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2018 RSA Winter Conference Special Sessions

New Horizons for Cities and Regions in a Changing World

RSA Policy Expo: HEIs in Regional Development

Putting Universities in their Place – An Evidence Based Approach to Understanding the Contribution of Higher Education to Local and Regional Development

Session organisers:

Mark Tewdwr-Jones and Louise Kempton, Newcastle University, UK

Paul Vallance, Sheffield University, UK

Maria Conceição Rego, Evora University, Portugal

Lucir Reinaldo Alves, Western Parana State University, Brazil

Mauricio Aguiar Serra, University of Campinas, Brazil

This session is led by the team recently awarded an RSA policy expo on the theme of HEIs in regional development.  A summary of the expo is as follows:

There have been several attempts in recent years to create conceptual frameworks and models[1] to help universities and policy makers understand the role and contribution of higher education to local and regional development.  However these models have failed to fully reflect (or give insufficient attention to) the impact of the regional context (economic, social, political), the policy environment for higher education and territorial development and the diversity of management and leadership structures of universities themselves.  This has led to the development of static models that rarely work outside of the immediate context in which they were developed and therefore risk leading to design of policies that are not fit for purpose.  This Policy Expo will work with partners in Europe, South America, Africa, Asia and Australia to develop a new approach to thinking about the university that can be adapted to the specificity of institutional and local contexts.

This workshop will introduce the expo, its research questions and proposed methodology.  It will present initial findings from a review of the academic and policy literature and call for evidence among RSA members.  There will then be comments and feedback from an invited panel of experts followed by a plenary discussion where attendees will be invited to give their reactions, insights and advice to help shape the expo going forwards.

[1] (e.g. the Triple or Quadruple Helix, The Entrepreneurial University, The Civic University)

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The AI Revolution: the Consequences for Work and Place

Session Organiser(s)

Mia Gray, University of Cambridge, UK

Judith Clifton, University of Cantabria, Spain

Amy Glasmeier, MIT, USA

Betsy Donald, Queens University, Canada

Artificial intelligence, and its precedents, are transforming the nature of work and the operation of systems and infrastructure by enabling solutions to complex problems with high efficiency and speed. While many applications of these technologies aim to enhance the experience of the user of the service, examples are growing that encompass the complete transformation of operations heretofore completed by human mental and physical effort.

The fear of automation as a threat to human employment has a long history but, until recently, the risk of machines replacing workers has tended to be a concern restricted to particular industries and tasks such as automobile body assembly. Above all, automation has been seen to potentially affect tasks requiring highly repetitive movements or significant physical forces, such as work conducted in factories and industrial plants. Broadly speaking, though automation has destroyed human jobs, it has also been shown to create new ones too. Widely debated, the concern that automation will create mass unemployment continues to the present (Autor, 2016; in contrast see Acemoglu, 2017; for both perspectives, Brynjolfsson and McAfee 2017).

But the fusion of artificial intelligence and automation constitutes a new and unprecedented development which could mean that the threat of automation becomes much more severe, wide-ranging and potentially disruptive. There are concerns for example that industrialization, once considered a sure-fire means of developing global south countries, will fail to manifest now that robots exist able to complete the dull, dangerous and dirty tasks formerly done by low skilled workers (Frey and Rahbari, 2015). Additionally, examples exist of integrated applications of automation, machine learning and AI capabilities that are focusing on middle-skill white collar jobs. Legal services, data operations, and customer service occupations are targets for transformation. Deep learning processes as a result of developments in computer science – as seen for example in the increased capacity of machines to enact semantic and numerical tasks – means that, potentially, these devices can replace not just the human body but also mental effort. Google DeepMind´s Health programme to identify an algorithm to facilitate future health diagnoses is a case in point (see Dowd, 2017).

Understanding the consequences of automation and artificial intelligence is emergent and therefore likely to generate continuing debate across the international scientific and business communities. The extent to which these developments will challenge jobs are diverse. Oxford University scholars Frey and Osborne (2013) predicted up to 47% of US jobs were at high risk of computerization by the early 2030s, while Arntz, Gregory, and Zierahn (OECD 2016), using a different methodological approach, claim this figure is too pessimistic, putting the range at 10%. The recent Price Waterhouse Cooper report (2017) takes an intermediate position, arguing that around between 21-38% of jobs are at risk in Japan, the US, the UK and Germany in the same period. Researchers seem to agree that the consequences of automation, artificial intelligence, and machine learning will be uneven, and depend on a range of factors, including place, economic activity, business culture, the education of local people, and gender among others.

Place matters first because this represents where an industrial or service operation is performed (see Acemoglu and Restrepo, 2017 for analysis of robotic applications in the U.S.) and concentrated. Automation may well be easier, generally speaking, in industrial over service activities, hence making industrially-dependent countries more susceptible. Beyond this, even when different places host ostensibly the same operation, the organization of work culture will create an activity more or less sensitive to or a target of automation. We already know from the literature on innovation and international business that industrial customs and practices are embedded, and production systems are differentiated (Gertler, 2004). For example, a report by Price Waterhouse Cooper (2017) argues that the effect of automation will have a less significant impact on employment in Japan compared with Germany, even if industrial compositions are similar since there is a lower proportion of manual tasks vis-à-vis management in the two countries’ industries.

Education is another key: generally, the less educated workers are more vulnerable to the effects of automation compared to those engaged in more complex and discretionary tasks. For example, in the financial and insurance sectors, US repetitive data-intensive operations may be more automatable than in the UK due to the difference in the average education levels of finance and insurance professions. In considering the role of gender and education, to date jobs most vulnerable to automation are occupied by males of lower educational attainment, due to their numerical majority in routine tasks subject to mechanization and routinization (Acemoglu and Restrepo, 2017). At present, many of the jobs in the care-provision sector are “high touch” meaning they incorporate emotional and cognitive labor. In the short run, experts consider these tasks less amenable to automation. In the medium term, however, emerging technology applications aim to augment these functions with machine assistance. What might this mean for workers in developed and developing countries?

There are other potential limits to automation, artificial intelligence and machine learning. Thinking processes vary enormously from open and closed systems of knowledge production. Can deep-learning approach human thought processes and be able to operate as an open system, adapting to different contexts and situations (Hassabis, 2017)? Or will machine learning remain primarily crucial for “closed system” thinking? To what extent are the different approaches to knowledge production gendered?

Regulatory structures are considered equally important factors in shaping future technology applications. Will AI affect working practices in the same way around the globe or will variation in existing methods affect how the applicability of AI across places? How will governments use different regulatory approaches to govern emerging automation? Will automation be economically viable in all contexts, or will the costs of restructuring existing practices prove to be too costly and thus limit its effectiveness? Will developing countries have a different regulatory approach to AI applications?

This Open Session, planned to be held at the Regional Studies Meeting in London 15-16 November 2018, is organised in order to gather together and select the very best papers on this emerging topic. We welcome papers which assess the effect of automation, machine learning and artificial intelligence on work, place, industrial practices and governance. We encourage papers on different sectors, including manufacturing, services and the public sector; different areas; and different regulatory systems. We would like to see the issues examined from the perspective of developed and developing countries. We also encourage detailed, forward-looking studies on the effects of automation, machine learning and AI in cutting-edge workplaces (Adidas’s fully automated shoe manufacturing plant in the US; Weiner, 2017) which may tell us something about paradigmatic examples and path dependency.

Submission guidelines

To register for the conference please use the following link:

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Book Launch – Social Services Disrupted: Changes, Challenges and Policy Implications for Europe in Times of Austerity –


Flavia Martinelli, Anneli Anttonen and Margitta Mätzke

In the course of the last thirty years the way public social services are conceived, organised and supplied has experienced profound changes throughout Europe, with relevant consequences in terms of social and spatial justice. Despite the persisting variety of national welfare models, three concurrent trends have been at work – public sector disengagement, vertical re-scaling of authority and horizontal re-mix of the supply system – which have all triggered a resurgence in social and spatial inequalities and have ‘disrupted’ the established notions of citizenship, universal access and social rights. Whether in Finland, the UK, Germany or Italy, a stratification of the service supply is occurring, whereby people have increasingly differentiated access to qualitatively differentiated social services, depending on their origin, income, and/or place of residence. The book revives the discussion on the key role public social services play as drivers not only of social and spatial justice but also economic prosperity.


Mia Gray, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom


Flavia Martinelli, Mediterranea University of Reggio Calabria, Italy

Margitta Mätzke, Johannes Kepler University, Linz, Austria

Judith Clifton, University of Cantabria, Santander, Spain

Andy Pike, Newcastle University, United Kingdom

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Suburban Futures – Alternative Development Paths for Stagnating and Shrinking Municipalities

Closed Session for submissions but all delegates are welcome to attend as audience.

Session organiser(s)

Prf. Dr. Jan Polívkal, RWTH Aachen University, Germany Andrea Berndgen-Kaiser, ILS, Germany

Against the background of an ongoing polarization between growing cities within booming metropolitan areas and stagnating or shrinking peripheries, between re-urbanisation processes and a continuing suburbanization of businesses and settlements, this session draws attention to the existing suburbia, both on the outskirts of large cities and in peripheral locations. A significant number of suburban municipalities which have been a place of growth during the last decades, while demographically shrinking or stagnating, now see themselves in a harsh peripheralizing competition with other municipalities. Within a spatially selective, mosaic-like development and a stronger locational diversification, many of such municipalities still seek for growth measures, such as a continuous designation of new construction land in order to attract new residents and businesses. However, such practices further increase spatial instability and future risk of underuse and vacancies in existing residential and commercial areas. It further leads to ineffective land use patterns and land consumption and results, among others, into serious financial consequences. These phenomena are already clearly perceptible in many European countries. Physically and functionally, such consequences may take a wide set of forms; they are visible in the local centres of small and medium-sized centres, within their social, public and private infrastructure, but also among suburban residential and commercial estates and zones. To escape this vicious circle, some municipalities have already developed strategies of spatial functional consolidation, (re-)development or compact growth. This session focuses its attention on the suburban areas, both in metropolitan regions and in peripheral, disadvantaged locations. It addresses cases of innovative development paths through modification, refitting and conversion within the existing settlement space – as an alternative to expansion, further land consumption and abandonment. It looks at development concepts in an international comparison and discusses the results of empirical studies on this topic, best practice examples and other measures already implemented on behalf of the framework of sustainability, local governance and innovative planning.


  • Andrea Berndgen-Kaiser, ILS – Research Institute for Regional and Urban Development, Germany
  • Andreas Blum, IÖR – Leibniz Institute of Ecological Urban and Regional Development,  Germany
  • Bernadette Hanlon, Ohio State University, USA
  • Jesper Ole Jensen, Aalborg University, Copenhagen, Denmark
  • Adriana M. Soaita, University of Glasgow, UK

Submission guidelines

Closed Session for submissions but all delegates are welcome to attend as audience.

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Are Cities Dense Enough?

Session organiser

Eric Koomen,  Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Urban economic theory predicts that the density of land use reacts to the price of land. For many activities, substitution between land and built-up structure is possible when land is scarce, often by constructing more square meters of floor space on a given amount of land. In recent decades, interest in living and working in (big) cities has increased markedly and urban land prices have increased substantially. Since it appears unlikely that the cost of construction of square meters of floor space has increased much or more than land prices, one expects that optimal land use is now denser than it was in the past. The potentially sluggish response to higher land prices that may result from the long lifetime of real estate and significant adjustment costs implies that actual cities may be less dense than would be optimal from an economic perspective.

Urban densification is also welcomed from other perspectives. Many studies documented, for example, that denser cities generate agglomeration benefits and limit car traffic, energy consumption and loss of regional open space. Others, argue, however, that local environmental and social sustainability problems may arise due to high urban densities, that counter potential benefits.

This special session aims to compile evidence on current densification processes and its positive and negative external effects. Have cities indeed become denser in recent years? Do we find positive impacts on, for example, household energy consumption? How substantial are negative impacts on, for example, the urban climate and social conditions? Do these processes and impacts differ between regions? Can we explain these regional differences? How should we balance the opposing impacts of this urban densification paradox? Should cities become denser in the future?

Submission guidelines

To register for the conference please use the following link:

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Universities, Entrepreneurship and Regional Development: Meeting Original Expectations

Session Organiser(s)

Helen Lawton Smith, Birbeck, University of London, UK

Shiri Breznitz, University of Toronto, Canada

The link between universities and economic development as a consequence of national, regional and individual institutional policies does not always results in positive outcomes. In this session the focus is on a particular dimension of how universities might stimulate regional economic development through entrepreneurship. Papers are invited that address the issue of under what conditions and in what ways these programs have an impact on regional development. This can be through academic spin-offs, student entrepreneurship, accelerators, entrepreneurship education, and as sources of knowledge for local entrepreneurial firms. Papers are invited which explore the different factors that related not only to successful outcomes but also where outcomes might not necessarily meet original expectations. As Goldstein (2009) points, out estimating the magnitude of impact is fraught with conceptual and measurement problems.


Goldstein, H A (2009) ‘What we know and what we don’t know about the regional economic impacts of universities’. In A. Varga (ed) Universities, knowledge transfer and regional development Edward Elgar: Cheltenham 11-35

Submission guidelines

To register for the conference please use the following link:

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Planning Regional Futures

Session organiser(s)

John Harrison, Loughborough University, UK Daniel Galland, Nowegian University of Life Sciences, Norway Mark Tewdwr-Jones, Newcastle University, UK

Planning Regional Futures

Since Regional Studies was founded in 1967, planning and planners have been central to understanding cities and regions. In the first ever issue of the journal the opening four papers all had “regional plan” or “regional planning” in their title. Yet as Regional Studies celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2017, planning could be seen to face powerful challenges – professionally, intellectually, practically – in ways arguably not seen before.

Recent developments and trends have raised fundamental questions about the ‘p’ word (planning) in academic and policy circles. We can point to how planning is no longer solely the domain of professional planners but has been opened up to a diverse group of actors who are involved in place-making and place-shaping. We can observe how the study of cities and regions traditionally had a disciplinary home in planning schools (geography departments, and the like) but this link with place and space disciplines is being steadily eroded as research increasingly takes place in and through interdisciplinary research institutes. We can point to the advent of real-time modelling of cities and regions, and the challenges this poses for the type of long-term perspective that planning has traditionally afforded at a time, and in a society, where immediacy and short-termism are the watchwords. We can reflect on ‘regional planning’ and its mixed record of achievement. And we can also recognise how the link between ‘region’ and ‘planning’ has been decoupled as alternative regional (and other spatial) approaches to planning have emerged in conjunction with more networked and relational forms of place-making, and the re-imagination of the urban and the region in the current period.

This Special Issue is an intellectual call-to-arms to engage planners (and those who engage with planning) to critically explore research agendas at the intersection of planning and regional studies. More specifically, our aim is to move beyond the narrow confines of existing debate by providing a forum for debating what planning is, and should be, for in regional studies.

Proposals are therefore invited that take-up the intellectual and practical challenge of planning urban and regional futures, as well as more provocative think-pieces that challenge or defend the foundations upon which the planning tradition in regional studies is constructed.

Potential topics/themes of interest might include, but are not limited to:

  • Theoretical interventions and/or empirical studies which seek to advance new ways of (re)conceptualising regional (and other forms of spatial) planning;
  • Papers which seek to connect the changing dynamics of planning and regions to broader processes of political, economic and societal change;
  • Examination of the causes, consequences and implications of different forms of agreement-based policies or ‘contractualism’ in planning cities and regions;
  • Studies which seek to interrogate the link between planning and regional studies;
  • Those that question the scope and meaning of ‘regional’ in planning regional futures;
  • International comparative perspectives on planning city and regional futures;
  • Perspectives on the changing institutional context(s) in which planning and work on planning urban and regional futures is increasingly conducted;
  • Research which positions current approaches to planning in regional studies within a historical context and/or horizon-scanning papers outlining a next stage in this evolution;
  • Accounts which avail new insights into the implications for cities and regions of when and where planning now occurs, and who or what is planning and determining urban and regional futures.

Submission guidelines

To register for the conference please use the following link:

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