People perceive a city's objects in a variety of ways, and they have unique emotional bonds to the city and its objects.
When we think of cities, it is helpful to consider the fact that a city is a place for many kinds of people. In keeping with Martina Löw's theory of space, I am positing that different people constitute different spaces in a city. People perceive a city's objects in a variety of ways, and they have unique emotional bonds to the city and its objects. Following this line of thought, and thinking about the people who design cities as a profession, there are potential problems that could arise for city planners.
The task of city planners is to design a city according to the needs of selected social groups. Depending on the personal philosophy of the planners, their focus is primarily either the inhabitants, or the visitors, or the potential investors. Often the focus is a mixture of the various groups. In many cases, differences between talk and action can be identified: City planners claim they are addressing all people who use a city (talk), but their planning strategies point at certain groups as addressees (action). City planners’ actions mainly consist of planning selected areas of a city and allocating what and how something should be built there. Their focus is on the materiality of cities, e.g. on buildings, technical infrastructure – on physical objects in one sense or the other.
But what about spaces?
Referring to the theory of space mentioned above, objects are one element that determines the constitution of spaces. A lot of objects in a city are planned by city planners. It takes a long time for objects – essential elements for the constitution of spaces in a city – to come into being: After being planned, they are designed by architects and then built by construction firms. It could take up to several years for this process to be completed. Nonetheless, during all these years, people continue to constitute spaces in these areas.
Spaces at construction sites
What is the nature of spaces constituted at construction sites? They are necessarily spaces that differ from those the city planners had intended to create – among other things because buildings that are under construction evoke other emotions and associations than finished buildings. The picture below shows an example of a space that is constituted by unfinished buildings. The space is created by two men playing soccer at Dublin’s Grand Canal Square – and this is probably not what the planners had in mind in the first place.
The fact that the location is occupied by half-finished buildings leads me to argue that a set of unfinished buildings allows for even more interpretation of the location, and thus, for an even greater variety of spaces. There is hardly a fixed meaning present – the observer wonders what this place will be used for. Only if s/he knows the city planners' documents can s/he know that the location will be a square bordered by a theatre, a hotel, and a mall.
The openness of the location's meaning encourages people to actively constitute their own spaces – such as the two men playing soccer in the picture. In this example, it might be two soccer fans using any place they could find to play in. Or maybe the steles are just perfect as goalposts?
Another example shows objects being used in an unanticipated fashion. This happens when people use carefully designed areas in alternative ways than they were intended and this creates a challenge for urban planners. The second picture shows such an “unintended space”. An inhabitant of Göteborg takes a deck chair to the esplanade of Göteborg’s newly designed Northern Docklands for a sunbath. The space that he creates there is different than the one that the woman in the back with the red sweater constitutes. Maybe she is using her lunch break to see the dentist? In any case, the space around her differs from the space around him.