"Design and designing city is a social process and thus is to be taken out from the sole designer-expert attention. Cities are made and remade by a complex set of formal and informal design acts. Design then become a broad, open and non-specialised series of acts that refer to social practices that shape space and relationships"
INFORMAL.MENTE is an artistic and conceptual study on the meaning of urban informality, city-making and space appropriation as principles to construct the city. This study’s outcomes has been displayed in an exhibition using different kinds of installations and artistic products. The project, organized by the student association UNIVERSUD, has been supported by the University of Ferrara (IT).
What does “informality” mean? Is the informal city just the antagonist of the planned one? Or, with its own spontaneity, is it a positive process that contributes to the urban space construction?
Our research started two years ago, with a study on the informal city in South America. Since then, our work focuses on the dialectic relation between “formality” and “informality”.
This prospective rose tons of questions that brought us beyond the definition of “Global South”. We finally understood that the informal dynamics going on in a city are not only founding aspects of every urban context, but they could be a great inspiration to redefine the concept of citizen.
This redefinition would mean to shift the perception of citizen from a customer of his own city, to a creator. It would mean to pass from the idea of CITY-USER, to the concept of CITY-MAKER.
Look at what is happening in our territories (from the migrant crisis, to the claim for housing rights). It is clear that we need to reposition the powers able to guarantee the welfare, in our cities as in the megalopolis of the “South”. We are witnessing an urban growth that has to be organized, and even more, that has to be humanized.
This rearrangement starts from a deep reflection on the citizen’s right to be part of the development of its own territory.
The city’s construction dynamics are a mix of complex phenomena that we cannot analyse simply using concepts as “formal” and “informal”. We witness a wide range of urban activities, from the more spontaneous to the ones promoted in collaboration with the public administration.
The spontaneity of the informal action could meet a public reward and earn a wider recognition and strength.
However, we need to clearly set a boundary between a spontaneous action and a public policy. Understanding where to place this vague border is essential to be able to recognize which kind of interests favour the growth of the city and who has the power to do it. There is a subtle difference between acknowledging the informality and pretending to rule it. To rule means to define what is legitimate and what is not. Being able to speak up beyond what is defined, on the other side, is the only guarantee for a city that is truly for everybody.
Talking about this we cannot ignore that a big part of this universe of spontaneous initiatives and movements is not always recognized by the authorities. Sometimes it happens that these phenomena (from the squatters to the street artists) are defined as illegal even if their purpose is to create and improve the common ground that we call a city.
The aim of our study is not to point out good and evil in this process. To rule a city does not mean to control all the informal phenomena, but it would be superficial to exclude the possibility of a virtuous relation between formal and informal.
What we would like to underline is that all these activities, even in their differences, work for a common goal: a city as a projection of its own communities.