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 Luz (Maria) Navarro

Luz (Maria) Navarro

Research student, Welsh School of Architecture

Luz is a PhD candidate funded by the WSA and EPSRC as part of its follow-up to the EPSRC (SUE) funded ‘Re-Engineering the City: Urban Foresight and Transition Management’ (Retrofit 2050) project. Her research is entitled “The topology of urban conflict and the transformative potential of dissensus” and will provide evidence led research into regenerating urban futures in the built environment.

A Spanish architect and a graduate from the Bartlett Development Planning Unit, she has over five years of experience working in London and Valencia, specialising in large scale projects, master planning and housing. Prior to commencing her PhD research, she graduated in 2012 from The Bartlett at UCL, completing the MSc Building and Urban Design in the Development from the DPU where she had the chance to engage, through interdisciplinary research and practice, in three weeks of fieldwork in Bangkok with ACHR and CODI, working with informal communities on issues of housing and land tenure.

After graduating from the MSc BUDD at the DPU, she spent five months working as a Volunteer at the UN-Habitat Programme in Cambodia, re-searching urban mobility issues in Phnom Penh, evictions and participatory approaches to secure Land Tenure in Sihanoukville. Parallel to these activities, over the past two years she has also worked as a freelance Graphic De-signer for the Bartlett Development Planning Unit under the Director of Communications. Before enrolling in the BUDD MSc at the DPU, she completed a Master’s in Sustainability and Strategic Urban Planning at the ETSAB (UPC) in 2011– where she focused on regional urban policies, housing projects and economic strategies both at European and Spanish scales.

More recently she has combined her PhD research with teaching activities working as a Teaching Assistant during the course 2014/2105 for the Euromed Unit within the MArch II and dissertation supervision of MArch Students at the WSA in Cardiff University.

Thesis

The topology of urban conflict and the transformative potential of dissensus: The Case of ‘El Cabanyal’ in Valencia

Cities have become highly contested sites, product of the constant negotia-tions between a multiplicity of actors. In this context, political subjects have put forward an array of subversive strategies, transgressive tactics that have shown possible way forward for the production of alternative urban futures. This research addresses the factors that, throughout the regeneration process of a contested neighbourhood, El Cabanyal in Valencia, influence the out-comes of its urban future and opens up for the inclusion and participation of all its citizens. The process of urban regeneration not only shapes the urban fabric, but also curves the livelihoods of its inhabitants.

The urban present of El Cabanyal is a direct result of the urban governance arrangements and the planning model controlled by a few and which was not addressing people’s need, but rather the interests of a few. These observa-tions raise questions on how urban planning and urban design are used phys-ically and to politically regenerate deprived areas in Valencia as part of wider urban and economic development strategies and what this means for local people currently residing in El Cabanyal. It also raises questions about who may be impacted or benefited from this plan, who it is made for. It also sug-gest how authorities navigate through the opposition they have encountered through the process not only from the neighbours of El Cabanyal, but also of civil society. And definitely, it raises questions on how we might translate the neighbour’s dissentient view into the regeneration process as a viable alterna-tive option for its regenerated urban future.

Aims and objectives

The research will explore how design can facilitate the inclusion of political subjects who are currently left outside the mainstream production of space within the city by looking at the case of El Cabanyal in Valencia (Spain). Cities are the spatial contexts where urban conflicts materialise, thus becoming both the object and the subject of struggles (Lacan, Secor 2008). These struggles and resistances materialise in counter-hegemonic sites where dissensus has the potential to be a source of innovative practices that can challenge the cur-rent hegemonic Post-political order (Agamben, 2014). The main overarching aims of this thesis thus are a) to understand the potential of dissensus to inform a framework for design practice, and b) to develop a framework for practice in the context of counter-hegemonic urbanism.

To these ends, the retrospective and in-depth analysis of selected cases of Critical Urbanisms literature, together with the historical, political and ethno-graphic design-based research conducted in El Cabanyal neighbourhood will try to answer the following three lines of enquiry:
How can we assess if an ‘Agonistic Urbanism’ can be considered a ‘destituent’ or a constituent practice? To what extent can they contest, challenge and ultimately transform the existing hegemonic post-political arrangement and inform decision-making processes of urban futures?
How can these ‘Agonistic Urbanisms’, inform innovative strategies of ur-ban design and effectively challenge the current landscape of fierce commodification of the urban space and inform the current process of urban regeneration and the politics of place-making?
How can these be distilled into design ‘guidelines’ for a transformative urban design in and for contested spaces within urban regeneration contexts? What is the role of professionals of the built environment in this process?

The objectives for this research are structured to reflect firstly an interest on the potential of dissensus as an agent of design in processes of Urban Re-generation and the politics of place-making. Secondly, an interest on the pro-cesses whereby the city and the Urban Conflict unfold into each other along time, unpacking how Urban Design and Urban governance have addressed long‐term conditions of deprivation in a unique historical district of Valencia, as key spatial dispositifs that recreate particular urban visions. Thirdly, this research aims to understand the conditions for El Cabanyal to inform the cur-rent process of urban planning and politics of place-making in Valencia. Last-ly, the thesis seeks to make a contribution to wider debates on the potential role of architects and designers in the disciplinary realm of the professions of the built environment as interdisciplinary, spatially complex and holistic prac-tices that engage, not only with technical issues, but also with the political and social urban realities of the local areas where they work on.

Methodology

The methodology of this research stems from acknowledging both as a re-searcher and a practitioner that some conflicts do not have a rational solution (Mouffe 2014), and at the same time acknowledging dissensus in its ‘agonis-tic’ dimension (Miessen, 2010). Design Practices need to be concerned with the spatial organization of the political as a process where conflict is staged to resurface the ineradicable agonistic dimension of all kinds of social relations amongst human beings (Keshavarz & Mazé 2013). The intention is to conduct a mix-methods research with complemented with design-based methods to understand the potential of dissentient practices to find a fertile ground in the Cabanyal neighbourhood. Relationships with inhabitants’ associations and other stakeholders will be established, and therefore, through the organisation of design workshops, potential participatory solutions will be explored. Again, observation, interviews, individual and collective moments of discussion, par-ticipatory mapping and exercises will serve to collect data to be translated into a proposal for an alternative urban future.

This research, methodologically speaking will understand that Design, as and urban and social practice must be “a performative act that both stages and defines equality, exposes a ‘wrong’, and aspires to a transformation of the senses and of the sensible, to render common sense what was non sensible before”. Hence practices of design must start “framing and staging a diversity of subjects as adversaries to confront and engage” (Keshavarz & Mazé 2013, p.8) in an agonistic dialect.

Potential applications and benefits

The final outcome of the PhD theses aims to formulate a series of qualitative design principles through which dissentient practices can be effectively incor-porated in the urban policy frameworks and utilised as possible means to achieve an open and inclusive transformation of the urban (built) environment It will also try to understand the potential role of professionals of the built envi-ronment like myself that want to develop their professional expertise in the field of urban conflict in contested urban development. This research will for-mulate an alternative proposal for the urban future of El Cabanyal that will rep-resent the main afterlife of the research project, and hopefully useful frame-work that will inform professionals of the built environment and a tool towards its just transformation.