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Changing Places Urbanity, Citizenship, and Ideology in New European Neighbourhoods

by Marco Cremaschi and Frank Eckardt, Techne, Amsterdam, 2011

This book investigates the process of change in some European neighbourhoods, either newly and purposely built, or redeveloped from ashes. The book tries to offer evidence of many varied and complex paths of change, far from the mainstream simplified models of general urban evolution. The piecemeal production of new additions to cities, as well as the process of incrementally reconverting old places and urban segments, we argue, proceeds in fact on twin tracts: structural change and internal evolution, therefore discourses and combined practices are to be considered together.

Cases are taken from several countries in Western and Southern Europe (fig 1.) from among the latest developments. Euro-Mediterranée in Marseille and Parque das Nações in Lisbon are two monumental waterfront projects conceived as model intervention, design experimentation, and a cities strategic asset: yet, they present a consistent mix of uses, and a substantial number of new inhabitants. The combination of business activities, central function and proximity, though not usually connected to the idea of a neighbourhood, stands at the core of both Ørestad in Copenhagen and Ponte di Nona in Rome, and though the first results from an advanced design concept, the second is far more traditional. Hvidovre, again close to Copenhagen, and Afragola in the region of Naples, as well as Psiri in Athens, Niederrad in Frankfurt, and Bielany in Warsaw, are all areas in transition, through distinctive paths of change. To some extent, the collection of cases questions the traditional idea of the residential neighbourhood, partly secluded from the buzz and congestion of the city. Quite the opposite, the selection illustrates how cities are changing by way of reinterpreting the concept of the residential neighborhood, producing instead new urban “places”.

“Changing places” is composed of a series of different case studies (table 1), all investigating the change of European neighbourhoods in the last twenty years[1]. The chapters assess the ideological discourses of change against the actual practices of production taking place in a few neighbourhoods. The research tackles such change in an explanatory way, from the neighbourhoods upwards, rather than ‘downloading’ frames and concepts from the general models of urban change. All chapters venture into the realm of discursive arguments, analysing visions and discourses elaborated to justify neighbourhood change, unravelling the tangle between everyday practices and ideological representations. Beyond celebration or slander, studying these narratives contributes to the understanding of places; even more, to the critique of both the design of physical spaces and the elaboration of policy actions.

The chapters are based upon original research carried out by a group of researchers from different countries and backgrounds, reflecting a varied set of interests and cultural orientations, as well as the personal approaches of their respective authors[2]. The book’s selection acknowledges the diversity of the contributions, a diversity reflected in the table of contents, which alternates different approaches. Far from confusing, the contrast of more interpretative or more analytical views enriches the understanding of the way places change: moreover, it emphasizes through contrast the buzz of rhetorical arguments that weigh down the research on this subject.

All the cases investigate places in a process of consistent transformation. The rate and nature of change, however, is diverse. The book focuses upon local change, while most of city transformations are due to non-local reasons. As is well-known, the restructuring of the economy has hit cities sparingly. Some cities are on privileged ground because of size and political weight, and have been able to develop independent development policies, often supported by ambitious strategic visions. Through overwhelming rhetoric, urban “visions” have lately gained influence on public opinion and policy making.

But the research field seems marred by over-dramatization, and by an excess of generalist claims, generalisations that are far too broad to be effective in guiding cities’ policy choices. This is not the first time cities have been torn between fears and expectations, and have alternately claimed to have the key to both problems and solutions. Urban theory has in part touched on local change, but seems more attracted by epoch-making interpretations, as testified by the effort to provide models and shape narratives into a captivating label, adjectivating cities as global, post-modern, creative, etc.

This collection of case studies questions the nature of urban rhetoric, and explores individual neighbourhoods through rich, “thick” descriptions of their present situation and their development story. In the following chapters, change is neither approached by recollecting empirical data only, nor by theorising on apparent (but often misunderstood) recurrences, but rather cautiously interpreted (though by different authors) by probing the context, undoing the often puzzling combination of social causes, and reconstructing the clash of representations. The storylines of neighbourhood development and redevelopment, though often showing argumentative loops, constitute the materiality of places. The aim is to reconstruct local development paths and specific trends of change, contrasting hurried generalisation. The expected result is a better understanding of the process of place making.

[1] The chapters were provided by contributors chosen from applicants responding to an open call that was directed to all young European researchers. Those appearing here were selected by the editors and invited to take part in a subsequent discussion. The editors would like to thank Jennifer Plaul for her help in organising the Conference; Thom Rofé for her professional yet sympathetic revision of all the texts; and the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) for the financial support.

[2] The contributors to the book were invited to a conference in Weimar entitled Citizenship in New Neighbourhoods organised by the University Roma Tre and the Bauhaus-University in Weimar, on 3-4 November 2009. The process of revision and rewriting took most of 2010.


Marco Cremaschi, Frank Eckardt      Introduction

Marco Cremaschi, Frank Eckardt      New neighbourhoods, places of Europe

Heidi Bergsli                                               Envisioned and manufactured landscapes in Marseille

Sandra Annunziata                                  Evolving urban citizenship and the erosion of public space in Ponte di Nona, Rome

Ivana Trkulja                                             The Ørestad beyond what an eye captures: an existentialist enquiry into the being and becoming of new neighbourhoods

Patricia Simões Aelbrecht                    Spatial tactics: a study of everyday uses in the Parque das Nações in Lisbon

Signe S. Bøggild and Marie B. Yde     Re/En/living history, Copenhagen’s memory of modernism

Nicholas Karachalis                                 The regeneration of inner city neighbourhoods and the role of cultural industries of Psiri in Athens

Frank Eckardt and Janoš Klocke        Changing Frankfurt: Niederrad at the gates of globalisation

Magdalena Górzynska                             Neighbourhoods in transition: the case of Bielany in Warsaw

Daniela De Leo                                           Insurgent public sphere in illegal settlements: Afragola in Naples metro-region

Marco Cremaschi, Frank Eckardt      Conclusion: exploring urban change


Patricia Simões Aelbrecht is an architect and urban designer. She is currently a PhD candidate and teaching assistant in Urban Design at the Bartlett School of Planning, University College London. Her research examines the role of urban design in framing public life and behaviour in the contemporary city. Email: p.simoes@ucl.ac.uk.

Sandra Annunziata, post-doctoral researcher in the Department of Urban Studies at the Roma Tre University. She earned a PhD in Territorial Policies and Local Project in the same department in 2008, with a study of the gentrified neighbourhoods of Rome. Email: sandra.annunziata@uniroma3.it.

Heidi Bergsli, research fellow in human geography in the Urban Research Program at Oslo University College, she investigates the role of social rights in new urban policies from a European and comparative perspective. Email: Heidi.bergsli@est.hio.no

Signe Sophie Bøggild, M.Phil. in Art and Architectural History, Copenhagen University and MA in Visual Cultures and Geographies, Goldsmiths College, London University. Her research primarily addresses urbanism and post-war modernism; she has contributed to books by Crimson Architectural Historians, The International New Town Institute, and the University of Gothenburg. She writes for magazines, lectures at conferences and works for urban and architectural offices in Denmark and abroad, she is currently at The Danish Town Planning Institute. Email: signeboeggild@hotmail.com

Marco Cremaschi, Associate Professor of Urban Policies at the University of Rome Tre, Department of Urban Studies. He is the president of Planum, a network publishing the European Journal of Planning online (www.planum.net). He has published extensively on housing, urban policies, and the European Union initiatives for the regeneration of cities. Email: m.cremaschi@uniroma3.it

Daniela De Leo is an architect and planner (PhD at University Federico II of Napoli). She is currently an Assistant Professor at the University of Roma La Sapienza. Her work concerns the spatial and territorial effects of organized crime and the local development process in South Italy. Email: deleo@unina.it

Frank Eckardt, Professor for urban sociology at the Bauhaus-University Weimar, coordinator of various international, national and regional research projects, has written on different subjects of urban sociology, urban planning and related fields. Email: Frank.Eckardt@uni-weimar.de

Magdalena Górczyńska, Master’s Degree in Spatial Economy (2005) and in Economic Geography (2006) at the University of Warsaw. She is a doctoral student at the Institute of Geography and Spatial Organization in the Polish Academy of Sciences (since 2006) and at the Université Panthéon-Sorbonne Paris-1 (since 2008), and is preparing a comparative study on the social transformations of the neighbourhoods in Warsaw and Paris. Email: mgor@twarda.pan.pl

Nicholas Karachalis, adjunct lecturer at the University of Thessaly and the Hellenic Open University and associate researcher at the Regional Development Institute of the Panteion University of Athens. He is interested in analysing the trends and dynamics between culture, tourism and urban development processes, using an interdisciplinary approach and perspective. Email: karachalis@panteion.gr

Janoš Klocke (Dipl.-Pol.) studied political sciences with a focus on Subject Theory at the Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main and the Charles University in Prague. He worked as a Research Associate in the Faculty of Architecture at the Bauhaus-University in Weimar and is currently preparing his dissertation at Humboldt University in Berlin. Email: Janos.Klocke@gmx.de

Ivana Trkulja holds a Ph.D in Political Theory from LUISS University Guido Carli of Rome. Her research interests involve politics, existentialism and the urban life in redeveloping cities. E-mail: ivt@mindlift.net

Marie Bruun Yde is a researcher and project curator (MA in Modern Culture) within urban planning and art in public space. She is currently working as an educator at the public art festival TUMULT in Denmark. She is also editor of SOUP – A Temporary Art and Architecture Project in Urbanplanen (2009).  Email: mariebruunyde@gmail.com

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