Dear IJURRians,

I wish I could be with you to celebrate the 40th anniversary of our dear journal but, alas, the term has started here in Toronto and I will be in a classroom with 125 students for my first lecture of the class while you are contemplating the past and future of the journal on Friday afternoon. Hence, I am sending greetings from afar and a few thoughts. I promise to plan better next time around and I intend to be there for the 80th birthday party when the time comes!

Ute suggested kindly, and Ananya encouraged me also, that I might have something to say about that bonus question that was posed in July: “Which urban worlds was IJURR trying to explain and analyze at its inception and how has this task changed over the years?”

I cannot claim to have any insider knowledge on what went on in the heads of the founders when they kicked this spectacularly successful intellectual enterprise off. I was in my last year of high school at the time and, while intent on studying urban planning, I knew nothing of IJURR and less of cities. But, of course, when I did end up going to university to study urban matters a couple of years later, I was exposed to the early IJURR writings in classes, and some of the “founders” (would we call them “makers” today if they were millennials?) even taught me personally. Speaking about the millennium: I also reviewed systematically all back issues of IJURR at around 1999/2000 on behalf of Patrick Le Gales who wanted to know what IJURR offered and what it lacked. I don’t remember much of what I said, except that I recommended a greater focus on what we now would call Urban Political Ecology but I guess this exercise was part of what turned out to be my apprenticeship to become an editor a couple of years later.

But enough nostalgia. There are two points I want to quickly make in response to the question above. What kind of urban worlds did the founders indeed have in their crosshairs? The first response is based on many conversations, interactions and arguments I had with members of the founder generation about the nature of the city. I believe the “old guard” – those who were editors and members of the Editorial Board before PLG took over in 1997 – had a very conventional understanding of what city and urban (and their worlds) stood for. There were, in fact, perhaps only four types of cities in that imaginary: the (western) European city, the socialist city (mostly in the East), developing cities (mostly in the South) and the American city (mostly in America; I don’t think Asian cities were much on anyone’s radar screen at the time). If anyone wants to see that Euro-American trajectory on display, read Manuel Castells’s brilliant “Wild City” paper that he wrote when he left Paris for Berkeley. Cities in that imaginary are bounded places, mostly industrial and part of some nation’s system of cities, at least until Friedmann and Wolff broke it open with their paradigmatic paper on world cities in IJURR in 1982. But that is a different story. The point I am making here is that for all intents and purposes, early IJURR’s urban world was a bounded, localized, industrial world of European and American cities, and so were the theories that explained them. Since this is an impressionistic essay and I cannot revisit this right now by going into the (electronic) stacks to back this up, there is just a bit of anecdotal evidence to back this up.

The first vignette is from L.A. during the RC21 meetings in 1992, when this impressionable PhD student was standing poolside at Marcuse’s rental in the Hollywood hills chatting with a group of senior Euro-American luminaries, all linked to IJURR, three days before the rebellion broke after the Rodney King verdict. There was little to no awareness of what was happening in LA. Especially the European scholars were entirely unable to “read” L.A. with their European (sun)glasses on.  The city’s spatial form and social structure remained a puzzle to them and the ensuing violence 72 hours later was entirely unanticipated.

The second vignette stems from that same event when a bunch of young people presented their work at the RC21 conference (Bloch, Lehrer, Keil, Ronneberger, Schmid, Hitz), arguing that the city had run its course and we needed to look at the urban. There was much pushback in the audience for that kind of thinking. (We did get this published in the end but not in IJURR but in the – then – more theoretically forward looking Society and Space in 1994). This antagonism with the “old guard” was replayed, almost verbatim at the RC21 in Berlin five years later, in 1997. Some of the same (not so young anymore) people elaborated on their (not so new anymore) ideas about how the global city had moved up the country (and the region) and the same incredulous animosity from some of the “founders” was on full display. I distinctly remember that one Editorial Board member from the 1980s told me during those years that Los Angeles wasn’t a “real” city – such as Berlin, for example. Not sure how I replied. And there was the legendary rooftop party at Margit Mayer’s house in Berlin during that conference where some folks’ sympathies for Henri Lefebvre and his work was roundly ridiculed as outdated and as sadly misguided. See where that got us!

Anyway, the second – somewhat paradoxical — aspect of early IJURR’s urban worlds is less controversial and more hopeful in my view. This goes back to the brilliant foresight of making this a journal of urban AND regional research rather than just of urban research. This has to be applauded, and it contains the seed of a critical and radical distinction for IJURR that has endured. I can make this brief as the journal has recently entered into a renewed debate in which IJURR’s founding editor, Michael Harloe (with Simon Parker in 2015) recalled the founding rationale of having an R for regional in the title. I will leave it here. So, despite limitations of the bounded, Eurocentric understanding of the city which did not allow a clear view of the urban, IJURR did perform miracles in looking at our spatial relations under capitalism since 1977 through a lens that was more encompassing than the classical focus on the marketplace, the church and the ziggurat in the centre of town.

I have exceeded my limit of the 1000 suggested words and will end it here. So, now as I am writing this, the twittersphere is abuzz with competitive rumours on where Amazon will build its second headquarters, a project of $5billion and 50,000 jobs. Toronto, the city where I have been for most of IJURR’s existence, is considered to be in the running. This kind of development, of course, signals a new type of urban and regional unboundedness that will keep us urban researchers busy for a while. But tomorrow night, after my lecture, I will raise a pint of Ontario craft beer to mark IJURR’s anniversary. I will be with you in spirit. I wish I could be there in body. But perhaps someone will find this piece entertaining enough to do me the favour to read it out loud. I would be honoured.

Roger Keil, Toronto, September 7, 2017

IJURR Editorial Statements

IJURR Editorial
Julie-Anne Boudreau, Matthew Gandy and Maria Kaika (2015) Volume 39.1

Reflections on the Academic and Economic Environment
Julie-Anne Boudreau and Maria Kaika (2013) Volume 37.6

IJURR: An Editorial Statement
Jeremy Seekings and Roger Keil (2009) Volume 22.3

The Origins of the Foundation for Urban and Regional Studies, or the Advantages of Owning the Title and Having Charitable Status in the Running of Journals
Chris Pickvance (1998) Volume 22.4

IJURR: Policy Statement
Patrick Le Galès, Susan Fainstein and Linda McDowell (1998) Volume 22.1

IJURR: looking back twenty-one years later
Michael Harloe, Enzo Mingione, Chris Pickvance and Edmond Preteceille (1998) Volume 22.1

Founding Editorial Statement
Michael Harloe (1977) Volume 1.1


This is an open access essay under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License, which permits use and distribution in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, the use is non-commercial and no modifications or adaptations are made.