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and Democracy

Public places hold potential implications for democratic awareness, development, and activity as they may pose stages for democratic performances and may have been formed through democratic processes. Public space may encompass core aspects from representative (Re), deliberative (D), participatory (P) and radical (Ra) theories of democracy. We seek out the physical places which allow for: 1) Creation of a sense of “we” through encounters with others (e.g. expression and defence of norms and symbolic representation); 2) Formation of and articulation of mutual interests and preferences (e.g. positioning regarding local practices and policies) (P); 3) Making of public claims (e.g. claims on public resources, requesting action or inaction on collective problems, defending existing arrangements) (Ra) ; 4) Deliberation over political issues (e.g. communicative action seeking mutual understanding and traditional debate) (D); 5) Practice of democratic roles (e.g. running for election in housing cooperative board or debating the cooperative’s policies) (Re).
Anchor 1

Democratic publicness at Fjell

Housing estates encompass substantial parts of residents’ everyday lives. Physical spaces on housing estates are thus a starting point for drawing residents together
in different collective “we”s. Using democratic theory, we explore how sites of publicness and the processes that shape them may encompass core aspects from participatory (Pateman, 1970), radical (Mouffe, 2005), deliberative (Dryzek, 2000), and the traditional representative theories of democracy. We seek these democratic performances: PARTICIPATORY: Formation of and articulating mutual interests and preferences (e.g., positions on local practices, policies and upgrades); RADICAL: Making of public claims (e.g., claims on resources, requesting action or inaction on collective problems, appropriating spaces); DELIBERATIVE: Deliberating over political issues (e.g.,
communicative action seeking mutual understanding); REPRESENTATIVE: Representing electorates and practicing democratic roles (e.g., running for election in housing
boards or debating a housing cooperative’s policies). Democratic performances can be catered for, grow over time, or erupt spontaneously. The spatial and cultural
contexts of a housing estate may spur or inhibit democratic performances. The materiality of post-war architecture and the organizational framework of cooperative
housing in Fjell enable and limit potential democratic performances. While Fjell’s recent comprehensive renewal held local democracy as a goal and included numerous participatory processes, the extent to which everyday democratic performances are enacted in Fjell is an empirical question still under scrutiny. We lay out our team’s preliminary and intertwined reflections under these headings: Contexts for democratic publicness: Cultural, spatial and political aspects impact who can and will meet, take part in or witness democratic performances, and who occupies or is invited into the housing estate in general.
Reshaping democratic publicness through urban renewal: Fjell has had several major physical upgrades and social schemes over the last decade with associated participation processes. These changes show ambitions for democratic participation supporting some forms of publicness. Democracy in sites of publicness: We look into democratic publicness in sites that have different dynamics and potentially support different publics: reshaped sites of publicness, and cooperative-owned sites of publicness.


Dryzek, J. S. (2000). Deliberative democracy and beyond: liberals, critics, contestations: Oxford University Press.

Mouffe, C. (2005). The return of the political. London: Verso.

Parkinson, J. (2012). Democracy and public space: the physical sites of democratic performance: Oxford University Press.

Pateman, C. (1970). Participation and democratic theory: Cambridge University Press.

Research Team:
Lillin Cathrine Knudtzon, Melissa Murphy, Inger-Lise Saglie, and Beata Sirowy, Department of Regional and Urban Planning, Faculty of Landscape and Society, Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Norway.

Anchor 2

Renewed sites of publicness at Farum Midtpunkt

In 2014, many of Farum Midtpunkt’s shared spaces were radically transformed. Realdania – Denmark’s largest philanthropic association for the built environment – in collaboration with the local housing association Furesø Boligselskab and residents’ representatives initiated a public space renovation project to “open up Farum […] to increase the experience of community and the perception of safety”. At that time it had been difficult for many years to attract tenants, due to the odd-sized flats as well as problems of vandalism, perceived unsafety, and stigma, among other factors. The project was one of many actions to renew and rebrand Farum Midtpunkt as appealing, active and safe in order to attract new socio-economic groups and new generations to live in the area. The redesign aimed to increase activity in the outdoor common spaces, open up central sites to the surrounding town of Farum, and thereby introduce new and intensified modes of publicness in Farum Midtpunkt. The main investment was put into a new central space – Activity Square – and the reconfiguration of pedestrian circulation into and through Farum Midtpunkt. Designed by BOGL Landscape Architects and WITRAZ, the renewal introduced a bold aesthetic with materials such as wood, steel and brightly coloured play surfaces, in a clear departure from the 1970s architecture. The redesign works as both a continuation and a critique of the historical Farum Midtpunkt. Its materialities and architectural details partly reflect the penetrated concrete walls and round windows used on the estate in the 1970s. And just as in the original planning, the focus is on spaces where people meet, especially spaces for children’s play. Yet the design also reconfigures the spatial order of the entire estate in radical ways that critique of the legacy of the 1970s. By focusing on one central square, it introduces a strong new hierarchy of public spaces to the modernist structure, whose shared spaces were previously much more decentralised and distributed in clusters adjacent to residents’ homes.

Research Team:
Bettina Lamm and Svava Riesto with landscape architecture students Rikke Olivia van Meer, Leander Olkner, Sine Krogsgaard Ballisager and My Louise von Christierson, Section for Landscape Architecture and Planning, Faculty of Science, University of Copenhagen, Denmark

Anchor 3

Publicness and Democracy at Telli/Tscharnergut

Democratic performances in housing estates are tied to local policies and everyday practices. They take place as social interactions and are intertwined with the material
structures and physical conditions – spaces on site and beyond – as well as with the social, cultural and ideological context and its diverse configurations like regulations,
laws, norms, habits, visions, public discourses etc. In the Swiss cases democratic publicness in housing estates must be considered in the context of the Swiss
political system, in which federalism and direct democracy enable citizens to launch initiatives and have a final say in a number of factual issues. On a national, regional
and local level, citizens participating are familiar with petition making or a membership in clubs and societies as common democratic practice. Both case studies show
multiple sites of constructing democratic publicness(es). Analytically, they relate to the dimensions of “articulating the mutual”, “making claims”, “representing electorates” and “deliberating” (Knudtzon et al. 2020). “Articulating the mutual” is closely linked to different residents’ initiatives as well as neighborhood clubs and associations.
In both estates there is an official neighborhood association, which is closely linked to the community center and represents the mutual interests of the neighborhood. This leads to questions of representation and distribution of resources: Who becomes a member of the association? Who gets involved and is represented? How to organize a more just representation in local democratic processes and include the diversity of the population – especially also people with lower education levels and with a migration background?

In the recent past, the neighborhood association of Telli – professionally supported by the community center – raised these questions and restructured itself accordingly. Over the years, few public-space related petitions have been initiated in both estates, “making claims” via bottom up democracy: residents and associations in Telli for example fought successfully against the closing of their post office and in Tscharnergut there is currently also resistance to the closure of a postal service. “Deliberating” can happen in performing the written word as a contribution to information and local debates in neighborhood newspapers, as it is the case in Telli (for the “Tellipost”) or in Tscharnergut (for “Wulchechratzer”). Principally, these newspapers are open for contributions of every resident and thus provide the possibility to participate in local discussions and political opinion building. “Representing electorates” furthermore, has an impact on decision-making. In Telli and Tscharnergut, decision making processes are challenging due to their specific multi-ownership situation, which not only means that a multitude of owners need to be addressed in case of an alteration of public/ common spaces, but which also implies dealing with different uses and understandings  of participation. Participation varies in its level of intensity from information, communication, participation in discussion and opinion building to (real) participation in decision making and active implementation (following the model of Maier-Rabler and Hartwig 2006). Owners or authorities can  deliberately initiate participation processes, as it has been the case in different renewal projects for outdoor spaces or playgrounds in Tscharnergut or Telli. Conflicts can arise when the level of participation is not clearly decided (or communicated) or when residents have the feeling that it’s only a lip service. If residents have a real say and participation processes are moderated and coordinated professionally and transparently, they can lead to better and more accepted solutions. With the community centers, both estates have such professional structures, which since the very beginning are bringing people from the neighborhood together and ascribe great importance to participation and inclusion. In both cases, Telli and Tscharnergut, evidence shows that decision-making processes among multiple owners are challenging and can affect and complicate the renewal of common and public spaces. Owners can block or delay decisions for several reasons: either they don’t have enough funds or are not willing to finance a more comprehensive renovation, which is especially a challenge in case of the many homeowners in Telli. Difficult is also if owners haven’t been involved in a decision-making process at an early stage. Owners might also have concerns about plans for a new facility, for example they may fear more noise or trouble if a new public playground is planned close to their property. But complications can also arise, if a property owners’ agreement leaves too much room for interpretation or if there are other latent conflicts between the involved parties– maybe also from previous projects. Furthermore, it can be challenging if one owner’s say weighs more than others (economically or also regarding professional competences, e.g. in housing management). But decision-making processes among multiple owners are not only difficult. Sometimes mutual consent can be found quite easily, as it is often the case during the common walks through Tscharnergut, that take place during the property owners’ meetings, in which the responsible parties assess necessary works for maintenance and repair together and – especially if not too costly – implement them afterwards avoiding long discussions as everyone is convinced that this will enhance the value of their property. Since the managers of the community centers in Tscharnergut and Telli are also invited to the property owners’ meetings, not only structural but also social measures are discussed, which is important for comprehensively renewing a large housing estate. As experience in Telli and Tscharnergut shows, decision-making processes among multiple owners can be facilitated, if they are moderated and coordinated by a third party. If the relevant authorities or – like in the case of Telli – even the president of a City are taking up this role, they also symbolically convey the message, that the estate is important to the City and to them.


Knudtzon, L., Murphy, M., Saglie, I., Sirowy, B. and Lamm, B., Democracy and publicness in social housing, (forthcoming 2022) in Braae,E. et al., Examining the publicness of spaces on European social housing estates: A position paper, Architectural Research Quarterly.

Maier-Rabler, U. and Hartwig, C., ePartizipation – Jugend aktiv, Salzburg 2006

Research Team:
Marie Glaser, Eveline Althaus, Liv Christensen, Angela Birrer, and Aline Suter ETH Zürich (Switzerland), ETH CASE Centre for Research on Architecture, Society and the Built Environment.

Anchor 4

Publicness and Democracy at Lotto O

The issue of democracy has been addressed as a critical practice unfolding in places where people gather to handle common matters of concern that are not effectively taken care of by formal institutions. These democratic practices are based on mutual recognition and respect among diverse people gathering around common necessities. We investigated how different actors – i.e., specific categories of inhabitants, urban farmers, social workers – have developed democratic practices to articulate public
space in their daily life and, in some cases, during the Covid-19 crisis. Maps and photos of Sites of publicness and democracy provide an overview of different spatialities, from entrance halls to public facilities, in which democracy and publicness become
practical matters, acted out in socio-materiality on a daily basis. The case of “The Urban Social Garden of Health: community garden deliberative zoning” in the Fratelli de Filippo park can be seen as a materialization of grassroot resistance to the ruination of public facilities. When the site for the rehabilitation of addicted people was transformed into a community garden, a newly constituted civic organization was entitled to self-manage the space. As an example of how democracy is engaged in the everyday life of the neighborhood, we provide a map of deliberative zoning, documenting how urban farmers involved in the community garden in the Fratelli de Filippo park managed to subdivide the park’s land into individual plots so that everyone can cultivate and be responsible for each plot while cooperating with neighbor farmers in common tasks (watering, harvesting, etc.). “Sites of encounter and exclusion at Lotto O” goes deeper into democracy as an everyday life practice in socio-materiality. We provide a map of Lotto O documenting how, in the neighborhood, we have both sites of social encounter and mutual recognition, and sites of exclusion and segregation. To complement this map, we translated the information provided by the inhabitants into a hybrid combination of photos, drawings and words to tell the fine-grain experience of democracy and recognition, as well as segregation and injustice, according to different people acting in specific places. These interviews have inspired the creation of virtual images of Lotto O – the collages – that combine, into an ideal topography of democracy and publicness, different places where people feel safe, respected and free to speak out or, on the contrary, places where their access is forbidden or discouraged. Finally, “the informal infrastructure of mutualism and solidarity networks” documents the ’web of mutualism’ that includes specific places – mostly informal – working as places of reciprocal recognition and safety in the people’s perception. Based on online interviews, maps, diagrams and photos spatialize these perceptions and provide a finer-grain understanding of social perceptions as entangled within specific places at Lotto O, in the Ponticelli district, and at the scale of the municipality. The final part of the section is about democracy as a matter of solidarity during Covid-19 pandemic. To this end, we provide a map of solidarity initiatives that we’ve been tracing during lockdown by online interviews with residents, as well as a first example of visual mapping of solidarity practices organized by typology and main actors.

Research team:

Gilda Berruti, Maria Cerreta, Laura Lieto, Federica Palestino, Giuliano Poli, Grazia Pota, Marilena Prisco, Paola Scala, Maria Reitano and Giovangiuseppe Vannelli. Students: Giorgia Guadagno, Ciro Mascolo and Valeria Matrisciano (”Sites of encounter and exclusion”); Luigi Liccardi (”The informal infrastructure of mutualism and solidarity networks”).

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