The Public interior and its purpose: a re-evaluation

Activity: Talk or presentationTalk or presentation at a workshop, seminar, course or other meeting


Presentation at the webinar 'Social Infrastructure in The (Post-)Covid City’

Social infrastructures are conceived as built spaces and facilities hosting the community life and the public experience of the city, while offering a specific type of social good (education, culture, leisure, food, sport, empowerment, etc.). Whatever their main function (community centre, public library, covered market, swimming pool, etc.), social infrastructures are places where values of openness, such as social inclusion and urban hospitality, take on a concrete and practical meaning, which makes them also an important vector of democracy.

While « Palaces for the People », « Maisons du peuple », « Centros civicos », as major and idealized forms of social infrastructure, have structured the imaginary of progressive city planning in the first half of the 20th century, subsequent trends (post-fordist economy, suburbanisation, individualism, neoliberal urban policies, privatisations) may have weakened their ambition, meaning and appeal. However, the fact that social infra-structure has emerged as a key factor in the response to recent economic and environmental crises for what regards the most fragile urban populations, reaffirmed its importance, and brought notions of « third place », « welfare space », and « inclusive enclave » back to the political agenda in many large cities.

The current health crisis, and the fear of close contact in indoor spaces that it entails, presents a different challenge. What are and what will be its practical consequences on existing and future social infrastructures, on the publics that they host, on the policies that promote them and the fundings that support them? Does the COVID-19 pandemic herald a major crisis of local community spaces and social facilities, or even of our larger « public interiors »? Or does it call for a reconsideration of their function, use, de-sign, layout? If these places are indeed of « infrastructural » importance for an urban society, what other indirect consequences can be feared and foreseen? Can the social infrastructure reinvent itself in the face of the pandemic, through technology-, design-, management- or behaviour-based solutions, or through the use of online virtual spaces?

The purpose of this seminar is to explore these problems from different disciplinary angles with the help of the best specialists, both analysts and practitioners, in order to formulate solid hypotheses and concrete perspectives for a social infrastructure policy that would be both socially relevant and materially appropriate for the (post-)Covid city.
Period24 Nov 2020
Event titleWebinar Social Infrastructure in The (Post-)Covid City
Event typeOther