Symposium: Planning Unplanned_ Exploring the New Role of the Urban Practitioner


From the beginning of the financial crisis, (new) economic models are increasingly being developed which are based on a new interest in commons and which require a new interpretation of the current value system. Back in 1979, Pierre Bourdieu[1] placed social and cultural capital on an equal footing with economic capital. Today, in view of the bursting of various speculation bubbles and the negative consequences for millions of people, it seems even more necessary to establish new categories of “capital”.

In the sphere of urban development, the gap between critical engagement and the pressure for profitability is particularly wide. But it is especially here, however, in the last 15 years, that along with architects and urbanists, increasingly artists have played a central role in the restructuring of cities in the context of de-industrialisation, deregulation and privatisation. If, however, under the current economic conditions, art and architecture want to assert the claim of being socially effective within these complex issues, it is necessary to establish the experimental practices that artists and urbanists have developed as being of equal value to the conventional planning instruments in theory and practice.

The added value of art was in recent years abused all too often in urban development in the interests of marketing a location or a certain area, from regeneration up to gentrification. It is all the more important to introduce artistic practices in the longer term effectively to address current socio-political issues – not to solve problems in a linear and affirmative manner, but to ask questions that would otherwise not (or no longer) be asked. This involves an added value that opposes the directly quantifiable monetary added value and which serves as a plea for the extra, which – if we are talking about art – is still often disqualified as a “non-affordable luxury“.

The research project “Planning Unplanned_ Towards a New Positioning of Art in the Context of Urban Development“, which has been running since February 2010 at the Institute of Art and Design 1, for this reason is propagating these artistic urban practices in the role of the urban practitioner operating as a transdisciplinary practice. To research and document these new tools and strategies, which have evolved and been practised since the mid 1990s internationally, the website urban-matters.org was set up as a growing database. Subsequently issues, framework conditions and procedures will be filtered so that the knowledge gathered can also be made useful for communities and address specific tasks.

The international symposium wants to discuss and reposition the activity of the urban practitioner: what significance can artistic practices assume in the context of a heavily investor-oriented situation of (urban) planning? What tools and methods have been developed until now by urban practitioners, what experiences  have they made in transdisciplinary cooperations? What framework conditions are necessary to involve artistic and experimental urban strategies in current planning practice on an equal basis? How can these be liberated from the instrumentalisation for neoliberal interests and future-oriented innovative ideas be made socially effective?

In a combination of workshops, public lectures and discussions, the symposium takes place as a “productive symposium”. The Austrian and international participants – practitioners and theoreticians from the spheres of art, urbanism, philosophy, anthropology and sociology, as well as politicians and administrative officials from the City of Vienna – will investigate the possibilities of the new role of the urban practitioner.

The contributions of the symposium will form an essential component of the publication Planning Unplanned, which will be published by the Verlag für moderne Kunst Nürnberg on the completion of the research project in 2013.

Barbara Holub

[1] Die feinen Unterschiede. Kritik der gesellschaftlichen Urteilskraft. (in French, 1979), Frankfurt a.M. 1982. ISBN 3-51828-258-1