How to make cities work? Insights from the Empowering Cities and Citizens conference!

Insights from the Empowering Cities and Citizens conference

"Cities are the economic engines of growth worldwide. Well-managed cities make happy citizens. Join 300 other urban professionals in the ‘Empowering Cities and Citizens’ conference for an intense learning and co-creating experience. Gain urban insights that make cities work."

This is the goal of the conference organized by the Institute for Housing and Urban Development Studies to celebrate their 60- year existence. The conference is all about making cities work. In this blog we will take you through the key take-aways of the conference related to both the PhD projects of Emily Mannheimer and Shirley Nieuwland.

Overcoming Urban Challenges

The conference brought academic and professionals together to address the complex urban challenges that cities face today. By linking academic research to the Sustainable Development goals (haven’t heard of them yet? Time to check them out here!), participants shared knowledge that can form the basis for practical solutions to achieving the SDG’s, in order to make cities vital, well-managed, livable, sustainable and fair.

The conference was held at the beautifully regenerated industrial Maassilo. The 100 year-old reconverted grain silo is itself evidence of the ability of cities to overcome the challenges they face in the 21st century.

PhD’s projects on Urban Culture, Heritage, Tourism

PhD Candidates Emily Mannheimer and Shirley Nieuwland from the Erasmus Initiative Vital Cities and Citizens presented at the conference. Emily’s research is on tourism in post-conflict cities and Shirley studies the role of the create entrepreneur in responsible urban tourism development. Drawing on our recent fieldwork in Belfast and Rotterdam, we presented under the umbrella theme of urban culture, heritage and tourism. Even though the research topics seem to have little in common, apart from dealing with tourism in cities, the projects in the end have similar concluding remarks related to the sustainable development goals; namely that bottom-up approaches to tourism development offer locals a greater voice in building the city’s story and identity.

In Emily’s case in Belfast this could result in tourism as a tool for peacebuilding by allowing people a greater role in redefining and representing the city and the history of the Troubles. By providing the opportunity to share their stories and take control of their own narratives, it contributes to greater ownership and empowerment among local communities. In Shirley’s project, tourism can be seen as a way to foster creative entrepreneurship which will benefit local business and equally empowers local citizens to tell their version of the story of the city. It is also considered a way to develop the city and tourism in a more inclusive and sustainable way.

Tourism and the Sustainable Development Goals

This brings us back to the Sustainable Development Goals to which are projects are linked as well. With our research we hope to contribute to development of practical tools for local governments to work on goal number 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions and goal number 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities. As our case studies show, if applied in the right way, tourism can be a useful tool for achieving bigger goals than just the economic benefits it brings. By empowering the people of the city to develop tourism more bottom-up, cities are empowered to get one step closer to the Sustainable Development Goals.

Emily Mannheimer and Shirley Nieuwland


Emily Mannheimer (left) is a PhD Candidate in the Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication (ESHCC). She is researching tourism in post-conflict cities as part of the Vital Cities and Citizens initiative. Her research interests include the politics of representation, memory, heritage, place, and placemaking in cities with difficult pasts.

Shirley Nieuwland (right) is a PhD candidate within the Erasmus Initiative Vital Cities and Citizens’ in which she focusses on the role of local entrepreneurs in the development of more sustainable forms of urban tourism. She obtained a master’s degree in Human Geography at Radboud University in Nijmegen with specializations in Urban & Cultural Geography and Tourism. Her research interests include urban development, (urban) tourism, the sharing economy, the creative city and related gentrification processes.