Federico Savini is Associate Professor in Environmental Planning, Institutions and Politics at the University of Amsterdam. He combines approaches of political sociology, urban planning and critical geography to the study of institutions and socio-spatial change in cities. In his works, he studies the politics that drive institutional change, focusing on the different sets of regulations that shape the working of city-regions and their ecological impact on the planet. With his expertise on the study of regulatory frameworks and institutional dynamics, he grasps the pathways towards a form of urbanization that thrives within planetary boundaries. He uses a degrowth perspective on spatal planning.
I was main researcher and leading coordinator in the international research projects APRILab and CODALoop, both funded under the scheme JPI-Urban Europe. He is part of the community of de-growth scholars in Europe and The Netherlands. He is coordinator and curator of the Masterstudio Future Cities and co-initiator and advisor of the social-housing cooperative de Nieuwe Meent in Amsterdam.
Cities are the engines of economic growth. The largest share of the worldwide GDP is produced in urban areas. Yet, the growth of cities has dramatic social and environmental impacts. Cities have 6 to 15 times higher ecological footprints than any sustainable treshold. Urban dwellers consume and travel more, and cities have been planned to promote those behaviours. The built environment is the largest consumer of raw materials. The growth of urban agglomerations comes at dramatic costs for natural and rural areas in the globe, the sites of sand excavation, large scale food production for urban lifestyles as well as wastelands. My research mobilizes the imaginary of degrowth - the downscaling of material demand in our society - to imagine a form of urban development that is ecologically and socially just. I address urban degrowth from a planning perspective, looking at different dimensions: the building of regional networks of circular food production and material reuse; the creation of synergies between urban and rural areas; the production of housing commons through cooperative instititutional arrangements that promote low impact living; the reduction of urban waste.
Planning and Knowledge: How new forms of technocracy are shaping contemporary cities. Edited with Mike Raco, UCL.
In the wake of the Global Financial Crisis and the associated rise of austerity agendas and new forms of economic boosterism, the capacities and very raison d’etre of planning systems and knowledges across Europe and North America are being challenged as never before. Reforms are being driven by a new class of private consultants, public managers, legal and data experts, and new technologies. This collection of essays examines these broader trends and the contemporary form and character of urban planning systems and the expertise that shapes them. It revises the traditional notion of a technocracy as a way of characterising these reforms. Collectively, the contributions raise fundamental questions over who and what planning is now for and what types of knowledge are driving contemporary urban change. They show that we are witnessing the emergence of a new technocracy in urban planning but one that differs markedly from traditional, top-down forms of governance. It is a model that appears, ostensibly, to be pluralist and open in character, but in practice draws on new techniques and technologies that are shaped by powerful elites and privatised forms of knowledge production and management. The implications for planning systems and understandings of contemporary reform are profound.
This project (not externally funded, duration one year) reseaches the politics of environmental governance from the perspective of shifting legal, political and moral responsibilities. The rising concerns with environmental quality, over consumption of resources and excess of urban waste are showing the limits of the institutionalized forms of governance in cities. Discourses on circular economic development are increasingly mobilizing metaphors for new institutional and political set ups of urban development processes. Citizens are looked at prosumers of their own waste and resources. Industrial corporations are being increasingly (de)responsibilized for their environmental impact. Local governments are playing double roles of enabler of new economies as well as regulators of urban investments against the environmental degradation of the city-regional ecosystem. National governments are increasinly relocating responsibilities to lower tiers in order to, arguably, promote more responsible economic systems. It is within this highly changing and dynamic political context that our research investigates the changing social, political and environmental responsibilities of urban stakeholders. It does so by analyzing the emerging political tensions between judicial regulatory frameworks and the self-defined roles of actors in the development process. At the University of Amsterdam I carry out this project together with my colleague Mendel Giezen and my research Master student Ena Zametica.
This research trajectory (not externally funded, started mid-2017) tackles emerging disourses and projects of 'circular economy' in order to reveal the socio-institutional implications of contemporary models of ecological economic growth in city-regional governance. It starts from the observation that our societal understanding of waste and resources are getting more and more blurred and combined. Cities are searching for new ways to turn waste into resources, and undertake huge investments in the infrastructures of waste collection and reuse. Circularity appears to be a politically powerful concept in the context of global land and resource scarcity, yet the socio-political implications of these ideas on existing institutions are underinvestigated. In this research trajectory I enage with the regulatory challenges of new uses and framings of waste to reveal broader socio-political processes and power structures in city-regional development. Geographically, the research looks at areas of (urban) waste disposal and resource extraction, namely industrial areas in the periphery of cities.
Read one of the publications (Open Access) here
This project (funded, JPI-Urban Europe, start in 2015) researches the role of socio-cultural norms in defining both social practices and city-regional policies targeting energy demand in cities. Despite targeted policies and technological innovations, household energy consumption is still increasing in Europe, showing the need for actions that are explicitly ‘reducing’ the demand of energy rather than making energy use more ‘environmentally sustainable’. This project seeks to break the vicious cycle of 'energy efficiency' by tackling instead the social norms that determine households’ daily practices of consumption in food, mobility and dwelling. With experimental and diverse methodologies of field-studies and action-oriented research, we study the feedback loops between individuals perceptions, social practices and policy making in Amsterdam, Graz and Istanbul. The project is transdisciplinary and experimental. It aims at: a) understanding learning feedback loops between individuals and communities that determine daily energy demand; b) setting up these loops through the designing of participatory spaces of discussion in selected neighbourhoods of the city; c) analysing the framings of energy consumption in a virtual community of Amsterdam city-region; c) analysing the interaction among individuals and groups within households communities to inform wider policies for energy transitions. The project delivers indications on the meaning of data and information in the context of social practices and concrete recommendations on how to move from 'efficiency' oriented policy making to 'reduction' oriented policy making. With its international consortium, CODALoop combines cutting edge cognitive modelling (Graz), data analysis (Istanbul) and action-oriented participatory research (Amsterdam). It includes a total of 13 partners from policy, research and practice.
Download and read the deliverables here (Open Access)
The project investigates the emerging dilemmas in the practice of urban development in the urban periphery though techniques of action-based research. It focuses on the combined innovation of planning regulations, financial arrangements and urban interventions in different European contexts. Innovation in planning practice through processes of co-creation has become a priority, not only for urban agencies in practice but also for scientific research. Planning practice is puzzled by upcoming concepts of adaptability, resilience, and self-organization which present idealized visions of governance. Urban development often still takes place through traditional forms of rational approaches of research and practice, characterized by its instrumental focus on goal-specific tasks, means, and outcomes rather than searching for context based adaptability under the guidance of generic principles. APRILab entails research into fundamental political dilemmas that constrain effective innovation. It focuses on three major dilemmas to conceptualize the different trade-offs for governance innovation between the extremes of self-organization and control:
Intervention, between control of spatial processes and accommodation of emergent urban change; Regulation, between instrumentalism and generic normative guidance of self-regulation; Investment, between supply and demand driven investments. The project is funded by The Dutch National Agency of Scientific Research (NWO) within the frame of the Joint Program Initiative ‘URBAN EUROPE’
The PhD research by Federico Savini addresses the challenges, dilemmas and problematics of spatial planning in the contemporary urban periphery. His work focuses on patterns of decision making in large scale urban development. He adopts a comparative methodology to explore the way public, private and civic actors interacts and cooperate in order to govern planning processes and in the way institutional innovation is achieved in the practice of inter-municipal cooperation and metropolitan governance. By using theories on urban politics, the project particularly look at the political dynamics driving urban projects taking place in the urban periphery. The urban Periphery is an emerging and highly challenging space for planning. Urban transformations need to mediate between the creation of new spatial qualities and the coping with existing socio-economic problems. The project address the electoral and ideological background of development policies targeting the urban periphery in European cities. In particular, it looks at the behavior of political coalitions and political elites, and at their links with large private developers. The research is an international comparison of three projects currently taking place in the city regions of Amsterdam, Paris and Milan . The project develops with the cooperation of the Dutch Ministry of Spatial Planning, Environment and Housing
I am coordinator of the Masterstudio Future Cities that takes place in Amsterdam every year in January. For all info please visit: http://www.masterstudio.org/
The Masterstudio is core part of the MA program in Urban Planning at the University of Amsterdam. It has the ambition to combine theoretical insights with examples of planning practices, in a didactic and interactive program for students, professionals and public employees. The studio is built around a different topic every year, to enable a responsive program to local and global emergent policy ideas. It consists of a full week of academic lectures from invited international speakers, several examples from practices based in Amsterdam, artists works and debates with local politicians. Students work on 'imaginative projects' to be presented to local activists and public officials. The studio is also open to external participants.
For registering and exploring all the editions please visit our website
My research ambition is to develop knowledge on how spatial planning can contributes to the transition towards a degrowth society - one where cities are able to thrive while reducing their ecological footprint on the planet through downscaling their material demand (eg. energy, building, mobility etc.). This allows to identify and tackle the factors that lie at the roots of today socio-ecological impact of urbanization. All my works share an approach that combines the following ambitions:
Theorizing the regulations that shape urbanization
Cities are dynamic, complex and unpredictable spaces where new regulations, institutions and social norms are continuously built, contested, dismantled. It is thus necessary to openly appreciate and explain the empirical dynamism and variety of these processes. My research engages with the unexpected, relational and improvisational nature of institutional change and looks at urbanization as the socio-physical and material dimension of those institutions. I research regulations as the proxy of contemporary capitalist society, empirically looking at different types of norms: codified legal document, tacit social practices enacted in the daily life of households, formal and informal rules of the policy process, ways of framing societal problems and the institutes of State governance.
Questioning the politics of institutional change
I understand the changing of institutions as a process made of conflicts, tensions and dilemmas that manifests in the way people and organizations deal with each other in organizing collective action. These processes are the visible manifestation of power in contemporary society and they translate into socio-political frictions over the property of land, the shape of material flows, the distribution of housing and the financing of public amenities and spaces in cities. In explaining how and why institutions change, I look at the interplay between power and norms in policy-making, decision-making and collective action, revealing the contradictions of institutional change. This gives room to knowledge that can inform actions that wish to tackle the institutional foundations of socio-ecological problems such as overconsumption or socio-spatial exclusion.
Placing peripheries at the centre of urban analysis
Politics and regulations have visible effects on the geo-political form of city-regions. My vision is to study cities as non-uniform, non-stable and uneven socio-spatial formations, made of tensions between centres and peripheries that are reproduced in time; Peripheries are the ‘suburban’, ‘peri-urban’, ‘fringe’ zones of cities. These are spaces of old and new industrial and agricultural production, dense or diffuse residential fabrics, preserved or over-exploited natural areas. Their identity is connected to that of the global city centres of financial, commercial and residential consumption. The periphery is a highly dynamic space, where socio-economic institutions are contested or created. In these areas it is possible to appreciate and observe the politics of institutional change, examining the diverse geography of institutionalized power structures.