BECOMING LOCAL – Generative places, smart approaches, happy people

 24th – 25th September, 2015

Faculty of Engineering, University of Porto – PORTUGAL

BECOMING LOCAL – Generative places, smart approaches, happy people– is the topic of the 8thCITTA Conference and AESOP Thematic Group on Public Spaces & Urban Cultures event organized by CITTA - Research Center for Territory, Transport and Environment, held at the Faculty of Engineering, Porto University, Portugal, on the 24th-25th September 2015.

Theme of the conference

Along the decades, planning has been evolving from expert-led or top-down approaches to more community-led, interactive and participatory approaches, valuing the social capital of local communities and putting citizens at the centre of planning processes. Research has been emphasizing the importance of local contexts to set goals and establish priorities through adaptive learning processes. Additionally, it is relevant to identify places here understood as ‘generative places’, where the emergence of local initiatives based on knowledge-based creativity and interactive learning occur. In other words, places should demonstrate the capacity to flourish and reinvent themselves - hopefully revealing their true genius loci, meaning the location’s unique character - most of the times through spontaneous processes based on community action and groups of individuals’ initiatives.

BECOMING LOCAL means that the contemporary rationale should zoom in to ‘Local’ spaces and places, policies and practices, and everyday life; this way, the human capital (citizens and their social and cultural background) play an important role as key agents of urban change and, in particular, of defining what is meaningful within the city. The understanding and the production of these meaningful places is, nowadays, increasingly confronted with diversified real (material) and virtual (immaterial) spheres of urban spaces, either private or public. Planning has to be prepared to embrace both these spheres of the city, as they both contribute to the construction of meaningful places.

Moreover, the idea that the use of technological or smart driven approaches in planning processes can, firstly, facilitate political discourse and participation by strengthening the link between citizens and governors, and secondly, better respond to people needs and improve the quality of life of citizens, has been around in different contexts and dimensions. Several projects, applications and approaches are making evident that we are forced to live and use technology in our daily activities and inevitably in the city arena. Technology affects our behaviours and the way we move and live in urban areas at various levels. However, regarding the access to (new) technologies (transports, communication/ICT networks, etc.), a certain asymmetry still exists due to the vulnerability of some communities and deprived families. Also, the operative structures of public institutions and private representative bodies of local people interests are often different. Additional, in some regions, physical distance is not yet counterbalanced with technological proximity. Thus, participatory planning processes may be less efficient and even threatened. Though, it is imperative to investigate and discuss how these technological tools can lead to the idea of what is usually designated as e-inclusion and most importantly how it can promote, ultimately, social cohesion and integration.

Intensifying the role of citizens by either community-led, interactive, or participatory approaches, is consensually argued as responding more directly to people’s needs and aspirations. Nonetheless, the level of quality of life, and even the level of happiness, is far from being truly and completely achieved. Urban planning has been concerned in creating better places, but nowadays is also focusing in increasing the levels of happiness, following the wider trend in discussing what makes people happier.

In the Conference some raising questions are expected to be discussed:

  • What are the processes that make some places flourish, and others not? What initiatives are at the bottom of the process?
  • What are the roles of planning and design in those spontaneous processes of urban transformation? How is the articulation and mediation of the different agents/stakeholders in the making and along the process?
  • How can the concept of ‘generative place’ be further defined and explored (based on the variety of real cases)?
  • Do these generative places contribute more to the meaningful of the city?
  • What are the emerging research methodologies and positions in the studies of generative places? What are the problems of being at the cutting edges?
  • What are the main technological tools that are being used in urban spaces (mainly, public open spaces, transports and mobility)?
  • Do they have been contributing to increase social equality, creativity, cohesion and integration? If not, what are the main problems? Is e-inclusion a determinant key in reaching more equitable and liveable places?

Having in mind these ideas and ultimately these questions, the conference aims to investigate and discuss some main topics raised by these debates.

Session 1) Real and virtual boundaries / Physical dimension

What are the cultural effects emerging from the blurring of the private and the common? What role can public space assume in the digitization of our public lives? How can it compete with the virtually being ‘outside’ while actually being at home or elsewhere? The structure of the city should invite and encourage “public life”, through its public spaces and transport systems – how to potentiate this public life in contrast to the porous network of our virtual lives and spaces. How can the design of public environments respond to these emergent cultural effects?

Session 2) (Un)successful mediation / Social dimension

ICT technologies and ‘smart’ approaches as facilitators in the mediation between political power and communities/citizens, providing a compromise of direct democracy and facilitating the political discourse. Emerging ways of using technology, digital techniques and representation in participatory design research/practice. The potentials and paradoxes – often, participation using technological tools is no guarantee of representation of local communities, leading to social injustice, and exclusion instead of e-inclusion. How should planning drive this mediation not compromising spontaneous processes of urban transformation?

Session 3) Local identities and meanings / Cultural dimension

Understanding the cultural meaning of urban spaces and investigate how cultural practices and dynamics determine the construction of local identities and meanings, highlighting emergent and alternative cultural transformations. Good generative places denotes stronger meaningful of localities?

Confirmed Keynote speakers 

Ali Madanipour - University of Newcastle, United Kingdom / Representative AESOP Thematic Group - Public Spaces & Urban Cultures

Ali Madanipour is Professor of Urban Design and the Director of Global Urban Research Unit at Newcastle University ( He has studied (MArch, PhD), practised, researched, and taught architecture, urban design and planning, winning design and research awards, and working with academic and municipal partners from around the world. His work has been translated into French, German, Italian, Japanese, Mandarin, Persian and Spanish. His visiting positions include the City of Vienna Senior Visiting Professor at the Technical University of Vienna (2010), the Wits-Claude Leon Distinguished Scholar at the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg (2011), and Visiting Professor at the Polytechnic of Milan (2015).

Carlos Fortuna - University of Coimbra, Portugal

Carlos Fortuna is Professor of Sociology at the Faculty of Economics (University of Coimbra). Senior Researcher at the Center for Social Studies. Scientific Coordinator of the Masters and Doctoral Programmes in "Cities and Urban Cultures" (University of Coimbra). Areas of interest: Urban cultures; Tourism, heritage and memory; Identities and city images. Author of various books. His most recent publication is "Simmel: A Estética e a Cidade" (Coimbra, Imprensa da Universidade,2010) (Org.).

Sako Musterd - University of Amsterdam, Netherlands

Sako Musterd is Professor of Social Geography / Urban Geography. Some recent research on Urban Geography focus: international comparative analyses of dynamics in metropolitan areas; neighbourhood effect studies; spatial segregation and integration; conditions for the creative knowledge city. Participated and participates in large European research programmes: URBEX (co-ordinator); COST CIVITAS; UGIS; RESTATE; Neighbourhood Trajectories; BSIK-ICES-KIS; ACRE (co-ordinator); Social Polis (co-coordinator); COST CIRES; and a range of NWO (Dutch Research Council) programmes, most recently in Urban Regions in the Delta and JPI Urban Europe. Co-operations with a large number of other universities in the framework of European research programmes and beyond.

Other keynote Speakers to be confirmed soon!

Abstract Submission

An extended abstract (500-1000 words) should be provided, outlining: 1) the issue/research problem; 2) Its relevance for the conference theme; 3) The background; 4) The methodology; 5) And the key results of the paper.

Abstracts should be submitted electronically (in Word Document Format), through our submission website.

Important dates

Submission of abstracts: 30th April
Notification of accepted abstracts: 25th May
Submission of full papers: 30th June
End of registration: 10th September

Two days Event

1st day / 24th September - only for AESOP TG / PS-UC (field trip + seminar/workshop)

2nd day / 25th September - joint conference AESOP TG_PS-UC + CITTA Research Centre

Participation Fee

The event on the 1st day is free of charge, however, we kindly ask you to secure your own travel and accommodation arrangements.

The Conference fees for the 2nd day are as follow:


Registration fees



Early registration

40 Euros

80 Euros

Late registration

50 Euros

100 Euros


Organizing Committee

Sara Santos Cruz (Chair), Fernando Brandão Alves (Chair), Paulo Pinho, Burcu Yigit Turan, Gabriella Esposito de Vita, Ana Martins, Lara Mendes, Miguel Lopes, Rita Vaz

Scientific Committee

Aleksandra Djukic, Álvaro Seco, António Pais Antunes, Burcu Yigit Turan, Fernando Brandão Alves, Gabriella Esposito de Vita, Isabel Breda Vazquez, Paulo Pinho, Sabine Knierbein, Ceren Sezer, Sara Santos Cruz. 

Additional information


The conference will be hosted at the Faculty of Engineering of the University of Porto, Porto - Portugal


Other events can be held in Porto Municipality (CMP)

For more details on AESOP Thematic Group, visit:

urban cultures and public spaces