Archived project

Urban Aesthetics in Motion (UrAMo) – Bridging the Gap between Philosophical Aesthetics and Urban Mobility Futures

Goal: UrAMo aims to produce a transformative understanding on the important relationship between aesthetics and mobility by bringing together philosophers, planning theorists, spatial planners, architects, and environmental psychologists working within the field of urban planning. This is a joint research project of University of Helsinki and Aalto University, done in collaboration with the city of Lahti.

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Vesa Vihanninjoki
added a research item
Due to a multitude of reasons, the prevailing conceptions regarding the aesthetic values and the principles of aesthetic evaluation of different urban environments are significantly varying, and there may not be a widespread consensus even about the general meaning of aesthetic issues in urban environments. That is to say, when discussing the aesthetics and aesthetic values of urban environments, the aesthetic concepts may refer to a variety of phenomena, and, further, the relationship between the aesthetic dimension and other key aspects constituting the urban experience is rather ambiguous. Moreover, aesthetic issues comprise a considerable part of urban planning, and yet it is not evident, how and on what grounds the diverse questions involving aesthetics are or should be solved in practice. If aesthetic questions are to be resolved collectively and by the means of rational argumentation, it is reasonable to ask for the necessary preconditions of such "aesthetic cooperation" and its coordination. The question regarding the preconditions may be addressed using the concept of trading zone. Such an approach highlights the importance of defining the relevant actors taking part in the cooperation (i.e. the "trade") and their motivation to work cooperatively. The basis for motivation lies in recognizing achievable benefits and pursuing them by the means of trade. There may, however, be a lack of motivation if there are more straightforward and effortless alternatives available, or if the possibilities for achieving the benefits appear negligible or nonexistent. For example, if the outcomes of the official participatory planning process are continuously considered inappropriate and unjust from the viewpoint of certain stakeholders, the process may eventually lose its status as a genuine trading zone. This, in turn, may result in purposeless objections and appeals aiming at merely paralyzing the entire process. Present-day planning processes ignore experiential and thus qualitative arguments rather easily, which is a major source of experienced injustice. Hence, there is a demand for certain "thin interpretations" summarizing the most essential values and meanings of different stakeholders without requiring a thorough explication of related lifeworlds. Experiential and qualitative arguments are essential also with regard to aesthetics, and the notion of "urban aesthetics as a trading zone" refers to thin interpretations of aesthetic issues, implying that though there could be some kind of consensus about the general and large-scale meaning of urban aesthetics despite significant and widespread disagreements about particular aesthetic values. Aesthetic issues are of particular weight in the context of urban infill development – mainly due to the fact that infill development plans usually aim at changing an environment in which many locally bound networks of experiential meanings and values already exist – and empirical studies suggest that the questions of aesthetics may even be decisive when it comes to approving and disapproving potential infill plans. “Urban aesthetics as a trading zone” clarifies 1) why the infill plans are so often contested, 2) which are the fundamental values that the stakeholders eventually defend or oppose, and 3) why the encountered resistance may convert into a complete denial of cooperation so easily.
Vesa Vihanninjoki
added 2 research items
The world’s and humanity’s future is urban, one might say. Thus enhancing the sustainability of urban life-forms and developing more sustainable ways of urbanism are of crucial importance from the global point of view. The actions, however, are usually more local – focusing either on national or municipality-level phenomena by formulating and implementing various directive or regulatory policies. Smart cities and developing the smartness of urban environments by introducing novel technological solutions can be seen as a major contribution to such “sustainability project”. Urban sustainability is yet an all-encompassing issue – covering economic and ecological, as well as social and cultural dimensions. Nevertheless, especially in Finland, certain technologically-oriented view on sustainability seems to have a rather dominant or even hegemonic status regarding the sustainability discourse. For example, when the Finnish Ministry of Environment published Finland’s new action plan for sustainable urban development in July 2017, ten out of thirteen pointed priorities had to do with the infrastructure or building-related technological solutions, whereas the cultural side of urban sustainability was practically lacking altogether. In comparison, the New Urban Agenda, released by United Nations in October 2016, specifically envisages cities that (among other things) “are participatory, promote civic engagement, engender a sense of belonging and ownership among all their inhabitants, [and] enhance social and intergenerational interactions, cultural expressions and political participation [...] in peaceful and pluralistic societies”. Though it is clear that the context and the “target group” of the UN’s agenda are rather different compared to those of Finnish national programmes, one is still tempted to ask whether some of the issues named in the agenda are at times taken for “too granted” in western welfare states like Finland. For example, related to the smart cities theme, it might be appropriate to critically evaluate how the ever increasing technicality and smartness of urban environments affects the “sense of belonging and ownership” among all urbanites – not merely among the technologically-oriented pioneers. The critical question hence concerns the urban experience and its quality: how is it possible to embed novel technologies in everyday urban life, so that its most basic structure would remain undisrupted – that is, so that the inherent experiential familiarity and certain smoothness based on socio-culturally conditioned habitual conventions would not suffer unnecessarily. After all, it is the “smartness experienced” that defines our relationship to the urban environment, and our engagement to enhancing its sustainability also in the future.
Vesa Vihanninjoki
added a research item
Kokoteksti saatavilla osoitteessa http://www.yss.fi/journal/arkiymparistojen-estetiikka-haaste-osallistavalle-kaupunkisuunnittelulle/
Sanna Lehtinen
added 10 project references
Sanna Lehtinen
added an update
UrAMo (Urban Aesthetics in Motion) -projektin ja Lahden kaupungin yhteinen Maptionnaire-kysely arjen reiteistä ja paikoista on avattu. Tavoitteena on tutkia miten esteettiset preferenssit vaikuttavat reittivalintoihin ja miten kaupunkia voidaan tämän tiedon perusteella suunnitella paremmin toimivaksi. #kaupunkiestetiikka #lahdensuunta
 
Vesa Vihanninjoki
added 2 research items
The history of Western philosophy is marked by the controversial relationship between conceptual though and sensory perception – between how things supposedly are, and how things appear to be. Philosophical aesthetics, in turn, has been in the epicenter of this crisis, striving to find the fundamental principles underlying the connection between the quality and truthfulness of experience. On the basis of such foundationalist accounts, also normative assertions regarding particular experience follow: one has to pay attention to the right aspects of reality and take the right background information into account, if one is to achieve appropriate and justified “aesthetic experience”. Concerning various environments, and especially the urban realm, such line of thought has led to a hegemony of expertise-based evaluation of aesthetic quality. Thinking of the politics of urbanism, this has meant an implicit yet compelling demand for a consensus about the environmental aesthetic issues – a consensus that is “informed” by the expertise, and thus reflects the worldview of the aesthetic elite. From a contemporary perspective such conception is, in short, absurd. Cities are cultural melting pots, and every urbanite has a right to aesthetically satisfactory habitat. Thus urban aesthetics should be primarily aesthetics of diversity – not aesthetics of consensual uniformity.
Vesa Vihanninjoki
added a research item
Urban places are of central significance regarding both cities as built structures and the everyday city life. Places give structure to the material and the social dimension of cities, and they also function as nodes that interconnect the social and the material to each other in the urban context. Due to such features associated with urban places, there is a certain demand or promise of stability inherent in present-day place-talk: relatively stable (and thus governable) places enable the (controlled) dynamism of urban lifeworld. Hence it seems that there is a rather strong political or ideological aspect related to urban places: the “proper order” of things in urban environments is in part mediated by places, which are often seen as the key to understanding and manipulating the urban experience altogether. The experience of certain “properness” associated with “genuine” or “authentic” places is central here. Also, if aesthetics is understood in a Rancièrean way – as being foundational to any experience, having to with “a certain distribution of the sensible” – urban places appear by and large aesthetic phenomena; this might give rise to new and critical perspectives to meaningful urban places and their deliberate creation by the means of urban design and place-making.
Sanna Lehtinen
added an update
Project members Arto Haapala, Sanna Lehtinen, Raine Vasquez, and Vesa Vihanninjoki will have a panel discussion with the topic "Considerations in Urban Aesthetics" in POTC2017 Philosophy of the City Conference, 11-13 October in Porto, Portugal.
Registartion open now: http://www.philosophyofthecity.org
 
Vesa Vihanninjoki
added a research item
Nykyään paikat ja paikkoihin liittyvät identiteettikysymykset ovat hyvin keskeisiä niin kaupunkipoliittisten strategioiden kuin operatiivisen aluesuunnittelun tasolla. Kaupunkien välisen kilpailuasetelman johdosta kaupungit pyrkivät erottumaan toisistaan sekä osoittamaan elinvoimaisuuttaan osaltaan juuri omaleimaisten ja houkuttelevien paikkojen avulla. Kaupunkisuunnittelussa tällainen strateginen ajattelutapa ja siihen liittyvät keskeiset iskusanat operationalisoidaan, ja pitkällisen suunnittelu- ja toteutusprosessin myötä ne aikanaan konkretisoituvat koettavaksi ja elettäväksi kaupunkiympäristöksi. Ei kuitenkaan ole selvää, millaisiin käsityksiin paikasta erilaiset strategisen ja operatiivisen tason tavoitteenasettelut perustuvat ja puhutaanko paikasta ilmiönä ylipäänsä merkitykseltään yhteneväisin käsittein. Yhtäältä paikka on vahvasti kokemuksellinen ilmiö – paikasta puhuminen viittaa periaatteessa juuri laadulliseen paikkakokemukseen; toisaalta paikoilla on oma merkityksensä strategisina imagotekijöinä – niillä on myös todennettavissa ja mitattavissa olevaa kaupunkitaloudellista relevanssia. Keskeisimpiin nykypäivän paikkadiskurssia jäsentäviin käsitteisiin, kuten esimerkiksi ”autenttisuus”, ”identiteetti” ja ”paikan henki”, sisältyykin huomattavaa monitulkintaisuutta ja runsaasti potentiaalisia ristiriitaisuuksia. Vaikka käsitteillä on ymmärrettävästi erilaisia merkityksiä asiayhteydestä riippuen, edellä mainittujen paikka-käsitteiden merkityksen epämääräisyys voi jo haitata niiden tavoitteellista ja tarkoituksenmukaista käyttöä kaupunkikehittämisen ja kaupunkisuunnittelun kontekstissa. Esimerkiksi vasta suunnitteluasteella olevan kaupunkialueen selkeää ja omaleimaista identiteettiä käytetään usein markkinointiterminä; tällöin keskeisinä identiteettitekijöinä pidetään ensisijaisesti sellaisia ympäristön ominaisuuksia, joita voidaan tietoisen suunnittelun keinoin tuottaa. Tätä näkemystä vastaan voidaan kuitenkin argumentoida, että alueen tai paikan identiteetti muotoutuu vasta ajan kuluessa ja toiminnallisen ulottuvuuden jäsentymisen myötä, jolloin identiteetti ei lähtökohtaisesti ole suunniteltavissa tai ennalta hallittavissa oleva ilmiö. Tässä esitelmässä pureudun edellä kuvaillun paikkatematiikan ongelmiin vertailemalla filosofisesta ympäristöestetiikasta ammentavaa teoreettista paikkadiskurssia sekä käytännön esimerkkejä siitä, miten paikka- ja identiteettikysymykset nykypäivän kaupunkistrategioiden ja aluesuunnitelmien tasolla tosiasiassa ilmenevät.
Sanna Lehtinen
added an update
Many scholars from our research group will be participating and giving presentations at Urban Research Days (Kaupunkitutkimuksen päivät) this week on Thu 27th and Fri 28th April. More info (in Finnish) http://www.kaupunkitutkimuksenpaivat.net and http://www.facebook.com/events/263122217467638/
 
Sanna Lehtinen
added an update
Our project welcomes you to discuss themes relating to aesthetics and urban planning in our next conference:
“Considerations in Urban Aesthetics: Planning, Mobilities, and Everyday Life.” 
The XIIth IIAA International Summer Conference on Environmental Aesthetics in Collaboration with the Department of Built Environment, Aalto University
Lahti, Finland 31.5.–1.6.2017 and Helsinki, Finland 2.6.2017
The International Institute of Applied Aesthetics’ (IIAA) XIIth IIAA Summer Conference on Environmental Aesthetics, will be organized in both Lahti and Espoo, Finland. The conference will begin in Lahti on 31.5.–1.6.2017, and conclude at Aalto University in Helsinki, on 2.6.2017. The theme of the conference is “Considerations in Urban Aesthetics: Planning, Mobilities, and Everyday Life.“
Aesthetic considerations constitute one of the important aspects of urban experience, with aesthetics likewise playing a major role within urban planning. Our routes of commuting, for example, span across different units of the environment and include a variety of aesthetic experiences: an apartment, a building, the neighborhood block, the city district, the whole city. These different zones affect habituation processes and function as a setting with which we engage and disengage within the fluctuating spatio-temporal rhythms of the everyday. It is paradoxical, therefore, that even though the relevance of aesthetic considerations both in planning processes and in the experience of built environments is undeniable, the nature of the aesthetic and aesthetic experience is only seldom, if ever, analyzed explicitly in regards to Urban Planning.
Keynote Speakers:
Michael Gunder (University of Auckland)
Tim Schwanen (University of Oxford) @timschwanen
Conference fee: 100€ and 50€ graduate students
Contact person: Raine Vasquez, raine.vasquez@gmail.com
 
Sanna Lehtinen
added an update
 
Sanna Lehtinen
added a project goal
UrAMo aims to produce a transformative understanding on the important relationship between aesthetics and mobility by bringing together philosophers, planning theorists, spatial planners, architects, and environmental psychologists working within the field of urban planning. This is a joint research project of University of Helsinki and Aalto University, done in collaboration with the city of Lahti.