Public Spaces and Urban Cultures

Re-learning public space through an alternative city guide: Unstable geographies of play, ownership and empowerment

Published at: 2 March 2018

Call for Participation
An Action Research Event in AMSTERDAM, as part of the series:“Unstable geographies, dislocated publics”
AESOP Thematic Group Public Space and Urban Cultures
Re-learning public space through an alternative city guide:Unstable geographies of play, ownership and empowerment

28th – 30th June, 2018


Event Summary

The event involves tracing the stories behind innovative appropriations of public space, identifying related dilemmas and formulating research questions. Prior to the event, we will liaise with locals to design an alternative city guide inspired by a set of broad, yet timely themes. We will dwell on the challenges locals are confronted with, and the interventions they envision as potentially enriching the city. When presented with the opportunity to consult a broad, experienced and interested audience, what are the questions they would like to raise? The resulting city guide will enable the event participants to experience local everyday practices through thematic tours, which present alternative narratives of the city.

During the thematic tours, targeted interventions and exercises co-designed with local participants will provide opportunities for debate and reflection. How do these interventions ‘perform the place’ and alter/disrupt/enhance relationships? The combination of activities will shed light on questions of learning, ownership and empowerment, as well as setting the scene for future explorations and revisions of the alternative city guide. Here, public space is playground in a broad sense – we learn and reflect by seeking connections with locally active people and designed objects not just as ‘quick’ passers-by, but as observers and participants, and by conducting Action Research. The explorations performed during the conference aim to unpack the complex character of current and emergent urban challenges, to address those challenges both within community forums and plenary sessions, and to enable further learning and collaborative projects through the use of an open access data platform.

The programme in short

Day 1: Opening with Arjan van Timmeren, keynote by Colin McFarlane, beginning of fieldwork and thematic tours

Day 2: Continuing thematic tours, with neighbourhood forums and local performances
Themes: 1. The city of mass tourism; 2. The circular city (of water, food, energy flows); 3. The ludic city (of play, sports,    experimentation); 4. Urban densification and the informal city; 5. The city of alternative ecologies.

Day 3: Roundtables, consolidation for impact, looking into the future



Our website in the making with organisers, more elaborate explanations and developments:



Unlike in regular conferences, you will be actively involved in field activities and workshops. Thus, for the registration please submit no later than May 18th (a) short bio and (b) abstract of max 300 words, which indicates how your background, expertise, and research challenges align with your potential contribution to the event. Email:



To facilitate participation from a broad range of researchers and practitioners, there are no fees for the event. This is also the policy of the Public Space and Urban Cultures Working Group of AESOP.


Expectations from participants

Before the event: Submission of bio’s and abstracts (see under registration).

During the event: Sharing insights with local participants, based on own research, participate in neighborhood forums, participate in roundtables during the thematic tours, and the plenary session on the third day. Every participant will also gather insights during the event that will be shared to address the identified questions.

After the event: Submit a manuscript to the special issue/write a short post for the event blog.


Why Amsterdam?

The city of Amsterdam takes pride in emphasizing that it is owned by its citizens, even its visitors (IAmsterdam). As part of the “WeMakeTheCity” initiative, the ‘we’ is made up of creative entrepreneurs, an energetic society and a responsive government. There is an ongoing effort to develop inclusive solutions, and democratize decision-making and policy implementation. Amsterdam is therefore a salient case for exploring public space, learning together about questions of ownership and empowerment.



On the day of the event we will meet at the Advanced Metropolitan Solutions (AMS) Institute: Mauritskade 62, 1092 AD Amsterdam. The afternoon of the first day and the second day will be spent on our bicycles and in the neighborhoods. On the third day we will meet again at the AMS.


AESOP is the European Association of European Schools of Planning. AESOP is a large organization convening on a yearly basis. To organize its work throughout the year, it has a variety of thematic working groups. One of these groups focuses on “public space and urban cultures”. The main aim of the group is to generate an international and interdisciplinary exchange between the research and practices on public spaces and urban cultures. By doing so, it aims to support research, planning and a design agenda within and beyond the AESOP community. Our event is connected to the work performed in this thematic WG: