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Can political activism (re)design cities?

Usubillaga Narvaez, Juan 2020. Can political activism (re)design cities? Presented at: London Festival of Architecture Symposium 2020, Virtual, 30 June 2020.

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Architects and urban designers today face a context in which traditional politics and cities are struggling to cope with increasing urbanisation rates and rising inequalities (UN-Habitat, 2016; World Bank, 2018). Meanwhile, social movements and political activists are rising up and inhabiting urban spaces as sites of contestation. This paper will explore how, beyond occupations, political activism actually shapes – designs – the city at different scales; it will argue that political activism drives process of urban change and as such can be understood as an alternative mode of urban design practice. Although activism in the city has gained much attention in recent research in the fields of Geography (Wood, 2017), Sociology (Bayat, 2013) and Planning (Miraftab, 2009, 2014, 2015), among others, the design agency embedded in these practices has not been sufficiently explored so far, and this is the area where this paper aims to contribute. Political activists operate in a realm between legality and illegality, where they deal with - and contest - spatial manifestations of power in their everyday lives. Through the exploration of two case studies - the Seven Sisters market in London, U.K., and the Ciudad Bolivar district in Bogota, Colombia - this paper will demonstrate how a city can be shaped by direct action. Both cases, although contextually different, exemplify how issues of resistance, oppression and violence can be instrumental in city-making processes at different scales. In Seven Sisters, an organised community contests a local development plan to evict them, while in Ciudad Bolivar, it is unorganised families that collectively build most of the urban fabric through a contestation of local planning ordinances. Following these cases, the paper will call for architects and urban designers to rethink current practices in a way that engages with such processes of political activism and voices rising up from below.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Status: Unpublished
Schools: Architecture
Last Modified: 13 Jul 2021 15:00

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