D9.1 | October 2023


Miriam Haselbacher, Austrian Academy of Sciences
Kanerva Kuokkanen, University of Helsinki
Emilia Palonen, University of Helsinki
Ursula Reeger, Austrian Academy of Sciences

The spatial dimension of the public sphere is central in understanding the “social glue” of cohesive societies. It is in public spaces where people of different backgrounds and walks of life meet with varying interests that need to be mediated. Public spaces are by no means neutral, as they are characterised by different power dynamics and influenced by the actors occupying them. Encounters between people in public space may foster social cohesion and people’s sense of belonging to a community but they can also – and often do – contribute to reinforcing boundaries. In this work package of the D.Rad project, we have analysed the situation in six cities across Europe – Florence, Helsinki, London, Pristina, Tbilisi, and Vienna – that differ significantly regarding their geopolitical position, governance structures, framework conditions, and historical developments.

Several current developments, such as spatial segregation, gentrification, political polarisation, multiple crises, and the rise of commercial and private spaces have impacted the availability, distribution of, and access to public spaces. The design and the accessibility of public space thereby have an impact on the ways in which different user groups do or do not interact. Consequently, they can contribute to the inclusion/exclusion of groups of people. This is also connected to (de)radicalisation processes as exclusionary processes in public spaces. The latter may reinforce a pattern according to which people mainly interact within their reference group. Such processes can foster feelings of injustice, grievance, alienation, and polarisation, thus amplifying radicalisation processes. Nevertheless, public spaces may also have inclusionary effects, strengthening a sense of belonging and creating spaces for marginalised people. These processes are often influenced by a variety of actors, initiatives, and projects that work on or in public spaces. Cities across Europe have addressed these issues quite differently: While some seem to neglect public spaces, which is also connected to the question of funding, others have a highly differentiated governmental and administrative apparatus that steers interventions. Hence, the local level is also an arena where various actors interact and where socio-political negotiation processes and political projects of belonging come to the fore.