Modern cities are rapidly evolving. They are increasingly becoming a locus of concentration of diverse communities. Globalisation and rapid urbanisation have led to this mixed conglomeration of communities in cities. And this is only set to increase in the future. It has been predicted that by the year 2050, more than 60% of the population will live in the cities, and these cities will occupy thrice the area of land. The world is already on the path of rapid urbanisation today. Cities generate over 80% of the wealth of developed nations and are thus bound to be overly populated with a diverse group of people. 

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Plurality in Public Spaces_© 2022 BahaiTeachings.org

Although technology has enabled us to work remotely and carry out telecommunication across the globe, nothing can ever replace the physical dimension. It is thus fundamental to think strategically about the clustering forces in the city and strive to maximise inclusivity. An aspect that is significant when it comes to the inclusion of diverse communities is plurality. Acknowledging and planning for the plural nature of the user group is crucial for creating spaces that resonate with the diverse user group. The most important place in a city to exercise these principles of plurality is the public sphere. 

Public Spaces 

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Public Spaces_© Project for Public Spaces

Public spaces are spaces that are open to the public. They exist as several spatial forms that include streets, parks, markets, sidewalks, boulevards, squares, etc. These spaces are places witnessing collective nuances of various social activities. They are more than mere physical spaces; they are places of sociability. When people from any and every race, culture, gender, and background participate in similar activities, they are often a representative of the city’s identity. These spaces generate a sense of togetherness and belonging among its people. 

What is Pluralism?

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Pluralism_© 2022 BahaiTeachings.org

Pluralism is about understanding differences or otherness in the user group. No two human beings are the same. And thus, no set standard defines ‘the ideal user’. Pluralism is about acknowledging diversity and the multifaceted nature of users. On the base level, pluralism does not presuppose any conservationist sociological construct. 

Instead, it accepts the otherness of users’ preferences, lifestyles, and cultures. However, that does not imply that pluralism is a new concept or a product of urbanisation. It has always existed in societies; globalisation and urbanisation have only diversified the city’s users. This widened diversification of the fabric has only triggered the need to address plurality in multicultural cities. 

The great philosopher Aristotle once said, “The city is composed of different kinds of men; similar people cannot bring the city into existence” (Aristotle, cited in Sennett 1970, p. 13). 

Plurality and Places: The Role of Pluralistic Public Spaces 

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Plurality and Places_©  NYCStreets / CC BY

Many theorists and urbanists have brought attention to this dimension of plurality in cities and public spaces. For instance, Lefebvre quotes that a city is a socio-cultural system and its public spaces are the projection of the society on the ground. Elaborating on the same concept, De Certeau urges us to look at the city as a play of plurality, which is seen in its temporal nature and subjectivities. The places in the city are a complex amalgamation of singularities and pluralities. This makes the city a swarming microbe-like mass, where everything changes as more people become a part of it. 

Plurality and public spaces can never be mutually exclusive. These public spheres of sociability when addressing the collective needs of its plural user group, transform into cosmopolitan canopies. 

Contextualism and Pluralism: Are they exclusive? 

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Contextuality and Pluralism_© Albert Vecerka ESTO

Traditionally, spaces were always crafted in response to the local context. This generated a distinct sense of place in the said context. As societies evolve, this distinct fabric is getting distorted. However, it is argumentative whether a sense of place is generated by a place’s history, geography, or people and culture. 

While everyone’s opinion may vary, it is perhaps essential today to create spaces that are a reflection of the region today. With technological advancements and multiculturalism in cities, it is only fair to include the plural people-centric dimension. Pluralism and Contextualism thus cannot be labeled as mutually exclusive; pluralism takes cues from the people in a context. The definition of Contextualism can evolve as cities become more and more complex. A case study that resolves this argument is discussed below. 

Superkilen, Copenhagen, Denmark: A Case Study

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Superkilen, Copehagen_© Iwan Baan

Superkilen in Norrebro, Copenhagen, is a phenomenal example of plurality in public spaces. Situated in a diverse neighbourhood with a multicultural user fabric, this is a kilometre-long urban park. The project is a collaborative marvel of Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), Topotek 1 Landscape architect, and artist Superflex. The park takes on multiple identities throughout its stretch, of a universal garden and an amusement park, while acting as an inviting public place.

Zoned into three distinct zones, the Red Square, the Black market, and Green Park. Each of the zones resonates and connects with different identities of people in the socially diverse neighbourhood. Majorly catering to the Muslim community, people from Turkey, Somalia, Morocco, Iran, etc. are a part of the 10,745 residents of the area. 

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Black market, Superkilen, Copehagen_© Iwan Baan

This remarkable park connects pedestrians, providing them with a safe space. It also offers a variety of outdoor activities and exhibits the diversity of the neighbourhood. These attributes make Superkilen one of the best-functioning public spaces in Copenhagen. 

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Superkilen, Copehagen_© Iwan Baan

The quality of plurality is seen in its architectural language, which is inclusive and has models of cultural mobility and branding. The space exists as an assortment of architectural elements belonging to the local architecture of the diverse communities. This represents a diverse cultural landscape that is a part of the space. Participatory planning and working with feedback from the people of the community is another facet of plurality applied here. Symbolism and branding of diverse cultures through the adoption of vivid elements that remind them of their culture are also seen. 

Superkilen, Copehagen_© Iwan Baan

Ultimately, the site balances a sense of historic cultural hommage while being contemporary and twisted in its being. It makes one feel familiar enough by the use of culturally appropriate elements yet represents them in a twisted way for it not to be exclusive. This kind of clever representation of communities in public spaces is what makes them relatable for everyone. The space thus seems to have bits of contextual elements yet is unique enough to create its own distinct identity. 

How does it help?

Plurality in public spaces helps in creating neighbourhoods that are inclusive and sensitive. People then are encouraged to spend more time in such spaces, strengthening communities. In conclusion, local communities are better served if they are included in the mix. Understanding the pluralism of people and including them in the process of planning and designing creates plural people-centric places. 

References

  • Felix de Souza, A. (2022) Cosmopolis: Public spaces, cosmopolitanism, and democracy – geojournal, SpringerLink. Springer Netherlands. Available at: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10708-022-10643-2 (Accessed: November 1, 2022). 
  • Moroni, Stefano & Weberman, David. (2015). Space and Pluralism Can Contemporary Cities Be Places of Tolerance? Introduction: Space, Pluralism, and Tolerance. 
  • Beretić, N., Đukanović, Z. and Campus, G. (2022) Plural city: Layered singularities and urban design: Case of Belgrade City (RS) – City, Territory and Architecture, SpringerOpen. Springer Berlin Heidelberg. Available at: https://cityterritoryarchitecture.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s40410-022-00154-5 (Accessed: November 1, 2022). 
  • Author, written by I.V.C. (no date) Plurality in place: Activating public spheres and public spaces in Seattle, InVisible Culture. Available at: http://ivc.lib.rochester.edu/plurality-in-place-activating-public-spheres-and-public-spaces-in-seattle/ (Accessed: November 1, 2022). 
  • Mitchell, A.E. (1970) Plural identities and public space, Página de inicio. Inter-American Development Bank. Available at: https://repositorio.uca.edu.ar/handle/123456789/11450?locale=en (Accessed: November 1, 2022). 
  • National urban policy – UN-habitat (no date). Available at: https://unhabitat.org/sites/default/files/2020/07/indicator_11.a.1_training_module_national_urban_policy.pdf (Accessed: November 1, 2022). 
Author

Namita Dhawan is an architect and a writer. She is extremely enthusiastic about architecture, design, history, research, and writing. She believes architecture is about power, it can provoke thoughts, and emotions, and control the actions of the users subtly.

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