The groups left the Veddel with more questions than answers and moved to Cairo in the hope to be able to reflect upon these questions from another perspective.
What do collective spaces mean for different people?
What kind of social impact do collective spaces create for people?
How do people organise themselves in order to create and use collective spaces?
What does a residents‘ collective space mean for the neighbourhood in the future?
In our analysis we discovered that countless activities and practices take place in public (and collective) spaces. Even where public and collective spaces seem to be designed for one particular practice (such as a playground or a market place), they are not exclusively used as such and bear various other meanings and possibilities. While these may not be visible at first glance, they are central to a place’s atmosphere, connotation and actual usage.
Thresholds and barriers can turn into places to stay where people hang out; contrary to the general assumption that thresholds and barriers divide places, they can turn into places of encounter and exchange. It is for us to take a closer look and explore how barriers develop within neighbourhoods, how they come to represent processes of conflict that may not be visible anymore, but remain inscribed into the physically and culturally produced places. We need to excavate the negotiations and multi-layered processes that created such barriers and thresholds as much as collective spaces and places of traffic and trade. What kinds of individual and collective identities are expressed through and in these places and symbols?
The task, it seems, is to find a way of dealing with the often chaotic layers that characterise urban spaces and places. This chaos, while actively produced by planners, politics, people and periods, can and should be equally seen as productive: if we are to re-think neighbourhoods and think beyond the mere physical or mere social dimensions of particular spaces, we need to make the chaos we find productive.
Using another example from one of the groups, traffic calming measures may very well increase the livability of a particular neighbourhood from the perspective of direct residents in terms of air quality and noise reduction, but they can equally decrease this neighbourhood’s commercial infrastructure and livelihood. Whatever answers and new questions we developed, it’s always a matter of perspective.
We developed and practiced a common language. Now the challenge is to test it in a completely different setting and context. Off to Cairo!