The Sixth International Conference on Spaces and Flows, to be held November 2015 in Chicago, is premised on a notion: that cities across the global north and global south are mysterious and turbulent places. These labyrinths of the visible and the concealed interlock their deep pasts with current economic and political trends. Rows of gentrified neighborhoods, glistening downtowns, and quaint open spaces speak to the power and prowess of growth–initiatives engineered by developers, growth advocates, builders and planners. Darker forces, however, exist in their shadows, the remnants of substandard buildings, neglected neighborhoods, and crumbling physical infrastructures bypassed by current waves of reinvestment. Many impoverished communities are left to rot in these shadows and conditions therefore have substantially worsened.
The conference also proceeds from the notion that these cities are tension ridden environments. Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland, Glasgow, London, Berlin, Amsterdam, and Rome all struggle to find themselves in these new global times. A new hyper-frenetic world swiftly re–arranges the ordering of these cities, which in–turn, challenges the design and planning professions to keep pace and build new coherent city orders. At the same time, a new harsh neoliberal ethos moves imperceptibly through these places. An unprecedented privatism, disparagement of local welfare states, and retrenchment of government redistributive efforts circulates through the capillaries of urban social relations. As dominant narratives alternate between exoticizing and demonizing the racialized poor, what alternatives exist for alleviating markings of stigma upon these individuals and households? These cities, we are bluntly told, must now seemingly provide attractive and consumptive complexes, upper-income residential spaces, investment-worthy aesthetic blocks, efficient labor pools, and healthy business climates. Or is this a myth that is –for the moment– carrying the day? Growing divides between the have and the have–nots are a glaring new reality which, to some, reflect the truth of a new spatial order that must exist. Or is this an elaborate contrivance which could easily be overcome by thoughtful planning and calculation? Cities now must find ways to entice a creative class of people to drive their places to a new era of prosperity. Or is this a construction with little validity and merit? This conference will take on these issues, and move boldly forward to advance our understanding and activities for the making of more vibrant, robust, and equitable urban environments. This conference in Chicago speaks to these realities and asks pressing questions: how can our aging and Rust Belt cities in America and beyond prosper in these new ominous times? How can planners, design professionals, policy analysts, and local city organizations make our cities more livable and fruitful for all? What is our definition of a utopian city and how can we make that happen? Working through the theme “Decline Belt Cities: Problems, Prospects, and Possibilities,” we will concern ourselves with identifying the vexing issues that plague our cities, how these issues can be ameliorated, and the possibilities for creating more just and fairer cities.