Final report: How Time Impacts Planning and Living in the City

This research aims to contribute to debates around the role of time and temporal relations shaping urban redevelopment and urban living. The report brings together insights from a variety of academic disciplines alongside discussions with urban practitioners and community groups. It identifies and examines how different temporal features, such as the temporal constraints and pressures of political and administrative cycles and the different tempos associated with these multiple cycles, affect the planning of cities. The report explores how these temporal dimensions interact with the times inscribed in the built environment by the personal attachments that develop with places through people’s everyday lives and rhythms. These findings stem from my own research projects and reflections gained from my longitudinal study of over 20 years of the regeneration of the neighbourhood of el Raval in Barcelona. Added to these are the insights from the discussions and presentations that were given in two workshops and public events, that took place in London on the 29th of November and in Barcelona on the 12th and 13th of December 2016, as part of a British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship. 

Clare Melhuish on Timescapes events in Barcelona and London

Two public dissemination events took place in London and Barcelona on the 29th of November 2016 and 12th and 13th of December 2017. Here is a taster of what happened and was discussed, beautifully written by Clare Melhuish from the Urban Lab, UCL. More insights will be posted over the next few weeks.

Timescapes of Urban Change by Clare Melhuish

This week’s follow-up session to Monica Degen’s Timescapes of Urban Change workshop, hosted by UCL Urban Laboratory at UCL last month, was held at the Centre for Contemporary Culture in Barcelona, in the heart of the regenerated northern part of the Raval district. Formerly notorious for its poverty and prostitution, contained within narrow streets plunged into shadow by tall tenement buildings, el Raval now has a reputation as a ‘laboratory of the city’, in which the longer-term impacts of a regeneration process started in the 1990s can be studied by academics such as Degen in the UK (Brunel Sociology), as well as local activists and politicians who participated in the British Academy-funded workshop.

El Raval’s regeneration followed close on the heels of the Barcelona Olympics (1992), and was anchored to the construction of new cultural and educational infrastructure in the northern segment, including new faculty buildings for three different universities, the Museum of Contemporary Art, designed by Richard Meier, and the CCCB itself. This complex of facilities now hosts not only the consumers of contemporary culture who come to visit exhibitions and talks, buy books, and drink coffee, but also a lively population of students, skateboarders, dog-walkers, and local youth who inhabit in different ways the integrated sequence of new public spaces which has broken into the tight historic street fabric.

To all appearances a successful operation of urban re-imaging and re-occupation, which in the politicians’ eyes saved the area from becoming the ‘Harlem of Europe’ (to quote anthropologist Miguel Fernandez Gonzalez from University of Barcelona), the ‘hipsterisation’ of Raval has nevertheless generated criticism and anti-gentrification protests, as in other cities. The backlash against mass tourism and transient ‘city users’, as described by Claire Colomb, citing Martinotti (1997, 1999), in the London workshop, has never been stronger in the city – coupled to a targetted criticism of an ‘aggressive dynamics of urban transformation’, as Nuria Benach Rovira (University of Barcelona) described it.

But as the latter explained, the impact of urban regeneration in Raval should not be misconstrued as a one-dimensional process of gentrification. In fact it is a ‘complex mix of simultaneities’ which also includes a huge increase in the immigrant population (now 50% of the whole), touristification, and segregation. Here, different and conflicting temporalities of urban inhabitation can be seen to co-exist and collide, within the larger framework of ‘planned time’, as Degen terms it, drawing on Lefebvre’s tripartite conception of space. Planned, or planning time, played out in large urban projects, is long-term, projecting new urban futures and imaginaries over 25-year spans, as are the time-frames of institutions such as universities which participate in these processes as ‘anchors’ for development. Planners also draw on discourses of past time and heritage to legitimise the transformation of cities, understood as ‘urban growth machines’ (Rovira), in the future. Yet time is also harnessed to exert political constraints, demanding speed of action and demonstrable results to justify policy decisions and investments, and deliver on boosterist promises of economic benefit.

As in east London, urban transformation in Raval has been a long time in the making, mooted since the 1920s, and holding the local population in a long-term state of ‘suspended temporality’ (Degen), compared by some residents interviewed by Degen to a ‘sword of Damocles’ hanging over their heads. Subject to a politically-inflected stop-and-start process, it reached a dramatic culmination in 2001 with the demolition of five street blocks of housing and the relocation of 10,000 inhabitants to create a new public space, the Rambla del Raval. Today many maintain this intervention was never wanted, serving no other purpose than to meet an ideologically-driven impetus to ‘bring light into darkness’, and to support the re-positioning of Raval as ‘the last authentic city quarter in Europe’ – a myth that sustains both the remaining ‘survivors’, in Birkbeck lecturer Mari Paz Ballibrea’s words, and an apparently unstoppable influx of tourists.

If, as described by Isaac Marrero Guillamon (Goldsmiths), this is the inexorable temporal logic of the neoliberal city, shaped by the movements of financial capital rather than the desires and participation of local populations, Simone Abram (Durham University) highlighted how, by contrast, ‘plans for participative urban change stumble as people don’t want to move forward’, representing ‘a never-achieved utopian future’. Speaking in London, Abram described campaigning and participatory activity as ‘intense social time’, which runs contrapuntally both to the long time-frame of formal city plans and vision statements, and the fast pace of delivery demanded by project-management spreadsheets and budget cycles when planned projects do get off the ground. Abdoumaliq Simone’s presentation in Barcelona further developed this theme by comparison with the ‘planning without planning’ which thrives in ‘majority districts’ (by which we understand neighbourhoods in the fast-growing cities of Majority World) through everyday actions and practices (often described as informality). He argued that urban development is in fact ‘less about projects than future scenarios’, designed to ‘create a time that has no relation to any other’. But in the meantime, local populations self-organise and get on with making and re-making the city in the present through ‘many adjustments.. agglomeration, parcelling, reinvestment, and accommodation to decline’, underpinned by piecemeal creative financing from a multitude of sources. These everyday processes mediate time through a constant reinvention and intensity of human relationships and a ‘profusion of details… free of overarching narratives, creating weird alliances’ (Simone), which re-set the scale of the city.

Simone’s presentation underlined the fact that local communities typically have large repositories of urban knowledge and expertise which institutions often don’t recognize. However Euan Mills (Future Cities Catapult, formerly GLA Urban Design and Planning) was keen to stress that planning processes in the west do encompass efforts to ‘slow down’ planning time by building consultative relationships with communities, and focusing on adaptability rather than future-gazing as the driver of urban change. On the other hand, their capacity to engage with creative financing is constrained by the systems within which they operate. This means that neighbourhoods like Raval – dubbed ‘the last gold mine in Barcelona’ by local estate agents, as reported by Fernandez Gonzalez – will continue to be vulnerable to the intervention of big money in the shaping of new urban imaginaries in which local inhabitants have little investment and often less interest.

For activists like CCCB’s David Bravo, a champion of urban public space fighting for the retention of a local open access gym, or community organiser Oscar Esteban (TOT Raval), the fight to preserve and sustain valued resources in face of these types of encroachment is a frustrating struggle against time – time which is running out. And while the re-location of a large public sculpture, Botero’s giant bronze cat, from the Olympic site to Rambla del Raval was described by planner Carmen Via Gual as giving that space ‘a soul’, lending itself to customisation in different ways by local groups, such interventions do not substitute for the more mundane forms of social infrastructure that give urban communities cohesion and resilience.

Workshops hosted by UCL Urban Laboratory, London (29th November 2016), and CCCB, Barcelona (13th-14th December 2016), including a public talk by Iain Sinclair. Organised by Dr Monica Degen, Brunel University, as part of her British Academy Fellowship 2016.

Timescapes of Urban Change in Barcelona 12/12/2016

Timescapes of Urban Change in Barcelona 12/12/2016
(organised by Monica Degen, Brunel University)

What stories resonate through the temporal layers of the city? How does our perception of it change when we put time at the center of the urban landscape? As part of the Timescapes of Urban Change project, Iain Sinclair reflects on how our temporal attachments to the city relate with city life and its transformations.

Contemporary approaches to understanding city life tend to focus on how its spatial characteristics shape the lives of citizens. Yet cities are also temporal constructions. For instance, urban regeneration projects often seek to “revitalize” historic districts by introducing modern modes and rhythms of consumption, altering its natural rhythms. The stones of a centuries-old cathedral represent a compression of geological time that accelerates with the cement, steel and glass of towering skyscrapers. What stories resonate through the temporal layers of the city? How does our perception of it change when we put time at the center of the urban landscape?

These are questions that have long been at the centre of Iain Sinclair’s writing. A pioneer of psycho-geography, his work maps out a London that is often hidden from view. Within the framework of the Timescapes of Urban Change project, Iain Sinclair will reflect on how our temporal attachments to the city relate with city life and its transformations. The session will be streamed live on the CCCB webpage, and include a reading of selected passages from Lud Heat: A Book of the Dead Hamlets, a work with which Sinclair introduced a new approach to writing and poetic practice, which has just been translated into Spanish for the first time by Adolfo Barberá and published by Fire Drill.

Ian Sinclair

Image: CCCB

Watch via livestream:

Event programme:

Timescapes of Urban Change – one week to go

Join me on the 29th of November 2016 at the public event for Timescapes of Urban Change! Here are the details:

Timescapes of Urban Change: Barcelona and London – a regeneration comparison

Tuesday 29 November 2016, 18.30 – 20.15
UCL Harrie Massey Lecture Theatre, 25 Gordon Street, London WC1H 0AY

Focusing on two cities that are exemplars of their urban regeneration in recent years: Barcelona and London, Monica Degen will bring together urban professionals and academics to reflect, from a long-term perspective, on the role of time in the construction and experience of these two cities. By doing this, the event will situate questions around temporality at the forefront of the research agenda on urban change.

Simone Abram (Anthropology, Durham University)

Bob Allies (Allies and Morrison Architects)

Monica Degen (Brunel University)

Carme Gual Via (Barcelona City Council)

Euan Mills (Future Cities Catapult)

Mari Paz Balibrea (Cultures and Languages, Birkbeck)

Mike Raco (Planning, UCL)

Organised by Dr Monica Degen (Brunel University) as part of her British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship.

The panel will be live streamed on the UCL Urban Laboratory Facebook page. Visit from 18.30 GMT on 29 November 2016.


to book a place:




Barcelona Event Programme

TIMESCAPES OF URBAN CHANGE: El Raval – the process of transformation

Public Event: Ian Sinclair – “The Last London: A City Abolished”

Monday 12th of December 2016 @ 6:30pm

venue: Auditori, CCCB

life stream:

Tuesday 13th of December 2016 @ 9:30am workshop

venue: Aula 1, CCCB

Organised by Dr. Monica Degen, Brunel University


This event aims to put the question of temporality at the forefront of the research agenda on urban change. While the making of urban space is in many ways a materialisation of the passing of time, those using the city create and inhabit a diversity of temporalities. Timescapes of Urban Change is part of an international project exploring the implications of this dynamic from multiple angles. The event will be launched on the evening of the 12th of December 2016 with a public talk by author Ian Sinclair: The Last London: A City Abolished, whose writings on the city, and London in particular, have long dealt with questions of time and temporality.

Thirty years have passed since Barcelona was appointed to host the 1992 Olympic Games, an event which transformed the city’s urban reality. Building on our previous workshop in London, where we compared the regeneration of Barcelona and London, the workshop on the 13th of December will hone in on the el Raval neighbourhood bringing together a variety of urban professionals and academics. Drawing on 20 years of work on the urban transformation of el Raval, we will focus on the process of regeneration in this neighbourhood, and in particular on how a diversity of everyday temporal practices interact, contest and align themselves with institutional times in urban regeneration projects. We are especially interested in thinking through how different temporal attachments and uses of space developed by locals, new migrants and tourists frame, support or disrupt urban renewal processes and communal living. Do we need to conceptualise urban planning and urban citizenship in new ways? As Sandercock (2003) asks: “how can ‘we’ (all of us), in all our differences, be ‘at home’ in the multicultural and multi-ethnic cities of the 21st century?”

To encourage discussion, present and understand different temporal dimensions of regeneration in cases we know or have been working on, all workshop participants are asked to send an image (please add name and title of picture) representing time/temporality and regeneration to Victoria [email protected] by the 7th Of December 2016. These images will be used as a slideshow throughout the debates, and to structure the small group discussions.

As the workshop is part of an international project, the main language spoken will be English during the discussion. However, presentations will be in English or Spanish.

Public event: 12th December 2016 – Auditori CCCB

18.30 – Ian Sinclair The Last London: A City Abolished
19.30 – Q & A
20.00 – Close

Workshop: 13th December 2016 – Sala Mirador CCCB

9.30 – Welcome and introduction to event by Monica Degen: “Timescapes of Urban Change” and Miquel Fernandez (Universidad Autonoma de Barcelona): “Recuerdos del Futuro: imaginarios del Raval”
10.00 – Abdou Maliq Simone (Max Plank Institut, Göttingen) “Time after Time: Experiments with Duration and Endurance in urban Southeast Asia”
10.40 – Discussion
11.00 – Coffee
11.15 – Panel Debate on el Raval, time and urban regeneration [Moderator: Victoria Habermehl (Brunel) & Clare Melhuish (UCL)]
11.20 – Carmen Gual Via (Foment Ciutat Vella): “Raval? Which one?”
11.30 – Euan Mills (Future Cities Catapult): “London: How should user needs affect the design of the built environment?”
11.40 – Eva Alfama (Consellera Raval): “El Raval: espacio público, diversidad y derecho a la ciudad en la era de la globalización y la turistificación”
11.50 – David Bravo (Director European Prize for Public space, CCCB): “Barcelona: the rapid death of slow living”
12.00 – Oscar Esteban (TOT Raval – Community Group): “La co-operacion entre los actores del Raval”
12.10 – Mari Paz Balibrea (Birbeck): “Los tiempos cambian: transformación urbana y experiencia de la temporalidad en El Raval desde los años 80”
13.45 – Lunch at CCCB
14.45 – Discussion groups: time as a factor in urban life [Moderator: Victoria Habermehl (Brunel University)]
15.45 – Coffee
16.00 – Presentation by groups and discussion
17.00 – Close

Talk at workshop: Sensory Theory, Methodology and Experience – University of Kent

Tomorrow I’ll be giving a talk with Astrid Swenson (Brunel University) on Researching time, the senses and the urban

In this paper we discuss the ways in which we can access methodologically the diverse and multiple timescapes that converge or conflict in the urban to produce a particular sense of place in the contemporary city. We will draw on two research projects to illustrate the multiplicity of temporal narratives, practices, and ideologies which operate at different speeds and intensities in areas of urban change and how to research how they are expressed through the built environment, policy practices and everyday life.

First, we will be drawing on a case study of a street in Barcelona to discuss a theoretical approach to timescapes of urban change. Focusing on the neighbourhood of el Raval, we will explore how the organisation of time can be theorised in areas that have been experiencing long time regeneration processes. While the making of urban space is the materialisation of the passing of time, and time and space are the forces that frame and shape urban capitalist economy, there has been a distinct prioritisation of space over time in the analysis of new urban spaces. This has often led to a ‘fixity’ of space in the analysis of urban regeneration, with studies focusing on a moment in time rather than viewing urban redevelopment as a long term and historical process and place-making as a temporal practice. We argue that urban redevelopment processes need to be analysed over time and across various temporal-spatial layers such as the global, local and personal realms.

Secondly, to illustrate how to research these temporal processes along and across time, we will draw on a project that has brought together both academics and urban professionals (architects, urban planners, museum curators, artists) in three cities across Europe to develop a sensory methodology toolkit. Here we will discuss the considerations, possibilities and constraints that a diversity of inter-disciplinary and cross-professional methods bring to researching historically embedded places from a sensory perspective. In particular we will be suggesting a ‘dialogical approach’ across disciplines and professions to develop methodological frameworks that allow to assess how far the experience of the urban is historically or time specific. We suggest that only through this dialogue we can explore how far methods developed for understanding the present can be applied to historical sources and how, in turn, a greater understanding of the historicity of sensory experiences might lead to a less static approach in the present. Ultimately, in this paper we argue that to understand the time and place specific features that govern sensory-emotional responses to the urban need methods that transcend disciplinary and professional frameworks.

Further information:

Streetscene in Montreal, Canada

Streetscene in Montreal, Canada

London Event Programme

The aim of this event is to situate questions around temporality at the forefront of the research agenda on urban change. The making of urban space is in many ways a materialisation of the passing of time. On the other hand, those using the city create and inhabit a diversity of temporalities. Focusing on two cities that are exemplar for their urban regeneration, London and Barcelona, this event will bring together urban professionals and academics to discuss and reflect from a long term perspective on the regeneration of these respective cities. In order to develop and debate the role of temporality in redevelopment, the invited speakers will each have 10 minutes to focus on these cases, discuss and debate the following questions: How do temporal considerations (investment cycles, deadlines, changing global and local politics) affect the planning and construction of buildings and cities? What kinds of times are fostered or eliminated in the landscape of urban regeneration projects? How do different temporal narratives, practices and ideologies converge or conflict to produce a particular sense of place? What is the relationship between neoliberal time and urban planning? Which lessons can be learned from the regeneration processes in both cities?


18.30: Introduction by Monica Degen (Sociology, Brunel University): Timescapes of Urban Change

18.40: Simone Abram (Anthropology, Durham University): “Anticipation and Apprehension: temporal agency in urban change”

18.50: Mari Paz Balibrea (Cultures and Languages, Birkbeck): “Militant time, leisure time, working time: Reflections on life in the creative city”

19.00: Carme Gual Via (Foment Ciutat, Barcelona City Council): “As time goes by…or how cities reinvent the wheel every term of office”

19.10: Euan Mills (Future Cities Catapult): “How should temporal considerations affect the design of the built environment?”

19.20: Bob Allies (Allies and Morrison Architects): “The urban masterplan: a process not a product”

19.30: Mike Raco (The Bartlett School of Planning, UCL): “Living in democratic times: Reflections on the transformation of London’s built environment”

19.40 – 20.15: Questions and discussion led by Clare Melhuish & Monica Degen

RSVP or watch live:

Project information:

New article in City and Society

I wanted to make readers aware of our new publication written by Clare Melhuish (UCL), Gillian Rose (Open University) and myself available online now from City and Society : “The Real Modernity that Is Here”: Understanding the Role of Digital Visualisations in the Production of a New Urban Imaginary at Msheireb Downtown, Doha. The article emerges from our recently completed ESRC funded project which focused on the ways architects use computer generated visualizations to present, sell and envisage future environments. While the theme of temporality does not feature explicitly in our article, it is implicit in that it discusses the contemporary production of urban images, facilitated within a particular technological and social context, and which encourages certain ways of envisaging of urban futures.

“The Real Modernity that Is Here”: Understanding the Role of Digital Visualisations in the Production of a New Urban Imaginary at Msheireb Downtown, Doha – published online City & Community:

This paper explores how Computer Generated Images (CGIs) have enabled the visualisation and negotiation of a new urban imaginary in the production of a largescale urban development project in Doha, Qatar. CGIs were central not only to the marketing but also the design of Msheireb Downtown. Our study of their production and circulation across a transnational architectural and construction team reveals how their digital characteristics allowed for the development of a negotiated, hybridised urban imaginary, within the context of a re-imaging and re-positioning of cities in a shifting global order. We suggest that CGIs enabled the co-production of a postcolonial urban aesthetic, disrupting the historical Orientalist gaze on the Gulf region, in three ways. Firstly, they circulate through a global network of actors negotiating diverse forms of knowledge from different contexts; secondly, they are composed from a mix of interreferenced cultural sources and indicators visualising hybrid identities; and thirdly, they evoke a particular urban atmosphere which is both place- and culture-specific, and cosmopolitan. The study emphasises the importance of research into the technical and aesthetic production processes which generate new urban spaces in the context of global market-led growth; and, by considering the circulation of CGIs between sites, contributes to the development of “a more properly postcolonial studies” (Robinson 2011, 17). [Urban Development; Digital Visualisation; Doha, Postcolonial Studies]



New article in Space and Culture – the journal

I’ve been busy organising the public events for the end of this project as well as writing to start developing my theoretical framework to provide some insights on why a temporal approach to urban change matters. My first article has now been accepted by Space and Culture – the journal. While it will take a while to be published here is a first glimpse of the content:

Urban Regeneration and Resistance: Foregrounding Time and Experience

Carrer Hospital in el Raval

Carrer Hospital in el Raval


Time and experience lie at the heart of urban life. However while extensive research on the social implications of the spatial transformation of urban landscapes has been undertaken especially since the 1980s, the discussion of the impact manifold temporalities and experiences might have in shaping or constraining the physical and social change of a neighbourhood have been limited. Existing research has a tendency to focus on a specific period in time within the remaking of a neighbourhood and draws conclusions on the impact of the regeneration from this window in time. By drawing on a longitudinal ethnographic study of the regeneration of el Raval, Barcelona from 1996 to now, the aim of this article is to interrogate how a focus on temporality and experience might unsettle common assumptions about contemporary urban regeneration processes and re-frame notions of resistance. While there have been attempts to regenerate this neighbourhood since the early 20th century, most dramatically during the last 20 years to create Barcelona’s new cultural quarter, the neighbourhood has not been gentrified and developed as expected by the council. I argue that while elements of control, discipline and gentrification are certainly part of global contemporary regeneration strategies, temporal and experiential dynamics destabilise their full implementation so that they are only partial in their imposition.

Questions to think about

I have been busy writing and disseminating my first thoughts on this project during the last few weeks.

Streetscene in Montreal, Canada

Streetscene in Montreal, Canada

At the start of April I gave a series of talks on my current work on time and urban change at the Centre for Sensory Studies at Concordia University, Montreal, and at the City Region Studies Centre at Alberta University, Edmonton. I presented my work in progress, especially trying to work through how to link my sensory analysis of urban space together with a temporal one. The questions following my presentation have certainly helped me further my thinking, here are some of the ideas raised:

What is the speed of a urban regeneration project? Regeneration projects gain a momentum (funding), they accelerate but they also stop and pause, before maybe speeding up again or maybe be disposed. What are the forces behind the acceleration, stops and pauses?

Sensory experience is ephemeral, public life – street life – is transient and constantly changing, so what am I trying to do in my work? Am I trying to capture it? If so, am I not contradicting my own argumentation? Can I use photographs in my articles on time and urban change, because as soon as I use a photo I stop time – I capture the past. Do I need to highlight that these are ‘impressions’ and that the article is, following Simmel ‘impressionistic’. The article is like an Impressionist painting, trying to suggest but not finishing the brushstrokes.

The city changes so quickly that academia is always a step behind.

Most methodologies have a tendency to get at a snapshot of urban life and it is harder to get at methods that lend themselves to study longer durations.

What is the lived time of planning? I.e. what are the day to day tempos, deadlines, temporalities that planners experience in their day to day work?

How can the concept of timescape help us to resist regeneration?