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Change Through Urban Activism

What is urban activism?

Cities are evolving at high speed. They must adapt to multiple challenges, leading to the competition of interest. As David Harvey, an urban theorist and geographer, pointed out that this competition could lead to a misunderstanding of the best decision. Further warning that these competing interests leave out ‘the man’, meaning that citizens have little power over the decision made in the city. Manuel Castells, a sociologist, believes that social inequalities must be challenged in the urban environment of global cities in forms of urban activism.

Urban activism is lifting citizens’ voices in planning for the built environment. Urban or civic activism implies that citizens show interest and initiative in what is being done (or not done) in their built environment and how it is governed. The grass-root enterprises can benefit the community in a way the authorities cannot. Additionally, urban activism can range from different types of involvement, such as self-organized events to shed light on an issue; making direct changes in the urban environment through private funds or citizens’ participation; educating people about urban issues and concepts; or simply protesting.

Examples of urban activism in action

In Munich, Germany, two architecture students devised a solution to improve public space. A place that had been temporarily shut-down site for renovation was used by many people to gather and enjoy the sunlight. The two students, Maria Schlüter and Nick Förster prepared a project and a proposal for sponsors of an alternative solution for public space in front of the shut-down building. For a couple of months, these students, with the help of others worked on regenerating this public space by installing custom-made benches to bring people together again and enjoy the sun outside, as it used to happen here before. Similarly, three architectural students from Bratislava, Slovakia worked on a project to regenerate public space due to its derelict state. Places of neglect that previously served little to residents for public recreation were the place of interest. Three university students Lucia Adameková, Viktor Kasala, and Ján Urban,
decided to start an initiative called “Krásy Terás” (in translation: terrace beauties) to regenerate the public terrace spaces for people to enjoy and bring residents closer.

Urban activism can bring awareness in many shapes or forms. In Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, the ‘Urban.kg’ project was launched to educate citizens about urban matters and increase people’s initiative. Multiple artists voice their minds on the streets with their art worldwide. For better city planning, several initiatives collect and visualize data across the city; an interesting one is Safetipin, which promotes women’s safety in the city.

The impact of urban activism on urban planning

For better city planning, several initiatives collect and visualize data across the city; an interesting one is Safetipin,
which promotes women’s safety in the city. Many scholars already suggest citizens’ involvement in some form is necessary for better cities and better urban planning. Urban activism allows citizens to voice their opinions through direct action or provides education within urban studies. From all around the world, we can see various examples of practices of urban activism that help within the urban environment and regeneration where authorities cannot. Additionally, it can advocate for those who are “unseen”, “unheard”, or left out, such as the disabled or elderly.
In today’s world of competing interests and fast pace of changes, providing across communities and generations secures the multigenerational and intergenerational needs of cities that are many times left out of the agenda.

This article is published in the booklet of the Geo Promotion Conference 2023, themed “0 to 100: Solving multi-generational spatial needs”

Nina Zrubáková
Nina Zrubáková
I am Spatial Planning and Design student at RUG, a media enthusiast interested in urbanism-related topics. I am also working on designing layouts for the issues with the design team.
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