berking/Löw; Peck 2005 and 2007), which have lost, or continue to lose, their lifeline industries. We understand a ‘script’ as a combination of procedural knowledge, self-description and blueprint for future urban development oscillating between and suggestively – if sometimes problematically – fusing descriptive and prescriptive components from a range of fields and disciplines (see Buchenau/Gurr 2016; 2018). A powerful demonstration of this is Natalia Molina’s understanding of racial scripts and their endurance “as cultural representations and as built into institutional structures and practices” (2014:7).
This symposium aims to expand the transatlantic knowledge exchange between the humanities on the one hand and the professional fields of urban development, urban planning, city administration, urban art collectives, and social NGOs on the other. Together with international colleagues and local partners from various civic and industrial fields, we want to discuss strategies for the vast potential of postindustrial urban centers and their people. We seek to enter into a practice-based, sustained conversation with the primary agents that script futures for urban communities struck by deindustrialization and that address questions of how to deal with social inequality, economic revival, cultural and racial diversity, and ecological sustainability.
In recent years, issues of policy mobility have raised questions about the issues that arise when similar redevelopment models are applied in different places around the world. After years of circulating popular universal fixes for regional or local problems (see e.g. the generic smart, creative or sustainable city concepts), there is now a growing awareness for more specific, local adaptions or solutions.
As American Studies scholars hailing from one of the paradigmatic postindustrial regions of Europe, the Ruhr Region, we want to take our transatlantic perspective seriously for collaborations based in Detroit, the postindustrial icon of the U.S. This symposium will strategically bring together German and US-American researchers and practitioners with on the ground experts in and for Detroit, but also the local interested public. By working with such an interdisciplinary, theoretical, and practical perspective, we hope to engage in a multilateral exchange of knowledge and ideas.