multimedia-frontend Portlet

29 June 2004

Citizenship and Public Space

 Published in Ciutat real, ciutat ideal. Significat i funció a l'espai urbà modern [Real city, ideal city. Signification and function in modern space]. Barcelona: Cenetre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona, 1998 (Urbnanitats; 7)

Urban Agoraphobia

Although we civic-urbanites like to recall the old refrain that "city air makes us free", present-day urban reality tends to make us quote instead the one about "bad times for poetry". There is nothing original, either, in the titles "Hell is in the City" or "La ville partout, partout en crise" (the city everywhere, everywhere in crisis", that appeared in The Economist and Le Monde diplomatique some years ago. They are all saying the same. Social practices seem to suggest that the way out of it is to create some kind of refuge, to protect oneself from the city air, not only because it is contaminated but because spaces open to the winds are dangerous. In big cities we see an increasing presence of shopping centres with "Right of Admission Reserved", and residential ghettoes whose streets of access are in the hands of private police with the result that they no longer have a public character.


Public space is feared. It is neither a protective nor a protected space. In some cases, it has not been planned to offer security but is designed for certain functions like traffic circulation or parking, or it may simply be residual space between buildings and roads. In other cases, it has been occupied by the dangerous classes of society ―immigrants, the poor or the socially-excluded― because agoraphobia seems to be the kind of infirmity that exempts those who live in the city because it is the only way to survive. Even though they are frequently its main victims, they cannot do without public space.


Again, as in all historical moments of accelerated social and cultural change, the death of the city is being diagnosed. It is a recurring cliché. Some emphasise tribalisation. The hordes are at the city gates (for example, hostile grands ensembles), but they are also in its very heart, in the run-down historic centres.


Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, divided up by tribes that hate each other, would not be just a primitive phenomenon. We also have a nightmare taking shape in our own urban future. This is a future that is already present in Algiers, Istanbul and Cairo, with armies protecting the civilised neighbourhoods against the mass-based barbarism.


Other more optimistic observers tell us that the modern city is another city, the one that can be observed at the perimeters of our present-day cities, in the sub-urban peripheries at its entry points. Edge City (USA), or the exhibition "Les entrées de la ville" (Paris) and the rise of theories of urban chaos express this process of mythicising the de-urbanised city, or of city planning without the city, where "city" is understood as this complex physical, political and cultural European and Mediterranean ―but also American and Asian― product that we have characterised in our ideology and values as a concentration of population and activity, a social and functional mixture, with a self-governing capacity, a sphere of symbolic identification and civic participation. The city as a meeting point, an exchange, the city equal to culture and commerce. The city of places and not a simple space of flows.


If agoraphobia is an infirmity caused by the degradation and disappearance of public places that are integrating and protective and also open to everyone, the cure and alternative would seem to be installation within the flows and the new ghettoes (residential, shopping malls, tertiary areas, top-class areas, etc.). In this new city, the infrastructure of communication does not create centralities or strong places but rather it segments, or breaks up the territory and atomises social relations. A further manifestation of agoraphobia. But is this inevitable? Is this the end of the city as we have known it historically? Are these processes reversible and reusable?


On the Death of the City and the Point of View of Public Space

Is the city dead? Is it in crisis? Is the city of the street and the square, of public and civic space, the open city, the city of blending and contact, a residue of the past and object of nostalgia for aging urbanites?


It is easy to argue that, in history, cities have undergone changes at least as dramatic as those we see now. Or more. For example, the change from the walled city to modern urban expansion areas. Or the metropolitan city, with its suburbs and its pluri-municipal political structure, stimulated by the development of public (mass) transport and use of the car. It might even be claimed that we are simply witnessing a new phase of metropolitan growth.


There is no doubt that historians are in the right when they criticise the simplistic exercise of reducing urban history to three main phases or ages, the first being the concentrated city, cut off from its surroundings, while the second is the metropolitan city (the more peripheral city) and the third and present version is the city we must re-think with the advent of globalisation.


Though this scheme bothers the historians, it is useful for urban planners because it encourages them to focus on the new dynamics, not as a fatal curse, or the objective expression of modernity, but as a challenge to which they might respond either by discovering the possible elements of continuity with regard to the past, or distinguishing what is necessary from what is excessive and avoidable in the new processes and to find out if, in the end, we are capable of proposing new models and projects that might formulate integrating responses.


We believe that an interesting angle from which to analyse the new urban dynamics and produce responses to the challenges we are pondering is that of public space and the relationship between its shaping and the exercise of citizenship, which is understood as the status that makes it possible to exercise a set of civic, political and social rights and duties.


Public space interests us for two main reasons. First, it is where the crisis of the city or the urban state is often manifested in its most emphatic form. It seems, then, that this would be the sensitive point for taking action if the aim is to foster policies of creating the city in the city. Second, the new urban realities, in particular those that are occurring at the edges of the existing city, raise novel challenges for public space: generalised public mobility, the multiplication and specialisation of new centralities, and the power of the distances that seem to impose themselves on attempts to give formal and symbolic continuity to public spaces. We are convinced that the dialectic of mobilities-centralities is a key issue of modern urbanism. And that the conception of public spaces is, in turn, a decisive factor ―though not the only one― in the type of response that meets the former question.


Public Space and its Vicissitudes in Modernity

Public space is a legal concept: it is a space that is subject to specific regulation by the Public Administration, the owner, or whoever has the power of control over the site and who guarantees access to it for all, fixing the conditions for its use and the activities to be installed there. Modern public space comes from a formal (legal) separation between urban private property (expressed in the land registry and normally linked with the right to construct) and public property (or public domain by normative subrogation, or by acquisition through legal transfer), which normally means keeping this ground free of buildings (except for collective facilities and public services), and that it is reserved for the social uses that are characteristic of urban life (leisure activities, collective functions, mobility, cultural and sometimes commercial events, symbolic monumental reference points, etc.).


Public space also has a socio-cultural dimension. It is a place where people relate with each other and a space of identification, of contact between people, of urban animation, and sometimes community expression. The particular dynamics of a city and the behaviour of its people can create public spaces that are not legally constituted, or that were not envisaged as such, places that may be open or closed, thoroughfares or spaces one has to go to. It could be an abandoned factory or warehouse or an interstitial space between buildings. Access zones for stations, inter-modal transport points and sometimes land reserved for public works or ecological protection almost always constitute this kind of public space. In all these cases, what defines the nature of the public space is its use and not its legal status.


The predominant functionalism in modern urban planning soon disqualified public space in assigning it for specific uses. In some cases it was mixed up with highway administration, or submitted to the requirements of public order. In the more auspicious cases, priority was given to its monumental or urban embellishment value. Or it was connected with commercial and sometimes cultural activities. In less fortunate cases, it was used as a mechanism of social segregation, either to exclude or to concentrate (by way of price accessibility, social image, etc.). On some occasions, the legal-bureaucratic red tape has led to the idea that the ideal public space is one that is practically empty, where no one can do anything. Or it is so over-protected that it is not used by anyone (for example, when, with the best intentions, all the access areas are made into pedestrian zones, and all commercial activities and services are prohibited, etc.).


Public space, then, implies public domain, collective social use and multi-functionality. It is physically characterised by its accessibility, which makes it a factor of centrality. The quality of public space could be valued, above all, for the intensity and quality of social relations it fosters, for its capacity to mix groups and different kinds of behaviour and its ability to stimulate symbolic identification, and cultural expression and integration. This is why it is good for public space to have certain formal qualities such as continuity in urban design and a self-organising capacity, generosity in its forms, its image and materials, and adaptability to different uses over time.


Contemporary urban planning, heir of the modern movement, was what reconstructed cities after the Second World War. It focuses on functionalism geared to efficiency, tending to be a separating instrument rather than an integrating one (zoning, models), which is accentuated by compartmentalisation in the Public Administration and professional bodies (for example, transport planners/engineers with a view of development and urban functioning only seen through their own particular prism). The result has almost always been an application of sector-based policies instead of promoting activities that articulate the diversity and complexity of urban demands.


Thanks to big housing operations (each one destined for a specific social segment) and the fact that the priority is almost always assigned to the road network as the organising principle and as an investment, public space became a residual concern.


The modern movement in the first half of the 20th century, and public policy in the second half, gave shape to a kind of urban planning that is confused with housing policy and public works (roads, bridges, access zones, etc. or communication, in other words). Creating the city as an integral and integrating product was a forgotten goal and, so too, was public space. Or at least it was relegated to a secondary role.


Functionalist Urban Planning and Citizen Reactions

Functionalist urban planning has had to pay the price of its limitations and also those of the perverse uses that have been made of it. The mono-functionalism of its programmes and the sectorialisation of public policy, combined with the market dynamics in classist cities and aggravated by the income differences between those who enjoy the social standing of being installed and those who are the new arrivals (immigrants), have given rise to intolerable urban situations. Residential groupings are in rapid decline thanks to their poor quality, their socio-cultural anomie and the deficiency of facilities available to them, the vicious circle of physical and social marginalisation …


Congested and specialised central urban areas surrender their integrating role to the demands of administrative functions. Historic neighbourhoods are broken up and scattered by road building that has little respect for the surroundings and the quality of the daily lives of the residents. Then we have the dissemination of shopping malls, campus universities and industries that order the lives of the inhabitants according to the sarcastic triad of 1968, "Metro, boulot, dodo" (Metro, work, beddy-byes).


The reactions came fast. In the sixties and seventies, urban conflicts irrupted into the political and social life of most counties in Europe and America. The modern movement was not as simplistic as the functionalist urban planning of the capitalism of development. Its focus on mass public housing and the importance given to communication networks expressed a productivist rather than a speculative vision of the city, and a concern for the living conditions of the working population. Its planning proposals were sometimes interesting in their complexity and their ability to integrate social, environmental and aesthetic concerns (for example the Macià Plan or the Corbusier Plan, Barcelona, 1932).


Again, the mass-based social movements were no strangers to criticism and urban demands. In European cities, there were certain traditions of struggles over transport prices, for housing, for basic urban services and also for parks and squares, cultural centres and social and sporting facilities and equipment. They opposed expropriations, corruption, authoritarianism, and the opacity of decision-making in urban policy. Powerful urban movements emerged in the sixties and seventies, paralysing the work in some cases, while others failed. They also sometimes managed to ensure that projects were negotiated and that compromise agreements were reached that satisfied some of urban claims arising from expulsions, access, facilities and equipment, and transport systems. In a few cases they even managed to negotiate housing programmes, and public services and spaces, to upgrade areas that were marginal or very deficient in what they offered to the resident population.


Cultural and political responses joined forces with these social initiatives. It was not only the professionals in the field, heirs to the legacy of the modern movement, that could say on seeing the evolution of the "grands ensembles" (large-scale complexes), singular buildings, the neglect and decline of city centres, etc., "No, not that, not that". Other professionals and intellectuals, too, both in architecture and from other disciplines, but united in their cultural, aesthetic and sometimes "pedestrian" concerns about the city, joined together in their outcry against the excesses of developmentalist and functionalist urban planning. In some cases, the formal revaluing of the existing city prevailed. Or the culturally-based mythicising of the historic city. In others, concern for the urban environment. In still others, calls for austere urban planning instead of squandering.


Political criticism of this urban planning picked up on some or many of the social criticisms, found support in these movements, adding a plus in being against technocratic or corrupt authoritarianism, against the subjugation of public policy to the interests of private groups, and in favour of accountability of citizen participation, a re-evaluation of local political administration and decentralisation. In this political criticism, urban social movements came together to some extent with the critical, though ideological, positions of the more democratic and progressive powers-that-be. It must also be said that, on a considerable number of occasions, political party leaders took quite a time to discover the political potential of urban issues. And in many cases they are yet to do so.


There is no doubt about the influence on urban planning over the last ten years of the criticism, demands and proposals that have arisen in citizens' responses. The re-evaluation of historic centres, the superseding of a kind of urban planning that was seen as road-networks-plus-housing, the inclusion of the demands for social redistribution and environmental improvement, etc., owe a great deal to these critical movements. Outstanding here is the significance given to public space as an ordering and construction element in the city. However, since nothing is perfect it would not be out of place to point out the more dubious aspects of these civic responses, especially two of them. First is the emphatic out-and-out conservationism of some neighbourhoods and their populations. In such cases, the residents are seen as the only proprietors in the neighbourhood and they constitute a social force that resists change or transformation. It is forgotten that the neighbourhood, or a particular area, is part of a whole and that users, too, the people who work there, or go there or pass through, also have an interest and rights in this part of the city. In other cases, the conservationism is cultural and does not necessarily come from the residents. Certain sectors of urban culture consider that every stone and every form of more than a certain respectable age is untouchable. This does not take into account the fact that there can be no urban preservation without the transforming intervention that counteracts the degenerative dynamics.


The second dubious aspect worth noting is suspicion about, or prejudice against big urban projects in the more critical urban or citizen movements. It is true that such reserve was more than justified by unfortunate experiences with many projects of the sixties and seventies that were associated with corruption, speculation, destruction of the urban environment, loss of public spaces, squandering of resources, exclusive urban projects, etc. However, in a democratic framework, it would appear to be more positive to discuss the big projects and, where necessary, propose alternatives, and thereby to avoid the fundamentalist idea that only the small is beautiful.


In any case, civic movements over the last thirty years have made major contributions to urban administration and planning at the end of the 20th century. We can cite at least three:


a) A re-evaluation of place, of public space, the urban environment, quality of life, the neighbourhood-city dialectic, the polycentric nature of the modern city…


b) The demand for citizen democracy, for agreement and participation in plans and projects, for integrated programmes, management of proximity and recovering the prominence of local government in urban policy-making.


c) As a result of the above, or as a premiss, perhaps, the re-creation of the idea of citizen, as the subject of urban policy, of the person who becomes a citizen by intervening in the construction and management of the city. The excluded are integrated, passive consumers conquer their rights, residents shape their surroundings, and everyone acquires self-esteem and dignity in confronting the challenges raised by urban dynamics and policies. It is the citizen who has the right to the city's conflicts.


The Competitive City of Globalisation and the Responses of Urban Planners

Economic globalisation and the information revolution have contradictory effects on urban spaces.


The city becomes a nodal element in a system of regional and worldwide exchanges. But it is connected by parts, divided into in and out groups and areas. In other words the urban fabric is fragmented, there is functional specialisation and social segregation consolidates inequality in the metropolitan areas. The non-correspondence between the urban space of comings and goings and politico-administrative territories, and the weakening of places or simply their non-existence (we refer to the points of high social density and strong symbolic identification) stimulate anomic or tribal dynamics, break up social cohesion and complicate governance.


However, there are also opposing tendencies, of re-evaluating the city in confronting urban planning that leads to civic break-up. Urban space is tending towards new processes of concentration and increasing complexity of activities and uses in order to optimise synergies. Public policy needs to consolidate governable territories by way of positive action that favours social cohesion through the regeneration of run-down centres and areas, new centralities, improvements in mobility and the visibility of each zone in the metropolitan area, and promoting new urban products that diversify and reactivate the economic and social networks to create employment and self-esteem, etc.


Competition requires governance and the proper functioning of the urban system, which, in turn, depends on the efficiency of services, environmental security, the quality of human resources and the cultural integration of the people who live in and use the city.


The dilemma of urban planning today is whether to go along with the de-urbanising or dissolving processes in the city through specific, mono-functional or specialised responses expressed in sector-based policies in the sway of the market and executed by private initiatives. Or whether, on the contrary, to encourage policies of urban organisation and to define big projects in order to counteract the perverse dynamics, and to raise the possibility of creating a city that favours the density of social relations in the territory, the functional heterogeneity of each urban area, the multiplication of polyvalent centre-points and the times and places of cultural integration.


One key issue for evaluating urban policies, and understanding how to respond to this kind of dilemma, lies in analysing urban projects and looking into the consideration that public spaces deserve as such.


Urban projects characterise present-day urban planning. We understand by urban projects those strategic activities on a variable scale (from a square through to huge operations entailing several hectares, for example on the seafront) that are defined by the fact that they respond to different demands or fulfil a range of functions (even if they were originally mono-functional), because they engender transforming dynamics in their surroundings, because they can include at once the aims of competitiveness and social cohesion by combining an initiating role and regulation of the public sector with the participation of different private actors in their development, because they tend to promote a qualitative leap forward in the city, or in part of it, and because they are inscribed in time (without adversely affecting the project's capacity to specify itself in immediate activities that have great potential as a driving force).


The debate between territorial planning and designed urban projects is not very interesting. Plans without projects are like faith without works, or a ham-less ham sandwich. Urban planning today must offer relatively swift responses to the challenges of competition and cohesion. Again, it must jump at opportunities (and if necessary invent them) because the big projects are only viable when a set of favourable circumstances appears. And these circumstances also arise only when it is possible to achieve agreement between the wishes of a set of public and private actors, and this is not an automatic result of approving the documents of a plan.


However, on the other hand, urban projects will not have any strategic value as projects of construction in the city unless they are part of a coherent set of policies that proposes both to raise the level of the city and to coordinate the existing city. This all-embracing policy requires instruments, among them plans: strategic plans, urban distribution plans, a contract-plan with the State, a programme of large-scale agreed-upon projects observing fixed conditions, and sector-based plans that integrate a number of dimensions such as transport and traffic flows, urban environment, etc. The urban projects of citizens must form part of a city project that enjoys a three-fold legitimacy: normative, political and socio-cultural. In other words, it means having a legal base (plans, specific laws, budgets, ordinances, regulations, etc.), political agreement (or, more exactly, a set of contracts and agreements between the branches of the Public Administration) and basic citizen consensus among different urban actors (from the business, social, professional, intellectual, mass media … spheres).


The consideration of public space in large-scale urban projects is a key factor in their creative capacity in the city, for at least three main reasons:


a) Because public space is a very effective means for facilitating the multi-functionality of urban projects as it permits a diversity of uses in space and adaptability over time;


b) Public space is in itself an ideal mechanism for guaranteeing the relational quality of an urban project, both for residents and users and for the other citizens. This relational potential must be confirmed by highlighting it in the design and then verifying it and developing it through its use.


c) Public space is one possible response to the difficult and novel challenge of articulating the neighbourhood (or more or less homogeneous urban setting), the city-agglomeration and the metropolitan region. The continuity of great axes of public space is one condition for visibility and accessibility for each of the urban fragments, and an essential element in civic integration.


In brief, what is required of public space is nothing more or less than contributing towards giving sense to our urban life.


Public Space and Citizenship: the Dialectic between the Urban Condition and Political Status

An approximation by way of anecdotes.

- "Finally, after all these years, I am marching with the unemployed. I have felt that I am a citizen." A long-unemployed man, Paris, December 1997.


- "The worst of it is not our names or the colour of our skins. Even when they have told us that we are right for a certain kind of work, when we have to give our address, if it is in an undesirable district, they usually stop the interview." From a television programme (Sagacités) on difficult neighbourhoods and young people from immigrant families in European cities.


- On Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays the Champs Elyseés fills up with young Africans, Arabs and Asians. They occupy Paris's most symbolic avenue, they appropriate the city and can feel that they are totally French. But someone says to us (a socialist member of parliament!), "They aren't French like the rest of us", even when most of them have been born in Paris and have French citizenship.


- "Everyone has the right to dispose of, or enjoy easy access to an area with elements of centrality, to live in a neighbourhood that is seen and recognised by the other citizens, to be able to invite people to eat in their homes without feeling ashamed". (From lectures given in Carros, France, by Rolando Castro and Jordi Borja).


- "We too have the right to beauty" (grandmother, from a favela, Sao Paulo, Brazil).


Full citizenship is not acquired from the fact of living in a city. Neither is it sufficient to have a legal document that accredits this condition. Let us look at some dialectical relations between the city as public space and the exercise of citizenship.


a) Official non-citizens and illegal territory. The city as open public space needs illegal or a-legal areas, territories for survival because in these places some protection can be obtained and some overflows from urban goods and services (red areas, run-down centres), or because precarious occupation of unused housing or land at these limits is possible. The steps towards citizenship will require the double process of legalisation of the resident (papers, job), and of the territory/housing (whether occupied or some other alternative). But one process can stimulate the other and vice versa.


b) Public space as political space, the space for exercising civic rights, is a means of acceding to citizenship for all those who suffer from some or other kind of capitis diminutio, social exclusion or relegation to anomie or passivity. It represents the self-esteem of the unemployed demonstrator, who dreams that he now occupies the city, that he is somebody in the city and that he is not alone.


c) Urban violence, the kind that is manifested in public space, whether central or peripheral is, even though this is paradoxical, a claim to citizenship. Urban violence expresses the rebellion of the non-citizen, a contradiction between the fact of being there and the non-right to use the formal, ostentatious city. We speak of urban violence, not when the poor or socially excluded kill one another, but when they attack citizens or confront the forces of law and order. They are seeking attention and want their condition and/or their territory to be recognised.


d) Public space is indispensable, or at least very necessary, for developing the processes of socialisation for the poor and for children. And for newcomers to the city. In public spaces where diversity is expressed, interchanges occur and tolerance is learned. The quality, multiplication and accessibility of public spaces will define in good measure the progress of civic responsibility.


e) Nowadays, the effective and democratic functioning of the city is gauged by the dialectic between mobilities and centre-points. The citizenship of all will depend on the universality of both components of the urban system. Mobility and centrality have a component of public space as a factor of citizenship. A city that functions exclusively through use of the private car and with specialised and closed centre-points (administrative centres, shopping centres organised into social hierarchies, etc.) does not facilitate progress in civic values but inclines towards segmentation, individualism and exclusion.


f) Public space, including infrastructure and facilities, can be an important mechanism for social redistribution and integration. It depends on how large-scale urban operations are designed or, better said, how they are conceived. A by-pass road, a set of cultural facilities, a real-estate promotion of offices and housing, and railway, or port or waterfront rehabilitation can create dualism in urban society or otherwise articulate neighbourhoods and provide mechanisms for integration and better quality of life in those sectors that suffer from some or other citizenship deficit. Such projects can create centralities where they have not previously existed, facilitate different kinds of mobility and favour visualisation and acceptance among the citizenry of overlooked or ill-considered neighbourhoods to the extent that these more general aims, and not just the original or specific aims, are taken into account. For example, in a historic centre, it is not the same to create a big museum and a huge policed car-park as it is to envisage, along with the museum, new kinds of cultural and commercial activities in the area, work programmes for young people and well-equipped spaces of transition into surrounding neighbourhoods.


g) The more functionally polyvalent public space is, the more it will contribute to citizenship, and the more it will favour interchange. The social use of public spaces should be well known. This use will be very dependent on many factors such as design, accessibility, beauty, monumental significance, promotion, maintenance, diversity of possible users, etc. We wish to emphasise the aesthetics of public space. The luxury of public space is not a matter of throwing away money. It is a question of social justice.


h) The branches of the Public Administration in a democratic State must agree, as one of their sources of legitimacy, to foster policies that produce public spaces for the citizens in the cities. Large-scale urban projects that do not include social and environmental concerns, or improve citizenship in terms of both quality and quantity are not therefore acceptable. Urban approaches must take into consideration the possibility of reverting to the city areas that are occupied by state organisms, or service companies that, because of their physical state or location, might be regarded as obsolete but that could be used to create spaces and collective facilities for the citizens. These might include ports, stations and railway repair sheds, vacant blocks that have not been used for public works, power installations or storage facilities, barracks, public office blocks, etc. New urban products cannot be legitimated by criteria of competitiveness or reasons of bureaucratic jurisdiction alone. This does not mean rejecting the inclusion in these operations of real-estate projects or commercial activities that, besides offering commercial viability to the initiative, can also contribute towards the regeneration of the economic-social and fabric in the surrounding area.


i) Renovating the urban development instrument can be, in itself, an instrument of progress in citizenship. Urban projects, inasmuch they are at once a response to the challenges of the city, and opportunities presented to some public and private actors, already represent a potential moment for debate, conflict and negotiation. Strategic plans will need to be a major part of civic participation. Other more specific instruments such as programme-contracts, preliminary projects, etc., favour the manifestation of a range of aspirations and interests, and even of sectors that rarely have a voice in the city.


j) Having a job is a key factor for exercising citizenship, in some cases because legal status, social protection, access to a proper home, and so on, are largely dependent on employment. And it is always necessary for acquiring social recognition and avoiding progressive social exclusion. Urban policies, the construction and maintenance of public spaces and facilities, represent a great opportunity to create employment that is linked both to urban services and to the so-called proximity services, which is to say, services rendered to other people. Again, it is possible to establish a relationship between the citizen's salary (conferred on all residents of a territory and administered by the local or regional government) and the city as a source of occupations (social, cultural, ecological, etc.) and a sphere of ongoing training.


Citizenship: A Political Challenge for the City

In the past, citizenship was an attribute that distinguished the permanent residents, who were recognised as such, in a city. It meant a status that consisted of a number of civil, socio-economic and political rights and duties that could be exercised within the sphere of the city's territory (which, in many cases, was considerably more extensive than the area occupied by the built-up area).


Later, after the 18th, and especially the 19th century, citizenship came to be linked with the nation-state. Citizens were those people in possession of nationality, an attribute conceded by the State and, as such, they were holders of exclusive political rights (participating in electoral processes, forming associations and parties, being public servants, etc.). The social and civic rights of citizens were also greater than those of non-citizens (foreigners, either resident or passing through), but the concept of citizenship mainly refers to juridical-political status (especially in Anglo-Saxon culture) within the framework of the State. Its citizen origins are all but forgotten.


Nonetheless, we are faced today with a number of new circumstances that enable us to reconsider the relationship between city and citizenship.


a) The reduction the sovereignty of the nation-state because of globalisation of the economy and the creation of supra-state political unions. The European Union tends to give equal status to the rights and duties of all citizens in the European countries. Europeans who go to live (or were born) in a country which is not the one that gives them their nationality are naturally more easily integrated into a city than into a nation.


b) The immigrant population, or the descendents of immigrants who do not have citizenship in the country where they live, represent a relatively significant and stable group in many cities. In other words, the majority are not thinking about returning to their countries of origin. This population does not have recognised citizen status, which raises problems of social policy and democratic governance in cities. In France they are called "sans" (have-nots): they don't have papers, they don't have work, they don't have a fixed abode, they don't have social protection, they don't have political rights, as is obvious.


c) Within the European framework an apparently reasonable and viable solution to such problems would be to create the status of European citizen as distinct from nationality. At present, those who have the nationality of any of the European Union countries are European citizens. It might be added that those who reside in a city (province or region) of the European Union are also European citizens, with the same rights and duties that entails. Local authorities could bestow legal residential status after two years' de facto residence and process European citizenship after three years of legal residence if the immigrant agrees. The city, producer of citizenship, must guarantee its universality, which is to say equality before the law for all its citizens. Not to do so is to legitimate exclusion.


d) The city offers the best opportunities for political innovation because of the complexity of the public policies that can come under the city's auspices, and dimensions that permit more direct relations with the population. The metropolitan-regional, the city and neighbourhood spheres require original specific solutions, not the uniformising approach. New electoral procedures might be brought in, for example replacing the lists of nationally based parties with civic and mixed-system lists, programmatic and obligatory votes, etc. The city is also the domain in which the relations between citizens and the Administration can undergo innovation, for example the one-window approach, the oral declaration that has the value of a public document, and so on. Other areas that require innovation are the legal and security spheres: local justice, participative district security councils, and a citizen defence office for dealing with the different branches of the Public Administration, etcetera.


e) Today there is more talk of citizen participation than of political participation. Local political management now calls for dissemination of information, communication, and socialising the potential of the new forms of technology (that permit feedback). All spheres of local administration demand different forms of participation, at times generic and often specific: councils, ad hoc committees, plebiscites, and so on. Participation might be by way of information, debate or negotiation. It might also come from formulas of cooperation, execution or management by civil society bodies (associations or collectives, businesspeople among the citizenry, union or professional organisations, etc.).


f) The deficits of the city affect different sectors in different and unequal ways. In some cases the gap is virtually total: as with the sans (the have-nots, who do not have documents, work, social protection, the possibility of cultural integration, etc.). In others the difference is more focussed: the unemployed, old people, children, ethic and religious minorities, and so on. A policy of citizenship would involve developing a series of positive action initiatives for each of these groups. A test of citizenship would be gauging the reach and effectiveness of such initiatives. Examples might be fostering multiculturalism, making guiding principles of the demands of old people and children in public space and collective facility programmes, creating a more feminine city, incorporating redistributive goals and social impact studies into all urban projects, etc.


g) Projects and management of public space and collective facilities are both an opportunity for creating citizenship and a test of progress in this endeavour. Their more or less unequal distribution, their articulating or fragmenting conception with regard to the urban social fabric, their accessibility and centralising potential, symbolic value, intensity of social use, employment-creating capacity, importance of new user groups, their contribution to self-esteem and social recognition and in giving sense to urban life … are always opportunities that should never be passed by in fostering the (political, social and civic) rights and duties that constitute citizenship.


The status of citizenship represents a triple challenge for the city and local government. It is a political test in that it means acquiring the legal and operative capacity for contributing towards or universalising the political-juridical status of the whole population, as well as gaining the powers and resources that are necessary for developing the public policies that make possible the exercise of citizens' rights and duties.


It is a social challenge in that it means fostering those public policies that tackle the areas of discrimination that deny or reduce the sphere of citizenship: employment, situations of vulnerability (children, for example), cultural exclusion, and so on.


It is a particularly urban challenge in that it means making the city and its centre-points, its monuments, mobility and generalised accessibility, the quality and visibility of its neighbourhoods, the integrating power of its public spaces, the self-esteem of its inhabitants, external recognition, etcetera, ways of giving sense to everyday life and of creating citizenship.


The production of citizenship and the role of local government is a political challenge that does not exclude the above. The space of politics is not limited to institutions, parties and elections. There is another space, that of the political society (better than that of civil society), which is the space created and occupied by all the organisms and forms of collective action when they go beyond their immediate and corporative aims and interests. This is the space of citizen participation that raises demands, proposals, and even duties and responsibilities to criticise and offer alternatives, but also to carry out and manage social and cultural programmes and projects in the economic and solidarity domains. And in urban planning.


To conclude, the responsibility to create citizenship belongs to professionals working in the domain of urban planning. In the name of their ethics and technical skills, their knowledge of advances being made in urban planning culture and their international experience, and because of their sensibility with regard to the legacies of the city in which they work and their creative power to recognise tendencies and invent futures, these professionals must insist on their intellectual autonomy with respect to the politicians and different social collectives, and must prepare and defend their proposals, accept risks in their relations with the authorities and public opinion, and know how to step down publicly before betraying their convictions.


The reinvention of the city of citizenship, of the constructive-organising public space of the city and of urban planning as a creator of sense is not the monopoly of anybody.


Democratically elected politicians are responsible for deciding public projects. Social organisations have the right and the duty to demand that their criticisms, demands and proposals are taken into account. Professionals have the obligation to produce analyses and formalised and viable proposals, to listen to others, but also to defend their convictions and projects through to the end.








Borja, Jordi, Informe sobre la ciudadanía europea - Eurocities/Eurocités,. Barcelona:  Ajuntament de Barcelona, 1997.

Borja, Jordi.  "Juventud y Ciutadanía. Causas sin rebeldes", Prevenció. Barcelona:  Ajuntament de Barcelona, 1997.

Borja, Jordi.  Barcelona, un modelo de transformación urbana - Programa de gestión urbana. Quito:  UNDP —World Bank,  1995.

Borja, Jordi. "La ciudad conquistada", Claves, Madrid 1991.

 Borja, Jordi, and Castells, Manuel.  Local y Global. La gestión de las ciudades en la era de la Información. Madrid: Taurus,  1997.

Ascher, François, La Metapolis, Paris 1995.

Bossolino, Antonio, La Repubblica delle Città, Rome 1996.

Davis, Mike, City of Quartz, Los Angeles 1990.

"Turn up the Lights", The Economist (July 1995), London.

Forum Europeen de Securité Urbaine - Espaces Culturels Urbains. Rencontre Internationale de la Villette, París 1996.

Garreau, Joel, Edge City. Life in the New Frontier, New York 1995.

Mongin, Oliver, Vers la troisième ville ? (Preface by C. de Portzamparc), Paris 1995.

Venturi, Marco [et al.], La festivalizzione della politica urbana, Rome 1995.

 By Nuno Portas, (with whom I shared co-responsibility for a course in the Institut Français d´Urbanisme, Paris 1997):

― "El planeamiento urbano como proceso de regulación variable", Ciudades, Nº. 3 (1996), Instituto de Urbanística, University of Valladolid.

O Projeto Urbano. Cidade e imaginaçao, PROURB, Universityo of Rio de Janeiro, 1996.

― "Planes Directores como instrumentos de regulaçao", Sociedade e territorio, Nº. 22 (1995), Lisbon-Porto.

See also the collection Projet Urbain, review of the Ministére de l´Equipament (France), headed by Ariella Masboungi (12 numbers published between 1994 and 1997) and the series of books Conferénces Paris d´Architectes, Edicions du Pavillon de l´Arsenal, Paris 1994-1997




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