La ville comme bien commun: Planification urbaine et droit a la ville

Translated title of the contribution: The city as a common good: Urban planning and the right to the city

Ilaria Boniburini (Editor), Judith Le Maire (Editor), Luisa Moretto (Editor), Harry Smith (Editor)

Research output: Book/ReportAnthology


As lecturers and researchers on the broad subject of urban development and planning, we are constantly confronted with the need to provide students with the instruments they require to face professional practice during and after their studies. At the same time, we need and aspire to contribute to the thinking, production and analysis of new possible theoretical and practical approaches to both understanding the city, and providing a better environment for the life of human beings. However, although the research on conceptual frameworks is passionate and fecund, the translation of theories and abstract concepts into innovative practical and operational approaches may often appear less fruitful and original.

It is within this perspective that this Cahier de la Faculté d’Architecture LaCambreHorta aims to contribute to the scientific debate on the right to the city, exploring the variety of processes, structures, and relations – both at the conceptual, abstract and theoretical level as well as at the practical, experiential, and material one – that this idea has inspired. This publication offers multiple analyses of the relations between this concept and its application in the urban planning domain, providing a number of examples of how the concept of the right to the city can give practical guidance on urban development, as well as of its limitations in theory and practice.

The focus is thus on policies, programmes and projects that aim to intervene in the diverse processes of urbanization and different forms of urban structures and urbanity present in countries in the Global North and South, addressing issues of equity, rights, democracy, differences (socio-economic, cultural, etc.) and ecology. The publication aims to explore the socio-spatial relations embedded in alternative approaches – at policy, planning and design levels – and emergent practices of urban regeneration, upgrading, development, and management activated by grassroots movements, government agencies or different actors/institutions. This is the reason why we decided to explore the idea of the right to the city within the dialectical confrontation of “social politics” and “urban planning”.

The rationale of this Cahier rests on two main principles. First of all, cities are built on the basis of both semiotic and material contributions, which means that both imaginaries and practices are fundamental in shaping urban space, its physical form and technology, its socio-economic structure, the social and spatial relations, the subjectivities, the relations with nature, and daily life reproduction. Second, as the neo-liberal hegemonic culture has emphasized the urban horizon and the city level in all its physical, social and cultural aspects, the city is an arena where oppositional discourses and practices take place. Alternative imaginaries can challenge prevailing worldviews, show the contradictions of the neo-liberal hegemonic project and propose various forms of alternative sets of norms, beliefs, ideals; while alternative practices emerge at various scales of contestation, springing from deprived and often marginalized local groups and places, but also as national projects. There is a need to analyse the variety of imaginaries and practices that in spite of, and because of, the hegemony of the neoliberal culture, are resilient or are emerging – as is explained by Boniburini in this volume.

In our invitation to contributors, we firstly made a call for two different kinds of contributions: on the one hand, papers exploring the variety of socio-spatial imaginaries on the right to the city and, on the other, papers presenting bottom-up practices of urban development, regeneration or management. While reading the final versions of the articles we received, we realized that this distinction did not apply: most of the contributions included in this Cahier present cases in which the exploration of the right to the city is undertaken through an interesting dialectic between both alternative imaginaries and practices. This confirms that urban transformations, past present and future, whether the result of the efforts of urban movements or of more professional networks of actors are profoundly interconnected with the semiotic dimension – that is the way we think, represent and envisage the urban world. Beyond the capacity of the cases presented and the theoretical approaches investigated to materially and successfully bring about changes in urban life, it appears clearly that imaginaries and practices on the right to the city need a mutual underpinning to emerge. This interrelationship is explored in the introductory chapter written by Ilaria Boniburini, which provides a literature review and conceptual discussion to frame the debate to which the articles in this book contribute. In addition, the integration of imaginaries and practices in the papers produced for this publication led to discarding the editors’ original idea that the book would be presented in two parts, respectively focused on each of these, in favour of presenting the papers in one block.

To complete this Cahier, we benefited from the professional and voluntary collaboration of many people. First of all we would like to thank the authors of the papers contained in this edition, who enthusiastically responded to the task we invited them to participate in. They obligingly responded to our requests for strengthening of particular points, clarification and other amendments which as editors we felt were needed. And they patiently stuck with us through what proved to be a lengthy process due to a range of circumstances, from the submission of the first drafts during April to November 2010, and the submission of second drafts in mid 2011, to the final checks and editing during the end of 2011.

We would also like to thank academics from other universities – Chiara Sebastiani (University of Bologna, Italy) and Todd Weir (Queen’s University, Northern Ireland) – who reviewed and commented on some of the articles, and the colleagues at the Faculty of Architecture of the Université Libre de Bruxelles who helped us check the language in the papers in French (Sabine Guisse, Sarah Levy, Melina Giannakis). We thank also Sébastien Sindeu for the photos from his personal collection which he allowed us to use for this Cahier and Annika Cattaneo for the creation of the map.

We hope and believe that this collaborative effort has produced a collection of papers which will contribute to the debate on the “right to the city” through a reflection on its realization through both imaginaries and practices, providing a basis for further discussion on the concept, its potential, and its limitations.
Translated title of the contributionThe city as a common good: Urban planning and the right to the city
Original languageMultiple languages
Place of PublicationBrussels
PublisherLa Cambre-Horta (ULB) & La Lettre Volee
Number of pages365
ISBN (Print)978-2-87317-395-1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2013


  • right to the city
  • urban planning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development


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