The Association of European Schools of Planning (AESOP)

The Thematic Group ‘Public Spaces and Urban Cultures’ (TG PS-UC) / May 2013

The AESOP Thematic Group for Public Spaces and Urban Cultures hereby opens a call to different partner institutions, in Europe and beyond, to host the group’s future meetings in the years 2013 to 2015. After having dealt with the subject of “Conviviality” during the group’s meetings in Vienna, Ljubljana, Naples, Brussels and Lisbon, which took place in the period between 2010 and 2012, the new topic BECOMING LOCAL has been initially developed during the group’s meeting in Lisbon in December 2012. This umbrella topic complements the group’s preceding approaches and activities aimed at critically reflecting, analysing and discussing current trends and tendencies pertaining to public spaces and urban cultures in the field of urban research, design and planning. If you are interested in hosting an upcoming group meeting, please contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. until 21st June 2013.

BECOMING LOCAL – The working topic

We propose to approach the working topic ‘Becoming Local’ from the following perspectives:

Firstly, BECOMING LOCAL is understood as a series of manifold enquiries into the set of practices and values that intermingle at the urban scale as facets of both global and local processes. The focus rests on the hypothesis that in urban public space, empirical enquiries into the palpable materiality of everyday life can be productively connected to the insights of abstract theory, thus rendering the latter relevant for practical endeavours. In this sense the palpable local scale itself is considered as a ‘relational space’ where global tendencies ‘sediment’ and are being ‘translated’ and ‘transformed’ in a particular local cultural, social and political context.

Secondly, by BECOMING LOCAL we refer to the processes of construction of meaningful ‘place’, which can be empirically observed, analysed and mapped in the material space of the lived streets, parks and squares of the city and beyond. Yet globalized design trends -accompanied by neoliberal “safe and clean” policies- often seek to provide sanitized and controlled urban spaces that lack any deeper notion of history, political struggle and social conflict. BECOMING LOCAL thus can be understood as a plea against such trends and stands in support of a critical investigation of the socio-historic ‘patina’ of relational public space as a very important mirror of changing patterns of everyday life, of collective memory and processes of shaping local identities.

Thirdly, by BECOMING LOCAL we investigate material and immaterial dimensions of public spaces and cultural practices thus paving the path towards critical understanding and interpretation of post-Fordist commodification strategies, and main actors who fuel them. The production of meaningful places is challenged by new rationales that strategically try to enhance the multiple immaterial layers of public spaces in the course of postFordist transformations, where symbolic, cultural and social capital is embraced by newly emerging economies. These changes carry certain impacts and call for revisiting the role of state, market and civil society actors, as well as the changing role of ‘experts’ involved in place making and in shaping the material arrangements of public space.

The underlying rationale for multifaceted aspects of public spaces is that the local character of different processes of urban development is nothing static or fixed, rather, it shows a plethora of permanent dynamics and flows. International mobility and migration, which accompany and are impacted by the global financial crisis and changing labour markets, can be grasped through

thick analysis in public space where changing cultural values and rituals are displayed, contested, managed, negotiated and commodified. Cultural practices eventually coalesce into processes of BECOMING LOCAL, yet they might as well confront, counteract or thwart each other in a steady ambivalence. Public spaces are understood as arenas of conflict, negotiation and consensus among different actors that should allow for vulnerable and marginalized parts of the society (beyond the so-called mainstream society) to also take part through individual or collective strategies within the course of everyday life.

The AESOP Thematic Group on Public Spaces and Urban Cultures values a critical and constructive dialogue on the processes of BECOMING LOCAL which equally involves researchers and practitioners, locals and internationals. The proposed umbrella topic aims at exploring and rethinking relations among different concepts and meanings related to (local) spaces and places, policies and practices, and everyday life. 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.

Authors: Sabine Knierbein (Vienna University of Technology), Matej Niksic (Urban Planning Institute of the Republic of Slovenia), Nikolai Roskamm (Technical University of Berlin), Ceren Sezer (Delft University of Technology, Urban4) and Tihomir Viderman (Vienna University of Technology)

About AESOP TG UC-PS’s Meetings

The members of the AESOP Thematic Group on Public Spaces and Urban Cultures meet annually to discuss and develop approaches proposed under the group’s working topic. These meetings mostly take form of workshops/seminars/conferences accompanied by a fieldtrip in duration of two days, and also provide an environment for engaging in a peer-to-peer discussion on the participants’ research and design projects. The meetings are organized by various types of institutions, which submit their declaration of interest for hosting an event based on the call’s theme, in close collaboration with at least one group member. The participation at the AESOP TG meetings is free of charge for group members, yet participants usually cover costs of travelling and accommodation by themselves. Thanks to the support of AESOP, there is a small budget allocated for the organization of the meetings.

The members of the group would like to extend their sincerest thanks to institutions and colleagues that have hosted the group’s events so far: Istituto di Richerche sulle Attivià Terciarie, National Research Council, Italy; Interdisciplinary Centre for Urban Culture and Public Space, Department for Spatial Planning, Faculty for Architecture and Planning, Vienna University of Technology, Austria; Urban Planning Institute of the Republic of Slovenia, Ljubljana, Slovenia; Human Cities Symposium Organizers, Faculté d’Architecture La Cambre Horta and ProMateria, Brussels, Belgium; Faculty of Architecture, Technical University of Lisbon, Lisbon, Portugal.

For questions concerning the organization of the meetings please e-mail to: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.