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Envisioning urban futures: What can urban design learn from how political activists imagine and enact urban change?

Usubillaga Narvaez, Juan ORCID: 2021. Envisioning urban futures: What can urban design learn from how political activists imagine and enact urban change? Presented at: AHRA PhD Symposium 2021, Virtual, 31 March - 1 April 2021.

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How do we envision the future of cities? This question is particularly relevant when doing research in (and about) cities today. We currently live in a context where traditional politics and policies struggle to cope with increasing urbanisation rates and growing inequalities. Meanwhile, social movements and political activists are rising up and inhabiting cities as sites of contestation. However, activists don’t just occupy space; they contest spatial manifestations of power and fundamentally transform cities. This paper will interrogate the meaning of envisioning urban futures in practices of political activism to argue for an understanding of them as a form of urban design practice. It will do so by comparing how activist practices transformed entire neighbourhoods in Bogotá (Potosí) and Berlin (Kreuzberg) between the 1970s and 1990s. Both cases illustrate how visions of urban change can be critically placed within a tension between utopian thinking and prefigurative politics. In Potosí, a community-based pedagogical project quickly evolved into a wider mobilisation to address the lack of health facilities, infrastructure and services in Bogotá’s informal settlements. This involved various discussions on how to achieve their desired societal change by: enacting in the present the society they wanted to create or engaging with the governance structures they criticised so heavily. Similarly in Kreuzberg, a critique of housing renewal policies triggered a cycle of mass mobilisation which encompassed wider discussions about squatting as an alternative development practice. Political activists in both cities deployed tactics and strategies that embraced the complexity of their urban context and raised questions about the means they needed for the ends sought. By arguing for an understanding of political activism as a form of urban design practice, the paper outlines the potential of (re)locating activism within design discourses and rethinking how we, as designers, envision and enact urban futures.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Status: Unpublished
Schools: Architecture
Last Modified: 09 Nov 2022 11:14

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