The explosion of cities in recent decades has posed myriad problems for town planners. Most of this huge and rapid expansion of the urban area has been taking place in the Global South, so it is fitting that the 15th Conference of the International Planning History Society was held in Sao Paulo. Founded by Portuguese missionaries during the 1600s, Sao Paulo was for centuries a slow-growing city within a vast rural hinterland. By 1900, it numbered less than 200,000 inhabitants. Today it is the largest city in Brazil, and one of the largest in Latin America, with a population of over 11 million, and an estimated wider metropolitan population of over 17 million. The city thus deserves its ranking in the 'top ten' of the world's largest cities. From the 41st floor of the Italia Building, in the heart of downtown Sao Paulo, the 360-degree view from the conference cocktail party was of a vast and uninterrupted urban area sprawling to the hills in the far distance.
Conference organisation and contributions
The 15th IPHS Conference convenor was Professor Maria Cristena da Silva Leme of the University of Sao Paulo (USP). The local organising committee was comprised of academics based at the Institute of Architecture and Urbanism at USP, the Mackenzie Presbyterian University (MPU), the Federal University of Sao Paulo, Pontificia Catholic University de Campinas and Sao Judas Tadeu University. The conference was held mostly in MPU and USP, and in adjacent buildings within relatively close range of each other in an attractive district of Sao Paulo.
Within the rubric of the conference and beyond it, a diverse set of over 230 papers and presentations were offered over the three days of the meeting. Many of them addressed the wider rubric of the conference theme outlined in the conference handbooks, including 'issues of territorial disparities in the sphere of planning history' and 'connections and discontinuities, tensions and superimpositions, both in the process of urbanisation and in the planning field'. It is impossible to do justice to all of them herein this brief report, but across the sessions and papers some key themes and subjects emerged, including:
* the international diffusion of town planning ideas; large-scale urbanisation and planning; transnational planning and regional conditions;
* the right to the city in response to the processes of gentrification; social housing in comparative perspective; privatisation and housing inequality;
* housing, planning and production; architecture and urban design; cultural and social processes in Latin American cities;
* the colonial presence of European settlers in Latin America, and their relationship to urban development;
* the relationship between town planning, architecture and urban design;
* modernisation and planning in Latin America and other regions of the Global South; immigration and ethnic diversity in the city;
* water and urban development; sport, heritage and urban regeneration;
* city-planning exhibitions;
* the origins and development of planning education;
* film, representation and city image; heritage, urbanisation and planning; and
* the contribution of women to the development of town planning.
Another interesting point about the academics giving papers or chairing sessions was that there were probably more women among the delegates than at previous IPHS conferences.
Brazilian cities and regions, as might be expected, were the subject of many papers. Although this was the first IPHS conference to be held in Latin America, it was surprising that there were relatively few papers from academics in other countries south of the United States border. Chile was the subject of a session on public buildings and public space, although a couple of comparative sessions focused on city plans for Buenos Aires, Argentina and Brazilian cities.
What was also striking, however, in terms of the wider geographical coverage of the conference, was the relatively scant number of papers delivered on the United Kingdom, Eastern and Western Europe and the United States of America. …