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Markus Miessen

Publics (and their assemblies) – Moderating inclusive change in a cross-border geography

A heterogeneous social reality demands corresponding spaces of social interaction. Urban regeneration is deeply rooted in the social sphere. No architect, planner or city authority can ever generate an urban equilibrium through purely physical change. Especially in geographies of structural change, spatial regeneration should be a process of carefully considered attempts to collaboratively rethink the social, economic, and cultural variables of an area. Regeneration is about how we are encouraged to interact with one another. Therefore, sustainable regeneration necessitates communication on equal terms, including diverse stakeholders.

In order to rewire the planning system towards resilient and inclusive infrastructure, planners should serve the public, considering their local and regional constituencies. In times of digital transformation and COVID-19, this seems to hold true more than ever. How will the role of the planner have to change in order to be able to address contemporary challenges concerning civil society and urban management?

Miessen’s central competence will be to curate, moderate, and collaborate. His research and consulting will propose participation as a practice without mandate that initiates dissensual practices of pro-active involvement. Beyond models of participation as a form of inclusive practice, the new chair will promote the role of the “uninvested outsider”. Here, participation is understood as the process of formulating precise entry points into existing local and regional discourses from the point of view of critical planning, assuming responsibility beyond hierarchical practices of design.

In the context of the city of Esch, Miessen’s role will be that of a mediator, who can think and act across scales – between the city, its population, the university, and a variety of internal and external stakeholders and actors. This interface will become the playing ground for all research activities: communicating across disciplines and fields of knowledge, from the social sciences to political analysis, from spatial design to its local economic consequences. At the scale of the university, Miessen will offer research- and design-expertise across the board. Beyond the teaching of theory and design seminars, as well as the supervision of PhD candidates, the new chair’s ambition will be to open up the studio towards the city, specific neighbourhoods, and urban conflicts.

A more inclusive approach of planning will create a richer culture of acceptance and participation amongst differentiated and partially marginalized publics. Working hand-in-hand with ongoing initiatives will support working towards a more socially and politically sustainable future and will help enhance quality of life in the cross-border region. Like most geographies, which are undergoing post-industrial structural change, southern Luxembourg is facing a situation in which the communication between different actors in a decentralized development pattern is crucial. This situation requires a curated process of spatial rethinking and production, in which academic research and carefully managed formats such as public charettes fertilize local and regional politics.

As part of Esch’s upcoming formats of the “Internationale Bauaustellung” (IBA, 2022-32) and the European Capital of Culture (2022), the studio could actively support and engage with already existing curatorial frameworks. This uncommon situation presents new opportunities to bridge between different actors and stakeholders.

The new chair will attempt to facilitate a situation, which is not purely the result of formal planning parameters – to the point that it leaves no more space for informal activities – but instead will aim for a model that recognizes Luxembourg’s scarcity of land while advocating zones of deliberate uncertainty. By reassessing architectural, social and political roles, Miessen will develop a series of critical foci for Esch. Those focal points will be developed around variables of direct involvement that effect and affect its contemporary and future reality. The new chair will produce immersive research, based on real evidence, oral history, working in actual situations – in short: alongside actual people and their local histories.

Spatial planning is always connected to the management of conflicts. Through critical formsof collaboration, the studio will position itself at the interface of civil society, politics, and design. Bridging the gap between planning procedures and local constituencies, while integrating stakeholders from all sides, the studio will create a local incubator, which will migrate academic life and research culture to the heart of the city. Miessen’s ambition in this situation will be to promote, carry out and support embedded research, developing prospective and strategic frameworks for best-practice-planning that interrogate models of purely economic growth towards a more inclusive culture of civil society, quality of life, and sustainable futures.

In the transformation from heavy to service industry, it is important to deliberately maintain spacesof common memory and assembly, including the maintenance of seemingly residual sites, which may be associated with marginalized groups. Miessen’s research suggests that a “from scratch” situation, in planning terms, is a myth. There is always and already a narrative in place. We just need to allow for it. And it is our responsibility as researchers and planners to decolonize this myth.

In tandem with Miessen’s personal experience, international network, and collaborative spirit, he will support and consolidate the already existing Master Programme by Prof. Dr. Florian Hertweck towards an open platform of collaboration.

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