Olalekan Jeyifous calls his partly dystopian-looking collages, which deal with urban transformation processes, visual conversations. By exaggerating existing situations, he aims to increase the visibility of those people and settlements who often go unheard in planning and fall victim to urban development. He sheds light on the intertwining of hegemonic structures, shows how architecture perpetuates the power structures of colonialist ideologies and then itself becomes ammunition in the arsenal of colonial power. These different perspectives and narrative strands are also reflected in this collage of the European city. After the systematic exploitation of its colonies, it stands here as a colonized entity itself that not only tells of these systems but also of greener futures and stories.
An Afrofuturist Vision
How Residential Areas Become Car-Free
In Barcelona, the idea of the superblock—an urban area made up of several smaller city blocks and bordered by large streets—has been reinvented in recent years. It promises solutions for cities with high emission levels caused by motorized vehicles. The reduction of traffic means that the value of public spaces increases or that a space becomes truly public for the first time, and existing uses are increased or new ones made possible. Six such superblocks have been realized in Barcelona to date. Fears that the retail trade would suffer as a result of reduced access for cars have not come true. Instead, the number of trips made on foot or by bicycle have gone up and the air quality has improved. In recent years, other cities have also begun to implement the model since its potential becomes apparent everywhere when you look at the city from the perspective of those who walk instead of drive.
In the works of Matthias Wermke and Mischa Leinkauf, everyday situations, practices, and regulations are playfully, almost incidentally, questioned. The swing, which appeared at various locations in Berlin and then moved on again, hung from street signs, scaffolding, and structural elements. It continuously appropriated small parts of the surrounding commercialized and privatized city, making them its own. For just a moment, however brief, a new (public) space came into being—where there previously was none. By occupying squares, niches, sites, and objects that normally serve other functions, it reconquered the city gently and quietly, but no less emphatically. Thus, the mobile swing can be read as a warning. Because if public space disappeared completely, will everyone who wants to swing have to bring their own swing with them?
While it is usually only political and municipal decision-makers who sit around the table to decide on urban planning projects, the games created by the Play the City agency bring various groups and players together: employees of city administrations, neighborhood residents, local business owners, initiatives, but also representatives of real estate companies, architecture offices, and many more. Everyone should partake in the discussion and decisions. At least, that is the great premise of the game. It should be played in the run-up to large-scale construction and urban development projects, say those who develop the game to suit local contexts, to expedite consensus building, support decision making, and resolve conflicts.
The City as a Skate Park
Skateboarding is a performative critique of the constructed world, some say. This still relatively young sport, whose main settings were and are urban non-places, develops new understandings and other interpretations of space. This world—whether gigantic infrastructures, sidewalks, empty swimming pools, enormous house-lined streets, tunnels, or other concrete deserts of the modern age—is revealed by photographer and skater Rubén Dario Kleimeer in his images. Kleimeer unlocks multi-layered meanings of space through the navigation and appropriation of built structures. In doing so, he is not looking for answers or solutions to urban planning or social problems. Instead, he invites us to search with him, ride with him, and then think together—from unfamiliar perspectives—about what the city of the future could look like, what it could be, and how it could be navigated.
Modified Street Furniture
Artist Jeppe Hein modifies conventional park benches. As a result, sitting, along with all other activities that normally take place on park benches, is often made almost impossible. Because the altered park benches have kinked surfaces. Sometimes the seating area is missing. Some benches have such long legs that you would need a ladder to sit on them. However, others are usable or even more useful than conventional benches, for example, if they enable a conversation with eye contact. Still others invite comparisons to playground equipment. As a result, the modified forms of the ordinary park bench instigate discussions and conversations about the design of public space. Also, about for what and for whom public space is, or should be, designed.
A Somewhat Different Ministry of Space
Even if Ministry of Space sounds quite official, it is not a state-run ministry. Concealed behind the name is a small group of activists committed to social justice. Thus, the group fights for a city that benefits all those who live there. They fight against corrupt practices, the misappropriation of public money, and—as they argue—abuses of power by political players. In this way, the activists monitor, analyze, and critically comment upon large-scale urban development projects by transnational corporations and the privatization of public assets. They scrutinize the construction of luxury residential properties or shopping centers. Through their work, the group thus supports a broad protest culture that demands civil society inclusion in urban policy events.
Attempt at Radical Participation
Superkilen is one of many public spaces that have been created over the past twenty years in the Copenhagen district of Nørrebro. The park aimed to create an extended social space that would integrate Nørrebro more closely into the urban fabric. It was also intended to establish conditions for co-management and inclusion, so that various cultural and ethnic groups could become part of the planning. Thus, the aim went beyond simply creating a space where the neighborhood’s residents wanted to spend time. The design was also to reflect their diversity. In the process, a series of spaces was created that were shaped by different aspects and programmed by various activities. But this conversely raises a multitude of questions about the precise ambitions for and implementation of civil society participation processes.
Thomas Hirschhorn’s works address the challenges of our time. They deal with climate emergency and justice, consumer excess and alienation. Many of the geopolitical discussions raised by the artist, which we can usually hold at a distance, collapse over and upon us. We break in. We become part of the Hirschhornian cosmos, which so clearly says how important it is to take a stance. At first glance, the exhibited collage seems strangely sober, almost alienated. Values and attitudes, not solutions, are at its core. We seek simple answers to the multitude of questions in vain. Rather, the project is about establishing social relationships, acting together, the invention of practices that produce or change spaces.
The Street as a Protest Space
As the work of Crimson Historians and Urbanists shows, limiting roads to discussions of mobility would be negligent. After all, street spaces also act primarily as spaces of protest. The street, closed off and swept empty of traffic, becomes a stage for expressions of discontentment and dissatisfaction with state systems or political decisions. Crimson’s work speaks of these struggles as well as of the dynamics and forces that are revealed here. The future of protest movements, they argue, is closely linked to the street as a place of assembly accessible to all. But this understanding is not a given everywhere. What happens, for example, if surveillance gets out of hand? Or, Crimson asks, will this be the very thing that triggers new protests?