The Newsletter 75 Autumn 2016

Urban Knowledge Network Asia - An update

Gien San Tan

<p>Building on the results of four years of EU-funded staff exchanges, the Urban Knowledge Network Asia (UKNA) is now embarking on a new chapter. The success of the UKNA synergy has encouraged the network’s partners to carry on with their joint efforts, and steps are being taken to expand the network and broaden its research agenda. Growing from its core membership in China, India, Western Europe and the USA, UKNA now includes additional partners in Southeast Asia and ‘Greater China’. Hopefully, a number of other universities in Northeast Asia and Southeast Asia will be able to join the UKNA network in the near future as well.</p>

Common vision

Consisting of over 100 researchers with affiliations at 17 institutes in Europe, China, India and the United States, the Urban Knowledge Network Asia (UKNA) represents the largest global academic network on Asian cities. UKNA’s objective is to nurture contextualised and policy relevant knowledge on Asian cities, seeking to influence policy by contributing insights that put people at the centre of urban governance and development strategies.
UKNA’s common vision provides the overarching framework for the network’s activities and planned research outputs. It represents the common ground for all partners in the diverse network, encompassing scholars in the social scientists, humanities, the natural sciences and the arts, across 3 continents. The key message of the common vision is that UKNA focuses on ‘human flourishing and the creative production of urban space’ in Asian cities. The justification for this focus is the realization that most other urban research projects are preoccupied with macro-level topics such as urban infrastructure, architecture and/or the natural environment; human beings appear to be missing in these schemes. The UKNA partners saw an urgent need to bring the well-being (‘flourishing’) of human beings (whether urban residents, migrants, and/or citizens) back into the urban research and policy focus. The vision emphasizes ‘immediate problem solving as well as the identification of long-term, transformative processes that increase the scope for the active engagement of people in the creative production and shaping of the City’.

Four years of staff exchanges

On 31 March 2016, our Marie Curie Actions/IRSES funding (2012-2016) from the European Union came to an end. We can look back on a very successful first four years. Thanks to EU research mobility support, 146 UKNA scholars and practitioners were able to carry out 206 research exchanges at 12 different UKNA partner institutes. These research exchanges have succeeded in bringing the network partners closer together, around collaborative research initiatives, roundtable and seminar activities on a variety of urban topics in East And South Asia, with comparative cases from European cities.


Editors from across the UKNA network are currently busy submitting for peer review three edited volumes for publication in the ‘Asian Cities’ book series of Amsterdam University Press/IIAS. The three volumes—entitled “Ideas of the City in Asia”; “Cities by and for the People”; and “Future Challenges of Cities in Asia”—contain the work of many researchers who have taken part in the UKNA research staff exchange scheme during the past four years, as well as that of selected external scholars.

UKNA Annual Roundtable, December 2016

UKNA’s annual roundtable will take place this year in Delhi, from 16-20 December. UKNA partner Ambedkar University Delhi (AUD), the Jawaharlal Nehru University Institute of Advanced Study and the International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS) will jointly organize two exciting events in Delhi on the theme of “heritage and infrastructure in the city”. The theme focuses on unpacking the city of Delhi through layers of lived history and heritage, urban infrastructure, ecological landscapes and architectural histories.

The first activity is a roundtable on “Urban heritage and a decentralized city museum” (16-17 December). The second activity is a seminar on “Basic urban services in Delhi: citizens, state/policy and politics” (19-20 December). In between the two activities, there will be a guided excursion to the Delhi neighbourhood of Mehrauli, including a visit to its archaeological park and to a new pop-up museum. The multi-disciplinary nature of the Delhi event and the interactive discussion format of both activities characterizes the approach of UKNA and IIAS towards the study of Asian cities.

Moving forward

Even now that the IRSES research exchange funding has ended, the UKNA network will continue. The number of institutional partners in the network continues to grow, as does the number of institutions (both academic and non-academic) and scholars who seek to collaborate with UKNA. Our ambition remains to be an inclusive network that brings together concerned scholars and practitioners engaged in collaborative research on cities in Asia. Our network continues to influence policy by contributing insights that put people at the centre of urban governance and development strategies, with “human flourishing in Asian cities” as our vision.

We will keep you informed about further developments and activities through the Newsletter and via updates on the UKNA website.