By Sophie Maes*
To many, the term urban renewal carries heavy connotations beginning after WWII, the planning strategy prompted slum clearance, displacement of low-income communities, and the construction of large-scale, often racially segregated public housing. Urban renewal policies have defined the spatial politics of cities across the globe, and in some cases, engendered a public distrust of urban planning. In the past two decades, gentrification has been used to describe a similar process in which minority communities are displaced when traditionally working-class neighborhoods are transformed into commercial hubs, purveying nightlife and culture. While gentrification produces a number of results, some arguably positive such as increased safety, it is clear that the power and profit belong to a wealthy few.
In Madrid, a city where urbanization and neighborhood change has been largely motivated by private interests, Paisaje Transversal returns decision-making to the public. We take a participatory approach to urban regeneration, a process that is antithetical to gentrification. Urban regeneration is a bottom-up process, propelled by civic engagement and communal interests. Our aims are to revalue what already exists in an area, increase access to facilities and services, and innovate to generate social, environmental, and economic resiliency. We seek to reframe urban design as a discipline that is equally social as it is spatial.
As detailed in previous posts, all of our projects are rooted in our core methodology, DCP — Doing City with People. Participatory Indicators [InPar], a combination of quantitative data and qualitative information, are used to analyze the application of DCP, and transform our ideals into practice. To conduct bottom-up urban regeneration projects, we employ PIER -People Involved Effort for Regeneration-. The PIER methodology, which provides an elaborate roadmap for improving several aspects of urban life, from public space, to local businesses, to housing. The objectives of PIER are to facilitate public-private collaboration and orient sustainable solutions to meet the needs of Madrid’s most vulnerable communities.
Within the PIER methodology, Paisaje Transversal has established a list of criteria: communication, citizen participation, intersectionality, participation of private agents, mediation between stakeholders, incorporation of new technologies, participatory evaluation, and optimization of resources. We use these criteria to measure the sustainability of our urban regeneration strategies from ideation to action.
Transparency, community engagement, and public pedagogy are prioritized at all four phases of PIER.
PHASE 0 Research and Communication. We select site based on community demand and vulnerability indicators, and initiative dialogue with stakeholders—residents, City Council, and private agents. PHASE 1 Participative Diagnostics. Neighborhood vulnerability is assessed with data, mapping, and input from residents. We consider access to public space, mobility and infrastructure, social dynamics and public services, economic activity, and housing. PHASE 2 Participatory Proposal. In this phase, we collaborate most directly with stakeholders, hosting presentations, public discussions, neighborhood gatherings, collective mapping initiatives, and digital surveys. We make our proposals and progress visible via our blog, press, and social media. PHASE 3 Follow-up. Urban regeneration is a continuous process and with no finite stopping point, so we evaluate local impact and change over time. By maintaining communication with stakeholders, we can adjust and implement directives as necessary. As of 2011, PIER has been put into practice inVirgen de Begoña. The next post will provide insight into how the project has unfolded and how residents have created a collective plan for their neighborhood. While to date the process has not reached its final stages, it has motivated unifying dialogue and engagement among community members. Going forward, we will continue to partner with Virgen de Begoña residents to advocate for the change they envision.
Paisaje Transversal is bridging the gap between people and policy-makers in a way that empowers collaboration and collectivity. As the world’s urban centers become more structurally and commercially homogenous, the culture and spirit of a city is best evoked by its people. PIER proposes that urban problems are best addressed with input from the communities who feel their impacts most deeply. Their methodologies present a clear break from the top-down, bigger, faster, newer is better, approaches to urban development. Problem solving at the local level is innovative, and can offer insight into issues of inequality and environmental vulnerability at a global scale.
* Sophie Maes is an undergraduate student at NYU Gallatin, pursuing a concentration in Urban Problem Solving and Sustainable Design.