How Urban Planning Fans the Flames of Revolution

The accelerating role social media played in the recent uprising in Egypt has gotten a lot of people talking, but urban planning was just as vital in fanning the flames of revolution.

Civic squares and parks are the best places for protests to function, and go hand-in-hand with online organizing, says Israeli architect Tali Hatuka. "Public spaces are the only place in which people feel truly, physically unified," says Hatuka, who researched the link between urban design and quality of protests long before the recent Middle East upheaval. "With so many protests going online, the physical element is critical for enhancing society's sense of togetherness and solidarity."

Urban planners can help promote a healthier democracy by designing spaces that allow for equal public access, including for journalists. Less pressing is the need to make them beautiful.

"As the recent events in Cairo suggest, a protest space doesn't have to be nice or well-designed," Hatuka says. "A large-scale protest like this has shown that people will just hijack the streets and the roads."

And while size sometimes matters, it doesn't in this case. "When Americans wish to protest," she says, "they do not immediately run to the Mall in Washington. Sometimes a small venue will work well too."

in the case of Egypt and Tunisia, Hatuka's research is extremely relevant, as the new democracies are sure to face questions of how to rebuild under leaderships that presumably want to promote democracy, not squash it.

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  • joe batcheller

    "Less pressing is the need to make them beautiful."

    Absolutely false! I've done extensive research on this, and my findings and the findings of dozens of academics say otherwise.

    First off, the function of public space as place for protest is secondary to other functions such as marketplace, ceremonial space, and other less formal functions like respite from the urban environment. These are everyday uses, while revolution is a once in a lifetime event.

    Beauty is essential for the primary functions to take root. If there is no "there" there, then few will develop an affinity for it, which in turn diminishes the likelihood that such a place will have gravitas when it comes time to protest.