What we learned at the Inspiration Day

On 31 January 2023, the Urban Studies Institute organized the USI Inspiration Day to celebrate its 10 years of existence. With a full day program, including brainstorm sessions on urban challenges, feedback from ongoing collaborations with urban stakeholders in USI projects and two keynote lectures by former USI director and chair Bert De Munck and Stijn Oosterlynck, the day was full of inspiration indeed.

Decolonizing USI / The 15-minutes city

In the morning, two round tables were organized to stimulate inter- and transdisciplinary exchange: one tackling the issue of “decolonizing USI” (chaired by Esther van Zimmeren), the other on discussing “(beyond) the fifteen minutes city” (chaired by Ilja Van Damme). In both brainstorm sessions, USI members did short pitches on how research and teaching would and could contribute to these broad thematic issues, related to the field of urban studies. The “decolonising USI” session hosted a conversation on decolonisation of different facets of academia, including comparative research, field research and teaching. The discussion considered language, contextualizing theories, the importance of handbooks in teaching, positionality of researchers, and the need to decolonize the entire ecosystem. The discussion in the session on “(beyond) the fifteen minutes city” centered around the advantages and dangers of the concept of “the fifteen minutes city”: advantages in being useful to tackle urban challenges like sprawl, gentrification, housing, greening, accessibility, … but dangers in its use as a “branding” concept while focusing on proximity without considering accessibility.

Engaging non-academic stakeholders in research

In the afternoon, a short session explored engaging non-academic stakeholders in research. It highlighted experiences in ongoing USI projects on solidarity and religion (SOLIGION) and on financing nature-based solutions (InnoFiNS). The discussion centred around the benefits of designing and doing research with stakeholders, as well as challenges of managing expectations and demands, misalignments in timing of research and policy needs, and continuity across all phases of research.

Read on below the photos.

Keynotes on city-state relationships and barriers to interdisciplinarity

Finally, the day was completed by two inspiring keynote lectures by Stijn Oosterlynck and Bert De Munck, who were the driving forces behind USI for a decade. In his lecture on “Shifting city-state relationships”, Stijn Oosterlynck unraveled the complicated relationship between cities and states, strongly emphasizing the innovative insights when adding an historical dimension to his perspective as a sociologist. Another plea for interdisciplinarity was done in the lecture of Bert De Munck, who presented “A history of institutional and epistemological barriers to interdisciplinarity”, focusing on the origins and challenges of disciplinary boundaries, and how interdisciplinary platforms like urban studies institutes are still contested by these boundaries.

We would like to thank everyone who attended the USI Inspiration Day,

Warm wishes,

The USI research managers (Kate Reilly & Inneke Baatsen) & USI co-directors (Greet De Block & Thomas Vanoutrive)

PS: should you be interested in receiving the slides of Bert and Stijn’s presentations, you can send a message to