Cities of differences


The border city of Geneva has a highly mobile population, the majority of which have a background of migration and mobility. The differentiated social status of mobile people and the absence of strong communities shape a very particular context of difference and distance between the populations. Geneva allows us to see how a city with a tradition of strongly contested spatial policies — where insurgent groups have finally been acknowledged (as with the squatters’ movement) — deals with new forms of insurgency, such as those brought into the urban arena by mobile people and alternative subcultures. The areas we study are situated in Vernier, which has several restructuration projects: the neighbourhoods of the Libelulles and Gordon-Bennett.


As a city with a large industrial port it has transformed, in the last 30 years, its waterfront. It is probably one of the most innovative and also controversial areas of transformation in Europe, dealing with claims of grandeur, social movements in favour of affordable housing and complex and dense industrial and housing spaces. Hamburg is traditionally a diverse urban area with a strong tradition of experiments in participation, but is also a city in search of a planning strategy able to answer challenges related to economic and social transformation and characterised by controversies and participations models in the research of a new urbanism. The area we study was planned as an answer to pluralism, new technologies and sustainable development, and includes the neighbourhood of Wilhelmsburg, the port and the inner-city.


It is the capital of the “Eurostars” and a case characterised by economic and image driven transformation . Nevertheless, Brussels is also known for experiments in urban renewal, based on participative processes. For Brussels, we focalise on the area of the canal that can be seen as the border between the brilliant and the shadow city. On one side of the canal are tourist attractions, on the other side poor neighbourhoods like Moelenbek and Anderlecht. This area that we analyse is characterised by an incremental inclusive planning logic trying to conserve the popular characteristics by a negotiated transformation.


This city is an example of a non-homogenous architectural and social urban structure: the historic city centre is a high cultural tourist attraction, while peripheral areas have long been examples of abandonment, degradation and divestment. However, for the last couple of decades there has been initiative of reuse and redevelopment of the former industrial areas and the housing areas attached to them. Many and varied were the areas affected by these projects: for example, the tobacco factory, transformed into a university campus of the avant- garde; or the mechanical workshop for train repair ‘OGR’ becoming one of the largest spaces for art and culture in Italy. We study the district of Barriera di Milano, an erstwhile industrial area, struggling over the years with degradation, and today a territory of strategic economic, environmental and cultural development.


This city has mixed and homogenous neighbourhoods, like the gay neighbourhood and Chinatown, both characterised by marked differences. City governance is community oriented and has a strong interest in the areas with a high share of residents with disabilities, LGBTQ and people of different origins. The city’s deep-rooted local autonomy and language issues contrast with its policies regarding difference. In Montreal, we  focus on renewal projects inside the neighbourhood of Sainte-Marie24 and the Revitalization programme established in 2011.


It is the capital of the newly created state of Kosovo. The city was at the centre of two quite different types of logic of transformation. In the 20th century, the city was completely rethought and planned by the state; after independence, the major logic of development was the market and informal decisions (with illegal construction activities). We are interested in this case of a post-conflictual planning practice because it permits the analysis of spontaneous transformations in the context of a city with a long history of difference-orientation. In Prishtina, we  focus on the area of Dardina. It is an area of formal and informal planning, with efforts to put the urban development in this area into a coherent scheme.