Phase IV: 2018

2018 Public Space, Urban Culture and Housing

This semester topic revisits the division between public and private space in the city. This division has been one of the key issues when addressing the qualities of public life and the urban fabric in urban history. Public space has been conceived of as being limited through different shades of private borders, boundaries and property lines, whereas urban planners state that in order to build real cities and not just dwelling units, private space needs to be interwoven with the urban fabric through the connective tissue that is public space. This dialectical relation has also been expressed through the shifting balance between tenants and owners of a city. A manifest change in these patterns has been induced by financial and speculative modes of housing production in which through subprime lending an increasing number of tenant households have been offered loans, in order to tempt them to become property owners and despite them being at high risk not to afford the loan.  This, for instance, has been the case in Spain in recent years. To what extent have traditional ‘tenant cities’ been developing into ‘cities of home owners’, in which the manoeuvre particularly of cities as owners of public housing stocks for renting has been diminished? How have political and medial agendas been shaped in order to stimulate people to consider becoming property owners?

On another front, feminist planning theorists and architectural critiques have raised concerns that the binary between public and private is reproduced in planning theory, architectural history and urban studies. In this reproduction of the public/private binary the public has been very often coined as male, heroic and rational whereas the private aspects have been ascribed to female, intimate and affective social ties. Such a banalization and misreading of the hybridity and mixture of facets of public and private life in the city (and their translation into urban design and planning schemes) have been recently challenged on the ground by housing activist groups. These groups have actively addressed and questioned social hardship faced by both home buyers and by tenants in coping with gentrification, foreclosure and eviction, and have brought this matter considered as private into the public. The tides have changed particularly, it seems, in countries and cities struck by fiscal crises and austerity measures. Nevertheless, there seem to be manifest shifts on the way in respect to how new urban quarters are produced in a decade characterized by a new faith in growth and by quite massive urban expansion and densification schemes in the wealthier cities (and countries).