Symposium - Transatlantic Rust Belts

Poster for Symposium called Transatlantic Rust Belts - Scripting Urban Futures. The poster shows triangular and hexagonal shapes that make up the streets of Detroit.a building plan of the city of Detroit from 1954 which mostly

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)

Official Website:

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.


Berking, Helmuth, und Martina Löw, eds. Die Eigenlogik der Städte: Neue Wege für die Stadtforschung. Frankfurt: Campus, 2008.

Buchenau, Barbara, and Jens Martin Gurr. “On the Textuality of American Cities and their Others: A Disputation.” Projecting American Studies: Essays on Theory, Method and Practice. Ed. Frank Kelleter and Alexander Starre. Heidelberg: Winter, 2018. 135-152. 

Buchenau, Barbara, and Jens Martin Gurr. “Urban American Studies and the Conjunction of Textual Strategies and Spatial Processes.” Spaces—Communities—Representations: Urban Transformations in the USA. Ed. Julia Sattler. Bielefeld: Transcript, 2016. 395420.

Lindner, Rolf and Johannes Moser, eds. Dresden. Ethnographische Erkundungen einer Residenzstadt. Leipzig: Leipziger Universitätsverlag, 2006. 

Mallach, Alan and Lavea Brachmann. Regenerating America’s Legacy Cities. Cambridge: Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, 2013.

Molina, Natalia. How Race is Made in America: Immigration, Citizenship, and the Historical Power of Racial Scripts. Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 2014. 

Peck, Jamie. “Struggling with the Creative Class.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 29.4 (2005): 740-770. 

Peck, Jamie. “The Creativity Fix.” Eurozine. Last accessed May 5, 2020. 

Sandercock, Leonie. “From the Campfire to the Computer: An Epistemology of Multiplicity and the Story 

Turn in Planning.” Multimedia Explorations in Urban Policy and Planning: Beyond the Flatlands. Ed. Leonie Sandercock, Giovanni Attili. Dordrecht, Heidelberg, New York: Springer, 2010. 17-37.

Throgmorton, James and Barbara J Eckstein. Story and Sustainability: Planning, Practice, and Possibility for American Cities. MIT Press, 2003.

Throgmorton, James. Planning as Persuasive Storytelling: The Rhetorical Construction of Chicago’s Electric Future. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996.

Watch the symposium's opening keynote "Turning the Spatial Planners’ Story in a New Direction" by James Throgmorton

Lade den Film...

Opening Keynote by James Throgmorton at the Transatlantic Rust Belt Symposium 2021, Part One

Lade den Film...

Opening Keynote by James Throgmorton at the Transatlantic Rust Belt Symposium 2021, Part Two

Conference Schedule:

Time                     9 September,
10 September,
11 September,
12 September,

3 pm (CET)

9 am (EDT)

6 am (PDT) 

4:30 pm:


Panel 2: Green Building Standards, Sustainable Cities?

Thomas Heise (Pennsylvania State University

Thomas Rühle (Öko-Zentrum NRW, Hamm)

Armita Chitsaz & Roozbeh Kholdani (Politecnico di Torino)

Katharina Wood (TU Dortmund University)

Leslie Tom (Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History)

Panel 5: Urban Futures for all: Education as Inclusion?

Chris Katzenberg (Ruhr-University Bochum)

Cindy Eggleton (Brilliant Detroit, Detroit)

Robert Gioielli (University of Cincinnati/ Carson Fellow LMU Munich)



4:45 pm (CET)

10:45 am (EDT)

7:45 am (PDT)

Introduction BREAK



5 pm (CET)

11 am (EDT)

8 am (PDT)

Opening Keynote:
James Throgmorton

Panel 3: Rust Belt Harbor Cities and the Scripture of Expansion

Michael Wala (Ruhr-University Bochum)

Jim Ridge (Share the River, Colorado)

Johannes Maria Krikl (Ruhr-University Bochum)

Sage Gerson (UC Santa Barbara)

Jon Hegglund (Washington State University)

Panel 6: Artistic Spaces
of Possibility

Ryan Myers-Johnson (Sidewalk Detroit)

Hanna Rodewald (TU Dortmund University)

Julia Sattler (TU Dortmund University)

Julia Yezbick (Oakland University)

Panel 8: Everyday Practices of Gentrification

Alex Blue (William & Mary)

Maria Sulimma (University of Duisburg-Essen)

Florian Freitag (University of Duisburg-Essen)

Kenneth Joseph Kokroko (University of Arizona)

6:45 (CET)

12:45 (EDT)

9:45 (PDT)




7 pm (CET)

1 pm (EDT)

10 am (PDT)

Panel 1: Refiguring Industrial

Juliane Borosch (Wayne State University/ University of Duisbrug-Essen)

Conrad Kickert (University of Buffalo)

Barbara Buchenau (University of Duisburg-Essen)

Diane van Buren/ Ernest Zachary (Zachary & Associates)

Panel 4: Community Gardens:
Sowing Urban Futures

Sharon Cornelissen (Harvard University)

Elisabeth Haefs (University of Duisburg-Essen/ University of Oregon)

Jens Gurr (University of Duisburg-Essen)

Evan Newbacher (Central Detroit Christian)

Panel 7: Re-Writing Urban

Stephanie Batiste (UC Santa Barbara)

Florian Deckers (University of Duisburg-Essen)

Colton Saylor (San Jose State University)

Christiana Castillo (Detroit Artist)

Closing Keynote:
Barbara Eckstein

8:20 pm (CET)

2:20 pm (EDT)

11:20 am (PDT)

BREAK     Closing  

8:30 pm (CET)

2:30 pm (EDT)

11:30 am (PDT)

Thematic Round Tables      


Upcoming Events

Logo Ruhr Universität Bochum
Logo Technische Universität Dortmund
Logo U A Ruhr
Volkswagen Stiftung Logo