Syracuse University

Project Description

The Image Technicians: Urban Designers and the Transformation of Public Space in Belleville, Paris.

Project Abstract

Urban design, a highly specialized product of urban economic planning, fixes capital in the environment in aesthetic ways, the material results of which always transform social life. Large scale urban design projects in Belleville, an immigrant neighborhood in Paris, have shifted social life through changes in public space and access to political processes since the 1970s. Such interventions were the result of important economic and political changes related to general neoliberal shifts in the French economy, as well as in how the political machine in Paris itself practiced new kinds of power brokering. Three sites of analysis emerge from those changes in the political economy that closely relate to the production, consumption and reproduction of urban space in Belleville. Firstly, social relations within and around new and redesigned public spaces had changed over time in Belleville, revealing the role public space plays in �suturing� urban design to social relations. The mutating and dynamic quality of rights to public space � the ability to be seen and heard, the right to protest and to access it � suggests that public space has acted as a locus for the enactment of social inequality. Secondly, the work of urban designers themselves had produced space within the confines and mandates of political actors, translating and reproducing social inequality in space. Their proposals for Belleville � luxury apartment buildings, large scale commercial shopping surfaces, award winning parks and landscapes, and refabricated public spaces � were specialized derivatives of economic and political restructuring, therefore situating Belleville�s urban designers within an international division of labor and circulation of capital. Lastly, urban social movements in Belleville emerged as important actors who fought the City for healthier housing, better social services and improved participation in local decision-making. The bitter, long and difficult struggles by those social movements to participate in the urban design process reveal the extent to which neoliberal political practices had closed down access to local democratic practices. That such social policy and struggle can be read in the work of urban designers and in the changing aspects of public space, suggests that questions of social justice � of who has access to political processes, and social and economic equality � be posed to those charged with the design of urban space, the urban designers themselves.

Surveys released for this project:
Urban Designer Survey 78
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