Workshop "Urban management for an urban future"

The Asia-Europe Workshop 'Urban management for an urban future', jointly organised by the Faculty of Social Sciences (University of Ljubljana) and Hong Kong Baptist University and funded by the ASEF (Asia-Europe Foundation) and the Asia Alliance, was held in Ljubljana, Slovenia, from the 15th to the 16th of October 2010. The aim of the workshop was to address issues of urban management and the development of the concept of urban management itself. The future is increasingly becoming urban. In 2008, for the first time in history, the rural and urban population sizes were equal. Therefore, if the city is the local environment for half the population of the world, then special tools for managing urban environments should be developed. The concern is how local governments throughout the world are managing this rapid urbanisation and how are they coping with the challenges that urbanisation brings. The main problems cities face today are pollution, degradation of the environment, crime, and transport congestion-to sum up, a low quality of life. Yet the problem is not urbanisation itself but the inability of some cities to afford the necessary infrastructure. Without this, they cannot keep pace with the rate of population change and the growth of consumption as incomes rise. Providing the inhabitants of a city with the infrastructure they need for their everyday lives is extremely difficult in large, high-density areas.


The main tool for attacking the so-called ‘urban problem' is urban management (Sharma, 1989; Clarke, 1991; Rakodi, 1991; Stren, 1993; McGill, 1995; Werna, 1995; Van Dijk, 2006). "Urban management" is a term widely used to describe the way city governments address problems that the city encounters; however, the notion of urban management lacks content. To date, the question of what urban management actually is remains unanswered. Leaving urban management in a state of unanalysed abstraction has led to confusion and misuse of the notion. Therefore, to tackle sustainable urban development in the future, we have to ensure wide international co-operation and a fruitful exchange of practical experience; to understand each other in this dialogue, we must first establish the subject of the conversation.

During the first day of the workshop, papers were presented at two panels. The first panel, titled ‘Urban management for an urban future: Asia', included six papers. First Meine Pieter van Dijk (Economic Faculty and IHS of Erasmus University, Rotterdam; UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education, Delft, Netherlands) presented the paper ‘Urban management to deal with environmental and climate changes in Chinese and European cities'. In the paper, he explored how cities in a globalizing world are tackling environmental issues and presented a coordinated approach towards addressing them, using examples from Chinese and European cities. Following this was Belinda Yuen (World Bank, Washington DC), who presented her paper ‘Planning city of opportunity in Singapore', in which, through a case study of Singapore, she explained how the city is remaking and rebuilding to create a place that is attractive for living, working and visiting in the competitive global urban order. Next was Charit Tingsabadh (Centre for European Studies and Chula Global Network, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand), who presented a paper titled ‘Low Carbon City', in which he explored the application of the ‘low-carbon city' concept to the Asian region. Especially in the second part of his paper, he focused on the role of cities in addressing climate change issues and compared the European approach with that of ASEAN and other Asian countries. The panel also included papers that were more case study oriented. Kausik Gangopadhyay (Indian Institute of Management Kozhikode, India) presented a paper titled ‘Urban environmental degradation in modern India: culture and technology in perspective'. He shared empirical findings concerning the gradual loss of green vegetation from private properties in the city of Calicut. Afterwards, in her paper ‘Hypermarket and economic development: a case of Carrefour in Indonesia', Sandra Sunanto (Indonesia) presented her investigation of the impact of hypermarkets on economic development, focusing on Carrefour's entry into Indonesia. Finally, Man Kong LI (Chinese University of Hong Kong, China) presented the paper ‘Why ethnic presence in urban Hong Kong?'


The second panel, ‘Urban management for an urban future: Europe', was more EU oriented than the first; however, the intention was not to divide the papers solely on the basis of geographical background. First, Robin Hambleton (Cities Research Centre, University of the West of England, Bristol, UK) presented the paper ‘Place-based leadership and the future of urban management', in which he explored the relationship between the state and society, specifically the involvement of civil society and the business community in leading and managing cities. Special focus was on effective ‘place-based' leadership and organisational culture change. Next, Barbara Czarniawska (GRI, School of Business, Economics & Law, University of Gothenburg, Sweden) presented ‘City projections: the images of the past, present and future' concerning case studies of urban management in Warsaw, Stockholm, and Rome. The symbolic image of ‘the European capital' was proposed and explored, guided by images of all three cities, and the conclusion reached was that ‘universal models' are locally assembled. The third presented paper in this panel was ‘Reconceptualisation of urban management: evidences from EU cities' by Irena Bačlija (Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia). The paper presented was twofold, first, focusing on the lack of a definition for urban management and, second, presenting empirical research on urban management conducted in 58 EU cities. Last were two presenters from Slovenia. Matjaž Uršič (Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia) presented a paper titled ‘Comparing urban renewal in Barcelona and Seoul-Urban management in circumstances of global competitiveness of cities'. Exploring examples from Barcelona and Seoul, it focused on cities as engines of the global economy that actively respond to the pressures and opportunities of globalization. This transformation has consequences for everyday life in cities. Then, Maja Simoneti (Institute for spatial policies, Slovenia) presented the paper ‘Urban green space-a case to study urban management'. This paper illustrated how urban management can influence urban green space, drawing examples from the Slovenian capital, Ljubljana.

The purpose of the workshop was to create a think tank for broader agreement regarding the definition of urban management by asking whose responsibility is urban management and, based on this, what are its tools and methods. The goal was to give urban management a voice in the research community. By outlining the difference between urban governance and urban management, the hope was to decide whether urban management is a modified local version of new public management and to establishing whether urban management is a domain of administration, politics, or both. In this context, the aim of the workshop was to achieve discursive convergence on this topic. To accomplish this, we organised a round table on the second day of the workshop for open discussion among participants regarding the definition(s) of urban management. The discussion dealt with whether we understand urban management as a way of modernising city administration, as decentralisation and enhanced participation, or as urban governance. Although this might seem to be extreme theorising, we concluded that defining urban management is very important, since it provides a much-needed framework for urban managers. Therefore, we could not overlook that understanding what defines an urban manager is also quite different. However, the main conclusion of the workshop was that an urban manager is a chief executive officer, an appointed professional, who is accountable for the proactive implementation of city policy.

A final conclusion of this ASEF workshop was that further academic discussions between European and Asian scholars concerning urban management are more than welcome. Participants expressed interest in further discussing issues such as concept building of urban management theory, categorising tools for urban managers and proposing ways of empowering urban managers through education. Therefore, we hope that this Asia-Europe Workshop will be followed by other academic events that help to strengthen the dialogue between European and Asian scholars.