EAUH Conference 2018


Session SS49. Beyond Ruinenlust: Historicising Urban Renewal, Regeneration and Resilience (all periods)

Coordinators: Marcello Balbo (, Julio D Davila (, Carlos Lopez Galviz (

The question of how and why vacant, run-down or derelict buildings affect our perception of beautiful places is not one we understand fully. An important tendency of renewal and regeneration practices since the 1960s has been to implement schemes under the assumption that either they improve peoples’ lives or ‘upgrade’ the physical appearance of places. Austerity leaves us with more questions than answers, not least in a new ‘post-regeneration era’ characterised by a near universal absence of targeted interventions and the almost exclusive preference for policy to focus on facilitation or enablement (Tabb 2014, Wilks-Heeg 2015, O’Brien and Matthews 2015).

Renewal, regeneration and resilience are often a mirror where governments frame their ambitions in a manner that reminds us of the aesthetic sublime inherent in the Romantic notion of Ruinenlust, namely, the ‘preserve of an elevated aesthetic sensibility, a mark of sophistication and sensitivity’ (Zucker 1961); an experience where awe, fear, nostalgia and despair converge, however unevenly. But history teaches us otherwise. Renewal, regeneration and resilience have been an essential part of how cities have changed for centuries, in some cases, millennia. Whether forced by war, famine, epidemics and nature, or the will of the powerful – call them kings, elites, councils or business – the built and social fabric of cities is often one made out of scars, well-honed decisions, half-realised plans, revolutions.

This inter-disciplinary session invites proposals to reflect on urban change through the lens of renewal, regeneration and resilience in a manner that moves us beyond our fascination with the aesthetic, beyond Ruinenlust. It invites us to consider the spatial, the social, the cultural and the political dimensions of urban change, and to do so historically. More specifically we encourage proposals to engage with questions such as: the extent to which a 'language of action without a subject' (Cohen 2013) has driven the reuse of derelict and abandoned buildings and sites; the role that personal memories and institutional heritage play in redevelopment practices where the past or, indeed, the present are riddled with despair, conflict and violence; the challenges and opportunities of connecting the interests of communities often sidelined by the perceived effects and benefits of ‘market forces’, including those associated with mega-events such as world exhibitions, Olympic games and others; how urban renewal, regeneration and resilience have been understood at different times in history, by whom, where, and with what consequences.

We welcome proposals from any city and any period in history, and will give precedence to those with an international comparative perspective.
Keywords: regeneration; urbanism; ruinenlust; memory; heritage; community