Two versions of heterotopia: The role of art practices in participative urban renewal processes

Sacco, P. L., Ghirardi, S., Tartari, M., & Trimarchi, M.

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Sacco, P. L., Ghirardi, S., Tartari, M., & Trimarchi, M. (2019). Two versions of heterotopia: The role of art practices in participative urban renewal processes. Cities, 89, 199–208.

Art Practices , Henri Lefebvre , Heterotopia , Michel Foucault , Participative urban regeneration

The purpose of this paper is to take part in the debate about power relationships in contemporary cities between the agents of urban renewal and the local communities, as mediated by cultural and artistic interventions and projects. Our study proposes a new conceptual frame, focused on the comparison between two notions of heterotopia as theoretical alternatives for the interpretation of cities as social and participatory spaces. The notions we consider may be traced to two key thinkers such as Michel Foucault and Henri Lefebvre, and lay the foundation for alternative analytical paradigms of the contemporary urban condition, in relation to artistic and cultural practices in the public space. We draw upon these two alternative readings of heterotopia to explore the implications of the interaction of artistic practices with the urban space as a contested terrain from the viewpoint of power relationships. In our analysis, we find that Foucault's notion of heterotopia is potentially conducive to top-down planning processes and to gentrification. Lefebvre's notion is instead possibly more suited to participatory practices as strategies of reactivation of the right to the city.

Main finding
Drawing on the epistemologies of Foucault’s and Lefebvre’s heterotopies, the development of a conceptual framework invites alternative ways of interpreting urban regeneration initiatives - especially those incorporating art and culture - which include deeper community participation. The authors consider the urgency of different heterotopic public space amidst neoliberalization and privatization. They find art and cultural practices are what is at stake and they will either reify themselves as agents of hegemonic practices or accept social inequality and seek to wrest control from vested interests while building the agency of those most marginalized. Their proposed conceptual framework allows for the assessment of alleged participatory practices while promoting democratization, from a policy standpoint, trust building, and bottom-up co-creative forms of true community participation. In a Lefebvrian sense, this is to create ‘spaces of representation’ that pull from the everyday life of those living there and not the top-down dictations of traditional planning.

Description of method used in the article
The authors developed an conceptual framing, for the discussion of relations between urban planners and the community, through a review of theoretical and philosophical writings mainly by Foucault, Lefebvre, and DeCerteau.

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