Societies worldwide are urbanizing at high speed. In 2050 almost 70 percent of the world population is projected to be urban. Advancing the planning of sustainable urban land use is an urgent theme. Infrastructure has to be provided to 6.4 billion people. This means that water, electricity and sewage systems will have to be improved and smarter mass transport systems to be developed. One of the basic human necessities not explicitly addressed in urban theories and policy prospects is the need for sufficient dignified spaces for dead disposal and commemoration, in other words ‘deathscapes’. The right to a dignified final destination is a basic human right. Yet, as part of the urban infrastructure, deathscapes tend to be developed rather haphazardly.
Two tendencies increase the need for more knowledge on urban deathscapes, and hence, for an integrated field of deathscape studies: first, the demographic transition underway in several regions that will result in an aging population; and second, the intention formulated in the Sustainable Development Goals for 2030, specifically in Goal 11 to build more compact and high-density cities. Higher population densities in cities urge us to find more space-efficient solutions for dead disposal too. In practice, this will arguably result in an increasing separation between disposal spaces and commemoration spaces.
As one of the most urbanized regions in the world, Latin America figures prominently in the urban studies literature. In order to be better prepared for rapid urbanization processes taking place in other regions of the Global South, Latin American models are often used to exemplify desired and undesired policy outcomes. However, information about the development and transformation of urban deathscapes in Latin America is remarkably scarce, especially in comparison to the large amount of studies that have addressed deathscapes in Asian cities (e.g. Kong, 2012; Tan and Yeoh, 2002; Teather et al., 2001; Tremlett, 2007).
This interdisciplinary program aims to provide a grounded understanding of the ways in which deathscapes in cities have been developed in the recent past as part of urban space and society, and the ways in which they would need to be developed to safeguard socially and environmentally sustainable urban futures. The program considers the urban deathscape to be a relevant locus for research on cities and, vice versa, it posits that the future of cities depends in part on the question how the ‘cities of the living’ find new forms of co-existence with the ‘cities of the dead’; how deathscapes can potentially be or become formative sites of conviviality for the city at large. Planning and governing deathscapes in high-density urban areas touches upon a myriad of pressing themes that are integrally addressed in this project.