Patterns of co-presence : Spatial configuration and social segregation

University dissertation from Stockholm : KTH Royal Institute of Technology

Abstract: This thesis notes that there is a lack of systematic research investigating segregation patterns based on how public space is used and frequented by citizens. In order for understanding of urban segregation to reach beyond residential segregation, the extent to which public space facilitates co-presence between social groups is a key issue. The main concern in this thesis is to arrive at a deeper understanding of the critical role urban form plays in terms of co-presence in public space and in extension for social segregation. The argument builds on knowledge from other fields, arguing that co-presence is of utmost importance for societal processes: by sharing space and being co-present with others, which does not necessarily imply focused interaction, we gain information and knowledge from our fellow citizens and participate in processes that negotiate social structures, acceptable behaviours and identities. The sharing of space thus becomes a central part of ‘being in society’. It is furthermore through public space that material urban resources are accessible, an access that is dependent on both the location of the amenities in space but also the distribution of space, as structured and shaped by urban form, which creates the actual experience of access through space.Segregation is primarily defined as a social problem. However, in this thesis, it is made clear that it is also a spatial problem. While also broadening the conceptualisation of segregation, the main focus has been upon the role of the built environment. The socio-spatial link builds on social theories. However, these theories are weak when it comes to explaining where co-presence occurs. Addressing the spatial side of the problem, the thesis primarily builds on the architectural theory of space syntax that exactly aims to study the space-society relationship from the viewpoint of space and provides empirical evidence for the correspondence between urban form – as it is shaped by urban design and architecture – and the creation of co-presence as well as variations in its intensity and its constitution. In addition, key questions such as what people may have access to ‘just around the corner’ in terms of human resources or other urban amenities are elaborated. The distinct variations found between neighbourhoods are argued both to enrich the discussion on social exclusion and unequal living conditions and inform future urban planning and design.The thesis demonstrates that specific configurational properties have great impact on the pattern of co-presence. More specifically, it is found that a segregation of public space, a limited spatial reach and an uneven distribution of spatial centrality appears not to favour an exchange between neighbourhoods or access to urban resources across the city – findings that are highly critical for the urban segregation issue. Detailed configurational analysis of Stockholm reveals the performative aspects of different urban layouts related not only to local circumstances and character but, more importantly, to the further context of such layouts. Increased knowledge of how spatial configuration relates to social practices offers new insight into how different neighbourhoods and urban layouts perform socially and increases understanding of the social implications of spatial configuration.The findings of this study are argued to open up theoretical developments that address the social and political dimension of urban design with greater precision. Not least, this knowledge can influence public debate. The knowledge produced can furthermore be used in urban design practice and anti-segregation initiatives, identifying whether spatial interventions can make a contribution and if so, what physical interventions respond to the social ends in question, where the ultimate aim is an urban design that not only builds cities but societies too.

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