8 experts who are changing the way we speak about urbanism

Author: Timur Zolotoev

Learn how our vocabulary and language can actively shape the world around us.

Photo: Istockphoto.com

As citizens, governments, and NGOs are becoming increasingly involved in urban discourse, it becomes clear that the vocabulary we use to talk about cities is often inadequate or confusing. The research and practical project “ UrgentCity: Towards a New Vocabulary of Terms” explores the role of language in contemporary urban questions in order to support shared understanding of environmental, technological, and social changes. Our contemporary urban vocabulary is dominated by terms that may appear generic, confusing, over-hyped, redundant or simply understood differently by people from different disciplines. The program organized by UrgentCity at Strelka will look at ways to trace these terms and build mutual understanding of the communication challenges we face in city-making.

The project’s curators, Amateur Cities (NL) and New Generations (IT), have interviewed experts in different disciplines who have proposed a set of terms as a contribution to the “New Vocabulary of Terms”, as well as offered questions about the condition of the current vocabulary, personal anecdotes, and reflections on their own disciplines. The interviews are centered around the four main topics that make up the basic framework for their research: New Ecologies, Urban Assets, the Digital Toolkit, and New Collectives.

Sign up here for the August 15-August 16 UrgentCity workshop at the Strelka Institute.



In the wake of the environmental crisis we are looking for new ways to protect biodiversity in and outside of cities. In searching for new possibilities for nature and cities to coexist, we have already found biodegradable materials, new ways of remediation, renewable energy sources, and urban farming. At the same time, continuing human interference in natural processes seems to make us lose faith in the very existence of nature, proclaiming our age as the anthropocene or capitalocene.

  • Resiliency consultant Piero Pelizzaro makes a strong case for the need for thinking in terms of resilience.

  • Sustainable developer Wigger Verschoor discusses the Climate Case and the precedent it set for taking on governments and the changing role of the city planner.



Urban assets are the hardware of the city: houses, offices, shops, cinemas, roads, bridges, waterfronts, and all the other physical structures that form it. While European cities are shrinking and suffering from an abundance of vacant buildings, there is a shortage of housing and infrastructure in other parts of the globe. Regardless of location, the availability and management of urban resources, including buildings, public space, infrastructure, and land, pose many challenges that are yet to be addressed.

  • Lilet Breddels, the director of Archis, a cultural think tank, talks about ethics in design, among other things.

  • Economist Giulia Pesaro discusses the importance of collaboration and systemic design for operating in complex urban systems as well as the possibility of revising our monetary understanding of value.



New technologies and media are related to digital governance, e-learning, information, automation, hacking, artificial intelligence, algorithms, and the way we spend our free time. To understand their impact, we need to take a closer look at the growing hybridization of urban space and digital media and its effect on mobility, information access, data management, empowerment, privacy, and surveillance.

  • Marleen Stikker, the director of the Waag Society Institute for Art, Science, and Technology talks about the ownership of technology and the demystification that comes through hacking.

  • Designer Yulya Besplemennovadiscusses the enmeshed nature of the digital and the physical and how it has fed into her work, as well as the creation of hybrid spaces and the formation of ‘tribes’.



Cities are not only becoming denser, but also more multicultural and more complex. Bigger agglomerations provide bigger opportunities, but at the same time, alienation, exclusion, and isolation remain in striking contrast to the emerging feeling for community, new forms of cooperation, communication, and their potential to change the traditional way of shaping our cities.

  • Sociologist and philosopher Willem Schinkel discusses different forms of exclusion and stresses that we must refuse dominant forms of understanding in seeking totally new responses to urban problems.

  • Economist Jip de Ridderdiscusses the costs of convenience and how a sense of solidarity could offer a better future to the growing generation of precarious workers.

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