Rethinking cities through mobilities. Introduction to the seminar series Cities and Mobilities

This is the transcript of the talk I have given at the first seminar. By posting this here I would like to share some thoughts on cities and mobilities that have inspired me to organise the seminar series and to welcome more people to our ongoing conversation at the Centre for Urban Studies. – A.N.


According to a French philosopher Paul Virilio, the city is “not simply a place where one lives, it’s above all a crossroads”.

Most people would see movement, mobility as something secondary to whatever else they are doing in cities – living, working, studying, spending time with their loved ones, shopping, etc. Yet, as this quote suggests and as many other scholars have argued, mobility is at the very origins of the city as a form of human cohabitation. Cities developed at crossroads, around markets, in rivers’ deltas, on seashores and so forth: essentially, wherever people could come together easier and wherever stuff was easier to bring to for exchange.

Nothing and nobody in contemporary cities exists isolated from some form of mobility – local or global. Even if you are a tenth generation Amsterdammer, your ancestors have moved here from somewhere else. The food we eat, the movies we watch, the colleagues we speak to, the postman in your neighbourhood and the post itself – everything and everybody comes from somewhere.

But also we perceive the city while we are on the move, there is simply no other way of engaging with urban fabric and with fellow citizens (te Brömmelstroet et al., 2017). And each way of moving around the city makes you see, smell, touch different things. Your stroll to the bakery, your cycling commute, your daydreaming in a tram.

All the mobilities shaping the city at macro and microscale are interrelated, designed, governed, imbued with meaning (Cresswell, 2010).

Let me illustrate this point very briefly using the example of Amsterdam. Below you see  the map of the city made in 17th century. From its early days, this city was shaped by different forms of mobility – by pilgrimage, by trade-related mobility, by mobilities of refugees, by mobilities of the poor and the rich. Its urban form, its wealth and power have everything to do with particular forms of movement – around the city and around the globe; some of these mobilities were voluntary, others – forced.

map of amsterdam

A. Besnard after Daniel Stalpaert, 1657. Source:


And this is a map of Amsterdam in the 21st century.


Source: Sander van der Drift (2015)

It’s a map from a research project exploring tourist mobilities in Amsterdam using geotagged photos from Flickr (van der Drift, 2015). This map shows most popular routes and tourist hotspots in the city. Visitors come from all parts of the world, yet these global mobilities have profound impact on mobility in the city. Certain streets are closed off for cars, others for cyclists. None of this is uncontested. Add AirBnB to the mix, and you’ll have an idea of some of the most heated debates in the city: whose city Amsterdam is? This question has everything to do with mobility. The right to the city is the also the right to move (Cresswell, 2006) safely and maybe even with pleasure, regardless of one’s physical abilities and looks, income or occupation.

Cities are continuously shaped by mobilities, every moment of the day. And in the seminar series “Cities and Mobilities” we are looking at different dimensions of this process, from global migration to daily commutes. To give you a more specific idea of diversity of subjects that the seminar will cover, I have made a word cloud of the most frequently used words all the submitted abstracts, having excluded the words “urban”, “city” and “mobility”.

Word Frequency Query1

Source: Anna Nikolaeva


Here you can clearly see not only the diversity of topics, but also of disciplines. It is the goal of the seminar series to bring together people from urban planning and anthropology, history and sociology, geography and cultural studies. The aim is to exchange perspectives, to get inspired, to find connections – and to see if we can take this conversation further. But to begin with – to see who is working on mobility in Amsterdam, in the Netherlands, and in any places from where people are going to come to the seminar series.

Another goal of the seminar is to give an opportunity to junior researchers to receive feedback on their work-in-progress from the key scholars in the field. The format allows for both a public dialogue and informal face-to-face conversations.

We have already started our journey of exploring cities and mobilities, and you can join any time. Anyone is welcome: this is an open conversation beyond the walls of the “ivory tower” or disciplinary borders. Each of us has plenty of stories about cities and mobilities to share.



I would like to thank the Centre for Urban Studies for the financial and administrative support of the seminar as well as all the guest speakers, presenters and the audience making this seminar series such a fantastic experience.



Cresswell, T. 2010. Towards a Politics of Mobility. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 28(1), 17–31.

Cresswell, T. 2006. The Right to Mobility: The Production of Mobility in the Courtroom. Antipode, 38(4), 735–754.

te Brömmelstroet, M. C. G., Nikolaeva, A., Glaser, M. A., Nicolaisen, M., and C. Chan (2017). Traveling together alone and alone together: Mobility and potential exposure to diversity. Applied Mobilities 2(1), 113-129.

Virilio, P. and S. Lotringer. 1997. Pure War. New York: Semiotext(e).

van der Drift, S. 2015. Revealing spatial and temporal patterns from Flickr photography – A case study with tourists in Amstedam. Master thesis.



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