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Edinburgh Research Explorer The Participatory Turn in Urbanism Citation for published version: Kaminer, T & Krivy, M (eds) 2013, 'The Participatory Turn in Urbanism' Footprint, vol 7, no. 2, pp. 1-173.

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13 Volume 7, Number 2


Introduction: The Participatory Turn in Urbanism Maroš Krivý and Tahl Kaminer, editors

Aporia of Participatory Planning: Framing Local Action in the Entrepreneurial City Ryan Love

An Anthropology of Urbanism: How People Make Places (and What Designers and Planners Might Learn from It) Brooke D. Wortham-Galvin

Towards an Architecture of Dissensus: Participatory Urbanism in South-East Asia Camillo Boano and Emily Kelling

The ‘Diverse Economies’ of Participation Julia Udall and Anna Holder

The Importance of Recognition for Equal Representation in Participatory Processes: Lessons from Husby Karin Hansson, Göran Cars, Love Ekenberg and Mats Danielson

Cooperatives, Control or Compromise? The Changing Role of Participation in Norwegian Housing Eli Hatleskog

Review Articles by Eva Maria Hierzer and Philipp Markus Schörkhuber, Monika Grubbauer, Jenny Stenberg, Socrates Stratis, Henriette Bier and Yeekee Ku, and Maroš Krivý



Introduction: The Participatory Turn in Urbanism Maroš Krivý and Tahl Kaminer, editors


Aporia of Participatory Planning: Framing Local Action in the Entrepreneurial City Ryan Love


An Anthropology of Urbanism: How People Make Places (and What Designers and Planners Might Learn from It) Brooke D. Wortham-Galvin


Towards an Architecture of Dissensus: Participatory Urbanism in South-East Asia Camillo Boano and Emily Kelling


The ‘Diverse Economies’ of Participation Julia Udall and Anna Holder


The Importance of Recognition for Equal Representation in Participatory Processes: Lessons from Husby Karin Hansson, Göran Cars, Love Ekenberg and Mats Danielson


Cooperatives, Control or Compromise? The Changing Role of Participation in Norwegian Housing Eli Hatleskog

Review Articles


Infrastructural Critique. The Upside Down of the Bottom-Up: A Case Study on the IBA Berlin 84/87 Eva Maria Hierzer and Philipp Markus Schörkhuber


Mainstreaming Urban Interventionist Practices: the Case of the BMW Guggenheim Lab in Berlin Monika Grubbauer


Citizens as Knowledge Producers in Urban Change: Can Participation Change Procedures and Systems? Jenny Stenberg


Learning from Failures: Architectures of Emergency in Contested Spaces (Pyla, Cyprus) Socrates Stratis


Generative and Participatory Parametric Frameworks for Multi-Player Design Games Henriette Bier and Yeekee Ku


Participation, Housing, and the Question of ‘Good Architecture’ Maroš Krivý


Introduction: The Participatory Turn in Urbanism Maroš Krivý and Tahl Kaminer, editors

In the last decade, a ‘participatory culture’ has

to ideas as diverse as the ‘Non-Plan’ of Reyner

evolved and expanded dramatically, advocating

Banham et al, Giancarlo di Carlo’s ‘Urbino’, or Jane

participation as a radical form of direct democracy

Jacobs’s ‘diverse city’.4

and demanding its implementation outside the traditional territory of institutional politics. Fuelled

Whereas participatory planning remained impor-

by innovations in the field of information technology,

tant in much of Latin America, in Western Europe it

such as Web 2.0 or social networks, within the fine

has been integrated into planning policies in diluted

arts this emergent movement has brought about

forms such as ‘public consultation’. In the United

a ‘participatory turn’. The new aesthetics related

States, many of the Community Design Centres

to this turn have been enthusiastically theorised

established in the late 1960s and early 70s ended up

and endorsed as ‘relational’ (Nicholas Bourriaud),

by the late 1980s as low-profile and limited-impact

‘dialogical’ (Grant Kester), ‘collaborative’ (Maria

neighbourhood organisations. The realisation of

Lind), or simply ‘social’ (Lars Bang Larsen).1 This

the Non-Plan in the development of free enterprise

participatory turn has also been subjected to a

zones, such as the London Docklands, has been

critical examination. Claire Bishop, in particular,

acknowledged by Paul Barker, one of the authors of

showed that the promise of equality between the

the original proposal;5 the lessons learnt at Urbino

artist and the audience is problematised by the

have been mostly forgotten, overwhelmed by indi-

outsourcing of authenticity from the author to the

vidualist-consumerist forms of participation, such

audience, and by the excessive deployment of

as the ‘shopping list’ consultation process of the

ethical, non-aesthetic categories such as ‘demon-

WIMBY project in Hoogvliet, whereas the ‘diverse

strable impact’ as a means of critical evaluation.2

city’ has fostered gentrification and mutated into the ‘creative city’.

The participatory turn can also be identified in urban planning, urban design and architecture. In

The explicit demands for inclusive, legitimate

these fields, as in others, the ‘turn’ is necessarily

forms of sovereignty and for the decentralisa-

also a ‘return’ of sorts to the ideas and ideologies of

tion of power, which are at the core of the political

the 1960s, an era in which participatory demands

demands for participation, infer an ideal of freedom

were backed by influential and radical political

– from the state, from top-down power structures

movements. The origins of participatory planning

and from institutions. The recent Occupy and Tea

can be thus traced back to concepts of advocacy

Party movements, for example, manifest two forms

(Paul Davidoff), equity (Norman Krumholz), and

of systematic dissatisfaction with the state and with

transactive (John Friedmann) planning. In various

representative democracy that have emerged in

ways, the notion of public participation was central

the wake of the recent financial crisis. In spite of



The Participatory Turn in Urbanism, Autumn 2013, pp. 1-6


their contrasting political orientation, the critique

deliberation, will-formation and decision-making,

of state politics and emphasis on citizens’ direct

necessarily correspond to diverse democratic

power lie at the core of both movements. Yet, as

political theories. Among these are associative

this radical freedom posits autonomous subjects as

democracy (Paul Hirst, Joshua Cohen), communi-

its end, the idea of collectivity is weakened, rele-

tarianism or ‘neo-corporatism’, republicanism (Hardt

gated to the state of a contingent, fleeting, social

and Negri), direct democracy, deliberative democ-

grouping, valued primarily as a counter-force to that

racy (Habermas, Dryzek, Benhabib), and agonistic

of government.

pluralism (Mouffe, Barber),7 to name but a few. Each of these theories tends to privilege different social

Also bypassed is one of the original arguments

configurations and different processes of democrati-

for participation: giving voice to the subaltern and

sation, and therefore participatory practices require

expanding political equality by expanding social

more than a reaction to visible, existing conditions

and economic equality. As Boris Buden recently

in situ. Theories mediating between political theory

argued, a concern for ‘community’ and ‘culture’ has

and urban practices are few, and often limited in

replaced ‘society’ as the horizon of contemporary

their scope and rigour. By strengthening such theo-

politics. This is evident in urban practices. Related

ries, by articulating a socio-historical perspective

to the 1990s concern with programme, the domi-

which contextualises the specific tactics of partici-

nant model for activism and experimental (albeit

patory practices, the latter’s efficacy and larger

increasingly mainstream) practice has become

societal role can be properly and fully assessed.


the participatory platform, focused on community consolidation and on facilitating cultural expression

To place ‘the participatory turn’ in a socio‑histor-

and identity formation. Yet such platforms tend to

ical context illuminates its underlying logic. While

have a fleeting existence, and consequently also a

the 1960s call for participation certainly embodied

limited impact. Where, when, by whom, for whom,

a commitment to equality, to empowering the subal-

for what (and whether) they are implemented is

tern, it already clearly expressed an anti-statist

rather arbitrary; often, the creation of participatory

position, with the centralised and powerful welfare

platforms reproduces the inequalities against which

state as the major adversary. Empowered by state

they were tailored. The vulnerability of communi-

retrenchment, in the ensuing decades, many of the

ties, the themes of grant programmes, architects’

original 1960s critical advocacy groups were, in

idiosyncratic interests or the presence of ‘enlight-

fact, invited to participate and take responsibility.

ened’ clients is decisive for shaping the structure of

Planning bureaucracies, as mentioned above,

participatory practices in today’s cities.

responded to the discontent by incorporating participatory processes into their protocols.

Many of the urbanists and architects currently involved in participatory practices, such as Atelier

Forty years later, national and local governments

d’architecture autogérée, Stalker, or raumlabor,

have retreated from many of the territories they had

react to contingent conditions and tailor their

previously occupied, including managing urban

projects and methodologies to the situations they

development and constructing social housing. In

encounter, yet the specific practices deployed have

this process, the empowerment of the 1960s advo-

significant ramifications, which are rarely consid-

cacy groups has also allowed their co-optation: they

ered beyond their immediate impact. Diverse forms

are required to compete for funding and, in effect,

of participation, different types of representative

function as private-market entities.8 A broadening

or participatory institutions, disparate protocols for

of freedom may be discernible in all this, yet the


weakening of the state has strengthened citizens

evaluated by disinterested experts and professional

qua entrepreneurs (of themselves) rather than


strengthening them qua political actors. The state,

has been replaced by market-driven bureaucracy

the sole power capable of keeping market power

and horizontally dispersed management models,

at bay, thus appears to be a bogus enemy of many

in which citizens, private corporations and public

contemporary participatory movements. At the end

bodies are considered as mere ‘stakeholders’ of the

of the day, anti-statism can instead be held suspect

same order.




of primarily aiding the expansion of the market in the name of empowering ‘the people’.

Brooke Wortham-Galvin broadens the territory and discusses the unfolding of participation,

The co-opting of participatory processes by







planning departments, the systematic disregard

autonomy and self-organisation, through a number

of inequalities, and the empowering of the market

of projects and initiatives from the past and present.

resulting from ‘anti-statism’ call for a rigorous evalu-

The particular focus of her paper is on the Occupy

ation of the participatory turn. Does it necessarily

movement and on homesteading practices in their

leave inequalities intact? Is it a means of achieving

historical and contemporary variations. When

‘quietism’ by placating the lower middle classes?

she asks ‘For whom is the extra café seating in

The objective of this issue of Footprint is to criti-

Portland?’, she queries everyday urbanism and its

cally examine the recent participatory turn in urban


planning and urban design. While the ‘right to the city’ has an important strategic value in fighting

Camillo Boano and Emily Kelling study the Baan

social and urban exclusion, it is less capable of

Mankong, an ambitious housing project in Thailand.

responding to contradictions resulting from urban

They deploy Jacques Rancière’s work as an explan-

policies of inclusion. What does the advocacy of

atory theoretical framework, albeit inferring, though

popular participation by planning authorities, urban

refraining from explicitly arguing, its reversibility:

policy strategists and international urban consult-

namely, that Rancière’s theories can also become

ants mean? Why is participation encouraged, and

the point of departure for concrete projects. Focusing

who is giving the encouragement? What do different

on the phenomenon of community architecture, the

social actors understand by participation? Can the

authors see its political role at two levels: firstly, the

notion be opened up by asking: participation by

residents’ involvement in the actual design chal-

whom, where, and to do what? And how should we

lenges the standardised bleakness of ‘housing for

respond to a frustrating awareness that the prom-

the poor’, and secondly, repositions them as active

ises of equality implicit in every participatory act

partners in design expertise.

are recurrently compromised by inequality between those who stage the participatory process and those

Julia Udall and Anna Holder raise important

who are invited to participate?

questions regarding the real-estate market, power, and participatory initiatives, by reviewing a project

This issue of Footprint opens with Ryan Love’s

in which they took part. The authors draw on J.K.

critique of the institutionalisation of participation, a

Gibson-Graham’s concept of ‘diverse economies’

synoptic overview that addresses issues ranging

to analyse how participatory practices tend to be

from culture to power. Though quality (of life) is now

evaluated in terms of their market-related economic

decidedly among the key objectives considered by

value and, consequently, how practices that cannot

planners, it is also something to be assessed and

be evaluated in these terms are made ‘invisible’.


Karin Hansson, Love Ekenberg, Göran Cars, and

Monika Grubbauer studies BMW Guggenheim

Mats Danielson provide an overview of participation

Lab’s Berlin ‘residency’, unfolding the debate and

that interweaves questions of deliberative democ-

controversy surrounding the project, and using it

racy with cultural and artistic production. They

as a means of identifying the co-optation and insti-

outline fieldwork carried out in Husby, a suburb

tutionalisation of participatory and interventionist

of Stockholm, in which questions of community-

projects. Grubbauer analyses how the project

building, local pride and image overlap issues such

promoted DIY practices and staged the city as an

as employment, housing quality and availability,

experimental laboratory, yet the implemented forms

and education. The authors identify ‘recognition’ as

of participation failed to challenge the social divide

one of the key prerequisites for successful partici-

in any significant way.

pation and analyse how it is shaped by media representation.

Jenny Stenberg’s discussion of two projects in Hammarkullen in Gothenburg focuses on the inter-

Eli Hatleskog presents four housing develop-

twining of ‘bottom-up’ and ‘top-down’ approaches in

ment projects in Norway and analyses participatory

the planning of this disadvantaged neighbourhood.

urban design and policies as a means of revealing

The planning profession is conceived in the tradition

the transforming characteristics and logic of partici-

of advocacy and action planners, and the active role

pation. Hatleskog traces how early egalitarian

of citizens’ participation in progressive institutional

impulses were exhausted in the stigmatisation of

change is identified. Stenberg frames participa-

housing cooperatives during 1980s-90s and in the

tive planning as complementary to representative

associated emergence of private home ownership

democracy and as a potentially successful channel

as a new promise of individual liberty. Questioning

for voicing dissatisfactions in districts with low elec-

the association of participation with the practice of

toral turnouts.

collecting individual ‘wish lists’, as manifested in the most recent case study, Hatleskog asks how partici-

Socrates Stratis outlines a project in Nicosia that

pation can become relevant today.

underlines the importance of context: the manner in which operations and practices that might seem

The review article section begins with a paper by

benign in one condition are actually conflictual

Eva Maria Hierzer and Philipp Markus Schörkhuber,

and provocative in another. Although the project

which uses Foucault’s argument to discuss partici-

in question failed to realise its desired objectives,

pation. Taking the Berlin IBA 84/87 project as its

Stratis asks whether this ‘failure’ has nevertheless

focus point, the paper studies municipal strategy

produced merits and values in the course of its

towards squatting and urban regeneration. During


the 1980s, uncooperative squatters, labelled as ‘bad’, were separated from ‘good’ squatters, who

Henriette Bier and Yeekee Ku introduce digital

were included in the planning process and were

urbanism and its participatory promise via a critical

later instrumental in the IBA’s subtle approach to

review of a number of recent projects in the field.

urban renewal. The case study exemplifies the

Fully versed in debates on parametric and genera-

authors‘ assertion that critique is the very infra-

tive design processes, Bier and Ku nonetheless

structure through which spaces and populations are

raise the question of the contrasting technocratic


and democratic tendencies of these methods.


Maroš Krivý closes this issue with a review of

‘A Retrospective View of Equity Planning. Cleveland

the 2013 Tallinn Architecture Biennale, highlighting

1969-1979’, Journal of the American Planning

the debates and discussions surrounding the ques-

Association, 48, 2 (Spring 1982), pp. 163-74;

tion of architecture as politics, which suggest that

John Friedman, Retracking America: A Theory of

the ‘aesthetic’ understanding of ‘good’ architecture

Transactive Planning (Garden City, NY: Anchor Press,

as autonomous of external constraints still has a


hold on some scholars and architects. Here, Tallin’s

4. Reyner Banham, Paul Barker, Peter Hall, Cedric Price,

specific condition as a ‘Westernised’, historic post-

‘Non-plan: An Experiment in Freedom’, New Society,

socialist city served to bring to the fore contradictory

13, 338 (20 March 1969), pp. 435-43; Giancarlo De

notions of ‘participation’.

Carlo, ‘Architecture’s Public’, in Architecture and Participation, ed. by Peter Blundell Jones, Doina

This issue of Footprint thus seeks to expand

Petrescu and Jeremy Till (London: Spon Press, 2005

the discussion of the ‘participatory turn’ and

[1969]), pp. 3-22; Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life

strengthen its auto-critical and reflective dimension.

of Great American Cities (New York: Random House,

Considering the dissipation of the earlier participa-

1993 [1961]).

tory movement, whether as a result of co-optation,

5. Paul Barker, ‘Non-Plan Revisited: or the Real Way

failure, or loss of interest, and noting the signifi-

Cities Grow. The Tenth Reyner Banham Memorial

cance and urgency of the questions that the ideal

Lecture’, Journal of Design History, 12, 2 (1999), pp.

of participation posits to urban designers and plan-


ners, this issue and its articles are an attempt to

6. Boris Buden, Konec postkomunismu: Od společnosti

steer this loose movement in a direction that would

bez naděje k naději bez společnosti (Praha: Rybka,

benefit cities, their residents and society at large.

2013) [orig. Boris Buden, Zone des Übergangs: vom Ende des Postkommunismus (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 2009)].


7. April Carter, ‘Associative Democracy’, in Democratic

1. Nicholas Bourriaud, Relational Aesthetics (Dijon: Les

Theory Today: Challenges for the 21st Century, ed. by

Presses du Réel, 2002); Grant Kester, Conversation

April Carter and Geoffrey Stokes (Cambridge: Polity,

Pieces: Community and Communication in Modern Art

2002), pp.228-48; Paul Hirst, Associative Democracy:

(Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004); Maria

New Forms of Economic and Social Governance

Lind, ‘The Collaborative Turn’, in Taking the Matter into

(Cambridge: Polity, 1994); Joshua Cohen and Joel

Common Hands. Contemporary Art and Collaborative

Rogers, ‘Secondary Associations and Democratic

Practices, ed. by Johanna Billing, Maria Lind and

Governance’, Politics & Society, 20, 4 (December

Lars Nilsson (London: Black Dog Publishing, 2007),

1992); Jürgen Habermas, Between Facts and Norms

pp. 15-31; Lars Bang Larsen, ‘Social Aesthetics:

(Cambridge: Polity Press, 1996); John Dryzek,

11 Examples to Begin with, in the Light of Parallel

Deliberative Democracy and Beyond: Liberals, Critics,

History’, Afterall 1, Autumn/Winter 2000.

Contestations (Oxford: Oxford University Press,

2. Participation,






2000); Democracy and Difference: Contesting the

Whitechapel, 2006); Claire Bishop, Artificial Hells:

Boundaries of the Political, ed. by Sayla Benhabib

Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship

(Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1996);

(London: Verso, 2012).

Chantal Mouffe, The Return of the Political (London:

3. Paul Davidoff, ‘Advocacy and Pluralism in Planning’,

Verso, 1993); Chantal Mouffe, ‘For an Agonistic

Journal of the American Institute of Planners, 31, 4

Model of Democracy’ [2000], in Hegemony, Radical

(November 1965), pp. 331-38; Norman Krumholz,

Democracy and the Political, ed. by James Martin


(Oxon: Routledge, 2013), p. 191-206 ; Chantal Mouffe, ‘Radical Democracy or Liberal Democracy?’, in Radical Democracy: Identity, Citizenship, and the State, ed. by David Trend (New York; London: Routledge, 1996), pp. 19-26. 8. Margit Mayer, ‘Neoliberal Urbanization and the Politics of Contestation’, in Urban Asymmetries: Studies and Projects on Neoliberal Urbanization, ed. by T. Kaminer, H. Sohn & M. R. Duran (Rotterdam: 010 Publishers, 2011), pp. 46-61.

Biographies Maroš Krivý is Invited Professor of Urban Studies at the Faculty of Architecture, Estonian Academy of Arts. Tahl Kaminer is Lecturer in Architectural Design and Theory, Edinburgh School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, University of Edinburgh.


Aporia of Participatory Planning: Framing Local Action in the Entrepreneurial City Ryan Love

Since the 1970s, planning reforms have on the

has by now all but reduced the managerial role of

whole been responsive to local demands for greater

the city to that of its entrepreneurial partner.1

citizen involvement in politics, following decades of contentious renewal programmes that had

While there continue to remain notable variations

effectively ousted community voices from citywide

in terms of the actual content and implementation

decision-making processes. No longer, in conse-

of urban policy frameworks worldwide, there can

quence, are the affairs of municipalities unilaterally

be little doubt on the whole that decentralist and

brokered by that same circle of paternalists and

partnership strategies over the last three decades

highwaymen Jane Jacobs famously railed against a

have disproportionately set the tone of local lead-

half century ago. On the other hand, never has the

ership mandates - most noticeably in the Western

project of urban planning been so fractious as it is

territories.2 That the sovereignty of city-regional

today, as a result of the growing tensions and inef-

governments has generally foundered due to a

ficiencies caused by greater fragmentation of the

chronic persistence of budgetary deficits, structural

political process. As more actors make their way

unemployment and diminishing state support - to

onto the political stage, consensus becomes all the

say nothing of the recent waves of economic stag-

more difficult to achieve. Further contributing to this

nation imparted by still ongoing financial crises in

complexity has been a sharp concentration of capital

Europe and the US - is surely a reflection of the long-

investment in cities, which, over time, has led to a

standing (read: post-Keynesian) liberties enjoyed

veritable shift in the way local governments both

by speculative capital and its reckless, unpredict-

orient and orchestrate themselves. Today’s answer

able and uncontrollable path-trajectories. In such a

to top-down, state-led bureaucracy, it would seem,

context, indeed, it matters little whether local policy

is side-to-side, market-driven bureaucracy; which of

makers actively choose to articulate market-based

course begs the question as to how effective such

ideologies in order to solve current fiscal and regu-

horizontally dispersed management models can be

latory dilemmas, so far as in all cases they will still

in an environment marked simultaneously by the

be confronted by a deeply entrenched, ultracom-

rapid retrenchment of central government and the

petitive and crisis-prone operating environment.3

aggressive rebounding of private finance. What the

Cut off from all other conceivable revenue paths,

localist element in politics has no doubt won over

the only way forward would appear to consist on

the years in terms of achieving greater represen-

the one hand in a differential rolling-back of various

tation, democracy and transparency in matters of

public initiatives (i.e., collective redistribution and

governance, it has also arguably lost in terms of its

social welfare provision models) and on the other

capacity to protect these achievements in the face

hand in a rolling-out of new, capital-intensive growth

of an increasingly pervasive economic sector, which

strategies geared towards the total marketisation of


The Participatory Turn in Urbanism, Autumn 2013, pp. 7-20


city space and privatisation of municipal resources.4

interests, to converge in more or less concentrated fashion. It follows that the full remit of planning’s

A word on generalities

agency, while directly inclusive of local leadership

That a certain degree of abstraction is needed to

structures, is not by any means exclusive of other,

chart the vast institutional landscape in which cities

openly formative influences. This means, crucially,

operate, testifies to the extreme global exposure

that in addressing questions of consensus-building

local policy networks are now compelled to face. No

and decision-making in local city contexts one must

less compulsory for theory, alternatively, is the need

also examine how these dominant discursive proc-

to anticipate the constantly shifting character of this

esses intersect with existing hegemonic institutions

landscape - whose contours vary precisely to the

and power configurations. To speak of the agency

degree that they are historically, geographically and

of planning is thus also to speak of the wider set of

culturally embedded. In truth, it is no longer possible

agencies that play a direct facilitating role in shaping

or desirable to adopt a single, monolithic concept

current valuations of urban space. In many cities of

of ‘the city’, nor for that matter of ‘city planning’.

the industrialised West, for example, one finds a

Rather, in enlisting such terms it is understood that

greater significance accorded to the notion of the

we are here working less with ideal types than with

‘stakeholder’ as an effective category in local devel-

distinct varieties of a pervasive and enduring global

opment approval formats. Hence a large corporation

phenomenon - namely, the rationalised projec-

that owns property in the city centre, while legally

tion and institutionalised management of social

barred from participating as a citizen in the planning

and urban infrastructures. While the idea of plan-

process, is still considered a major stakeholder and

ning does suggest a certain ubiquity to the extent

so obtains a higher, even privileged, standing under

that it deploys a largely disciplinary narrative of the

that rubric.6

city, it is nonetheless significant that the ‘actually existing’ territorialised manifestations of this narra-

This distinction, between the contingent relativity

tive are unevenly constituted across space and in

of cities and the confluence of hegemonic logics

time. Accordingly the real historical-material base

that bind them, stands in our view as paramount.

of planning will differ depending on whether one is

For only at this conjuncture is it possible to ask

addressing North American, Western European or

whether the more salient features of what we are

Asian contexts.5

here calling urban entrepreneurialism - understood as the natural extension of market ideals, partner-

To the extent that modern planning regimes work

ships and competitive discipline to regimes of urban

toward an ideal of undistorted communication, some

management - do not owe themselves precisely to

form of rationalism must be said to inhere in each of

this deep collusion of political and economic impera-

its localised versions. Such a general rational insist-

tives at the rational-justificatory level. In what follows

ence, so far from being anything like a sovereign

we shall try to examine what becomes of local citi-

spirit or omnipresent logos, is what makes possible

zenship practices in such a context, beginning from

in practice the coming together of a loose group of

the standpoint of real structural factors intrinsic to

city-specific agencies - formed of various elected

modern regulatory forms and institutions - which,

officials, urban planners, policy makers, legal prac-

as we shall see, tend to project a permanent ‘blind

titioners, advisory experts, administrators and so

spot’ with respect to certain valuations and points

on - as well as what enables a broad set of spatially

of view - and ending with a summary of the new

dispersed practical acts, occurring at multiple

challenges facing localism in an era in which City

territorial levels and reflective of a wide variety of

Hall has all but lost its capacity to project a coherent


path for communities in the face of prevailing market forces.

Contemporary affirmations owing to the flexibility and dynamism of new planning regimes do not make the rule of their supervising bureaucra-

Incompatible discourses

cies any less strict. This holds especially true where

It is necessary to emphasize, in the first place, the

so-called subjective descriptions of the metropolis

role of legality in directing the terms of meaningful,

are concerned, in other words those accounts of

that is to say consequential, engagement in cities.

everyday urbanity in which the contingency of identi-

To the extent that the system of law lays the legisla-

ties is held as central. Examples of such a discursive

tive framework for processes of urban governance

orientation range from local phenomenologies of

and development to take place, every localised

place to ideologies of cultural heritage; from notions

act, in order to achieve political efficacy, must be

of performance and place-based art practices, to

carried out in strict conformity with this framework.

discourses of urban flanerie or psychogeography.

Thus a factor of formality is immediately implied by

Each of these specific modalities speaks to what

the notion of civic participation, vis-à-vis its subor-

Ben Highmore calls ‘the traces [or] remainders of

dination to instituted legal norms. This formalism

the overflowing unmanageability of the everyday’, or

ensures that legal accountability, not to say risk, is

again what John Roberts has defined as ‘the space

evenly and manageably spread across all sectors

where non-instrumental possibilities can be tested

of urban life, such that every act, every decision,

and defended.’7 Invariably such a trace/remainder

can be accounted for. The essence of planning

must elude the myopic outlook of planning, whose

lies precisely in this transfer of formality from one

predilection for procedure leaves it quite unable to

level, the rational-juridical, to another level, the daily

broach let alone comprehend such an epistemo-

concrete interactions of the city. Only to the extent

logical stance. Indeed whatever exists in the mode

that rational ends can be successfully translated

of the qualitative or experiential can carry but little

into material reality by way of their formalisation into

weight in the rational schematisations of planning.

discrete, administrative steps, can their actuality as

That such questions should resist any easy iden-

ends be secured. This suggests likewise that any

tification with the categories of management is no

individual form of conduct carried out in the public

doubt due to the impossibility of their being framed

sphere can be equally legitimised or de-legitimised

in strictly manageable terms.

depending on its degree of compatibility with the various legal mechanisms, that is to say, on its

This positivistic slant, and the one-sided evalu-

potential for rational-juridical integration, which in

ation it leads to, cannot but severely impede the

turn demands that an overall adjustment of forms

efficacy of local politics, if that politics is not already

of conduct take place - so as to meet the criteria for

disposed in advance to planning’s rational-admin-

compliance. Whatever end is to be expressed must

istrative outlook. Rather, the value of citizenship

bow to the predetermined categories that cover it; no

practices can only be undermined where insti-

expression outside of these categories is permitted,

tutional norms and procedures are found to set

if indeed the mandate of total accountability is to be

the terms of the discussion before it even starts.

fulfilled. What counts above all are those aspects of

Already we have seen that the essence of partici-

everyday existence that can, in the final analysis,

patory action - which is tied intrinsically to values of

be called to account. In this way planning aspires to

self-determination, place-bound identity and direct

a complete, determinate reflection of the built envi-

democracy - is ever at odds with the heteronomous,

ronment vis-à-vis its socio-legal projection.

already-instituted character of planning. As a result, the integration of forms of participation demands


that action conduce to reaction, that is, to passive,

appearance of being decidedly non-controversial.

procedural compliance. This, too, suggests that the desire for autonomy at the local level is already

Counterculture as index of immediacy

crucially compromised by its reflection at the insti-

We have just seen that questions involving subjec-

tuted level, a reflection that invariably entails a

tive concerns do not figure easily into the official

distortion. Owing to the explicit abstraction at work in

deliberations of planning, on account of the latter’s

every planning decision, participatory motives must

misapprehension of the former as a result of a

find themselves not only practically subordinated

deep, discursive divide. Instead, we find that there

to this logic, but tailored in advance to its expecta-

is a tendency on the part of planning to construe

tions. What is local, if it is to be communicated at

culture in terms of the official, organised event,

all, is compelled to be general. This ‘presumption of

whose controlled and pre-programmed character, to

equality,’ Peter Berger explains, is not simply a tech-

be sure, stands a world apart from the spontaneous

nical requirement of planning, but a basic axiom of

and improvisational practices of everyday, so-called

bureaucratic ethics; strictly speaking it is the basis

vernacular cultures. What’s more, the increasing

of its claim to legitimacy.8 By its own nature planning

focus on business and tourist users in many of

tends towards the production of abstract generali-

these administered events tends to diminish any

ties, even where it points to particularities.

local sense of ownership or involvement in them. As such they tend to give off the air of a highly medi-

While it is true to say that recent reforms to

ated proceeding, passively attended and actively

planning have afforded greater protection to

supervised. One may well be concerned, indeed,

localism, such efforts must find themselves system-

that culture’s consolidation at the official policy

atically disappointed as a result of the enduring

level threatens to erode what is in truth cultivated

universalism inscribed within planning’s objective-

about culture, so much as even the slightest deter-

procedural outlook. That planning seeks above all

mination ex supra should signal the transposition

to streamline the totality of events occurring within

of local customs into lawful conventions, of rituals

its jurisdiction, that is, to formalise them, so as to

into rules. Such a contradictory result is in fact

guarantee for each and every instance a maximum

found to obtain wherever culture and its adminis-

of certainty and a minimum of risk - this inborn

tration come to a head. One readily observes, for

tendency is itself seldom recognised as a potential

example, how the diversity inscribed in multicultur-

source of tension within the field of city-commu-

alism is continually checked by the singularity of the

nity interactions, even where consultation with the

liberal politico-institutional model that contains it,10

public is expressly encouraged. On the contrary,

or again how local valuations of cultural heritage

forms of concrete individuality are always tacitly

tend to belie the ‘rooted cosmopolitanism’ endorsed

expected to be translated into and made compatible

by global conservation mandates and doctrinal

with the anonymous terms deemed appropriate for

charters.11 Such familiar frictions testify to what

the bureaucratic universe.9 The practical effective-

Paul Ricoeur has called ‘the unfolding of a single

ness of planning is thus consolidated by the extent

experience of mankind,’ which makes necessary,

to which the totality of means and ends that it over-

on the one hand, the administration of local experi-

sees is freed in advance of all subjective, qualitative

ences ‘in order to make a decision possible,’ and

and contingent factors, thus paving the way for

on the other hand the organisation of discussions

general consensus at the political level - and more

‘in order that the largest possible number of men

importantly, a path for development which has the

can take part in this decision.’12 Bureaucracy, or the


rationalisation of power, for Ricoeur, is inextricably

forms of life - owing ostensibly to the inadequacy

tied to the universalisation of democracy. ‘No kind

of the latter’s offerings, which in any case usually

of criticism of technics will be able to counterbal-

carry a price tag - such a residuum or ‘alterna-

ance the absolutely positive benefit of the freedom

tive’ culture, far from being a noncommittal set of

from want and of the massive access to comfort.’13

diversions from the real world, indeed appears, at

And yet this rationalising tendency, at the same

least prior to its recuperation by the mainstream,

time, would seem to betray a contrary development,

to have much in common with the participatory

insofar as ‘the phenomenon of universalisation,

ethos. Whereas the former assigns centrality to the

while being an advancement of mankind, at the

idea of self-expression, the latter posits a need for


same time constitutes a sort of subtle destruction.’

self-determination. Both dispositions, however, are

Even Ricoeur does not deny the double-edged

effectively allied in terms of their refusal to accede

significance of rationalisation as it pertains to the

to the equalising presumptions demanded by the

organisation and institutionalisation of the cultural.

dominant discourse. For what is called ‘alternative’

What Marcuse calls the ‘irrational rest’ does well to

with respect to culture is no less than culture’s vital

epitomise what is at stake in this overreaching of

protest against compulsory integration, just as the

regulations into previously non-regulated sectors of

autonomous strand in localism opposes its own

social life.15 That there is in fact a manifest discon-

incorporation via planning’s community engage-

nect between the real spaces of culture and the

ment protocols. The relentlessness with which

rational space of planning, again points back to the

planning pursues the subsumption of both culture

supposition, stated earlier, that there is something

and community is thus matched by an equal and

intrinsic to cultural experience that leads the latter

opposite counterthrust to such initiatives.

to reject, unequivocally, the ‘one-dimensional’ logic of its organisation; that its very affinity with the mani-

Quality assurance

fold textures of everyday life should demand a strict

Quality from the standpoint of culture is something

partition be installed at their terminus, safeguarding

that must be opposed to all forms of standardi-

them as it were from being smoothed over.

sation, for standardisation is what denies any possibility for distinction. Yet this is precisely what

In his essay ‘Culture and Administration’,

the system of planning calls for, namely, that

Theodor Adorno speaks of the aporia that must

the notion of quality be recast as something that

constantly prevail between the absolute purpose of

approaches a universal checklist of equivalences.

the cultural and the absolute rationality of admin-

Quality thus conceived is to bow strictly to the order


Culture’s institutionalisation, for Adorno,

of technical criteria, which last encompasses every-

merely represents an ‘external affair by which it is

thing from design and production specifications,

subsumed rather than comprehended’. For culture

to performance-based protocols targeting areas of

to fend off the ever-present threat of subsumption,

utility, efficiency, and more recently, sustainability.

rather, it must continually adopt an oppositional

Here, too, planning aspires to a complete deter-

stance with respect to the status quo. As legitimate

mination of the practical field in order to gain a

culture is unable to fully capture what is specific to

maximum return on certainty. As concern for quality

culture, so must there always be a remainder, as the

resolves increasingly into the one-to-one fulfilling

index of individuality - or in Adorno’s language, the

of technical demands, however, questions aimed

nonidentical - which escapes all organised attempts

at raising a more profound awareness of quality

to assimilate it. Seemingly arising, then, as a general

become decidedly rare. Indeed the official disin-

expression of nonconformity with administered

terest met by citizens wherever they would aspire




in a public setting to challenge this kind of mana-

such details should combine to produce a set of

gerial outlook, suffices to ensure that such efforts,

place-specific norms, in the spirit of which, it is

where they cannot otherwise be reconciled with

suggested, new development will willingly partake.

the practico-technical paradigm, are either quietly

By way of compliance with these norms comes the

dismissed or quickly brought back into the realm of

expectation that within this manageable space the

the expedient. The resultant frustration of citizens in

sustainability of communities should be guaranteed

having their opinions systematically dismantled by

for the long haul.

a discourse geared to the demands of disinterested experts and/or interested speculators - who again,

From this perspective, what makes a place

by virtue of the eminent reasonableness of their

evidently boils down to its capacity to be recorded,

respective positions, find themselves automatically

described and classified, that is, on the basis of its

privileged by the pre-established platforms - means

manifest observable properties. Indeed, on closer

essentially that other avenues for activism must be

inspection we find that such a strategy bases itself

sought, lest ‘consultation’ become a euphemism for

on that same, positivist presumption that should

NIMBY-networking, and ‘quality’ synonymous with

see in names the perfect analogues of the things for

the simple raising of averages.

which they stand. Thus in place of a haptic understanding of specific spatial and/or material qualities,

It is clear that the ambiguity surrounding extra-

one finds a closed constellation of well-sounding

rational categories like ‘quality’ and ‘character’ does

statements, predicated unilaterally on the assump-

not sit well with the bureaucratic imperative for

tion that concrete things-in-themselves should be

complete, conceptual transparency. That planning

fully compatible with the descriptive codes that

should sooner be prompted to omit such language

contain them. Through this distillation of objec-

from its ambit than attempt to redefine it on its own

tivity into highly-ordered taxonomies, it follows that

terms, is naturally to be expected. One outcome of

whatever resists being made to order in this way is

such efforts to secure a ‘subjective fix’, as it were,

a fortiori cast out, that is, by the self-styling stric-

is the design guideline, whose function as a quasi-

tures of thought - which should call into existence

legal planning tool is to open a path to qualitative

only what can be safely assimilated to its concept.

questions - without, that is, endangering the empir-

Consequently only those place-features which may

ical foundation on which the whole apparatus rests.

be systematically isolated, tagged and filed away, are

As such the guideline serves as a vehicle for the

finally registered as character-defining - while those

grounding and legitimating of planning decisions

least amenable to formal designation are deemed

where these cannot otherwise claim an evidential or

unworthy of official recognition. What is encour-

justificatory basis for themselves. Here the under-

aged is not so much a direct, spontaneous dialogue

lying intention, above all, is to constitute a flexible,

with the city as rather a mechanical recitation of

discretionary strategy that provides a space for the

its forms and surfaces. Doubtless this explains the

reconciliation of local interests with larger functional

overwhelming presence of visual or image-based

and economic objectives. Scale, height, setbacks,

descriptors in the design guidelines.-  as opposed

massing, proportions, materials, frontages, finishes,

to, say, tactile, emotive or experiential qualifications,

signage elements, sightlines, shadows, sun expo-

which should prove difficult if not impossible to pin

sure, etc. - all such localised, area-based indicators

down categorically. Anything that is found to elude

are cited by planning as constitutive of the general

the fixity of the definition should rather be hard

character of a particular locale or neighbourhood,

pressed to find a spot on the bureaucrat’s checklist.

its ‘charm’ and ‘sense of identity’. Taken together

That planning should ever deign to accommodate


such unruliness, is a prospect whose first condi-

planning today, on the contrary, proffers in the name

tion would be to sacrifice the safety of a sign for

of placemaking seldom amounts to anything more

the indeterminacy of an impression - a compromise

than a declaration of goodwill, one that is filled to

surely none of its representatives should be willing

the brim with enthusiasm but only infrequently lives

to entertain.

up to the language. Here the logic of the guideline fundamentally misguides by insisting that compat-

On this point Bernardo Secchi offers the

ibility with context can be achieved via a simple and

counter-speculation, presumably playing devil’s

faithful reshuffling of ‘built form elements’ - as if,

advocate, that ‘perhaps there is something which

paraphrasing Secchi, the mere intention to stay true

links this effort to speak of the multiplicity of the

to a place were proof positive of its practical effect.

real, preventing it from being illuminated by a rule of order, a theory, a narrative, to the idea of social

Legitimacy outsourced

fragmentation in which we are immersed.’18 But if to

As to the perceived quality of the built environ-

speak for the real means in actuality abbreviating

ment - quite

it, that is, insulating or bracketing the concrete from

aspect - neither the policy statements nor the

all of its sensory and material richness, just for the

guidelines, it is true, can be said to offer much in the

sake of rendering it intelligible - this effort would

way of driving meaningful dialogue on the subject.

then be, at best, wishful thinking; at worst, self-

Thus in view of these limitations planning must look

conscious deceit. As it stands, recent attempts to

to other sources for prima facie justificatory support.

enrich the techniques of planning by introducing still

Here we meet the figure of the design advisor-

more classifications, more fine-grained analyses,

expert, whose role in the development process is to

more detailed descriptions - far from steering us out

provide an authoritative voice for planning where it

of the dilemma, can only lead to our further entrap-

is otherwise not qualified to speak. That the rational-

ment. As Secchi later clarifies:

istic tenor of planning should preclude it from having






a say where non-rational questions persist, does not Few are aware of the gaps which a map, a table, a

stop it from deferring to the expertise of those who

drawing, a regulatory text, no matter how they are

have special currency in such matters. To this end

constructed, leave between the intentions and prac-

the advisory panel (which itself stands as a quasi-

tices of those administrators or citizens who observe

authoritative body comprised of architects and other

them; of the difficulties involved in filling a space with

institutionally recognised professionals) is tasked

words or images which are inevitably ambiguous and

with mediating, among other things, the disorderly

charged with preconceived judgments.

divide between aesthetics and technics. As plan-


ning’s proxy in this regard, the panel proceeds While one is advised never to stand in the way of

from an aesthetic point of view to assess the merits

progress, one is also all too painfully aware that not

and/or demerits of a given design proposal in

all change constitutes an advance. To the extent that

purportedly qualitative terms. Evidently, questions

the singularity of place is nullified by its reflection in

concerning the transformation of the public realm

description, so too does the ideology of growth come

are here offered a place in which to be raised and

to reflect little more than an accumulation of stereo-

recognised in an official capacity.

types. Any attempt to thus foster growth ‘in the spirit of’ a place, can only miss the mark of that place

The ideological basis of this strategy is clear

so long as the inner motivation for change remains

enough: by way of affiliation with the discourse of

squarely at the mercy of abstract analytics. What

trained expertise, aesthetic judgements are not only


given to assume an air of authority, but the matter-

prevailing attitudes from inside the system is to find

of-factness of a technical appraisal. As Pierre

one’s efforts consistently blocked by the tacit code

Bourdieu remarks, the most disinterested gaze ‘has

of expectations that should maintain the existence of

the privilege of appearing to be the natural one.


the status quo at any cost. This expectation to adjust

Through this subtle slant, official debate over quality

one’s values, merely for the sake of passing the

translates into more manageable considerations of

test of the panel, leads to a state of affairs in which

‘appropriateness’ - supervised by those select few

the lowest common denominator in culture - the

who would purport to stand above the commons

aesthetic average, as it were - is ironically declared

while speaking in its name. Far from enacting a medi-

its most advanced representative. ‘By producing for

ation of aesthetics and technics, the advisory panel

a stereotype, one ends up […] fabricating a stere-

rather ensures their proper conflation. This insight

otype, which explains the rampant academicism

is confirmed by the panel’s disavowal of anything

of contemporary work, dissimulated as it is behind

that deviates from mainstream practice, ostensibly

apparent formal diversity’ (Buren).23 At the same

to show its allegiance with the public interest. By

time the manifest partiality concealed beneath the

canonising the status quo in this way, it follows that

veil of professionalism is never itself put to the test.

any practice running contrary or peripheral to the

For the critical voice of the commons cannot but fall

official line must not only find itself deprioritised as

on deaf ears if it, lacking all manner of credentials,

regards its status, but barred in toto from recogni-

should ever deign to advise the advisors.

tion. This structural oversight guarantees that the possibility of establishing a counterposition with

Returning to Adorno’s analysis, we learn that

respect to the prevailing standard is safely managed

‘the judgement of an expert remains a judgement

at the source.22 Only those attributes that can rather

for experts and as such ignores the community

be assimilated to the accepted canons, for which

from which […] public institutions receive their

the panel stands as impartial arbiter, are supposed

mandate’.24 This statement rings no less true for

in the final analysis to be valid. This, too, has the

qualitative judgements than it does for quantitative

effect of inhibiting critique from the outset - ‘criti-

ones. The presumption of equality alluded to earlier

cism’ having been strictly identified as an internal

here returns in a subjectively mediated form: what

affair for the panellists to sort out. Popular protest,

counts as valid from the prized standpoint of the

where it fails to abide by the higher standards of

advisory panel is, simply by virtue of its authoritative

the professional, is by pain of contrast made to look

weight, made valid for one and all. Just as the deal-

frivolous - dismissed either as ill-informed, layper-

er’s function in art circles is to commodify the work of

sons’ opinion, or else as subjective, irrational bias.

art, thus priming it for exchange, so too is the design

The aesthetic authority of the panel, whose ‘quasi-

expert’s prime function to generate the conditions

feudal’ status (Bourdieu) is secured solely and

for consensus in matters potentially fraught with

effortlessly through the force of its credentials, is

contention, to wit, aesthetics. Where the practical

as such beyond scrutiny; irrational protest cannot

inconvenience posed by a plurality of voices would

win so long as it is pitted against the rationality of

otherwise threaten to hinder the smooth course of

experts. On the contrary, it is by virtue of the profes-

progress, experts must be brought in to bridge the

sional qualification that a single point of view is

gap. From the recognition, therefore, that taste is

rightfully elevated to the status of an absolute refer-

still in need of general management - if only for the

ence point. Shorn of any air of arbitrariness, of mere

sake of streamlining efficiency - it becomes some-

opinion, the panel’s frame of reference is per se

thing of an open question whether today what we

identified with pure competence. Thus to challenge

are seeing in the form of the design advisory panel,


by whose vested authority a spectacularly shallow

contradiction. To be sure, the grassroots uprisings

vision of building culture is touted as if it were the

in the 1960s and 1970s, on which the present-day

pinnacle of urban placemaking, is not in fact simply

ideology of participation is founded, had always

a soft version of the hard paternalism of previous

proceeded in step with a radical critique of institu-

planning regimes.

tions, the reasons for which we have attempted to flesh out in the preceding sections of this essay.

It is as significant as it is telling that the cultural

Once formally integrated into the system, however,

pretentions of the design expert are not open to

the original anti-establishment imperative could

examination in the context of public discussions.

no longer be sustained in practice, insofar as the

On the contrary, it remains something of an unsaid

bureaucratic element in society had by no means

premise that the standpoint of the design expert

withered away, as was the revolutionary expecta-

shall enjoy an instant and irreproachable authority

tion, but had actually expanded and intensified. As it

over the ordinary perceptions of those actually

stands currently, the reality of civic participation finds

residing and labouring in communities. To turn such

itself caught in a tangle of paradoxes as a result of

authority on its head, however, would be in effect

its status as an unfinished project. Urban activists

to liquidate the stock from which the design expert

in the 1960s and 1970s could hardly in retrospect

draws her currency, so far as this last proceeds

have anticipated the later cycles of institutional

always from a ‘specially delimited territory in which

recuperation that were to follow the earlier reformist

everything goes without saying and nothing needs

victories, nor could they have readily foreseen the

to be justified.’ Rather, the naturalness with which

long period of political and economic retrenchment

the design expert operates testifies to the inter-

that, culminating in neoliberalism, would eventually

nalisation of her received ideas and attitudes. Far

lead to the undermining of local political platforms

from rewarding innovation, she merely reinforces

by the turn of the century.


orthodoxy by turning to self-sustaining, tried-andtested formulae for success. Such formulae stand,

No longer as a result do the old mantras of self-

as it were, ‘as instances of a legitimation that has

liberation and self-management carry an effective

congealed and become unobtrusive’. As such the

purchase on the municipal stage, for in recent

expert is ‘able to forgo external justifications and

years the socioeconomic status of the participatory

thus give off the heavy scent of immanence, in

class has gone through a veritable sea-change.

which the business of art is so fond of steeping.’


In place of an idealism foregrounded by those the

Just as the technicians of planning seek practical

likes of Jane Jacobs, we now find the exigencies

reasons for their recommendations, so do design

of a micro-local reactionary politics, or so-called

experts take to blogs and glossy magazines for

NIMBYism, vying for centre spot on the community

theirs. That the appraisal of the expert should ever

consultation platform. That resistance to change

itself become the object of public scrutiny, however,

should now come to be defined just as much by

is not something that one would expect to find on

shared prejudices and mutual concern for prop-

the advisory meeting agenda anytime soon, lest the

erty, than by, let us say, an emotional attachment

arbitrariness announced by the prognosis immedi-

to place, is one of the key consequences of this

ately cast suspicion on the whole affair.

gradual overturning of participatory motives since the 1970s. While commitment to place still consti-

Insider city

tutes one of the major reasons for local opposition,

We have seen that the project of participatory

this sentiment remains but a faint echo of earlier

politics has seldom enjoyed an existence free of

grassroots movements, whose group solidarity and


coherence in protest, it is true, owed just as much

for the further consolidation of the local status quo.

to the historical failure of past planning models as it did to the personal resilience of its heroes. (Indeed

There can be little doubt that the systematic

the capacity of an out-of-touch modernist planning

incorporation of radical forms of participatory action

ideology to serve as a negative rallying point for

since the 1970s owes itself, at least in part, to the

communities should not be underestimated in this

equally pervasive phenomenon of urban gentrifi-

context.) Nevertheless, the potential for said place-

cation, through which the gradual buying up and

values to galvanise opposition by way of emotional

pricing out of low-rent, low-density urban lands has,

resonance seems in recent years to have lost much

over time, reconstituted the very social and polit-

of its political stock. Where such stimulus does gain

ical fabric of cities. Here, too, we find that existing

ground, it is generally short-lived on account of its

micro-cultures operating at a subaltern level are

ill-fated subjectiveness, a problem we have already

constantly under threat of being ousted by their

discussed at length. The charge of idealism that

own incubating activities. Recent sociological and

today is frequently ascribed to such motives - that

geographic studies confirming the steady polari-

is, on account of their apparent lack of rational or

sation of income levels in so-called world cities

practical incentives - is of course what leads to their

would appear to corroborate this general, city-

current ideological sidelining as ill-informed, knee-

wide tipping of the scales, insofar as an uneven

jerk reactions, legally irrelevant and hence unworthy

distribution of wealth across the territory should

of serious consideration. Consequently the divided

mean that individual participatory motives - that

status of public participation today - divided, that is,

is, the personal incentives for becoming politically

between a protectionist politics on the one hand and

engaged - should, too, find themselves unevenly

a progressive social activism on the other - leaves

represented across the map, as a result of size-

very little middle ground for alternative notions of

able disparities in the socioeconomic landscape.27

collective resistance, particularly as they stand to

That the field of action in municipal politics should

bear on aesthetic and cultural concerns. Indeed,

become less tied to public-emancipatory concerns

one of the greatest merits of the 1960s and 1970s

and more to the preservation of private interests, is

critique was its ability to incorporate subjective,

not in itself surprising, however, if one takes pause

qualitative and contingent demands into an overall

to consider the general postwar tendency that

revolutionary-utopian perspective. By contrast, the

would see the old interventionist system of checks

ideological dislocation of the meaning of public

and balances eroded in direct proportion as state

participation that we are witnessing today should

executive powers over commerce and industry

ostensibly pose serious challenges for those seeking

start to wane. In this sense it becomes possible

to defend a notion of quality in the face of culture’s

to see the recent private recoupment of participa-

current capitulation to market mechanisms under

tory action as the local, concrete expression of a

an increasingly cash-strapped and overburdened

more general and diffuse realignment of political-

City Hall. At the same time, the partial recuperation

economic forces. Subsequently the structure of

of the participatory model by an ultra-conservative

citizen engagement under the current neoliberal

constituency of homeowners at once signals a turn-

arrangement must presuppose nothing short of

around of its earlier status as a radical rallying point

a total systemwide reset, in which local lobbyists

for local liberators - to such an extent, indeed, that

are encouraged to exchange old notions of self-

in place of promoting the public consultation plat-

initiation for new notions of self-interest. Less a civil

form as a vehicle for grassroots innovations of all

disobedient than a committed stakeholder, today’s

kinds, we now find it increasingly coopted as a tool

participant finds himself ever ironically in league


with the totalising presumptions of planning - to

held at bay. What we have earlier described as a

such an unprecedented degree, in fact, that what

counterposition, meanwhile, readily acknowledges

once proved an absolute hindrance to the expres-

the alterity that keeps it from comfortably being

sion of singular values now stands as their perfect

other within the system, and resets itself accord-

ideological complement.

ingly. Far from surrendering itself to the presumption of equality that should compromise its source of

Local action as nonintegrative praxis

identity - such a position strives instead to actuate

The current entrepreneurial climate in cities has

its own presumption of singularity, that is, on the

made it clear that the discursive terrain on which

very ground of its adversary. By way of an opposi-

the formation of local identities is given to play out

tional incursion into the dominant discursive space

is, in actuality, far from neutral. Likewise it has been

of the city,30 participatory praxis conceived as coun-

shown that the official celebration of pluralism in

terposition aims at nothing less than the constitution

‘world-class’ city economies is by no means free

of a new institution, a new hegemony - one that

of hegemonic influence. We have argued that it is

indeed fixes the centre of agency nowhere but in

not just the perpetual unevenness of social rela-

itself. Where the current orthodoxy should preclude

tions on the playing field but the active restrictions

by way of arbitrary self-privilege the appearance

arising from the ‘rules of the game,’ that continue

of any radical alternative envisioning of the city, it

to impede the formation of an alternative participa-

behoves such praxis to challenge this standard by

tory politics, not to say public sphere, which would

continually heeding the critical-oppositional element

stay true to itself only to the degree that it pursues

within itself.

‘its own autonomous line of force, its own specific trajectory, which is also its meaning.’28 Extending the democratic reach of these rules, on the contrary,

* Editors’ comment: Against our standard editorial

should prove purposeful only where greater social

practice and grammatical revision suggestions to

or economic integration is seen in the first place as

the author, the paper has been retained precisely as

a worthy political pursuit - where localist arguments,

submitted due to insistence of the author.

in other words, find themselves perfectly amenable to discursive translation so far as they are practically and positively intended at their core.29 Such a


positive expansion of the existing lines of commu-

1. David





nication between distinct political subjectivities,

Entrepreneurialism: The Transformation of Urban

however, can be of little use where notions of nonin-

Governance in Late Capitalism,’ in Geografiska

tegration and noninstrumentality are in fact the

Annaler, Series B: Human Geography, 71, 1 (1989),

intended objects of a given social subject - objects

pp.  3-17. For a more recent discussion on the

formed, that is, in a spirit of wilful spontaneity and

subject see Kevin Ward, ‘Entrepreneurial Urbanism,

critical contestation (on the part of a counterculture

Policy Tourism and the Making Mobile of Policies,’

towards a hegemonic order, for example). Here insti-

in The New Blackwell Companion to the City, eds.

tutional integration can no more serve as an end for

Bridge & Watson (West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell,

this subjectivity than open dialogue can reconcile

2011), pp.  726-34; and Tim Hall & Bob Jessop, The

the contradictions that ab ovo gave rise to it. For a

Entrepreneurial City: Geographies of Politics, Regime

radical participatory politics to remain viable, on the

and Representation (Chicester: John Wiley & Sons:

contrary, such a moment of integration or recuperation by a dominant exteriority must perpetually be

1998), esp. pp. 77-102. 2. Paul Kantor, ‘City Futures: Politics, Economic Crisis,


and the American Model,’ in Urban Research and Practice, 3, 1 (2010), esp. p. 2.

7. Ben Highmore, in Everyday Life and Cultural Theory: An Introduction (London and New York: Routledge,

3. Nik Theodore, Jamie Peck and Neil Brenner,

2002), p. 26, cited in John Roberts, Philosophizing the

‘Neoliberal Urbanism: Cities and the Rule of Markets,’

Everyday (London and Ann Arbor: Pluto Press, 2006),

in The New Blackwell Companion to the City, eds.

p. 2.

(West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011), esp. pp. 16-24. See also Kantor, Op. cit., p. 6.

8. Peter Berger, The Homeless Mind (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1973), p. 53.

4. Relevant here are the North American case studies

9. Ibid., p. 48.

found in Stefan Kipfer & Roger Keil, ‘Toronto, Inc?

10. Brian Barry, ‘The Muddles of Multiculturalism,’ in New

Planning the Competitive City in the New Toronto,’

Left Review 8 (Mar/Apr 2001), pp.  49-71. See also

in Antipode, 34, 2 (2002), pp.  227-64; Tim Chapin,

Bhikhu Parekh, Rethinking Multiculturalism: Cultural

‘Beyond the Entrepreneurial City: Municipal Capitalism

Diversity and Political Theory (London/Cambridge, MA

in San Diego,’ in Journal of Urban Affairs, 24, 5 (2002),


pp. 565-81; and Nik Theodore and Neil Brenner, eds.,

11. Rob Lennox, A Charter for Cultural Internationalism:

Spaces of Neoliberalism (London: Blackwell, 2002).

What are the Limits of a Cosmopolitan Approach to

For Western European examples see Philip Booth,

UNESCO’s World Heritage (University of London/

‘Partnerships and Networks: The Governance of

York, MA 2011), pp. 15-28.

Urban Regeneration in Britain,’ in Journal of Housing

12. Paul Ricoeur, ‘Universal Civilization and National

and the Built Environment, 20 (2005), pp. 257-69; and

Cultures,’ in History and Truth (Evanston: Northwestern

Falleth, Hanssen & Saglie, ‘Challenges to Democracy

University Press, 1965), p. 273.

in Market-Oriented Urban Planning in Norway,’ in

13. Ibid., p. 275.

European Planning Studies, 18, 5 (2010), pp. 737-53.

14. Ibid., pp. 276-77.

See also Paul Kantor & H.V. Savitch, Cities in the

15. Herbert Marcuse, One Dimensional Man (Boston:

International Marketplace: The Political Economy of

Beacon Press Books, 1964), p. 99.

Urban Development in North America and Western

16. Theodor Adorno, ‘Culture and Administration,’ in The

Europe (Princeton: Princeton University Press: 2002).

Culture Industry, trans. by Wes Blomster (London,

For exemplary case studies of the Asian experi-

New York: Routledge, 2004 [1978]), p. 113.

ence see Shenjing He, ‘China’s Emerging Neoliberal

17. Ibid., p. 112.

Urbanism: Perspectives from Urban Redevelopment,’

18. Bernardo

in Antipode, 41, 2 (2009), pp.  282-304; Bob Jessop





Casabella 588 (Mar 1992), p. 61.

& Ngai-Ling Sum, ‘An entrepreneurial city in action:

19. The irony of the present situation is well captured

Hong Kong’s emerging strategies in and for (inter)

by the phrase ‘flexible standard,’ which, inasmuch

urban competition,’ in Urban Studies, 12 (2000),

as it allows a certain element of personal discretion

pp. 287-313; and T.C. Chang, ‘Renaissance Revisited:

into planning, pushes the bureaucratic imperative

Singapore as a Global City for the Arts,’ in International

of impersonality to its breaking point. Interestingly,

Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 24, 4 (2000),

however, it also points to the essential arbitrariness

pp. 818-31.

of the (law-like) standard. If a degree of variation turns

5. Gary Bridge and Sophie Watson, ‘Reflections on

out to have been possible all along, one is able to then

Materialities,’ in The New Blackwell Companion to the

question the relevance of that regulation, and perhaps

City, eds. (West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011), p. 8. 6. Mark



‘Resisting Planning


Neoliberalization: Counter-Hegemonic

Movements?’ in Planning Theory 8, 2 (2009), p. 157.

even test its cultural-ideological assumptions. 20. Theodor Adorno, ‘Culture and Administration’, p. 62. 21. Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, trans. Richard Nice (Harvard


University Press, 1984), p. 56. 22. One thinks in particular of so-called alternative

of Planning and Education Research 19, 4 (2000), pp. 369-77.

spaces, or the spaces of everyday urbanism, in which

30. Most pertinent to this idea are James Holston’s notes

the sphere of the banal or outmoded, for example,

on ‘insurgent citizenship’ in the context of the global

is appropriated in a deliberate spirit of contestation.

south; see his Insurgent Citizenship: Disjunctions

It is significant that this conferral of aesthetic status

of Democracy and Modernity in Brazil (New Jersey:

onto sites or objects presumed ordinary or worthless

Princeton University Press, 2008), esp. pp.  309-13.

should stand in conscious opposition to the sphere

Similar notions of the political as counter-hegemonic

of the novel and extraordinary, in other words to

struggle may also be found in Jacques Rancière,

the dominant logic of the official public realm. If, as

Dissensus: On Politics and Aesthetics (London:

Bourdieu suggests, all taste ‘classifies the classifier,’

Continuum, 2010); and in Ernesto Laclau and Chantal

then the various symbolic struggles effecting between

Mouffe, ‘Preface to the Second Edition,’ in Hegemony

disparate positions and identities cannot possibly find

and Socialist Strategy (New York: Verso, 2000), vii-xix.

a non-partisan forum in planning, where the institution of privilege decides in advance which values are to be emphasised and which are to be overlooked.


23. Daniel Buren, ‘The Function of the Studio,’ in

Ryan Love is an architect and writer based in Toronto,

Institutional Critique: An Anthology of Artists’ Writings,

Canada. He completed his MArch at the University of

eds. Alberro and Stinson (Cambridge, Mass: MIT

Toronto after receiving a BA in philosophy. Among his

Press, 2011), p. 115.

research interests are the cultural dimensions of globali-

24. Op. cit., p. 128.

sation, modernisation and technics. As an architect he is

25. Diedrich Diederichsen, On (Surplus) Value in Art

currently engaged in the areas of adaptive-reuse, heritage

(Berlin: Steinberg Press, 2008), p. 29. 26. Ibid. 27. See, for example, Alexander J. Reichl, ‘Rethinking the Dual City,’ in Urban Affairs Review, 42, 5 (2007), pp.  659-87. See also Hamnett & Cross, ‘Social Polarisation in Global Cities: Theory and Evidence,’ in Urban Studies, 21 (1994), pp.  389-405. For a wider perspective see Sassia Sassen, The Global City (Princeton University Press, 1991), esp. pp. 193-320. 28. Frederic Jameson, ‘On Negt and Kluge,’ in October 46 (Autumn, 1988), p. 159. 29. The deliberative or communicative planning paradigm, which in many respects is indebted to the Habermasian theory of communicative action, stands as a perfect example of such a fully integrative, dialogue-based planning approach. In recent years this model has rightly come under scrutiny for its inability to effectively withstand and counter neoliberal hegemonic incursions in the public sphere. See for example Mark Purcell, Op cit., pp. 140-165; and Margo Huxley, ‘The Limits of Communicative Planning’ in Journal

conservation and community self-build.



An Anthropology of Urbanism: How People Make Places (and What Designers and Planners Might Learn from It) Brooke D. Wortham-Galvin

When subject matter is forced to fit into preconceived

are not exact synonyms. This essay will use the

patterns, there can be no freshness of vision.

term ‘participatory urbanism’ to discuss how ordi-

(Edward Weston)

nary people are engaged in making place, and how designers and planners might learn from it.

Introduction The July 2013 edition of Architect magazine

This discussion of participatory urbanism will

featured an article entitled ‘Newest Urbanism’.

describe the context from which it emerged in

In their word play on what design praxis might

the United States, define the term and its current

succeed the popular, late twentieth-century New

manifestation, and describe an early example of

Urbanism movement in the United States, Architect

participatory urbanism seeded by digital tools, in

introduced to the uninitiated the concept of tactical

order to raise questions about the role of partici-

urbanism. Their narrative rooted the contempo-

patory urbanism in the making of place in the

rary origins of tactical urbanism in 2005, with the

twenty-first century.

transformation of a parking space into a small park in San Francisco by the firm Rebar. Defining

The city by design

tactical urbanism as ‘temporary, cheap, and usually

At the start of the twentieth century in the United

grassroots interventions – including so-called guer-

States, urban design, under the aegis of the City

rilla gardens, pop-up parks, food carts, and ‘open

Beautiful movement, focused its efforts on the city’s

streets’ projects – that are designed to improve city

aesthetics and infrastructure. Daniel Burnham’s

life on a block-by-block, street-by-street basis’, the

Plan of Chicago (1909) memorialised his rallying

article claims that it took this approach to shaping

cry ‘make no little plans’ as it undertook to provide

the city less than a decade to mainstream into the

a monumental core framework for Chicago. The

practices of U.S. cities and firms alike.1

graphics of the Plan revealed his interest: the drawings focused their detail and energy on significant

While Architect used the term ‘tactical urbanism’

landmarks, whether boulevards or civic buildings.

to characterise this effort (borrowing it from the

The rest of the city, where people spend most of

Street Plans Collaborative and their guidebook

their time living and working, was rendered in poche,

Tactical Urbanism 2: Short-Term Action, Long

disappearing into a subtly muted background. In

Term Change), other terms abound: participa-

fact, in the case of the Burnham-influenced McMillan

tory urbanism, open-source urbanism, pop-up

Commission Plan for Washington D.C. (1901), the

urbanism, minor urbanism, guerrilla urbanism, city

drawings cropped out the extent of the city, focusing

repair, or DIY urbanism. The elision of these terms

solely on the monumental core. It was the federal

and their definitions does contain overlap, but they

and symbolic city they were designing: an urban



The Participatory Turn in Urbanism, Autumn 2013, pp. 21-40


monument to democracy. Left out of the drawings

resultant focus on surface and skin, in the name of

was the metropolitan city: the District of Columbia

newer freedoms for the twenty-first century global

as a lived experience.

city.7 Despite their varied aims and methodologies, both focus primarily on formal and spatial manipu-

In the post-World War II environment, concerned by the modernist-influenced tabula rasa approach

lations in order to create (or dismantle) the public realm that we understand as the city.

to urban renewal, urban design scholars and architects, such as Colin Rowe, Fred Koetter, Léon Krier

Despite the conviction of both New and Post

and Rob Krier, argued for a form-driven method-

Urbanism in their formally-driven design method-

ology that would shape the city into a sequence

ologies, it is difficult to ascertain what ‘public’ really

of public forms and spaces that were distinct and

means in the context of the increasing privatisation,

memorable when set in contrast to the private

globalisation, digitisation and commercialisation of

realm.3 Conventions such as figure/ground, devel-

urban space. The term ‘public’ is invoked often and

oped from Giambattista Nolli’s La Pianta Grande di

easily within the design disciplines, and has been

Roma (1748), were used to render the legibility of

naturalised to assume that its definition is universal.

the public space as a figure in the ground, and the

The designed city is assumed to be a public space,

interconnectedness of this space with the streets.4

but what precisely does that mean? It is certainly

Such conventions became the architect’s criteria

more than the mere spatial circumscription of a town

of well-conceived public space. This plan-based

square or piazza. By defining space as ‘public’, what

approach, while representing a radical rethinking of

are we referring to? Ownership? If so, how does a

city design during the1960s-70s American renewal-

place like Times Square fit this definition? Even

cum-destruction period, has now become a part of

though most of the land that constitutes the space

the canon. Its ubiquity among urban design firms no

of Times Square is, indeed, owned by the city and

longer represents a hypothesis or theoretical spec-

is therefore ‘public’ terrain, the space is not publicly

ulation about the use of normative types and the

managed. All the structures that define the space

figure/ground, but has been codified into contem-

are controlled by private interests, and the space

porary practice and amplified by such phrases and

itself is dominated by commercial messages and

practices as design guidelines, urban and architec-

corporate slogans rather than a socio-cultural iden-

tural regulations and pattern books.5

tity. In this context, it is difficult to distinguish Times Square, the Vegas Strip or Piazza della Rotunda

Douglas Kelbaugh’s adroit analysis of later twen-

from the shopping mall, which is completely

tieth and early twenty-first century urban praxis

privately owned and controlled. Does ‘public’ refer

in the United States (and as exported globally)

to activities? Ironically, in many (sub)urban places

assesses New Urbanism as ‘an explicit combina-

it is the shopping mall that has become the new

tion of noble ends and practical means’ in contrast

forum, playing host to a myriad of ‘public’ activities

to Post Urbanism’s ‘argument that shared values

that include senior citizens taking group walks in the

or metanarratives are no longer possible in a world

morning, girl scout sing-alongs, flu shot clinics, job

increasingly fragmented […]’. The former engages

fairs, and teenagers working hard at doing nothing.

historical precedents, employs typology, and is

Is the public to be found, then, not only in a phys-

stylistically neo-traditional (despite protestations of

ical circumscription but also in a set of activities

stylistic inclusion, this is the as-built reality of New

that reinforce community and civic identity, and are

Urbanism), while the latter manipulates topology

therefore culturally conceived as public?8


‘without formal orthodoxies or principles’, with a

Given that the physical and socio-cultural have


become inextricably intertwined in defining the

Many of these activities involve revising or

public, participatory urbanism is useful in unravel-

reinterpreting existing infrastructures for alternative

ling that knot. Even more so, since what is missing

purposes, with a sense of socio-political agency

from synoptic accounts of the plurality of urban

underlying the action. They operate outside offi-

design mythologies in action at the turn of the

cially sanctioned structures as they temporarily

twenty-first century in the United States, is a discus-

claim public or private infrastructures for protest or

sion of participatory urbanism.9

other cultural practices. While these projects are communal, hands-on and sometimes critical, they

Participatory Urbanism

are ephemeral additions to the built environment,

Conversations about participatory urbanism in the

not permanent ones. They eschew the slow moving

past decade are often framed by unsanctioned

and often costly bureaucracies of professionalised

efforts and/or by the temporary. Tactical urbanism,

urbanism (proffered by planners, architects, land-

as defined by the Street Plans Collaborative,

scape architects, preservationists and their ilk),

features short-term realistic actions, the develop-

for flexibility, rapidity, dynamisms, and what Kelli

ment of social capital, a focus on the local, and a

Anderson terms ‘disruptive wonder’ or I call ‘making

phased approach to permanent change. As Mike

the familiar strange’.12 They seek to disrupt natural-

Lydon notes:

ised assumptions and defy conventions about how and/or where we live. In this version of participatory

When you’re yard bombing something, it’s a really

urbanism, the city is seen as a (public) democratic

cool and interesting piece of public art and it can

process, not a (private) consumable product.

have some social and political commentary that goes along with it, but the intent generally is not to create a

The difference, as Lydon notes, is that some

longer-term physical change. Most of the things that

of these activities, such as yarn, chair or weed

we include in the guide generally are aiming at doing

bombing, ad busting, and guerrilla gardening, fall

something larger. They’re not just for the sake of doing

more into the vein of performance art and provo-

it. And of course in a lot of ways, to make that work,

cation than occurring with an eye to permanence.13

you need to have whatever you’re doing to become

These often illegal works are proffered to provoke

sanctioned or supported, either with funding or with

conversation for a day, but once out of sight are

being allowed by the municipality.10

often out of mind. At the other end of the spectrum, food trucks, pop-up retail, and Street Seats are

The distinction Lydon makes is an important parsing

ways for commercial enterprises to make private,

of the various participatory urbanism efforts. Activities

entrepreneurial incursions into the city (whether

such as guerrilla gardening, weed bombing, chair

selling food or jewellery for personal profit, or

bombing, yarn bombing, ad busting, camps, food

designing outside café seating in a former parking

trucks, pop-up town halls, Depave, PARK(ing) Day,

space as Portland’s Street Seats process encour-

parklets, Street Seats, Open Streets, Build a Better

ages). Somewhere in the middle of these examples

Block and Parkways get merged together with no

are those activities that started as temporary – often

distinction. To wit, the Seattle chapter of the AIA held

political – stagings, which then became codified

an exhibition in Winter 2013 that featured parklets,

processes. PARK(ing) Day is one such example.

guerrilla gardens, yarn bombs, temporary infill, retail

It began as ‘Portable Architecture’, a performance

housed in shipping containers, sticker bombing and

art piece by Bonnie Ora Sherk in 1970, in which

more besides, all curated as falling under the rubric

she began converting pavements into parks in San

of creative urban inventions.11

Francisco. This action re-emerged in 2005, again in


San Francisco, with the transformation of a parking

take place on both public and private sites, often

space into a public park. Within six years this trans-

merging and/or conflicting the two interests.

formation became reified as PARK(ing) Day and had spread globally: thirty-five countries across six

Participatory urbanism as defined in this essay

continents reclaimed 975 parking spaces.14 The

affirms much of what Lydon parses. It is urban

ultimate codification came in 2013 when the city of

action that is small and/or incremental, it responds

Portland established its Street Seats programme,

to immediate needs that engage discourses of

which permits businesses to build small ‘parklets’ in

publicness, it stewards change that is wanted

current, on-street parking spaces. In the trajectory

(defined by a specific group of people), and it can

described above, municipal resources in the form of

be implemented relatively quickly with low initial

parking spaces are first transformed into an artist’s

investment. Participatory urbanism is not defined

provocation, challenging the use of those resources

by who is leading it (ordinary citizens, activists

(should city rights-of-way be for cars or for people?);

or professional experts), but by the actions taken

second, into small public spaces for people to use

(small, but tangible), how they are taken (quickly),

and share at will; and, finally, for private interests

and their tangible impact. Participatory urbanism is

to expand their resources (café seating, while enli-

not professionally led charrettes stewarding large-

vening the pedestrian experience, is still privately

scale development projects (often masquerading as

managed and restricted in its inhabitation). Thus,

community-based design.

while participatory urbanism in the media is often characterised as interventions within the city,

The activism of the 1960s-70s in the United

instigated by activists who want to provoke the allo-






cation of space and resources, it is also happening

community-based design to co-opt the term char-

via government-sanctioned, private investment

rette in order to promote a more public-oriented

transforming city resources. The shift in the actors

design process. The charrette has re-emerged

staging this urbanism has consequences regarding

with new strength from its 1960s-70s launching, in

the actions themselves. While parking spaces

large part due to the success of the New Urbanism

turned into places for people to sit may superficially

movement and, most recently, from a post-Katrina

all seem alike, ownership of those parklets affects

desire to help revive the Gulf Coast region. In the

how public these spaces truly are. For whom are

New Urbanists’ desire to establish strong neigh-

these Street Seats?

bourhoods, both formally and socially, they use the charrette as one of their formidable tools, along-

Participatory urbanism is therefore not only a

side form- and typology-based codes. Within their

subaltern cultural movement, but also a mainstream

paradigm, the charrette becomes a way to facilitate

one. The ‘who’, or actors, of participatory urbanism

change in participants’ perceptions and positions,

range from those on the outside to those who are in

with the end goal being the acceptance of a given

power. Participatory urbanists are activists, neigh-

design. But what does consensus mean when the

bours, groups, non-profits, developers, businesses

desire is to change people’s minds in order to have

and city governments. The variety of actors repre-

them agree to a design? Do the plan and its support

sents a continuum of action, from the illegal and

derive from the charrette, or are they preconceived?

unsanctioned to those codified into regulatory proc-

And if the latter is the case, then for whose benefit

esses and laws, with the former often prompting the

are the review, critique and refinement that takes

latter, such as PARK(ing) Day, Build A Better Block,

place during the charrette: only the participants and

Depave and Open Streets. Moreover, these actions

not the designers? Has the charrette become a


mode for defusing implementation disputes rather

urbanism with the ‘latest and greatest’, leveraging

than one for collaborating on critical questions and

the development of this kind of architecture in order

seeking potential answers within a community? If

to attract the accoutrements of a cosmopolitan

public space and urban design are to be embedded

experience: fine cuisine, global brand stores, and a

in the cultural construction of place, then resi-

thriving nightlight scene predicated on a new sense

dents should not be seen merely as an audience

of ‘safety’. And while this constituency has a right to

to receive the wise wisdom of the expert, but as

lay claim to one of the city’s cultures, this does not

experts in their own right who bring a large body of

mean it should be reified into representing the city’s

local and social capital to the process.

dominant culture under the assumption that this is how all citizens would like to see the individual,

This is why the charrette does not appear on the

200-square-foot parcels put to use. And, in turn, this

list of participatory urbanism activities; its use as

does not mean that activist-led urban actions are

a community-based tool is too broad in its imple-

free from bias either. Activists, non-profits, commu-

mentation, too dependent on who is using it and,

nity groups and similar organisations privilege their

more importantly, to what purpose. Some design

own value systems in their desire to transform the

professionals who work intensively with commu-

city according to their vision.

nities seek alternatives to the charrette in order to design with not for communities. The work of

What also distinguishes participatory urbanism

designers like Teddy Cruz, Walter Hood, Bryan Bell

in the United States in the early twenty-first century

and Maurice Cox in projects such as Crown Heights

from other community-based/public interest design

(initiated by architect Manuel Avila) engage alterna-

is the socio-economic and technological contexts

tive practices that elevate residents to experts and

that have fostered its current surge: the economic

give them significant roles in the decision-making

recession and the emergence of accessible, port-

process of design. While laudable, this approach

able, digital technology. The economic downturn

does not meet our present definition of participatory

abruptly interrupted big development projects, both

urbanism, in which incremental, tangible, imme-

public and private. The disappearance of these

diate action are paramount over (en)visioning and

large-scale projects left communities with a bevy of

conceptual speculation.

vacant and abandoned properties, which was further


compounded by the demise of smaller businesses Nevertheless, the critique of the charrette as an

caught in the wake of the big money disaster. This

expert-driven, value-laden process can be applied to

made it easier for insurgent intervention to take hold

participatory urban activities as well. Certainly this is

for two main reasons: projects with a small budget

easiest to observe when the activities are supported

could make an impact now that big money was no

by government sanctioned regulations and codes,

longer available to overwhelm them, and munici-

such as the Street Seats programme. For whom is

palities were more forgiving of the unsanctioned

the extra café seating in Portland? People who can

because these undertakings filled a void of inaction

afford to frequent such upper middle-class estab-

and/or displaced, negative, crime-related activities.

lishments are the ones whose cultural values and assumptions are now literally expanding into the

While the economy took a precipitous downturn

streets. These café parklets are certainly not mega-

after 2008, the increase in the proliferation of social

projects like Bilbao, and yet, because they belong to

media orientated platforms, and the ubiquity of

the same taste culture, it needs to be acknowledged

portable devices on which to access them, meant

that this type of urbanism often replaces existing

it was easier to mobilise people and resources. As


quickly as one can tweet, one can gather people

discussion that prefigured the stronger and more inter-

and resources for action. Facebook was founded in

active deliberations that filled Liberty Plaza.17

2004, Twitter in 2006. San Francisco’s first renewed interest in turning parking spaces into parks began

The Occupy movement created physical civic

in 2005 and has reached global proportions in less

infrastructures (temporarily permanent) entirely

than a decade. These are not coincidences. This is

generated by the participants. What arose across

the foundation for the twenty-first century version of

the United States was ‘complex, open-source, user-

participatory urbanism, which mobilises quickly and

generated urban infrastructure, where creative

disseminates its actions digitally for easy replication

participation, collaboration, generosity and self-reli-

– with the Occupy movement as the highest profile

ance are privileged over the more traditional urban


imperatives of commerce and efficiency’.18 But can Occupy offer a method for bridging the gap between

Jonathan Massey and Brett Snyder rename

the ephemerality of some participatory urbanism

participatory urbanism under the moniker ‘open-

and the desire for permanent change in the city? And

source urbanism’ because of how mobile devices

can these bottom-up approaches ultimately situate

and their applications allow ‘non-experts’ to

everyday people as equal authors in the design of

become authors of how urban spaces are enacted

the built environment, alongside architects, land-

and how public dialogues are shaped.


scape architects, planners and preservationists?

source urbanism takes place in both physical

What really happens when citizens take the shaping

and digital spaces and, as the Occupy movement

of the city into their own hands? And are these citi-

demonstrated, often a simultaneous dialogue and

zens just as guilty of leaving people out or behind?


overlapping between the two creates the participatory realm in which people actively engage their

Starting in fall 2011, the mythologies of whether

cities, neighbourhoods, and physical public spaces

or not the Occupy movement represented ‘the 99%’

through collecting and sharing data and ideas via

in its entirely gained traction. Two surveys taken that

digital methods. Massey and Snyder note that the

fall were widely reported in the press and opposed

Occupy movement existed virtually before it did

some of the myths (the former involving 1619


people responding online and the latter involving 198 people responding in person).19 Both surveys

In the months leading up to the first occupation […]

determined that the Occupy Wall Street participants

Occupy established an online presence unmatched in

constituted a mix of ages, wealth, employment and

the history of social action, leveraging multiple online

history of activism, and that no one group domi-

spaces to stage protests and to generate a distinc-

nated in any of these categories. Two categories,

tive counter-public and alternative polity. […] In the

however, had clear majority constituencies: firstly,

summer of 2011, before the first protesters had set foot

on the issue of political identification, 70% claimed

in Liberty Plaza, the Occupy movement was evolving

to be politically independent; and secondly, 92%

toward a model of General Assembly that hybridized

were highly educated – defined as having at least

online and offline discourse. While street activists in

a college degree. Not reported in these surveys

New York were practicing consensus decision-making

were gender, race/ethnicities, or place-based iden-

in public parks, online participants were responding

tifiers. The purpose here is not to parse the reality

to a poll Adbusters created using Facebook’s ‘ques-

of the Occupy constituency, but to acknowledge

tion’ function […] Through this asynchronous online

that the Occupy leadership and ‘citizenry’ had its

polling, Facebook supported a weak form of political

own value systems that were physically manifest


in the camps: having libraries, community gardens,

ultimately abandoned), he was implicitly invoking

and/or day-care in a camp were considered value-

a tradition of the homestead as the gateway to

laden choices. It is the recognition of value bias in

community building in the United States. But did

the implementation of city-making processes that is

Bush understand this intersection and its historical

key. Perhaps participatory urbanism is more trans-

underpinnings and policy implications when he

parent because its decisions are made out of doors

suggested homesteading as a possible means by

and in view of all, whereas top-down processes

which residents could participate in the rebuilding of

opaquely embed values in dense codes, regula-

the Gulf Region?

tions, and Byzantine elisions between public and private ownership and occupation.

President Bush’s homesteading proposal was built on the historical precedent set by President

Participatory urbanism as currently described,

Abraham Lincoln.22 In the face of a socially and

and particularly as framed by the Occupy move-

economically conflicted nation on the brink of

ment, focuses on actions that impact the perceived

dissolution, Lincoln dramatically altered American

publicness of space. But if one follows Léon Krier’s

domestic development policy by signing the

formulation, healthy urbanism relies upon a symbi-

Homestead Act on 20 May 1862.23 The Act allowed

otic relationship between both the res publica and

any head of a family aged twenty-one or older to

In other words, the physical fabric of

receive a 160-acre parcel of undeveloped land to

the places where we live and work are just as signif-

farm in the American West.24 The first successful

icant in supporting the physical voids where the

applicant was a farmer named Daniel Freeman,

public unfolds. It is in the private sphere of urbanism

who took his family to the Nebraska plains.25 In

that the nascent intersection between digital and

order to own his homestead outright under the

physical participation in enacting the city has also

Act, Freeman had to build a home, dig a well, plant

developed – through the reinvention of urban home-

crops and live on the land for the next five years.26

steading at the turn of the twenty-first century.

Out of over two million homestead claims filed in

res privata.


the 123 years of the programme, more than threeHomesteading in the city

quarters of a million were successful. By the time

In his 15 September 2005 speech in response to the

the Federal Land Policy and Management Act

devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina, George

ended homesteading in 1976 (with the exception

W. Bush, president at the time, made a series of

of Alaska, where homesteading continued until

proposals that included an urban homesteading

1986), the Homesteading Act had provided for the

initiative. He asserted:

settlement of over 270 million acres and affected public lands in thirty states. It also represented the

Under this approach, we will identify property in the

first instance of the U.S. government transferring

region owned by the federal government, and provide

large tracts of the public domain to individuals. In

building sites to low-income citizens free of charge,

initiating a homesteading programme, the govern-

through a lottery. In return, they would pledge to build

ment staged a participatory process wherein

on the lot […] Home ownership is one of the greatest

homesteaders ultimately, and probably unwittingly,

strengths of any community, and it must be a central

fulfilled a government driven political agenda about

part of our vision for the revival of this region.

how citizenship would be defined in the United


States in terms of both who would own land and When President Bush proposed that Congress pass an Urban Homesteading Act (that was

what would happen on it.


What began as a political agenda aimed at

matter: modernisation came quickly in the nine-

populating the western territories with settlers

teenth century, and this meant that the city became

who might spread the influence of the Union and

an active site for cultivating the idea of home. As

contain slavery and secession, ended up dramati-

America modernised and the Western frontier

cally shifting settlement demographics in the United

closed, issues of home and community moved

States, and concomitant conceptions of home and

back to the urban frontier. Buzz words such as ‘city

community. The Act led to more than the cultiva-

beautiful’ and ‘garden city’ surrounded these early

tion of crops unsuited to the east, such as corn and

twentieth-century conversations on how to define

wheat, it contributed to the political and regional

home and community in the city, with the discussion

development of the nation. Homesteaders were a

reaching its peak after World War II and invoking a

more diverse property-owning constituency than

new nomenclature: urban renewal.

was present in the original colonies, with single women, former slaves and newly arrived immigrants among those filing claims.


Urban Homesteading programmes were established in 1973 in the east coast cities of Wilmington, Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York as one of

The Act also reinforced American mythologies

the myriad responses to urban blight and desta-

of manifest destiny and home ownership. It repre-

bilised neighbourhoods. The basic idea of urban

sented a tabula rasa attempt to make America

homesteading was to infill city-owned vacant lots

not only a geographical reality but also a concep-

and/or fill abandoned homes with families. A year

tual one. The Act may have attracted a relatively

after the programmes started in these east-coast

diverse set of people for mid-nineteenth-century

cities, the federal government passed the Housing

America, but its purpose was to mainstream them

and Community Development Act, which allowed

into a cohesive American polity. It was a way of

the stockpile of federally owned homes to join the

populating a nation with a fiction more real that

numbers of municipally owned, tax delinquent build-

the historically available reality: Americans would

ings populating the homesteading programmes. By

make communities based on individual stakes.

1975, programmes had expanded to twenty-three

Community would be derived not through physical

cities around the country.29


proximity and socially established and locally based ritual, but through a collectively held identity: the farming pioneer.

As opposed to the bureaucratically sponsored response to urban renewal, which demolished neighbourhoods in order to build anew, New York’s

When Thomas Jefferson envisioned a thou-

Urban Homesteading Assistance Board (UHAB),

sand-year expansion of America’s yeomen farmers

founded in 1973 by young architects, urban plan-

cultivating a pastoral landscape (via the Louisiana

ners, and activists living and working in lower

Purchase), he still feared the influence of mills

Harlem, supported self-help housing. Formed in the

and factories, not just in their potential urbanisa-

midst of housing abandonment and neighbourhood

tion of America, but also for what it would mean

deterioration, the UHAB set out to help low-income

for the polity of the nation. Jefferson’s vision for

community residents gain control over abandoned,

America was expansive in geography but static in


spatial form and cultural implication, and actively

homeowners with a long-term stake in their neigh-

excluded the urban in the establishment of an

bourhoods. Through UHAB’s efforts, New York City

American community made up of individual home-

now boasts the largest community of affordable

steaders. But Jefferson’s exclusions would not

housing co-ops in the country, with 1,200 buildings






housing approximately 100,000 low-income people.

neighbourhood, having pushed out these lowerclass residents. In 2002, U.S. Congressman Elijah

In this configuration of home and commu-

E. Cummings wrote in the Baltimore Afro American

nity, home was a means for social and economic

newspaper that urban renewal in Otterbein had

empowerment. Instead of a top-down vision of how

‘displaced these original, South Baltimore residents

to make place in the United States, it was a bottom-

[…] with little compensation and almost without a

up effort that focused more narrowly on making

trace that they had ever lived there.’30

neighbourhoods. Here, home and community did not serve as tools to cohere a broader polity and/

Baltimore’s engagement with homesteading

or to define what it meant to be American. Instead,

provided a different penetration of the home-

community meant a specific group of people whose

community dialectic, and a different relationship

common bond was their relationship to a specific,

between those staging the participation and

physical place. Home was the means by which they

those invited to participate. In fact, Cummings’

would not only not be displaced from that specific

concerns about the changes in Otterbein are not

place, but could, in fact, reinforce and solidify their

unique to that neighbourhood, with many east

previously tenuous relationship to place. This config-

coast cities concocting a similar recipe of existing

uration of the home-community dialogue took those

nineteenth-century housing stock and imported

who dwelled precariously on the margins and rein-

twentieth-century residents, now served up as a

forced their patterns of culture into ones that were

twenty-first century, upper middle-class enclave.

legitimised and stable. Here, a public-private part-

This type of revitalisation was, and no doubt is,

nership (where publicly owned property has been

good for Baltimore’s economy, but what does it

transferred to private ownership with the assistance

mean for the way people participate in the making of

of a professional class of experts), achieves parity

community? In Baltimore home(steading) became

in the staging of the participatory process by deter-

a vehicle for displacement. Whereas in New York

mining who owns the property and what they want

a sense of physical and cultural sustainability was

to happen on it.

woven into the implementation of homesteading, in Baltimore (and in other places), homesteading was

Like New York, Baltimore has been praised for




a mechanism for the creation of a new community


rather than the re-establishment of an existing one.

programmes in the 1970s. The Baltimore experi-

The participants are not from the place but relocate

ence was more typical of city-based programmes

there in order to create a new place more accept-

than New York’s community-based approach,

able to the public sector’s vision of the city. For a

which was less common. In 1975, Baltimore’s

community in the process of becoming rather than

mayor William Donald Schaefer helped stay the

surviving, home was the mechanism by which a

impending destruction of the Otterbein neighbour-

new Baltimore (as envisioned by city leaders) could

hood by establishing a homesteading programme.

come into being.

Winners of the August 1975 lottery were able to purchase one of the 110 dwellings for one dollar.

Virtual homesteading

Otterbein became America’s largest one-dollar

The new Baltimore at the turn of the twenty-first

homesteading community at the time. Originally

century, however, retained many of the problems of

home to thriving immigrant families of newly arrived

the 1960s and 70s city. Beset by drugs and concom-

Italians, Greeks, Germans and Poles working on the

itant crime problems, which began in the 1980s

waterfront, Otterbein is now an upper middle-class

with crack cocaine and have continued unabated,


Baltimore’s historic fabric remained largely intact

properties one by one in various locations, he envi-

while its social tapestry was unravelling. Areas

sioned a collective move into abandoned properties

around the inner harbour thrived with a limited revi-

within the same neighbourhood. The project, which

talisation from the 1990s, but those beyond walking

garnered the moniker ‘buy-a-block’ began in the

distance from the harbour remained impoverished.

spring of 2002 and was publicised through online

With Baltimore ranking second in the U.S. for aban-

forums, in local papers, fliers and through word of

doned buildings at the beginning of the twenty-first

mouth. Meister received an immediate response

century, the city needed a revised approach to its

by people intrigued with a collective rehabilitation

thirty-year-old homesteading programme in order

effort and who felt that the approach would offer

to continue to reinvest in both the city’s social and

safety in numbers as they moved into a blighted

physical capital. This twenty-first century version of

neighbourhood. The majority of those attracted to

urban homesteading came to Baltimore not from

Meister’s vision were young, white, urban-oriented

the city government, but as a grassroots effort that

professionals looking to live closer to the urban

demonstrates an early intersection of physical and

core of Baltimore. Meister coined the term ‘rybbie’

digital participatory urbanism.

– risk-taking, young, Baltimorean – to describe the members of his homesteading project. The rybbies

Adam Meister, a native of Reistertown (a Baltimore


Baltimore’s decline.








focused on location as their project got off the ground. The location issue included not only what


was literally available for purchase, but also what

A young professional, he decided to do

they deemed was appropriate and desirable. The

something about it by posting his thoughts on the

group decided on Reservoir Hill, a thirty-two block,


residential neighbourhood with little new develop-


ment, but plenty of vacancy and abandonment since There is an old saying that goes a little something like

1940. On the positive side was the architecture. On

this: ‘You can’t choose your neighbours’. Most of the

the negative side, rampant drug dealing and the

time when a person or a couple moves into a neigh-

perilousness of walking to a nearby grocery store.

bourhood they do not bring along a friend to move next door. But what if you could do this? Not only would

Despite the deterioration of the neighbourhood,

you and a friend move in at the same time, but there

the rybbies were concerned that real estate specu-

would be 15 other friends moving in also. I have been

lation might drive up the costs if their plans became

thinking and I realized that Baltimore is the perfect city

too public and attracted developers, so they oper-

for such an event to take place … If 15 to 30 other

ated as a virtual community with an invitation-only

people just like me, people who were willing to take

mailing list. Meister believed they distinguished

chances and work hard, bought some of these cheap

themselves from ordinary real estate investors by

homes at the same time then we could change the

their desire to live in the neighbourhood. They were

area right away. The fact that somebody with the same

not interested in flipping the properties for profit, but

goals in mind as you is right next-door will provide an

in creating a community with shared values and a

immediate sense of security. Once people heard of

liveable environment. To turn their virtual commu-

these pioneers who resurrected these dead blocks

nity into a physical one, the rybbies made an offer

then others would move in and fix up properties.

on the 2200 block of Linden Avenue. All properties


but one in this initial phase were abandoned or What Meister proposed was urban homesteading, but instead of the homesteaders buying vacant



During their physical renovations, the rybbies also formed a block group that actively engaged

owned businesses and I would hope you want to do the same.33

with existing residents, and sponsored regular neighbourhood ‘clean-ups’. Without many years

While there was a clear dislike associating chain

of hindsight it is hard to know whether this home-

stores and the commercial enterprises with the

steading effort will displace the current residents, as

Baltimore suburbs, it was less clear where the

occurred in Otterbein, or weave new threads into

group stood on the issue of gentrification. Although

the old, creating a revised social tapestry. However,

most expressed a disdain for it when directly

because these homesteaders formed their commu-

posed the question, some still expressed a desire

nity online it is possible to follow their discussions

for a boutique commercial culture associated with

on the type of urbanism they were trying to create.

upper middle-class urbanism. In other words, what appealed to some of the group was the type of

Virtually a community

neighbourhood Otterbein had become. Other post-

What exactly did Meister’s homesteaders mean by

ings were more vocal and pointed out the distinction

community? And how could that fit into the existing

between revitalisation and gentrification.

neighbourhood in Reservoir Hill? The on-line discussions often focused on common urban amen-

I think there needs to be a better understanding of

ities like walkability, proximity to recreational open

what true ‘urban living’ is before some of you decide

space, ease of commute, retention of the architec-

to make this life alternating move. Urban living is a

tural character of Baltimore and proximity to retail

mixture of homes, parks, retail (both chains and local)

establishments. As it became a physical reality,

as well as dogs and 24 hour stores. Correct me if I’m

discussions of what they wanted for their virtual

wrong, but isn’t the goal to revitalize a city?? I ask

community often invoked the brand of Starbucks as

because diversity is the key to doing this and trying

a way of circling around issues of gentrification.

to build something Walt Disney would of [sic.] been proud of will never work.34

mmm…I don’t want ‘a Starbucks on the corner’ I want a community. Proximity to chain restaurants and

This poster recognised that ‘chain’ versus ‘locally

coffee shops is not a concern of mine at all when it

owned’ was still being framed from a suburban,

comes to picking my future home. As for commercial

upper middle-class sensibility. The poster’s notion

businesses in Belevedere Square they are not next

of urban living meant an inclusion of chain stores,

door to residential areas the way that Laundromats,

24 hour stores, and locally owned business that

Bail Bondsman, check cashing places and the like

would support existing needs as well as the growth

were in SoWeBo. I do not wish to live next door to

of those needs. In other words, his/her notion of

a business that is open 24 hrs a day! I can’t imagine

urbanity was less about a community of shared

many people do when there are so many other

values than about a heterogeneous civility. In the

choices available…The whole idea behind this project

end, the poster represented what the homesteaders

is that we are building a community, not a business

would advocate: an arresting of the potential cultural

venture. I want to live in a neighbourhood where I can

co-opting of the neighbourhood before it began.

take advantage of all it offers and quite frankly if being near a Starbucks is your first concern, Baltimore might

The homesteaders were aware and concerned

not be the best place for you to live. I look forward

about their role in the displacement of an already

to becoming a member of one of these communi-

established community. Since the premise of

ties and continuing to do my part to patronize locally

the project was the collective move of an online


‘community’ formed in cyberspace into real-life

refer to is a bit disheartening, teetering on the verge of

geographic proximity, there was a distinct sense of

classism and I’d dare say ra … you get my point. Not

‘us’ (the online community) and ‘them’ (the existing

all of ‘those’ people are lazy, crack dealing, thieving,

residents). For many, the notion of a collective move

polluting, section eight receiving, eyesores that some

into a neighbourhood smacked of a ‘white invasion’

of us tend to describe them as. Just like all of ‘you’

or neighbourhood coup. Opinions about the legiti-

people aren’t really contributing to the upliftment of the

macy of such concerns, the quality of the existing

community through blindly pointing the finger … yeah,

culture, and assumptions about how they might be

you see that word, COMMUNITY. A group of people

perceived by residents varied greatly, with most

living in the same locality and under the same govern-

agreeing that gentrification was not the goal, even

ment. Sharing, participation, and fellowship. PEOPLE

though some viewed it as inevitable. Nevertheless,

make the community, all PEOPLE … poor, middle

as the online community discussed their future

class, and upper class.35

neighbours, they qualified whom they would be willing (and, perhaps, eager) to have displaced from

The distinction that many online members made

Reservoir Hill: those who did not own homes.

between owner-occupants and renters carried value-laden assumptions about who would be an

One thing that must be considered if we’re gonna

asset to their enterprise, all centring around the

move […] is NOT trying to get those who own and

notion of home as conveying legitimate member-

live there to move out. I have met and talked to a few

ship to a community. Their perception of the existing

of them, and they hate living amongst that scene as

community relative to their homesteading project is

much as any of us would. […] My point is that the

not unique. As Sean Zielenbach notes:

owners should be thought of as our future neighbours, not those that we need out of the way so we can move

Americans desire to help the less fortunate members

in. But of course the renters must go, or be encour-

of society, yet they also hold strong beliefs in the

aged to join us, so they can own their own home.

primacy of the private sector and the importance of individual autonomy and responsibility. Public opinion

The biggest and most effective solution is, was and

surveys continually illustrate a widespread belief in

always will be home ownership… Home ownership is

hard work as a predictor of success and unyielding

the only way to have a population invested in its city.

faith in the free market as the best means for promoting

20%-30% aint gonna do it. Look at neighbourhood

economic gain.36

clean ups, get out to vote drives, community gardens, neighbourhood policing. Who is it that participates?

In the us-vs-them paradigm, American society

Home owners […] not landlords, not those who rent

makes distinctions between the deserving and

from them. Are the problems caused by the home-

undeserving, as evidenced by the commentary

owner/resident? No, of course not […] property value

surrounding the Hurricane Katrina disaster. Hence

and quality of life is too important. Landlords, land

the deserving poor of Reservoir Hill are those who

bankers, low quality renters […] now, therein lies the

demonstrate their worthiness via homeownership,

problem […] too many people just passing through.

given that forces outside their control have caused the decay of their neighbourhood. The unde-

I will say this, and this is me being frank and honest

serving poor of Reservoir Hill are renters, who are

but some of the comments made about ‘lower class’

often associated with a culture of crime, seen as

or ‘section 8’ or ‘those people’ that you guys in here

causing neighbourhood deterioration and perceived


as lazy and/or morally weak because they have

population decline, vacancy and abandonment,

failed to accumulate the wealth necessary for

and conflicts in cultural values.37 And although


neighbourhood revitalisation usually focuses on physical improvements, it clearly has a social

The original homesteading act was about

impact. Physical interventions do indeed transform

changing the nature of the cultural landscape of

the built environment but they do not necessarily

America via publicly owned land on which citizens

eliminate poverty, nor do they address the socio-

would take government sanctioned action. The first

economic disparities prevalent in many major (and

urban homesteading initiatives of the 1970s vacil-

minor) American cities and suburbs.

lated between changing who and what contributed to community in the city and stabilising the extant

The politics of culture are just as important as

communities – with the former taking precedence

aesthetic considerations in the complex efforts to

over the latter. Primarily, the twentieth-century

revitalise cities. As Roberta Gratz notes: ‘No one

urban form of homesteading was a response to the

should want to protect the status quo of a deterio-

middle, upper, and primarily white, class flight to

rated neighbourhood. If all change is mislabelled

the suburbs. In order to lure people back into the

as gentrification without distinctions, the problem of

downtown neighbourhoods, publicly owned prop-

gentrification is not addressed, just ignored’.38 It is

erty was made available for next to nothing. But the

important to be aware that many physically dete-

people who invisibly occupied this world of the next

riorated neighbourhoods can, in fact, be vital as

to nothing were not a factor in (re)building the city’s

communities if they ‘possess viable social networks

communities (with the notably exception of UHAB)

that function to meet the needs of their popula-

and were not allowed to participate in their own

tions’.39 Is there a way to balance the micro and

urbanism. Instead, new participants constructed a

macro effects of revitalisation? Is there a middle

government-sponsored vision of urbane living. In

ground between whole cloth demographic change

the twenty-first century, Meister and the rybbies

of the community and stopping the continued dete-

changed the homesteading paradigm away from

rioration of blighted neighbourhoods? How can

publicly sponsored programmes to a citizen-gener-

cities address these issues to encourage good

ated shaping of the city. Yet this private effort did

subcultural networks without exacerbating the

not come from the existing urban dwellers but from

segregation of economic classes or discouraging

a group of self-declared ‘pioneers’, who strug-

private investment? The answers to these ques-

gled with issues of inequality among their digitally

tions need to be made manifest not only through

formed community and the neighbourhood’s resi-

the physical rebuilding of homes, but also through

dents. Although their aim is to create an urban place

the rebuilding of institutions (both from the top-down

of heterogeneous civility, their methods and tactics

and bottom-up), and adjusting public policies and

have yet to engage others outside their cultural

other governmental frameworks to reinforce the


viability of subcultural groups within the mainstream polity.

An anthropological urbanism The physical deterioration of many of America’s

As in 1862, but under very different circum-

cities is not only due to unique circumstances fash-

stances, American

ioned by natural disasters, but also to an ongoing

large tracts of land that are underutilised: prima-




series of systemic problems: poverty, gentrification,

rily, vacant or abandoned ones. Sites in the public


domain could be activated by hosting a variety of

perhaps to the frustration of the professionalised

groups to stage ‘urbanisms’, supported by the use

built environment disciplines, what they produced,

of digital and traditional mechanisms to create

during the conscious participation and documenta-

feedback loops on uses and practices. Privately

tion of their everyday lives, is often more compelling

held sites could be incentivised beyond the current

than the over-planned downtowns or the fictional-

regulations that make lot parking the most profit-

ised ‘new’ urbanisms being designed and built all

able use, to promote instead temporary and tactical

over the United States in the context of local and

physical installations that might catalyse more

global development pressures.

permanent vitality. Participatory urbanism’s ability to supplant the few with the many, both in terms of who

In his essay ‘The Stranger’s Path’, J.B. Jackson

makes the city and how it gets made, might provide

parses both the elements of distinctiveness and

a guiding methodology as long as it is critically


assessed: firstly, to understand who the actors are

American cities. In this piece he notes the fondness

and for whom the actions take place; and secondly,

of planners for using Italian public spaces as exem-

in the case of officially sanctioned provocations, to

plars for how America should be designed:




determine if issues of public and private ownership and the right to inhabitation are being lost in the

I am growing a little weary of the Piazza San Marco.

translation to regulation. Participatory urbanism can

I yield to no one in my admiration of its beauty and

promote an anthropologically rich city, a city with a

social utility, but it seems to me that those who hold it

plurality of rituals and dwellings, when it transpar-

up as the prototype of all civic (traffic-free) centres are

ently acknowledges who owns the land, who acts

not always aware of what makes it what it is.42

on it, whose values are being preferred and how these factors correlate to the physical publicness

Jackson’s message is that one can admire the

and occupation of the city.

Piazza San Marco, but the reason it works physically, economically, and socio-culturally is because

What participatory urbanism ultimately high-

it is deeply embedded in Venetian patterns of living,

lights is the disparity between professionalised

and that when transported to another locale it loses

discussions of place and those that derive from its

its deeper meanings and raison d’être. It becomes

inhabitants. Occupy Wall Street was too preoccu-

lost in translation when mimicked in various socio-

pied with its agenda – which Kenneth Stahl argues

cultural milieux. Like Jackson, we too should be

persuasively was the occupation of place itself,

weary of the spread of an American-influenced

not an ambiguously undefined socio-political or

global approach to urban design, whether within

economic aim – to worry about how Zuccotti Park

or beyond the borders of the United States. The

would be writ large with stereotypes, good and

danger of predetermined formal paradigms, or

bad.40 If, as Edward Weston says, participatory

charrettes that masquerade as community-building

urban groups achieve a ‘freshness of vision’, it is

exercises, is that place becomes disconnected from

when they are not forced to fit into preconceived

people. This disconnect can be seen most vividly in

patterns. The Occupy movement did not reify its

the empty town squares that have littered the New

creation of an urban realm (or its digital discussions

Urbanism, or in the newly branded old urbanism of

of that creation) into The Paradigm for the built

Quebec, London and Rome, all with their Starbucks,

environment; instead, the environments that were

Barnes and Noble and McDonald’s. In this context,

made, mapped or recorded revealed the patterns

the space is rendered neutral and devoid of place-

of lived and built culture in their urbanisms.41 And

ness; it is the global brand that leads to similar


experiences across continents and cultures – as

how can we sharpen our skill in recognising poten-

well as prompting the ire of the Occupy movement.

tial bias? What are the unintended consequences

In the twenty-first century, public places have

of expertise-driven design decisions, of grass-roots

become both privatised and commercialised to the

urbanism that becomes codified, and of issues of

detriment of the people who occupy them (the very

equity in the process and products of both top-

point made, ironically, by those who encamped in

down and bottom-up urban methodologies? How

Zuccotti Park). This approach belies that the people

do we challenge cultural assumptions to ensure the

are the place. Participatory urbanism demonstrates

‘universal’ is not being imposed on the local? And

that urbanism can and needs to be fabricated on

how do we learn to think beyond the replication of a

more than form alone: it requires transformation

paradigm in order to embrace the particular and let

rather than imitation, a synthesis of local prac-

the peculiar thrive? These questions should not be

tices and global economics. And most importantly,

aimed solely at the New Urbanists, Post Urbanists,

it does not need to use consensus building as a

planners and other professional designers, but also

means of resolving potential development obsta-

at those who frame and therefore reify participatory

cles, but should instead elevate all involved to

urbanism as an alternative, for they also participate

the simultaneous roles of expert and audience. In

with their own preferred set of values in the produc-

this way place will thrive because it will be derived

tion of a value-biased city. As Matthew Passmore

from an extensive collaboration that raises process


over product.43 It is these contemporary examples of place conceived as product rather than process

[…] technocratic and participatory approaches to

that served as a core rallying point for the Occupy

urbanism, when combined, offer an extraordinary

movement, and they also serve to illustrate the

range of tools for improving the social and ecological

disconnect that emerges when designers and plan-

health of the city. […] as San Francisco prepares

ners focus exclusively on the physical.

to spend billions of dollars to upgrade its combined sewer system, it may consider funding—for a scan

If we assume that cities are a cultural construct

fraction of the larger project—community groups to

and not a just a physical fact, then what is it that we

build neighbourhood gardens, pocket parks and other

are trying to make when we place-make? And are

landscapes that reduce the flow of rainwater into the

there people, buildings, landscapes, sites or other

water treatment system. The strain on this major

aspects being left out or left behind in the construct

infrastructural project could be reduced by some well-

of place making? In other words, for whom are

planned, small-scale urban interventions.46

we engaging in urban design?44 Although those engaged in urban design may believe their values

If place offers a realm of conflicting simultaneity

are ‘objectively right’, place-making judgements

between ideal forms and performative tactics,

can be neither objective nor universal because the

then an anthropological urbanism offers the ability

designers themselves are ‘part of a class group

to understand how people enact places to reveal

with its own distinct values’,45 as are the activists

the politics of context, both to instil and destabilise

engaged in participatory urbanism. An anthropolog-

beliefs and values, and to rebel against tradition.

ical urbanism calls for self-awareness by all parties

Understanding participatory urbanism as an anthro-

participating in the politics of urban design. In other

pology of urbanism has the potential to allow a

words, what is the nature of the knowledge base

plurality of people to become equal partners with

that informs what we mean by place making? What

form and space in the making of place, instead of

are the assumed values in this knowledge base and

being subservient or non-existent. In establishing







Cornell University, 1967. Wayne Copper, ‘The Figure/

urbanism acknowledges that the role of architecture

Grounds’, in Cornell Journal of Architecture, no. 2

extends beyond object making and puts the maker


inside the place rather than removed from it, thus

5. A lengthier discussion on this topic can be found in

inverting the customary primacy of product over

B.D. Wortham-Galvin and Isaac Williams, ‘Walking

process. The methodology is to make the familiar

the City: The Physical and Social Urban Form Made

strange: to allow us to recognise ourselves, our

Public’, in Proceedings from the ASCA 96th Annual

ways of living, our conflicts and our traditions by

Conference (Houston: University of Houston, 2008).

rendering them legible, neither hidden nor – as is

6. Douglas Kelbaugh, ‘Toward an Integrated Paradigm:

even more often the case – assumed and gener-

Further Thoughts on Three Urbanisms’, in Places 19,

alised. As long as participatory urbanism honestly

2 (2007), pp. 13, 15.

and openly acknowledges the issues involved in

7. Ibid.

who makes places, who occupies them, and the

8. An in-depth discussion of both the notion of the public

potential contestation that may occur between and

and of place can be found in: B.D. Wortham-Galvin

within these groups, then, by asserting an anthro-

and Isaac Williams, ‘The Stranger’s Path: The Cultural

pology of urbanism, participatory urbanism offers a

Landscape of Urban Form’, in Instant Cities (Sharjah:

way of ‘broadening good design practice into good

the Center for the Study of Architecture in the Arab

cultural practice’.

Region, American University of Sharjah, UAE, 2008),


pp. 365-80. 9. Doug Kelbaugh’s ‘Toward an Integrated Paradigm:


Further Thoughts on the Three Urbanisms’, and

1. Kim O’Connell, ‘Newest Urbanism’, Architect, July 2013,

[accessed 11 July 2013].

Harrison Fraker’s ‘Where is the Urban Design Discourse?’, Places 19, 3 (2007), pp.  61-63, are examples of such synoptic accounts.

2. Tactical Urbanism 2: Short-Term Action, Long-Term

10. Nate Berg, ‘The Official Guide to Tactical Urbanism’,

Change, ed. by Mike Lydon and others,[published

The Atlantic Cities Place Matters, 2 (March 2012),

online as a PDF by the Street Plans Collective],

[accessed 15 February 2013]. 3. Colin





11. Lindsey M. Roberts, ‘Design Intervenes to Save Our Cities’, Architect (exhibition review),


Krier, Urban space = Stadtraum (New York: Rizzoli

[accessed 5 August 2013].

International Publications, 1979). Leon Krier: archi-

12. Kelli Anderson’s ideas about ‘disruptive wonder’ can

tecture and urban design, 1967-1992, ed. by Richard

be found in her TedTalk

[accessed 29 January 2013].

4. Thomas Schumacher, ‘Contextualism: Urban Ideals

For a discussion of the concept of ‘making the familiar

and Deformations’, in Theorizing a New Agenda for

strange’ see B. D. Wortham-Galvin, ‘Making the

Architecture: An Anthology of Architectural Theory

Familiar Strange: Understanding Design Practice

1965-1995, ed. by Kate Nesbitt (New York: Princeton

as Cultural Practice’, in The Urban Wisdom of Jane

Architectural Press, 1996), pp.  294-307. Wayne

Jacobs, ed. by Sonia Hirt (New York: Routledge,


2012), pp. 229-44.






13. A discussion of participatory urbanism as performance art in San Francisco can be found in Matthew

his concepts of urbanism. 21. President







Passmore, ‘Participatory Urbanism. Taking action by

September 2005. The transcript of this speech was

taking space’, Urbanist (February 2010),

‘President Discusses Hurricane Relief in Address to

[accessed 15 February 2013].

Nation’ and can be found at

14. Lydon (n.d.), Tactical Urbanism 2, p. 15.

[accessed 5 January 2006].

15. All information about the Crown Heights Participatory

22. For a broader historical discussion of homesteading

Urbanism project can be found on its website,

and its relationship to the Katrina disaster see, B.D.

Wortham, ‘Home Sweet Homestead: Remaking the

[accessed 23 January 2013].

Gulf Coast After Katrina’, in Battleground

16. Jonathan Massey & Brett Snyder, ‘Occupying Wall Street: Places and Spaces of Political Action’, The Design Observer Group, posted 17 September 2012,



Contemporary America,



Stephen Swanson et al., (Newcastle, U.K.: Cambridge Scholars Press, 2007), pp. 160-82.

[accessed 20 February 2013].

the nation. Good references on the Homestead Act

17. Ibid.

include: Everett Dick, The Lure of the Land: A Social

18. Ibid.

History of the Public Lands from the Articles of the

19. The first survey was published by Hector Cordero-

Confederation to the New Deal (Lincoln: University

Guzman, PhD, a sociology professor at the City

of Nebraska, 1970); Paul Gates, The Jeffersonian

University of New York and included 1619 online

Dream: Studies in the History of American Land

respondents. The second survey took place in person

Policy and Development (Albuquerque: University of

with 198 people present in Zuccotti Park (the site of

New Mexico Press, 1996); Harold Hyman, American

Occupy Wall Street) conducted by Fox news analyst

Singularity: The 1787 Northwest Ordinance, the 1862

Douglas Schoen’s polling outfit. Press coverage

Homestead and Morrill Acts, and the 1944 G.I. Bill

of these surveys can be found at the following

(Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1986), and Roy

websites [accessed 5 August 2013]: ,







viewed more as a means of generating revenue for

20. Both of Léon Krier’s books, The Architecture of

the government than as a means for encouraging

Community and Architecture: Choice or Fate deal with

settlement. With the cost of a section set at $1 per


acre for 640 acres, the price was often inaccessible. It

14,000 vacant lots. There is a 7.2 vacancy rate for

should also be noted that in the 1860s the West began

residential properties.

in what today would be considered the Midwest (i.e.,

32. Yahoo Groups, ‘TechBalt Yahoo Group’. (Restricted

the American West began to the west of the original

Access, invitation only),

colonies). 25. Daniel Freeman made the first claim under the Homestead Act on 1 January 1863. 26. Other homesteaders were permitted live on the land

[accessed September-December 2005]. 33. Ibid. 34. Ibid. 35. Ibid.

for just six months if they paid a $1.25 per acre fee.

36. Sean Zielenbach, The Art of Revitalization: Improving

The Act was later modified to make it easier for Civil

Conditions in Distressed Inner-City Neighborhoods

War soldiers and former slaves to qualify. The number of acres on which a family could homestead was also increased.

(Cleveland: Garland Publishing, Inc., 2000), pp. 7-8. 37. In its 20 March 2000 issue, USA Today published a list of American cities with the most abandoned

27. More famous claimants included inventor/educator

buildings. Topping the list of the cities that provided

George Washington Carver, the parents of author

data were Philadelphia (27,000), Baltimore (15,000),

Willa Cather, author Laura Ingalls Wilder, musician

Houston (8000), Detroit (7500), Kansas City (5000),

Lawrence Welk, and the grandparents of contempo-

Indianapolis (3400), San Antonio (3000), Jacksonville

rary musician Jewel Kilcher.

(2800), Louisville (2200), Mobile (2009) and Los

28. This blank slate approach of the United States government toward land development was accomplished by




ignoring the existing Native American settlements

Revitalization, ed. by Bruce London and J. John Palen

already populating the land.

(Albany, NY: State University of New York Press,

29. Mother Earth News, Issue 65, September/October 1980. 30. Elijah Cummings, ‘Baltimore’s Urban Renewal’, in

Angeles (1800) 38. Gentrification,

1984), p. 7. 39. Ibid, p. 10. 40. Kenneth Stahl, ‘How the Occupy Movement Changed

Baltimore AFRO American, February 2002.

Urban Government’, The Atlantic Cities, 6 February

2012, [accessed 20 January 2013]. 41. The term ‘enacted environment’ is borrowed from James Rojas’ work.

It has been affected by the nation’s trend towards

42. J.B. Jackson, ‘The Stranger’s Path’ in Landscapes:

increased suburbanisation and a severe decline in

Selected Writings of J.B. Jackson, ed. by Ervin H.

city population. According to the 2003 Census, the

Zube (Amherst: The University of Massachusetts

population has dropped from a 1950 all-time high of

Press, 1970), p. 92-106.

almost 950,000 to 628,670, more than a 30% popu-

43. A broader discussion of this topic can be found in:

lation decline. The racial composition of the city has

B.D. Wortham-Galvin, ‘Mythologies of Placemaking’,

also changed dramatically since 1950, when it was

Places 20, 1 (2008), pp. 32-39.

composed of 76.2% white, 23.7% black and 0.1%

44. I address the ‘for whom’ question from another point

other. In 2000 it was 31.6% white, 64.3% black and

of view in: B.D. Wortham, ‘Cultural Sustainability and

4.1% other. The population decline has resulted in the

Architecture’, Design Science in Architecture, GAM.02

widespread abandonment of housing units. Baltimore

(2005), pp. 62-77.

currently has around 16,000 vacant properties and

45. Catherine Bisher, ‘Yuppies, Bubbas, and the Politics


of Culture’, Perspectives in Vernacular Architecture, III, ed. by Thomas Carter and Bernard Herman (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 1989). 46. Passmore, ‘Participatory Urbanism. Taking action by taking space’ (2010). 47. B.D. Wortham-Galvin, ‘Making the Familiar Strange: Understanding Design Practice as Cultural Practice’ (2012).

Biography Brooke  D. Wortham-Galvin is an assistant professor in the School of Architecture, Portland State University and director of the non-profit Urban Dialogues. She teaches a variety of subjects including history and theory, adaptive reuse, urban design, and community engaged design. Her scholarship focuses on how theories of the everyday can be applied to the design and stewardship of the built environment.



Towards an Architecture of Dissensus: Participatory Urbanism in South-East Asia Camillo Boano and Emily Kelling


politics and political emancipation, which illuminates

This paper offers a novel series of reflections on

opportunities for the act of design to either reforge

the relationship between design and politics in the

connections or further disintegrate architecture

context of participatory practices, slum upgrading

with its political and social function. Part of a ‘new

and wider participatory urbanisms. It critically

French generation’ of contemporary thinkers, such

discusses the specific material and political condi-

as Jean-Luc Nancy, Bernard Stiegler, Catherine

tions of a South-East Asian case of slum upgrading,

Malabou and Alain Badiou, Rancière has turned

which aims at an ‘alternative development process

from language to materiality as his core concern.

in which the people […] are at the centre of a process

This is particularly useful in our attempt to approach

of transforming their lives, settlements and position

egalitarian political practice in the urban reality

in the city’.1 The paper draws on Jacques Rancière’s

since he addresses the mechanisms through which

work, in particular his principles of equality, his

the domain of sensual experience is parcelled out: a

conception of the partition of the sensible and his

division which serves to maintain a perceived sepa-

reflections on the politics of aesthetics as an intel-

ration of capacities regarding who can and who

lectual reference for an interrogation of the aesthetic

cannot legitimately speak. Here, politics becomes

regimes and spatial coordinates that have animated

a matter of individuals contesting their subordinate

the debate about urban poverty eradication, slum

position through an act of disrupting the division of

upgrading and participatory design. The empirical

sensible experience. This triad relationship of (in)

material observed in South-East Asia does not

equality, politics, and sensible experience is why

touch simplistically on the discourse of sustaina-

Rancière’s work is so relevant to this essay, which

bility,2 upgrading and informality, but instead it offers

aims to explore the way in which design and archi-

readers an unapologetically political reflection, in

tecture can become relevant to egalitarian politics.

that it lives up to a call for perpetual democratisation in which active citizens – who commit to managing

Central to such discussion is what authors like

themselves and their spaces autonomously – are

Žižek and Mouffe define as post-democratic or post-

continuously struggling to become active and

political; in other words, the current political condition

participate in the city.3

in which the spaces of public reflection are voided of dispute and disagreement4 and replaced instead

The reasons for adopting Rancière’s work as

by a consensually established frame within which

an intellectual toolbox for this exercise in thinking

participation serves to uphold an image of democ-

about the political potential of design and partici-

racy.5 What is discussed on the political agenda in

patory urbanism are multiple, and can be found in

the post-political condition is pre-ordained on the

his material, sensorial and concrete formulation of

basis of unquestioned and unquestionable axioms


The Participatory Turn in Urbanism, Autumn 2013, pp. 41-62


concerning social relationships, how the economy

overt pragmatism and rigidity of the discipline in the

should be organised or a city built. By governing

form of the so-called autonomous project.13 While a

the boundaries of what is – and what is not – the

discussion of the concept of autonomy exceeds the

subject of debate from the outset, participation

scope of this article, an understanding of architec-

functions to demonstrate ‘that the people are part of

ture as non-autonomous and, as Fischer presents

the political process’. Here, however, the scope of

it,14 existing in contiguity with society and culture as

politics, opposed to negotiating conflict, is reduced

a reflection of societal conditions, is a precondition

to identifying consensus within a given, and mostly

for utilising Ranciere’s spatiality of equality. Echoing

economically determined, frame.7 Although such

a call from the current debate on participatory

a shallow form of (usually localised) participation

urbanism15 – whether in its form of Do-It-Yourself16

can address the manifestation of local ‘wrongs’,

urban activism17 or seen as the struggle over

it hardly challenges root causes.8 While we adopt

democracy and the right to the city18 – we under-

this post-political approach, the argument at hand

stand architecture not merely as form or object, but

is that participation can take a multiplicity of forms,

as a complex and contingent condition that both

from pacifying critique to politicising action. In the

enables and constrains thinking and actions; a

case of Baan Mankong and the Asian Coalition

gesture that involves both reflective and projective

for Community Action (ACCA), we see a paradig-

modes, contemplating critique and active interven-

matic case of participatory urbanism transgressing

tion. Importantly, by understanding design as an act,

consensus politics. Though not entirely free of paci-

it immediately becomes politically charged because

fying elements, the programmes are located to an

it is actively seeking out uncharted areas, and new

exceptional degree on the politicising side.

horizons and modalities of sensory experiences.19


This paradigm is not limited to the debate over

Acknowledging the recent shift in the debate

participation and politics but has also entered archi-

on design practice toward ethical considerations,

tectural discourse under the disguise of a suspicious

the deliberate choice of using and developing

‘discontent’ with criticality, abandoning the project

Rancière’s spatiality of equality aims to highlight the

of radical critique as a blanket negation of the

political dimension of design and architecture, which


moreover, it has also entered the urban

to date has not been sufficiently elaborated,20 and

discourse in a broader reflection on democracy

also to elucidate how questions regarding the poli-

and inclusion. However, as architecture is slowly

tics of aesthetics and the aesthetics of politics can

re-engaging in a new critical project that allows the

be framed, with reference to what Rancière called

political and social natures of the practice to be

le partage du sensible. This concept describes the

reclaimed, it is crucial to expand such rediscovery

many procedures by which forms of experience –

to include the inherently political nature of space,

broadly understood as the domains of what can be

which is – contrary to the dominant discourse on

thought, said, felt or perceived – are divided up and

participation, which treats it as fundamentally

shared among legitimate and illegitimate persons

consensual and homogenises differences – neces-

and forms of activity. Similarly, aesthetics is defined

sarily produced in contestation and dissensus.

as ‘a delimitation of spaces and times, of the visible




and the invisible, of speech and noise’,21 while poli When applied to the current debate on urban and

tics is seen as never static and pure but instead

architectural design, this essay fits into a renewed

characterised by division, conflict and polemics that

reflection on the expansion of architectural discipli-

allow the invention of the new, the unauthorised

nary boundaries,12 which deliberately contests the

and the disordered. In this light, artistic practices


(thus including architecture and space) are forms

than the exercise of power or the struggle for power, is

of visibility that can themselves serve as inter-

the configuration of a specific world, a specific form of

ruptions of the given partition of the sensible. For

experience in which some things appear to be political

this reason, work on aesthetics is work on politics

objects, some questions political issues or argumenta-

since it embraces a set of exclusions, a set of items

tions and some agents political subjects.24

that are not simply unsaid, unseen and unheard as such, but instead withdrawn from appearing

Consequently, choosing the case study Baan

because they are implicitly deemed unworthy or not

Mankong and Asian Coalition for Community Action

entitled to appear. Rancière’s theorisation is rele-

(ACCA), comes very naturally. For Rancière, polit-

vant here because it allows for a material, sensorial

ical struggle occurs when the excluded seek to

and concrete formulation of politics, political partici-

establish their identity by speaking for themselves

pation and emancipation. Even though Rancière

and striving to get their voices heard and recog-

did not discuss architecture per se, he was greatly

nised as legitimate, thus disrupting the specific

inspired by Aristotle’s and Plato’s reflection on the

horizon and modalities of sensory experience.

polis and its central reference to a political space

A struggle of this kind is evident in some of the

as a reconfiguration ‘where parties, parts, or lack of

marginalised communities in Bangkok and other

parts have been defined.’ His claim that ‘[p]olitical

South-East Asian cities, which have leveraged

activity […] makes visible what had no business

collective resources as bargaining power to claim

being seen, and makes heard a discourse where

politically legitimate participation in their develop-

once there was only place for noise’


ment. The case of Baan Mankong/ACCA is truly

heavily illustrative for architecture and urban design.

novel; it approximates Rancière’s idea of equality

Moreover, by illustrating a spatiality of equality, we

because the group locates the agency of change

show that Rancière’s basic assumption, the equality

with the excluded, thus enacting a fundamental

of intelligence, (borrowing Hallward’s summary

break with conventional participatory development

‘everyone thinks, everyone speaks […], but the

practice.25 In addition, the programmes are experi-

prevailing division of labour and configuration of

menting with a novel and potentially radical version

society ensures that only certain classes of people

of an older architectural concept: community archi-

are authorized to think’) is pertinently enlightening

tecture, which is crucially reforming the role of the

in the debate over participation on a wider urban

design practitioner, and therefore provides the

scale and in the struggle for democracy. Together,

ideal empirical reality from which we can attempt

these two dimensions of Rancière’s work make

to elucidate the critical relationship between the

him an indispensable reference in the discussion

presupposition of equality and design, and there-

of participatory urbanism, which is why we have

fore between participatory urbanism and the politics

employed it as the theoretical backdrop that guides

of recognition.



our search for a more socially just design practice. To use Rancière’s words:

Rancière’s ontology and dissensus Rancière’s fundamental political concern is the

[M]y concern with ‘space’ is the same as my concern

denial of recognition experienced by the domi-

with ‘aesthetics’. [...] My work on politics was an

nated. Rancière criticised structuralist Marxists for

attempt to show politics as an ‘aesthetic affair’. What I

upholding the elitist intellectual superiority of the

mean by this term has nothing to do with the ‘aestheti-

philosopher over the worker instead of arguing

cization of politics’ that Benjamin opposed to the

for the need not to interpret, but to listen to the

‘politicization of art’. What I mean is that politics, rather

voice of the excluded as equals.26 Rejecting the


Habermasian liberal idea that politics consists of a

but rather to the order of things, to the order of the

rational debate between diverse interests, and the

polis, and therefore to the established social order

Arendtian idea of a specific political sphere and

within a process of governing. Since the demos is

political way of life, in the 1980s Rancière defined

included by nature in the polis, the political problem

what constitutes the essential aspect of politics:

is drastically reduced to assigning individuals their

the affirmation of the principle of equality of speech

place/position through the administration of conflicts

for people who are supposed to be equal but not

between different parties by a government founded

treated as such by the established police order of

on juridical and technical competences.36 In other

the democratic community. For Rancière, ‘proper’

words, a ‘society is […] divided into functions, into

order will always be interrupted by impropriety,

places where these functions are exercised, into

and this notion, despite being focused on critical

groups which are, by virtue of their places, bound

writing and ‘literality’, served to set the stage for his

for exercising this or that function’.37 In contrast,

provocative conception of politics, and his constant

politics in its very essence is constituted by dis-

and insistent defence of democracy as dissensus,

agreement/dissensus, by disruptions of the police

as scandalous.28 Rancière’s innovative thoughts

order through the dispute over the common space

can be understood as a redefinition or recalibra-

of the polis and the common use of language.


tion of politics, grounded in those of Arendt and Foucault. Although the limited space available

To name a phenomenon and assign it its ‘proper’

here and the thrust of this essay do not allow for

place is to establish order – thereby an act of depo-

further reflections on the legacy of the Arendtian

liticisation.38 This is exactly the detrimental but

and Foucaultian projects,

it should be acknowl-

interesting use of Rancière’s thought in the debate

edged that Rancière’s analysis of the police relies

over urban poverty, marginalisation and participa-

on Foucault’s definition of power as ‘a complex stra-

tory practices. Slums, marginal areas, low-income

tegic situation in a given society’ and his work on

communities, barrios and so forth are included in

governmentality.30 Here Rancière refers not to the

the police order by their exclusion. Their territories,

‘petty police’ and simple system of domination or

their histories and their societal features, although

inequality, but to ‘an order of bodies’31 making the

neither homogeneous nor reducible to the same


police a particular ‘(ac)counting of the community’.

categories, legitimise – participatory – interven-

In maintaining the possibility of emancipation and a

tions. Such co-option of the participatory process

partitioning of such positioning in space, Rancière

to merely replicate and strengthen the established

builds his new, some say utopian,33 notion of poli-

order is made easier through the marginal commu-

tics upon Foucault’s critical reflection on modern

nities that significantly differ from formal areas of the


city. In Rancière’s approach, this is not a question


of politics but of alterations in a police order. The What is important for Rancière, and for our argu-

inclusion of the excluded, which somehow epito-

ment, is not to overlook the fact that an explicit

mised the mantra of the participation debate, is the

focus on the excluded, on the part that does not

wrong way of thinking politically about the issue,

fit in or participate, implies an assumption about

for even exclusion from formal power is a form of

the whole, which could be considered the norm:

inclusion in the police order, (for example, women

a meaningful and peculiar idea of society and its

and slaves in the Greek polis). Politics, therefore,

representation as a symbolic whole.35 Rancière

is not about identifying the ‘excluded’ and trying to

called this police, not referring to repressive forces

‘include’ them. The logic of identification belongs to


the police. Politics proper is to question the ‘given’

the fields of perception.

order of the police that seems to be the natural order of things, to question the whole and its partitioned

One of Rancière’s most suggestive and fruitful

spaces, and to verify the equality of any speaking

concepts is le partage du sensible. It refers to the

being to any other speaking being.

way in which roles and modes of participation in a social world are determined by establishing possible

The notion of inclusion, central to the debate on

modes of perception. The partition of the sensible

participation, is rendered as working from the inside-

sets the divisions between what is visible and invis-

out, emanating from the position of those who are

ible, speakable and unspeakable – in Rancière’s

already considered to be democratic, which reveals

words, audible and inaudible. As Rancière explains,

the underlying assumption that democracy can and

such a partition is the system of a priori forms

should become a de facto political reality. As such,

determining what will present itself to sense experi-

we begin to see this trajectory as the construction

ence. It is a ‘delimitation of spaces and times, of the

of a particular police order, becoming a teleolog-

visible and the invisible, of speech and noise, that

ical trajectory toward an already known end-state

simultaneously determines the place and the stakes

in which inclusion becomes an entirely numerical

of politics as a form of experience’.41 Such a defi-

operation. In contrast:

nition is useful to our discourse since distribution implies both inclusion and exclusion in a sensorial

a political moment would not merely entail the inclu-

manner. ‘Sensible’ is therefore both that which can

sion of excluded groups, but rather an inclusion that,

be perceived by the senses and that which ‘makes

through such including, reconfigures the landscape in

sense to think or to do’.42 In this sense:

such ways as to change the conditions under which arguments can be understood, speakers can be

Political activity is always a mode of expression that

acknowledged, claims can be made, and rights can

undoes the perceptible divisions of the police order by

be exercised.39

implementing a basically heterogeneous assumption, that of a part of those who have no part, an assump-

As such, a more democratic production of housing

tion that, at the end of the day, itself demonstrates the

and cities appears to be a practical test of the

sheer contingency of the other, the equality of any

assumption of equality between any and every

other speaking being.43

speaking being. For Rancière, equality is not an end-state but a starting point that requires constant

Equally important for a theorisation of the relation

verification in an open, experimental and non-teleo-

between political struggle and design is Rancière’s

logical logic that operates from the outside-in. If the

work on aesthetics, which he has focused on

police is a set of implicit rules and conventions which

increasingly since the early 1990s. He has written

determine the distribution of roles in a community

a series of works on film and literature in which

and the forms of exclusion which operate within it,

he stresses the political dimension of aesthetics,

then genuine political acts do not simply reorder

and a number of works of political theory in which

relations of power (a different order, but an order per

he argues that an aesthetic dimension is inherent

se) but disrupt this order, tearing bodies from their

in politics. Just as the concept of the partition of

assigned places. This happens when ‘the traditional

the sensible serves to draw together Rancière’s

mechanisms of what are usually called politics are

political-philosophical apparatus, so it also acts as

put into question’. This is dissensus, since it intro-

the lynchpin of his interest in aesthetics when he

duces new subjects and heterogeneous objects into

states that ‘aesthetics is at the core of politics’,44



especially as aesthetics for him is another name

with common sense – opens up possibilities for new

for the partition of the sensible. For him, artistic

commonalities of sense. In order for the sensible to

practices (despite his direct reference to literature,

be extricated from its usual circuits of meaning and

film and fine art, we can extend it to architecture)

significance, changing from and disagreeing with

are forms of visibility that can themselves serve as

the typical operation of identifying, classifying and

interruptions of the given partition of the sensible.

organising need to happen. Works of art are thus

Therefore, work on aesthetics is work on politics.

the material mechanisms through which ‘the mind

The sensible is a field over which political agree-

can suspend its own constitutive function, thereby

ments and disagreements occur; it is where power

allowing the sensible object to be emancipated from

is held and lost. As such, speaking of the distribu-

the implicit police order of the modern age’.49 The

tion of the sensible is Rancière’s way of speaking

emergence of such an event takes shape as a disa-

about the material conditions of political life in their

greement because it becomes necessary to think

epistemic and communicative salience.45 Central to

ex novo about the rules of a judgement ‘in order

this is the process of becoming a political subject,

to reconfigure the identities, relations, and arrange-

in which those who have no recognised part in the

ments through which positions and arguments

social order, who are invisible or inaudible in political

make sense’.50

terms, assert their egalitarian claim – a collective claim to exist as political subjects. Such a process

The above theoretical artillery, although sketched

has three different dimensions. First, it is an argu-

and partial, is illuminating when examining the

mentative demonstration; second, it is a heterologic

Baan Mankong/ACCA case and the ways in which

disidentification; and third, and most relevant to

it promotes the creation of new commonalities of

this paper, it is a theatrical and spectacular drama-

sense in the name of equality, including the role of

tisation. Space is crucial to this since it becomes

design, since it allows us to rethink how architecture

the creative and dramatic stage for visibility. This

and design are used and to consider the aesthetic

process is theatrocratic because it is creative and

dimensions of our social world in a political way.

constructive and involves not only the manifestation of a new subject but also the construction of

Baan Mankong and the Asian Coalition for

common space or scenes of relationality, which

Community Action

did not previously exist.46 Thus, this dimension of

Part of the network of the Asian Coalition for

theatrical dramatisation goes beyond the single

Housing Rights (ACHR), Thailand’s Baan Mankong

perception of visibility/audibility in that it constructs

Collective Housing Programme, aims to create the

new ways in which parts of society relate to each

conditions for the people who have previously been

other, and reconfigures the way in which subjects

excluded from secure housing to take the lead in the

are heard and seen. ‘Space […] becomes an inte-

process of providing their own secure housing, and

gral element of the interruption of the “natural” (or,

thus it shifts the emphasis from a supply-driven to

better yet, naturalized) order of domination through

a demand-driven housing development, based on

the constitution of a place of encounter by those

the experience that neither the private nor the public

that have no part in that order’.

Here, design

sector has proven capable of meeting the need for

becomes relevant, as this conception of politics

housing in an affordable way. It is premised that the

ascribes to design the potential of instigating ‘the

people in need have a massive potential force for

invention of sensible forms and material structures

taking their housing into their own hands since they

for a life to come’.

Aesthetics rethought as the

have demonstrated this in the past by constructing

invention of new forms of life – as a critical break

their houses informally.51 Contrary to the last




decades, however, this time they are supported to

2000. After the election of a populist government

acquire secure tenure through technical and, more

in 2001, Baan Mankong was announced in 2003,

importantly, financial assistance from the state (in

with a target of creating 300,000 houses as part of

the form of an accessible loan), which enables

a one million home scheme for low-income house-

them to negotiate for land and services on their own

holds.56 By 2011, Baan Mankong had involved

behalf with the backup of a national government

90,813 households in 1546 communities (CODI

programme. With the core objective of addressing

website, 2011). Even though initially less resourced,

the societal misrepresentation of the urban poor

by January 2013 ACCA had managed to gather

as helpless and untrustworthy, this programme

274,000 savers with collective savings totalling US$

reframes the question of poverty alleviation from

22.5 million, and had reached 165 cities/districts in

‘how to train the urban poor or change their behav-

nineteen countries through 1,185 approved small

iour […] to identify how development interventions

upgrading projects, each costing US$ 3000, and

can nurture and develop the strength that already

111 large housing projects, each worth US$ 40,000.

exists, letting people make change’.

The ACCA budget itself constitutes only six per cent


of the total project values, with US$ 75.7 million Baan Mankong has emerged from a decade-long experience of community savings, upgrading, and

of land, infrastructure and cash leveraged from governments.57

networking in the face of evictions in Thailand. In addition, it has benefitted from and contributed to

The working principles of demand-driven

a long learning trajectory in Asia through ACHR,

housing development in Baan Mankong

which has been running a programme called ACCA

The basis on which a community forms can vary

(Asian Coalition for Community Action) since 2009

from a group of people living in the same informal

that shares the principles of Baan Mankong. These

settlement who want to upgrade collectively, to a

two programmes should be seen as a cross-regional

collection of people from the same area looking

mobilisation, which ‘is trying to unlock that force at

for new land to purchase. It may also happen

scale, opening up new space, new collaborations

that extended family members join a group. This

and new possibilities that are beginning to resolve

is the moment when the notion of community

these problems’. Nevertheless, Baan Mankong is

becomes relevant to the housing programme. In

unique in that the institution that directly coordinates

this region, community is normally an administra-

and promotes it, the Community Organisations

tive term; however, while keeping the administrative

Development Institute (CODI), is ‘a well financed,

connotation that refers to a territorially connected

national institution with an official policy mandate

settlement, the meaning of community here takes

to secure land tenure for the urban poor’.54

on a second dimension, namely that of denoting a

While building on its predecessor’s work (Urban

social relationship that includes working together

Communities Development Office), this historical

toward a shared aim. A central premise behind the

precedent of high investment into the scaling-up

programme is that practical motives can give rise to

and institutionalisation of such a people-centred

a community that is defined by solidarity and reci-

process to national relevance can be contextualised

procity. This assumption is closely related to one

to a change in public opinion during the last decades

of the cornerstones of the programme’s emancipa-

towards self-sufficiency and greater participation by

tory potential: improving the financial capacity of

civil society.55 Intensified by the financial crisis of

a group and recognising it as a financial agent. A

1997, part of this greater change was the founding

central mechanism geared toward this objective is

of CODI as an independent public organisation in

the establishment of savings groups and a financial



organisation. A group of individuals can only apply

faced by the urban poor’.60 The theatrical manifesta-

to the programme and become a Baan Mankong

tion of the peoples’ emancipatory potential through

community once they have begun to save collec-

city-wide action remains central, connecting Baan

tively. Although a minimum of organisational support

Mankong participants with many different kinds of

is given from the start, the group can only receive a

actors, such as the local authorities, service deliv-

collective loan once they have saved ten per cent

erers, landowners, as well as NGOs and academia.

of the total amount. The loan can be used for the

‘Instead of the city being a vertical unit of control,

acquisition of collective tenure – whether through

these smaller units – people-based and local – can

land purchase or lease – or for house building or

be a system of self-control for a more creative, more

upgrading purposes. In addition, each community

meaningful development’.61

receives a grant for infrastructure. The loan system works as a revolving fund, which means that

The city-wide survey is also the first step in which

repayments can be lent on to other communities;

communities are supported by community archi-

this makes the system emancipatory rather than

tects, a movement that started in Thailand and then

remaining simply instrumental. ‘[G]roups that can

expanded throughout South-East Asia, becoming

demonstrate the ability to accumulate finance can

even more central in the ACCA programme. Their

also claim the right to be recognized. Such recogni-

presence expresses the paramount role of design

tion is important in multiple ways […] it increases

in Baan Mankong. This movement guides commu-

the likelihood of tenure recognition and access to

nities through the critical spatial components of the

services, and it results in political inclusion as the

process of collectively negotiating secure tenure

state is more interested in making deals with those

and eventually building homes that are tailored to

holding financial resources’.

the needs and aspirations of each, unique commu-


nity. By not requiring specific physical outputs, the With regard to land, it is important to note that

programme allows community organisations to take

each community has to negotiate for land itself. In

the lead in their own development. As a conse-

Bangkok, the vast majority of slums are informal

quence, strengthened social infrastructures and

structures erected without observing architectural

systems of management are key outputs. The flex-

or planning standards and regulations, on land

ibility in the mechanism allows dwellers to design

rented from a third-party owner of which ‘a signifi-

their own pathways at their own pace. The prin-

cant portion […] approximately 47%, […] is owned

ciple of self-directed and flexible design thus refers

by the national government’.59 Different types of

not only to the houses and physical communities

landowners pose different challenges, and any

but also to the process itself, including financial

negotiation is usually based on an initial citywide,

regulation. CODI facilitates much of the process

and in Bangkok, district-wide survey, to collect critical

and has a crucial role to play, but the decisions

household and land information and identify stake-

and actions eventually taken depend entirely on

holders. This action usually involves local authority

the people involved, not only the people in the

agents and functions as the first official recognition

community, but also on other stakeholders in their

of the slum dwellers, which in turn stimulates their

local context. In this way, the process is people-

own networking and understanding of shared prob-

centred, not only nominally or in principle, but in

lems and their place in the city: ‘Poverty isolates,

reality. Baan Mankong’s complex process requires,

geographically and socially […]. The survey is the

and is purposefully designed to build many bridges

first step in developing a larger and more structural

and paths for negotiation between communi-

understanding of the city and the various problems

ties and other actors involved, and so can lead to


institutional learning. The metaphor of learning to

dimensions: first, the creation of institutions based

‘dance together’ illustrates the beauty and chal-

on relations of reciprocity (with communities); and

lenges implied.62

second, the strengthening of relations between lowincome community organizations such that they can

The logic of physical change: from object to

create a synergy with the state’.65 Hence, what is


seen as crucial for sustainable synergies with the

In Baan Mankong/ACCA, physical change is

state is the collective mobilisation of poor women

conceived and practised as a vehicle for social

and men on scale: from community networking at

change. This gives the physical upgrading of

the city level, to national and even trans-national

informal houses and sites a twofold function: firstly,

levels. While the idea of branching out cross-scale

to improve the material reality of the urban poor

is imprinted on the programme - ‘as new rela-

and, beyond that, to foster confidence in the indi-

tionships with city governments are established,

vidual and collective skills and capacities of this

larger-scale activities are possible’66 - different insti-

historically marginalised group. Such concrete,

tutional scales are considered very strategically. On

visible action manifests and materialises the idea

a city scale, the aim is to activate local government

that people-led development is possible. It shows

resources (in the form of land, services and other

alternative possibilities and transformative poten-

resources), and on a national scale it is to push for

tials to its creators and to others, encouraging those

policy change and wider political recognition.

in similar situations to follow. Moreover, setting this kind of precedent has the power to stimulate local

These actions thereby reposition the city as a

government agencies to engage and collaborate

political entity at the centre of an otherwise de-polit-

in co-production.63 This is an iterative process in

icised urban transformation. In other words, they

which, over time, material improvements reinforce

are an account of Rancière’s ethics and politics

the terms of engagement with different actors and

of recognition. Baan Mankong’s way of conceptu-

vice versa, building up the strength and power in

alising people as the subjects and not the objects

and of the communities. Mr. Prapart Sangpradap,

of development, and of putting them, their energy,

the community leader of Bangkok’s Bang Bua canal

capacity and desires at the centre of the process,

community, which has functioned as a positive

certainly constitutes a novel way of thinking,

example in a number of respects, illustrates these

planning and acting in larger city development


processes. Contrary to conventional strategies of simply providing physical houses – where housing

In Thailand, we have been fighting for a slum law

is treated as a technical rather than political issue –

for 10 years. We mobilized all the communities to

and claiming to engage in participatory processes,

support this bill […] But we never got those rights

the programme’s ambition goes beyond the indi-

and we never got that bill. The way we got our land

vidual house because it is about generating power

and housing and security only happened when we

on the side of historically marginalised people

made concrete change and showed the possibility

through their collective organisation, in order for

by people, showed a new way. We are the ones who

them to freely exercise and expand their rights in the

have to make that change, according to our way. And

city and become legitimate development agents.67

that change becomes its own law.64

When this ethos is scaled up through the promotion of collective partnerships or citywide platforms of



sharing and collaboration between the urban poor

programme’s ambition as having ‘two underlying




and different stakeholders, it serves the educational


and emancipatory purpose of cultivating produc-

for the accommodation of diverse needs.

tive working partnerships with local governments, moving poor people from simply being participant-

Some of the reasons for the limited typologies

‘stakeholders’, to becoming ‘with their savings

can be related to satisfying planning regulations

and the power of large numbers, viable develop-

because it reduces the risk of being refused permis-

ment partners’.

sion when only housing design is submitted.73 As


The ambition to create a ‘new

financial system for development’,

in which poor

Boonyabancha says, ‘the art of doing poor people’s

people have access to private funding, is truly being

housing is the art of getting governments to agree

advanced through ACCA and Baan Mankong in that

with your plans, which are always below standard’.74

‘it’s not just a few projects here and there or a few

In the past, non-compliance has sometimes led

solved problems – it is now a system’70 reaching

to imprisonment of community leaders. Different

several hundred thousand households throughout

experiences, however, show that collective action,

Asia. Furthermore, the financial potential embraces

for instance in form of inviting ministers to visit

more than replicability and the coverage of quanti-

communities, sending letters and staging demon-

ties; this is because the finance that comes from the

strations has also led to changes in Thai standards,

people in their everyday struggle to secure housing,

for example the minimum road width and minimum

‘creates its own legitimacy, and the financial systems

plot size were changed. Cost considerations appear

poor people create represent an institutionalization

as the second great reason for limitations in terms

of that power that comes from the ground’.71

of typology. However, our research indicates that


savings and improvements could be made during Participatory design in practice

construction through better coordination, sequencing

Despite its vast potential, CODI’s spatial discourse,

and pooling, and also if community members had

whereby communities drive design, has not

a better understanding of design and implemen-

reached a consistent response at an urban scale

tation and were more involved in the process.

beyond the mere provision of houses. The design

Illustratively, several site-briefs that were issued by

solutions implemented as a result of the preceding

the communities during fieldwork addressed issues

processes are usually based on typologies. While

in the construction stage (cost saving/recycling/use

the ownership and planning of the site are collective

of common space/continuous engagement of all

and community-based, once tenure is secured, the

members). Similar responses have been given to

design and aesthetics of the houses are more indi-

Archer, who researched the post-construction opin-

vidualistic. Depending on ability, financial capacity

ions of Baan Mankong’s participants and found that

and time constraints, the design of the communi-

even though perceptions differed between and even

ties and houses take different forms, sometimes

within communities, many problems rested on the

one typology is decided upon for a whole commu-

built environment: ‘problems remain with infrastruc-

nity, and sometimes the house typologies differ.

ture and the environment, with garbage and smells

Yet, the predominant focus centres on typologies

from the canal and drains’.76 Furthermore, individual

rather than on developing and questioning design

perceptions of problems range from ‘insufficient

outcomes. Although ‘fluctuation of resources across

outside lighting’, the loss of the natural environ-

various CODI sites suggests a range of house

ment, and ‘it’s better and neater, but before there

sizes, design standards and overall planning, some

was more privacy’, to ‘the culture of helping has

communities simply seem to be benefiting from

decreased’.77 In general, cost and time are often

greater attention’72 and others simply copy. This

mentioned as limiting conditions, or even as severe

standardisation, however, implies serious problems

problems, for several reasons, the major one being


that the process is so time and energy consuming

decisions, but ones that open up a dialogue, chal-

that even without an in-depth design process many

lenging the current system and becoming a driver

people drop out, or that those who are in urgent

of change? The critical reflection on design that

need of housing after incidents such as fire have to

the programme is prompting also involves the role

accept that the ‘housing design is flawed’ because

of the designer. In the Baan Mankong process,

they were limited by the budget.



Yet the ACCA





experience tells that ‘paradoxically, the lower the

needed to make decisions and guide the conversa-

budget, the more seems to get done’79 insofar as

tion, thereby presenting possibilities. The combined

it pushes people to focus less on money and more

factors of high densities, complex savings, and pre-

on structural problems, enabling them to become

construction preparation (while avoiding temporary

active and to begin working together, so that ACCA

housing solutions for cost reasons) require complex

now follows a logic of ‘de-emphasiz[ing] the budget

sequencing and coordination. Currently, the key role


of the design professional in Baan Mankong seems to be the translation of aspirations and negotiations

Another important reason why communities often

between households into a site master plan. This

choose only one typology is to show their strength

lays out the critical path for communities to upgrade

and community cohesion through visual integration

or build anew. Yet, due to the sheer number of sites

with the wider city. In line with the research find-

in the programme, the involvement of the commu-

ings of Wissink et al.,81 which show that regardless

nity architect is greatly reduced after this stage,

of income group, Bangkok’s residents appear to

with, at times, not even a yearly visit. More often

want to live in gated communities, the choice of a

than not, the building typology and design product

single typology can be interpreted as a desire for

are based on prototypes and the quality is uneven

the community to be ‘orderly and beautiful, much

across different communities. Since the architect is

like a moobarn jatsan (gated estate), reflecting

often unable to identify and present the full spec-

their new legal status as city residents. Thus, they

trum of possible options so that the community

favour identical facades and equal plot sizes, to

can determine its priorities, the choice of available

meet the standard of social acceptability’.82 Archer

housing typologies made available is detrimental

counters that equal plot sizes minimise resentment

to the urban design scale and densities on site.

among community members and that row houses

It seems that design in this context is restrictive

in contexts of land limitations are the most effective

rather than revelatory of new spatial interpreta-

form of land use.83 This issue recalls a well-estab-

tions. Working with prototypes and the very limited

lished debate in the fields of architecture and urban

involvement of designers/architects is a potential

design, in which authors have always challenged

block to the transformative potential of the Baan

the physical determinism and utilitarian, functionalist

Mankong programme, because it narrows down a

perspectives embedded in a particular definition of

process and thereby renders it unnecessarily static.

design: the materiality of space as a social healing

Seldom are bespoke solutions developed, usually

machine, a panacea for society’s ills.

only on sites with particular constraints, such as very high density. If communities were more

Community architects: a transformative

engaged in the design process this would produce


knowledge, create additional communication and

What is the potential role of design in moving toward

place designers as facilitators in the decision-

a process and product in which spatial dimensions

making process.

are not merely by-products of social and institutional


Another challenge posed by real-life practicality

While the question remains whether the design

is to find a productive balance in community nego-

process has more to offer than has been explored

tiations, decision-making and actions. There are

so far, without doubt:

certain stages in the programme in which consensus is reached, which plays an important role as a

The community architects have opened up a whole

practical benchmark from which to move forward:

new world of community planning […] Before, the

moments such as closing site negotiations for

only picture people had in their minds when you said

shared ownership or ‘being ready’ to start construc-

‘housing for the poor’ was the standard government

tion, based on an agreed design and plan. These

box, [...] But when the community architects come …

are moments when capabilities, support and power

that process is so important in expanding people’s

are acquired through the strength of the community

ideas of what is possible with housing – even very

members acting together. The more frequently this

low-cost housing.88

includes all members, the more it represents the solidarity with which to move forward. This is evident,


for instance, when communities put mechanisms in

Boonmahathanakorn and Domingo-Price have

place to support those struggling to meet the targets.

identified, ‘[w]here communities sometimes have

To use Rancièrian vocabulary, the political actions

set notions of how development can be under-


are ‘organised like a proof, a system of reasons’.

taken conventionally (for instance by bulldozing

Verifications take place by transforming the words

trees and flattening out the area in order to develop

of universal equality into the form of logical proof,

a housing site), community architects could help

not simply through a transformation of words into

demonstrate new approaches, with people-centred

actions but by the creation of a visible and audible

and environmentally friendly aspects’.89 However,

set of arguments.

The reality that communities

this dimension of influencing community ideas

are not homogeneous groups but are necessarily

is very delicate, since Baan Mankong/ACCA’s

defined by internal diversity, means that a contin-

highest principle is not to overly determine commu-

uous process of argumentation is required. While

nity decision-making processes. In this light, they

conflicts between individuals can be considered

have identified substantial challenges in creating

as something that needs to be settled, in our view

community architecture because, on the one hand,

conflict within a group can and should be reframed

they have to strike a balance between a visionary

as something fruitful if used as a catalyst for polem-

approach that increases the knowledge of what is

ical verification. Conceptualising consensus as only

possible, while on the other hand, the professionals

temporary, based on joint visions at a particular

have to relinquish their belief in their superior knowl-

moment in time,86 enables us to consider conflict

edge and, in its place, humbly learn to appreciate

and dissensus as something natural that society or

local knowledge, which is not always an easy or

groups of people need to learn to deal with and use

straightforward process. An interesting observa-

productively. It is therefore necessary to move from

tion is that young architects appear to have fewer

consensus back into dissensus, especially in the

difficulties in assuming the facilitative role and are

realm of design and spatialities, thus increasing the

also more readily accepted by communities. This

potential for innovation. Although the experience of

resonates with our belief in the centrality of a recon-

community architects identifies the positioning of

figured design methodology:


the self in such an internal conflict as one of the big challenges, a positive reframing of conflictive situations might generate benefits.87






If the demand for trained architects is increasing,

that initial mapping activities are already used to

methods of support for architects practicing ‘partici-

instigate more holistic concerns: ‘The process of

pation’ are essential. […] Furthermore, it becomes

mapping itself also provides a good starting point

essential how they can better define their identity and

for all community members to reflect on how they

roles so as to not be marginalised or misappropriated

live in the community, how things relate to one

by lesser convicted and qualified practitioners. Herein,

another both socially and physically, and to identify

there still exists a critical responsibility to cross-check

the common community problems’.95 Furthermore,

even the most genuine of practices. If this is done

the focus of design guidelines could be diversified

so, strategically with internal vigour, the program can

to go beyond the issue of re-blocking and embrace

grow to maximize the potentials and efforts of all those

principles concerning the site in the city, addressing


dimensions of connectivity, public spaces, inclusivity and diversity. While such aspects are occasionally

Baan Mankong/ACCA’s approach of involving

considered, a more explicit, consistent and detailed

universities and their curricula into their work is

concern for the identification of context-specific

advancing this notion considerably. This policy led

needs as well as opportunities could yield more

to the formation of the Asian Community Architect

adequate spatial representations of this impres-

Network (CAN) in 2010. Today, CAN links twenty-

sively flexible and open process.

seven groups of young community architects in eighteen countries, and thirty-three universities in

What struck us as researchers was the great

ten countries. In doing so, it has reached out to

need for rental accommodation that exists for

about one thousand students and young profes-

various reasons, mainly related to rural-urban labour

sionals. A promising potential for design facilitation

migration. For instance, in the case of Bang Prong,

would be a debate on housing – a debate out of

a district in the province of Samutprakan, but within

which an understanding of the context-specific

the Bangkok Metropolitan Region, informal housing

relationship of housing to other aspects of life

mostly consists of informal renting. Many people

could collectively emerge: one in which housing

there cannot, or do not want to join Baan Mankong,

could become more than ‘houses’, approximating

mainly because they do not want to own a house

Turner’s ‘housing as a verb’.


‘With only words,

or cannot manage to save enough. At the same

people won’t get the picture; the actual design

time, many landowners are present and prepared to

process drives the community to think and take

negotiate, and the local mayor is supportive of Baan

actions, and eventually makes them understand

Mankong. Innovative design solutions here could be

not only the housing matter but also living and

exemplary in adapting Baan Mankong to the reality

livelihood’.93 It has already been recognised that

of renting, taking advantage of the relative ease of

‘The architects may also create tools to help the

collaboration between landowners, local govern-

people see the bigger picture of their community,

ment and informal dwellers to design inclusive

in the context of the surrounding environment and

developments of shared investment and mutual

the city as a whole, so that they develop solutions

benefit. While an awareness of urban dynamics and

that are complementary to and not isolated from this

their effect on land value is present, this could be

big picture’.94 At the moment this appears to be a

addressed strategically in synergistic collaboration

side-concern within the programme, even though

with different stakeholders.


the relationships of the site to the city are crucial for reaching scale. There seems to be space within

Such considerations could bring the city to the

the practical steps of the programme to do so, given

community and open up the community to the city.


The built environment should not follow the logic of

fabric of being together.97

the currently dominant development; it should not become an inclusion into mainstream building forms

Not-a-conclusion but a starting point toward an

but be transformative of these, visibly representing

architecture of dissensus

the values, principles and guidelines fundamental

Corresponding to the innovation in community

to Baan Mankong processes, and thus give visible

finance, which grants groups of urban poor recogni-

validation to those ways of life that are finally finding

tion as legitimate development agents, community

acknowledgement through Baan Mankong. What

architecture has the potential to add another dimen-

if community design were to propose new ways of

sion to this legitimacy by endorsing previously

building in terms of density, quality, sustainability,

‘unheard’ ways of doing things. The two strate-

affordability, productivity, flexibility, contingency and

gies are intertwined in multiple ways, not least

scale beyond the property lines of the site, and in

through the consolidation of ideology and desired

doing so question predominant forms of city devel-

forms of life, and therefore reinforce each other.

opment? Innovative spatial development could

Architecture as dissensus offers opportunities to

establish the previously excluded/poor in their new

manifest this emerging alternative development

position as legitimate actors in development, and

in society through artistic and design practices

present their informal survival practices as legiti-

that appeal to our perception and alter our sense-

mate practices in the city. Synergistic development

making faculties, stimulating contestation over how

could happen, not only in terms of relationships

we live and how our cities develop. Architecture not

with government agencies but also in terms of

only provides space in which to live but can also

territories within a city. The programme could then

offer new perspectives and open up new horizons

affect a qualitative change in the production and

on how to live. The possibility of living itself can be

appropriation of the city in the name of those newly

inscribed in space. Thus, allegorically speaking,

legitimised development agents. Such steps would

life can be found in spaces due to their usability.

require additional methods for the analysis of

Although it may not necessarily do so, architecture,

conditions and opportunities on the territorial and

as any art form, can give clues about the time in

institutional neighbourhood scale, and for thinking

which we live. If art reflects an experience of life,

ex novo about planning and design - moments in

it can create a feeling of recognition, of finding a

which the broad, knowledge-sharing network of

previously unexpressed feeling or experience finally

Baan Mankong and ACCA could bear additional

expressed, manifested, and by doing so, illuminate

fruits. In this way, politics would be enacted in a

certain societal relations.

very emancipatory moment in which, based on the axiomatic assumption of general equality, the ‘part

It is important to distinguish here between two

of no parts’, the urban poor in this case, dissen-

dimensions of what architecture of dissensus can

sually claim to be part of the whole. Even though

mean in this context. On the one hand, it refers to

rarely emphasised, this logic lies very much within

the way in which community members reposition

the possibilities of the programme: ‘As people

themselves as viable development partners, thereby

tape together house models, push around pieces

interrupting the dominant – fundamentally exclu-

of coloured paper representing scaled house plots

sive – way in which urban development happens.

on a plan and make decisions about the size and

On the other hand, the spatial and aesthetic form

allocation of plots and open spaces, they are giving

that the development takes, and the values that it

physical form to that new social system’, which is

represents, can in themselves represent dissensus

nothing other than a transformation of a sensory

architecture. While the first alone already constitutes



much of the process of becoming a political subject,

of doing, being and speaking. Their equality is

the second can add a critical edge, becoming an

becoming possible only because they are nominated

act of giving the poor a voice, which for Rancière

as equals and not simply invited to participate.99

is not the same as assigning them a voice through

This becoming central to the urban development

the expert or the literate point of view, but instead

of a city is a political act because it ‘perturbs the

inventing them in order to ascribe them a voice.

order of things [...] creating a new political identity that did not exist in the existing order’.100 Becoming

The question here is how much the built environ-

present in the agenda and in the reality of urban

ment perpetuates an established aesthetic regime

development positions the urban poor – individu-

or, in turn, disrupts it. The process of dissensus

ally and collectively – in a different place from the

design can take different forms: from a conscious

one assigned to them by mainstream development

decision not to intervene physically in the built envi-

practice. It thus constitutes a critique of numerical

ronment, to the production of spaces that explicitly

teleology, offering a political space, or a reconfigura-



tion of a space ‘where parties, parts or lack of parts

To become evident, then, requires a partage du



have been defined [… making] visible what had no

sensible, which is not a new spatial ordering, but

business being seen, and makes heard a discourse

rather a new ordering of logos, as a way to define who

where once there was only place for noise’.101 The

can speak and participate in the affairs of the polis

emancipatory logic of the Baan Mankong/ACCA

and who cannot. If aesthetics is defined as ‘delimi-

programme repositions space and design away

tation of spaces and times, of the visible and the

from an instrumental way of urban upgrading and

invisible, of speech and noise’ then political design,

towards a process that offers a renewed capacity to

or emancipation through design, is a visualised and

speak, to have an audience, and to overcome social

audible questioning of these delimitations. Whereas

barriers, and in doing so to ‘conjure the commu-

‘design consensus uproots the foundational political

nity of equals by declaring its presence, assuming

impulses that centre on disagreement’,98 design

equality and thus forcing politics to occur’.102

dissensus is the enlivening of these impulses that put forward different urban possibilities. If the lived

Baan Mankong/ACCA is not a simple, participa-

experiences derived from the informal settlement,

tory, design-centred programme. The design idea

from the position of multiple socio-spatial margin-

is being constructed through a more political reflec-

alisation, were to inform the design and extrapolate

tion on design, revealing dissensus, in a Rancièrian

themselves, then the result would be exactly this

sense, as a mechanism for generating strategic

way of life, the way of life of the ‘excluded’ from

coalitions present in a momentary time and context.

the police order, an unprecedented presence that

This addresses the causes of marginality, revealed

would add yet another dimension to the politics of

through a process where ‘design consensus uproots

recognition. We are not in a position here to offer a

the foundational political impulses that centre

recipe for creating dissensus architecture, instead

on disagreement’ and ‘struggles over the real or

we argue for the need to continuously explore and

different urban possibilities’.103 Jacques Rancière’s

elaborate a methodology.

reflections offer a theoretical reconfiguration of design and architecture, laying bare their impurities

The urban poor in Baan Mankong/ACCA are

and non-neutrality while also exposing the inher-

emerging as actors in their own development, their

ently political nature of participation, together with

own history, through an act of decomposition and

its political potential as contestation and dissensus

re-composition of the relationship between ways

in the production of urban form. Ultimately, such a


reconfiguration offers to reveal the lines of power

8. Alexandre Apsan Frediani and Camillo Boano,

and agency that are written and rewritten in cities,

‘Processes for Just Products: The Capability Space

and to contest the spatial ordering that assigns

of Participatory Design’, in The Capability Approach,

everyone and everything its proper place.

Technology and Design, ed. by Ilse Oosterlaken and Jeroen van den Hoven (= Philosophy of Engineering and Technology, 5 (2012)), pp. 203-22.

Notes 1. Somsook Boonyabancha, Fr. Norberto Carcellar and

9. Bechir Kenzari, Architecture and violence (Barcelona: Actar, 2011).

Thomas Kerr, ‘How Poor Communities are Paving

10. Nadir Lahiji, ‘Is Building the Practice of Dissensus?

their own Pathways to Freedom’, in Environment

Architecture between Aesthetics and Politics’. Paper

and Urbanization, 24, 2 (Autumn 2012), pp.  441-62

presented at Architecture and the Political, Fourth

(p. 461).

International Symposium on Architectural Theory,

2. This paper is based on a research collaboration

Beirut, Lebanon, 10-12 November 2011, [accessed 04 March 2013].

(CODI), the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights

11. Mustafa Dikeç, ‘Politics is Sublime’, Environment

(ACHR), and the Community Architect Networks

and Planning D: Society and Space, 30 (2012),

(CAN). In particular, it is the result of reflections on

pp.  262-79; Mustafa Dikeç, ‘Immigrants, Banlieues,

the Baan Mankong Housing Programme that have

and Dangerous Things: Ideology as an Aesthetic

emerged in the course of three research projects by

Affair’, Antipode, 45, 1 (2013), pp. 23-42; Purcell, The

two of the DPU’s Masters programmes (MSc Building

Down-Deep Delight of Democracy.

and Urban Design in Development and MSc Urban

12. C. Greig Crysler, Stephen Cairns and Hilde Heynen,

Development Planning), which took place in 2011,

‘Introduction’, in The SAGE Handbook of Architectural

2012 and 2013 in Bangkok, where several commu-

Theory, ed. by C. Greig Crysler, Stephen Cairns and

nities at different stages of implementation were

Hilde Heynen (Cornwell: SAGE Publications, 2012),

involved. 3. Mark Purcell, The Down-Deep Delight of Democracy (London: Blackwell-Wiley, 2013). 4. Slavoj Žižek, The Ticklish Subject: The Absent Centre of Political Ontology, (London: Verso, 1999); Chantal Mouffe, On the Political (London: Routledge, 2005).

pp. 1-38. 13. Reinhold





London: Minnesota University Press, 2005); Jeremy Till, Architecture Depends (Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press, 2009). 14. Ole






5. Bill Cooke and Uma Kothari, Participation: The New

Criticality’, in The SAGE Handbook of Architectural

Tyranny?, (London; New York: Zed Books Ltd, 2001);

Theory, ed. by C. Greig Crysler and others, pp. 56-69.

Markus Miessen, The Nightmare of Participation

15. Henry Sanoff, Community Participation Methods in

(Berlin: Sternberg, 2010); Ronan Paddison, ‘Some

Design and Planning (New York: Wiley, 2000); Henry

Reflections on the Limitations to Public Participation

Sanoff, ‘Multiple Views on Participatory Design’,

in the Post-Political City’, L’Espace Politique, 8, 2

International Journal of Architectural Research, 2, 1

(2009), < http://espacepolitique.revues.org/1393 >

(2007), pp.  57-69; Jaime Hernandez-Garcia, ‘Slum

[accessed 01 August 2013]; Gui Bonsiepe, ‘Design

Tourism, City Branding and Social Urbanism: the Case

and democracy’, Design Issue, 21, 2 (2006), pp. 3-12.

of Medellin, Colombia’, Journal of Place Management

6. Paddison, ‘Some Reflections on the Limitations to

and Development, 6, 1 (2013), pp.  43 – 51.16. Kurt

Public Participation in the Post-Political City’. 7. Ibid.

Iveson, ‘Cities Within the City: Do It Yourself Urbanism and the Right to the City’, in International Journal of


Urban Research, 37, 3 (2013), pp. 941-56.

The Political Unconscious of Architecture. Re-opening

17. Margit Mayer, ‘First World Urban Activism: Beyond

Jameson’s Narrative (Farnham, Surrey; Burlington,

Austerity Urbanism and Creative City Politics’, City, 7,

VT: Ashgate, 2011). On the other side, development

1 (2013), pp. 5–19.

practitioners have gone through a reflexive, critical

18. Purcell, The Down-Deep Delight of Democracy.

rediscovery of architecture and design, experimenting

19. As Ettore Sottsass eloquently commented in the late

with a new pragmatic radicalism oriented toward more

1960s, ‘design is a way of discussing life…of discussing

sophisticated outcomes achieved with an emphasis

society, politics, eroticism, food and even design. At

on design (see Pierluigi Nicolin, ‘Architecture Meets

the end, it is a way of building up a possible figurative

People’, Lotus International, 145 (2011), pp.  12-14;

utopia or metaphor about life’ (Paola Antonelli, ‘States

Beyond Shelter. Architecture and Human Dignity, ed.

of Design 04: Critical Design’, Domus, [Accessed 21 February 2013]). Hence,

innovations and a clear emphasis on agency, the polit-

design becomes a condition of possibility in which excess rudely intrudes into otherwise ontologically and politically stable orders, allowing what was previously invisible or unheeded to emerge within a societal and political realm.

ical dimension remains unquestioned. 21. Jacques Rancière, Hatred of Democracy, (London: Verso, 2006), p. 13. 22. Jacques





Philosophy, trans. by Julie Rose, (Minneapolis:

20. This recent shift in architectural, design and develop-

University of Minnesota Press, 1999), p. 30.

ment debates seems to have two angles. On one side,

23. Peter Hallward, ‘Jacques Rancière and the Subversion

design practitioners are searching for a specific ethical

of Mastery’, in Jacques Rancière: Aesthetics, Politics,

role by investigating the complexities of architecture


and urbanism. This shift comprises designing spaces,

Edinburgh University Press, 2005), pp. 26-45 (p. 26).






places and interventions that enable socially just

24. Jacques Rancière, ‘The Thinking of Dissensus:

development, produce alternative means of engage-

Politics and Aesthetics’, in Reading Rancière: Critical

ment, and reconsider citizenship and participation

Dissensus, ed. by Paul Bowman and Richard Stamp

(see Ann Thorpe, ‘Design as Activism: A Conceptual

(London; New York: Continuum, 2011), pp. 1-17 (p. 7).

Tool’ presented at the Changing the Change, Turin,

25. The Community Organisations Development Institute

Italy, 2010; Carl DiSalvo, ‘Design, Democracy and

(CODI) was established in July 2000 as a public

Agonistic Pluralism’, in Proceedings of the Design

organisation under the Ministry of Social Development

Research Society Conference, Montreal, (2010),

and Human Security in Thailand following the merge

[accessed 06 August 2013];

(UCDO) and the Rural Development Fund (see



Somsook Boonyabancha, ‘A Decade of Change: From

Strangeness for a Sustainable World (London:


the Urban Community Development Office (UCDO) to



Design Thomas



the Community Organizations Development Institute

Disruptive Aesthetics of Design Activism: Enacting


(CODI) in Thailand: Increasing Community Options

Design Between Art and Politics’, in Making Design


Matter, Nordes, the 4th Nordic Design Research

Programme’ IIED Working Paper 12 on Poverty

Conference, 29-31 May 2011, School of Art and

Reduction in Urban Areas (2003), pp.  i-36). CODI is

Design, Aalto University, Helsinki, pp.  1-9; < http://

the outcome of a long-standing public commitment


to urban and rural development by the national Thai

view/406 > [accessed 07 August 2013]; Nadir Lahiji,

government, which preceded the United Nations






Millennium Development Goals Declaration and their

alternative to Marxism, especially after his break with

associated targets. Set up in 1992 with a nationwide

Althusserian structuralism and philosophy due to its

government initiative and its implementing and coordi-

elitism. He rejected the rigid and hierarchical distinc-

nating agency, UCDO had the explicit aim to address

tion between science and ideology that this philosophy

urban poverty after Thailand’s economic success

presupposed, accusing it of distrusting spontaneous

during the 1980s and early 1990s had brought little


benefit to the poorest groups. It is dedicated to the

approach, he turned instead to the archive in the form

transformation of the living conditions of the urban

of an intellectual history of labour. This was an attempt

poor, and their relationships with the state and the

to recover the virtue of ‘the worker’ by showing that

private sector through ‘build[ing] a strong societal

workers resist not merely the hardship of work but the

base using the collective power of civil groups and

very system that confines them to the role of worker

community organizations’ (CODI website, ‘CODI

in the first place (Samuel A. Chambers, ‘Jacques

Results: Statistics January 2011’

Rancière and the Problem of Pure Politics, European

Journal of Political Theory, 10, 3 (2010), pp. 303-26).

[accessed 26 February 2013]. Guided by the premises

In this, he discovered the ‘disorder’ of the nineteenth-

of ‘unlocking people energy’ (Somsook Boonyabancha,

century French workers and their refusal to play the

‘Unlocking People Energy’, in Our Planet: The maga-

part they had been assigned to, thus breaking down

zine of the United Nations Environment Programme,

the Platonic legacy and centrality of ‘order.’ In this

16, 1 (2005), pp. 22-3) and placing people as subjects,

respect, Rancière believes that the role of the philoso-

rather than objects, of development, it supports and

pher is not to give his/her voice to the silent aspirations

empowers urban and rural community organisa-

of the dominated, but to add his/her voice to theirs,

tions through financial assistance and skills training

therefore, to hear their voices, rather than interpret

in the process of housing development. In addition,

them. These notions were further developed in works

ACHR was formed in 1988 as the first platform for the

like The Philosopher and his Poor (Durham: Duke

exchange of knowledge and experience by different

University Press, 2004).

urban activist organisations in the Asian region. They

27. Jacques Rancière, ‘Ten Theses on Politics’ Theory

aimed to advance housing rights and tackle urban

& Event, 5, 3 (2001) < http://muse.jhu.edu/jour-

poverty in a context of increasing forced evictions.


While initially focused on forced evictions, a DFID grant allowed for capacity-development towards a regional intervention process. Since 2000, ACHR


[accessed 05 January 2013]. 28. Samuel A. Chambers, ‘Jacques Rancière and the Problem of Pure Politics’.

has been working with community savings and the

29. Andrew Schaap, ‘Hannah Arendt and the Philosophical

model of the Community Development Fund. In some

Repression of Politics’ in Jacques Rancière and the

countries, ACHR receives support from governments

Contemporary Scene. The Philosophy of Radical

whereas in others it has managed to up-scale its

Equality, Jean-Philippe Deranty and Alison Ross

programmes independently. The Asian Coalition for

(London: Continuum, 2012), pp.  145-166; Reading

Community Action Programme (ACCA) is the culmi-

Rancière, ed. by Bowman and Stamp.

nation of ACHR’s efforts and in the three years it has

30. Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1:

been running, 2010 – 2013, it has reached 165 cities

An Introduction, trans. by Robert Hurley (London:

in 19 countries (ACHR website: ‘About ACHR’,
[accessed 18 July 2013]). 26. Though Rancière shares some common ground with other Left-leaning thinkers who sought an

31. Rancière, Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy, p. 29. 32. Rancière, ‘Ten Theses on Politics’.


33. Maria Muhle, ‘Politics, Police and Power: From

(London: Continuum, 2010), p. 22.

Foucault and Rancière’ (unpublished paper presented

41. Jacques Rancière, The Philosopher and his Poor,

at the Jan Van Eyck Akademie, Maastricht, 8th

trans. by John Drury, Corinne Oster and Andrew

November 2007); Reading Rancière, ed. by Bowman

Parker, ed. by Andrew Parker (Durham: Duke

and Stamp.

University Press, 2004), p. 13.

34. Not surprisingly, like many other postwar French speaking intellectuals who worked on language as a place where ‘perilous crossings of epistemic thresh-

42. Purcell, The Down-Deep Delight of Democracy. 43. Rancière, Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy, p. 30.

olds leave their material traces (Rey Chow and Julian

44. Jacques Rancière, The Politics of Aesthetics: The

Rohrhuber, ‘On Captivation: a Remainder from the

Distribution of the Sensible, trans. by Gabriel Rockhill

Indistinction of Art and Nonart’ in Reading Rancière,

(London; New York: Continuum, 2006) , p. 13.

ed. by Bowman and Stamp, pp.  44-72 (p.  33)), one

45. J. M. Bernstein, ‘Movies and the Great Democratic

of the major influences on Rancière is Foucault’s The

Art form of the Modern World (Notes on Rancière)’, in

Archaeology of Knowledge (1972). Rancière seems

Jacques Rancière and the Contemporary Scene, ed.

to continue with the Foucaultian explorations of the subterranean discursive strata that underline knowledge formations, stressing the silent witness of history

by Deranty and Ross, pp. 15-42 (p. 269). 46. John Holloway, Change the World Without Taking Power (London: Pluto Press, 2005).

whose anonymity and wordless speech continue as

47. Mustafa Dikeç, ‘Space, Politics, and the Political’,

a form of participation and partaking. Rancière also

Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 23

continues with Foucault’s politics and ethic through his

(2005), p. 172.

focus on equality, justice and disagreement.

48. Rancière, Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy,

35. Mustafa Dikeç, ‘Police, Politics, and the Right to the City’, GeoJournal, 58, 2-3 (2002), pp. 91-8.

p. 29. 49. Bernstein, ‘Movies and the great democratic art form

36. Giuseppina Mecchia, ‘The Classics and Critical Theory

of the modern world’, p. 25.

in Postmodern France: The case of Jacques Rancière’

50. Ruez, ‘“Partitioning the Sensible” at Park 51’, p. 2.

in Jacques Rancière: History, Politics, Aesthetics, ed.

51. Boonyabancha, Carcellar and Kerr, ‘How Poor

by Gabriel Rockhill and Philip Watts (Duke University

Communities are Paving Their Own Pathways to

Press, 2009), p. 77.

Freedom’, p. 443.

37. Jacques Rancière, ‘Xénophobie et politique, entretien avec Jacques Rancière’ [Xenophobia and politics, talks with Jacques Rancière], in La xénophobie en banlieue,

52. Ibid., p. 444. 53. Ibid., p.  441; Boonyabancha, ‘A Decade of Change’, p. 15.

effets et expressions, ed. By Florence Haegel, Henri

54. Asha Ghosh and Lalitha Kamath, ‘Decentralisation

Rey and Yves Sintomer (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2000),

and Local Government Innovation in Providing Urban

p.  215, cited in English from Mark Angélil and Cary

Services for the Poor in South and South-East Asia’

Siress, ‘The Paris Banlieue: Peripheries of Inequity’,

Space and Polity, 16, 1 (2012), pp. 49-71 (p. 59).

Journal of International Affairs, 65, 2 (Spring/Summer

55. Diane Archer, ‘Baan Mankong Participatory Slum

2012), pp. 57-67 (p. 64).


38. Dikeç, ‘Police, Politics, and the Right to the City’.





Perceptions of Outcomes and Security of Tenure’,

39. Derek Ruez, ‘“Partitioning the Sensible” at Park 51:

Habitat International, 36 (2012), pp. 178-84.

Rancière, Islamophobia, and Common Politics,’

56. Ibid.

Antipode 45, 5 (2012), p. 15.

57. ACCA website, ‘Home’, < http://www.achr.net/ACCA/

40. Jacques






Aesthetics, trans. and ed. by Steven Corcoran

ACCA%20home.html > [accessed 18 July 2013]. 58. Somsook Boonyabancha and Diana Mitlin, ‘Urban


Poverty Reduction: Learning by Doing in Asia’, Environment






pp. 403-21 (p. 417).

Freedom’, p. 453. 72. William





Urbanization: Social Housing Provision and the Role

59. Ghosh and Kamath, ‘Decentralisation and Local Government Innovation’, p. 70.

of Community Architects’, Archinect (2011) < http:// archinect.com/features/article/25485248/decoding-

60. Boonyabancha, Carcellar and Kerr, ‘How Poor Communities Are Paving Their Own Pathways to Freedom’, p. 447.



[accessed 26 February 2013]

61. Boonyabancha, ‘Unlocking People Energy’, p. 22.

73. Rittirong Chutapruttikorn, ‘Squatter Life in Transition:

62. Speaking is a community member from Iloilo, cited

An Evaluation of Participatory Housing Design’,

in Ruby Papeleras, Ofelia Bagotlo, and Somsook


Boonyabancha, ‘A Conversation About Change-

Postgraduate Studies in Architecture, Planning and

Making by Communities: Some Experiences from

Landscape, 9, 1 (2009), pp. 13-30 (p. 19).

ACCA’, Environment and Urbanization, 24, 2 (2012), pp. 463-80 (p. 473); Student Report of the MSc Urban Development Planning on Co-production of Slum-

74. Papeleras,









Conversation about Change-Making by Communities’, p. 476.

Upgrading in Bangkok, The Bartlett Development

75. Ibid.

Planning Unit, University College London, 2012.

76. Archer, ‘Baan Mankong Participatory Slum Upgrading

63. Diana Mitlin, ‘With and Beyond the State –

in Bangkok, Thailand’, p. 180.

Co-production as a Route to Political Influence, Power

77. Ibid.

and Transformation for Grassroots Organisations’,

78. Ibid.







pp. 339-60. 64. Papeleras,

79. Boonyabancha, Carcellar and Kerr, ‘How Poor Communities Are Paving Their Own Pathways to





Conversation about Change-Making by Communities’, p. 465.

Freedom’, p. 451. 80. Papeleras,





Conversation about Change-Making by Communities’,

65. Boonyabancha and Mitlin, ‘Urban Poverty Reduction’, p. 403.

p. 477. 81. Bart Wissink, Renske Dijkwel and Ronald Meijer,

66. Ibid., p. 404.

‘Bangkok Boundaries: Social Networks in the City of

67. Boonyabancha and Mitlin, ‘Urban Poverty Reduction’.

Mubahnchatsan’, Journal of Environmental Design, 1

68. Boonyabancha, Carcellar and Kerr, ‘How Poor

(2006), pp. 59-74.

Communities Are Paving Their Own Pathways to

82. Chutapruttikorn, ‘Squatter Life in Transition’, p. 19.

Freedom’, p. 445.

83. Archer, ‘Baan Mankong Participatory Slum Upgrading

69. Boonyabancha and Mitlin, ‘Urban Poverty Reduction’, p. 445; Diane Archer, ‘Finance as the Key to Unlocking Community Potential: Savings, Funds and the ACCA

in Bangkok, Thailand’, p. 180. 84. Rancière, Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy, p. 15.

Programme’ Environment and Urbanization, 24, 2

85. Ibid., p. 47.

(2012), pp. 423-40.

86. Caren Levy, ‘Defining Collective Strategic Action Led

70. Papeleras,





by Civil Society Organizations: the Case of CLIFF,

Conversation about Change-Making by Communities’,

India’, 8th N-AERUS Conference, September 6th- 8th

p. 475.

2007 (London: N-AERUS), pp. 1-29.

71. Boonyabancha, Carcellar and Kerr, ‘How Poor

87. Chawanad Luansang, Supawut Boonmahathanakorn

Communities Are Paving Their Own Pathways to

and Marie Lourdes Domingo-Price, ‘The Role of


Community Architects in Upgrading; Reflecting on the

The Insurgent Polis’, p. 25.

Experience in Asia’ Environment and Urbanization 24, 2, (2012), p. 502. 88. R. Papeleras, O. Bagotlo, S. Boonyabancha, ‘A


Conversation about Change-Making by Communities:

Camillo Boano, is an architect, urbanist and educator. He is

Some Experiences from ACCA’ Environment and

Senior Lecturer at The Bartlett Development Planning

Urbanization 24,2, (2012), p. 477-9.

Unit, University College of London where he directs the

89. Luansang, Boonmahathanakorn and Domingo-Price,

MSc in Building and Urban Design in Development. He

‘The Role of Community Architects in Upgrading;

is one of the Co-Directors of the UCL Urban Lab. Camillo

Reflecting on the Experience in Asia’ (p. 500).

just published a book titled Contested Urbanism  in

90. Hunter, ‘Decoding Bangkok’s Pocket-Urbanization’.

Dharavi. Writings and Projects for the Resilient City, DPU,

91. CAN

London, with William Hunter and Caroline Newton.


community film



architects 2013.







[accessed 26 February 2013]. Marion Boyars, 1979). [Bang



leader], in CAN, community architects network film






[Community Architects Network], < https://www. facebook.com/CommunityArchitectsNetwork


[accessed 26 February 2013]. 94. Luansang, Boonmahathanakorn and Domingo-Price, ‘The Role of Community Architects in Upgrading’, p. 502. 95. Ibid., p. 506. 96. Boonyabancha, Carcellar and Kerr, ‘How Poor Communities Are Paving Their Own Pathways to Freedom’, p. 461. 97. Jacques Rancière, The Emancipated Spectator, (London: Continuum, 2009), p. 56. 98. Erik


recently she worked as Graduate Teaching Assistant for the MSc in Building and Urban Design in Development at



Institute of Sociology at the Technical University Berlin in the field of the sociology of planning and architecture. Until

92. John F. C. Turner, Housing by People, (London: 93. Prapart

Emily Kelling is Lecturer and Research Associate at the




City and the Insurgent Polis’, in Civic City Cahier, 5 (London: Bedford Press, 2011) p. 25. 99. Miessen, The Nightmare of Participation. 100. Rancière, Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy, p. 30. 101. Ibid. 102. Purcell, The Down-Deep Delight of Democracy, p. 81. 103. Swyngedouw, ‘Designing the Post-Political City and

the Bartlett Development Planning Unit, University College of London.



The ‘Diverse Economies’ of Participation Julia Udall and Anna Holder

Introduction: practices and economies of

her ‘ladder’ of levels of participation in 1969. We are


concerned with ‘participation’ as a means for citi-

This paper critically examines the relationship

zens to have real power to shape their environment,

between the practices of participation and participa-

recognising that, depending on each specific case,

tion as economy. In recent years, and particularly in

this may be through citizen control, through dele-

response to the global market failure of 2008 and

gated power, or through working in partnership with

subsequent global recession, the UK government,

local government. We seek to practice participation

in line with those of the US and many in Europe,

with the stated political and ethical aim of striving

has told citizens that resources are scarce in order

for justice and equity. Drawing on the recent ‘Spatial

to pursue the neoliberal policy of ‘austerity’. In this

Agency’ project,5 and discussions of the ‘production

context, where we, as citizens, must ‘do more with

of desires’ by Petrescu,6 we consider participation in

less’, rather than address the unequal distribution of

its diverse forms to be an empowering, transforma-

resources, participation becomes a way to ‘make do

tive force. Participation, in this conception, is a set

and mend’ the urban fabric, both spatial and social.

of practices that seeks to develop and explore the

Participation is diverted from its development as a

desires of communities as well as address diverse

radical ‘redistribution of power’.

needs, and through this process to contribute to



the productive and reproductive work of spatial The authors of this paper are two women trained

justice. It therefore includes such varied activi-

in architecture and planning, who write, teach and

ties as brief writing, creating networks, protesting,

practice in Sheffield, a post-industrial city in the

claiming, disputing, proposing, repairing, managing,

north of England. Currently, as part of two doctoral

co-researching, governing, caring and building (to

research projects, we are following separate lines

name but a few).

of enquiry into the ‘how and why’ of participation in the production and appropriation of the built envi-

In accounting for participation according to the

ronment in the UK. In this paper, we draw on and

logic of austerity, with the imperative to ‘create

explore the resultant empirical work.3

something out of nothing’, representations are made where on the ‘cost’ side the only thing that is

Participation, understood as citizen power in

accounted for is the ‘real work’ of waged labour. The

the processes of decision-making moving towards

outcomes that are considered to be of value are

‘significant social reform … [enabling those currently

those things that contribute to the market economy,

excluded] to share in the benefits of the affluent

perhaps in the form of gentrification, vision report,

society’ is still as diverse in its methods, means

or local service. The authors of this paper contend

and outcomes as when Arnstein first categorised

that this framing obscures the actions, knowledge



The Participatory Turn in Urbanism, Autumn 2013, pp. 63-80


and social relations of participation which generate

and re-signification (convening activities under the

resources and transformation, and are operating

signifier of community economies).

within other forms of economy, such as care, gifts, co-operatives, volunteering, exchange, lending,

Methodology and structure of the paper

borrowing and gathering.

This paper consists of five parts. Firstly, we position ourselves as researchers and practitioners, and

We draw on JK Gibson-Graham’s critique of the

define participation according to this experience and

stabilising effect of representations of the capitalist

positionality. Secondly, we outline an understanding

economy as singular, homogeneous and envel-

of practice theory as a model for understanding

oping, in order to focus attention on the performative

participation as an element of human action, and

effects of representing participatory practices as

as an impetus for social change. Thirdly, we explore

being part of the market economy. In this paper,

the economies constituted by the production of the

by looking at both the shift over time in policies

built environment, questioning how participation is

and trends in the UK, and closely examining two

accounted for, and what is marginalised or hidden

current instances of participation, we propose to

in relation to Gibson-Graham’s conception of a

represent participation as a constituent of a hetero-

diverse economy. The subsequent section looks

geneous landscape of diverse economies. Through

at the evolution of the practices of the Participatory

exploring this ‘landscape of diverse economies’,

Turn in architecture and urban design, and how they

we aim to draw out the complex relational position

are accounted for as economic activity, drawing

of the unrepresented economies of participation.

attention to the inequalities inherent in how partici-

These run counter to the market economy, but are

pation is practised. Finally, we detail participatory

also interdependent within it.

practices, observed in two cases of contemporary


participation, as constitutive of a diverse economy. In this paper we ask: What are the marginalised,

By answering the questions regarding participation,

hidden and alternative economic activities taking

by whom, where, and to do what in these instances,

place, constituted by participatory practices? How

we draw attention to the shifting inequalities and

have these practices evolved in relation to the

the possibilities for equality that these participatory

Participatory Turn in Urbanism, and how are they

practices, represented otherwise, can offer.

accounted for as economic activity? How might accounting for participatory practices as constitu-

The collective voice, the ‘we’ used in this paper,

tive of a diverse economy empower people to fight

is a reflection of our collaborative process, a

against their co-option or exploitation and make

culmination of spoken and written conversations.

these practices more real and credible as objects of

Throughout this paper, we deliberately choose to

policy and activism?

express different forms of our voices. Inspired by JK Gibson-Graham, we write to tell stories of other

In asking these questions, we seek to address

ways of acting, of other economies coexisting within

some of the challenges posed by JK Gibson-

and alongside dominant practices and economy. We

Graham in their 2006 book, The End of Capitalism

write as a performative action, naming and drawing

(As We Knew It),8 which, in order to imagine a

attention to these economies, not as alternatives

world beyond capitalism, invites us to engage in

but as part of multiple, heterogeneous economic

the process of articulation (making links between

ways of acting and interacting that make up the built

activities and enterprises of a diverse economy),



In presenting the cases, in which our under-

interconnected practices is threefold. Firstly, to

standing of theories of practice and economy are

couple actions and activities that make up routine

played out, we speak in the singular first person.

ways of ‘participating’ with the types of knowledge

‘I, Anna’ and ‘I, Julia’, our personal voices that

that enable them, such as motivations, know-how

reflect the engaged and situated role we take as

and understanding. Secondly, to disassociate

researchers personally involved with projects and

actions and activities from being understood only in

people, and constructing knowledge relationally

terms of individual actors or projects, and instead

through this involvement. By ‘telling the story’ in the

see the repetition of ‘performances’ as practices

first person, we present the role of the researcher

which, through their multiple instances perpetuate

as an influence, a voice and a prompt, and in Julia’s

the practice across time and space. Thirdly, to

case, as an actor and catalyst in the project being

recognise that many of the practices that constitute

studied. Allowing ourselves to have both individual

ways of participating politically in decision-making

and collective voices in the paper reflects a view of

and the production of built environment are routine,

knowledge which incorporates reflective storytelling

and are repetitious within and across projects.

as an aid to learning through practise, but one which also wishes to query the researcher role as

In The Practice of Everyday Life, De Certeau

the dominant voice, the storyteller, and so we move

draws attention to ‘everyday practices’, ‘ways of

to a dialogical position, where separate voices can

operating’ or ‘doing things’ in order that they ‘no

be raised, together and independently.

longer appear as merely the obscure background of social activity’ but are instead articulated.10 In

In the concluding section of this paper, the use of

relation to participation, our aim in articulating prac-

‘we’ positions us within a community of practitioners

tices is to move away from a discussion of levels

and activists, who resist the co-option of participa-

of participation and legitimacy within individual

tive work or exploitation and working towards goals

projects and towards an understanding of the

of social justice. ‘We’ add our voices to a conver-

organising, productive and reproductive work that

sation about collective responsibility and ethical

is done when participating in the production of the


built environment as part of an ongoing process of social change. We wish to attend to the ‘obscure

Conceptualising participation as practices

background’ of participation: the objects, motiva-

‘This economy is not simply an ideological concept,

tions, spaces, skills and access to resources that

susceptible to intellectual debunking, but a materi-

make up participatory practices.

alization that participates in organizing the practices and processes that surround it.9

Practice theory, according to Bourdieu, offers us a way of seeing human activity that pays atten-

Economies shape, but are also shaped by

tion to everyday, individual and collective action. It

participatory practices. Economies are not abstract

suggests an understanding of structure and agency,

entities where money flows as numbers separate

not as the dualism of social norms and free will, but

from the ‘real world’, but are instead interrelation-

as interconnected and recursively reproduced. In

ships between materials, relations and concepts

Bourdieu’s conception, the objects of knowledge

that govern production, exchange, transactions and

are constructed through an active engagement and

distribution. The intention, therefore, in conceptu-

‘practical relation to the world’.11 Elements of human

alising participation as constituted of various and

activity are bundled with knowledge in terms of


ways of operating, reasons for acting, and particular

Economies: what is the concern?

‘know-how’ which relate to interacting with people,

We speculate that diverse participatory prac-

objects, and spaces – these are practices.

tices can be seen to constitute diverse economic systems. At present, however, because space itself

All practices have an economic logic and are

is increasingly considered primarily as a financial

constitutive of an economy in the way that they

‘asset’, the practices that seek to shape them are

enact and maintain both social relations and the

also conceived as being part of the market economy.

circulation and redistribution of goods. A ‘second

The dominance of this intertwined understanding of

wave’ of practice theory emphasises its use as a

capitalist economic policies in the production of the

model for better understanding the everyday proc-

built environment is emphasised by Schneider and

esses through which social change occurs13 as



practices emerge, are perpetuated, or disappear. Our purpose in looking at practices as a way to

Today, building activity in modern capitalist socie-

better understand participation is to recognise the

ties, along with the labour of architects and building

possibilities of participation as a force for social

workers are either transformed into, or are produced

change towards the democratic and equitable distri-

as commodities. That is, they become things that

bution of resources, and access to social, spatial,

are created primarily to be bought and sold in the

and economic goods. Recognising a ‘participatory

marketplace. This produces a fundamental shift

turn’ in urban planning as a return to the post-WWII

in the functional and social objectives of building

efforts towards democracy and the redistribution of


wealth carries with it a realisation that change has been slow in coming. Conceptualising participation

This is a value system based on market growth as

through practices gives us a way of understanding

an unquestionable good, espousing the idea that

processes of change, not as individual intentions or

promoting capitalist enterprise will bring economic

social norms, but as enacted social and economic

dividends to the whole community. As the built


environment becomes predominantly viewed as quantity, not quality or relation, and is represented

‘Participatory practices’ may overlap with many

in terms of its ability to make money for banks, land

other practices, but at their core is citizen involve-

developers and construction companies, the desires

ment in some form of influence over common goods

and needs of those who use the built environment

or resources that were not previously under citizen

are understood only in terms of how they contribute

control. Participatory practices operate at and

to this market value. The result of this is that build-

between different spatial scales and timescales,

ings become discussed and valued in terms of

from the family home, through places of education

finance, cost, wage labour and financial return on

and work, to the neighbourhood and the state. They

investment, and those resources and practices that

exist in many times, from daily life, through to the

fall outside of this framework become invisible.

life of a project, and through political and generational cycles. We contend that these often-diverse

Post-2008 financial crisis accounts and repre-

practices of citizen action constitute the ‘participa-

sentations of architecture and urbanism that rely

tory turn’. Our next step is to articulate the economic

heavily on participation emphasise its ‘value’ deter-

concern in relation to these participatory practices.

mined by an equation of what is spent in monetary terms divided by what is produced as market value,


yet say little, almost nothing, of the people, prac-

If, drawing on feminist and Marxist critiques, we

tices and resources these projects depend upon.

define ‘work’ as ‘the social process of shaping and

Participatory work is often framed as a way to draw

transforming the material and social worlds, creating

‘something out of nothing’, and operate in times of

people as social beings as they create value,’17

scarcity, or in places where budgets are minimal.

we can start to cut the ‘market economy’ down to size. The policies of austerity are revealed as being

What is a ‘diverse economies’ way of seeing?

possible only by relying on hidden work and the value

In their 2006 book, A Postcapitalist Politics,

that this creates in terms of the needs of society.

economic geographers J.K. Gibson-Graham argue

The powerful implication of Gibson-Graham’s alter-

that the way in which we represent the economy

native ‘iceberg’ representation of economies is that

has tangible effects on our own ability and that of

the market economy is ‘kept afloat’ by many other

others to act ethically.

Drawing on Latour, they

forms of economy: black market, emotional work,

warn that we must be more careful about how we

slave labour, care, childbirth, photosynthesis, volun-

multiply, populate, stabilise and discipline the world.

teerism and gifts. Though perhaps not consciously


conceived as economic activities by their everyday By presenting Bill Philip’s Monetary National

practitioners, if we reflect, we find we can recog-

Income Analogue Computer as one of the most

nise ourselves taking part in many of these ‘diverse

familiar and powerful of these representations,

economies’ on a regular basis in order to sustain

Gibson-Graham show that capitalism here is hege-

our lives. We can start to ask questions about who

monic: a closed-loop perpetual motion machine in

carries out this work, how they meet our needs, how

which people are positioned primarily as consumers,

surplus is distributed, and therefore create oppor-

growth is the driving force and the market is an

tunities to act. Through an ontological reframing

all-encompassing force. These and other familiar

of economies as diverse, and our roles and rela-

representations portray economic relations as

tions within them as multiple, JK Gibson-Graham

generalisable, and define citizens as having little or

propose that we multiply our opportunities and the

no agency. In Gibson-Graham’s alternative repre-

potential for ethical actions and transformation.

sentation, the diverse economies are represented as an iceberg, with capitalism, wage labour and the

Enclosure and capitalism

market sitting above the waterline, highly visible, yet representing only a fraction of what constitutes

What one person has done becomes the precondition

the ways in which we sustain ourselves and how

of the doing of others […] there are no clear dividing

society is reproduced:

lines. What happens then, under capitalism, is that this flow of doing is broken, because the capitalist comes

Over the past 20 years, feminist analysts have demon-

along and says, ‘That which you have done is mine, I

strated that non-market transactions and unpaid

appropriate that, that is my property.’18

household work (both by definition, non-capitalist) constitute 30–50% of economic activity in both rich

In his entreaty to ‘change the world without taking

and poor countries. […] Such quantitative represen-

power’, philosopher John Holloway reminds us of

tations exposed the discursive violence entailed in

the affect on enclosure and co-option on our prac-

speaking of ‘capitalist’ economies, and lent credibility

tices. We too, do not claim that the co-option of

to projects of representing economy differently.16

work produced through participatory practices is a unique occurrence; its roots lie in the types of enclosure that have dogged other forms of common


Fig. 1: Illustration of the economic iceberg. Illustration: author.


Fig. 2: Illustration of practices of participation as the hidden supports of building as capitalist accumulation. Illustration: author.


resources. Historically, in England, Commons were

different kinds of practices that make-up the way

private spaces over which ‘the commoner’ had

participation is performed. This account concerns

certain rights and access to resources: to gather

the fields of architecture and planning, particu-

wood, to fish, to harvest fruit and to graze animals.

larly professional and citizen forms of action. This

This enabled human survival and regulated rela-

reflects our interests as engaged professionals and

tionships between the community and nature. The

active citizens. We understand these to be loosely

rules of the commons evolved from a form of collec-

gathered as communicative practices, organisa-

tive self-governance and management based on

tional practices, and productive practices.

regular meetings where knowledge and experience of using the resources of a place were shared. This

Communicative participatory practices

was to ensure sustainability of resources, because

With the development and introduction in 1947 of

if too much was taken, or it was taken at the wrong

a comprehensive system for planning in the UK,

time of year, the resource would become scarce and

the possibility for members of the public to partici-

there would be nothing to eat the following year. The

pate in decision-making processes that affect the

enclosure of much of this shared land, and resultant

built environment (beyond their own private prop-

control of resources led to poverty and the crimi-

erty) was initially offered through official Planning

nalisation of people who had previously relied on

Inquiries and Public Meetings organised by Local

what was enclosed for food, fuel or other resources.

Authorities.20 They typically occurred late in the

In his discussions of ‘commoning’, Massimo

process of developing plans or projects, and were

Angelis attests that this process of enclosure of the

designed to facilitate information provision through

commons is not limited to the period of the ‘birth of

one-way communication or limited and controlled

capitalism’ but happens repeatedly. He states that

consultation.21 The planning professionals who

this is because people keep working to reweave the

orchestrated these opportunities for participation in

social fabric, (destroyed by the enclosure of shared

decision-making operated within a rationalist epis-

resources), thus capital, which relies on perpetual

temology: local authority planning could not favour

growth, must find new things to enclose.

the interests of any specific group, but should advise


those in power to make decisions based on imparThe evolution of participatory practices in

tial, reasoned analysis of overall public interest. The

architecture and urban planning

practices of public meetings and planning enquiries

In addressing the current state of the participatory

have clearly defined roles for participants, including

turn in architecture and planning, we recognise a

rules of conduct regarding who can speak and

legacy of the reproduction of participatory practices

when, and what type of evidence may be allowed

throughout the fifty or so years since participation

to influence proceedings. As Arnstein notes, when

first became a concern in the built environment

informing and consultation are ‘proffered by power-

disciplines. This brief account of the period from

holders as the total extent of participation, citizens

post-WWII to the present day shows the ways in

may indeed hear and be heard, but under these

which participatory practices have been introduced,

conditions they lack the power to ensure that their

how they are ‘performed’ within contemporary proc-

views will be heeded by the powerful’.22 Participation

esses of production in the built environment, and

is invited according to the terms of the professionals

how their meanings change through repetitions

acting on behalf of the state, and communicative

across time and space, or through ‘enclosure’ by

practices of attending inquiries or public meetings

the market economy. Our account is partial, but

are restricted in the way they may be creatively or

we propose it as a starting place for elucidating the

productively used by the participants.23 Inequality is


inherent in the limitations that govern discussions

Productive participatory practices

and processes, which members of the public are

These established, communicative and organisa-

either permitted or not permitted to access.

tional participatory practices were supplemented by actions that moved into productive work.28 By the

Organisational participatory practices

end of the 1970s there was increased local authority

The 1969 ‘Skeffington Report of the Committee

recognition within the UK of citizens’ capacity for

on Public Participation in Planning’ drew critical

self-supported action, and attempts were made to

attention to how much of decision-making in plan-

support this – either financially, through the funding

ning procedures went on ‘behind closed doors’ and

of many small schemes, or bureaucratically, through

pointed out the inequalities inherent in who could


participate in decision-making and how.24






In the US in the late 1960s, an alternative model

The self-supported action first established as

for participation in built environment decision-making

an effective model for addressing spatial inequali-

was developing through advocacy organisations

ties has, under a neo-liberal political regime, been

set up in inner cities (which later became the

co-opted with an onus on ‘co-production’, led

Community Design Centers or CDCs).25 This non-

by creative consultants commissioned by local

state, non-profit model provided a locus for tenants

authorities or development bodies. The resources

of poor-quality housing, or housing threatened with

produced through these productive participatory

demolition for new development, where citizens

practices, such as mapping and storytelling, are

could access the professional knowledge necessary

enclosed through the reporting process required

to exert influence through legal channels, or work

from the consultants. The activities are edited and

with professionals to organise and communicate

re-presented according to the requirements of the

in order to effect change through consciousness-

consultants for their commission. These enclosing

raising and resistance.26 Participating in this form of

practices can fix the identities of communities by

organisation had creative and productive potential,

solidifying a moment in time and identifying a small

which involved developing consciousness-raising

number of people as being representative of what

politics through meetings not controlled by state

might actually be a very diverse community.

actors and, importantly, organisational practices that established articulated forms of social relations

Limitations, inequalities

with which to act collectively, and forms which were

Critically, the shift from participating through

able to be propagated by participants. These prac-

practices of deliberation and communication to

tices spread across Europe during the early 1970s,

undertaking productive practices at the local neigh-

predominantly through networks of professional

bourhood level (from involvement in design work

knowledge. The sites of participation shifted away

on urban schemes and individual projects, through

from the established locus of decision-making,

to constructing and mending practices) leaves in

such as the town hall or government offices, and

place clear inequalities. Design consultants invite

instead occupied either the locations in contention

and organise participation according to the terms

for development or change, or locations more easily

dictated by their commissioning bodies, to produce

accessible to those participating, where advice was


provided about how to operate from within and influ-

activity. The work of those participating (producers

ence the planning system.27

of unwaged work) is limited in terms of the replica-





tion or growth of productive practices, reliant as it is


on the in-built relations of consultants and commis-

more closely at two current cases of participatory

sioners. The move from localised and area-based

action in the UK. Our intention in doing so is to try

participatory practices to a widespread adaptation

to represent in more detail some of the participa-

of the practices of decision-making, organisation,

tory practices in terms of their social, material and

and the production of the built environment, has

spatial form.

been limited. Although public participation ‘exercises’ became legally required as part of local

Participation as practised (at home, in the park,

plan preparation in the 1980s, it became colonised

in the city)

by NIMBYist oppositional practices motivated in

The interview on which this account is based is part

defence of the value of private property. The legal

of a wider case study taken from Anna Holder’s

requirements for an element of citizen participation,

‘Initiating Architecture’ doctoral research project into

without changes in social relations or a distribution

processes of conceiving, commissioning, organising

of resources, made participation ‘ […] another box

and funding participative spatial projects. The study

among many to tick in order to get approval and

uses a multiple-case methodology to describe and

funding […] an organised (and potentially manipu-

learn from four instances of user-initiated spatial

lated) part of any regeneration project, in which

change across the UK.

users are meant to be given a voice, but the process stifles the sound coming out’.30

The following account details the practices undertaken by one citizen participating in a park

By the late 1990s and early 2000s participation

improvement scheme.32 The improvement work for

was accepted as another commodified element

the park, Lordship Rec, was catalysed by a self-

of the consultant’s work package, as a legitima-

organised user group, ‘The Friends of Lordship

tion of design decisions, or as a demonstration of

Rec’, which developed the project in partnership

‘procedural probity’ on behalf of a developer or local

with the local authority, the London Borough of

authority.31 In England, much participation ‘work’


was done as part of the New Deal for Communities (NDC) programme, targeting localised depriva-

The photocopier sits to one side of the small, low

tion through thirty-nine, area-based regeneration

window. The sort of photocopier you have in an

initiatives. One element of the programme was the

office. It takes up space. The pale, wan gleams of

funding of activities to build ‘community’. Alongside

daylight filter in through the curtains, partly blocked

involvement in neighbourhood decision-making

by the large computer monitor. This, along with the

fora, art and design consultants were contracted

keyboard, and piles of paperwork, occupies much of

to involve local participants in creative exer-

the small dining table-cum-desk. To one side, a plate

cises focusing on identity, branding, and public

of toast and beans balances: Dave is eating lunch

art projects. This approach was predicated on an

while telling me about the Lordship Rec project. Over

understanding of areas acting in competition to be

a decade ago, Dave organised a meeting that led to

more ‘vibrant’, so as to offer greater opportunities

the founding of a ‘Friends of’ group in his local park.33

for market transactions.

He describes the recent changes they have undertaken: a skatepark built, a hard court for ball games

A diverse economies account of the practices

laid out, the construction of a building housing a café

of participation

and space for community groups, weeds and over-

In trying to understand what kinds of practices might

grown plants pulled out from around the lake, trees

occur in these diverse economies, we wish to look

thinned from the woodland, earth moved to expose the


underground river.

‘The photocopier’. It is important to the work of the Friends that they can

My dictaphone is balanced on the arm of the sofa

keep people informed, that they extend the knowledge

where I sit; Dave’s cat has curled up on my knees.

and opportunities to participate in the politics of the

When I arranged this interview, I had planned to talk

local environment, that a piece of paper goes through

to Dave in the local community centre: now I am in

as many doors as possible. So the photocopier takes

his home, which is also his office, the centre of the

up a lot of space.

organising and communicating work he does with the Friends group. The domestic space of Dave’s home

The above account describes an interview under-

is encroached on, by participating. His living space

taken as research into a particular project involving

is shared with documents that would not be out of

a self-constituted user group working collabora-

place in the offices of the Local Authority Planning

tively with a local authority department to initiate,

Department, or in an architect’s project folder.

raise funds and undertake a range of environmental improvements and building projects. The

A grid of rectangular wooden storage ‘pigeon-holes’

organisations and enterprises Dave is involved in,

takes over one wall of the room. Opposite is a sort of

although requiring initial catalysing and organising,

display-stand for brochures, of the type you might see

exist through a rhythm of meetings, minute-taking,

in a public library. Each storage structure is filled with

agreeing on actions, forming subgroups, and

papers, neatly categorised. Newsletters produced by

reporting back. These participative practices are

the Friends group to keep local residents informed of

not confined to one time and space, one ‘project’,

the decisions and processes surrounding the works to

but exist at different scales within the neighbour-

the park and the public events – these will be delivered

hood and the city, and are ‘carried’ by practitioners

by hand to flats and terraces, as well as pinned on

between different contexts. The know-how, physical

the dedicated noticeboard in the park. Printed copies

activities, mental activities, understanding, moti-

of the surveys done by the Friends – a visual survey,

vational and emotional knowledge involved in the

with annotated photographs of the dilapidation of the

practice of ‘chairing a meeting’, for example, is

park, recorded during their first years of trying to care

performed weekly in meetings of the ‘Friends’ park

for it; a written survey of wildlife species seen in the

user group. Elements will be learned and passed

woodland, undertaken by a knowledgeable amateur;

on from observing other performances of ‘chairing

photocopied flyers of other volunteer-built environ-

a meeting’; for instance, from experiences on a

ment projects in the area; a campaign to save a local

Tenants and Residents Association committee.

shopping arcade from residential development – all

Other elements again will inform how this practice

these opened channels for the learning and knowl-

is performed within the wider group of stakeholders

edge exchange of participative practices.

in the park. When chairing a meeting with the citywide network of ‘Friends’ groups involved in working

My exhaustive interest in how this work happens,

with/caring for green spaces, the practice will inform

coupled with Dave’s deep knowledge and enthusiasm

and be informed by performances of the same prac-

for what he and others are doing, means that we talk

tice in other contexts.

for over an hour. Feeling I have trespassed too much on Dave’s time, I wind up the interview, but ask, finally,

By paying attention to a specific practice Dave

if there is anything important that my questions have

performs in one spatial location and as a single

not covered.

actor, we can look at the paperwork storage relating to the Friends group, the Users Forum, and the


citywide Green Spaces Friends Groups network.

common goals. Participants do not receive a wage

This practice is a key part of Dave’s participation

for their time, nor rent for their space. The practices

in the decision-making process for the produc-

of participation are undertaken outside the market

tion of the built environment. Although located in a

economy. The purpose, therefore, of representing

domestic setting, the material elements involved in

Dave’s activities as part of a landscape of diverse

the practice of storing paperwork – the pigeonholes

economies is to draw attention to the opportunities

and leaflet display stand – suggest the performance

for ethical choices, especially around the distribution

of this practice ‘crossing over’ from other loca-

of surplus. Dave is situated in his home, surrounded

tions, the office or the library. Again, this practice

by the reports and products of the project he has

is related to participation in more than one project:

produced. Because of this unique access, he can

storing minutes from the various organisations and

choose to share these resources with others,

materials produced by them, such as surveys and

through taking part in other meetings and offering

newsletters, but also flyers or information about


other projects similar in terms of spatial area or type of enterprise.

Dave’s motivation seems to combine both a love for and interest in his environment: a desire

Some of the work of participating lies in the

to improve it for himself and others, together with

recording of knowledge and the use of know-how that

broader desires to change the structures of local

emerge from day-to-day practices. For example, the

decision-making in order to make them more

‘knowledgeable amateur’ who produces the wild-

equitable and reflective of the society he wants to

life survey gains his understanding and know-how

produce. His contribution raises question for practi-

about where and how to look for wildlife, and with

tioners and researchers alike, such as how to value

what equipment (binoculars, camouflaged clothing,

contributions that are not officially remunerated?

reference books) through the regular performance

And what kinds of representations we need to help

of practices such as bird watching or nature spot-

conceptualise other value systems and acknowl-

ting, undertaken for enjoyment. In undertaking a

edge other people?

wildlife survey for the Friends of the Park, this practice becomes productive and involves dedicating

Valuing Portland Works

time, codifying knowledge and recording it. The

Portland Works, the subject of Udall’s PhD study,34

wildlife survey is used as a resource, as evidence of

is a Grade II* listed metalwork factory, home to a

a certain use value of the park.

range of craftsmen, artists and musicians. Under threat from closure and conversion into residential

The critical point we wish to make from this

accommodation, campaigners sought to retain it as

detailed representation of participative practices, is

a place of making and to develop it for wider commu-

that the physical and mental activities, equipment

nity benefit. In early 2013, over 500 people came

and know-how involved in participating are often

together to become shareholders and enable the

indistinguishable from practices people undertake

purchase of the Works. Portland Works Industrial

in their leisure time, or practices people undertake

and Provident Society (PW IPS) is managed by

as waged labour. The difference lies in undertaking

the shareholders through the election of a Board of

the practices as participation, as time dedicated to


building resources for common goals, as tending or caring for space that is not private property, or as

This account is a sense-making description of

domestic and personal space given over to work for

events, thoughts, conversations and activities that


happened over the period of a few days, collaged

and the leaks. We talk about the project, our aim to

together as a ‘recollection’ of a single day and place:

fix the factory up and to keep it as a place of making for another 100 years, and he tells us how great this is

I walk into the courtyard of Portland Works, stepping

and wishes us luck. We all smile.

over an oily puddle forming as Richard jet-washes motors on the threshold of his workshop, falling into

At the end of our tour, Stu invites us all into the work-

step with the rhythmic bass of Andy working the nine-

shop he rents, and over filter-coffee, Mark tells us, ‘…

teenth-century drop hammer as he makes tools in the

Well, by one measure, this building is worth zero. It’s

forge, and expertly avoiding the sheets of metal lying

in such poor condition…’

over a hole in the ground: I’ve been here before. Today we are meeting the surveyor to get a valuation of this

‘Yes,’ we say, ‘our conditional survey says there is

Grade II* listed cutlery works building. This figure will

over £800,000 of urgent work…’

then be our target: the finance we need to raise in order to purchase the building and have enough to run

‘But by another, the rental income, well… it’s a 10x

it and make the most urgent of urgent repairs. [Not

multiplier… so, £450,000.’

enough, we are sure, to replace the dangerous wiring, or fix the leaky roof, but we hope for a little bit more

‘But,’ (I almost shout), ‘that income, surely it’s

than the capital costs – perhaps enough to cover prop-

dependent on the building not collapsing, not setting

ping up a dangerous column, or reconnecting the fire

on fire, that we can keep tenants in here? Without


urgent repairs, replacing felt and slates before the damp roof structure gives up, these workshops won’t

Stu, a knife maker and shareholder [in the commu-

be in rentable condition much longer.’

nity enterprise we have founded for the purchase], appears around a corner. He is pointing up at a

‘Yes’, he says, ‘but your business plan shows that you

dislodged gutter with buddleia sprouting from it,

have a waiting list of tenants, that as a community

drawing the gaze of a man with a clipboard. What he

benefit organisation you can put together good, solid,

is saying is drowned out by the tinkle of windowpanes

funding bids for money to make it wind and watertight,

rattling and electric guitars grinding into the first bars

you can manage it for a reasonable sum of money…

of a well-rehearsed line. This man with the clipboard,

It’s convincing as a viable business… So it’s reason-

now nodding his head, must be the surveyor, soon to

able to suppose the value is around £450,000…’

pronounce a value for this place. I hesitate before I go over: what he has to say will determine how many

We say our goodbyes, and I head back to work,

evenings and weekends I have to invest over the next

drifting through the housing estate opposite the Works,

year. Each pound of the valuation price means work

thinking about the next steps. As I walk, nagging away

for our group of volunteers: selling shares, applying for

at the back of my mind is a thought, one I first hold in,

loans and grants. Hundreds of hours at meetings and

but then can’t help but let burst forth, texting as I go:

filling-in forms instead of being out in the sunshine,

‘Without us doing all this work, the building would be

walking in the Peaks.

worth zero! This is work we haven’t even done yet, but each bit we do makes us have to pay more, and then

We are introduced to Mark, the surveyor, and we

work more to pay more. Can’t we just offer him [the

guide him round, warning him to take care on the

owner] £200k and say that’s fair enough?’

wobbly step, not to grab that handrail as it hasn’t been connected for years, pointing out the bowed walls

In my head, more belligerent thoughts keep coming.


Why should the owner gain financially from the hard

Provident Society had also actively made decisions

work of tens of volunteers? But with this comes the

about how we would share what we were doing in

dawning realisation that he could just hold onto it, keep

ways that were outside the market. The most crit-

collecting rents, let the holes in the roof get bigger, see

ical of these actions was that when the purchase

the tenants slowly leave until the only answer is flats

of the building went through, an asset lock was

or demolition …

implemented, which prevented it being ‘demutualised’ and took the building out of the market as

How to resist exploitation?

a commodity. Future plans also actively engage

To understand that our practices of giving our

with questions of surplus and the production and

time freely in order to learn together and develop

reproduction of the site; co-learning in ‘repair cafes’

resources such as business plans, proposals

and open days will be given freely for community

for bringing out-of-use workshops into use and

benefit, and programmes of education and training

increasing the demand for space, could be used

will follow social enterprise models. The organisa-

purely in terms of the value they created for the

tion will work within the city towards frameworks for

landlord, was momentarily paralysing. Each prac-

setting up other similar organisations as collabora-

tice, including the thinking, the emotional output

tors rather than competitors.

and the work itself, was likely to tie us into more work and more hours of fund-raising in the future:

The project could not have existed without non-

our care was giving value to a building the owner

capitalist transactions: often one person would offer

had neglected. Should we then stop our practices

a gift, (frequently of time) to the project as a whole,

of care and creativity as the only way of avoiding

and reciprocity would be indirect. Someone from

exploitation and the co-opting of this value into the

within the group would also ‘give back’, sometimes

market? Yet, as Manuela Zechner suggests in her

as part of another activist commitment, but also

essay ‘Caring for the Network Creatively’, although

by contributing to people’s businesses (within the

we cannot ignore capital, we can understand these

market) or their personal lives (non-capitalist). Then

self-organised, often informal practices as creating

again, a gift given outside the project might result in

other kinds of relationships and adding positively to

a reciprocal action of time contributed towards the

our lives:

collective goals of the Portland Works team. Our work contributed to developing ‘bonds’ between

[…] care and creativity keep us from being bored,

one another,36 and in doing so, created a community

hungry, uninspired, depressed, lonely and sick. They

around a concern.

help sustain our life and make it meaningful […] if we take it in our hands to organise them. Networks of


informal labour may be the worst for exploitation, yet

Articulating (as a practice of reformulating) the

they may also be the most exciting for inventing ways

multiple, heterogeneous sites of struggle, (we)

of sustaining life collectively.

could re-signify all economic transactions and rela-


tions, capitalist and non-capitalist, in terms of their The question is how to take control of the way

sociality and interdependence, and their ethical

surpluses are distributed in these participatory

participation in being-in-common as part of a

ways of working. Although the landlord could make

‘community economy’.37

a profit from the many hours of voluntary work, which had inadvertently driven up the market value

As participation has become a more common

of the building, the Portland Works Industrial and

part of urban design, architecture and planning


processes, many different kinds of practice have

for granted. How we use our resources must be



constantly renegotiated. The question might be how

productive practices and reproductive practices.




to articulate individual interests in such a way as to

Though often hidden, we contend that they consti-

constitute common interests.

tute work, and the outputs these practices produce are frequently represented as contributing to the capitalist economy. This ‘re-presenting’ is carried


out by developers, landowners and councils in

1. Jeremy

order to produce greater ‘outputs’ for smaller finan-


cial investment.











, Scarcity in the

Through representing our practices of participation as part of a diverse landscape of economies,

Built Environment. University of Westminster, London. [Accessed 02 September 2013].

we can draw attention to the diverse participa-

2. Sherry R. Arnstein, ‘A Ladder of Citizen Participation’,

tory practices that happen in people’s homes as

Journal of the American Institute of Planners, 35, 4

a ‘second’ or ‘third shift’ after a working day – by

(1969), p. 216.

drawing on personal and emotional resources and

3. The doctoral research projects referred to here are

by using networks built through years of care. We

Julia Udall’s ‘Tools to Create Agency’, 2010-14, funded

can question their role as inevitably being a support

by the University of Sheffield, and Anna Holder’s

for scarcity (constructed by the market and policies

‘Initiating Architecture’, 2009-13, funded by The Arts

of austerity), and propose instead that they can

and Humanities Research Council of the UK.

be a space for making an ethical choice to create different ways of being together.

4. Sherry R. Arnstein, ‘A Ladder of Citizen Participation’, p.216. 5. Nishat Awan, Tatjana Schneider and Jeremy Till,

There is a complex, relational position between economies of participation and the market economy,

Spatial Agency: Other Ways of Doing Architecture (London: Routledge, 2011).

as they have an interdependent relationship, yet

6. Doina Petrescu, ‘Losing Control, Keeping Desire’,

hold the promise of being counter, or non-capitalist.

in Architecture & Participation, ed. by Peter Blundell

We therefore carry out this re-presenting work to try

Jones, Doina Petrescu and Jeremy Till (Abingdon:

to produce new economic realities, not to claim that

Spon Press, 2005), pp. 42-64.

this landscape already ‘exists’ out there, but rather

7. JK Gibson-Graham, The End of Capitalism (As We

to try to understand the potential for joining in and

Knew It) (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press,

developing these other ‘non-capitalist’ economies.


By reframing the capacity of individuals, communi-

8. Ibid.

ties and collectives to contribute to our needs as a

9. J.K.





society, we can begin to find potential opportunities

(Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006),

for resisting, or developing and proposing alterna-

p. xxxiv.

tives. This reframing enables us to proceed from an assumption of plenitude not scarcity, asking the question how we can distribute these resources, not how much we have and can accumulate. However, in order to do so, we must understand that this is an active process and not something to be taken

10. Michel De Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life






1984), p. xi. 11. Pierre Bourdieu, The Logic of Practice (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2005), p. 53. 12. Ibid., p. 122.


13. Elizabeth Shove, Mika Pantzar & Matt Watson, The Dynamics of Social Practice (London: SAGE, 2012). 14. Tatjana Schneider and Jeremy Till, ‘Beyond Discourse: Notes on Spatial Agency’, Footprint 4 (2009), p. 100. 15. J.K. Gibson-Graham, A Post-Capitalist Politics. 16. J.K.




Performative Practices for ‘Other Worlds’, Progress in Human Geography, 32, 5 (2008), pp. 613–32.

professional knowledge available to citizens regarding how to challenge or work with the planning system. 28. Examples of this include the Lewisham Borough Council, Walter Segal’s self-build scheme, and the GLC Primary Support Housing Assembly Kit. 29. Graham Towers, Building Democracy, pp. 110-11. 30. Peter Blundell Jones, Doina Petrescu and Jeremy Till, ‘Introduction’, in Architecture & Participation, pp.  xiii

17. Catharine MacKinnon, ‘Feminism, Marxism, Method,

– xiv.

and the State: An Agenda for Theory’, Signs: Journal

31. Dan Bloomfield, Kevin Collins, Charlotte Fry and

of Women in Culture and Society, 7, 3 (1982),

Richard Munton, ‘Deliberation and Inclusion: Vehicles

pp. 515-44; p. 515

for Increasing Trust in UK Public Governance?’,

18. John






pp. 501-13.

Taking Power: The Meaning of Revolution Today’

32. See note 3 above.

(Transcription of a video by O. Ressler, recorded in

33. Dave is chairperson of the Friends group, a founding

Vienna, Austria, 23 min., 2004) 19. Ibid. 20. Ibid. 21. Dan Bloomfield, Kevin Collins, Charlotte Fry and

member of the Users Forum and former secretary for the Tenants and Residents Association of the estate where he lives. 34. See note 3 above.

Richard Munton, ‘Deliberation and Inclusion: Vehicles

35. Manuela Zechner, ‘Caring for the Network Creatively’,

for Increasing Trust in UK Public Governance?’,

Trans Local Act: Cultural Practices Within and Across’,

Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy,

ed. by Doina Petrescu, Constantin Petcou and others

19, 4 (2001), pp. 501-13.

(Paris:aaa/peprav, 2011), p. 378.

22. Sherry R. Arnstein, ‘A Ladder of Citizen Participation’, p. 217. 23. This account refers to the common performance of communicative practices as participation at a late stage in planning processes and within the adversarial atmosphere of the Public Inquiry. Forester demonstrates that communicative and deliberative practices at earlier stages and in different forms can be effective and transformational in planning processes. 24. Dan Bloomfield, Kevin Collins, Charlotte Fry and Richard Munton, ‘Deliberation and inclusion: vehicles for increasing trust in UK public governance?’, pp. 501-13. 25. Graham Towers, Building Democracy: Community Architecture in the Inner Cities (London: UCL Press, 1995), pp. 103-4. 26. Ibid. 27. In 1979, the Town and Country Planning Association founded Community Technical Aid in Manchester, the beginning of the ‘Planning Aid’ approach, which made

36. Avner Offer, ‘Between the Gift and the Market: the Economy of Regard’, Economic History Review, L, 3 (1997), pp. 450-76. 37. JK Gibson-Graham, The End of Capitalism (As We Knew It), p. 97.


Biographies Anna Holder holds qualifications in architecture and planning and has practised in the UK and the Netherlands. She is completing her doctoral research on ways in which architecture and spatial projects are initiated, focusing on designer and community-led processes. She is a director of the social-enterprise architectural practice, Studio Polpo, and a member of the Sheffield School of Architecture (SSoA) research centre ‘Agency’. Julia Udall studied architecture in Glasgow and Sheffield and is a Design Tutor at Sheffield School of Architecture, where she is completing her doctoral research. She has worked in architectural and community organisations, researching and acting with people to create change in the urban landscape. She is a director of the social-enterprise architectural practice, Studio Polpo, and a member of the SSoA research centre ‘Agency’.



The Importance of Recognition for Equal Representation in Participatory Processes: Lessons from Husby Karin Hansson, Göran Cars, Love Ekenberg, and Mats Danielson


not only by enabling better services for citizens

In urban planning, ideas regarding the involve-

but also by introducing various ways of involving

ment of the public in planning processes have been

them in dialogue processes. Projects such as the

present since the 1960s and 1970s, when popular,

Blacksburg Electronic Village in Virginia, USA, and

radical, democratic ideology emphasised public

the Digital City in Amsterdam, the Netherlands,

involvement. In the discourse from that period, the

explored the Internet as a means of developing a

word participation implied a process in which people

more deliberative democracy in local communities.5

could influence the decisions that affected them, or

Thus, public participation in urban planning can

as Arnstein expressed it in 1969: ‘[Participation] is

take on many different forms. Activities may range

the redistribution of power that enables the have-not

from clear-cut discussions about public art projects

citizens, presently excluded from the political and

organised by various authorities with a formalised

economic processes, to be deliberately included in

structure and a predefined agenda, to spontaneous

the future’.2

revolts. Participatory forms may range from basic


questionnaires to different kinds of more or less In the 1990s, an interest in participatory proc-

developed dialogues with stakeholders and citizens,

esses reappeared, while the issues of redistribution

such as public meetings, charettes or participatory

and power shifted to matters of recognition and

design methods.

identity construction, influenced by post-structuralism and third-wave feminism, with its focus

Needless to say, the participatory paradigm in

on the politics of identity and diversity. Generally

urban planning has not been without its critics. In the

since then, the dominant planning discourse has

1960s, Arnstein was critical of many attempts to use

undergone a major change towards more collabo-

participatory methods in planning, referring to them

rative and communicative planning. There are many

as ‘manipulations’ and ‘therapy’, and claiming that

terms for this approach: communicative planning,

initiatives of this kind had nothing to do with sharing

collaborative planning, participatory planning, or

power but were instead used as a means to justify


planning through debate. These terms have been

the plans. Furthermore, dialogue in urban planning

used in the literature of planning theory to describe

is restricted in scope since the important decisions

and transform the concepts of Habermasian critical

are mostly made elsewhere. Lack of transparency

theory into the planning process.4 Furthermore,

in participatory processes limits an understanding

the potential of information and communication

of the urban planning issues involved, and thus fails

technologies (ICT) to engage more people in collec-

to meet modern society’s need for effectiveness and

tive processes was also seen as an opportunity to

social cohesion.6 Some commentators focus their

reform the system of representative democracy,

critique on the deliberative ‘ideal speech’ condition


The Participatory Turn in Urbanism, Autumn 2013, pp. 81-98


suggested by Habermas, which ignores hegemonic

conflict, are excessively time-consuming, and regu-

discourses and antagonistic interests, and does not

larly end up in an impasse.

position the public discourse in relation to the state and the economy.7 The lack of equal representa-

Given the many facets involved, the issue of

tion is common in extended, deliberative forms

representation in planning processes calls for a

of democracy in which citizens participate more

cross-disciplinary approach. We therefore estab-

actively in planning and decision-making proce-

lished a joint research project involving the School

dures, as these forms tend to give disproportionate

of Architecture and the Built Environment at the

power to people who have the means, time and

Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm,

opportunity to participate ­– a situation that under-

the Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm, and the

mines the widely held concept of representative

Department of Computer and Systems Sciences at

democracy. In addition, citizens are too frequently

Stockholm University. The research project team is

conceived of as a homogenous group, so that differ-

exploring communicative structures on site, using

ences both between and within various groups are

various methods ranging from media analyses,

seldom recognised.

interviews and participatory observations, to public seminars and more exploratory art projects in the

Furthermore, from the 1960s onwards there

public space. [fig. 1]

has been a proliferation of various ICT tools for supporting democratic decision-making, and the

One area of research under focus is the lack of

field of e-participation has also struggled with similar

equal representation in participatory processes,

problems of representation. The relationships

which we consider by investigating and using the

among those who participate in Internet discus-

concept of recognition as a fundamental aspect

sions are no more egalitarian than in other forums.

of participatory urban planning. Below, we discuss

Gender research into new media indicates that

one of our case studies and relate it to democratic

gender, race, and ethnicity as grounds for discrimi-

theory and the critique of participatory practices in

nation are just as prominent online as in other social

urban planning we presented above. The case is

contexts,8 and, once again, only certain groups

quite typical in the sphere of urban planning, but

participate in political activities via the Internet. The

particularly interesting as it clearly demonstrates

digital differentiation increases the gap between

the impact of changing information structures on

different social groups. In a comparison of research

participatory processes. We conclude by arguing

on the digital divide and research on community

that the insights gained can help identify strategies

satisfaction, Dutta-Bergman demonstrated that the

for solving the problem of a lack of equal represen-

relationship between involvement in local political

tation in the participatory process.


life and greater use of the Internet involves dividing people into many fragmented groups based on their

Urban planning in Husby

identity and common interests rather than bringing

Car fires and riots have put Husby and other

together different groups and perspectives.10 At

parts of suburban Stockholm on the global map.

the same time, ICT and more globalised societies

The events of May 2013, in which 76 cars and

have changed the understanding of concepts such

21 schools and kindergartens were set on fire,

as ‘common’ and ‘public’. The process of defining

and where youths threw stones at the police, is

common problems and whom they involve remains

described in the media as symptomatic of a growing

unclear and controversial. Hence, both planning

alienation in suburbs marked by immigration, social

and decision-making processes often give rise to

problems and unemployment. The media account


Fig. 1: Open Space by Anna Hasselberg (2012) is part of the art project in Husby. © Martin Hultén.


is dramatised and aestheticised, and presents a

public services, and there are political controversies

picture that is in sharp contrast to the normal, quiet,

surrounding many of the initiatives included in the

everyday life in Husby, a suburban idyll surrounded

planned investments. The dilemma facing Husby

by extensive green areas. Husby was built in the

is not only that the stakeholders cannot agree on

1970s as part of a ten-year national programme

how to solve the local problems but also that they

(1965-75) to combat inner city slums and simulta-

cannot agree on defining them. This lack of a

neously construct new, prefabricated, multi-storey

shared viewpoint makes it extremely challenging

housing in the suburbs. The construction of these

to find a solution that will satisfy the interests of

suburbs was one of the core pillars of the Swedish

the various stakeholders. As a consequence, the

welfare model. The inhabitants were offered clean

process of agenda setting is submerged in conflict.

and functional homes according to the ideals of the

From a representative-democratic perspective, it is

time. In 2012 there were about 12,000 people living

the region’s long-term interests that should be the

in Husby, mostly in rented apartments, in an area

starting point for development strategies for Husby.

built for a small-scale community. Husby is located

‘Citizens’ from this perspective are not only those

along a subway line about 15 kilometres north of

directly affected – those living in Husby today –

Stockholm’s city centre. The area is home to many

but also a wider group of stakeholders, given that

immigrants: 86.4% of Husby’s population were born

Stockholm is an important economic node for the

outside Sweden or had both parents born outside

whole of Sweden.

Sweden, compared with 33% in Stockholm as a whole.11 The unemployment rate in the area is 8.8%

From a deliberative-democratic perspective,

(Stockholm, 3.3%), and the percentage of people

all those who are affected by the decision should

in work is 55% (Stockholm, 77%). Voter turnout is

participate equally in the public discussion and,

similarly low: 55% (Stockholm, 81%).

where there is a preparatory discussion, should ultimately reach a decision on rational grounds. From

Public opinion regards Husby as a problem area.

this perspective it is important to prepare and formu-

Furthermore, the buildings have aged and there

late the political issues by public debate with all the

is a substantial need for renovation. In the light of

affected parties. In practice, the values at stake are

these issues, there is a broad public consensus

too large to realistically reach a consensus decision.

that Husby is in need of substantial redevelopment,

From the municipality’s perspective, the growth of

including housing rehabilitation, social upgrading,

Husby is an objective, since the neighbourhood is

and densification. Stockholm is also growing at a

strategically located between the city centre and

fast pace, and the municipality of Stockholm has

the international airport, with a good communica-

developed strategic plans for new developments

tion network and recreational surroundings. From

as well as for densification of existing suburbs to

the perspective of Husby’s actual residents, the

host this growth. Densification plans include Husby.

municipal authorities’ development plans imply that

A first planning proposal was presented in 2007, but

people who have lived in the area all their lives might

has been frozen for the time being due to protests

be forced to move because they will be unable to

by local residents.

afford the anticipated increased living costs.

Both the redevelopment plans and the municipal-

According to the citizens of Husby, the mediated

ity’s definition of the problems differ from the ideas

public sphere is dominated by a group of people

and opinions held by Husby’s residents. The plans

who are not located in Husby and who acquire

coincide with cuts and changes in the delivery of

their information from police sources and press


releases. However, the dominant discourse in the

young people in the community come together,

public sphere maintains that Husby is an area

positing their own conceptions of the neighbour-

suffering from high crime rates and social problems

hood. The founders were seeking amore nuanced

due to poor education, cultural differences and poor

picture of young people and Husby than the domi-

anchorage in civil society.

nant Swedish media sphere allowed and wanted to launch a debate on their own terms through an

This negative image of Husby has created a

online forum and organised discussion evenings.

local backlash. The inhabitants do not recognise the picture painted by the media and shared by public

Megafonen and its representatives have quickly

officials. In local public spheres, the discourses are

gained attention in the dominant media, and the

different. Husby’s residents feel comparatively safe

group is currently an informal representative for

and confident, and thrive in their community. They

both the young people and their parents when an

consider problems related to the recent influx of

issue is to be debated; for example, when police

immigrants with low incomes and education levels

shot a sixty-nine-year-old man in Husby, Megafonen

to be small and mainly caused by cuts and deficits

organised demonstrations against police violence,

in services such as schooling, day care and welfare

and again, when the local meeting place, Husby


Träff, was occupied as a protest against relocation plans.

Unlike the scenario related to problems in the 1960s, when a radical democratic ideology was

Thanks to the use of social media such as blogs,

central, the controversies are not just about the

Facebook, and Twitter, local people in Husby have

unequal distribution of resources among different

established information channels which manage to

stakeholders or the perception of planners as

influence the dominant discourse, and have devel-

collaborating with powerful economic interests, but

oped relationships with other groups with similar

also about recognition: the residents feel that their

interests.12 The network Järva’s Future has organ-

perceptions of the situation do not coincide with

ised opposition to proposed gentrification plans.

how they are framed in the media or expressed by

Politically independent and not a formal associa-

public opinion.

tion, the network is organised by means of a mailing list comprising people from different parties and

According to Husby’s residents, planners should

associations in the area.

focus on social problems and not primarily on the physical environment. Various local organisations

But even within groups of people with a broad

have therefore taken matters into their own hands

consensus, power structures that limit participation

and are working against the dominant discourse

still exist. The association Street Gäris, which uses

by creating their own. These interest groups have

a Facebook group as a meeting place, was founded

developed a strong common identity, where the self-

as a reaction to male dominance in contexts such

defined values of ‘Husby’ are important common

as youth centres, and school classrooms and



The youth organisation Megafonen serves

In Husby’s urban planning process, the munic-

as one example of such interest groups.  [fig. 2]

ipal authorities actively tried to establish a dialogue

Founded with the goal of creating an alterna-

with the residents to encourage them to accept the

tive view of Stockholm’s northern suburbs, here,

development plans. In the course of just a few days


spent collecting opinions and discussing plans with

been criticised.

the citizens, the municipality were able to reach a much larger group than dialogue meetings in

One of the major conflicts in Husby developed

Sweden’s urban planning process usually attract.

from a change in the structure of local communi-

Residents responded to questions concerning

cation. The neighbourhood was built to create

where they felt safe and where they felt insecure,

many venues for social interaction. There is no

and were asked to suggest proposals for improve-

main square but several small ones, as well as a

ments to the physical space. This result was

library, community centre, medical centre, grocery

achieved by using young people from Megafonen

stores, restaurants, small shops etc. Pedestrian

as ambassadors. Their local knowledge and multi-

walkways avoid road traffic and connect the various

lingualism were exploited in order to reach groups

parts of Husby, which means that children can play

of adults who otherwise would not have participated

in safety. When the area was built in the 1970s it

because of language problems or their unwilling-

was designed for community life. Each apartment

ness to expose their views. There was therefore

block had a meeting room, and each district had a

a strong degree of recognition between those

recreational centre. There were management staff

who organised the dialogue sessions and the

who assumed an informal role as ‘information chan-

participants. The issues were also important to the

nels’ between residents and public agencies. One

residents since their immediate environment was at

community centre built adjoining one of the squares

stake. Consequently, both the level of participation

had a restaurant, and a stage that could be used for

and expectations were high. The youth organisa-

debates and parties. Over time, public services in

tions also had great expectations that their accrued

Husby deteriorated due to changes in the Swedish

time and the capital built on their reputation would

welfare system and dominant political ideologies.

make a difference.

The neighbourhood managers disappeared, as did other service personnel. Recently, the privatisa-

However, the municipal authorities never saw

tion and closure of public housing, together with

the citizen dialogue as anything more than a way

plans to remove the pedestrian/traffic separation,

of obtaining information. They had no intention of

have provoked substantial local protests and illegal

involving the participants in the actual decision-


making. For their part, the urban planners were focused on a restricted field that concerned roads

In parallel with the decline in publicly supported

and buildings and avoided issues that the citizens

common spaces, the common domains in semi-

found more urgent, such as the provision of social

commercial spaces online are widening. An

services in the area. Accordingly, reactions were

important source of information among Persian

strong when the final proposal did not meet the

speakers in Husby and other parts of the world is

local activists’ expectations. The municipal authori-

Radio Peyvan, a community radio based in Husby.

ties took more account of the Stockholm region

The role of the Iranian Culture Association, which

as a whole. Therefore, although the participatory

operates the radio, is to strengthen a sense of

approach created considerable expectations for

self and thus promote integration and participa-

direct influence in the decision-making process,

tion in Swedish society. One of the more popular

these were never realised. Instead, the documenta-

programmes has explained the activities of parlia-

tion of the dialogues, including quotes from citizens

ment and the government. The use of Persian has

and their images, were used to justify a new plan

made it easier for the elderly (whose knowledge

that was almost identical to the one that had initially

of Swedish is limited) to follow and therefore to


Fig. 2: Bana Bisrat from Megafonen at demonstration against Swedish migration policy in Stockholm 2013. © Calandrella.


understand and participate in the community. Radio

Our media study shows that Husby is often

Peyvan also presents and discusses Swedish news.

portrayed as a problem area in news articles.14

The radio channel works rather like a bulletin board,

Half the articles and notices about Husby describe

advertising events and hosting call-in programmes

some kind of problem, and the majority of indi-

that discuss a range of urgent issues. The radio is

viduals selected as subjects or spokespersons in

also available on the Internet and, according to its

the articles – the ones who are portrayed or inter-

producer Bahman Motaei, has about 8,000 online

viewed and whose opinions occupy a central role

listeners, an estimated 90% of whom live in Iran.

in the press – are middle-aged and have typical,

For Bahman, it is important that people who contact

ethnic, Swedish names. In general, they tend to be

the channel are given space and can control the

people with a position in society, usually working for

content. His aim is to act more as a moderator,

a government or municipal authority, whereas the

listening and making sure that everyone has a

majority of ‘objectified’ individuals in the articles,

chance to talk.

those mentioned and discussed but not directly interviewed, are ‘young people’. The positions

The Iraq Art Association is another active

presented in the articles are far from an equal or

community in the area, and official Iraqi media

fair representation of the diversity found in Husby,

comment on exhibitions at the art gallery. Although

or elsewhere for that matter. One can see the public

these organisations do not have much influence in

sphere as a mirror in which some people can recog-

the official Swedish cultural sphere, they are part

nise themselves more than others. ‘Young people’

of other global communities. This is an example of

feature extensively in the reporting, but mainly as

how globalisation has reshaped the foundations of

objects of concern. The people showing concern

the shared local sphere and how residents of Husby

and doing the talking are middle-aged and are often

act in various public arenas not shared by the offi-

representatives of public authorities: politicians, civil

cials of the Stockholm municipality. Neither does

servants and police officers.

the municipality see Husby’s current residents as its main ‘citizens’. Instead, the municipal authorities

There is, however, one exception that counters

consider how they think Stockholm should evolve

this media approach: the local journal Norra Sidan

over time from a global perspective and, conse-

has taken a more constructive attitude. It was

quently, place importance on attracting financially

founded as late as 2012 as a reaction to the discred-

strong partners to invest locally. ‘Global’ connec-

iting style of journalism in other media. Its strategy is

tions in this context are of a different kind from those

to conduct so-called citizen journalism by reaching

represented by Husby’s residents, many of whom

out to residents and seeking to formulate problems

have Swedish as their second or third language.

and solutions together with its readers. Although the paper is only issued monthly, it has rapidly become

What is most interesting with regard to Husby is

an important local source of information.

the gap in worldviews between the decision-makers from the city council and the residents. This can be

In the newspaper Norra Sidan it is the local people

explained by examining how Husby is presented in

who write, which makes it different, creating a different

the dominant media. Ekberg shows how Swedish

feeling. Crime is not the only thing that occurs in the

journalists are not only concentrated in the major

area. The [other] media give a false image. The image

cities, but also reside in a small number of neigh-

has consequences. A while ago, the kids played with

bourhoods in the inner city.

the image by making fun of it. They harassed those


who came here they did not recognise, just to confirm


the prejudices. (Amir Marjai, aged 45).

determined by power elites who held no dialogue with residents in the local communities. A planning

For Rouzbeh Djalai, editor of Norra Sidan, the

profession that only focused on the physical envi-

point of the local newspaper is not to change other

ronment was questioned, and a view of the city as

people’s image of a place – the most important

a total social, economic, and cultural system was

thing is to change the self-image of the people

emphasised. The critique was also strongly against


an overly rational attitude towards urban renewal, which saw planners aligning themselves with

If the local newspaper constantly stresses that you

powerful real-estate interests. At that time, new,

live in a crappy area, then you have to, as a reaction,

more inclusive, planning paradigms appeared, such

either move away or it’s you who are the problem, and

as transactive and advocacy planning. Advocacy

you make the problem your identity. (Rouzbeh Djalaie,

planning, for instance, emphasises the conflicts and

aged 47)

diversity of interests in the planning process, and maintains that the planner should not represent only

The uneven distribution of visibility for different

one public interest, but acknowledge the presence of

groups in the media is not unique to reporting about

many and conflicting ones. One of its leading propo-

Husby, but it clearly shows that the public sphere is

nents, Paul Davidoff, has also criticised the fact that

a highly unequal place in terms of its representa-

most so-called public participation programmes are

tion and recognition of identity. Given that the media

reactions to government proposals rather than initi-

offers an important place for deliberative dialogue

ated by residents presenting their own proposals:

and democratic agenda setting, media discourses are fundamental to the way politicians and urban

Intelligent choice about public policy would be aided

planners define and frame the problems that urban

if different political, social, and economic interests

renewal is supposed to solve.

produced city plans. Plural plans rather than a single agency plan should be presented to the public.

Participation, democracy and globalisation

Politicizing the planning process requires that the

As we discussed above, conflicts have arisen

planning function be located in either or both the

regarding the way in which Husby’s problems are

executive and legislative branches and the scope of

formulated and presented. The Municipality of

planning be broadened to include all areas of interest

Stockholm wants to develop and rebuild the area

to the public.15

while the residents want better social services, and would prefer lower rents to renovations. An

In this model, a radical democratic notion of public

important part of defining the problem takes place

participation is a central tenet, and a multitude

in a public sphere that is dominated by restricted

of public interests are assumed and respected.


The formal planner is merely a facilitator who is supposed to stimulate primarily underrepresented

The 1960s and 70s marked a period in which

groups to actively participate in the processes.

American urban planners were engaged in the

The model also emphasises the political aspects of

civil rights movement and the struggles against the

planning and the importance of recognising unequal

displacement of low-income communities. The rapid

economic conditions and power differences.

transformation of Western city centres provoked

This model is interesting in relation to develop-

people to raise their voices and protest about insen-

ment plans for Husby. As with the urban planning

sitive rebuilding schemes and gentrification projects

Davidoff criticised in the 1960s, it is not primarily the


residents’ interests that are being taken into account.

these types of alternative public spheres, where

The planners represent the one and only ‘general

contested identities, such as minority groups, can

best’: there is no attempt to present multiple plans

develop their own discourses without constant

that include the standpoints of different groups of

questioning from hegemonic worldviews.17

stakeholders. There is a clash of interests between the officials who want to change Husby and the

It should be noted, however, that minority groups

residents of Husby who may have to relocate as a

also tend to be structured within certain parameters

result of these changes. This conflict seems to be

– age or gender for example – and are no more

reinforced by the fact that the planning officials and

democratic than the dominant sphere: members of

politicians in charge, who do not live in the area,

the same group may well have different, conflicting

are also of a different class and ethnicity from the

interests. In Husby, for example, Street Gäris was

residents of Husby who are directly affected by the

founded as a reaction against male dominance in

planning decisions. The gap between the conflicting

local public spheres,18 and may serve to illustrate

interests and worldviews is simply too large. In addi-

what John Dryzek calls a ‘discursive democracy’.

tion, the agenda and discussion are governed by

In this model, just as in a deliberative democracy,

a hegemonic discourse in the public sphere, which

the agenda is defined by the dominant discourse;

reproduces discriminatory structures. Ideally, we

however, by creating places where alternative

would like to see efficient means of enlightened

discourses can be developed, these can grow

reasoning taking place, much advocated by propo-

strong and influence the discourse of the dominant

nents of deliberative democracy. But as Mouffe,

public sphere.19 In this context, the group’s iden-

for one, has noted, this is only possible if no major

tity and interests may not necessarily be uniform.

conflicts exist between the different groups, which is

In contrast, a political practice that emphasises

not the case in Husby.16

the antagonism between different groups underestimates the contradictions and unequal power

Consequently, the public sphere in which political

relations within these groups. Identity-based groups

issues are considered can be a profoundly undemo-

held together by common norms and cultures

cratic and unequal place, governed by ideologies

can be composed of individuals with a variety of

very different from the ideal model of democracy in

interests. In this respect, new media can enable

the deliberative participatory paradigm. Inequalities

individuals from different groups to gather more

may also multiply when information and communi-

easily around specific interests (such as feminism),

cation technology reinforce dominant norms about

regardless of their identity-group affiliation (such as

what questions are political, thus increasing the

being young or from Somalia), which may loosen

tension between different groups in society: those

the links between interest and identity. Dryzek

whose questions count as political and those whose

further argues that in order to reduce the signifi-

issues are not even discussed. On the other hand,

cance of antagonism between different groups, we

the increased use of social media, where the focus

need public meeting rooms far from the hot political

is on friends and family, has transformed what were

locations where decisions are made. Within these

once private social spaces into public spheres with

micro-public spheres more creative discussions can

a global reach. The development of public spheres

take place between people with similar interests,

on the internet can be regarded as an opportunity to

and thus enable the development of arguments and

create more alternative sources of information, and

ideas strong enough to influence a larger public

a way of breaking information monopolies. Fraser


suggested the term subaltern counter publics for


To sum up: since the 1960s, participatory prac-

In addition to redistribution and representation,

tices have become a norm in many areas, but the

Fraser also adds recognition of one’s identity as

underlying ideology has changed towards a notion

important for democratic justice.21 Particularly in

of democracy that focuses less on redistribu-

a global perspective where the participant is not

tion and more on recognition and representation.

clearly defined, recognition of one’s worldview and

Furthermore, ICT is changing the concept of the

identity is important for developing the incentive

common sphere; for instance, local issues (such

to participate in the deliberative process. As one

the action of Husby’s young girls against male

of our informants remarked in the interview: ‘The

dominance) can easily become part of a global

satellite dishes are illustrative. Many people do not

movement (the feminist movement, for example),

experience what is around them as real. What is

while questions about who is affected by changes

here is not your truth, so you turn away, maybe to

in a given situation become more difficult to answer

your home country, to get information from outside’.

as economies increasingly intertwine. Participation

(Amir Marjai, aged 45)

in urban planning therefore not only entails being part of the decision-making process, but also being

Information technology facilitates parallel public

part of the agenda-setting process, which evolves

spheres. If one’s identity is not confirmed in one

from discourses developed in the dominant public

forum, involvement is reduced, but it might increase

sphere: discourses that are also influenced by

in other forums. If representation is considered from

subaltern counter-publics formed from communi-

a perspective where the motivation for engaging in

ties of interests. In Husby, the interest organisation

a community is not (only) based on national and

Megafonen and the network Järva’s Future are both

geographic boundaries but also involves relation-

examples of subaltern counter-publics that have

ships between participants in dynamically-created

managed to develop their own powerful discourses,

global communities of interest, recognition both

which in turn have influenced general public opinion.

motivates and structures representation. According

Therefore the next question to ask is what moti-

to urban network theory, participation in informal

vates the individual to participate in a community of

networks is organised along parameters such as

interest and to develop alternative public spheres?

class, gender or ethnicity, verifying the assumption that equals seek equals.22 People with similar inter-

The importance of recognition for participation

ests or similar problems are attracted to each other

In the 1970s, Davidoff emphasised that redistribu-

as they acknowledge each other’s perspectives,

tion was the ultimate goal for urban planners, and

codes, and rituals. In this perspective, community

that equal representation in the planning process

is about recognition and shared cultural norms and

was the condition for this.20 Representation is

values, developed through interaction between indi-

increasingly relevant today given that the perception

viduals over time.

of the nation state as the basis of institutionalised democracy is being questioned by the rise of global

Thus, recognition and closeness in time and

movements dealing with issues – from human rights

space seem to be reasons for participating in a

to the environment – that involve globally scattered

community. An individual’s relationship with other

stakeholders. Participation is not just about taking

people in terms of recognition is then determined

part in decision-making processes, but also entails

by the amount of shared common ground, with

defining who is a legitimate, representative ‘citizen’

parameters such as gender and class assuming

in these processes.

importance, together with time and physical location. The significant contribution of information


technology in this context is to reduce the impor-

- Community: A group of people who share inter-

tance of time and physical location, making it easier

ests, values, goals and practices, and where people

to tie common bonds with peers at a distance. In

often know each other. The culture is mediated in a

practice, this means that the common domain shifts

public sphere.

from one based on time and geographical proximity, to one where interests do not depend on time or

This chart should be viewed as a scale where the

physical location. For instance, instead of having

individual may be simultaneously part of several

a conversation with people in your physical vicinity

different series, interest groups and communities.

whom you might not know very well, the mobile phone allows conversation with friends at a distance,

Linking this perspective to Dryzek’s concept of

with whom you may prefer to talk. To understand

discursive democracy, communication tools such

the individual’s motivation for participating in the

as shared meeting rooms, publications, or discus-

shaping of common, local spaces, it is important

sion groups online can develop greater antagonism

to understand how interests arising from shared

between different interest groups by strengthening

geographical space intersect with other communi-

their separate culture and particularity. Yet the same

ties of interest. The individual here can be seen as

tools can also reduce culture-based antagonism by

more or less fragmented into various communities

making it easier for people to contact other groups

of interest that can be shared by people in the same

with whom they share an interest, regardless of any

geographical space, or in a completely different

culturally conditioned identity. The feminist move-

geographical areas. ICT can lead to fragmentation,

ment is an example of this. People from different

but by facilitating involvement in local affairs, it can

classes and cultures can form an interest group

also be used to reconnect people who share the

­– on the issue of women’s suffrage, for example –

same physical location.

and thus change the rules that govern the scope for action of the whole series of women. Husby

Iris Young refers to individuals who share

itself provides another example. The area has

common denominators as belonging to ‘series’

many organisations built on common values such

rather than ‘groups’ – a belonging that does not

as culture or religion. Although these organisa-

necessarily imply awareness.

This interpretation

tions share premises, they otherwise have little in

makes it possible to consider individuals as passive

common. However, when the premises were threat-

members of a variety of interest groups, even ones

ened with closure, Järva’s Future network was

with conflicting interests. Figure  3 illustrates the

created as an interest group that drew its members

difference between a series, a loosely tied interest

from a variety of organisations. Their joint action

group, and a community with shared cultural values:

resulted in a general improvement of the local


community. - Series: A series of people, who are unaware of each other, share a common denominator. There

To conclude: the motivation to participate in the

are no channels of communication.

public sphere can be understood as a combination

- Interest Group: A group of people who share a

of shared interests and shared values; for example,

common interest and create a public sphere. The

recognition. The individual takes part in several,

individual has a communication channel to the

more or less coherent, communities of interest, all

group, be it a shared space, a mailing list, or a

of which can be seen as bases for public spheres.

similar forum that makes communication with the

A social space, such as a restaurant or discus-

group possible.

sion group online, does not automatically increase


Fig. 3: Illustration of: A series of people with a common denominator; a loosely-knit interest group; a tightly-knit community. Black dots denote individuals; grey dots signify what they have in common; lines indicate that they know each other. The length of the lines has no significance. Illustration: Karin Hansson.


participation but it improves the conditions for

belong to. Here, common spaces play an important

participation. Globalisation causes a fragmentation

role in helping transform common local interests

of the local public sphere, but may also strengthen

into common identities. This includes such contexts

minority groups locally.

as public squares, community centres, newspapers, TV channels, or websites that confirm individual

Concluding remarks: recognition and

self-images and encourage interaction and the


collective development of knowledge.

Today, participation is the norm in urban planning, but the underlying ideology has changed from a

Communities of this kind are not conflict-free.

radically democratic ideology that emphasised the

Participation is not a means of getting everyone to

significance of unequal economic conditions and

take part in a joint creative urban design process.

power differences, to a liberal ideology that empha-

Instead, broad public participation helps to promote

sises access to information and the importance

more critical perspectives and as diverse a picture

of participation for a more creative and efficient

of the situation as possible.

society. Differences in the ability to participate in planning processes are increased by a media land-

For instance, Husby’s residents were used as

scape that is fragmented and ever more difficult to

informants in the municipal authority’s survey of the

survey. This situation has also transferred interest

area, and their comments were submitted as part

from the economic inequalities between groups to

of the data that informed the municipal planners.

the unequal influence certain groups have on the

The starting point was that Husby needed improve-

dominant discourse.

ments. The solutions decided upon were aspects the city planners could control, such as buildings,

From this perspective, participation is as much

roads, and repainting houses. The agenda had been

about recognising one’s personal identity, and how

decided in advance, and solutions to the problems

one’s concept of reality is reflected in the media, as

were already defined. The authorities had already

it is about the redistribution of the means to partici-

established the framework for discussion. Just as in

pate. Recognition is connected to representation.

the type of participatory art where the artist creates

If the individual’s self-image is not recognised in

the framework and then invites participants to fill in

the public discourse, it is not represented in the

the ‘content’, people are assumed to be bearers of

decision-makers’ image of the situation. The incen-

‘data’ that can be extracted, rather than acknowl-

tive to engage in the common also decreases

edged as critical discussion partners.

if the individual is not acknowledged as a part of this community. Participation is about reciprocity: if

Figure 4 illustrates an individual’s participation in

the individual does not feel that the engagement is

diverse interest groups, to which he or she belongs

mutual, the incentive to participate is reduced. For

to a greater or lesser extent. People who live in the

most citizens, the personal benefit of becoming

same area tend to have more common interests

involved in planning activities is usually low and the

than people who do not, but forums such as books,

cost of participation high.

magazines, art, websites and social media loosen the link with geographical proximity. The individual

In order to create greater engagement in local

may actually have more in common with people

issues, a community seems to be required where

in other locations, and the incentive to engage in

the participants are seen and acknowledged in light

issues related to the common location decreases.

of the diversity of the multiple communities they


Fig. 4: Illustration of how the individual (represented by the white dot) is included in various interest groups (grey spheres), where such a group also provides a social network as several individuals (represented by black dots) in the interest group share and develop information together through a forum that can be a physical meeting place or ICT. A communication forum (big dot) provides potential contact (dotted lines) between members of the interest group and enables community in the group to develop (solid lines). Illustration: Karin Hansson.


But as Dryzek suggests, communication can

Journal of the American Institute of Planners

also be actively used to strengthen the ties between

(November 1965), pp.  331–38; Sherry R. Arnstein,

those who share or are affected by the loca-

‘A Ladder of Citizen Participation’, Journal of the

tion: firstly, by bringing visibility to an issue, and

American Institute of Planners (July 1969), pp. 216–24.

secondly, by creating space for dialogue between

2. Sherry R. Arnstein, ‘A Ladder of Citizen Participation’,

those affected by the issue. In a discussion forum, the discussion starts when someone puts forward

p. 224. 3. John





an issue and is interested in developing it with the


help of the group. In order to get others interested in

(Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1999); Patsy Healey,

participating in the call, it is important to recognise

Collaborative Planning: Shaping Places in Fragmented

and treat them as equals. In a long-term reciprocal

Societies (Vancouver: UBC Press, 1997); Michael

interaction, fellowship and a common culture are

Murray and John Greer, ‘Participatory Planning as

developed that will further strengthen the relation-

Dialogue: The Northern Ireland Regional Strategic

ship between interest and identity.

Framework and its Public Examination Process’, Policy Studies,




23, 3 (September 2002), pp.191–

None of this is new, but Husby is an example of

209; Patsy Healey, ‘Planning Through Debate: The

how globalisation and ICT have gained a signifi-

Communicative Turn in Planning Theory’, ed. by Frank

cant role in shaping local issues, and thus contains

Fischer and John Forester, Town Planning Review,

important indicators with regard to reinforcing incen-

63, 2 (1992), pp. 143–62.

tives to participate in urban planning.

4. Philip Allmendinger and Mark Tewdwr-Jones, ‘The Communicative Turn in Urban Planning: Unravelling

To improve the equal representation of participants in urban planning processes requires the

Paradigmatic, Imperialistic and Moralistic Dimensions’, Space and Polity, 6, 1 (April 2002), pp.5–24.

creation of a long-term engagement in local affairs

5. Digital Cities III. Information Technologies for Social

rather than in single events. It involves creating

Capital: Cross-cultural Perspectives, ed. by Peter

spaces and forums for a variety of public spheres

van den Besselaar and Satoshi Koizumi, Third

where different political agendas can be launched

International Digital Cities Workshop, Amsterdam,

and given time to develop. Common domains such

the Netherlands, September 18-19, 2003. Revised

as public squares, libraries, schools, local papers,


art galleries and online forums are important settings

networks: lessons from Blacksburg, Virginia, ed. by

for communication. A participatory methodology for

Andrew Michael Cohill and Andrea L. Kavanaugh

urban planning should thus be aimed at supporting




(Boston: Artech House, 1997).

and acknowledging a variety of communication

6. Mats Danielson et al., ‘Using a Software Tool for Public

flows in order to reduce the differences between

Decision Analysis: The Case of Nacka Municipal

those with more and those with less influence over

authorities’, Decision Analysis, 4, 2 (June 1, 2007),

the political agenda.

pp.  76–90; Mats Danielson et al., ‘Decision process support for participatory democracy’, Journal of MultiCriteria Decision Analysis, 15, 1-2 (January 2008),


pp. 15–30.

1. See, for example, Paul Davidoff, ‘Working Toward

7. Allmendinger and Tewdwr-Jones, ‘The Communicative

Redistributive Justice’, Journal of the American

Turn in Urban Planning: Unravelling Paradigmatic,

Institute of Planners (September 1975): pp.  317–18;

Imperialistic and Moralistic Dimensions’; Carina

Paul Davidoff, ‘Advocacy and Pluralism in Planning’,

Listerborn, ‘Who speaks? And who listens? The


relationship between planners and women’s partici-


pation in local planning in a multi-cultural urban


environment’, GeoJournal, 70, 1 (February 23,

“Nätverket Järvas Framtid,” jarvasframtid.se, 2011,

[accessed 13 July 2013].

2008), pp.  61–74; Markus Miessen, The Nightmare

[accessed 20 May 2013].

of Participation: (Crossbench Praxis as a Mode of

13. Kerstin Ekberg, Här bor journalisterna (Stockholm,

Criticality) (New York: Sternberg Press, 2010); Margo


Huxley, ‘The Limits to Communicative Planning’,


Journal of Planning Education and Research, 19, 4 (2000), pp. 369–77.

[accessed 10 September 2013]. 10. Ibid.

Notes 1. Aleksandra

11. Jane Rendell, Art and Architecture (London: IB Kędziorek




Tauris, 2006); What Is Critical Spatial Practice?, ed.

‘Architecture as a Pedagogical Object: What to

by Nikolaus Hirsch and Markus Miessen (Berlin:

Preserve of the Przyczółek Grochowski Housing

Sternberg Press, 2011).

Estate by Oskar & Zofia Hansen in Warsaw?’, Architektúra & Urbanizmus, 46, 3-4 (2012), pp. 2-21, p. 17. 2. Alois Riegl, ‘The Modern Cult of Monuments: Its Character and Its Origin’, in Oppositions Reader, ed. by K. Michael Hays (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1998), pp. 621-53.

12. Philipp






Misselwitz, Urban Catalyst: The Power of Temporary Use (Berlin: DOM Publishers, 2013). 13. Manuel De Sola Morales, A Matter of Things (Rotterdam: NAi Publishers, 2008). 14. See, for example, Claire Colomb, ‘Pushing the Urban Frontier: Temporary Uses of Space, City

3. Gregory J. Ashworth and John E. Tunbridge, The

Marketing and the Creative City Discourse in 2000s

Tourist-Historic City (Chichester: John Wiley & Sons,

Berlin’; Stephan Lanz, ‘Be Berlin! Governing the City


through Freedom’, International Journal of Urban and

4. [accessed 10 September 2013].

Regional Research, 37, 4 (2012), pp. 1305-24; Maroš Krivý, ‘Don’t Plan! The Use of the Notion of ‘Culture’ in

5. See, for example, Peter Bauer, ‘Panelový dům a

Transforming Obsolete Industrial Space’, International

design [Panel House and Design]’, Architektura ČSR,

Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 37, 5


(2013), pp. 1724-46. 15. Pier V. Aureli, The Project of Autonomy (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2008).

Biography Maroš Krivý is currently Invited Professor of Urban Studies at the Faculty of Architecture, Estonian Academy of Arts.

16. Pier V. Aureli, The Possibility of an Absolute

In 2012 he obtained a PhD in Urban Studies from the

Architecture (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2011).

University of Helsinki. Among his publications are ‘Don’t

17. Maurizio Lazzarato, ‘Immaterial Labour’, in Radical

Plan! The Use of the Notion of ‘Culture’ in Transforming

Thought in Italy: A Potential Politics, ed. by Paul

Obsolete Industrial Space’ (International Journal of Urban

Virno and Michael Hardt (Minneapolis; London:

and Regional Research, 2013) and ‘Industrial Architecture

University of Minnesota Press, 1996), pp.  133-47;

and Negativity: the Aesthetics of Architecture in the Works

Christian Marazzi, Capital and Affects: The Politics

of Gordon Matta-Clark, Robert Smithson and Bernd and

of the Language Economy (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT

Hilla Becher’ (Journal of Architecture, 2010). Maroš is also

Press, 2011); Rosalind Gill and Andy Pratt, ‘In the

a visual artist and researcher. His project New Coat of

Social Factory?: Immaterial Labour, Precariousness

Paint was exhibited at the Hobusepea Gallery in Tallinn

and Cultural Work’, Theory, Culture & Society, 25, 7-8

(2013), and was included in the Alternativa festival organ-

(2008), pp. 1-30.

ised by IS Wyspa in Gdańsk (2013). He was the winner of

18. For the debate on the Miesian plinth, see Pier V. Aureli, The Possibility of an Absolute Architecture, pp. 34-46. 19. Gilles Deleuze, ‘Postscript on the Societies of Control’, October, 59 (Winter 1992), pp.  3-7; Gilles Deleuze, ‘Control and Becoming (in conversation with Antonio Negri)’, Futur Anterieur, 1 (Spring 1990) [accessed 10 September 2013]. 20. Pier V. Aureli, The Possibility of an Absolute Architecture, pp. 40-1. 21. Pier V. Aureli and Martino Tattara, ‘A Simple Heart: Architecture on the Ruins of the Post-Fordist City’, Architectural Design, 81, 1 (2011), pp. 110-19, p. 119.

the Sittcomm award (2011).


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