20. Territories under pressure: disruptive events, shattered cities, collective memories

We live in times of political, socio-economic, and environmental uncertainty in which radical pluralism appears to challenge established socio-spatial orders. In societies of ‘liquid modernity’, collective belonging is expressed through a variety of processes of territorial identification and spatial appropriation, by which places of collective livelihood, of identity, of memory are constituted. Identification with the cultural heritage and memory of places in the territories of everyday urban life is key to personal, social and cultural identity, and the free expression and coexistence of such forms of identification are essential for a polis which dwells upon diversity.

The impact of current societal changes – multiculturalism, hypermobility, migration – appears however to affect more and more negatively their political perception. Socio-cultural diversity and mobility – once positive connotations of ‘multicultural’ citizenship – are increasingly perceived as threats as they highlight allegedly irreconcilable contradictions between contrasting spatial claims.

This reflects tensions which are deeply inscribed in the spatiality of social relations.While territorial belonging is increasingly relativized as a principle of integration, new spatial practices create new social divides. Tensions and contradictions in social and economic development determine spatial cleavages which challenge the sense of collective belonging: creating new spaces ‘at the margin’, but also creating margins within the very social fabric of the city.

In the landscape of ‘neoliberalized’ urban development, effects in terms of accessing health, education and other social services and of benefitting of full citizenship rights are reflected in a sense of spatial non-belonging which becomes a matter of dispute and contestation.

Under conditions in which state action and regulation is often incapable of equitably accounting for this diversity of claims, spatial and symbolic orders become openly contested. While contestation bears potentials for improving democratic participation and political integration, hegemonic reactions to urban contestation often result into new forms of inequality. The resulting shifts in political climate may even create less democratic landscapes which are less open towards differences. Thus, all too often,the ‘politics of identity’ turns into an ideological framework for manipulatory and exclusionary spatial practices, often resulting in the marginalization of social, cultural or ethnic groups. Ideologies of identity, selective austerity practices, and discourses of fear result in restrictions of active citizenship and often produce effects of segregation and/or exclusion which adversely affect the pluralism of urban social life.

Spatial identities, paradoxically, become divisive, and places of memory hard to share. And yet, the capacity to combine these values with recognition of diversity is essential for a progressive and equal city. The track invites to deal consciously with the manifold manifestations of these challenges, and to explore potentials for progressive responses through creative experimentation and social innovation in the practices of spatial planning, urban design and city management.