Designing public space in the energy smart and compact city - an appropriation of the urban commons

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The smart and compact city has become the dominant model for urban planning and development. The main political argument for this model is that smart solutions (i.e. intelligent transport systems) and compact designs (i.e. high density and multifunctional urban districts around public transport hubs) will reduce energy consumption and CO2 emissions per capita. However, studies reveal that these “energy efficient” spaces predominantly are designed to attract the socio-economic elite and are becoming less accessible for disadvantaged social groups, thereby contributing to the increasing socio-spatial inequality observed in many cities. The research literature has focused on housing prices and the socio-economic status of people living in such compact and centrally located districts, but social inequalities are produced in different ways. In this talk I will focus on the design of public or pseudo-public spaces in such districts. It is argued that such urban spaces are increasingly rigid and overdetermined, where certain social groups are invited while others are discouraged to enter or excluded. Besides, these design practices are accompanied by the increased private ownership of seemingly public spaces, as observed for example in London. I will present a study of the transformation of Oslo’s waterfront into a new and attractive city district for living, working and pleasure, focusing on the design of the “city floor”. How is the city floor represented, designed, regulated and negotiated as a pseudo- and semi-public space? What are the implications for practices of the public and for social inclusion? In my conclusion I discuss why and how such smart and compact city strategies are accompanied by exclusionary design practices, privatization of public space and an appropriation of the urban commons.

Per Gunnar Røe is Professor of Human Geography at the University of Oslo, Department of Sociology and Human Geography. His current research focuses on the social implications of urban sustainability and planning, and how to develop equitable and socially inclusive strategies. He is leading a research group focusing on Energy Flows and Spaces within Include, a research centre for socially inclusive energy transitions: