26-27 October

GoverDENSE workshop in Utrecht

On 26 October, the GoverDENSE team organized a workshop at Utrecht University to discuss the project's preliminary findings with researchers based in the Netherlands. Through this workshop we aimed to share and discuss our preliminary findings of the GoverDENSE project with external researchers, while focusing on the differences and similarities regarding planning for densification between the Netherlands and Switzerland. The next day, the team met with city planners in Utrecht to discuss the city's current spatial strategy, as well as the challenges it faces to ensure effective implementation of densification goals. We look back at two very fruitful and inspiring days and we thank all participants for their time and availability.

Governing densification.

Under which circumstances can spatial planning effectively achieve densification while retaining urban quality for all? Within the the GoverDENSE project we compare densification projects from Switzerland and the Netherlands and take lessons from practical examples on how to steer densification towards sustainability.

The GoverDENSE project.

4 September 2023

Jessica Verheij attended the Annual Conference of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) taking place in London from 29th August to 1st September. The conference’s theme was Climate-Changed Geographies, with many contributions and panel lectures focusing on the role of geography and research in a climate-changed world. Jessica presented her own research titled “The Price of Urban Sustainability – Property Rights and the Enclosure of Urban Land” in a session on urban regeneration.

22 August 2023

We are delighted to congratulate our former GIUB member Andreas Hengstermann on a new position. Andreas has been appointed Associate Professor at the Department of Urban and Regional Planning (BYREG) at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU) in Ås (NO) as of 1 August 2023. There, he will represent the field of planning theory and internationalisation. Andreas completed his PhD in the unit of Jean-David Gerber in 2018 and held various positions at the University of Bern from 2012 to 2021. Andreas will remain linked to the GIUB in the long term: As an external lecturer, he will continue to teach the lecture Spatial Planning 1. 

21 August 2023

New publication: public access to green spaces in urban desification

A new publication authored by GoverDENSE members Jessica Verheij, Deniz Ay, Jean-David Gerber and Stéphane Nahrath analyses the implementation of publicly-accessible green spaces in two densification projects, one in Utrecht (the Netherlands) and one in Biel (Switzerland). 

We apply the theoretical concept of club goods to understand how and why market-oriented actors are interested in providing green spaces as exclusive amenity for their residents. Yet this process is far from inevitable. By analysing the implementation of densification projects as a negotiation of public and private interests, we show how planners combine public- and private-law instruments to strategically impose planning goals while simultaneously safeguarding the interests of developers and investors.

6 July 2023

GoverDENSE participation at the Planning Law and Property Rights (PLPR) Conference

Josje Bouwmeester, Jessica Verheij and Vera Götze represented the GoverDENSE-project at this year’s conference of the International Academic Association on Planning, Law, and Property Rights in Ann Arbor, Michigan (USA). We organized two special sessions that brought together researchers studying urban densification in Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands. Throughout the sessions, the presenters highlighted the shift towards more flexible planning approaches, for example through project-based planning or continuous negotiations with landowners and developers. In this context, trade-offs were discussed between flexibility on the one hand, and quality and effectiveness of plan implementation on the other side. Jessica represented her research on the commoning of urban green space in a densifying neighbourhood in Bern, Vera represented on low-income households in densification projects in Utrecht, and Josje on negotiations between landowners and public actors in densification projects. 

6 July 2023

Participation in the International Association for the Study of the Commons (IASC) Conference in Nairobi, Kenya

Jean-David Gerber, Deniz Ay, Philipa Akuoko, and Sarah Steinegger attended the XIX Biennial IASC Conference with the theme: “The Commons We Want: Between Historical Legacies and Future Collective Actions.” The Conference took place at the University of Nairobi on June 19-24. The team chaired two sessions on “Commons institutions, decommodification and post-growth” and “Commons and Informal Economy.” Jean-David Gerber gave a presentation on “Urban commons at the commonification / decommodification nexus – which contribution to a post-growth organization of society?” that builds on the COMMONPATHS Project funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation. Deniz Ay presented her paper on “A conceptual step towards “commoning care” as a pathway for urban post-growth,” Philipa Akuoko’s presentation was on “Negotiating power, access, and property rights of informal workers in public spaces,” and Sarah Steinegger presented her research on “Commons-based modes of food production in the Grisons, Switzerland.”

6 July 2023

Participation at Urban Affairs Conference in Nashville (USA)

Vera Götze and Josje Bouwmeester participated in the 51st annual meeting of the Urban Affairs Association in Nashville. The topic was “From Global to Local: Urban Communities in Flux” and presented a great opportunity to present our findings to an American audience. The conference was kicked off with an interesting panel on the challenges Nashville is facing as a rapidly growing city. During the rest of the week, talks by our international colleagues offered a different perspective on the topics discussed in the American urban studies research community. A broad range of topics was covered, from the role of geopolitics in urban development to methods that allow researchers to understand to impact of life-cycle-costing (LCC) on American real estate markets. The program also included space for the team to explore the city of Nashville and enjoy the Southern cuisine. The conference was very inspiring and provides new insights into possible future research.

19 April 2023

Recent newspaper article in the local magazine Quartiermagazin Stadtteil III

Jessica Verheij wrote a short reflection on the political dimension of densification for the Quartiermagazin Stadtteil III – a local magazine distributed among residents of the neighbourhood Holligen in Bern. Last year, Jessica conducted her case-study of a development project in this neighbourhood, which due to ongoing densification is now one of Bern’s fastest growing neighbourhoods.

Article QM223 (in German) (PDF, 192KB) QM223 full issue (in German) (PDF, 3.0 MB)

29 March 2023

Welcome Tianzhu Liu

We are happy to welcome Tianzhu in our research group. She will work as Postdoc in the research project Commonpaths and explore how the institutional arrangement of urban commons contributes to sustainability, with an international comparative lens, in Ghana and Switzerland.

29 March 2023

Welcome Adrien Guisan

We are happy to welcome Adrien in our research group. Adrien will work on the COMMONPATHS project to investigate housing commons through selected case studies in Switzerland and Ghana. His research will focus on the institutional conditions surrounding processes of commoning, and how this can contribute to the long-term de-commodification of housing as a pathway for sustainable degrowth.

29 March 2023

Welcome Samuel Agyekum

We are happy to welcome Samuel in our research group. Samuel’s PhD project explores the emergence, organization, impacts, and conditions of success for creating new commons that aim to green cities in cases within Switzerland and Ghana. His research contributes to prefiguring how commonification of resources for greening could transform the dominant capitalistic and inequality-stricken cities into a postgrowth society.

14 January 2023

New publication: Non-enforcement and non-compliance in Dutch cases of soft densification

A new publication by GoverDENSE team members Josje Bouwmeester, Jean-David Gerber, Thomas Hartman and Deniz Ay shows how the Dutch municipality of Utrecht tries to control when and where housing subdivisions into multiple rental units take place. Through flexible regulations, which allows for case-by-case decision making, the municipality tries to get a grip on this prevalent form of soft densification. Some investors have responded to these new regulations by illegally subdividing.

Surprisingly, the findings of the paper reveal that planners sometimes expect, know, and legitimize illegal subdivisions. Especially the housing scarcity was mentioned as a reason why local authorities do not always enforce subdivision regulations. Local authorities use non-enforcement to bridge the formal planning process and mutual agreements between local stakeholders. Through this, planning authorities can use the flexibility provided by informality to respond to complex public problems.

22 November 2022

Participation in the Swiss Geoscience Meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland

Jessica Verheij participated in the Swiss Geoscience Meeting in Lausanne on 19 November. She contributed to the session Human Geographies: Cities, Regions, Economies with a presentation titled “To whom does it belong? Urban green commons in a densifying neighbourhood in Bern”.

27 October 2022

New publication by Jean-David Gerber

The publication analyzes the role of power in planning. Gerber & Debrunner develop a theoretical framework, which can be used to capture the role of power in spatial development projects. The authors apply the concept in a case study in Zurich, Switzerland.

12 September 2022

Participation in the International Mountain Conference in Innsbruck

Sarah Steinegger visited the IMC Conference in Innsbruck (Austria) from 12 to 15 September. She contributed with a presentation on her exploratory fieldwork in Apurímac (Peru): the Participatory Guarantee System as a decommodified and community-based certification system that enhances collective, producers-based governance of mountain foodscapes.

09 September 2022

You are looking for a topic for your thesis?

You are invited to come to the information event of our research unit. Please find further information in the document below (only in German).

Flyer information event (German) (PDF, 266KB)

24 August 2022

Participation in the RC21 Conference in Athens, Greece

Deniz Ay attended the RC21 Conference in Athens from 24-26 August in Athens. She held a presentation in which waiting as a mode of governance in protracted urban renewal projects was discussed.

23 August 2022

Welcome Philipa Birago Akuoko

We are happy to soon welcome Philipa in our research group. She will study the governance of the informal economy in urban Ghana in relation to attaining the Sustainable Development Goals.

15 August 2022

New website for the research project GoverDENSE

Stay tuned for the newest updates on this SNF-funded research about the governance of sustainable densification in Switzerland and the Netherlands here.

22 July 2022

Participation in the International Geographic Union Conference in Paris

Sarah Steinegger and Jessica Verheij attended the IGU Conference in Paris from 18 – 22 July in Paris, France. Both contributed with presentations on their research: Jessica presented on the production of green spaces as urban commons in densification projects. Sarah held a presentation on whether collective, producers-based governance of mountain foodscapes can account for cultural and regional dimensions of sustainability.

14 July 2022

Work-retreat in the Jura

Our research group spent two days near La Brévine. Work discussions were complemented with hiking, swimming and cooking together.

8 July 2022

PLPR conference

The GoverDENSE-Crew attended the international conference on planning, law and property rights PLPR and contributed with a total of six presentations. Moreover, Josje Bouwmeester was elected as new PhD coordinator.

8 July 2022

Participation in the Worldwide Perspectives on Geographical Indications Conference in Montpellier

Sarah Steinegger attended the Worldwide Perspectives on Geographical Indications Conference in Montpellier from 5-8 July in Montpellier, France. She held a presentation on whether Geographical Indications on food constitute a Faustian bargain between heritage preservation and better access to origin-based market segments.

20 June 2022

New publication by Deniz Ay

The publication shows a case study of an urban renewal project in Diyarbakir, Turkey and focusses on the governance of the redevelopment.

25 May 2022

New SNSF Sinergia research project starting in January 2023

The COMMONPATHS research project will build on a collaboration of four research group. We will analyze the contribution of commons to urban decommodification and postgrowth organization of society. The new common path Here you will find more information.

18 May 2022

New SNSF SPIRIT research project starting in January 2023

A team bringing together researchers from the University of Bern and the University of Ghana in Accra will analyze land titling processes from a gender perspective. The project focuses on formalized arrangements of collective landownership (FACT).

7 March 2022

New visiting researcher

Dr. Pauliina Krigsholm will support our group until May as visiting researcher. As postdoc she does research on land policy, the institution of property rights and land governance at Aalto University, Finland.

News & events

New group poster

The unit's group poster was redesigned and is displayed in the GIUB foyer.

Dr. Gabriela Debrunner was awarded the faculty price for her PhD thesis entitled “The Business of Densification: Coping with Social Challenges under Scarce Land Use Conditions in Swiss Cities”

Densification is a central objective of the Swiss spatial planning act. Densification is defined as a process leading to an increase in the number of households within existing city boundaries. It is widely assumed to play a decisive role in the sustainable transformation of settlements. However, Gabriela Debrunner’s thesis demonstrates that in Swiss cities, economic and environmental sustainability is often achieved at the expense of social sustainability, i.e. against the social wellbeing of less well-off segments of the urban population. This is the phenomenon that she calls “business of densification”.


European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant for Christoph Oberlack

For his project “Is environmental justice necessary for human well-being? Comparative analysis of certification schemes, inclusive business, and solidarity economy strategies (COMPASS)”, Christoph Oberlack of CDE and GIUB, University of Bern, has been awarded a European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant. The project examines the role of environmental justice in enabling certification systems, inclusive business models, and solidarity-economy strategies to enhance the well-being of smallholder producers. In particular, it investigates the value chains of coffee and cocoa in Peru and Switzerland.


New scientific publication

Barnett AJ, Partelow S, Frey U, García-Lozano A, Mancha-Cisneros MdM, Oberlack C, Ratajczyk E, Smith H, Villamayor-Tomás S, Whitney CK. 2020. Defining success in the commons: addressing problem orientations, multi-dimensionality, norms and trade-offs. International Journal of the Commons (in press).


New PhD-candidate

We are happy to welcome Jessica Verheij to our unit. Jessica's PhD-project will analyze processes of governance that can lead to the densification of cities, by looking at case-studies in Bern and Utrecht (the Netherlands). Focus will be on understanding how issues related to social sustainability can be ensured over time.


New PhD-candidate

We are happy to welcome Josje Bowmeester to our unit. Josje's PhD project focuses on the conditions under which spatial planning can more effectively lead to increased densification while also retaining urban quality for all, including vulnerable socio-economic groups.


New publication

Van Bers C., A. Delaney, L. Cramer, H. Eakin, S. Eriksen, T. Evans, L. Jones, K. Korhonen-Kurki, C. Oberlack, C. Pahl-Wostl, M. Purdon, I. Vasileiou. 2019. Advancing the research agenda on food systems governance and transformations. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability (in press).

Defense of Timothy Adams dissertation

Large-scale Land Investments, Institutional Change and Gender Relations: An In-depth Analysis of Land Investments in the Sugarcane Sector of Malawi

Location: Institute of Geography, Hallerstrasse 12, Bern
Room 001
Date: August 29, 2019 at 09.30 am.



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