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Environment, Space, Place

Volume 4, Issue 2, Fall 2012

Scott Tate
Pages 104-129
DOI: 10.7761/ESP.4.2.104

Everyday Life, Tinkering, and Full Participation in the Urban Cultural Imaginary

Cities around the globe are immersed in transnational projects of place reconfiguration and attraction. Urban places, intent on competing in the globalized experience-based economy, undertake identity projects—on-going, dynamic processes through which places are produced and reproduced by conscious strategies of place making and identity building (see, for example, Nyseth and Viken 2009). In this article, I employ Henri Lefebvre’s conceptions of a “right to the city” in order to explore the right to full participation in imagining and shaping urban futures. Spatial practices, such as those I term civic tinkering, may offer one way to help enable such imagining. My discussion draws from scholarship on imaginaries and place identity, as well as on my own qualitative field studies conducted in Roanoke, Virginia, in the United States, and Belfast, Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom. While my precise research questions differed in these two sites, I explored, in each instance, the processes of place identification and development centered on arts and culture, and the extent to which marginal groups and their concerns were engaged or considered in such processes. I also explore “tinkering” as a set of activities that hold potential for residents to more fully participate in the urban project by constructing, altering, and disrupting spatial meanings. Tinkering may be any impermanent, unsanctioned, and informal activity endeavoring to positively alter a city’s identity. Henri Lefebvre described the relevance of such practices in his vision of the city as oeuvre, or ongoing project.

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