GAM 15

Editorial

Aglaée Degros, Eva Schwab

While it is a commonplace to consider that the task of combating or eliminating social inequalities is a matter of economic and social policies that architects or urbanists must adapt to, this issue of GAM proposes a different view. GAM.15 – Territorial Justice argues that architects and urbanists have a major responsibility regarding the intensification of inequalities, and that any policy that seeks to eliminate or combat in- justice must start from a territorial point of view. Hence, the notion of territorial justice, as indicated in the title of GAM.15, relates to the spatial dimension of social justice in the sense that it assumes reliable conditions of access to public goods and services for both urban and rural territories. If we want to improve the quality of life of all the population, we have to understand peripheral and rural territories, and more specifically those that are disadvantaged and undergoing drastic transformation. Current political events and protest movements such as the Yellow Vests, the social rifts exposed by Donald Trump’s election in the US or the United Kingdom’s plan to leave the European Union invite us to study the negligence of so-called peripheral territories in greater detail. According to Christophe Guilluy, these territories are characterized by a lack of accessibility to resources, activities, and social networks—not least due to restricted mobility options.[1] They include small struggling cities as well as towns and rural districts beyond the inner suburbs. This issue of GAM investigates the current state of these disadvantaged territories from many different perspectives.

 

The first section—Semantics—identifies key issues and discusses the manifold relationships that emerge from considering the rural from an urbanist perspective. Both Pierre Veltz’s and Michael Woods’s contributions have at their core the differentiation between objective material inequalities between rural and urban areas and the injustices perceived in peripheral areas. Pierre Veltz argues from a French perspective that a more just planning agenda for peripheral territories is a fundamentally political and cultural affair. In similar terms, but from a Welsh perspective, Michael Woods argues that perceptions of neglect or unfair treatment in government policy, and of marginalization of political power, must lead to rethinking the way in which policies for territorial development and cohesion are produced and implemented. Bernardo Secchi’s text is an excerpt from his seminal book La città dei ricchi et la città dei poveri in which he discusses major societal crises and the need for a radical focus on democracy to reduce spatial inequalities. Isabel Stumfol and Sibylla Zech make the case for a “New Image of the Countryside,” drawing on their experience as spatial planners to propose five points for a new narrative for rural areas. The section concludes with the first of three community portraits providing insight into different planning strategies.

 

Dynamics brings together the contributions of the second section, in looking at developments or changes within territorial systems. In the first contribution to this section, Nicolas Escach asks if spatial injustice can be considered as an instigator of territorial innovation. Drawing on French and Danish examples, he shows how public and private disinvestment in vital industries and infrastructures has triggered innovative local responses. Emanuele Sommariva tackles the issue of rural abandonment in Italy and relates it to current migratory dynamics, while Michael Wagner presents the case of revitalizing the remote Swiss village of Lichtensteig by bringing urban aspects to a rural context. Ute Mahler’s and Werner Mahler’s photo series portrays small towns in Germany as sites of transformation enabling new centralities beyond an urban typology. Aglaée Degros and Eva Schwab look at mobility options and argue that access to a diverse transportation system is a key aspect of territorial justice. The conversations with Roland Gruber and Erich Biberich, which close this section, highlight the importance of participative planning processes and flexible utilization concepts for spaces in rural communities.

 

The third section—Pragmatics—collects case studies and examples from various geographic and cultural contexts to demonstrate different ways in which peripheral territories are shaped. Paola Viganò opens the section with an exploration of architectural and urbanistic working methods in the American Appalachian region, a vast and fractured territory whose complexity has not yet been fully understood. Looking at territories from a sociological perspective, the contribution by Michael Friesenecker, Ruggero Cefalo, Tatjana Boczy and Yuri Kazepov addresses Austria’s socio-spatial disparities in employment. In the photographic essay by Urban Reports, the documentation of fringe conditions in four European cities (Milan, Madrid, Rotterdam and Turin) makes visible the relationship between the urban and the rural in contemporary processes of urban expansion. The notion of expansion is also taken up by Hans Hortig, who explores how the dubious trading and sourcing of sand has facilitated Singapore’s building boom. The interview with Hille von Seggern provides an insight into the reading, understanding and designing of what she calls “rurban landscapes.” The final community portrait brings the section to a close, presenting intercommunal initiatives in the Parc Naturel des deux Ourthes, Belgium. Finally, geographer Don Mitchell offers closing remarks, contextualizing the discourse of territorial justice in an urban age.

 

GAM.15 – Territorial Justice is the beginning of an adventure in terrains largely unexplored by urbanists, planners, and architects. We thank all those who accompanied us in this adventure and would like to express our gratitude to the editorial team for its guidance and clarity, the authors for their intriguing contributions and collaboration, and the peer reviewers for their critical but supportive comments. This issue of GAM introduces the dossier as an addition to the book reviews, offering a platform for rediscovering notable texts in the field of architecture. Joost Meuwissen’s sharp and humorous essay “Art and the Small Town” is such a text, contributing to the discussion of territorial justice aspects seldom acknowledged in architectural theory. ■