Making space for messy urbanisms: in and out of the public eye

14 September 2017

Presented at: European Geographies of Sexualities, Barcelona

City-building is only partially the result of urban planning and the story of the city is only partially narrated by urban planners and the public they plan for. A variety of dissident and dissonant voices, experiences, and actions exist and participate in making and remaking the city. Admitting these voices, admits that the city project is messy, incoherent, conflictual, and contested. I consider these voices non-publics; “non” because of the way their interests have been left out of—and frequently conflict with—the public interest that underlies the normative city-building project of traditional urban planning. Yet, non-publics have developed rich tactical traditions for making both space and place for themselves in the city. In my research, I mobilize admittedly contested intersections between feminist, queer, diaspora, and subculture to guide us towards “messy” analyses of these spatial tactics and traditions.

Rather than reproducing the binaries frequently found in planning theory (formal/informal, expert/community-led, structure/anarchy, order/chaos, space/place), I hope to reveal and complicate our coded expectations of space and place-making and how planning narratives continue to map them onto different bodies. This paper elaborates on these historical-theoretical observations and intersections and begins the development of critical-radical lenses for investigating the relationship and conflicts that exist between normatively-define “desirable” and “undesirable” people, spaces, and place-making processes in the city. This paper is in preparation for my fieldwork scheduled for fall 2017 in Ottawa, Canada. I will be reading through three case studies of non-publics who struggle to claim particular spatial experience in the city while shifting in and out of the public eye; (1) the LGBTQ community and the gay village, (2) the punk scene and ‘underground’ music venues, and (3) the skate community’s petitions for skateparks.

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