STRATEGIC ACTION PLAN | PLANO DE AÇÃO
Stemming from our investigative process of exploration around informal urbanisms, street vending globally, and the conditions of ambiguity and transaction within the context of Union Square, we identified opportunities of potential. These opportunities are defined by a quality of informality uncovered throughout our ethnographic research. For example, several vendors identified local businesses with which they had informal relationships as an alternative to the public park washroom or the unequal power relations we discovered between building owners and street vendors in deciding how the streets around Union Square are used and by whom. We specifically choose to see these instances as opportunities for transformation of the existing structures impacting the daily lives of those in Union Square.
Through the practice of mapping informal, often invisible transactions, the spontaneity of the space can be captured. Analyzing the layers of encounter expose a complex ecology existing in Union Square shaped by many agents of public space. By looking for opportunities of potential within these layers and prioritizing key moments we were able to isolate strategic moments of intervention.
Three channels of strategic intervention were identified with multiple audiences:
Resources and design proposals prioritizing street vendors’ experience in public space; short-term strategies for addressing a collective awareness and gradual transformation of public perception; and recommending long-term strategies for impactful changes in formal regulation while enhancing opportunities for coalition.
Decorrente do nosso processo de pesquisa a cerca de três objetos, basicamente (urbanismo informal, comercio de rua no mundo, e condições de relações e ambiguidade dentro do contexto da Union Square) identificamos algumas potencialidades de intervenção. Essas potencialidades foram definidas a partir do carácter das relações de informalidade encontrada com a nossa pesquisa etnográfica. Por exemplo, muitos vendedores de rua identificam comerciantes locais como recurso de estacionamento público e ou como um lugar pra usar o banheiro. Um outro exemplo está na relação de desigualdade de poder entre donos de edifícios e vendedores de rua na decisão de como as ruas ao redor da Union Square são usadas e por quem.Decidimos especificamente por esses assuntos pois identificamos oportunidades de intervenção nas estruturas existentes que impactam o cotidiano de todos da Union Square.
Como método partimos do mapeamento do informal, pelo qual frequentemente transações invisíveis da espontaneidade do espaço puderam ser capturadas; da análise das camadas dos conflitos entre os agente do espaço público que expôs uma ecologia existente na Union Square; e por análise desse material procurando por oportunidades dentro dessas camadas e priorizando pelos momentos chaves nos quais identificou-se a possibilidade de estratégias de intervenções.
Três canais de intervenção foram identificadas: Pesquisa e proposta de projeto priorizando a experiência no espaço público dos vendedores de rua. A estratégia a curto prazo de construção de uma consciência coletiva e transformação gradual da percepção da população, e a longo prazo impactar em futuras mudanças na regulação formal dos vendedores de rua enquanto que reforçamos oportunidades de mobilização da classe desses agentes.
RECONSTRUCTION OF HISTORIES: A CASE STUDY
New Gourna, Egypt is an internationally celebrated and recognized village for Hassan Fathy’s attempts at inclusive participatory planning. This exploration began with wanting to understand why this new village, with all its glory, failed, recognizing the breadth of research. In the creation of New Gourna we can see the reconstruction of local history as analogous with the struggle to represent a complex national identity, which led to questioning not the failure, but rather the rejection by the community of New Gourna. This led to exploring issues of westernization, national identity, and the historical marginalization people.
The critical examination of El Gourna’s reconstruction aims to contextualize the global forces determining political and cultural patterns of peri-urban development in historically marginalized regions of Egypt. This research argues that the failure of El Gourna lies in the notions of ‘designing for the poor’ rather than designing for the historically marginalized and under valued. Current campaigns are advocating the conservation and protection of New Gourna, however, hesitancy toward celebrating this cultural and historical reconstruction comes from the discrepancies in recognizing a legitimate culture and history of the Gournis themselves. In this reconstruction, priority was given to the protection of the ancient heritage over the reality of the contemporary culture and needs. While recent attempts have been made internationally to be more conscientious towards current use and socio-cultural significance of a site in constructing the significance of an ancient history, the efficacy has yet to be truly evaluated in changing the practice within the global culture of historical reconstruction. So, how can these seemingly disparate cultures, ancient history, and the present generation become equalized in their relevance to preserve and plan for today and tomorrow?
Original research conducted by Nora Elmarzouky, Nadia Elokdah, and Kat Horstmann
Urbanists and researchers Marcea Decker and Nadia Elokdah collaborated in a participatory action research project, while in Urban Theory Lab, titled “Nonspace Zines.” The research explored feminist theory and application from a perspective of radical geography and intersectional feminism. They focused specifically on feminist zine culture as a space of possibility, conducting interviews at Columbia’s Barnard College Zine Library, various feminist zine fests, interviews with the POC Zine Project and The Bushwick Review, public culture talks at the Brooklyn Historical Society, and with zine-makers and appreciators. Their final project was a zine itself, which you can read to the right.
An understanding of cities as active sites of collective imagination, invention, and intervention positions the city as undergoing perpetual transformation, shaped by active engagement and lived experience. By establishing this foundation, the particular concentration of my research can be located within the consciousness of the distinct, yet malleable city. The impetus for my inquiry stems from two concerning observations of contemporary urban processes: the spectacularization of culture in urban policy and the co-optation of a one-dimensional, oversimplified notion of diversity within the construction of new urban realms. While these terms are linked to particular understandings or constructions in our minds, exclusion emerges when entered into the debate over the capacity and composition of the public realm. This research identifies and aims to transform these patterns that have emerged within contemporary US cities. To do so, this research must address this pattern of construction: co-optation of diversity, veiled characterization of culture, and conscious and unconscious practices of exclusion. I approach this through two series of research questions. The first is concentrated on broad concepts inextricably linked to urban space where the intersection of social, spatial, and political converge:
How is diversity understood and socially constructed within the city? How are identity and culture used to construct and reproduce spaces of pluralism and inclusion within the urban realm? And related to diversity and culture, what are the particular mechanisms utilized in social, cultural, and political transformation?
The second series is specific to the City of Philadelphia, where I have chosen to situate my research:
As inquiries into identity and culture have been the work of theorists long before, given are a series of interrelated questions to not only guide, but also focus the research. What is the landscape of diversity politics within Philadelphia? Who is involved, and at what scale, in informing socio-cultural plans, programs, initiatives & policies?
While the site of inquiry is not necessarily restricted to the City of Philadelphia alone, a unique set of circumstances provide an opportune case study to reflect upon a larger discourse. Since the 1970s, Philadelphia has undergone a wide-range of change as power structures, which encompass a wide range of actors – from local foundations to city government to corporations, negotiate with urban citizens over the identity and culture of the public realm. Decisions over public funding allocations vary widely, programs and initiatives communicate an array of messages about the nature of the city, and a striking moment in its contemporary history occurs, Philadelphia seems to be establishing itself as a smaller-scale urban cultural pocket. Together these phenomena allow for Philadelphia to emerge as a center of arts and culture while simultaneously arising as a celebrated core of diversity. These conditions established a contemporary narrative of cultural city making as embedded within the domain of the political. While the context of particularities here are obviously not universal to all cities, this investigation can implicate new understandings of the interrelated conditions of identity, culture, and urban.
Locating the Gap, Establishing a Shift
As is obvious with most research, this inquiry sits within a larger discourse including cultural production, inclusion and marginality, notions of democracy and representation within the public realm, and the discursive condition of rights in urban space. Much of this exists within a wide and historic space to which this research contributes in modest, yet tangibly significant ways. The work of organizations such as Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture, has the potential for significant impact in shaping cities through the construction of a culturally inclusive urban future. As Edward Said informed decades ago, ‘‘partly because of empire, all cultures are involved in one another; none is single and pure, all are hybrid, heterogeneous, extraordinarily differentiated, and unmonolithic.’’ By engaging with individual identity and multi-faceted culture, Al-Bustan participants can build understanding and appreciation of one another's overlapping yet unique identities and explore together possibilities for alternative, more inclusive futures. The value of such work in shaping the city is that it is fundamentally based on appreciation and respect of complex identities and pluralism rather than one-dimensional representations of culture that are easily and often co-opted, as Said cautioned.
This leads to the larger intentions of this research - identifying methods to establish agonistic pluralism in the face of reductionist and exclusive practices - to identify the driving forces behind socio-cultural urban policy-making. It also attempts to inform how urban practitioners can engage with community-based organizations and policy-makers to design new types of initiatives that both stem from bottom-up practices and also construct a collective urban imaginary. In order to accomplish this, the selected methodologies aim to uncover challenges and structural barriers guiding this particular avenue of transformation: for example, examining the limitations created in coupling arts and culture with the creative economy. Additionally, to this end, the research looks to contradictions and ineffectualities within the current operating paradigm of the larger system. In identifying these barriers, pathways toward alternatives can be constructed. Strategies and tactics for more inclusive, agonistic practices can be discerned in support of the work of arts and culture-based organizations. Essentially, this practice aims to locate the gap of the current paradigm by first asking How is the urban imaginary utilized as an active form of practice to engage wider, often voiceless, urban citizens to participate in the construction of our urban realm? Second, Is the type of transformation discussed fundamentally intended to produce a paradigm shift within the urban realm, and if so, toward what new form?
Lastly, theoretically, this inquiry reaches to engage notions of knowledge production. This collaborative practice insists upon including alternative forms of urban knowledge in order to deconstruct representative appropriations of culture and, in its place, construct policies that prioritize and inherently value pluralistic practices of cross-cultural respect, appreciation, and agonism. Through mapping actors and analyzing relationships, insights into cooperation, participation, and dominant values begin to emerge. As I began this research, I was curious about the role various people and institutions held in shaping what our cities are now and in working toward a vision of what the future should be. I found myself thinking about who is really involved in the production of these ideas. Are our lived experiences in or knowledge of this place, considered? How can these other voices participate in a collective construction of the city?
Agonistic Democracy: A Common Struggle
At the beginning of 2011, burgeoning digital discontent emerged through the physical and political occupation of Tahrir Square by Cairo’s activists and youth. While the initial events leading to the ouster of Former President Hosni Mubarak lasted eighteen days, from 25 January to 11 February, the conflict continues through the present day. Within this research, the lens is cast around the first year of the struggle for democracy, 2011. Throughout this time period many spheres of public space were utilized to allow for confrontation of socio-political ideas and principles, sometimes amongst adversaries, but more often between polarized factions.
From the beginnings of the occupation of Tahrir Square through the fall of the Mubarak Regime to the inauguration of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF), Egypt underwent vast shifts in public opinion and social discourse, as explained through the series of stakeholder diagrams on the following page. This dynamic and contentious atmosphere led to confusion and disorder within the public realm. How do these shifts relate to the notions of publicity and privacy within these contemporary, newly democratic societies? How is engagement within the public discourse facilitated and understood as intrinsically common? As well, within this practice, who is included and excluded from participating?
Of great significance to this discourse is the struggle of one particular subset: highly targeted, politically engaged, and commonly marginalized young women within public space. Widely accepted cultural practices of harassment toward and even violence against women run rampant throughout the public domain of Cairo, often limiting their ability to participate within the public space of Egyptian politics. How can a society claim democratic practices when differences cannot be confronted and the overall culture is not committed to collective, agonistic existence?
SETTING THE TABLE FOR CHANGE
Food has become a central cultural artifact 21st-century global city. In the midst of increasingly vibrant urban food cultures, this panel addresses food as it embodies shared urban to rural experience and engages the wider public in critical issues of our time. In this panel, we aim to investigate how food serves as an important mechanism for creating alternative nows and imagining new possibilities for a shared urban existence.
Panelists discuss how approaches to food, as both methodology and philosophy, can be a strategy for crossing boundaries in the pursuit of social justice for all. Guest speakers included professionals and academics from Green Dragons, Drive Change, Milk Not Jails, The New School Food Studies Program, The New School for Public Engagement, and Parsons and moderated by Theories of Urban Practice alum, Matt DelSesto.
Something that has sparked us as a team of collaborative designers is this quote by urban geographer Neil Smith, “There is no such thing as a natural disaster.” We see this as an important point to situate ourselves and establish the context within which we see openings for design thinking and resistance. The fallouts of crisis heavily and dramatically impact cities, places that are already burdened by the fractured nature of urban ecosystems and uneven development. These ruptures become exposed and further exacerbated by crises, such as Hurricane Katrina or Sandy, but we know they are always present, looming under the surface of the everyday. We need to work in this space; our aim is broadening capacity in order to actively challenge these patterns. In a system that is constantly in crisis, collaboration is critical. People have the tools and can be a part of the resistance. Through our practice, focused on particularly vulnerable populations, we work to harness this energy and direct it in a way to be used most effectively. We believe that the just city is the ultimate form of resistance.
We understand design as a process that can be mobilized to begin to tackle the complexity of a problem. We look at a given urban ecosystem and examine existing patterns, explore the ways in which people operate within it, and map how we can begin to navigate a system to achieve a paradigm shift. Transformation is happening at a strategic scale, both large and small, simultaneously. When we map these cross-sectoral actions together, we can see how complex this system of change can be. The system itself is in crisis and we are perpetually reactive. We believe the design process has a potential to move us out of this reactionary state through engagement and capacity building. Put very simply, this means working with people.
Working at the intersection of civic engagement and design, we can address systems of injustice and include more voices in the process of urban transformation. In.site operates in this realm in order to build resiliency as a permanent state of being! In.site collaborative was born out of our team’s collective belief that civic engagement is necessary for more just urban transformation. There are many problems in how cities are developing today. Top-down processes of urban transformation often prioritize and benefit only a small section of those who use the city. This creates extreme disparity, something that we have all witnessed in our own daily and professional experiences. There are systems in place that perpetuate this disparity. Having a real effect on individual lives, these problems increase the lack of opportunity for growth and development. At the same time, vulnerable pockets of society, where voices go unheard, continue to grow, further excluding groups of people unable to experience the benefits of development in their cities. This is the space in which in.site intervenes to break the cycle of uneven development.
Filling in gaps through this approach promotes the idea that urban citizens can be agents of policy and/or design within their capacity beyond the limiting “expert” silo. We work to make these fields accessible, through a collaborative and multidisciplinary design process, so that all urban citizens can be agents of change, agents of the resistance. To ground these theories, we present three projects that begin to carve out the intimate connections between climate justice and social justice, through on the ground design work.
The first is a Youth-Centered Urban Design Curriculum in Reading, PA that was designed to include students in top-down revitalization proposals. Education and urban revitalization are often not discussed together, but public schools are one of the most accessible social institutions that provide a link between people of multiple communities and the urban realm. This proposal shifts purpose of schooling in order to activate education itself as a vehicle of community building and revitalization. City Revitalization proposals can be made more inclusive by acknowledging the indispensable knowledge of local residents. Thus, the curriculum is based on the idea that through activating situated learning, schools can foster creativity and provoke critical thinking towards collective and civic participation. This project identifies a critical point in which civic participation, capacity, and resistance from the ground up can respond to crisis. Rather than a consecutive approach, these can be read more as a circuit in which the various actions creates sparks and feedback loops that inform next steps and deliverables. Critical to the way we practice, social justice or advocacy always underlines our research questions and design tools. By participating in the process of urban transformation, students gained awareness and developed tools and skills necessary for navigating the ever-changing urban setting, while also acting as ambassadors of their communities. As this diagram shows, institutionalizing such a curriculum can reposition public schools as anchor institutions, advancing students’ sense of responsibility as active participants with and for the betterment of their communities. This strategy decentralizes decision-making power to create a community of learning outside of the institutional walls, building resiliency -- as a perpetual state of practice.
The second project we would like to share with you moves us from curriculum design to policy proposal. Through this project, our ultimate aim was to include representational justice in local politics by creating a new participatory model in the form of a legislated local body, which we are calling Public Action Review Collaborative (PARC).This proposal addresses the lack of democratic process in urban development in New York City. It focusses on the contested public-private spaces along the Brooklyn waterfront. The social ecology of public space is inherently tied to the maintenance and representation of difference. The policy proposal seeks to enable multiple groups to continue to be represented in the new public spaces that are created. Here we address the ways in which the current structure of urban development falls short and affects the majority of communities who become disenfranchised within their own neighborhoods. The process of designing this policy recommendation included prototyping a dialogue around these spaces through hosting a series of community workshops. These workshops were run along the Williamsburg waterfront crossing social and physical boundaries that exist in space, initiating a dialogue between diverse stakeholders. Here, theoretical research provides us a lens through which to understand current conditions, while ethnography enables a site-specific analysis of a complex situation and entry point into designing a process that includes local constituents. The Walking Workshops were the first phase of building the capacity necessary for introducing a new policy. Within the second and current phase storytelling serves as a tool for dialogue and exchange between constituents geared toward a larger socio-political transformation. This set of workshops will highlight: local cultural heritage; lived experiences and broader significance of maintaining such diversity in a rapidly changing landscape; and the accumulation of intimate narratives that emerge from the collective experience. Ultimately this policy proposal expands upon current placemaking practices in order to be more inclusive of multiple voices. One dominant view defining place can flatten the rich history and diversity of complex neighborhoods. Through the collaborative design process , we are able to move placemaking into a more diverse and participatory process, representative of the existing communities. Just representation is critical for building resistance that moves from one overarching position to a dialogue amongst many.
As we have seen, we understand cities as sites of engagement and negotiation: the voiceless and the powerful, wealthy and poor, privileged and marginal, all work together continually defining how we live together within our collective environment. With this in mind, our third project starts with urban policy and aims to generate more inclusive and collaborative practices through on-the-ground partnerships. We collaborated with a local non-profit organization in Philadelphia to design an interactive, multi-lingual exhibition, sited in City Hall, as a method for increasing diverse civic participation. Fundamentally, this platform creates opportunities for unexpected encounters and exchange across barriers of language, education, profession, class, race, and ethnicity. Stakeholder mapping and policy analysis inform the content of interactive workshops and, ultimately, the design of the exhibition, all meant to build engagement strategies within the socio-political realm of Philadelphia. An important moment is when strategic alliances begin to manifest that prioritize inclusivity and social justice as fundamentally critical to building a just city. As a design tool, the exhibition  makes physical the voices of the people and  offers a space of civic participation amongst populations often unable to access spaces of urban governance. It continues to travel around the city, engaging new communities in the growing archive, broadening representation and folding into the resistance formerly excluded populations. When thinking of cities in this way, we are able to have conversations involving multiple voices from multiple actors, building confidence and strengthening civil society to proactively engage in shaping their local environment. In each of these three examples, we illustrate the role design can have in developing patterns of action and harnessing capacity necessary to engage in the resistance, at multiple scales. We prioritize collaboration with vulnerable communities, often excluded from participation: students and youth, neighborhoods facing displacement, immigrants and non-native English speakers. The design process offers an important space for capacity building and dialogue within these populations.
The spatial efforts of resiliency, while very important, are not enough. Existing social and political movements uncover critical fissures that must be addressed hand-in-hand with planning strategies. Resiliency is a form of social infrastructure and needs to be built from the ground up. Establishing a stable and sustainable resistance requires the breadth of diversity that any urban space entails, because every resiliency plan will be incomplete and derailed without grounding in social justice. Abdoumaliq Simone indicates here that working towards social infrastructure is not only a form of resiliency but also an important way of constructing urban livelihood. Climate issues, economic crises, social inequities can not be separated. Any design proposal for a more resilient city must include a just city. In combating such systemic fractures, we begin to move away from a reactive state. In order to make the Resistance Irresistible, we work to build capacity at multiple scales, making resiliency an inclusive state of being.
As a co-founder of the Hub for Urban Practices [Hub.UP] based out of the Parsons Graduate Urban Programs, myself and a group of colleagues established an annual event bringing together recent graduates, practitioners, and current students who engage urban practices from across the industry. We were particularly interested in building connections between students and future colleagues who see their work as ‘disturbing’ standard methods of practices, in realms that influence everyday urban experience and interaction such as city design, social services, and policy making.
Through collaboration amongst urban-focused disciplines, we seek to explore why the critical approaches learned at The New School are so essential to the debate over the future of city making. Speakers invited to participate in Disturbanist Discourse: Critical Approaches to Challenging Normalized Urban Processes were prompted with the following question as a guiding narrative of the panel series:
How are the critical approaches learned at The New School challenging the normalized processes of city making?
The New School / Parsons graduate urban programs are at the forefront of this challenge. This event will provide a necessary platform for discourse addressing this important question for our community of urban practitioners. Our mission is to cultivate a culture of practice, one that establishes trust and respect via an interdisciplinary discourse both within the field and amongst current students. We seek to represent a diverse range of critical urban practitioners and invite you to participate in this event.
This is an opportunity for recent graduates to speak to the challenges and openings for a new discourse. We build connections between students and future colleagues who see their work as ‘disturbing’ standard methods of practices, in realms that influence everyday urban experience and interaction such as city design, social services, and policy making.
Let’s benefit from the energy we all bring as active change-makers!
Hub.UP co-founders: Rania Dalloul, Nora Elmarzouky, Nadia Elokdah, Gamar Markarian, Sara Minard, and Zanny Venner
At the beginning of 2011, burgeoning digital discontent emerged through the physical and political occupation of Tahrir Square by Cairo’s activists and youth. While the initial events leading to the ouster of Former President Hosni Mubarak lasted eighteen days, from 25 January to 11 February, the conflict continues through the present day. Shifting political dynamics and a contentious atmosphere led to strategic and tactical negotiations within the public realm. Of great significance to this discourse is the struggle for inclusion by one particular subset: highly targeted, politically engaged, and commonly marginalized young women within public space. Widely accepted cultural practices of harassment of and even violence against women run rampant throughout the public domain of Cairo, often limiting the ability to participate within the socio-political construction of public space.
As the global issue of Women’s Rights as Human Rights evolves, it is key to examine the role of socio-cultural constructs of gender upon the lives of women and girls. During the first four years of this contemporary Egyptian Revolution, unprecedented actions have been undertaken to challenge the perpetual state of gender-based injustice. This research examines three strategies implemented in Cairo to challenge, educate, and redirect common practices of discrimination against women in the public realm: political protests in public space; transnational / NGO campaigns; and community-led organizing tactics. While the larger discourse of sustained democracy, eradication of poverty, and elimination of injustice continues, efforts to eliminate gender-based discrimination have begun to produce shifts in construction of both public consciousness and public space.
Hub.UP invites recent graduates from the urban programs at The New School to join a panel discussion at Disturbanist Discourse 2.0: Critical Approaches to Challenging Normalized Urban Processes. Building upon an excellent dialogue last year, the question we continue to ask:
How are the critical approaches learned at The New School challenging and transforming processes of city making?
The New School is at the forefront of this challenge. The 2nd Annual Disturbanist Discourse will continue the tradition of addressing this important question among our community of urban practitioners. Our mission is to cultivate a culture of practice, one that establishes trust and respect via discourse within (and across) fields of practice and amongst current students. We seek to represent a range of critical urban practitioners. This year's event will position diverse practitioners within three disruptively themed panels for lively, transdisciplinay discourse!
Panel 01 . Disturbing Disciplines .
Panel 02 . Disturbing Displacements .
Panel 03 . Disturbing Dominances .