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Book challenges urban thought, offers fresh perspective “from outside in”

Book challenges urban thought, offers fresh perspective “from outside in”

Environmental Studies professor releases book on the global phenomenon of suburbanization. This, on the heels of a major international conference, will shape future thought on this important topic.

Professor Roger Keil, York Research Chair and former Director of the CITY Institute at York, has been very busy. He released his latest book, Suburban Planet: Making the World Urban from the Outside In, published by Polity (2017) in October 2017. The book was launched at a key international conference that Keil organized, “After Suburbia: Extended Urbanization and Life on the Planet’s Periphery,” held at York University, October 19 to 21, and made possible by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Connections Grant. The conference was the final event of the Major Collaborative Research Initiative (MCRI) “Global Suburbanisms: Governance, Land and Infrastructure in the 21st Century,” also funded by SSHRC since 2010.

Roger Keil. Image credit: Ute Lehrer

Roger Keil. Image by Ute Lehrer

This book and conference will change the way people think of urbanization in years to come, noted South African suburban researcher and core contributor to Global Suburbanisms, Professor Robin Bloch, in introducing Keil’s closing keynote address. Keil’s work adds to a greater understanding of our suburban futures, as new forms of work, housing, mobility and governance, as well as how human/non-human nature relationships take shape.

Keil, a professor in the Faculty of Environmental Studies, holds a York Research Chair in Global Sub/Urban Studies in recognition of his research contributions to the field of urban and environmental research. His research examines suburbanization, a defining feature of the “urban century.”

Book considers the city from its periphery

Part of an Urban Futures Series produced by the publisher, Suburban Planet is a compelling response to 20th-century Marxist philosopher and sociologist Henri Lefebvre’s demand not to give up urban theory as the city in its classical form disappears. This new book invites the reader to reconsider the city from its periphery. Keil argues that while the massive wave of present urbanization is often referred to as an “urban revolution,” most of this startling urban growth worldwide is happening at the margins of cities.

Suburban Planet: Making the World Urban from the Outside In, by Roger Keil published by Polity. Cover image reproduced with permission of the publisher

Suburban Planet: Making the World Urban from the Outside In by Roger Keil published by Polity. Cover image reproduced with permission of the publisher

“This book occupies itself with questions of urban growth that are better understood if we take into account tendencies towards urban expansion, decentralization and suburbanization,” Keil explains. “Suburban Planet is about the process that creates the global urban periphery – suburbanization – and the ways of life – suburbanisms – we encounter there,” Keil summarizes.

Suburbanization, according to Keil, is a global process and part of the extended urbanization of the planet. “The reality of life in the urban century is suburban: most of the earth’s future 10 billion inhabitants will not live in conventional cities but in suburban constellations of one kind or another,” Keil explains.

The book contains richly detailed examples from around the world. This includes the gated communities of elites, the squatter settlements of the poor, and many built forms and ways of life in-between.

Conference featured leading thinkers from across the globe

The related conference, “After Suburbia,” brought together leading scholars of suburbanization and suburbanisms with a global profile, including international experts directly associated with the multiyear Major Collaborative Research Initiative, and Toronto-based urban policy and planning professionals and practitioners. Keynote speakers included Solly Angel, New York University, New York; Crystal Legacy, University of Melbourne, Australia; Roberto Luís Monte-Mór, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Brazil; Jennifer Robinson and Fulong Wu, University College London, UK; in addition to Keil.

Keil at “After Suburbia” conference held at York, October 19 to 21, 2017

The conference had much to offer: Graduate students presented their own work in a pre-conference event. Art and performance pieces augmented the conference: Photography and data visualization work created by MCRI researchers Markus Moos and Robert Walter-Joseph University of Waterloo, Ute Lehrer, York University were featured. This provided a glimpse into the past seven years of work in the field of suburban research.

As well, the Art Gallery of York University presented a panel on ‘off-centred curating’ and the specificities of curatorial practices in suburbia. The gallery also hosted a reception, artists’ talk and tour of the fall exhibit “Migrating the Margins,” which featured the work by artists of immigrant families who grew up in the suburbs. York’s Department of Theatre also staged a reading of a play, set in suburbia: “Concord Floral.”

To learn more about Keil’s book, visit the publisher’s website. For more information about Keil, visit his faculty profile.

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By Megan Mueller, manager, research communications, Office of the Vice-President Research & Innovation, York University,