places “off the map”: bringing to light the hidden locations of urbanisation
‘Spatial Resilience Tactic of Urban Public Space Repurposing in the Shrinking City: The Sustaining Community of Estonian Border City of Narva’
City, as a platform for building societal resilience, is getting special attention within sustainability discourse which have entered all dimensions of our life – cultural, political, economic, environmental, and social. Big concern in such discussion is voiced towards the shrinking cities where political and economic changes manifested through depopulation, ‘frozen’ constructions, and empty spaces due to the production or the manufacturing shutdowns. One of the adaptive strategies is the attention to the community resilience with the efforts put onto the revitalization, economic development, and regeneration strategies. I examine urban public space repurposing as a spatial resilience tactic to understand what impact it has on city’s ability to sustain through historical shifts.
The field for my research is Estonian, mostly Russian speaking, border city of Narva which stood through the domination of different powers: Danish Kingdom, Teutonic order, Livonian knights, Swedish monarchy, Russian empire, Soviet Union, Estonia. City was almost entirely destroyed during the World War II and was rebuilt again. Narva went through the process of urban shrinkage which went along with political and economic changes, especially during the post-socialist transition to democratic society and market economy.
I carry my research within the discipline of urban anthropology and utilize the anthropology of the city approach which views the city as the research object. This approach studies how people experience urban spaces and generate knowledge which can give better understanding of results and effects of projects for open and built environment of the city. I examine public open and built spaces such as city square, riverside promenade, city garden, shopping centers, community centers, study facilities, castle. These spaces have been modified to fulfill either city or state objectives alongside historical shifts. The analysis is guided by such questions as Why some urban public spaces are chosen to sustain? How and by whom are they repurposed? Who are the users of these spaces? What meaning these spaces have for people, the city, and the state?
I view the process of urban public space repurposing as a spatial resilience tactic which is placed in the social production of space – social construction of space continuum. A set of applied sub-methodologies helps me to de-construct the meaning of urban public spaces. Through the lens of social production of space, I study social history and development of the built environment. Through the lens of social construction of space, I explore the role of memory and heritage in the process of place attachment. Data is collected through the application of multi-sited ethnography techniques, historical and archival methods.
The research seeks answers to the following questions: What impact urban space repurposing, used as a spatial resilience tactic, has on city’s sustainability? Within what dimensions of urban sustainability (cultural, social, environmental, political, or economic) such tactic has an effect? What are these effects? Who or what is affected by such spatial resilience tactic?
“Decommunization” and National State-Building in Ukraine
This study explores the recent transformations of Kyiv, Ukraine’s built environment, occurring in response to the so-called “decommunization campaign” following the 2014 Euromaidan protests, also referred to as the Maidan and “The Revolution of Dignity”. The campaign aimed to establish an autonomous identity for the young nation-state of Ukraine through the stated goal of de-ideologizing urban space, constituted of removals, renaming of toponyms (place names), transformations, and additions to the capital’s urban design, architecture, and monumental art. Decommunization particularly tackles the Soviet-time heritage in the built environment, hence its name.
The contemporary risk of the demolition of Soviet heritage has led to the emergence of activist communities, often led by architects, urban designers, and artists who advocate the value of Soviet-era modernist or who protest the removal of Soviet artworks from public museums. Some decommunization – either renaming or removal – has met with similar organized civic action that utilized social media, petitions, and street actions to oppose local council decisions or to advocate instead for an alternative renaming option.
A number of studies and publications are devoted to assessing spatial effects of decommunization, particularly toponymic renaming or cataloging of Soviet heritage, either already demolished or at risk of demolition or stigmatization. However, despite such awareness of decommunization in the scholarly literature and activist practice, there are currently few studies highlighting either the full range of Soviet ideological work, undertaken through architecture, urbanism, and public space, in Ukrainian cities nor little understanding of this work’s transformation under post-independence decommunization. Such an analysis would allow built environment scholars to understand those elements of the Soviet ideological spectrum that have become primary targets of Ukraine’s national movement-driven decommunization, and those elements that either remain unseen or that have been in some way normalized.
To do this, I first review Soviet built environment ideology, USSR nationality policy, and post-colonial theory, before examining the history of the 1982 Soviet celebration of Kyiv’s 1500th anniversary. This ideologically freighted event generated over thirty works of architecture, urbanism and monumental art, each of which embodied a complex ideological message of Soviet Ukranian identity. The decommunization campaign’s transformation of the Kyiv 1500 portfolio are the nexus of this study’s investigation.
Contested narratives in the face of neoliberal development: the case study of the Terminal House in Jaffa, Israel
This paper examines the dialectic role conservation plays in the creation of mechanisms that promote commemoration and erasure in neoliberal urban planning, through the discussion that took place between 2015-2016 regarding the request made by the Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality to rescind the status of the Terminal House in the Jaffa Port as a building designated for conservation.
Conservation is utilized by hegemonic identity groups to portray their subjective historic narratives regarding the development of a given space as universal truths. Assumedly, the integration of conservation methods in neoliberal contexts aims to deconstruct existing political and ideological agendas and promote ostensibly neutral economic and professional policies instead. However, critical research demonstrates how the integration of conservation in neoliberal discourse emphasizes existing tensions between contested identity groups sharing the same urban space. These tensions are acutely demonstrated through the attitudes of modern western Tel Aviv towards the very different modern narrative of Jaffa – an historic city that was annexed to Tel Aviv.
Tel Aviv was first founded in 1908 as one of Jaffa’s neighborhoods. Its foundation reflected the transformation of Jaffa into a modernized urban center in Palestine at the turn of the 20th century. However, since its foundation, Tel Aviv – which quickly developed into the urban center of the Zionist movement – strived to portray itself as a city whose development stood in stark negation to the development of Jaffa. Thus, while Tel Aviv is often portrayed in Israeli society as a city that was “born from the sands” and as the first harbinger of modern town-planning schemes which originated in the global north, Jaffa is portrayed as a city whose archaic town-planning schemes deemed it to develop into a city riddled with poverty and stagnation. I will contend that the discussion regarding the conservation of the Terminal House reflects two different strategies implemented by hegemonic groups to contest counter narratives of the shared urban space. At the focus of my analysis are two institutions, both representing and protecting the hegemonic narrative: The Council for Conservation of Heritage Sites in Israel (the Council) and the Tel Aviv municipality.
On the one hand, the Council – which objected to the request made by the municipality to rescind the status of the Terminal House as a building slated for conservation – reflects a “Prioritizing Heritage” strategy. According to this pattern, conservation allows hegemonic groups to emphasize one historic narrative of the site while allowing for the erasure of alternative understandings of a given site’s heritage. On the other hand, the conservation methods proposed by the municipality reflects a “Nullifying Heritage” strategy, demonstrating an attempt to empty a given site from any historic or ideological contexts. Both strategies lead to the erasure of narratives which contest the hegemonic Zionist narrative of Tel Aviv as the harbinger of western modernity in the region, either emphasizing the representations of the Tel-Aviv narrative, or ignoring the whole historic context of the remains of modern Jaffa. In effect, this research will allow for the examination of conservation as a means for the deconstruction of the methods through which hegemonic identity groups in neoliberal societies bolster their self-perception as part of the global north while discrediting the non-hegemonic narratives of the global south.
Temporary Spaces of Hope, Permanent Structures of Power: Concentration Camps in Ceará, Brazil
This project uncovers histories of two former concentration and labor recruitment centers for refugees in Ceará (the 1932 Concentration Camps and the 1942 Pousos) established by the Brazilian state as possible responses to different moments of crisis related to drought periods in the early 20th Century, and how these episodes were key to imposing a specific urbanization logic based on power dynamics that persist until today. The selected episodes occurred ten years apart from each other, during President Getulio Vargas dictatorship (1930-1945), and the spaces were active for no more than two years in each case. These scarcely documented physical structures that no longer exist reveal complex relations of power on local, national and international levels, as well as expressions of hope from populations in need. I will examine the relationship between climate refugees and the social-spatial and political segregations of these transitional moments that are still present, even after the Camp’s and the Pouso’s physical constructions are gone. I am also exploring how these structures, while built in different periods of time serving distinct objectives and discourses, share and reflect common goals towards Vargas’ ideas of progress and modernization for the country. These two case-studies represented defining moments of the Brazilian Northeast population’s migratory paths and the country’s urbanization plan:
1. A series of seven Concentration Camps built under an aid discourse in 1932. Strategically situated in the inlands of the state by the railroad, the Camps worked as barriers, impeding refugees to access the capital city Fortaleza. These official governmental projects created zones for quarantine, isolation, work and discipline (Rios 2014). Federal resources were only provided under the condition that Camps would serve as supply sources for the labor force towards public works such as dams and roads. Over the course of one year (1932-33), these camps sheltered over 150,000 people. Overcrowding and precarious conditions led to extreme death rates due to famine and disease outbreaks;
2. The Pousos in Fortaleza, recruitment centers from 1942 gathering volunteers to enlist as “Rubber soldiers” and work during World War II in the Amazon region as latex extractors (seringueiros). Highly influenced and partially funded by the U.S. Government — because of Brazil’s commitment to the Allies— the Pouso was designed by well-known Brazilian modernist architect, Álvaro Vital Brazil, and mainly recruited poor and landless migrants seeking any opportunities for a better life and easy money.
How can we understand urbanization in northern Brazil through the analysis of these two case-studies? While the camps help both impeding the arrival of masses of unwanted migrants to Fortaleza during the city’s Gilded Age, these stations also helped further advancing and modernizing inland areas of Ceará State. Ten years later, the Pousos follow similar ordering practices, by recruiting and reallocating workers towards less populated areas in the Amazon in need of foreign labor force. These governmental structures were understood as much a social as a physical construction, and while ephemeral, these spaces’ long lasting effects are still present.