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Regular version of the site

HSE Urban Specialists Create New Profession

Staff and students of HSE Vysokovsky Graduate School of Urbanism discussed the prospects for the development of Urban Studies at HSE and in Russia at a meeting with the university’s senior management.

Why does HSE need Urban Studies?

Rector Yaroslav Kuzminov said that HSE has developed to become what is in the English-speaking world seen as a ‘comprehensive university’. The HSE has been expanding its remit beyond economics, to engineering, physics, and life sciences. The university was created on the initiative of a group of academics, and its growth continues to be generated by academics’ initiatives, the Rector stressed. That is what happened with Urban Studies specialists, who are to establish their own academic discipline, while also engaging with society, implementing applied projects and interacting with colleagues from other faculties. This collaboration is not limited to joint research. The rector suggested that the staff of the Graduate School of Urbanism consider holding a Road Show at HSE, that would enable students and teachers from other schools and faculties to learn about the opportunities for working with Urban Studies specialists.

Will Urban Studies become its own profession?

In creating the HSE Graduate School of Urban Studies, founder and first dean Alexander Vysokovsky sought to reflect the fact that urban research and development can no longer be limited to traditional disciplines such as architecture and urban development. ‘Essentially, we’re talking about the creation of a new profession,’ the current Dean Alexei Novikov said. ‘One that represents a synthesis of classical urban development with a wide variety of different subject areas: urban economics, urban sociology, work with spontaneous data generated by the urban environment, among others.’ However, lists of contemporary Russian professions and specialisms do not include urban studies. No professional or educational standards for urban studies have been developed to date. Much of the discussion focused on how this can best be corrected.

Back in the late 1980s, there was the Union of Soviet Urban Studies Specialists, noted director of the Institute for Transport Economics and Transport Policy Studies at HSE Mikhail Blinkin. But it ceased to exist in 1991, and urban studies specialists were again lumped in with architects. ‘That is how we came to have the situation we see today, where there is not seen as being any distinction between urban studies specialists, urban development specialists and architects.’

This issue should not be exaggerated, but nor should it be underestimated, Academic Supervisor of the School Nadezhda Kosareva, noted. ‘This debate is not only being had within the education system, but also in decision-making circles’ she said. ‘The battle to have a role in city management is raging at all levels.’ In order to win official recognition, urban studies specialists must institutionalize themselves, for example by setting up an association, and by developing their own standards, as well as by presenting the academic results of their work, Yaroslav Kuzminov said.

What has already been achieved?

In the five years of its existence, Graduate School of Urbanism has achieved significant successes in education and research, Alexei Novikov said. In 2016, along with the now-traditional MA programme 'Urban Development and Spatial Planning', the School has launched a joint programme with Strelka Institute in Advanced Urban Design, which combines a research-based approach typically seen in university education with a project-media-based segment of the type Strelka is known for. There are a number of different research groups and laboratories operating under the Graduate School of Urbanism including a Laboratory of Urban Field Research with a Сentre for the Analysis of Spatial Data, and a Laboratory of Advocacy Planning. The School hopes that this laboratory will help the idea of planning advocacy (professional representation for the interests of different groups in the urban planning process) develop into an institution.

Under the auspices of the former chief-architect of Barcelona, Vicente Guallart, an international Laboratory for Experimental Urban Design has been set up, with the hope that it will become a ‘magnet’ for Russian and international students and researchers. Guallart also plans to set up a ‘fab lab’ and observation programme covering the city and technology rooted in the principle of ‘learning by doing’.

In 2016, the School launched a new journal ‘Urban Studies and Practices’. The Graduate School of Urbanism will continue to develop its broader educational projects: public lectures on Wednesdays in the Dostoyevsky Library, a school for prospective students, and presentations delivered as part of architecture and urban studies biennales (this year to be held in Rotterdam and Venice).

The Graduate School of Urbanism is one of the youngest sections at the university, not only by the date on which it was founded but also judging by the average age of its staff – the majority of whom are under 30.


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