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Policies for the Urban Habitat

Urban sociability does not arise from the built environment itself, but from the interaction between different dwelling spaces and their inhabitants, i.e. from the life on the street, in the neighborhoods, in the public parks and squares … Under the seeming disorder of old Manhattan, for instance, Jane Jacobs perceived a complex order made both of movement and change, like a dance that took place on the sidewalks of the city: ‘an intricate ballet in which the individual dancers and ensembles all have distinctive parts which miraculously reinforce each other and compose an orderly whole‘ (The Death and Life of Great American Cities, 1961: 50). In a similar vein, Lewis Mumford described the city as social theatre, a stage for the urban drama in which the spectators are participants as well (What is a City?, 1937). It is not in large master plans where the ‘urban commons’ are morphologically defined. This rather happens through the habitational plans that emerge from the housing policies of each period. Master plans determine the location of large infrastructures, the financing modes, and the zoning of the city, but it is the combination of the habitational projects and policies which defines the spatial characteristics and facilities that allow everyday’s urban life to thrive.

The aim of this section of the project is precisely to consider the relation between habitational projects and policies from the perspective of the ‘Just City’. For several years, the two architects of the team (Roberto Goycoolea and Paz Núñez) have been studying social housing projects in Spain that were designed since the mid-twentieth century. This includes current interventions in the three-dimensional sense proposed by Manuel Castells and Esteban de Manuel (2010): Urbs (the morphology of the city), Polis (the socio-economic context and political decisions involved), and Civitas (citizens’ participation and socio-cultural tissue). The results of this research are heterogeneous and deserve to be examined carefully. There were housing policies that attained accomplished and well organised neighbourhoods, cherished by their dwellers (like many of the Poblados dirigidos program from the 1950’s in Spain). On the contrary, other city quarters had to be dismantled due to their thorough social degradation (like the Barrios de Tipología Especial). The amount of housing policies that have been designed and implemented in Madrid during the last decades is so high that there is critical mass for considering the good and bad practices in this field, and which will provide with case studies for our research on the ‘Just City’. One of the tasks of this Section will be to identify the indicators best suited for grading the fairness of urban planning, both in terms of policy design and material implementation. Such indicators could be also applied to the Cañada Real, one of the largest informal urban settlements in Europe. One of the team members (Paz Núñez Martí) has been technical consultant for the Madrid City Council Commission for Cañada Real. The political proposals and the updated urbanistic and social data referred to this settlement are already available. This may allow us to evaluate the degree of urban fairness that has been perceived by the inhabitants of the poblado since its creation in 1950. Many of these housing projects have been already studied by urbanists and architects, but they mainly focused on the morphological dimension and the social and energetic vulnerability of the place. Exploring the idea of the ‘Just City’ in this context and the urban policies involved using a series of clear indicators is an innovative task that could bring political-philosophical and urbanistic perspectives together.