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Designing Urban Neighbourhoods: Enacting urban potentialities through social and spatial practice

Authors: Julius Chiang*,
Topics: Urban Geography
Keywords: neighbourhood, assemblage, urban design, social relations, spatial practice
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper approaches the study of the neighbourhood as a vital spatial unit not just in urban design processes, but in urban politics as well. The neighbourhood’s importance stems in part from its prominence as a unit of analysis in the urban sociology of the Chicago School that has significantly inflected urban design processes; but is also tied to the contemporary (re)turn to the neighbourhood in policymaking circuits to reassert spatial identities threatened by successive waves of rapid capitalist urbanisation. In both these cases, the neighbourhood is understood as a social and environmental locus that is relationally intertwined with the spatiality of urban living. However, the relationship between the design of the neighbourhood and the spatiality of urban living is largely assumed to be one-directional, where the translation and materialisation of technocratic knowledge into the built environment, thus constituting urban lived. This paper seeks to destabilise this understanding by adopting an assemblage-theoretic lens to trace the relational networks that the neighbourhood is incorporated into. Via an inductive synthesis of primary data collected from in-depth interviews with residents in city-state Singapore and secondary material from policy documents, this paper argues that while the technocratic design of neighbourhoods does have a moderating influence on the spatiality of urban living, there remains immense opportunity for the enactment of urban alternatives through everyday practical engagements with the built environment. Thus, an assemblage approach highlights the constitutive openness and potentiality that is not designed into, but generated through the technocratic design of neighbourhoods.

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