Urban transformations involve a continuous rearrangement of relations between the people inhabiting, using and constructing the urban sphere and between places, buildings, artefacts and their meaning for people.
The story of a city is never-ending and written by multiple hands; by the youngsters taking up an abandoned space and inhabiting it with cultural activities, by tourists walking through a still run-down neighbourhood to reach their museum of interest, by constructors, architects and planners rebuilding a transportation route and by fathers making new friendships when bringing their kids to the nursery and thus creating new emotional places.
At the same time, these fathers, youngsters, politicians, architects, tourists, and businessmen are building their stories with the evolving plot of the city. The relational web of the city, built of interactions between people, places, stories and times make certain cultural developments, business ventures and friendships possible, but not others. In other words, the continuously evolving urban space is not completely incidental, but finds direction in the relational web of the city.
Considering this, it becomes clear that it is reductive to base planning decisions only on functional and calculable criteria. It’s also limiting to read the urban space merely through its geographic dimension as represented in ordinary maps. Instead, positive urban transformation requires an understanding of the various relations configuring the urban sphere.
This necessary confrontation with the present life in a city is challenging as it needs to assure, despite all diversity, that the different actors move in a same, even if broad, direction. In view of this, it is impossible to suggest a long-term planning that is not out-dated at the moment of its realization. The project thus aims to contribute how a processual approach to urban planning can be realised.
In this study, we focus on three aspects of urban relationality, namely the spatio-temporal relationality, the one between the multiple users of urban space and the one of the people ideating, financing and constructing urban space. It builds on the recent advances in urban planning, which have sustained a more relational understanding of urban transformation processes, but where it is still unclear what is needed to connect diverse urban projects among each other and to the existing urban reality.
The study is hence driven by the question how the relational texture of a city influences urban transformations and how these transformations in turn change the city’s relational web over again.
We use an existing urban reality as study material. The small city of Lugano is actively involved in an important urban transformation process and offers a good opportunity to study the relations among people and between them and the existing and future built environment.
A part of Lugano’s urban environment will be documented and analysed in a more extensive way than only by its physical aspects. Because of this complexity the research integrates the knowledge of three different scientific disciplines. An urbanistic team will study the spatial character but also focus on the ways the built is perceived by its citizens, read the ways people use space and investigate what space means to them. A team of economists will study the preferences of various users of urban space whilst a team in organizational communication will observe the interactions of the various actors involved in urban transformations. The diverse disciplines work together in all phases of the research and enrich each other’s practices.
Through a better understanding of the various relations among people and the built environment we will be able to propose ‘relational projects’ that are able to account for the specific contextual features of an urban space and support an overall positive urban development, where visionary and pragmatic projects are aligned and not rivals of each other.
The research will inspire and sustain projects whose planning will take dynamic relationalities into account. This allows both a more human centred and context specific approach to urban planning, which is of relevance beyond the city of Lugano.