The event in a nutshell

  • Informal, open, and online event promoted by University of Florence [Critical Planning and Design Lab] with University of Groningen and Tallinn University of Technology
  • Targeted at scholars and practitioners integrating complexity theories in analyzing cities and urban planning
  • Keynotes by Prof. Richard Sennett and Prof Helen Couclelis, Speed talks, Panel discussions and Open spaces


Central questions:

  • How and in which ways does the Covid-19 pandemic expose the complexity of urban systems?
  • Which reactions and innovations in response to Covid-19 may advance urban planning in addressing urban complexity?
  • Which lessons can be gained from Covid-19 on how can planning support urban societies in facing sudden global crises? 

When: 27th of November, 2020
Where: Online, 14:00 - 18:30 hrs

The event will be held completely online, on the Zoom video conferencing platform.
It will alternate presentations in plenary with moments of work in the breakout rooms.
It will be possible to follow the conference actively (plenary and breakout room) on the Zoom platform at the link (that works also as registration after the 20th November)
Please, make sure you to participate, click on the link within than 24 hours before the event. In the form at the link, you are asked to choose the privacy policy because all plenary sessions will be streamed on our YouTube Channel ( The Parallel Sessions will be also recorded and then uploaded to the YouTube Channel.

Submit your contribution now!

Get ready for an afternoon of energetic, thought-provoking talks and debates on 27th November, 2020.

Global social disruption

What if the social habitant cities offer is challenged by unexpected break down of urban systems at a planetary scale? This question has taken the centre stage since the Covid-19 outbreak and the associated pandemic. “Flesh and stones”, as Richard Sennett introduced back in time in 1994, immediately become the ingredients of deeply private lives instead of the ones of the public life, outside. The social disruptions that came with Covid-19 make uncertainty and complexity tangible for each and every one in many ways. 

1. We knew a pandemic is possible, but could not expect its widespread consequences

Throughout the history, pandemics have disturbed humans and their communities and challenged the established socio-institutional arrangements. The COVID-19 breakout is certainly playing this role, challenging us more than ever by situations we never thought we would face in such a way. We have been forced to witness the reorganization of the sphere of our social life and shaking of the economies – both locally and globally, exacerbating all aspects of life particularly in the poor countries. Furthermore, dichotomy between those able to isolate and those who go to work to survive has become tangible on the scale of the globe and individual societies. We are facing a condition of profound uncertainty, irreducible to risk and therefore neither calculable nor insurable without an efficient and effective public; without institutions, the market forces are unable to guarantee the health and safety of citizens, nor to produce fundamental public goods, including space.

2. We have learnt again that linearity and predictability is a fallacy

The pandemic shows how urban systems can be exposed to unbalances and unexpected stresses at any moment. It underscores the fallacy of theories that take stability and predictability as a starting point, while these very same theories still seem to inspire the institutional frameworks and planning strategies of many of today’s cities. There is a need for rethinking the (self)organisation of urban societies.

3. Complexity science became suddenly very timely school of thought

Classical issues of in theories of complex adaptive theories such as chaos, network theories, phase transitions and even catastrophe theory became tangible. The extreme connectedness and vulnerability of global societies of the 21stcentury became visible. Robust social norms were suddenly abandoned and replaced by new ones, and urban economies pushed to a serious turbulence were forced to find ways to reinvent themselves.

New avenues of urban life emerge while old challenges remain 

Conversations, meetings, even personal and confidential exchanges have been transferred to the ether, so that the digital sphere has replaced incredibly fast the physical one. The materiality of the space (with its potentiality and limitations) has been replaced by the smartness of the digital platforms (with its hazard and facilitations). The later having as primary effect the rapid multiplying of connections across a social system that is generating unpredictable and unintended consequences. 

Our digital lifestyle also massively transforms urban logistics. While on-demand services were already available prior to the start of the pandemic, the general public fully discovered their potential during the lockdown. A swarm of vans, delivery bikes and scooters ensured that goods, meals, and services were instantly available, at the price of increasing traffic and pollution. Meanwhile our desire and appreciation for human-scale public space increased. During the most stringent lockdown period, dog walking and a stroll to the grocery store became highlights of the day. But during the ongoing requirement for social distancing, outdoor public spaces to do exercises, play and meet friends have become a major factor in the quality of urban areas.

What of all this will stick if we get Covid-19 under control? This is difficult if not impossible to predict. However, due to the length of this pandemic perhaps it is reasonable to assume that the new habits by citizens will be developed and that worldviews might flip. What is largely certain, is that the fundamental challenges for cities in the 21st century will remain: We still have to find solutions to climate change, loss of biodiversity and overpopulation.  We might learn about the experiences with Covid-19 of how to respond to these still open, fundamental challenges. 

Essential questions on the progress of planning

What does Covid-19 pandemic and the social disruptions coupled with it teach us about the organization of cities? What should we learn from this pandemic for urban planning when unpacking it regarding the uncertainties and complexities? 

The event aims to discuss three essential questions on the progress of planning considering the pandemic:

  1. How and in which ways does the Covid-19 pandemic expose the complexity of urban systems? 
  2. Which reactions and innovations in response to Covid-19 may advance urban planning in addressing urban complexity?
  3. Which lessons can be gained from Covid-19 on how planning can support urban societies in facing sudden global crises? (whether it’s is pandemic, the climate, a financial, or any other type of crisis)


Start the dialogue: share your research and your ideas!

This event on social disruption and urban complexity aspires to open an intergenerational dialogue among scholars and across fields and topics. Our aim is to improve the understanding of the factors influencing the ability of a city to react to the effects of the pandemic (and its discontents) at a very large extent. 

Insights from complexity theory of cities will be shared to explore and debate on the consequences of the epidemic break out and implications for planning. The inspirational kick-off of this call is the idea to look at what we are living in as a “case-study” to push forward the debate on complexity and planning and think about the future in new ways. 


The event aims to foster an intergenerational dialogue among scholars and across fields and topics. We call for contributions that can improve our understanding of the factors influencing the ability of a city to react to the effects of the pandemic (and its discontents).

Three types of contributions are welcomed: 

  • Paper presentation (10 min) combined with Q&A discussions
    • Traditional presentation of fully develop papers 
    • Submit a full paper
  • Speed Talks / pre-recorded video-pitches (5 min) combined with Q&A discussions
    • Provoking thoughts, personal reflections, initial research findings
    • Submit a 100 word abstract
  • Thematic paper / panel sessions (60 min) 
    • Proposal of thematic sessions under own moderation are also welcome. 
    • Submit a 200 word description and a list of expected contributors. 

13th November – Deadline
 thematic session

20th November - Deadline Full papers and abstracts for speed-talks

Submissions can be done at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Registation until the 20th November

Participation in the event is free, but registration is required. You might be asked to take a small organizational task, such as moderating a session. Please, also register in advance if you are not a presenter.