Delta cities: rethinking practices of the urban
Can water be the ‘ground’ for rethinking both the past and the future of urbanism? With climate change, water increasingly appears as a threat against which we must fortify ourselves through cement and resilience – in short through a culture of keeping dry, rather than soaking. Experts ranging from climate scientists to urbanists, policy makers and landscape architects are asking how to brace for rising waters and their effects upon our cities.
More than two thirds of the worlds’ largest and highly populated cities are coastal delta cities, or are situated on estuaries vulnerable to rising sea levels. This In Situ Graduate School on Delta Cities proposes to move beyond the discourses of fortification and to shift the frames of the current debates about these cities. Currently these debates remain focused on either climate-change adaptation and resilience in a very myopic manner or elaborate engineering plans of reshaping the landscape. While landscape architects are exploring the possibilities for designing on soft land (Busquets and Correa 2005), entrepreneurs are going forward with perilous experiments of floating cities along the Polynesian coasts as an answer (Floating City Project by Seasteading Institute). Such a maritime-utopic-amphibious life threatens the fragile land and seascapes in the region. Apart from abetting the expansion of residential capitalism through the legal cover offered by special economic zones, these plans are about control and engineering landscapes rather than living with them. Moreover, much of this conversation is premised upon a bio-scientific understanding of urban ecologies, with little or at best negligent engagement with cultural knowledge about these spaces.
This In Situ Graduate School is a call to engage with these ideas and projects from the perspectives of the social sciences, arts and humanities in order to inquire how water-centered understandings of space might help us intervene in top-down projects currently underway to address issues of coastal erosion, urban flooding and land subsidence from a different lens. We are inviting projects that will expand our understanding of living with water and also change our ways of viewing the urban. Deltaic ecologies have been central to urban formations across the world, from Calcutta to Saigon, from Mumbai to New Orleans. How can our understanding of cities be enriched by engaging with the practices of living with water in deltaic cities where the line of separation between land and water is muddied, where landscapes are seasonal and the relation between land and water is defined by the phenomenon of soaking. (Mathur and Da Cunha 2009)
It thus seeks to spark conversations about the specific relation of living with water that defines delta and coastal cities across Asia through readings, presentations, and site visits. Do cities located in deltas embody specific urban forms, political constellations and modes of habitation? Through what modes can we read the hidden hydrologies of our cities and the traces of their long-forgotten waterways? What can we learn from them? What do various linguistic expressions of land water relations—whether erosion, floods, or breaches—in various languages tell us about our landscape designs and engineering? What has been forgotten in the process? What stories, songs and narratives of deltas can we recover for a robust way to live with water in cities? How can we enrich our own disciplinary work by opening ourselves to other stories, stories told in different modes and different genres? How will an openness to water transform our activism and advocacy in the face of more technological fixes for the future of urban planning?
The aim of the In Situ Graduate School will be to immerse ourselves in innovative and courageous thinking about the relation between different urban forms from a watery perspective, together with scholars and practitioners working in regionally diverse ecologies in various corners of Asia, Africa and Latin America. Abstracts are invited from a range of disciplinary backgrounds that use the soaking ecology of tides, silt, delta, estuary and swamp to outline a different praxis of the urban, which is not about land-water separation and containment, but rather a more elastic open relation between them. In keep with IIAS’s mission to rethink the humanities, the In Situ Graduate School hopes to create a space for the practice of experimental knowledge about deltas where various genres of articulations about land and water can be in conversation without the creation of knowledge hierarchies.
Possible thematic areas to anchor the conversation include:
- Cartographies imaginations and the aerial platform
- Living and moving with land and water
- Space, resource and violence
- Nature’s infrastructures
The In Situ Graduate School will be held from December 10-15, 2018 in Ho Chi Minh City and Long Xuyen, An Giang in Vietnam. In addition to lectures by leading scholars in the field, students will also conduct group projects and conduct fieldtrips to important sites in the Mekong Delta. At the end of the In Situ Graduate School, students will make final public presentations in Ho Chi Minh City.
David Biggs (University of California, Riverside), Debjani Bhattacharyya (Drexel University), John Agbonifo (Osun State University), and Phuong Lan Ngo (USSH HCM), will serve as conveners. Coming from different academic traditions with diverse theoretical and methodological expertise, the conveners shall foster an active atmosphere of open discussion, critique, and empirical inquiry. The goal is to facilitate students’ existing research projects in a related field of study through a combination of lectures, fieldtrips, and group work.
We welcome applications from international doctoral students and advanced research master's students with significant related professional experience from all social science, humanities and natural science disciplines, working on Delta Cities.
For additional details on eligibility criteria and how to apply, see the Application page.
The registration fee for participation in the In Situ Graduate School is 400 Euro, which includes lectures, field trips, half-board shared accommodation for seven nights and two dinners. A limited number of reductions are available for students with limited funding, see Financial Support.