Reclaim Our City: The Art Of Transforming Spaces Into Places

Reclaim our city: the art of transforming spaces into places

Urban regeneration is the super-discipline to transform cities into more democratic, inclusive, sustainable and beautiful places.

Article by Angela Dibenedetto

Reclaim our city” is the name of the campaign launched by the feminist collective Cheap – a public art project founded by 6 women in Bologna in 2013 – which harnesses poster art to invite city dwellers to an act of public imagination, urging to “blow the cork that occludes our vision of possible futures”.

Yet, to what extent can citizens re-appropriate public spaces?

New challenge for a more sustainable, equal and inclusive Europe

With about three-quarters of the population living in urban areas, Europe is the most urbanised continent in the world. City life has its own acclaimed advantages, yet it entails a number of challenges related to sustainability, inequalities and social inclusion. Starting from the 20th century, the paradigm of urban growth as a symptom of economic health has entered into a deep crisis. Driven by increasing demands for environmental, social and economic sustainability, cities have moved from a model of expansion of the built fabric to a paradigm based on transforming the existing environment as a condition for raising the quality of urban life.

Street art

Regeneration has become a manifesto that reaffirms the community’s rights towards the city, an approach that invites all of us to imagine and claim every possible future.

In this sense, urban regeneration can be considered a regenerative process that responds to urgent needs. But, without strong community involvement that fills the spaces, bringing them alive and contributing to the planning and co-design, there would be no regenerated space, certainly no long-term one.

Even though in Europe there are countless of bottom-up projects and initiatiatives that have catalysed communities around abandoned or underused spaces, communities are often still considered a weak link. However, if involved, they are capable of creating new relationships and transforming spaces into places.

Urban Regeneration as a new discipline

In 2020, the European Commission launched the New European Bauhaus, an innovative programme that supports, encourages and accelerates urban transformations to reach the Green Deal goals. To do so, President Ursula Von der Leyen has often emphasised the need to “employ a holistic approach to cities, which takes into account and seeks to optimise the factors of sustainability, beauty and inclusion, as a way to contribute to a better living space, for the common good”.

From this moment, the process of urban regeneration has publicly become a multifaceted, interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary discipline, which works across the boundaries of disciplines and knowledge, spanning from culture to welfare, to education, ecology and the digital transition.

The Art of rethinking new form of civilisation

From such contamination, a fertile ground emerges where new ideas can germinate and culture is produced. Spaces are created that are functional, efficient, emotionally engaging and meaningful for the people who use them. In this context, figures such as artists and creatives become crucial allies, being catalysers of change and innovation, actors capable of promoting through culture solutions for local and social development, and in essence, activating the intellectual and emotional regeneration indispensable to creatively rethinking new forms of civilisation that are more inclusive and sensitive to the equilibrium of the ecosystem.

Taking a step forward in this direction, regenerated spaces become infrastructures of proximity, places to experiment with new ways of producing generative welfare, elaborate new visions of the future and participate in the renewal of a material and immaterial piece of cultural heritage.

The plan to imagine every possible city

As such, urban regeneration can be considered a tool of civilian resistance, a way to re-appropriate existing spaces and shelter communities self-determination, as argued by Amartya Sen (1987). Beyond the aspects of mere physical transformations, urban regeneration is a super-discipline, where different professionals and knowledge meet to contribute to transforming cities into a more democratic, inclusive, sustainable and beautiful place: a brand new urban-planning methodology based on participatory imagination for every possible city.


  • Manifesto del Terzo paesaggio, Gilles Clément (Autore) De Pieri (Curatore) G. Lucchesini, Quodlibet, 2016;
  • Progettare il disordine. Idee per la città del XXI secolo, Pablo Sendra – Richard Sennett, Treccani;
  • The New European Bauhaus Compass, Joint Research Centre, 2022.