Session details


Nicolas Kenny (Simon Fraser University)


This panel will address social struggles associated with key aspects of urban planning through the twentieth century in a range of European contexts. Using the specific examples of rent controls in Greek cities, poverty and social services in post-socialist Croatia, and urban-ecological planning in Brussels, the panel will interrogate the tensions between state initiatives and civil society in shaping modern urban environments. How do top-down government plans contribute to inequality in the city and how do communities respond and affect change? We look forward to a broader discussion on struggles against inequality in the face of critical urban issues including housing, poverty, urban renewal, and gentrification, among others.


Poverty and Development of Social Services on Croatian Periphery: Example of the City of Beli Manastir


Mateo Žanić (Institut of Social Sciences Ivo Pilar), Geran Marko Miletić (Institut of Social Sciences Ivo Pilar) and Ivana Bendra (Institut of Social Sciences Ivo Pilar)


Poverty, Social Services, Post-socialism


Poverty is a significant research topic in post-socialist Croatia, and it is associated with different factors, such as economic transition, consequences of war, and challenges of quality institution building. An important question is also posed: Does the availability of social services intended to help disadvantaged people and groups depend on the location? 

The paper will deal with that issue on the example of Beli Manastir. The first part of the paper analyses social and economic changes in this city from the end of the socialist era to the present, based on available data. Even though Beli Manastir is a small city in terms of population, it is the most significant urban center in Croatia’s part of Baranja. However, numerous factors contributed to the lack of noticeable development in the post-socialist era, which resulted in a large number of people being socially disadvantaged, as well as a high unemployment rate accompanied by significant emigration in the last ten years. 

The second part of the paper presents the results of a survey conducted in 2021 about the perception of the causes and the extent of poverty, as well as the availability of social services in the city. The presented data are an important contribution to the interpretation of attitudes of the people living in the periphery and their opinions of ways to reduce poverty. That way, we will try to gain a better perspective of the historic and spatial specificities of Beli Manastir, which will help us understand the manifestation of poverty in one urban area.

Constructing "a Spectacular, Green and Social Valley"? Ecological Urbanism, Civil Protest, and Landscape Architecture in the Brussels Maelbeek Valley


Koenraad Danneels (KU Leuven)


Urban Movements, Landscape Design, Brussels


In recent years, ecological forms of urbanism have been criticized for their apparent lack of attention to social questions. While policy makers and academics alike welcome the attention to sustainability and ecosystem protection in urban design, critical urban theory, and research in urban political ecology increasingly demonstrated how the attention for ‘nature’ often covers up an urban agenda that supports gentrification processes. However, this critique remains focused on the discursive level of the urban project, highlighting the ‘scientific’ goals that ignore the larger social consequences of urban design. What is lacking, is an understanding of the ways in which these ecological urban designs have been implemented in the past, and how social struggle adjusted the technocratic landscape designs in their material form. 

The urban history of Brussels is packed with examples of such socio-ecological struggles. In this paper, I will explore the complex history of the Maelbeek valley, a valley cutting through the ‘poor’, ‘disorganised’ and ‘dirty’ 19th century Brussels belt. The Maelbeek valley was redesigned by landscape architects and urban designers during the 1960s to infuse road infrastructure, water collectors, vegetation, and social housing, disregarding the existing social population and urban fabric, which started both the process of Brusselization but also triggered the rise of a vibrant counterculture in the city. During the 1970s, a newly created Brussels regional government funnelled these discussions by organizing so-called ‘round tables’, creating a new consensus around urban renewal projects in Brussels. 

This paper specifically delves into the conversation between social activists, design experts, local politicians, and ecological scientists during these round table sessions. It questions the ways in which ecological and design expertise, personified by the work of landscape architect René Pechère, collided with the ideas of local citizens, gathered in the Groupement des Comités d’habitants de la vallée du Maelbeek, and shows the strategies used to arrive at a socio-ecological project for the valley. Through the attentive reading of archival resources, this paper wants to create an understanding of the socio-ecological consensus in the Maelbeek valley, both criticizing and nuancing ecological development and its impact on social (in)equality in today’s urban society.