Planning cities and planning ahead

Last week  we had a great discussion that had us standing on the door  with our coats on for 30 minutes after we all said we had to go! As always Ingrid was instrumental in the organization and the great food.

Discussing gated communities we considered the claims to the city from different social groups including elites and non -elites, developing companies, architects and the state. We pondered about the progressive/ attitudes that come with such modes of living and contemplated them as opposites or alternative forms of grassroots initiatives. We were also intrigued  about concepts of the “other”, who is in and who is rejected in these communities. The idea of control in this communities and how it is gradually  being accepted as necessary  was eye-opening and naturally led us to discussions of  the relation of architecture and behavior. In the case of gated communities in Istanbul, the extraordinary aspect of gated communities was the intense socializing among the residents and their efforts to create/imitate the experience of a village where everyone knows each other and share the same values but with all the amenities and the comforts of urban living!

Following the discussion have a look at some of these plans for new gated communities:

The language used is telling: a  fairytale of Tuscany in Istanbul….As if you were living in Bosporus…an ‘upgraded’ Venice experience in Istanbul!

We briefly touched upon the other two readings, talking about squatting in byzantine and modern Mediterranean cities and talking over public spaces. as a necessity, as a lack of other means and as a political action.

Our conversations last week inspired an interest in  planned cities and how they can foster or challenge  urban experiences and behaviors. Jordan and Ellen have made suggestions about readings on medieval and modern planned cities and I will be circulating them soon.

In our next meeting I hope we can have a discussion about future plans! I know it is early but the deadline for funding from Global Inquiry (CGII Grants: is March 1st. I have a couple of suggestions but I would welcome everyone’s input, ideas and feedback.



On inclusion and exclusion


For our January meeting, I would like to propose thinking about inclusion and exclusion from participating in urban experiences and spaces. Do urban spaces bring us together or keep us apart? Are differences of “us” and “others” mitigated or enhanced in urban spaces? How do different social groups “claim the city” and negotiate their role in an urban environment. How does architecture and urban planning become part of such negotiation? How do political and economic conditions become parameters in the interplay between inclusion and exclusion?

As a point of departure I propose the following three readings:

S. Genis in his “Producing Elite Localities: The Rise of Gated Communities in Istanbul” focuses on urban elites, their preference on gated communities and the impact of such built environments in the life of modern Istanbul.

In Leontidou’s article entitled “Urban Social Movements in‘Weak’ Civil Societies: The Right to the City and Cosmopolitan Activism in Southern Europe” , we read aboutsocial transformation during the 21st century in Southern Europe, with particular emphasis on the development of urban social movements and the democratization of urban space.


I am also suggesting H. Sarandi’s article on “The dissolution of the urban space in the Early Byzantine period” for two reasons. First, because social movements and their impact on architecture are not unique to modern cities but can apply to the pre-modern world. Second, Sarandi’s article introduces us to a period of tremendous political, social and religious changes that shifted the dynamics of social inclusion and exclusion and affected both the way the cities were built and administered.

While all three articles focus in different case studies from the Mediterranean, it will become apparent that global political and social conditions and their role on social movements and urban changes are recurrent theme in all the readings.

I am sure they will give us plenty to talk about on Thursday, January 29, 1:00 pm.

Looking forward to our think-tank lunch!


Thoughts of December and plans for January

Our first meeting in December was, although I say it myself, a great success! There was a lot of enthusiasm and positive energy and great food, thanks to Ingrid Hakala and the Center for Global Inquiry and Innovation.

In our first lunch date we spent our time mostly getting to know each other and learning about our common interests. No worries for those of you who could not join us, we will have the chance to get to know each other better this semester and have some great discussions.

Before planning ahead for our next meeting, I would like to share with you in this blog post some ideas and thoughts that came out of our first meeting. In the very limited time we spent talking about the article of C. Pagano, “DIY Urbanism: Property and Process in Grassroots City Building”, we discussed the different scales of grassroots initiatives, and the range of consequences such actions can have on urban living, returning thus to one of the fundamental questions of this think-tank, what qualifies as grassroots initiatives. The idea of success and failure, what constitutes successful or unsuccessful grassroots initiatives came up multiple times throughout the lunch. There was also some criticism of the article’s one-dimensional approach that deals with very homogenous sections of local communities and introduces an almost ideal image of grassroots actions. That led us to a wider discussion on inclusion and exclusion and issues of gender and race in urban living that we will hopefully come back to in future meetings. Finally, we also touched upon the legality of grassroots activities which was a core theme in the article. We thought about how the legal framework on grassroots activities speaks to aspects of community building and conditions the relations between local communities and state in ancient and modern cities.

We ended our first lunch by thinking about grassroots initiatives in cities with severe financial problems, such as Detroit and Athens and talked about benefits but also tensions within local communities that are negotiated through grassroots actions. Ellen Bassett then mentioned the arson in Detroit’s street art and referred us to this article:

Building on our first meeting, I would like to suggest that we meet in January to explore further issues of inclusion and exclusion in grassroots initiatives. It is a very wide theme, but I hope that it will allow us to have a great discussion. So please suggest readings for the group for the next meeting that will take place towards the end of January (doodle will follow). You can send suggestion to my email ( or post them as comments on the blog. Any other interesting news, articles, links you want to share with the group, please do not hesitate to post them on the blog.

First lunch and so many things to talk about!


Finally the time has come for all of us to meet in person and get eating and talking!

Our first lunch sponsored by the Center of Global Inquiry and Innovation, will take place on Dec. 3 at 12 pm at the conference room at Hotel A (

In this first meeting I think we should focus on getting to know each other, discuss our common research interests and consider what we want to gain from this experience.

Grassroots initiatives and urban spaces is a versatile and multidimensional phenomenon and the literature is vast. Thus, I think we should start thinking of main themes/directions related to our overarching topic that we would like to explore in more depth.

Here are some themes/questions that I would like to propose to our group:

  • How do different social groups participate in the formation of meaningful places within a city?
  • What qualifies as grassroots initiatives and how are they different/similar to social action/collective action?
  • How can we understand ordinary people as the architects and urban planners of the cities that they inhabit?
  • How can grassroots initiatives inform collective identity and contribute to a sense of belonging?
  • How can we understand the relationship between grassroots initiatives and state?
  • What is the role of charities and non-profit organizations in placemaking processes within cities?
  • How do economic and political crises affect grassroots initiatives?

To start of our discussions I have circulated one article about grassroots initiatives in cities, their effectiveness and legality.

C. Pagano, “DIY Urbanism: Property and Process in Grassroots City Building”, Marquette Law Review 97 (2013): 335-389

I would also like to link here this toolkit, a practical guide if you like, for transforming neighborhoods that I hope you will find interesting:

See you all this Wednesday (Dec. 3) for lunch!