Ideas, forms and urban spaces

National Plan for the Promotion Scientific and Technical Research (Ref. FFI2016-78014-P)

This project proposes a philosophical approach to the idea of the city and the normative meanings attached to it. Urban forms can be viewed as an expression of the norms of the community in which they were built, of the identity of its citizens, and of the way in which power is exercised within it. Under this premise, the project tackles the triple dimension of the city as a human association, a physical and symbolic space, and a political order. The goal is to reveal how the city has been related to the notion of the good life, its role as a symbolic space, and the accommodation of the principles of justice in urban contexts.

The city and the good life


Classical philosophy was not only born in the city but the city itself was imagined as the optimal realm to fulfill the aims of philosophy and to fully develop the potentiality of human nature. Accordingly, both the Greek Polis and the Roman Civitas were understood as a political and a legal bond, not as a mere human or architectural conglomerate. The Ciceronian ideal that conceived of the city as a community of law for the common good has been present throughout the history of western political thinking. The virtue most intimately linked to the urban way of life, civility, thus cannot be a private virtue. If the inhabitants of the city are to learn the social competences of civility, the urban space must be shared by its inhabitants as public subjects.

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Urban spaces as symbolic realms


Cities, as permanently incomplete processes, are tangible archives of collective memory. To a certain extent, urban forms can be read much like a text: as an expression of the interests and ideals of the communities that built them, as an echo of the identity of their citizens, and as a materialization of the way in which power was exercised in them. In order to read a city we need to know its history, its social and economic organisation, its urban design and architectural patrimony, together with the narratives that tell us how the city became what it is today and how its peers saw it in the past. The city thus appears as a normatively mediated space, as an embodiment of the ideas, values and interests that have contributed in shaping its image throughout history.

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The urban contexts of justice


Contemporary urban studies have reconnected social ethics with the aesthetics of the built environment. A basic assumption of such relation is that the fairness of social relations is reflected in the territorial organization of the city. The interaction between urban space and political dynamics –that is, the aggregate of decisions concerning the creation, use, and distribution of urban goods- constitutes the spatial or topological dimension of justice and allows us to consider the morphopolitics of the city. Viewing the city from a normative and aesthetical perspective not only means to take into consideration how political ideas and cultural imaginaries have contributed to shaping the city but, inversely, to understand how the urban space poses substantial challenges to its own theorization.

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