Neighbourhood and urban government in Western cities, from the Early Modern period to present

Stephanie Van Houtven, Charlotte Vorms

Research output: Contribution to journalOther scientific journal contribution


Present-day urban policy tends to be concentrated on the neighbourhood as a central unit, which it often regards as the organizing principle in community development. By increasing the establishment of community centres and neighbourhood councils, adopting practices of community policing and stimulating urbanites to organise themselves in projects such as a neighbourhood watch, local authorities aim to improve feelings of livability and to strengthen social cohesion in their neighbourhoods. By putting the general social science approach to neighbourhoods - the neighbourhood as a coherent socio-spatial unit - into practice, public policymakers seek to encourage the development of social unity in the city. In doing so, these politics raise the question of the very nature of the neighbourhood, caught between the administrative concept connected to a political project and the vaguer idea of an informal and extremely personal urban unit as experienced by its users. Whether the various interpretations of the concept employed by the different groups of people engaged in neighbourhood-oriented urban policy interfere with its practical outcome, will be one of the central questions of this session.

In this session we would therefore like to explore the nature of past and present interactions between urban governments and the neighbourhoods that compose the cities which they control. Questions we would like to raise are, among others:
- how have neighbourhoods been shaped in time and space, bottom-up as well as top-down? Regarding the latter, to what extent do these processes fit into a fixed political strategy? In other words, are neighbourhoods generally the outcome of an organic evolution or should they rather be regarded as a determined product of administrative policy? And how can the relation between the formal neighbourhood, i.e. the neighbourhood as delineated for administrative purposes, and the informal one be defined?
- to what extent have local governments sought to incorporate neighbourhoods as administrative units in their policy and, the other way around, how have neighbourhoods sought connection with local administration?
- ...

We would particularly like to stress that we not only welcome historiographical contributions, but that we would also gladly receive papers from scholars coming from other social sciences.
Original languageEnglish
Journal10th International Conference on Urban History
Publication statusPublished - 2009


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