CITY RESEARCH


In a city I’m fascinated by the concentration of people, cultures, languages, life plans, and also the possibilities of city life, to carry them out. This old saying ‘Urban air makes you free’, I think is still valid. The city is a space where people can fulfil themselves, where you get confronted with things unfamiliar to you, things that you could learn from, or that can enrich you, in daily city use and practice. We are dérive, Association for Urban Research, in Vienna. The association has been existing for 15 years now. We deal with the city as a social space, as a sociopolitical space and for 15 years issue a magazine for critical urban research, organise a festival called urbanize! once a year, have a radio show and do other things around this topic ‘urban space / city’. When we founded the magazine, we knew we wanted to do something about city life. The magazine is called ‘dérive’, which is a term not that widely known. You gotta deal with the subject a little bit or know who the ‘Situationist International’ is. We knew, we needed a subheading for the magazine and chose ‘Magazine for City Research’, as this term is hardly connected to any university discipline, is hardly defined and is the most free, where people that deal with geography or ethnology, can contribute in the same way as somebody who works in the artistic field, in urban planning or architecture. Within the last years we can observe an abundance of new urban movements. Apparently people sense in a lot of cities the willing to participate more and express themselves, that they are closer connected to their neighbours, that they want to shape, how this urban habitat looks like and what will happen with it. I see some danger in the fact that the many small compartmentalised movements act isolated or alone, and stay in small informal niches, without being supported or noticed by communal administration or politics. You can observe a lot that these people put a lot of effort into it for a short period of time, with a lot of dedication, most of the time work voluntarily on different subjects, and all of a sudden burn themselves out and these movements vanish. These are wasted potentials for truly more livable cities, that I think are still underestimated by politics. In our work, in our newspaper reports, in the topics we deal with, a very important subject is, that the people who live in cities should be the ones who should be able to express themselves with more importance, that should be able to have influence onto the design of their living space. We often use the image of Henri Lefebvre, that depicts the city as an ‘Oeuvre’, a work that the people living there create together. I think that this is a goal to work towards. To stop these ‘Top-Down-politics’ and the ‘degradation’ to somebody that can barely vote every 4 years. To shift to a model where inhabitants shape their habitat essentially. How can you improve city life? There is a lot of aspects to be dealt with and to consider. Starting with traffic here on Praterstrasse, up to the possibilities of people to afford city life with their income, which is getting harder with rising rent costs. I think one of the very important subjects, that is addressed too little, is the fact that a lot of people in cities, only because of their citizenship, have no possibility to form an active part in political life. They can engage in a private environment, but cannot participate in elections and are excluded from a lot of possibilities, that people with a local citizenship have. In a city like Vienna this affects 20% to 30% of the people. People that live here. An incredible madness! Cities, for a long time, have been planned according to the requirements of cars… The car in the centre, and all other life being placed around it. You still notice this a lot. There is an about-turn happening, but I think this has to happen with a much faster tempo and in a much more extensive scale. We are dealing with life quality, cities that grow, where space is getting much more important, to be able to hang around. We are dealing with climate change, where less sealed up areas are important… There’s plenty of aspects. Another aspect is to reduce the growing tendency to merchandise everything. To reduce making living and real estate a commodity, so that people can ensure their basic needs in cities, and to stop tendencies like segregation and gentrification, that keep having bigger effects on cities. The urbanize! Festival has been existing for 6 years now. Its subheading is ‘Festival for Urban Explorations’, which is exactly the idea behind it. We want to contemplate about city life and topics happening in cities, with people as different as possible and in very different formats. We invite artists, city theorists, city researchers and city activists, we showcase films… to work together for 10 days on a topic in a wide sense. A little hidden agenda of ours is to bring together people that are very different. Lots of networks get formed through the urbanize! Festival, out of people that hadn’t known themselves before the festival, and that collaborate on something together after the festival. If we are talking nowadays a lot that we need a change of the economic system, the social systems, that we need solutions for social cooperation, for the protection of people, then I think this means that all those very engaged informal movements popping up, really need support from the political level. I think that politics, urban politics, need to acknowledge that these are the grassroots of a possible change towards a very good direction. They need institutional support.




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