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Final Report Summary - UKNA (Urban Knowledge Network Asia)

During the four years of the project, UKNA has developed into one of the most significant and dynamic urban research networks in the world to focus on Asian cities, thanks to its core IRSES support as well as additional, targeted support from other external sources for selected activities.

UKNA has solidified as a network and expanded its institutional partners. From its core membership (at project inception in 2012) in China, India, Western Europe and the U.S., UKNA now includes additional partners in Southeast Asia (National University of Singapore, Asia Research Institute) and “Greater China”, including the University of Macau (Faculty of Social Sciences) .These partners are actively engaged in UKNA activities (see below). In the future, even more universities in Northeast Asia and Southeast Asia are welcomed to join the UKNA network and be involved in the networks’ activities.

A significant milestone in the solidifying of the UKNA network has been the development of a “common vision” in July 2013. The common vision provides the overarching framework for the network’s activities and planned research outputs. The common vision was agreed and elaborated by all scientific representatives in a participatory fashion. It represents the common ground for all partners in the diverse network, encompassing scholars in the social scientists, humanities, the natural sciences and the arts, across 3 continents.

The key message of the common vision is that UKNA focuses on “human flourishing and the creative production of urban space” in Asian cities. The justification for this focus is the realization that most other urban research projects are preoccupied with macro-level topics such as urban infrastructure, architecture and/or the natural environment: human beings appear to be missing in these schemes. The UKNA partners therefore saw an urgent need to bring the well-being (“flourishing”) of human beings (whether as urban residents, migrants, and/or citizens) back into the urban research and policy focus. The common vision also makes clear UKNA’s methodological focus, which is a combination of theory and practice orientation. Thus, the vision emphasizes “immediate problem solving as well as the identification of long-term, transformative processes that increase the scope for the active engagement of people in the creative production and shaping of the city”.

The UKNA network currently revolves around four types of activities: 1) Internal workshops and roundtable meetings; 2) External roundtable conferences and activities; 3) Publications; and 4) Links to external network initiatives.

Activity type 1: Internal workshops and roundtable meetings. These include two sets of activities: annual roundtable workshops that bring together all UKNA partner organizations to discuss internal network matters and research themes; and research presentation workshops organized by the host institutions at which UKNA scholars present their research work. Since project inception there have been 4 annual roundtables, with a fifth (post-IRSES funding) planned for December 2016:

•2012: 1st annual UKNA roundtable at the Technical University of Delft (November 2012), on urban heritage policies.

•2013: 2nd annual UKNA roundtable at the National University of Singapore (July 2013), on the vernacular city.

•2014: 3rd annual UKNA roundtable at CEPT University in Ahmedabad, India (December 2014) on smart cities.

•2015: 4th annual UKNA roundtable at Tianjin University, China (October 2015), on eco-cities.

•2016: 5th annual UKNA roundtable at Ambedkar University Delhi (planned for December 2016), on the subject of urban services and water management.

Activity type 2: External roundtables and activities. Since project inception a number of UKNA partners have collaborated to jointly organize roundtable meetings and other types of conferences on urban topics of interest to the network partners and external audiences. These events are additional to the annual roundtables of the entire UKNA network, as they are more specialized in nature. At these events, interested UKNA partners and UKNA scholars are invited to participate and make presentations about their research work. These seminars have continued throughout the four-year program and are still ongoing. All of these external events are funded by external sources, including IIAS/University of Leiden (Netherlands), CNRS (France), DPU/University College London, and local partners in Asia. So far these external roundtables have included the following:

•Joint IIAS-National University of Taiwan Graduate Institute of Planning and Building roundtable in Taipei, Taiwan on “Constructive Contestation around Urban Heritage in Taipei: A New Approach for Asian Cities?” (7-10 October 2012)

•IIAS-University of Macau joint conference in Macau on the “Revitalization of the Inner Harbor of Macau” (9-12 December 2013).

•ENSAPB (France) seminar series on water management in Asian cities, entitled “L’Eau dans la Ville, la Ville dans l’Eau”, planned jointly with University of Hong Kong, CAUPD (China) and TU Delft (various seminars, 2014 and 2015).

•Roundtable on urban heritage preservation policies in Pingyao, China, organized by the UNESCO World Heritage List city of Pingyao, together with the China Academy of Urban Planning and Design (October 2015, just prior to the 4th annual UKNA meeting in Tianjin).

•Roundtable meeting at Development Planning Unit, University College London on the subject of “Cities Across Borders” (the theme of the 2016 UKNA RISE funding proposal) and featuring presentations by UKNA scholars at DPU/UCL, attended by DPU/UCL, IIAS, ENSAPB, CAUPD (China), Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences and Tianjin University (18-19 February 2016).

Activity type 3: UKNA edited volumes. The main publication output of UKNA will be a set of three edited volumes of research papers, to be published in 2017 by Amsterdam University Press, in the Asian Cities series. The research papers will all be based on empirical (and original) research work, much of which has been done by UKNA scholars. Each volume will cover one of three UKNA research areas, as follows:

•Volume 1: The “Ideas of the City” research theme explores competing ideas of the contemporary city from historical perspectives to illuminate the continuities and ruptures in the process of city making (for more detail see Document 2).

•Volume 2: The “Cities by and for the People” theme examines who are the actors and how they interact in the production, shaping, contestation and transformation of the city. It explores the relations between human flourishing and the making of urban space and form, with a particular concern for the rights of residents and users in the process (for more detail see Document 3).

•Volume 3: The “Future Challenges of Cities in Asia” theme considers the challenges of urban dwellers and users in the areas of land, housing, infrastructure, services, planning and the environment, personal well being (including livelihoods and human capital), and “life spaces” (comprising culture, urban heritage, public spaces, and associational life) (for more detail see Document 4).

Activity type 4: UKNA linkages to external initiatives and projects. UKNA is connected to other initiatives that provide the partnership with a podium to advertise its people and outputs even more broadly. Two such partnerships are with foundations in the United States that are active in supporting scholarship on Asia.

•Andrew W. Mellon Foundation: IIAS has received a grant from the Mellon Foundation in the U.S. in 2014 to rethink conventional area studies and urban studies, in the context of an initiative entitled “Rethinking Asian Studies in the Global Context”. One of the five forums of this initiative concerns urbanization in Asia. IIAS organized three roundtable meetings in this context, in New York (2014), Mumbai (2015), and Shanghai (2015), which were well attended by UKNA scholars. The final meeting in Shanghai was hosted by UKNA partner Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.

•Henry Luce Foundation: In March 2016 IIAS received confirmation of a grant award from the Henry Luce Foundation to support the Southeast Asia Neighborhoods Network (SEANNET) program, which will be coordinated by IIAS in collaboration with several UKNA institutional partners (principally, Asia Research Institute/National University of Singapore and ENSAPB, France). The four-year initiative is about research, teaching and dissemination of knowledge on Asia through the prism of the city and urban communities. As part of this initiative, IIAS and ARI/ National University of Singapore will organize a major conference in Singapore on “Lanes and Neighborhoods of Cities in Asia” on 30 June and 1 July 2016. The program is linked to UKNA activities and will feature several UKNA scholars as speakers and chair people.

In addition to support from U.S.-based foundations, IIAS (as coordinator of UKNA) has spearheaded a follow-up proposal to the EU for the continuation and deepening of the current, highly successful UKNA network. In April 2016 UKNA submitted a proposal to the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions/Research and Innovation Staff Exchange (RISE) funding program, entitled “Cities Across Borders”. Whereas UKNA has up until now focused strongly on cities in China and India, the focus in the “Cities Across Borders” project will be on urbanization in the developing countries of Southeast Asia. The proposal represents a research agenda that transcends borders at several levels: disciplinary borders, geographic borders, and boundaries of time, transcending past and future.

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