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The light rail renaissance as a crossover

Public participation, city revitalization and the political arena in the European context.

Marie Curie IEF Fellowship 2010-2012

Principal Researcher

Research Assistants

Advisory council: 

  • Colin Divall (York University),
  • Andrea Giuntini (Modena and Reggio Emilia University),
  • Ueli Haefeli (Interface Institut für Politikstudien),
  • Barbara Schmucki (York University),
  • Dieter Schott (Darmstadt University of Technology),
  • John Urry (Lancaster University)



Since the 1970s, we can identify a coincidence of four societal evolutions in cities throughout Europe: the emergence of new social movements (1), new forms of direct deliberative democracy (2), new emphasis for urban space and culture (3) and a renaissance of the urban tram (4). This research project focuses on the analysis of the mutual relations of tram revival with the three other societal developments, with a special emphasis on the emergence of participative democracy and passenger involvement in public transport. This 24-month training-through-research project will use methods from historiography and political theory in a comparative approach and in combination with participation theory, governance issues, the idea of Large technical systems and town planning. It starts from the concept that mobility research has landed in a cul-de-sac due to engineering, economic and planning approaches to transport studies. The results might not only be valuable for the historical and political sciences by providing comparative European insights, but they might also be highly relevant for the future planning of citizens and passengers involvement in urban transport forecast, governance and decision making. According with IEF Marie Curie program, the aim of this project is to both to achieve the research targets and to enhance the researcher's profile, adding competencies on users involvement and public participation theory in the urban arena to his previous political and historical experience, guaranteeing him a professional maturity. This tuition and research path strongly presents elements of European comparative analysis, on a highly topical theme which has relevant implications for EC policies, culture, economy and investments.  


The framework of the research is to understand how worldwide, mobility has experienced the post-war urban transport model's [e.g. car culture] failure to deliver its promises. This breakdown was quickly followed by the oil crisis, traffic congestion and pollution, all of which reached the political agenda. In this framework, public transport experienced a veritable renaissance from the 1960s on. Light rail have largely been part of this renaissance.  

The Cities

Part of this project will be carried out in a comparative way, and it will investigate the influence and effectiveness of citizens' involvement in urban policies and measure citizens' demands for new public urban transport infrastructure. The selection of the case studies, that is, "renaissance biographies" of six cities, must cover different criteria such as national distribution, successful or unsuccessful exits, role and influence of citizen participation, the municipal authority and transport companies. Urban size is another factor, considering how the light rail renaissance has been achieved over huge urban areas, such as Paris, as well as in cities below 150,000 inhabitants, such as Bergamo in Italy. The cities listed, Barcelona, Brno, Dublin, Florence, Karlsruhe and Nantes, seem to fit those criteria, mixing different experiences, sizes, and problems.

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