The Squatting Effect

“Squatting, the occupation of empty properties for housing needs and/or for the promotion of social activities, has been a widespread place-making practice in Europe since the 1970s. To the cry of “Right to the city!”, those who have been defined by Pruijt as “Conservational Squatters” reclaim a more sustainable understanding of the city, advocating for urban renewal as an ethical alternative to urban removal. Arguing that it is the everyday experience of living the city that entitles one to the “Right to the City”, squatters embrace Henri Lefebvre’s motto. However, their conceptualization of the urban also transcends Lefebvre’s notion. While the city is outlined by the former as a collectively elaborated ‘social space’ to be reclaimed and re- appropriated, squatted space is a reclaimed, re-appropriated, and transformed space.

Rog Factory, Wikipedia. Last modified 4 December 2017

This paper is driven by the following question: how has the notion of urban space been re- conceptualized to serve as a ground for conservational squatter’s place-making practice? In order to answer this question, theories (Lefebvre’s “Production of Space”, Quilligan’s approach to the Commons, Featherstone’s study on “Spatial Relations of Solidarity”, and Leach and Hauss’ “Politicized scenes”) and practical examples (from the marginal, not-gentrified European squats of Casaloca in Milan, Italy; Rhino in Geneva, Switzerland, and ROG in Ljubljana, Slovenia) will be linked and discussed. It is eventually illustrated that, by moving beyond Lefebvre, squatters transform space in an arena of encounters, where identities are forged, and networks of solidarities perpetuated. Because it generates direct-democratic forms of decision-making, autonomous and non-institutional mode of citizen participation and self- managed consensus, squatting has noticeably influenced urban politics. Grasping the theoretical notion of space behind the place-making experience of squatting is crucial to understand how the European urban space can be re-shaped from below.”

I have always been fascinated by urban bottom-up practices as a means of claiming the city. In 2019, my article “The squatting effect: from urban removal to urban renewal” was published. Check in out here.

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