Pebble in the pond

The socio-spatial effects of a participatory landscape design project in Budapest

  • Balázs Rebeka Dóra

Architecture is an intervention in the existing socio-spatial dynamics of a given society. This intervention can strengthen the status quo or create a new social order by triggering social relations and conflicts, which empowers one social group while oppressing others. This paper offers a deeper insight into the impact of this intervention by analysing a participatory landscape design project in Budapest and the surrounding discourses.
The participatory landscape design project of Teleki Square in the 8th district of Budapest was carried out in 2013 with the involvement of local residents. The project was hailed as a success by the field of architecture, the media, and the local council. However, critical voices drew attention to the fact that the marginalized people of the neighbourhood were not present in the design process and only a quasi-homogenous and relatively more affluent group of people attended the design workshops. While the participating group has been empowered by the participatory design project, the group gained de facto the right to control the accessibility of Teleki Square. In this context the participatory landscape design project can be seen as a struggle for the urban space, where the lay participants circumstantially became the supporters of the ongoing local council-led gentrification in the neighbourhood.
To understand this struggle and the dynamism that the participatory design brought in the socio-spatial conditions of the neighbourhood, this paper uses relational analysis. As opposed to choosing the stakeholders of the design project as fixed analytical units for a starting point of the analysis, the author builds on a relational framework that enables one to grasp the emerging and disappearing circumstantial coalitions between the stakeholders. Looking at the participatory landscape design project as a field of forces nested within the field of the gentrification, the position of the stakeholders can be defined by the different types of capital they possess. This analysis builds on interviews with four stakeholder groups of the participatory landscape design project (local council, architects, ‘Partners for the Teleki Square Association’ and ‘critical intellectuals’), videos of the participatory design workshops and local council documents. The empirical data was collected in 2016–2017.