Urban assets are the hardware of the city: houses, offices, shops, cinemas, roads, bridges, embankments and all other physical structures that form it. While European cities shrink and suffer from an abundance of vacant buildings, in other parts of the globe, there is a shortage of housing and infrastructure. Regardless of location, the availability and management of urban resources, including buildings, public space, infrastructure and land, pose many challenges that are yet to be addressed.
In the time when the value of urban assets is becoming more and more detached from its use, we should perhaps rethink the the extent of commodification taking place in contemporary urban contexts and allow the people to determine the value and worth of spaces in the city as well as who is able to access them. The panelists spoke about immaterial values that can be found in forgotten places and the variety of experiences we should strive for in urban environments, especially when they are threatened by the maximization of economic gains.
The plea for convivial urban tools that are open for appropriation has been put forward by Tiziano Bonini in response to not only progressing spatial commodification of cities but also the commodification of data that is being produced in urban spaces. Infrastructure which becomes increasingly invisible with the digitalization should bring our attention to the value of error, in which the technology reveals itself and provides us with time and space to reflect on things that happen in that moment. This time is necessary to give these events of failure a political dimension.
Embracing uncertainty, error and ambiguity has according to Rebekka Kiesewetter a great value not only in the use of language but also urban spaces.—Absolute definitions are illusionary and we need to accept a certain level of opacity in our capacity of understanding. Ambiguity is a condition in cities that citizens can take advantage of, it gives them an opportunity to act in an improvised way. So, the urge to make things visible and defined, putting lights in every dark corner, may be counterproductive for finding value in cities, because it always opens up potential of commodification. Urban space becomes more convivial when it is more ambiguous. Not being able to know everything can allow us to be more open and creative. Forgotten places and in-between spaces are therefore ripe with possibility of experiencing them in new ways, as spaces of immaterial value, not as spaces for development.
Language plays a critical role in defining the value of urban assets. It supports conceptual interpretation and points us to a better future. It can also help us define immaterial values and set the rules of the game to change reality after our heart’s desire, not in a nostalgic way, but a progressive one.