European September Academy

„Intraurban cultural exchange and the urban periphery: Breathing your city through the lungs of your fellow citizen’s neighbourhood”

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Have you ever discovered your own city as a cultural tourist? Did you ever explore other neighbourhoods in the nearby urban periphery by yourself or with friends? Did you think about how people express their cultural identities there, which traditions they are bond to and what you might be able to learn from them about your city? Have you tried to take a new breath in your city, about breathing this city through the lungs of your fellow citizen’s neighbourhood? – Well. If  not, just join in!

Vienna, the capital city of Austria, is internationally well known for its cultural assets: opera, ballet, theatre, ornamental architecture and main Austrian museums are mainly located in the city centre of the Danube metropolis counting 1,7 million inhabitants. Yet leaving the traditional and to some extent musealized or choreographed classical cultural image, the representative public squares and parks located in the innercity districts beside, the perception of what Vienna might also has to offer changes completely.

Passing first the Ringstraße and then the so-called Gürtel in direction towards the periphery, the picture of this well-conserved metropolis is counterbalanced by different types of urban patterns (Gründerzeitquartiere, Gemeindebausiedlungen as well as private housing complexes) and a manifold spectrum of heterogeneous urban patterns. Let us take a closer look at e.g. public spaces in the Viennese district Favoriten (10th): How are they conceived, how are they perceived? And how, finally, are they lived?

Talking to people involved in urban regeneration and interest mediation Wien-Favoriten, one realizes the mere heterogenity of cultures, mentalities and ways to live urban space. Collective cultural habits are challenged especially in public spaces within such a high-density urban area as Favoriten (170,000 habitants). Indeed, public spaces sometimes represent the only sphere were different cultural groups might be able and allowed to express their cultural identities, norms and rituals such as having an extended family barbecue or a Styrian folklore choir meeting. Public spaces might serve as well for finding one’s spatial privacy, if the family shares few square metres to live. As consequence, public spaces in the Viennese district of Favoriten (as elsewhere) have increasingly become places of cultural appropriation and cultural contestation.

This situation is where our work starts: As we are interested in the relationship between urban culture, public space and civil society, we want to work with local people inviting them to offer us their everyday knowledge on social bounds and precious places in Favoriten. To us, working particularly on site is of fundamental importance because it allows us to get a feeling for the place as a lived space. Yet how can students coming from spatial planning and design, from disciplines related to spatial research learn from obsverving cultural practices in public spaces? To put it more concrete: Planners and designers often project spatial visions and let them become materialised reality in forms of designed benches and planted parks, but few of them continuously take into account the particular diversity of latent as well as explicit cultural needs of people living in these areas and using them day-to-day. How can they learn to understand the difference as well as connectedness of the spaces people conceive and perceive and the spaces people de facto live, especially as regards planning?

Our proposal during the week we will work in Favoriten is: By allowing for experiments, by allowing for playing with a toolkit of possible paths, means and interventions to stimulate intercultural exchange in the urban periphery. Thus, it will be our joint objective to develop first concepts for such a diverse toolkit that might afterwards be used by different types of involved actors working and living in the area (residents associations, schools, youth clubs, etc.) as well as conceiving future space in the area: Urban dwellers in Favoriten, people attached to the so-called Gebietsbetreuung (social workers, conflict mediators as well as people involved in urban regeneration), planners, architects and culturally-oriented employees of the Vienna administrations, and politicians. Outputs of our work could be different types of games (to be understood as future instruments of spatial research and spatial planning): Planspiele (bordgames for planners, citizens, intermediaries), virtual and sms games as well as other types of spatial strategies in the form of scenographic or touristic games dedicated at civic actors from various cultural backgrounds.

Whereas traditional board games such as Risk (Risiko) – a famous strategic board game – incorporates spatial strategies of appropriation, identification and defending one’s proper belongings, the approach to integrate the activity of play and the format of games as an explorative instrument of – on the contrary – exchange shall stimulate people’s reflections on how to deal with often gridlocked situations between different cultural groups. In contrast to video games in fictive worlds, our approach is explicitly foster the interwovenness of virtual and physical real-life scenarios, or, to put it otherwise, authentic contexts. As it seems often more easy to play in foreign playgrounds instead of in the one where all the neighbours might be looking at from their windows, the idea of space plays and of playing spaces shall not be restricted to the very intimate courtyard of one’s own direct neighbourhood, but by ‚travelling’ playfully to other places in Favoriten, and thus, by experiencing my own city as if I would be a tourist – although it is just a game in my own city, or in my own Grätzl.

Here, our work will focus on interactions with children, adolescents as well as with elderly people by arranging sight visits to other areas to let them breath the Viennese air there. Our work than would be to retranslate our experiences for example into concepts for board games or for safari tours which might then become a part of the toolkit we will produce. In a wider sense, play allows for a light-hearted approach to rediscover the city, to identify new cultural landmarks for individual or collective identification and to consider public spaces within other parts of the city as well as one’s own potential sphere for playful interventions. The activity of playing is especially important to children and to younger people as well as to retired people. In the pedagogical sense, game might be an ‚untroubled’ approach of mediating strategically cultural conflicts in the Viennese urban periphery.

In this sense, the metaphor of “breathing your city through the lungs of your fellow citizen’s neighbourhood“ refers to a simple opportunity of broadening people’s access to everyday life experiences in public spaces in other parts of the same city within the city. But again, this is just an experimental, playful approach which might stimulate future positive scenarios regarding social life in different places in the culturally diverse urban periphery of Vienna. But this is not a recipe for repeatable action frames as smooth and playful planning is neatly context-specific. The question rather is how games and spatial playing could help to understand interactively to integrate context-specific knowledge in interest mediation processes by connecting spatial research and spatial planning to new media techniques and technologies and by their advantages to catch attention.

To summarize: The aim of the European September Academy is to produce a toolkit of playful ideas – space plays and playing space – inspired by spatial research theory as well as by spatial planning practice. This toolkit shall be presented as an exhibition based on plays and games that should ideally comprise a set of very different, fresh and game-based spatial strategies stimulating future processes of the cultural production of public spaces in the periphery. Bottom-up, from below, yet with the explicit offer to do this somewhere else in the city. As if I would be on holiday in my own city. In this sense, being encouraged to take a deep breath of freedom in a place that I have explored myself as a tourist in my own city.



In order to achieve the main goals of the Interdisciplinary Centre of Urban Culture and Public Space (SKuOR), namely the establishment of a trans-European network of universities and schools that focus on the theme of “Urban Culture and Public Space”, together with the promotion of interdisciplinary work and co-operation, the European Septemer Academy aims  at bringing together students in spatial planning, architecture and other spatially relevant disciplines from different European universities. The model is designed for an approx. number of 25 to 30 bachelor, master and PhD students in total that are going to work together in Vienna for one week.

Basically, the model is designed for the participation of different universities, each of them participating with up to five students in the one-week workshop in Vienna. The selection procedure of the five students is up to the respective university. The Summer Academy is to establish itself as an annual fixed element.

In conjunction with several other universities, the TU Vienna will act as a ‘bridge’ between spatial planning and spatial research. In order to achieve a homogenous mix of schools, there should be some universities which focus on spatial research (disciplines such as sociology, geography, urbanism..), and some universities which focus on spatial planning and design (disciplines such as landscape architecture, urban planning, spatial planning, architecture, urban development and art…). In addition, in selecting the universities, special attention will be paid to cultural diversity. For this reason the invitation will be addressed to universities in different European countries, whereby the relationship between various countries and disciplines should be balanced. The working language of the European September Academy will be English.

Students may enrol for this course at the TU Vienna. Attendance of the summer workshop will be likely credited with 3,5 ECTS. In this context, foreign students enrol at TU Vienna in agreement with the direction of the SKuOR.