14 November 2013

Location: UCL Pearson Building, room G07, 4:30-6:30.

Material governmentality, car parking and Soviet housing estates

Tauri Tuvikene (UCL Geography, 4th year PhD Student) 

The talk is based on a chapter of my doctoral dissertation entitled 'Freedom to Park: Post-Socialist Automobility in Tallinn, Estonia'. In this chapter, I aim to develop the two key notions of my thesis—Latourian/Foucaultian notion ‘material governmentality’ and post-socialist cities—in light of the large Soviet housing estates. Built from 1960s to late 1980s, housing estates are the most common living places in the former Soviet Union. In Tallinn, the case city for this research, three of such estates are homes for about half of the city's 400,000 inhabitants. Previous studies have mainly focused on housing and other social aspects of these places, largely neglecting the world of materiality that in many ways is the key characteristic of housing estates. And I do not mean only tall buildings but also the way these buildings are arranged and what kind of activities this arrangement affords. The first way how I aim to make materiality matter, then, is by tracing connections between urban imaginations such as Perry's neighbourhood units from 1929, Le Corbusier Radiant City from 1933 and the Soviet concept of micro-district from 1950s to 1980s through elements such as 'super-block' and cul-de-sac. These grand imaginations are all structured by ideas of how to provide more greenery and how to organise traffic so that the greenery would be more accessible and in doing so have reached to similar practical material solutions. 

The second way how I seek to bring materiality in to urban analysis is to look at contemporary changes in the Soviet housing estates and ways how the city tries to alleviate them. Namely, as housing estates were not planned for car use, the rapid motorisation since 1991 has resulted in a ‘parking problem’. The city, however, encompassed by the ideologies of the post-socialist era which has lead to the nearly total privatisation of the housing estates, tackles these questions by not intervening directly but through flat-owner associations. The city’s governing approaches, hence, exhibit characters of ‘neoliberalism’ being about ‘entrepreneurial, self-responsible individuals’ (Larner, 2003) who act to solve their own problems while often, also, being in competition with each other. Nevertheless, rather than following traditional neoliberal critique, I offer a materialised governmentality approach drawing out multiple material relations that are behind policies. I would highlight how the 'parking problem' is itself a material problem resulting from competition between land uses while the patterning of apartment buildings provided support to the 'neo-liberal' imaginations of the local government.

Complexity and the city: planning support tools for collaborative decision-making

Ine Steenmans (UCL, 4th year EngD student) 

The delivery of large, networked urban infrastructure can be characterised by highly complex decision processes. These decision processes are commonly expected to demonstrate ambitious levels of responsiveness, robustness, multi-disciplinarity, context-sensitivity, transparency, fairness, etc. This research is concerned with the tools employed by urban ‘experts’ during the early project stages to achieve such decision-making outcomes. Specifically, it critiques a current culture of techno-rational tools dominant in infrastructure planning practice, and calls for a broader inclusion of tools that explicitly address the social processes of decision making. I argue that a set of decision support tools exists, known as ‘soft’ Problem Structuring Methods, which are currently underutilised by urban planners yet have significant potential to add value to the practice of infrastructure planning.

This presentation focuses on some of the practical challenges currently faced in the research’s ongoing investigation into the mechanisms by which these tools can enhance the performance of complex infrastructure planning processes. These include the selection of an appropriate sub-set of data from detailed observations on collaborative planning workshops, as well as the validation of the suitability of the chosen analytical frameworks of decision development and collaborative processes.