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    Subjective realities in divided Nicosia

    By Camila Cocina Varas, on 13 December 2017

    As part of the DPU summerLab workshop series, the workshop “Inhabiting Edges” took place in Nicosia, Cyprus, during September 2017. The workshop was led by Camila Cociña and Ricardo Martén (DPU) and Silvia Covarino (Girne American University), and aimed to explore and critically understand the history and politics of Cyprus’ borders, navigating the complexities of the last divided capital city in Europe. In this series of two blogs, Bethania Soriano and Sharon Ayalon -participants of the workshop- reflect on subjective realities, developmental disparities, and regeneration processes in divided Nicosia.

    Part 1 can be viewed here.

    By Bethania Soriano and Sharon Yavo Yalon

    This post draws from our DPU SummerLab experience in Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus, which is considered the last divided city in Europe.

    The SummerLab provided the opportunity to challenge preconceived notions of the oversimplified reality that centres around a dichotomised conflict pitting Greek-Cypriot against Turkish-Cypriot. By engaging with the materiality of the city and its social networks, we attempted to uncover nuances and complexities in a context of deep-seated division, territorial and politico-ideological contestation. We were interested in framing division and its impact from the standpoint of the actors that cross Nicosia’s visible and invisible thresholds in an attempt to meet the ‘other’, forming unlikely allegiances to build a sense of identity that bridges fault lines in their landscape. Thus, we conducted fieldwork, collecting different perceptions on belonging and uncovering particularly situated narratives.

    Exploring both sides of the divided city, we recognised that the agents who productively engage with difference were mostly young artists, not only from the expected majoritarian ethnic groups, but from an international expatriate community that congregate in Cyprus. As a young musician told us:

    “My father is Cypriot; I grew up in Colombia, Chicago and then in Cyprus.

    People from all over the world live here. This is Cyprus – we are cluster-f***ed.” 1

    Thus, we discovered shared spaces of ‘encounter’ such as the two twinned cafes, Hoi Polloi in the north, and Kala Kathoumena in the south, as the gathering places of the artistic community on each side of the buffer zone – areas emblematic of tolerance and sought-after common ground. The informal interviews conducted in these spaces highlighted, in the evocative and charged language used by the interviewees, the importance of capturing voices beyond the well-known register – those whose stories will not feature as officially promoted, sanctioned narratives.

    Location of café’s and interviewees routes showing southerners crossing to the north and vice versa.

    When asked to comment on the prevailing mentalities from people in the north and south, a young British-Filipino singer articulated her thoughts in a candid way, disconcerting in its lyrical tone:

    “… the south is a ‘rock’, whereas the north is like ‘air’.

    In the north people are chaotic, relaxed, middle-eastern… when we play, they dance and smile back at you. In the south people are serious and philosophical, more reserved and conservative… and really scarred by what happened.” 2

    Reflecting on the young woman’s comments, the south is portrayed anchored in the solidity and rigidity of the perceptions and views of its inhabitants; in the reaffirming and reinforcing of memories and official narratives of occupation and suffered injuries.

    “In the cover of all school notebooks, there are these slogans – ‘Do not forget’. The school books are all branded, so we are constantly reminded…” 3

    Whereas in the north, the rarefied and ephemeral re-imaginings of identity and belonging are expressed in the ways people wish to highlight and confront narratives of prejudice:

    “People from the south think in the north you can get raped… they [Turkish-Cypriots] will steal your children.” 4

    Motivated by the need for political survival against the longstanding embargo and isolation from the international community, many Turkish-Cypriots are interested in carving a sense of collective Cypriot identity that includes southerners. Even if that involves selective forgetting of past injuries, some are choosing to ‘draw a breath of fresh air’ in order to survive:

    “…it is important to move from a narrative of  ‘This is who we are’, to a narrative of ‘We do not know who we will become’… ” 5

    However, across Nicosia diverse voices can be heard. Alongside few Greek- and Turkish-Cypriots who dared to venture beyond rigid confines and shed some of the values of their communities, others were conflicted:

    “Now I realise that I only had half a childhood – I only met half the people I could have… only made half the friends… only had half the experiences.” 6

    “I tried to cross with my friend and we walked all the way… but when my friend saw Ataturk [statues] and all the [Turkish] flags he got scared and turned back.” 7

    “Before the [Ledras Street] crossing, people never thought the south was so ‘close’ – there was an initial shock; then the shock of all the similarities!” 8

    Hoi Polloi in the north, and Kala Kathoumena in the south.

    In conclusion, the quotes reproduced above testify to the individuals’ ingenious capacities to articulate, negotiate, ascribe meaning and ultimately either normalise or contest the ‘everyday’. Their struggles for belonging co-exist with the need to develop and affirm an identity, breaking away from any restrictive ‘cluster’ to reclaim their place in the city. Whilst examining Nicosia’s overlapping, subjective realities, we learned that identity is not necessarily bound by place, but it is relational and situated – it can only be conceived in regard to the material reality of place and its sustaining social networks. Identity is also fluid and in constant transformation.

     

    1.  Young Colombian-Cypriot man who grew up in the United States and Cyprus; artist.
    2.  Young British-Filipino woman, in Cyprus for the past 17 years; living in south Nicosia and working as an artist and singer in north Nicosia.
    3.  Young Greek-Cypriot aspiring artist, living in the south and frequenting the artists’ cafés in north Nicosia.
    4.  Turkish-Cypriot male student, commuting from Kyrenia/ Girne into north Nicosia.
    5.  Dean of Architecture, Design & Fine Arts at Girne American University, Assoc. Prof Dr Mehmet Adil,

    addressing participants of the SummerLab.

    6 and 7.  Young Greek-Cypriot man, living in south Nicosia and often visiting the north side.

    1. Mayor of North Nicosia, Mehmet Harmancı, addressing participants of the SummerLab.

     

    Bethania Soriano is an independent researcher based in London, particularly focused on the politics of contested spaces – the ways in which people negotiate the environments they inhabit, adapting, reclaiming and ultimately shaping space by virtue of their everyday practices. She studies areas with long-established ‘geographies of difference’, in contexts of conflict transformation, and where minorities strive for spatial justice and social inclusion.

    Bethania trained as an Architect and Urban Designer in Southern Brazil and holds an MSc in City Design and Social Science with distinction, from the London School of Economics and Political Science.

     

    Sharon Yavo Yalon is a lecturer and PhD candidate at the Technion, Israel Institute of Technology, based in Haifa. Her research enfolds the linkage between art and urbanism and the manner in which local identity, spatial (in)justice and social (ex-in)clusion are forged or  deconstructed by artistic activity in cities. More specifically, she focuses on artistic interventions in contested cities and the ways in which they affect and are affected by urban segregation patterns and boundaries. Sharon is a practicing architect and artist, graduated summa cum laude BA and MSc in Architecture and Town Planning from the Technion IIT.

    Developmental disparities and regeneration processes in divided Nicosia

    By Camila Cocina Varas, on 12 December 2017

    As part of the DPU summerLab workshop series, the workshop “Inhabiting Edges” took place in Nicosia, Cyprus, during September 2017. The workshop was led by Camila Cociña and Ricardo Martén (DPU) and Silvia Covarino (Girne American University), and aimed to explore and critically understand the history and politics of Cyprus’ borders, navigating the complexities of the last divided capital city in Europe. In this series of two blogs, Bethania Soriano and Sharon Ayalon -participants of the workshop- reflect on subjective realities, developmental disparities, and regeneration processes in divided Nicosia.

     

    By Bethania Soriano and Sharon Ayalon

    “Nicosia is a city where you cross not only into a different country but into a different time zone.” 1

    In this second post, we comment on Cyprus’ geostrategic position and its partition, appropriating of the metaphorical language used by the interviewees. Using the “rock and air” allegories, we frame our observations of disparities in development levels on each side of the buffer zone.

    Both sides of Ledras Street crossing

     

    On the one hand, south Cyprus can be understood as a “rock” in its solid, consolidated position on the international stage, benefiting from direct access to the European Union and a reliable network of financial support. There are better-developed physical and institutional infrastructures in the south, from public transport and organised rubbish collection, to the presence of international banks, companies and organisations. Additionally, the south can be contextualised as being strongly affected by the ‘telluric’ forces of capitalism. Patent signs of gentrification can be seen, where hip areas shed their local shops in favour of commercially branded streets, tagged with reproaching graffiti and street art.

    In the south, another consequence of rapid development is the large influx of economic migrants predominantly from Southeast Asia. Thus, new, vibrant migrant communities such as Filipinos, live side-by-side with long-established minorities such as Maronite, Armenians, etc. They occupy mostly run-down, city centre areas where accommodation is cheaper.

    The north on the other hand, can be seen as “air” since its existence as an independent state is not internationally recognised but by neighbouring Turkey. Thus, the future of the “occupied area”, circa 36.2% of the island, is ‘up in the air’, in a limbo. Furthermore, the north is under international embargo, in a vacuum of investment in infrastructure, with the exception of direct financial aid from Turkey and localised cash injections from independent, foreign investors in tourism.

    North Cyprus experiences similar development processes to the south, albeit at a slower pace. Its commercial streets are still lined with local shops, except for Turkish companies. The street markets selling clothing and sportswear counterfeits are a reflection of the same commercial trends gripping the south, where people emulate patterns of ‘western affluence’ to display status. Similarly, the large presence of economic migrants is noticeable, although in the north these are predominantly Turkish, unskilled seasonal labourers, housed in neglected, inner-city areas.

    The differentiating phenomenon registered in the ‘rarefied’ north, extending an economic lifeline and changing the demographic profile of the area, is the proliferation of foreign, Higher Education institutions, which vie to attract international students from the Middle East and African countries. The student, transient presence however, is said to nearly double the city’s population, putting extra pressure on services and ailing infrastructures.

    These two parallel realities are becoming more disparate, with the south developing rapidly and losing its uniqueness faster. The country seems to be at a crucial moment – if it continues growing apart at this rate, the discrepancy in development levels will be hard to match, and true unification, whether a desired political project, may not be a possible outcome for decades.

    Commercial streets on both sides of the border.

     

    “If you ask me, more hipsters – that is what we need” 2

    Returning to the level of the city, another common trend in the revitalisation of rundown areas observed in Nicosia is culture-led urban regeneration. This strategy has gained momentum since the advancement of Richard Florida’s “creative city” theory and the publication of numerous studies highlighting art’s contribution to urban success, social change, people’s sense of belonging and economic growth. Since this model has proven problematic in a variety of contexts, it must also be addressed in the case of Nicosia, where the agents of transformation were mostly young artists engaging with bottom-up urban interventions.

    Artistic interventions on both sides of Nicosia.

     

    During interviews, architects and city planners described the ‘soft seeds’ of artistic intervention, mentioning initiatives such as the street-art festival. They highlighted the intrinsic relationship between art and the city – often, in deteriorating urban spaces artists see themselves as ‘shamans’ fixing problems with collaborative and participatory art. In Nicosia, the notion of the “last divided city in Europe” is a source of inspiration to prolific artists, as evidenced by ubiquitous graffiti, uncommissioned murals and installations. Moreover, these artistic manifestations are potent political statements – the record of personal and collective narratives, otherwise unacknowledged, and a direct reflection of issues dominating social imaginaries. Unfortunately, there is a danger to art being identified as something to be consumed and commodified. Then, bottom-up, hipster-led city activation can be adopted by developers and municipalities and turned into top-down, culture-led urban renewal projects.

    Over the years, criticism of the transformation of art into cultural capital, a tool of symbolic economy or a mean for marketing and branding, has shown that investment in art rarely trickles down or triggers the wheels of economy as expected. In fact, it is more likely for veteran residents to become the main victims of these strategies, which escalate gentrification, prompt social exclusion and displacement. In sum, it is necessary to interrogate the role of art in attracting investment; whose art; how much art; and what kind of development is being promoted.

    In conclusion, this split island country is embedded in a broader context; needing international recognition, substantial and sustained investment from external actors. As such, it has to be understood in the interplay between political zones of influence and corresponding financing streams, where the strength (or fragility) of foreign allegiances can produce great disparities in development levels. We leave Cyprus, wondering how could regeneration processes, often initiated by the creativity of local actors and later propelled by external forces, allow for dissonant voices in contested spaces to be heard but not co-opted for political or economic gains.

     

    1.  Mayor of North Nicosia, Mehmet Harmancı, addressing participants of the SummerLab.
    2. Young female, freelance architect.

     

    Bethania Soriano is an independent researcher based in London, particularly focused on the politics of contested spaces – the ways in which people negotiate the environments they inhabit, adapting, reclaiming and ultimately shaping space by virtue of their everyday practices. She studies areas with long-established ‘geographies of difference’, in contexts of conflict transformation, and where minorities strive for spatial justice and social inclusion.

    Bethania trained as an Architect and Urban Designer in Southern Brazil and holds an MSc in City Design and Social Science with distinction, from the London School of Economics and Political Science.

    Sharon Yavo Yalon is a lecturer and PhD candidate at the Technion, Israel Institute of Technology, based in Haifa. Her research enfolds the linkage between art and urbanism and the manner in which local identity, spatial (in)justice and social (ex-in)clusion are forged or  deconstructed by artistic activity in cities. More specifically, she focuses on artistic interventions in contested cities and the ways in which they affect and are affected by urban segregation patterns and boundaries. Sharon is a practicing architect and artist, graduated summa cum laude BA and MSc in Architecture and Town Planning from the Technion IIT.

    Thresholds of Liminality, Visibility, and Temporality in the Grafting of New Peripheries in Zurich: Reconnaissance from DPU summerLab

    By William N Hunter, on 14 August 2012

    What does it mean to transplant two inherently different demographic entities with different and debatable models of organisation against one another in what would otherwise be considered a current urban periphery? What would it imply, in regards to the expected evolution of a site, if the mechanism for transplanting these two entities was seen as definitively temporary and par the existenzminimum? And furthermore, if this be the situational urban problematic, what provocations can be found in critically interpretive readings and what measures should be taken in the form of alternative tactics that could increase their unspoken potential as urban generators?

    workshop group walking in Oerlikon district residential park

    These are the primary questions that formed the core investigation of the DPU summerLab Zurich held in the Swiss capital from August 6-11. The workshop, entitled Liminal Contours, under the collaboration and facilitation of the ETH Zurich, combined a series of lecture talks, exploratory city walks/site visits, and design charrette exercises. That suggestive title refers to a theme surrounding various suspect activities and alternative forms of development that, although not completely foreign or novel, still stand apart from the generally kosher character of the city and its more conservative development tendencies. It was in fact certain small divergent planning schemes that peaked particular entry points for this line of intriguing urban questioning.

    No question about it, like many cities experiencing more rapid population growth, Zurich is expanding. Specifically, the western peripheral village of Altstetten has been a focus of real estate speculation since the early 90s. However, not living up to the hype, the area still retains its neighbouring village character complete with sub-urban style park-and-shop centres. Any serenity seems set to finally change as activities set in the former urban peripheries begin to transplant there along with an expanded rail and tram station.

    containers for creative industry start-ups being moved onto the site in Altstetten

    The most apparent of these new developments is the latest incarnation of the “Basislager” (Eng. translation – basecamp), a temporary clustering of stacked custom-designed shipping container-like modules meant to house creative industry start-ups. These compact commercial containers were original erected in the Binz district and will intend to house many of the previous tenants. The last few container clusters were being shifted as we visited the site. Already on the new site in Altstetten is another similar cluster of colourful shipping containers housing asylum seekers under a municipal scheme that allows immigrants to live there until their new papers are sorted, eventually giving way to another group of refugees. Undoubtedly the most intriguing entity that will be located near the commercial units is a “Strichplatz” (legal prostitution zone). Zurich has a healthy history of prostitution, both legal and illegal, and many such manifestations still exist throughout the city. The new-found attention, outright planning and forced juxtaposition of such a suspect and debated entity next to a temporary creative zone raises some profound questions in regard to the urban problematic.

    shipping containers housing asylum seekers in Altstetten

     At the moment the site in Altstetten is in its infancy. The creative commercial containers are just now being stacked. The prostitution boxes or corrals (for a more honest label) are not yet erected. No landscaping features appear on the horizon and all indications would lead one to believe that not many will. Given the current skeleton of action on the site, the workshop participants and tutors had to look elsewhere for clues as to how these divergent activities manifest in their everyday manners. Through determined transect walks exploring various points throughout the city that contain elements of these activities, we focused primarily on two areas to provide the most generous identifiable revelations. The Langstrasse Quarter, an eclectic and diverse enclave of multicultural factions, sometimes hedonist energy, sex shops and a still apparent red light district character, was approached at different hours of the day in order to witness, in a sort of retrospective mode, how certain suspect activities have evolved and adapted over time. The Langstrasse has experienced various levels of gentrification. It’s once seedy image is wavering, yet a clear outsider reputation precedes any discussion on the area and one can easily find a healthy faction of sex workers and parallel levels of “clientele”, especially in the late hours of the night.

    entrance of the Roland Kino (erotic cinema) on the Langstrasse

    The most revealing observations were the dominating overlaps of programs in the area. An array of sex shops and erotic cinemas nestle somewhat seamlessly next to professional offices, galleries, clothing stores, kebab shops, and bars (some of which cater to the suspect trades). Here the concept of visibility vs. invisibility emerged as method of mapping and understanding the phenomenological character of the place. The idea of thresholds, the notion of public and private began to blur in different ways as one’s eyes moved from street level to a scanning of the facades of the buildings. A particularly intriguing observation was how the actual size of signage decreased as one moved away from the main high street. Signs and symbols of the sex industry would change as the residential quarters emerged in side streets, implying that a different level of acceptability occurred there.

    spatial program analysis  in the Langstrasse Quarter

    Similar former suspect areas were covered in our walks to gain further parallel understanding- including Platspitz (the former legal drug zone Needle Park) and drug/prostitution zones along the Limmat River. Although these scenes have been disbanded over 15 years ago, the historical knowledge and the layers of new activity provide interesting insight into the city’s liberal interludes. A short visit to the Binz district, the site of the former “Basislager” was a bookend to our field excursions. Here the group was able to detect a changing of the guard as the office containers were removed. What was clear is how the inhabitants of the containers had “moved in” to the site, dotting their immediate proximity with casual public amenities. This gave some hint as to how the future site in Altstetten might develop over a period of a couple of years.

    model image of proposed “Strichplatz” and “Basislager” with walled partition in between

    What emerged in the final days of production was a challenge of understand the Langstrasse Quarter and the Altstetten site across a package of thematic underpinnings. The notions of visibility, thresholds, juxtaposition, inheritance, temporary, and public formed the framework for mapping the phenomenological characteristics of these areas, hoping to reveal prioritized entry points that would elicit a sampled representation of the challenges facing the users of the future site. Recognizing a cross-cutting relationship of themes, especially in what was seen to be an odd tendency for the burgeoning creative industries and prostitution zones to always be located in peripheral settings, the framework allowed for clearer, if not still challenging transposition of observations from one site to the other. Without being able to see a finished transplanting of the activities in Altstetten, the speculation of interventions and strategies were limiting. However the process of understanding the phenomenal character and the spatialising of themes led to a more informed questioning of what it would mean to have these activities occupying neighbouring swaths of land and what tactics could lead to a critique of this situation.

    group work at ETH’s  Werk 11

    speculative critique of future activity on the Altstetten site

    Ultimately the Zurich summerLab offered the opportunity to undertake a different reading of the city from alternative perspectives, and led to a critical thinking on proposals that challenge the decisions taken by current development planning schemes. The group was able to adopt alternative methods of design research and action with the charge to rethink the processes of urban practice in a dominant political economy where such processes, activities and contours might in some way regain control of the design of the urban realm.