The Urban Studies Institute becomes a partner in a new JPI Urban Europe project on Conflict in Transfromations (CONTRA), coordinated by Tilburg University. Wouter Van Dooren will be coordinating the UAntwerp involvement in the project, supported by Tom Coppens, Esther van Zimmeren, Pascal Gielen and Hanka Otte. The project envisages a close collaboration with Nieuwstedelijk, City of Genk and De Werkvennootschap to experiment, co-design and implement the research.

The CONTRA project was selected as one of the 16 winning proposals to the ERA-NET Cofund call on Urban Transformation Capacities.

Institutionalising productive conflict

Polarisation threatens the transformative capacity of cities at a time when collective plans for a more sustainable and resilient urban future are needed. The typical answer to polarisation has been to strengthen consensus building among stakeholders, but such approaches are known to lead to alienation, tensions with existing democratic institutions, and an increasing gap with legal practice. CONTRA explores how institutionalising productive conflict can increase the transformative capacity needed in the transition towards more sustainable cities.

Through a comparative study of urban planning law and practices focused on climate transition in 4 countries (Belgium; Netherlands; Norway and Poland), we study how conflict is handled and investigate the connection with political and legal institutions to determine whether conflict is suppressed or actively used for sustainable transformation. We also test new ways to handle conflict.

CONTRA pioneers a new model of living labs (Drama Labs) that uses theatre-based methods to experiment with productive conflict. Combining empirical investigations with action research through the Drama Labs, CONTRA responds to topic 2 and 3 of the call by building capacities for urban transformation grounded in urban liveability, inclusivity, and active community engagement, as well as improving non-physical infrastructure such as governance and regulatory processes. 

Innovative financing

To make our cities more liveable, healthier and better adapted to climate change, very large public investments in green and blue infrastructure are needed. However, the current public budgets for these investments are insufficient. To accelerate the transition of our cities, the Urban Studies Institute is considering alternative forms of financing such as benefit skimming, crowd funding or impact financing.

The FWO recently approved the strategic basic research project Innofins, in which together with a large group of users, new models are being developed and tested in four different cities. The research project is carried out by researchers from the Faculty of Design Sciences, the Faculty of Social Sciences and the Faculty of Business and Economics.

In addition, members of the Urban Studies Institute are working with the City of Antwerp, Lantis, the Flemish government and the Antwerp citizens' movements on the financing of the covering of the Antwerp Ring.

Alternative financing of climate transition is also the subject of a recently approved H2020 research project Transformar, developed by the Institute for Sustainable Development of the University of Antwerp and members of the Urban Studies Institute. About ten researchers and PhD students will be working on this theme over the next four years.

ITN networks TOD-IS-RUR and SOLiDi

The Urban Studies Institute was selected in May 2020 to head two MSCA Innovative Training Networks (ITN). The institute will also coordinate a new SBO project.


Transit Oriented Development (TOD) for Inclusive and Sustainable Rural-Urban Regions (TOD-IS-RUR)

Supervisor: prof. Greet De Block

The project focuses on Transit Oriented Development (TOD), conceiving public transport as a backbone for socially Inclusive and environmentally Sustainable urbanisation in European Rural-Urban Regions (RURs). The overall objective is to go beyond the urban focus and undifferentiated, model-based approach of current TOD research and practice, and extend TOD to RURs with a context-based approach. If Europe is to make a transition to inclusive and sustainable urbanisation, this extension of TOD is essential, as most Europeans live in RURs, not just in urban cores.

Yet, current TOD approaches are at odds with mobility-urbanisation relations in RURs, generating socio-environmental side-effects and risks. TOD-IS-RUR sets up an interdisciplinary, international and intersectoral network to analyse, develop and test-case innovative context-based approaches by bringing in expertise from urban studies (i.e. mobility studies; landscape research and design; transport justice, planning and geography; social and historical geography; social innovation; Science & Technology Studies (STS); environmental history).

The research and training will prepare a new generation of highly-skilled professionals able to meet the scientific and societal challenge of countering urban sprawl in the spatial contexts where most Europeans live, and implement inclusive and sustainable planning schemes for RURs. In so doing, TOD-IS-RUR will create innovative, much-needed approaches, to advance agendas in line with Smart, Green & Integrated transport (SC4); Inclusive, Innovative&Reflective Societies (SC6); and UN Sustainable Development Goal 11 Sustainable Cities and Communities.

Solidarity in Diversity (SOLiDi)

Supervisor: prof. Stijn Oosterlynck

Over the last decade, liberal democracies in Europe have been shaken to their core by the rise of national populisms. This puts strong pressure on all forms of solidarity, especially as they cross ethnic-cultural boundaries. The increasingly successful capture of the notion of solidarity by radical right, anti-liberal democratic forces is testimony to this. The challenge for European democracies is to identify the conditions under which solidarities in diversity can be nurtured.

To address this urgent challenge, the European Training Network “Solidarity in Diversity” (SOLiDi) develops a training and research program that is focused on how to generate solidarities across cultural boundaries, taking the proximity of citizens with different ethnic-cultural backgrounds in specific places and the practices they engage in as starting point.

The aim is to articulate a new vision on solidarity adapted to superdiverse societies and to better equip professionals and organisations with adequate and innovative tools for facilitating solidarity in diversity. SOLiDi aims are in line with SDG10 “Reduced Inequalities” and Societal Challenge 6 ‘Europe in a changing world - Inclusive, innovative and reflective societies’.

SBO project Soligion

SOLIGION: Co-creatie van complementaire vormen van sociale ondersteuning door levensbeschouwelijke en seculiere welvaartstaatsinstellingen

Supervisor: Bert De Munck, Second supervisors: Stijn Oosterlynck, Patrick Loobuyck, Peter Raeymaeckers, Mieke Schrooten (UA), Bert Broeckaert en Kaat Wils (KULeuven), Kim Christiaens en Peter Heyrman (KADOC) en Griet Roets (UGent)

Our project sets out to produce better forms of collaboration and more complementary forms of solidarity between faith-based (including humanistic) organisations (FBOs) and secular welfare state institutions (WSIs). It does so by 1° examining the dynamic interaction between FBOs and WSIs in an interdisciplinary way and through a multi-method approach and 2° the co-creation by both FBOs and WSIs of new practices of solidarity and social support. The interdisciplinary and multi-method approach serves to 1° reveal the potentialities and frictions of FBOs in relation to the political standards of secular WSIs and 2° transcend essentialist and dichotomous views so as to understand existing forms of negotiation and mutual adaptation.

In concrete terms, the project will map the FBOs active in the field of local social support in five cities (Research Project 1), examine the interaction between FBOs and WSIs from an historical and political-philosophical angle (RP2 and RP3), and create shared insights as well as new procedures and practices through action research (RP4). Building on this, the process of co-creation will involve two related working groups. WG1 will produce a concept and pilot for a dynamic and interactive social map and ICT-interface, proceeding from existing (fragmented, non-dynamic and non-interactive) social maps and the results of RP1 while jointly tackling issues of selection and definition. WG 2 will build on the insights generated in the scientific part so as to conceive educational and training modules for 1° volunteers and social workers, 2° local employees (of WSIs) and policy makers, 3° instructors and mentors involved in the integration of newcomers, and 4° future professional social workers. Implementation is ensured through close collaboration with organizations targeting exactly these groups. The method of co-creation fosters implementation because the results will be based on shared concerns, insights, and objectives.


For Tracks4Crafts, the UAntwerp (with USI-members Bert De Munck, Marc Jacobs, Annick Schramme en Jouke Verlinden at the hem) coordinates a consortium of 15 partners (research institutions, heritage and umbrella organisations) from 10 different countries. The four-year trajectory is funded by Horizon Europe, an initiative of the European Commission.

Within the economic and cultural history of Europe, the importance of traditional crafts cannot be underestimated. These crafts have been practiced all over the continent, and the knowledge and skills of which have been passed on from generation to generation. But in a society that is constantly moving, the future of these age-old techniques is unfortunately increasingly being jeopardized. The potential of all this know-how threatens to be underused. This project aims to safeguard this traditional crafts knowledge by analysing and promoting its transfer, and at the same time to create new possibilities for the future.

Crafting Futures

USI has received FWO funding for the Crafting Futures project.

  • How is crafts knowledge and know-how evaluated?
  • And how can we improve the existing assessment and validation mechanisms to better recognize craftsmanship’s added value?
  • How can we enhance crafts as resources for competitiveness, innovation and sustainable development?
  • And what about hybrid craftsmanship?

Supported by FWO SBO-M funding, these and other questions will be tackled by an interdisciplinary team, coordinated by Bert De Munck. The Crafting Futures proposal was a joint effort from an USI-supported UAntwerp team (Jouke Verlinden, Annick Schramme, Esther van Zimmeren, Marc Jacobs, Evert Peeters (ARIA), Bert De Munck) together with colleagues from KU Leuven (Joke Vandenabeele, Noël Salazar), KASK HoGent (Eveline Seghers), AP (Els De Bruyn) and KDG (Petra Van Brabandt).​


COMMONCITY: A new frontier in EU urban policy-making: commons-inspired co-production arrangements

Researchers: Iolanda Bianchi and Stijn Oosterlynck

Increasingly more cities in the European Union are adopting co-production schemes based on the paradigm of the commons. Some examples include Bologna, Ghent and Barcelona. These cities aim to redistribute decision-making power over essential services and resources for collective well-being to citizens and encourage self-management of communities. However, there is still little scientific knowledge available on these schemes. The COMMONCITY project aims to increase this knowledge by conducting a comparative analysis of policy models, challenges and impacts on urban democracy in the pioneering cities of Barcelona, Bologna and Ghent. The project will use a co-production-based approach to data collection and analysis, which will provide unique empirical data on the functioning and democratic impact of these schemes. The results will contribute to the scientific debate on urban studies, urban democracy, urban governance and urban participation. Policy recommendations will also be made to improve the implementation and functioning of these schemes.