WTZ Research Cooperation Austria-Croatia

Everyday public spaces and emerging cultural practices in Vienna and Zagreb. Policy trends and tendencies between local and global transformations.
of cooperation
Binational project between Vienna Technical University in Austria and the University of Zagreb, Croatia. The project is funded by the Federal Ministry of Economics and Research (BMWF, Austria) and the Ministery for Science, Education and Sports (MZOS, Croatia).
Basis Both urban theory and discourses created by mass media and culture kindle a perception that public spaces are complex social products. Every bit as much as urban residential structures are. Public spaces and residential structures are embodiments of society’s imaginaries and material culture; they are bonded through multiple dimensions of everyday life. Changes in their materialities and their immaterial social sphere reflect a dynamic interplay of global and local transformational processes. Global economic and social flows, which are fuelled and accompanied by the post-Fordist paradigm of growth, changing social composition and diversifying consumerist preferences and practices, materialize in public spaces and impose challenges on everyday practices. Market mechanisms advance new ways of value creation, setting much higher emphasis on gaining profits from non-material production and social innovation, enhancing symbolic and material changes in urban spaces and alterations of society’s dynamics. As a reaction, official urban policies have, to a great extent, discarded their mission of providing for urban dwellers’ essential material needs. Instead they place equal importance on non-material dimensions of space (such as the cultural atmosphere, a sense of vibrancy and creativity, often mediated through place branding), as on material aspects of a regenerated physical environment. Accordingly, urban politics, which are often highly influenced by conflicting visions of a city’s government, market forces or actors from the civil society, have been increasingly influenced by emerging cultural practices, while at the same time stimulating the further multiplication of these practices.

Some actors, in their attempts to capitalize on the growing economies of attention and symbols, seek to address economic and social transformations through reinterpretation and commodification of public spaces, by boosting and advertising a city’s cultural production and creativity, hoping to seize as much attention as possible. Other actors alternatively seek to preserve or boost the role of public spaces as spaces of cultural and social emancipation. This duality is predictably reflected in urban politics which seem to be torn between goals to materialize global narratives revolving around cultural production and local calls for social spaces of everyday life. As a result urban dwellers witness a proliferation of policies that stretch their domain from the economic hegemony of creativity strategies to fostering social innovation. It is exactly the main hypothesis of this project, that these strategic efforts are closely linked to the growing importance of social and cultural capital in the making of the contemporary city, which in turn renders public spaces a core field of post-Fordist urban development. The project, however, places its research focus on public spaces which are not part of a city’s central areas. In its focus lie those spaces where everyday life unfolds at the interface between multiple strategic endeavours towards construction of spatial materialities and imaginaries and everyday (cultural) practices producing meaningful places.


A particular challenge set by this project is its aim to depict a genesis of the production of meaningful places, consisting of strategic endeavours towards shaping certain urbanities and of meanings produced through everyday practices. This genesis receives major attention in the post-Fordist city, which relies on its social and cultural capital for economically supporting itself. As the actual manufacturing of material products takes place elsewhere, city’s stakeholders rely on a city’s non-material capital in order to compete with other cities in gaining more investments, tourists and residents. The social and cultural capital is seen as an economic power, ruled by the economic law of increasing returns. This explains why cities seemingly gain more of the new social and cultural capital, the more of it they already have. But in the domain of economic laws interpretations of this human capital tend to become very selective, which can be witnessed in sanitized central urban spaces across the Western world. Therefore the project shifts its focus to more peripheral areas, marked by the domination of residential programme, and higher proportion of residents whose contribution to a city’s social and cultural capital is much debated.

This research will be empirically supported by the investigation of neighbourhoods in Vienna and Zagreb in which everyday life is closely linked to different forms of housing. A dialectical linkage between private life in housing units and public life has been changing simultaneously with economic and societal transformations, and hence offers a fruitful field for investigating societal changes. A changing urban housing typology – public housing, social housing, cooperative housing or private housing – is often interpreted as a mirror of global and local transformations of the political, economic and social landscape. Seeing how such spaces – housing estates as well as public spaces – have originally been conceived and constructed along powerful imaginaries, these imaginaries allow for critically reflecting, analysing, discussing and re-conceptualising spatial relations between public spaces of everyday life and related residential structures. The production of meaningful places is challenged by new rationales that abandon old imaginaries and strategically try to enhance the multiple immaterial layers of public spaces in the course of postFordist transformations. These changes carry inevitable impacts on the role of designers, planners and researchers in re-evaluation of the existing and the shaping of new places.

Epistemological interest The project will critically reflect on public spaces as a medium where (new) knowledge is being generated through the dialectics between everyday life and scientific practices. It accentuates the value of a dialectical approach between design-based disciplines and social science based urban studies in order to deflect potential drawbacks of simplified or biased portraits of contemporary cities. The project reflects on the complexity of public space thus revealing a changing role of both practitioners and researchers in the shaping of public spaces, as well as a shifted meaning of everyday life for developing new cultural practices.

Already in its conceptual phase, the topic has been addressed in a dialectical manner, thus setting up a dynamic framework that allows for an exploration of various (relational) aspects of public spaces and urban cultures, as well as epistemological approaches to their investigation and shaping. A transdisciplinary cooperation between partners in Zagreb and Vienna has been defined through the dialectics between theory and practice-based disciplines related to urban design and planning, yet its relevance can be traced through multiple disciplines and spheres of action, in a range between urban policy and education and less formalized, less institutionalized urban practices. It will critically inspect the transformative character of post-fordist configurations of power, actors, and space in two distinctive cities, which however were historically bound through shared imaginaries, whose materialization is visible in configurations of the administrative landscape and narratives pertaining to housing issues. The project will in addition concern the production of knowledge from both everyday practices and practices of emancipation across boundaries of different disciplines.

A scientific visibility of the project and its research question in Vienna and Zagreb, as well as in a broader scientific community, will be enhanced through the integration of the theme in the ongoing teaching activities of the members of the team, a series of lectures and workshops prepared and open for a broader professional and non-professional audience, as well as through scientific publications.

Period 01/2014-12/2015