What is typical for the city, how are people attached to their city,? Do cities have an identity, and what is an identity? Are identities historical, or is newness quickly absorbed in an urban identity? These questions are not easy answerable. In various studies we aim to contrbute to this theme.
Urban identity, Rotterdam
How citizens think and feel about a city differs, because each citizen has a different subjective attachment to the city. Perceptions of a city’s identity are equally varied. In the Netherlands, Rotterdam’s identity has been a collective story of a working class and entrepreneurial port city that was reconstructed after it was severely damaged during the second World War (WWII). Rotterdam has been known as a harbour city, with an open, no-nonsense, ‘roll up the sleeves’ working culture. However, urban identity as it is pictured in this fashion, is becoming a partial and superficial impression.
Rotterdam's identity is changing. The physical reconstruction period is finished, the port facilities have moved to the shore and a much more diverse population and culture, are factors influencing Rotterdam’s identity. And values, such as the feminization of society, starts to play a role. The conclusion is that Rotterdam’s identity becomes more hybrid. Photo right: Mayor of Rotterdam and chairman of the Intl. Advisory Board presenting an report on culture in the city, 2017 (photo Municipality Rotterdam).
Ambiguous Memorial Landscapes in Post-socialist Cities: The Case of Tirana’s Pyramid
This is a descriptive study done with Eranda Janku in 2019, that narrates the history of the so-called “Pyramid” since 1991 and explores why it was never either restored or demolished. The Pyramid is a memorial landscape in Tirana, constructed to commemorate former socialist leader Enver Hoxha. The Pyramid became a landmark building in Tirana and has been recurrently discussed. The photo on the right is from a 1990 State Tourist Guide.
The Pyramid has survived all discussions, decisions, and various plans for new destination of the stucture. It got into serious decay. Generating clear answers regarding the continued existence of the Pyramid proved to be difficult, as the Pyramid has been subject to overlapping discourses around architecture and urban design, politics, history, memory, and identity. The first main conclusion of the study is that the Pyramid is hardly recognized by citizens and professionals as a memorial landscape. A second is that various governments have developed ideas, discussed, and quarrelled, but political parties could not reach an actionable conclusion – refunctioning of the Pyramid has apparently been too complex.
A survey was carried out to understand what the general population thinks about the Pyramid. Most respondents indicated that their attachment to the Pyramid is not strong and they are in favour of redevelopment. The paper concludes with recommendations for adding elements of a memorial landscape to the next planned redevelopment of the Pyramid that started finally in 2021 and should be completed in 2022.
Metaphor and urban studies‑a crossover, theory and a case study of SS Rotterdam
Metaphors are used in various ways; at the surface for framing a message and below the surface metaphors are related to the ways we think and act. This study focused on the relationship between metaphors and urban studies. It was observed that, so to speak, every new urban phenomenon observed (divided cities, smart cities, etc.) gets a new metaphor around which theoretical notions are developed.
This paper explores what urban studies can learn from organization theory. In particular, the question whether the set of metaphors from one of the classics in organizational theory—namely Gareth Morgan’s Images of Organization—can inform urban studies, can be used to grasp, to ‘read’ cities. The case study is the SS Rotterdam, a former luxury cruise ship that that came back to Rotterdam to serve as a catalyst for urban development, became a complex 'headache project'. It ws turned into a hotel eventually. Different metaphors of Morgan’s set are applied to develop a better understanding of the management, decision making, culture and political system.
Place attachment, Tirana
Three three colleagues from Polis University (Sotir Dhamo, Dorina Papa, and Merita Toska) and I did a study on place attachment in Tirana. Place attachment and meaning are the person-to-place bonds, encompassing people’s knowledge, understanding, beliefs and cognitions of various aspects on the environment. Over 300 citizens living in seven different neighborhoods of Tirana were interviewed on place attachment issues such as sense of belonging, familiarity, self-identification and neighborhood experience.
The results of the empirical study show that place attachment in Tirana is quite positive. The findings and analysis indicate that place attachment indicators do not vary significantly according to educational level, gender and age, but do correlate with length of residence in Tirana. It also appeared that place attachment indicators are higher in well-established neighbourhoods compared to the new high-rise areas. The study concludes with recommendations for follow-up research, specifically qualitative research on citizens’ meaning of place attachment and study on place attachment related to responsible behaviour.
In a follow-up study in 2021, Besnik Aliaj, Sotir Dhamo and I study urban memory in Tirana. The leadeing question is what happens with everyday memory in a context of rapid urban modernization, in a regime deliberately wiping out history.