Interest in international comparisons of the performance and planning of cities and regions has never been higher, though much international comparison raises as many questions as it answers. Are we comparing apples and oranges? Stuttgart and Dortmund Universities organised a colloquium under this banner, asking how we do we manage the great challenges of comparing across borders, when data sets are incompatible, where conditions are so varied, and most critically, when we do not share the same understanding of key terms or concepts.

apples and orangesVincent Nadin presented a paper explaining some of the lessons he has learned from 20 years of international research drawing from his own and PhD research in urbanism. His main point was that much comparative research was not a lot more than contrasting datasets and that it might even obscure rather than clarify how planning operates in practice – under the influence of powerful interests. International comparisons should deal with the processes underlying development and decision-making as much as the outcomes for urban form.

Other speakers included Philipp Rode from the Urban Age Programme at the LSE; Ralph Bühler from the Metropolitan Institute, Virginia Tech; Kevin Ward from the University of Manchester, and Leo van den Berg of Euricur Rotterdam. Dominic Stead also represented TU Delft at the conference.

Ideas from debate at the conference will inform international comparative research projects and agenda at TU Delft – look out for a seminar on comparative methodology.

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