Can co-existence be designed, and if so who is the designer? Understanding power within the concept of an open city

Harry Smith, Paul Jenkins

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

    Abstract

    This paper commences by examining the concept of ‘open’ city – does this mean open to access or to opportunity? Is the focus on social and cultural co-existence (as in the concept of ‘inclusion’) or should it be on more fundamental integration – e.g. in a political and economic sense? The paper then examines the nature of power and how this is evidenced in cities. Power in urban areas has typically been seen as infinitely expandable, given the right circumstances (‘power to’), or of finite and inevitably contested nature (‘power over’). An alternative conception is one where power is seen as embedded within all our interactions and thus acting always entails ‘power through’ – and is constantly negotiated. The paper argues that in fact power is evidenced in various forms of order within cities – only some of which built environment professionals engage with normally. As these professionals typically focus on the form and functions of cities – and work for the main political and/or economic actors - they can mis-understand, ignore or reject alternative forms of urban order such as the social and cultural, which in fact play a highly important part in negotiation of power.

    In this context, the authors ask, can a designer of the physical determine the social? They argue that the experiences of social housing and creating the public realm in the North have been seen as generally unsuccessful in such latent determinism, and are even less possible within the reality of emerging cities in the global South. This challenges us as built environment professionals to re-evaluate the role of the ‘designer’ in city change. Although generally professionals work for the powerful, there is a tradition within the built environment of working for or with the powerless, where the ‘designer’ is more than anything a negotiator of concepts, knowledge and the power these can contain. How can this subaltern role become more important in the future as urbanisation speeds up (especially in the South), or changes structurally (in the North as well as in the South) in the face of globalisation? Do we need a new way of thinking about professional action?
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publication10th N-AERUS Annual Conference, Institute for Housing and Urban Development Studies IHS
    Publication statusPublished - 2009
    EventNetwork-Association of European Researchers on Urbanisation in the South 10th Conference, on 'Challenges to open cities in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East: shared spaces within and beyond' - Rotterdam, Netherlands
    Duration: 1 Oct 20091 Oct 2009

    Conference

    ConferenceNetwork-Association of European Researchers on Urbanisation in the South 10th Conference, on 'Challenges to open cities in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East: shared spaces within and beyond'
    CountryNetherlands
    CityRotterdam
    Period1/10/091/10/09

    Keywords

    • Cities
    • Power
    • Negotiation
    • Professions
    • Action

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  • Cite this

    Smith, H., & Jenkins, P. (2009). Can co-existence be designed, and if so who is the designer? Understanding power within the concept of an open city. In 10th N-AERUS Annual Conference, Institute for Housing and Urban Development Studies IHS