(Social): Session at the European Association for Urban History Conference: Cities in Motion 2020

Green spaces such as parks, gardens and peri-urban landscapes have long been one of the most sought-after resources in urban environments, as well as a critical means of both creating and levelling social inequities in cities. This session explores urban nature as an arena in which social hierarchies between individuals of different gender, class an ethnicity are replicated and negotiated.Session content: Rising inequality in cities presents a global concern today. Throughout history, green spaces have played a crucial, albeit largely overlooked, role in shaping social hierarchies. As sites for physical activity, social interaction, recreation and food production, green spaces have long been one of the most sought-after resources in cities, and a critical means of both creating and levelling social inequities.

Although urban inequality has been the subject of scholarly research for some time, green spaces have rarely featured in this. This session seeks to address this oversight by investigating the means by which urban nature has shaped the identities and opportunities of people of different gender, class an ethnicity. Despite, or perhaps because of, their ephemeral character, green spaces hold the power to enhance as well as challenge social hierarchies. Unhindered access to urban green spaces has traditionally been a privilege reserved for select groups. In addition, the specific ways in which different people could utilize urban nature for recreational or utilitarian purposes has always depended on their social status. At the same time, research has shown that social norms for spaces such as public parks often diverge from other public spaces, allowing people of different genders and classes to interact more freely here than elsewhere.  

This session invites papers from scholars working on the past and present of urban green spaces, including gardens and yards, parks and promenades, wastelands as well as suburban and riparian landscapes. Presenters will assess the social meanings and workings of such spaces by considering their conceptualizations in text and images and/or by analyzing their design, appropriations and everyday uses. We particularly encourage contributions that look at these issues in relation to the conference theme of motion. By definition, natural spaces are persistently in motion, responding to changes in climate, season and weather. Moreover, human mobility has been a structural principle in the design of green spaces for centuries. But whose mobility do green spaces ultimately facilitate and to what end? And how has urban nature’s fleeting materiality rendered it an arena in which social hierarchies can be remade and contested?

  • Spokesperson: Antonia Weiss, University of Amsterdam
  • Co-organizer(s): Elin Håkansson, Stockholm University
  • Keywords: Urban green spaces | Social hierarchy | Motion
  • Time period: All periods
  • Topic(s): Architecture and urbanism | Social Study area: More than one continent