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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