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Culture - Emma Viviani

From Marginalization to Self-Planning

By Emma A. Viviani


This work is divided into three main areas:

1. The first topic will be addressed through a reflection of the marginalized places as creators of “disorder” within the urban fabric but are also capable of making changes and new significance to the city. These places are established as non-places and their “disorder” opposes the conventional forms of the existing city. A careful analysis of the phenomena of “discord” may help interpret the different cultures and ways of living and through the processes of local knowledge may give a correct interpretation of the phenomenon.

2. The meaning of spaces and informal relationships, not recognized institutionally but operates within the urban fabric, creates a micro-revolution as it often meets with the functional management of the urban space.

3. A small community of people may legally or illegally take over neglected and degraded spaces resulting in redevelopment in an area of the city, creating culture and promoting lines of democratic participation. These processes must be observed within the land use policies in the logic of “governance” and active citizenship. These urban phenomena require a fair interpretation in order to build a form or self-governance and develop an awareness of place through self-planning of spaces, decoding and reconstruction of knowledge.

1.      The disorder of the suburbs as a creative process

The suburban world of European cities is characterized by sharp divisions. There are, in fact, suburbs for the working classes focusing on the popular districts of the state-owned assistance-constructed view of the welfare state. In many urban environments, some real and their own “ghetto-districts” for ethnic minorities of immigrants have been created: a typical case is represented by “La Courneuve” in Paris. Or real ethnic ghettos reserved for Maghrebs (especially workers of Arab origin and their families) have been formed. Typical cases are London’s “Tower Hamlets or Hackney” or Paris’ “La Gotte d'Or” districts.

The spontaneous alternative social practices, even within the suburbs, put links between an “unsustainable” social reality (as perceived) and a possible future that is presented through a hidden planning tension: “a decent life is yet to be conquered” and this tension creates a micro-revolution process.

The importance that it derives is to be able to read the phenomenon and to operate an adaptation of the forms of existence to a new social meaning:  extending towards the liberation from economic, social, cultural oppression to the redemption of life forced on the outskirts  in order to create forms of social cohesion and participation.

“The order and disorder” in the urban context are concepts of our imagination that produce different urban development but equally representative of the reality in which we seek order in a predetermined model.

A reality that is always presented in new ways, giving rise to unexpected problems or unexpected solutions. Spaces albeit messy, actually contain a creative process, founded on the basis of a search for an order that is just as new, complex, vital and such search will provide an impetus to change the old urban-form.

Some scholars have focused on the consideration of degraded urban areas as generators of micro-criminality like a phenomenon prior to a big organized crime.

Acting on the area where micro-criminality lurks means avoiding the deterioration of the place and the non-compliance of the law. The phenomenon known as “Broken Windows” by George Kelling, highlights how a neighborhood can degenerate into disorder and criminality if no one is concerned with maintaining it properly. The unwanted places recognized by the functional administration may become urban areas of survival and formation, according to the definition of architect-anthropologist Marc Augé: the non-places of the city, if not maintained, will degenerate into areas of social danger.

2 The urban spaces of survival: the non-places

The territorial dimensions of non-places can be found in the city corners, squares, landfills, hidden parts of the suburbs, these “frontier” zones, nonetheless always represent  city spaces where there are people who have life and survival needs. The search for a place to live often gives rise to original buildings constructed from waste materials (sheets, panels, boxes) or natural elements already in place: sticks, clay, and mud.

The “slums”, often huts of sticks, earth, wood and plaster, the barrios, in the settlements of Venezuela, Columbia, and the entire Andean chain, which “rise by magic in the morning” after a brisk work at night, made from old sheets, recovered wooden panels, wooden poles, the “shanties” that arise even in the remote areas of our cities, made of masonry and patched with simple materials: these are some examples of places where space is “spontaneously” and informally molded by man for his existential needs and survival ignoring any institutional regulation.

Often, the urban environment becomes “the place of diversity”, in as much as they apply innovative and creative ways in using or reusing the available space. They create forms of living that follow spontaneous ways that do not take into consideration formal rules, regulations and institutional plans, on the contrary dictated by the “claim of otherness” as another form of expression of living.

But even these extreme conditions give rise to forms of survival that contain hope and ideals, and sometimes even beauty.

3 Experience of urban revitalization: The self-planned La Fenice Park in Viareggio

The project on the construction of a pagoda - a meeting place in the “La Fenice” Park - was presented on September 28, 2007 in the town hall of the Municipality of Viareggio, through the publication of a book published by the Michelucci Foundation entitled “The La Fenice Social Park in Viareggio”.

The book contains a long work that develops on the territory regarding the self-planning of degraded areas: the spaces of a green area of an abandoned district of Varignano di Viareggio (peripheral urban area), revitalized by a group of ex-offenders and drug addicts who have concentrated their energies into useful services to the citizens, including revitalizing the area.

The revitalization project of the “Fenice Park”, formerly “Rail Park”, arises from a common type of social commitment between the District of Varignano and the Associazione Araba Fenice.

The Associazione Araba Fenice is a group of cultural aggregation consisting of people from different backgrounds, foremost, people with prison-related and immigration problems, and private volunteers who agreed to work for a social purpose on the social rehabilitation project and community service to the District and the City (

The methodology draws lines of the Micheluccian architecture - an architectural and sociological work, and partly systemic-relational networks formed through self-help and mutual aid - in which the protagonism of the actors is manifested in finding original solutions to green and beautify the area making it usable by the town folks.

The revitalization of degraded areas reveals a therapeutic space that allows the start of a recovery process of the disadvantaged people - the revitalization of their lives seems to walk hand in hand with that of the green space. In other words, to beautify the area is to make themselves beautiful and allows them to find the impetus to move forward in the awareness to count as human beings, have their own identity and dignity, to dream of beautiful things for themselves and for others. Thus born from participated and shared positions, the idea of a garden that is both for everyone and a space where people can meet freely.

The meeting place was designed as a “pagoda” that with its circular lines represents a place where people can stay together in harmony, reinventing the circle as a symbol of unity and sharing. The redevelopment project has the basic attitude of openness towards any citizen who will meet in the park, as a social laboratory for free meetings;  to  play, rest and  contact with nature;  and also for cultural encounters , community parties, seminars, and for the daily maintenance of the park.

From this approach and attitude on communal commitment, the security of the Park is assured: as the fruit of an intense network of relationships - which already expresses a therapy to recover - and a constant and active presence: to develop a sense of belongingness not only to a place but a common project of the society and culture.


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