PUTSPACE integrates public transport with conceptualisations of public space through four work packages with each drawing attention to a different dimension of publicness:
- How historical and contemporary narratives of public transport planning and closures are intertwined (Work Package 1)?
- How public transport is experienced as public space related to questions of access to public transport and its planning as free infrastructure (Work Package 2 and PhD Project 2 by Sträuli)?
- What kind of discourses of contestation emerge and are constructed vis-à-vis public transport as public space (Work Package 3)?
- How public transport as public space is narrated, experienced and contested as affectual and atmospheric space, European space and (post)pandemic space (Work Package 4 and PhD Projects 1 and 2 by Ianchenko and Sträuli)
Narrating / Experiencing: In what ways does the history of public transit influence the ways it is narrated and experienced today?
Insights from the histories of PT in differing European environments illuminate the contemporary role of PT as public space and as a potential aiding or hindering factor in social integration. Price-related inequalities, and PT experiences as archived in texts, visual images and material cultures are investigated, evidencing past social encounters and so aiding understanding of European presents. WP1 will produce, in the terms of Westphal (2011), a “stratigraphy” of PT as public space, excavating its experience layers and meanings over time. The two cities in focus in WP1 are distinct in terms of population size, relative magnitude and European region:
- London was the largest city in the world throughout the nineteenth century and its metro system is the world’s oldest, dating back to 1865. Its bus, tram, trolleybus and more recent light-rail PT networks have their own complex histories. An immense wealth of cultural materials have accreted describing PT experiences in London, among those the 420,000 items held by the London Transport Museum (an AP in this CRP), and a multitude of textual and visual material.
- Replaced by Helsinki as the capital of Finland in 1812, Turku is a secondary national city with, compared to London, a simple transport infrastructure history, consisting of a tram network closed in 1972 and a bus network. Nowadays, Turku is a highly multicultural city by Finnish standards, with many students and young workers, in which many migrants to Finland since the 1990s have chosen to settle. Today, the buses of Turku are a key site for encounters between people with different backgrounds and socioeconomic levels.
While European history has often focused on violence, the history of PT is often about nonviolent encounters and nonaggressive agency. As a public space, PT can be a place of confrontation, but it can also serve as a scene for small acts of generosity and kindness. These small, nonviolent histories have often been invisible (Reading & Katriel 2015). In WP1, attention is paid to these alongside the more divisive and mundane aspects of PT experience, but also to enthusiast cultures concerned with past PT networks, including some now lost, and the transmission of these via varied media channels. Examination of the latter includes orthodox historical and literary materials, as well as analysis of social media groups in which PT experiences in the past are often central in residents’ and ex-residents’ mediations of their urban lives.
Experiencing / Contesting: How do different elements of the PT assemblage influence the nature of its publicness?
This sub-project analyses the interaction between elements of public transport assemblage and the function of the public transport as public space in a relation to social integration using practices of fare-free public transport as an entry point. Fare is a principal factor that affects access to public transport, and fare control is a way to police internal spaces of public transport including marginalisation of migrants in European cities. The attention to publicness means attending to how the different characters of public transport affects its publicness and do so in relation not only to the physical and material aspects of public transport but also practices and habits of public transport users.
Contesting / Narrating: What Is the Purpose of Narrating Public Transit as a Space of Urban Conviviality? And How Are Those Narrations Diversely Contested by Marginalised Voices Challenging Political Programmes of Modernisation?
This sub-project looks at narratives and contestations of public transport from the perspective of modernisations, publicness, and diversity. It questions public space as a Eurocentric concept conveying idealised pictures of free access, open, democratic, and inclusive encounter and communality. Instead, it develops a processual understanding of publicness in public transport allowing for both a critical analysis of structural inequalities inscribed in the provision of transport infrastructure as well as of situational cross-class encounters and daily practices of conviviality.
Considering the co-presence of multiple publics in public transport leading to a diversity of perceptions and interindividual demands, the work package is interested to explore how public transport policies are framed in the name of certain interests while denying the existence of others. The question how modernisation, publicness and diversity are framed, advanced or condemned in public transport policy discourses is guiding our agenda:
Empirically, the project attends to political narratives, that is the stories and accounts of public transport as communicated in official state and municipal documents and as narrated by city officials, planners or development agencies. At the same time, it looks at civil society organisations that mobilise around public transport-related questions and advance their demands related to access, affordability and norms of behaviour in PT. Case studies are set in Eastern European cities like Kharkiv (Ukraine), Volgograd (Russia) and (Eastern) Germany which are currently facing major transformations in their public transport networks.
Theoretically, the subproject develops two major arguments meant to talk back to the PUTSPACE enterprise.
Firstly, it scrutinises the de-politicised narrative of public transport modernisation as a technological fix for urban renewal, which continues to legitimise the re-organisation of public space in simplified capitalist market patterns reproducing embedded inequalities in the name of responding to challenges linked with the adaption to climate change. Instead, it re-locates the publicness of public transport in the struggle over who gets to determine the ordering of urban space, and in the name of which normative understanding of modernity and shows how public transport policies have a long history of contesting what has been or should be public in the city.
Secondly, the sub-project wishes to contribute to existing critiques of a euphemistically ‘inclusive’ and ‘convivial’ notion of public space. Reviewing narrations and contestations of public transport as public space might be helpful to acknowledge the ambivalence of a mutual and complex intimacy and communality without losing an imminent critical stance on socio-spatially mediated inequalities at public transport.
Constellations of narrating, experiencing and contesting public space
Work Package 4 is a cross-cutting package seeing constellations of narrating, experiencing and contesting public space. It thus entails a meta-analysis of insights into histories, political contestations and user practices of public transport as public space as analysed in other WPs (see Working Paper 1). In this work package, we seek to understand to what extent can European integration be conceptualised through public transport. This means attention to the appeal of different transport modes such as the much higher regard for rail-based services whether as regional trains or trams, than those of trolley buses and buses in general. We are interested in the combination of elements in transport devices, such as how internal layout influences publicness and how new developments in public forms of transport—such as self-driving vehicles or sharing platforms—influence the public sphere. Additionally, we endeavour into artistic practices dealing with public transport to understand the potential of generating public space through visual and performative artistic means (see PhD Project 1 by Ianchenko). We contend that research should be developed in interaction with artistic practices providing not just methods to study cities but also ways of thinking and conceptualising research in social sciences and humanities more generally. Finally, the work package raises the question of the ‘urban’ dimension of public transport: how to draw borders between urban and non-urban public transport in times of planetary urbanisation? WP4 integrates the work of two co-supervised doctoral students who are responsible for strengthening the project’s conceptual intersection, by designing and implementing a theoretically-informed and empirically-grounded comparative research project.
With the onset of the corona pandemic, WP4 also integrated a study on how the uses and experiences of European public transport as public space have changed (as well as not changed). Based on a survey and a range of interviews, we have produced a report (see also a published paper on the topic) and are in the process of analysing and synthesing these insights: we see inequalities related to public transport use and possibilities of withdrawal as well as conflictual senses of public space (characterised both by eerie and calm atmospheres).
Public Art Projects on Tram Lines
The research aims to investigate public art projects and artistic interventions on public transport premises and vehicles in general and on tram lines in particular. The research objectives are to understand how artists approach public transportation through their art practice and how public art projects affect peoples’ behavior in a transit environment. The notion of public art embraces permanent installations and sculptures located in public spaces as well as temporal actions in forms of performances, dance, and theater etc. Public art as ‘site-specific art is commissioned and designed for a particular space, taking into account the physical and visual qualities of the site’ (Lacy, 1995) with the aim to commemorate significant events or persons, to attract peoples’ attention, create the sense of identity at certain space. Being implemented on public transportation, a public artwork can increase passengers’ feeling of safety and comfort, provoke social interaction and break boredom of everyday commuting. Such characteristics as durability, sustainability and high capacity set trams apart from other modes of public transportations. Tram systems contribute to the ambience of the city and can ‘redesign urban streets to the humans scale’ (Topp, 2005) giving space to pedestrians and bicycles. Inspired by trams, artists create sculpture or installations along tram lines (Silvie Defraoui), change interior design of a vehicle (Pipilotti Rist) and set performances on board engaging passengers to participate (Kateřina Šedá, Mick Douglas).
Governance, Practices and Experiences of Public Transport as Public Space in Brussels and Tallinn
This ongoing PhD Project addresses the overarching question of what makes public transport a public space. More particularly, it aims to identify tensions between planned and lived public space on public transport. The aim of the research is to bring conceptions of public space in to dialogue with issues of social justice and existing transport and mobility scholarship. Through qualitative case studies in Brussels and Tallinn, different forms of regulations of public transport as public space are juxtaposed with everyday practices and experiences. The research centralises issues of ticket pricing and often neglected experiences of everyday mobility in urban space.
The focus on fares creates the opportunity to discuss questions of financing as well as pricing systems, issues of accessibility from a financial as well as infrastructural perspective, and the social impacts of these. Moreover, fares are a substantial part of the user experience and determine not only travel behaviour, but also applied practices and the encounter of passengers with the spatial infrastructure, as well as with other passengers and control mechanisms. The research examines different fare systems, including a zonal system with integrated welfare fares in Brussels and a Fare-Free public transport (FFPT) in Tallinn, and asks what tensions fares reveal about the regulation and use of public transport as a public space. Based on document analysis, qualitative interviews and observational studies, the author finds that the design of the network and pricing system in Brussels limits the publicness of transport spaces, idealising passengers as worker-commuters, and that the resulting inequalities are contested by practices of fare evasion. These practices – often criminalized and portrayed as rational-opportunistic – are characterized by a variety of motives and implications. Embedded in digital communication platforms, fare evasion practices allow users to re-appropriate transport spaces, shape and distribute knowledge, and create new communities and narratives.
The fieldwork in Tallinn examines the social impact of fare abolition. Inspired by emerging scholarship on gender and transport, the research examines how persons with care responsibilities experience and use public transport in a FFPT context and asks what elements (reinforced by care responsibility) hinder and enable the use and access to public spaces such as public transport. Both studies converge in contrasting questions of the design of public transport as public space with everyday sensory experiences, embodied practices and related mobility constraints.
Louise is currently writing up the findings of the fieldwork in Brussels for publication and conducting research in Tallinn. For the magazine Grandir à Bruxelle, she has reflected on the role of ticket prices in the everyday mobility of families and children.
Updated 1 December 2021