Temporary appropriation
: theory and practice of the street

  • Jose Antonio Lara-Hernandez

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The research presented here aims to explore the role of temporary appropriation (TA) of the urban landscape from an urban design approach. The thesis consists of five papers to offer evidence of the complex and the symbiotic nature of TA in relationship to other dimensions and relevant issues of the urban landscape such as sustainability, informality, culture and inclusivity, streetscape design and regulations controlling the use of public spaces.
The first paper theoretically discusses and conceptualises TA within the urban landscape through a extensive review of theoretical and empirical manuscripts. It proposes TA as an indicator of social sustainability in the urban environment. The second paper explores the concept of both informality and TA in an urban context, challenging the existing definitions of informality as applied in studies concerning informal practices in the Global North. It concludes that some understandings of informal behaviour in urban settings could be better studied when viewed as forms of TA. The third paper utilises assemblage theory, conceptualising TA as an emerging product of other assemblages such as culture, legal framework and urban design. To do so it selected a representative sample street as a case-study to analyse TA in relation to the streetscape design through participant observation and image analysis of the visual complexity of the streetscape. The findings provide further support to the use of assemblage theory as a theoretical framework for investigating urban-social phenomena such as TA. The fourth paper identifies design elements of the streetscape design that support diversity of TA, in the context of Mexico City Centre. The paper is an initial contribution to codify elements pertaining to urban design, such as materials, urban furniture and landscaping, while assessing their capability of encouraging an informal use of public space. The second major finding was new types of TA are emerging, challenging formal prescriptions as counter spaces or spaces of resistance. The fifth paper discusses the relevance of TA in relation to urban social dynamics. It examines the laws and regulations set out by the government of Mexico City which regulate the use of the street in the historic centre. It highlights the contrast between the ways in which the inhabitants of the city appropriate public space on a daily basis, putting in evidence the lack of clarity in the legislation surrounding potential activities occurring on the street, and a seemingly tacit consensus among citizens regarding how they appropriate such public spaces. The findings outline the ways in which public space is used in traditional and unexpected ways, how creative ways are found to use the street area within the spirit of the law, and where further research on this topic this could lead in future.

Overall, this thesis shows that these dimensions and urban issues illustrated here are continuously overlapping, intertwined with each other, evidencing the ever changing and multi-scalar complexity of TA. Future research should be directed to enhance our knowledge about TA in the urban environment in relationship to urban design.
Date of AwardAug 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Portsmouth

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