Shaping imaginary geographies into inclusive cities

The current debate around inclusive urban design focuses predominantly on physical accessibility to the built environment. In doing so, it targets solely a narrow population group experiencing marginalisation by design and engages only partially with aspects of urban exclusion. As a result, in its present form inclusive urban design fails to meet its objectives.

This research challenges the limitations of the inclusive urban design debate and argues that both exclusion and inclusion from the built environment are not only physical, but experiential. By recognising the requisite value of vulnerable groups’ in-place knowledge when designing effective solutions tailored to user needs, this research sets out to redefine ‘inclusive urban design’ and to provide an alternative working framework in line with the debate’s core principles.

The proposed framework centres on the idea that exercising inclusive urban design principles means acknowledging and working with the numerous urban user realities concomitantly unfolding in the everyday fabric of the city.

A twofold argument is hereby advanced. First, the work argues that a performativity theory approach could provide invaluable conceptual tools to the field of inclusive urban design, and consequently goes on to employ performativity principles to explore and understand the construction and perpetuation of notions of socio-spatial difference underlining urban design theory and practice. Second, the research introduces the concept of ‘imaginary geographies’ so as to simultaneously account for the embodied experiences and socio-spatial construction of everyday urban reality.

In order to probe the proposed framework, this research work focuses on a specific socio-spatial marginal group: London’s street homeless individuals. The lessons drawn from working with the study participants confirm and further inform tailored tool-sets as well as more general guidelines for inclusive urban design.