Georg-Simmel Center for Urban Studies

Urban Futures at Risk Research Group

The Urban Futures at Risk research group will explore different aspects of urban responses for crises: civil society engagement, agency of local activists, political participation, sustainable development, migration, and urban identities at risk. 

When basic societal and cultural frames seem to be steadfastly compromised by the pandemic, military conflicts, climate crisis, the ideas of both individual and collective futures, taken for granted in a stable routine life, suddenly become irrelevant and need reconsideration. Working on our individual projects, we aim to address the broader question of who, how, and at which scales are involved in developing and implementing urban futures today in different cities and political systems.

The role of the cities in bolstering and tackling local and global challenges has constantly been growing, which illuminates their special role in defining and developing various futures. In cities, the connection between large-scale structures and everyday life is enacted in various ways, and the agency of future-making becomes exposed. 

The positionalities which we share as a group – affected by disruptions of our own urban lives due to war and oppression – provide the lens for what we propose: we aim to discuss the role of agency and future from below, especially with regard to urban sites at risk – but also the urban scholarship at risk.

Research group participants:

Prof. Dr. Talja Blokland 

is Executive director of the Department of Urban and Regional Sociology at The Institute for Social Science (SoWi) at Humboldt University of Berlin and a leader of the Urban Futures at Risk research group. Her most recent research projects were "Humboldt OPEN Freiraum" (2021) and "Städtisches Leben Während Corona im Dialog" ("Urban Life during Covid-19 in Dialogue") where she dedicated herself to scientific communication and the dialogue with experts - citizens and professionals - in order to feed back the results of her research project 'Städtisches Leben Während Corona' ( to the city. 

Talja Blokland’s research interests are in social and relational theory, urban sociology, and social policy. In the broad field of urban studies, Blokland is especially interested in urban inequalities and marginalization processes, place-making, neighbourhood change and neighbourhood cohesion.

Dr. Valeria Lazarenko

PhD in Psychology. Former Philipp Schwarz research fellow at Leibniz-Insititute for Research on Society and Space (IRS).

Dr. Lazarenko studied social psychology at the Kyiv National Taras Shevchenko University and completed her PhD thesis (2020) at the Institute for Social and Political Psychology in Kyiv, Ukraine. In her doctoral thesis, she explored psychogeographic narratives and identities of internally displaced people in Ukraine. Former guest researcher at the Arctic University of Norway (2018) and the University of Bayreuth (2018–2019). In 2021–2022 she was associated with Kyiv-based independent think tank Cedos, where she led the project on the impact of full-scale war on the civilians in Ukraine.

Valeria’s current research interests include studies of affect and emotion associated with experiences of forced migration, integration, and transnational relations. Her current research project, ‘Spatialized Decision-Making of Ukrainian Refugees in Germany’, explores how German policies for supporting Ukrainian refugees impact their decision-making, and how refugees’ experience of going through bureaucratic procedures and housing challenges contribute to the feeling of (non-)belonging and permanent temporality.

Dr. Olena Kononenko

PhD in economics, was an associate professor at the Department of Economic and Social Geography, Faculty of Geography, Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv until 2023.

Dr. Kononenko defended her doctoral thesis on "Development of Potentially Dangerous Industries on the Example of the Eastern Region of Ukraine" at the Council on Problems of Productive Forces in Ukraine of the NAS of Ukraine (2001). She headed the scientific laboratory of regional economic and political problems at the Geographical Faculty of TSNUK (2003 - 2012). During this period, the laboratory was involved in the implementation of a number of projects related to the creation and development of national natural parks, as well as regional security and nature management studies. Olena has been a visiting researcher at CRC 1265 "Re-Figuration of Spaces", TU Berlin (2022). She is the author of publications on sustainable urban development, green economy, environmental behaviour of the population, resilience of cities to social and environmental challenges.

Dr. Olena Kononenko's research project is dedicated to post-war/post-disaster urban reconstruction. It focuses on strategies for adapting to post-crisis conditions, as well as the agency of communities and local residents in the process of rebuilding cities. As a geographer, Olena is interested in investigating how residents perceive changes in the urban landscape and their participation in its transformation.

Dr. Oleg Pachenkov

is a sociologist specialised in urban studies. He received his Doctor degree (Candidate of Science in sociology) at the sociology department of Saint Petersburg State University in 2009. Since 1996 he has been working as a leading researcher and a project coordinator at the Center for Independent Social Research (CISR) in St.-Petersburg, Russia. In 2015 CISR in Russia got an official status of a “foreign agent” organisation; in 2016 Dr. Pachenkov started to work as a consultant and researcher in the projects of CISR e.V. Berlin. In 2012-2021 he has been leading the Center for Applied Research (CeAR) at European University at Saint Petersburg (EUSP), and since 2020 worked as a Project leader at the Center “UP” for Urbanism and Participation at EUSP.

In 2006 Dr. Pachenkov received prestigious German Chancellor scholarship by Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (BUKA). In 2010 Oleg Pachenkov co-established an interdisciplinary expert & activist platform Open Urban Lab (OUL) in Saint-Petersburg, Russia. In 2013 he edited a collection of chapters “Urban Public Space. Facing Challenges of Mobility and Aestheticization'' (published in English at Peter Lang Verlag). In 2014 Oleg Pachenkov co-edited a handbook (in Russian) “SAGABOOK” for the applied pre-planning social research written in close collaboration with OUL and “Gehl Architect”'. 

Since 2012 he is a chief editor of the series of books titled Studia Urbanica at the NLO Publishing House in Russia. In 2021 he established an interdisciplinary educational program CO-URBANISM based at EUSP.

Dr. Pachenkov is an author and co-author of several dozens of publications on the themes such as migration and ethnic business, urban public space, urban activism, informal economy and street level economy (see some at: Currently he is mainly working in the fields of urban studies and interdisciplinary art / social science projects, informal education as well as consulting for urban activists. More at: (in Russian).

Dr. Oksana Zaporozhets

She holds a PhD in Sociology from the Ural State University. Until March 2022 she worked as Associate Professor and Head of the Laboratory of Urban Sociology at the National Research University Higher School of Economics in Moscow. Dr Zaporozhets joined the Sociology Department of the University of Kansas as a Fullbright Scholar in 2000-2001. She was also a visiting professor at European Humanities University (Vilnius), teaching a course on urban sociology in 2007-2013. 

She has a wide range of research interests, including studies of the digitization of urban life (including the digitization of neighbourhood and digital citizen media); studies of public transport, especially the metro in Russian cities; studies of urban imagery such as street art and graffiti in Moscow and Berlin. These research areas are united by Dr Zaporozhets' interest in urban citizens as creators who shape and transform urban life. She has co-edited two monographs, "Nets of the City: Citizens. Technologies. Governance" (2021, in Russian) and "Microurbanism. City in Details" (2014, in Russian). She has participated in many international projects, including "The layered cake of Russian-Finnish neighbourness: everyday interactions at different scales" (2017-2021) and "The Marshrutka Project: Fluid mobilities for cities in transition: spatial dynamics of marshrutkas in Central Asia and the Caucasus" (2015-2018).

Her current research focuses on online social networks created and used by newcomers in Berlin to navigate urban life, deal with multiple institutions and a variety of everyday situations. These networks, which have been in operation for many years and unite thousands of newcomers, shape the city's complex digital environment.


Dr. Ülkü Doğanay 

After receiving her BA from Ankara University Faculty of Communication, Ulku Doganay received master's degree in Political Science from the Middle East Technical University and a PhD from Ankara University, Department of Political Science. During her Ph.D. studies, upon gaining a scholarship from Turkish Academy of Sciences she studied at the French Press Institute of Paris II University. In 2009, she became Associate Professor in the field of Political Life and Institutions, and in 2014 she was appointed as a full professor at the Faculty of Communication of Ankara University where she worked between 1994 and 2017. In February 2017, she was purged with an emergency decree of law and banned from public service, for signing the “Academics for Peace Petition”.

Beside several papers on political communication, democracy and discrimination she is the author of the book Rethinking Democratic Procedures (2003, in Turkish), and among the co-authors of the books “I am not a Racist but: Discourses of Racism and Discrimination in the Press” (2011, in Turkish), Elective Democracy (2017, in Turkish), Faces of Discrimination (editor, 2018, in Turkish).

After her purge from Ankara University, she taught courses at Ankara Solidarity Academy, School of Human Rights and OFF University. Between 2019-2023 she was affiliated as a “remote scholar” at the Department of Public Policy of University of Connecticut. The legal process regarding her reinstatement at Ankara University is still ongoing.

Dr. Doganay’s research project is dedicated to the analysis of the discourses of prominent political actors in Turkey during the 2024 presidential and parliamentary elections with a specific focus on the analysis of the discourses of urban democracy, representation and the citizen’s right to city.

Project coordinator: Dr. Henrik Schultze