Public Spaces and Urban Cultures

Call for Interest "Unstable Geographies - Dislocated Publics"

Published at: 16 December 2015


Association of European Schools of Planning (AESOP)

Thematic Group ‘Public Spaces and Urban Cultures’ (TG PS-UC)

December, 2015

To Whom It May Concern,

The AESOP Thematic Group for Public Spaces and Urban Cultures (AESOP TG PS-UC) has opened a call to potential institutional partners, in Europe and beyond, to host the group’s meeting in the series UNSTABLE GEOGRAPHIES - DISLOCATED PUBLICS, during the period from 2016 to 2018. Previous meetings of the Thematic Group have been organised under the themes of “Conviviality” (2010-2012; in Vienna, Ljubljana, Naples, Brussels, and Lisbon) and “Becoming Local” (2013-2015; in Istanbul, Bucharest, Vienna, Paris, Rome, Glasgow, and Oporto). The new topic UNSTABLE GEOGRAPHIES - DISLOCATED PUBLICS has been developed during the group’s meetings in Prague and Oporto between July and September, 2015. This umbrella topic builds on the group’s approaches and activities aimed to critically reflect upon, analyse, and discuss current trends and tendencies in public spaces and urban cultures in the fields of urban research, design, and planning. If you are interested in hosting an upcoming group’s meeting, please contact us at by 28 February 2016 and include a 2-page description of the project and intellectual framework (including theme, relation to the new topic, budgeting ideas, and institutional partners (including NGOs, and others), motivation).


The theme

Public spaces, as a manifestation of cities’ different cultures, are recognized as valuable social and cultural capital of urban societies. They have increasingly been celebrated as crossroads of different interests, backgrounds, and values, allowing - if not inviting - diverse urban populations to enjoy the fruits of (past) emancipatory struggle(s). A thriving scene of actors and performative practices mainly rooted in the fields of urban design and planning for the city centres and adjacent districts, engages in creating places of everyday life for multiple city publics. This renaissance of diverse public spaces, however, takes place against the bleak backdrop painted by fear and uncertainty now also spilling onto the privileged part of the world, which has found itself overwhelmed by the scale of the recent crisis of capitalism and the waves of migrants. A response carved out by policymakers and institutions, which has not shied away from morally ambiguous means to put capitalism back on track and curb the influx of (uninvited) people, has shown that the institutions and the order of the West, while building on the achievements of past emancipatory struggles, often sustain hostile practices of exclusion and othering. A number of initiatives and activists’ movements stand in opposition to such neo-colonial practices, calling on urban publics and emerging cultures to challenge and rethink the prevailing political and institutional ethics. In the meantime, a strong call for strengthening dialogue and mutual learning between cities and regions of the Global South and of the Global North is gaining momentum in urban research and practice. The UNSTABLE GEOGRAPHIES - DISLOCATED PUBLICS series combines inclusive urban theory, methods, and practice to promote (post)migrational perspectives between different world regions and their cities. It simultaneously reflects on the changing structural constraints in times of multiple crises in which public space is emphasized in various, partly contradictory ways: social, cultural, ecological, political, and economic. Our standpoint takes public spaces as a key catalyst in the process of accommodating diverse cultural values and meeting basic human needs. Among many salient and urgent issues that need to inform current planning, design, and research communities both in theory and practice, we suggest focusing on four main subtopics.

1. City, refugees, and migration

We consider the city as a constant migration process where ‘citizenship’ (relating to the ‘city’ as base for human rights) is not a matter of national status, administrative reference, or ethnic privilege, but an emerging category of arriving, settling, and making a living in a city while both interacting with and forming ever-changing urban cultures. This historical process is nothing new, yet the mechanics and speed with which cities accommodate different needs seems to increase, accompanied by the seemingly ubiquitous presence of social media. The current migration and refugee situation in and beyond Europe, and in and beyond cities, puts planners, designers, and researchers into a position of uncertainty. This is because the numbers used to describe migratory influxes are often speculative, forecasts of global emigration are frequently wrong, and the whole conception of planning as a rational, long-term discursive process of levelling rational arguments fails on many fronts. However, professionals dealing with public space and urban cultures have for a long time been working with/in such situations, recognizing trust, affect, spontaneity, and intuition as key emergent features of urban development. The first focus of UNSTABLE GEOGRAPHIES – DISLOCATED PUBLICS revolves around/raises the question: What can traditional planning practices learn by approaching public space and urban cultures in a relational way of thinking through planning and society, regions and cities?

2. Fragmented social fabric – individualised patterns of consumption

Urban lives have increasingly been characterized by fragmentation along different identity lines: biographies of urban dwellers are increasingly shaped by fragmented family biographies, fragmented labour histories, fragmented religious and political beliefs, and fragmented dwelling experiences due to the demands of spatial flexibility that many urban dwellers have to accept in order to make a living. On the one hand, urban mobility is not equally relevant for all social groups in the city and good mobility prospects might be very important for the inclusion of already marginalized groups. On the other hand, individual fragmented biographies and new urban mobility patterns are very much intertwined with the reinforcement of the institutional promotion of capitalist lifestyles of choice and consumption. This reinforcement is flanked by the rise of “quasi public space,” which offers an exclusive sphere for collective consumption, rather than an inclusive realm of collective memory, action, and discourse. In times of increasing fragmentation of collective social patterns, public space serves as a place of nostalgia for the missed and missing collective habits and beliefs, but also a place for promoting alternative means of socialisation against and beyond capitalist means of individualized consumption in the context of the increasing privatisation and commodification of public space. The second focus of UNSTABLE GEOGRAPHIES – DISLOCATED PUBLICS concerns a critique of (changing) patterns of everyday life, particularly of everyday life fragmentations, mobilities, and individualizations. In this section we are particularly interested in forms of sociability and socialisation that follow a critical and post-growth agenda, and put the urban collective back on track, or work with notions of emerging and porous collectives which articulate new forms of cooperation beyond efficiency and competition modes.

3. The decline of national politics – Resurgence of the urban political

UNSTABLE GEOGRAPHIES – DISLOCATED PUBLICS concerns aspects of urban democracy against the backdrop of rising urban inequalities in cities in Europe. During the last two decades, cities in the Global North and the Global South have witnessed an increase in urban inequalities due to structural changes in light of the global transition towards neoliberal politics (particularly at the nation-state level, partly as well at the urban level). During this period, issues of social justice, the politics of care, and a critique of unfair urban development patterns have come under the spotlight of academic discussions and entrenched in debates over changing power relations in times of risk, uncertainty, and crisis. At the same time, urban dwellers, especially the non-affluent who are either excluded from the labour markets or included under precarious labour conditions, face the downgrading of their spatial and social standards. National states and meta-institutions like the European Union are slow to offer concrete paths out of the multiple urban crises, leaving it to city inhabitants (and city mayors) to utilize their capacity to deliver hope, solidarity, and help to those in need in the times and spaces of instability. At the same time, however, neo-conservative, extreme right-wing and xenophobic parts of the national population oppose such involved practices and use urban public spaces for acts of discrimination and exclusion. Public space and urban cultures are at the heart of these tensions that reflect a plethora of desires, visions, and power relations with regard to gaining and protecting access to the benefits of the urban production circuits. Nonetheless, public space can be understood as a display of power relations not just in the sense of domination (power over), but also regarding the ability to resist implying that the most vulnerable possess agency to negotiate the ways that existentially help to make their living (power to). The third focus of INSTABLE GEOGRAPHIES – DISLOCATED PUBLICS is on the multiple roles of planners, designers, and researchers in urban social conflict, with a particular focus on how to facilitate encounters with the unknown in a peaceful and de-escalating manner.

4. Change of perspective – worlding urban studies

Unstable space and time confront urban theory and practice with new challenges and critiques. Contributions from the Global South call for a rethinking of hegemonic perspectives based in Western social theory towards development of a different way of thinking about global processes of urbanization. We employ a relational approach to move the epistemological and methodological frame of urban studies forward as a transcultural approach in order to depict the interconnections between cities, and between cities and other places. The fourth focus of UNSTABLE GEOGRAPHIES – DISLOCATED PUBLICS includes post-colonial approaches with the aim of ‘worlding’ traditional ways of urban thinking with new perspectives from hitherto neglected ways of thinking. Approaches that cross the boundaries of typical academic discourse in urban research and practice, bring in alternative locally-embedded perspectives, and integrate new and unusual interventions into debates on urbanization are warmly invited and encouraged. 


The AESOP TG PS-UC values a critical and constructive dialogue on the processes relating to UNSTABLE GEOGRAPHIES – DISLOCATED PUBLICS that equally involves researchers and practitioners, locals and guests. The proposed umbrella topic aims to explore and rethink relations among different concepts and meanings related to, on the one hand, cities facing austerity, crisis, and a variety of migrational patterns, and, on the other hand, a civic response in the form of emerging practices of self-organization, social innovation, and planners’ investments in building solidarity, hope, and trust. The topic has been approached in a dialectical manner, and conceived as a dynamic framework that allows for the exploration of various (relational) aspects of public spaces and urban cultures, as well as socio-theoretical approaches to critically investigate and shape these spaces and cultures.

Authors: Sabine Knierbein (TU Wien, Austria), Nikolai Roskamm (University of Applied Sciences Erfurt, Germany and TU Wien, Austria), Tihomir Viderman (TU Wien, Austria)

Commented by: Fernando Alvez (Oporto, Portugal), Nadia Charalambous (Nikosia, Cyprus), Christine Mady (Beirut, Lebanon), Matej Niksic (UIRS, Ljubljana, Slovenia), Sara Santos Cruz (Oporto, Portugal), Ceren Sezer (Amsterdam/Delft, The Netherlands), Burcu Yigit Turan (Istanbul, Turkey).

About the AESOP TG Public Spaces and Urban Cultures’

The AESOP Thematic Group on Public Spaces and Urban Cultures has been initiated in 2009 after the Annual Meeting of the Association of European Schools of Planning (AESOP) in Liverpool (UK) in 2009. In April 2010 the initiative has been recognized as a new thematic group Public Space and Urban Cultures by AESOP. In 2015, the group has decided on self-organized management structure (see table below):

AESOP Thematic Group for Public Spaces and Urban Cultures – Self-Organized Management Network

A. Group Coordination

2015/6: Sabine Knierbein (Vienna,


2016/7: Gabriella Esposito de Vita (Naples,


2017/8: Ceren Sezer (Amsterdam,


from 2018 onwards: Elections

Gabriella Esposito de Vita (Naples,


Ceren Sezer (Amsterdam,





B. Research Affairs

Sara Santos Cruz (Oporto, and Nikolai Roskamm (Erfurt,

Nadia Charalambous (Nikosia,

C. Public Relations

Burcu Yigit Turan (Istanbul,

Stefania Ragozino (Naples,

D. Public Liaison

Tihomir Viderman (Vienna,

Elina Kränzle (Vienna,

E. Social Media

Weronika Dettlaff (Gdansk,

Jacub Figel (Gdansk,, Katarzyna Bartoszevicz (Gdansk,, Matej Niksic (Ljubljana,

The Aesop Thematic Group for Public Spaces and Urban Cultures has been founded upon an initiative of Sabine Knierbein, Ceren Sezer and Chiara Tornaghi in 2010. It has been supported especially by Ali Madanipour (University of Newcastle upon Tyne, UK) and Sophie Watson (Open University, UK).


The aim of the group is to settle the research and design focus on Public Spaces and Urban Cultures in planning-related disciplines. For more information about the thematic group, please visit the group’s official blog: For questions please send an e-mail to:


About AESOP TG UC-PS’s Meetings:

The group’s meetings take place every few months. These meetings are organized by different types of institutions that submit their declaration of interest to host an event based on the call’s theme. The host institution prepares a meeting in a close cooperation with the two group representatives, who assist the hosting institutional partners in developing the meeting’s theme and agenda. The hosting institution invites the two representatives as members of the meeting’s scientific committee. If local funding is not available, the hosting institution assists them in obtaining funding elsewhere. The format of the event is open. The events are mostly held in the format of two-days workshops/seminars/conferences that often include a fieldtrip. During these events, participants are encouraged to give presentations about their research and design projects on the relevant topic. Participation at the AESOP TG meetings is free of charge for group members and at least keynote lectures should be accessible for the public without any costs (in place, and/or virtually through livestream). Participants usually cover their own travel and accommodation expenses.

Thanks to generous support of AESOP, there is a limited budget allocated for the organization of the meetings. We would like to thank the current and former AESOP Secretary General, Paulo Pinho and Izabela Mironowicz and further colleagues for the material support offered in the course of the Oporto Meeting 2015.

We acknowledge as well the institutions and colleagues that have hosted our events so far: Interdisciplinary Centre for Urban Culture and Public Space, Department for Spatial Planning, Faculty for Architecture and Planning, TU Wien (Austria); Istituto di Richerche sulle Attivià Terciarie, National Research Council (Italy); Urban Planning Institute of the Republic of Slovenia (Slovenia); Human Cities Symposium Organizers, Faculté d’Architecture La Cambre Horta and ProMateria, Brussels (Belgium); Faculty of Architecture, Technical University of Lisbon (Portugal), Faculty of Architecture and Design, Ozyegin University, Istanbul (Turkey); United Nations, UN Habitat Section, World Urban Forum, Medellín (Colombia); Ion Mincu University of Architecture and Urban Planning, Bucharest (Romania), Laboratoire Architecture Anthropologie of La Villette School of Architecture, Paris (France); Organizers of the Biennale Spazio Pubblico Rome 2015 (Italy); Scottish Cities Knowledge Center, University of Glasgow, Adam Smith Business School (Scotland); Centro de Investigação  do Território, Transportes e Ambiente, Faculty of Engineering of the University of Porto, (Portugal).

For questions regarding the organization of the meetings please send an e-mail to: