Hommage à Anne Haila

Anne Haila, Professor of Urban studies à l’université d’Helsinki, nous a quittés prématurément cette semaine. Nous lui rendons hommage.

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A first encounter with Anne Haila was intriguing:  she had an enigmatic and ironic smile and you could have a glimpse of the depth of her thinking. She appeared as a sort of Mona Lisa of urban studies with a profound critical irony while facing powerful interests or pompous academics alike. She was a deeply original, no-nonsense, autonomous thinker who did not care about the most recent trendy ideas. At an early stage she became fascinated by Asia and studied land, property rights, regulation and housing from Helsinki, to Singapore, China or Indonesia.

Before it became trendy, she identified some tensions within China’s urban boom and conflicts around collective forms of property, land and privatisation. She had a keen critical eye to help us (in the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research or within RC 21) to identify the most interesting works coming from Chinese colleagues. A subtile researcher, she was keen to show the complexity of the case of Singapore she studied for years, the contradictions but also the capacity to produce social housing. After many years of research she produced the “Urban Land Rent, Singapore as a property state” where she gave a formidably insightful account of Singapore in comparison with other places. She also knew about agency. In her understanding of urban studies, she understood that urbanisation processes were not everything.

She gradually increased her focus on institutions of land and property markets, of public policies. As a major scholar of Helsinki University, she knew very well the differences that housing policies or welfare states made for the life of individuals. In Singapore or Hong Kong she carefully analysed the strategy and influence of property tycoons. She was not a prolific writer and did not care about publishing millions of paper on small bits of research. She published excellent papers, always carefully crafted.

She was a collective player and a major influence at RC 21 conference. In Helsinki she was quite isolated at first but she carefully built a group of people and institutions, the group of critical urban scholars of Helsinki. She was an exceptional mentor for the  young people who where lucky to work with her. One way to think about scholars’ legacies is to look at the young people they trained: Anne was outstanding and generous from that point of view.

She was a reliable and generous friend and scholar with long term working relationship with scholars like Robert Beauregard or Shin Bokyong; K.C.Ho.

Anne Haila championed urban studies with intellectual elegance, a critical and witty mind, and in depth continuous research. She will be remembered and sorely missed by urban scholars all over the world.

Patrick Le Galès