We looked at two specific cities: Brașov in Romania and Lyon in France. Both are large European cities in the context of their countries, which reflect the changes that are taking place in other urban spaces nationally and internationally.

Our goal was not exactly to make a comparison between the two cities, which present very different contexts and phenomena. Rather, the aim was to identify similar mechanisms for constructing urban spaces, and common problems faced by the inhabitants of the two cities and their responses to them.

The research process was mainly anthropological and sociological – a qualitative approach, based on field immersion and extended observation, attention to detail and an “inside” look through the eyes and bodies of users of these spaces, reporting their feelings, words and thoughts.

The Civic Centre, Brașov

Brașov’s “Civic Centre”, an area still known today by the name Hidromecanica, after a former factory (formerly Strungu, and originally Schiell), is a large urban hub linking the historic part and other parts of the city.

A major urban redevelopment project was undertaken here in the late 1980s, involving large-scale demolitions to create, among other things, a large public square for use as a parade ground on the dictator’s visits and as the site of the city’s central institutional buildings (political, administrative, cultural). Remained unfinished in 1989, the project left behind a large number of vacant spaces.

How have these spaces been revitalised and reclaimed? From the new uses and re-appropriations of the space, how can we draw new ways of making and developing, practising and understanding the city in the everyday life, together with new private or shared concerns defined by those uses?

This area is very much a hybrid urban landscape today. Banks, a church, car parks, residential apartment blocks, a six-lane road crossed by underpasses, a park, a shopping centre under construction, etc.: all is contained within its limits, leaving the passer-by from outside rather perplexed.

How do people experience the changes taking place in this district? How can we (re)forge a sense of familiarity and a feeling of being “at home” in these places?

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The district of Duchère, Lyon

Since 2003, an urban renewal programme has been underway in the Duchère district of Lyon, involving the demolition of many residential buildings and the construction of new buildings. The programme came in response to a desire to tackle the district’s image problems and stigmatisation, related in part to its reputation as an “urban ghetto”, a centre of migrants, deprivation and crime.

Among other things, the programme aims to restore the district’s heterogeneity, to create a “social mix”, through mixed housing and a mixed population profile. To that end, the strategy is to reduce the high percentage of social housing from 80% to 55%, replacing it with rented and jointly owned accommodation.

This programme of redevelopment has brought new forms of cohabitation, as well as having a major impact on residents’ points of reference and relationships with their neighbourhood.

We will focus in particular on renewed practices in the use of space in the Duchère district, and on the processes of attachment and (un)familiarity which express this relationship with urban change.

Under construction