The ira.urban team is glad to announce the publication of a special issue on Loss and (re-)construction of public space in post-Soviet cities. The Special Issue of the International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy ((2015) Volume 35, Issue 7/8.) is devoted to the question of the transformation of public spaces in post-Soviet cities. The Special Issue seeks to contribute to the existing body of multi-disciplinary literature on public urban spaces in general and to the discussion on public spaces in post-Soviet cities in particular. Given the diverse urban contexts and trajectories of post-socialist space and the limited research at hand, the Special Issue aims to advance the understanding of public space and its (re-)production in post-Soviet cities, while paying special attention to the consequences of change, i.e. to the controversy surrounding the (re-)construction and loss of public space. The aim of this editorial is to embed conceptually the interdisciplinary and empirically rich papers presented here in the hope of stimulating much needed future research on public space in the post-Soviet region. The editorial summarises the main arguments of the papers included and brings forward initial observations in terms of contextual specificities, characterising and framing the ongoing transformation of public space in post-Soviet cities.
The papers in this Special Issue engage with diverse strands of literature and discuss cases set in various institutional and cultural contexts. Despite this, it is possible to make a few observations that can be generalised across all or most of the articles, hinting at the persistence of a number of similarities among post-Soviet cities. First, the papers presented here illustrate that conflicts which arise within public space and struggles over access to public spaces are defining for urban life in post-Soviet cities. Shifting boundaries between public and private space redefine state-society relationships and the interplay between diverse claim making actors, and thus alter the distribution of power and resources within communities. Second, the papers underline the importance of the long-lasting culturally embedded routines and value systems and routines which survived the Soviet regime and, in a number of cases, gained prominence during post-socialism. Third, most of the cities discussed have to face the legacy of the Soviet experience, whether in terms of the built urban environment, inherited values or social expectations about state versus personal responsibilities. But since urban experiences during socialism were far from uniform across the cities, interpretations of those experiences after the collapse of Soviet Union are also different. While some of Baku’s inhabitants retain a nostalgic sentiment for the concept and practices of Soviet urban modernity, in the Georgian case the Soviet inheritance is predominantly seen in a negative light. Moreover, the different relevance of intangible Soviet legacies depends on diverging post-Soviet trajectories/experiences. So, while the public authorities in Vilnius have to accept the institutionalisation of civic engagement in urban planning, thus preventing Soviet style disregard for civilian inputs, the Moscow authorities retain this attitude, which fits well with the authoritarian urban government regime of the post-Soviet period. Also, almost all the papers emphasise the ongoing importance of informal networks and practices in shaping social resistance and social mobilisation as well as community life and citizens’ survival tactics (Round and Williams, 2010). However, still more debate and research is needed with regard to the interplay of local actors, the underlying value systems and the multiple analytical dimensions of public space under transformation. In carrying out such research, special attention should be paid to the differences between post-Soviet contexts, whether in terms of cultural specificities or different post-Soviet experiences and reforms.
A last but still intriguing observation is that almost all the papers discuss the emergence of new exclusions, whether in the form of economic marginalisation, neglect of citizens’ political rights and collective voices or the devaluation of some types of socially and culturally embedded practices, and hence of the social groups which are associated with those practices. The instability of state institutions and the lack of democratic accountability, among other factors, seem to produce and reproduce new inequalities in the public spaces of post-Soviet cities. Making claims to public space, both spatially and as a political/discursive construct, seems to be at the frontline of social resistance against these new exclusions. Through diverse and creative ways of mobilising and their embedded daily practices, the inhabitants of post-Soviet cities are domesticating (Smith and Stenning, 2006) new and still uncertain political projects and the imposed social order.
The Guest Editors are grateful for the patience and responsiveness of the authors in addressing the comments and those of the peer-reviewers. The Guest Editors thank all the peer-reviewers for their close and sensitive reading of the papers, as well as for their repeated detailed feedback. The Guest Editors’ gratitude goes to the ira.ubran research project at the Leibniz Institute of Regional Geography (IFL, Leipzig) for supporting the Special Issue, as well as for organising the preliminary meetings and presentations by the authors and editors. The Guest Editors appreciate the critical feedback received from our colleagues at IFL, primarily from Isolde Brade and Wladimir Sgibnev, and the administrative support provided by Yuliana Lazova. The Guest Editors thank the Editor-in-Chief, Professor Collin Williams, for his generous support throughout the entire process of developing the Special Issue, and Cristina Irving Turner at Emerald for her help throughout the production of the Special Issue. Last but not least the editors appreciate the invaluable help of Matthew White in proofreading and stylistic editing of the (majority of) the papers in this Special Issue.
List of Contributions: