The Radicals' City: Urban Environment, Polarisation, Cohesion

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  • Ralf Brand, University of Manchester, UK and Sara Fregonese, University of Birmingham, UK
  • Series: Design and the Built Environment
  • Bringing together comparative case studies from Belfast, Beirut, Amsterdam and Berlin, this book examines the role of the urban environment in social polarisation processes. In doing so, it provides a timely and refreshingly innovative voice in the confusing babble on (counter-)terrorism, urban conflict and community cohesion. Despite their socio-political differences, these cities are telling cases of how the location and shape of very mundane objects such as rubbish bins, bridges, clothes’ stores, shopping malls and cafés - in addition to the obvious fences, walls and barbed wire - are often subject to heated controversies and influence the way urban conflict is 'lived' and practised.

    Within a Science and Technology Studies (STS) theoretical framework, the authors provide a systematic analysis of these four cities and provide many concrete and richly illustrated examples of ‘material agency’ without losing sight of their specific historical, political, geographical and social conditions. The STS angle permits some surprising, yet extremely convincing, conclusions which are of use not only for a range of practitioners but also to scholars interested in the social shaping processes and the consequences of urban artefacts.

    The authors argue that, although architecture and urban design is clearly not the sole cause of conflict and polarisation, neither is it completely innocent. Conversely, it cannot be the silver bullet to solve related problems and to create community cohesion. However, the materiality of our cities must not be ignored; in fact, it can and should be ‘enrolled’ in our efforts. The book contains detailed descriptions of such positive cases as inspiration for practitioners as diverse as policy makers, architects, urban designers, planners, community workers, consultants or police officers.
  • Contents: Introduction; The urban environment: mirror and mediator of radicalisation?; Polarisation as a socio-material phenomenon: a bibliographical review; The Belfast case; The Beirut case; The Berlin case; The Amsterdam case; Implications for planning practice and policy; Interviews: Scott Bollens, Wendy Pullan, Frank Gaffikin, John Calame, Epilogue: From polarisation to shared spaces: the influence of the built environment in contested societies; References; Index.
  • About the Author: Ralf Brand, University of Manchester, UK and Sara Fregonese, University of Birmingham, UK.
  • Reviews: ‘For academics and practitioners alike concerned with the contemporary challenges of relentless urban conflict, polarization and cohesion, this fascinating and insightful book is a first of its kind. With originality and rigour it brings a new lens to the material analysis of both “divided” and peaceful cities, with case study examples made tangible through the use of full-colour production throughout.’
    Emeritus Professor Caroline Moser, University of Manchester, UK

    ‘Understanding political behaviour and violence through the urban and the architectural is at the forefront of contemporary social science. This outstanding volume makes an extraordinarily sophisticated contribution to this developing field.’
    Stuart Croft, University of Warwick, UK

    'The Radicals’ City is a rich and illuminating book on the intricate relations between the urban environment as a material setting and socio-spatial conflict-related phenomena, such as radicalization, polarization, and social cohesion. Brand and Fregonese’s message is simple but raises at the same time profound philosophical and existential questions regarding the human and built environment relations; it invites us to take objects seriously… I believe the analytical framework provided by Brand and Fregonese is quite inspiring, especially in the actual political context of Arab and Middle Eastern cities. In short, The Radicals’ City is a welcome addition to the literature on polarization, conflict, and urban environment that will certainly have many echoes.' Jadaliyya

    'In the well-illustrated case studies from Belfast, Beirut, Berlin and Amsterdam, we learn about a variety of ‘radicals’ or situations of serious conflict between different social groups, through academic research based on stakeholder interviews.' Urban Design

    '… written in a readable and concise manner employing straightforward language … it is no doubt intended for a readership beyond the academy, possibly community groups or policy makers'. Global Built Environment
    'The Radicals’ City is a rich and illuminating book on the intricate relations between the urban environment as a material setting, and social and socio-spatial conflict-related phenomena such as radicalization, polarization and social cohesion'. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research

    '… while the focus of the book is on conflict zones, it attends more widely to the role of public and private structures in creating urban socio-cultural responses. As well as offering some real-world suggestions towards the way the built environment can perform as a mechanism for positive social change, due to its broad socio-economic-political viewpoint The Radicals’ City is best thought of as sitting alongside more generalised literature. It adds welcome theoretical insights rather than being seen specifically as a ’handbook’ for urban change.' People, Place and Policy