Institute of Geography and Sustainability of the University of Lausanne
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Re-thinking Zones

Urban development discourses have diagnosed a crisis in planning. Above all, the functional separation of living, working, and recreation—the basis of function-based zones and urban planning in modernity (e.g. Athens Charter)—has been severely criticised for producing dysfunctions (eg. urban sprawl, increasingly long commutes). These considerations form the background of the project, which is located at the interface of urban sociology and science and technology studies (STS). It focuses on zoning as a major tool of land use planning and as a device that interplays together with urban development and participates in building a planning culture (Haar & Kayden 1989; Talen 2005). This analysis of urban planning viewed through the lens of zoning, employs a hybrid approach which is based on the concepts of actor-network theory (ANT) (Latour 2005) and urban assemblages (Farías & Bender 2009). In this notion, zoning is conceptualized as a non-human actor in an ANT sense that frames and is being framed by a specific planning culture. Planning culture refers to an analytical concept which has been derived from comparative approaches of culture in STS such as epistemic culture (Knorr Cetina 1999) and political culture (Jasanoff 2005), to explore the categories issues, actors, arenas and practices of zone based urban planning. The project aims at analysing planning cultures in Vancouver (Canada) and Zurich (Switzerland), two cities, comparable in size and atmosphere. Both use zoning as an instrument, however, practiced with different operational, legal and political background. The project will employ a mix of methods comprising participant observation at urban planning authorities and qualitative interviews of planning experts. It is based on the following hy-potheses: 1. Zoning as a land use development tool is employed extensively in both Zurich and Vancouver; however, the planning culture of each city frames and is framed by the issues, actors, arenas and practices of zoning. 2. Despite similarities in the issues addressed and the arenas in which planning processes take place, both cities differ considerably in the actors involved and their practices, i.e, how zoning and urban planning are performed. By introducing a practical theory approach of analysing issues, actors, arenas and practices of planning by using an ANT-inspired hybrid-framed concept, i.e., planning cultures, the project aims at overcoming the thus-far neglected understanding in urban sociology of the city as a non-stable entity and therefore transcends action theory’s and institution theory’s blind spots of framing cities, planning and zones as stable, and well-defined entities. By using a comparative, micro-analytical approach, the project not only adds to ongoing discourses in STS and STS-framed urban and regional studies, but also offers a relatively new and not yet well established perspective in planning and urban studies. Due to its comparative approach, the project opens new perspectives on planning and its consequences—aspects that might be of high benefit to authorities, departments and individuals involved in planning in both cities analyzed.

Research fields Urban studies
Urban dynamics
Cities, policies and environment

Politiques urbaines
Gouvernance urbaine
Keywords Sustainable urbanism
Landed property
Real estate market
Actor-network theory
Funding SNF_Division 1
Duration September 2013 - August 2016
Researchers Kurath Monika
Marskamp Marko
Ruegg Jean

Project location

Downtown Vancouver