What we found out:
We started from the point that the Urban Sanctuary is a concept that we consider needed in cities. In the context of densification, spaces for collective solitude are not sufficiently taken into account. Collective solitude, or “Being Alone Together”, is the atmosphere of the Urban Sanctuary. It is performative and always relates to imaginations and expectations of the individual. Thus, the Urban Sanctuary is a place in which this atmosphere is created by its users, therefore it is not a specific place in the city, but a moment. It offers possibilities of “spacing out”, which is much needed in an urban sense of normality that focuses on activities of production and consumption as the main pillars of daily life. By creating a reflection to the paradigm of production and consumption, it also takes the role of being an “Other Space” in relation to mainstream planning and could bear qualities of a heterotopia.
The focus on production and consumption is not the only reason why we think that Urban Sanctuaries are needed. Cities are getting denser, and the denser and bigger a city gets, the more this affects physical and mental health. This means that the Urban Sanctuary can also act as a salutogenic space and can be used as a general tool in urban planning to support health-promoting planning.
Then, how would these tools look? Well, as we know that it is not a specific place, what we can offer at this moment is a guiding set of ideas that can serve as a platform for planners to learn and inspire from. Practically speaking, what is needed is a further insight regarding influential variables, in all the domains we have mentioned; biomedical, social, material, political and philosophical – and more. One thing we know is that people need different variables for creating their Urban Sanctuary – variation is key!
What we want to do…
As we know, the Urban Sanctuary is a moment and not a place. However, we want to study those moments and see which kind of variables can be extracted that offer good conditions for the Urban Sanctuary. So the next question is: Can the variety of characteristics be detected in any way?
The idea is to create a fluid algorithm of Urban Sanctuaries; a set of variables that can be determined on a rather broad level and adapted in accordance to the context. We suppose that it could be a variety of social, material, geographical, political and more variables that offer conditions for different kinds of urban sanctuaries (e.g. weather, proximity to residential and working areas, ownership). The algorithm can change over time and be different in different places. However, when talking about algorithms, it is important to mention that this is not a try to find the “perfect formula” and therefore reproduce the same kind of space over and over again; rather offering a framework of ideas and considerations that can be negotiated between planners, architects and citizens in planning processes.
We would like to talk to urban and municipal planners to grasp their understanding of urban space and begin a thought process on possibilities for implementation.
From a more general and long-term point of view, it would be amazing to be able to broaden our understanding of urban space by visiting other places and exchanging ideas to be more aware of international differences and limitations of our work.
Regarding the further development of our theory and eventually the implementation, we want to include more inspiration from different disciplines to get a multidisciplinary approach, as for example from art, anthropology, the health sector and international philosophies on space.
Text by Fernanda Jaraba and Ezana Mussie
Photo by Fernanda Jaraba