18-10-21 // MONU #34 – PROTEST URBANISM

(browse the entire issue #34 on Youtube)

Learning from Protests – Interview with Mabel O. Wilson by Bernd Upmeyer; Be Water: Protests in Liquid Public Space by Jeffrey Hou; Ambiguous Standards of Protest by Cansu Cürgen and Avsar Gürpinar; The Archive of Public Protests by APP; Toppling Monuments: Moments of Monumentality by Ben Parry; Not Set in Stone by Maddy Weavers; The Empty Plaza: A Socio-spatial Post-occupancy Evaluation by Dillon Webster; The Different Scales of Solidarity by Ece Yetim; Khaos by Ulrich Lebeuf; Three Squares on a Line: Istiklal Avenue and Its Transition from State to Citizen by Liana Kuyumcuyan; The Magic of Squatting – Interview with Hans Pruijt by Bernd Upmeyer; Protest Repellant Urbanism by Nurul Azreen Azlan; ‘TO-BE’ Urbanism by Becky Luk and Ching Kan; Revolution Now! by Bing Guan; Contested Urban Identities: Branding and Antagonism in the City of Porto by Ana Miriam Rebelo and Heitor Alvelos; “The Street Is Ours”: Feminine Urban Reclamation by Cécile Houpert; We Are What We Are: Chicago and the Paradox of Protests by Aaron Kalfen and Benjamin van Loon; Objects and Spaces of Dissidence by Mario Matamoros; From Barrio Bolaños (back) to Comuna Bolaños Pamba by Sebastián Oviedo, Jeroen Stevens, and Viviana d’Auria

Even though our social media age marks a shift in form and forum, when it comes to “Protest Urbanism” there still seems to be a need for – and validity of – having physical bodies in a public space in order for a protest to have an effect, as Mabel O. Wilson argues in our interview “Learning from Protests”. Bodies occupying large spaces or marching through different types of arteries, be it streets or freeways, still appear to be central tactics for people engaging in political protest. It is the visceral encounters in physical spaces that trigger deeper and more emotional connections as Jeffrey Hou states in his contribution “Be Water: Protests in Liquid Public Space”. For Cansu Cürgen and Avsar Gürpinar physicality matters too as they demonstrate in their piece “Ambiguous Standards of Protest”, introducing real objects of protest into the discussion, such as bananas, hoodies, bras, and cloth hangers that became the symbols of the abortion protests in Poland in 2016. According to them these objects set the ambiguous standards of protest, becoming objects of Protest Urbanism. In APP‘s photo-series “The Archive of Public Protests” we get a glimpse of how objects such as cloth hangers were actually used during the Polish protests, which became the largest protests in the country’s contemporary history. Being part of a printed “Strike Newspaper” the photographs can become a banner in your hand, a poster on a building, or a picture on a wall providing tangible objects, thus offering more than just internet circulation and silent contemplation. However, as Ben Parry points out in “Toppling Monuments and Moments of Monumentality”, protests often gather force at the global scale especially via the creation and circulation of powerful media images, Internet memes, and creative expressions of solidarity leading to powerful relations between physical public space and digital public space – the traditional and electronic agora. On the other hand, the notion of designing physical public spaces for protests might require a critical review, Dillon Webster demands in “The Empty Plaza: A Socio-spatial Post-occupancy Evaluation”, as protests mostly happen with no regard to, and likely consciously against, intentionally allocated spaces for activism. In his article he presents an example of how designs were rejected by protesters revealing that protests are an improvisational performance in which actors respond to temporal and physical cues, collectively reaching a destination. With his dark and grainy images of the French Yellow Vests protests Ulrich Lebeuf tries in his piece “Khaos” to review the perception of protests too, aiming to rewrite history and not only to inform but also to question. An answer to the question of how urban spaces and even city planning might be influenced by protests is provided by Hans Pruijt in our second interview called “The Magic of Squatting” showing how squatting as a form of protest and as “direct action” achieved to preserve the 19th-Century street grid of a neighbourhood in Amsterdam changing the urban planning of the city accordingly. In the interview Pruijt further emphasises the important role architects, urban designers, urban planners, and other stakeholders in our cities can play in shaping, defining, and limiting protests. He sees a particularly strong connection between architecture and squatting in a squatted old salami factory called “Metropoliz” on the outskirts of Rome. To what extent cities can shape or repel protests and how the very materiality of urban space may be employed to suppress dissent, is examined by Nurul Azreen Azlan in her piece “Protest Repellant Urbanism” pointing out the example of Baron Hausmann’s restructuring of the Parisian urban form. Hausmann’s big boulevards that cut through the medieval urban fabric had made it difficult for protesters to build barricades, that infamous spatial tactic synonymous with the revolutions in Paris, while making it easier for the police to disperse the crowds. Notwithstanding the power of cities, according to Becky Luk and Ching Kan protests can become breeding grounds for the evolution of urban agencies, as they explain in “‘TO-BE’ Urbanism”. The urban agencies that emerged especially in Hong Kong demonstrate how un-addressed and un-fulfilled claims from protests can readily transform into the most persistent and adaptable energy for long-term urban action. Their creation becomes an infrastructure to counter the existing system and co-create a more democratic system for urban production. In that way protests can serve fundamental democratic functions, as Aaron Kalfen and Benjamin van Loon put it in “We Are What We Are: Chicago and the Paradox of Protests” analysing how protests function as organisms within the larger urban theatre. Following Sebastián Oviedo, Jeroen Stevens, and Viviana d’Auria in “From Barrio Bolaños (back) to Comuna Bolaños Pamba” Protest Urbanism emerges thus ideally not merely as protest against a certain form of authoritarian urbanism, nor as simply a spatial form of opposition, but as a highly heterogeneous call for the reconstitution and recognition of fundamentally ‘plural’ and relational forms of making and inhabiting the city.

Bernd Upmeyer, Editor-in-Chief, October 2021

(Cover: Image is part of APP’s contribution “The Archive of Public Protests” on page 30. ©Rafal Milach)

Find out more about this issue on MONU’s website.