Making Places for Identity: Urban Alleyways As Places of Belonging and Displacement

Thursday, July 17, 2014: 11:15 AM
Room: 313+314
Oral Presentation
Heide IMAI , Faculty of Global Interdisciplinary Studies, Hosei University Tokyo, Tokyo, Japan
This paper presents a comparative study of the roji, urban alleyways in Tokyo, and urban alleyways in Berlin-Mitte, which once have been part of people’s personal spatial sphere and everyday life, but which have increasingly been transformed by diverse and competing interests. Marginalized through the emergence of new forms of housing and public spaces and re-appropriated by different fields, the social meaning attached to the alleyway is being re-interpreted by individuals, subcultures and new social movements to fit hybrid and multiple concepts of living and lifestyles. Focusing on the comparative cases of central Tokyo, Japan and Berlin-Mitte, Germany, drawing on ethnographic data supported by a conceptual framework derived from theories of place making and identity formation processes, this paper investigates the kind of functions the alleyways fulfilled in these cities in the past, and the qualities of urban life that have been lost or changed. Providing multiple narratives of change, the paper’s main purpose is to critically reflect on the recent 'revival' of the urban alleyway, arguing that the interstitial nature of these places can be characterized as a boundary between belonging and displacement being on the hand places which are desired and needed to express local voices, thoughts and personal opinions but also places which face different forms of occupation, transformation or destruction.

In summary, conceptualising the alleyway as a contested place and sample for assessing physical, corporeal, and social relations in these processes of micro-scale place making, allows us to view the alleyway as the material expression for broader social struggles, and locus for generating, proclaiming and negotiating different cultural subjects, which are aspects of contemporary urban life. The outcomes of this study should offer more insights and alternative views to understand the potential and future of the urban alleyway in a global perspective.