2011 Conference

2011 Writing Cities Conference
May 19-21, 2011 | London, UK

Distance and cities: where do we stand?
When researching urban issues, we inevitably face questions concerning distance. Distance is, first of all, a spatial and temporal notion. But it also incorporates social, emotional, aesthetic, legal, cultural, design and political dimensions. As a methodological concern we ask is there a “right” distance to write cities? And how do we intervene in distance? When researching and writing, we often face the problem of being “too close” or “too far”, “not close enough” or “not far enough” from a subject matter. In communicating the written city, we have to translate the distance between authors and audiences. At what distance do our thoughts, our ideas and our research become valuable to others? What is the right distance for public engagement in the city? The architect, Le Corbusier, embraced the perspectives afforded by flight. The ability to see cities from a distance and from above contributed in some measure to the development of design strategies now considered to be hallmarks of modern architecture, design and urban planning, an estimation itself informed by temporal distance. Legal distances arise between property boundaries and built structures or between cars driving on a road in the same direction. Here, the concern with spatial distance is often to keep a minimum required distance to allow a peaceful co-existence of persons living with and next to each other. The urban sociologist, Georg Simmel, analyzed the social distance that emerges out of spatial closeness in the modern metropolis. As a result of being “too close” to others, Simmel identifies the city dweller’s adoption of a blasé attitude, a reserve that outwardly conveys inner indifference and aversion to others, and simultaneously results in a heightened sense of individuality and freedom from group demands. Personified in Simmel’s dichotomy between the “native” and the “stranger”, or in conceptions of urban and rural, citizens and tourists, and researchers and practitioners, distance continues to inform the subject and the object of urban research. But what contemporary conceptualisations of distance remain relevant to urban disciplines? How can we understand and map the changing relationships of distance to the 21st century city or to cities in history? How do we research these distances? When does distance make us vulnerable, as both urban citizens and as researchers? How can we decide what distance we should have from a subject matter? How can we increase and decrease distance at a particular point within our research process? How can we translate distances? As in past years, individual authors will not present their papers. Rather, each participant will be tasked as a respondent to raise questions, critiques and concerns coming from another paper. As such, papers will be submitted and circulated before hand to be read. However, this year we will assign a different selection of half of the papers to every participant to read. The outcome will be a shifting geography of those who have read the papers, and those who have not, and therefore different distances between the participants to each paper that is discussed. The chair will ensure that discussion is balanced between those with an “insider” and an “outsider” perspective to each paper. Spatially, the conference will take place inside and outside an academic environment. Thereby we hope to create different distances to what is conventionally regarded as an “academic discussion”.

Organizing Committee
Gunter Gassner, London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)
Adam Kaasa, London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)
Katherine Robinson, London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)

Advisory Committee
Gerald Frug, Harvard Law School
Richard Sennett, London School of Economics
Fran Tonkiss, London School of Economics
Larry Vale, MIT Department of Urban Studies


Conference Program:

Thursday, May 19, 2011
New Academic Building, LSE, 54 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, WC2A 3LJ

5:30pm Coffee and Tea before the lecture

6:30pm Writing Cities Public Lecture: Distance and Cities: Where do we stand?

8:00pm  Drinks reception

Friday 20 May
Chisenhale Gallery, 64 Chisenhale Road, E3 5QZ

10:00am Welcome and Introductions

10:30am Session 1: Distance & Scale
Prianjali Mascarenhas: The Abu-Dubai/Duba-Dhabi Conundrum (Respondent: David Church)
Alla Vronskaya: Large-Space Architecture (Respondent: Prianjali Mascarenhas)
David Church: Socio-spatial Distance in Travel to School Patterns (Respondent: Alla Vronskaya)

12:00pm Catered coffee break

12:30pm Session 2: Discursive Distance
Jason Rebillot: On Writing Cities in Contemporary Design Culture (Respondent: Zenovia Toloudi)
Zenovia Toloudi: From Taxonomy to Folksonomy (Respondent: Jason Rebillot)

1:30pm Catered lunch

2:30pm Session 3: Distance and Infrastructure
Dimitris Papanikolaou: PriceScapes (Respondent: Robert de Miguel & Iddo Ginnat)
Nikos Katsikis: Fixing Space through Infrastructure (Respondent: Dimitris Papanikolaou)

4:00pm Catered coffee break

4:30pm Session 4: Bridging Distance
Antoine Paccoud: The Distance between Being and Appearing in the Transformation of Paris (Respondent: Adam Kaasa)
Adam Kaasa: Distance in Time: Temporal Rhetoric in Mexico City Modernism (Respondent: Antoine Paccoud)

5:30pm Discussion about Writing Cities and possible publications

7:00pm Group dinner

Saturday, May 21, 2011
Zaha Hadid Architects Studio 2, 10 Bowling Green Lane, EC1R 0BQ

10:00am Welcome and Introduction

10:30am Session 5: Distance Emerged
Scott Berzofsky & Jessica Garz: Rigs-to-Reefs (Respondent: Ryan Rippel)
Ryan Rippel: Standing Apart or Standing Together (Respondent: Scott Berzofsky & Jessica Garz)

11:30pm Catered coffee break

12:00pm Session 6: Call for Closeness
Antonis Vradis: How close before you burn? (Respondent: Jayaraj Sundaresan)
Sebastian Schmidt-Tomczak: Locating Distance (Respondent: K. Sabeel Rahman)
Jayaraj Sundaresan: Social Distance, Planning Power, and Land use violations in Bangalore (Respondent: Antonis Vradis)
Sabeel Rahman: Private Power, Public Politics (
Respondent: Sebastian Schmidt-Tomczak)