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Space, spirituality and a community-based urban praxis
30 November 2017

Dr Stephan de Beer recently received his second PhD degree at UP. In his thesis, Mother bird hovering over the city: space, spirituality and a community-based urban praxis, he adopted a trans-disciplinary, praxis-approach to consider participatory, critical and liberationist planning and city-building processes. His journey was about the soul of the city, embodied in its spaces and its people. It reflected on unfolding urban spaces, tracing dynamics in the Berea-Burgers Park neighbourhood of Tshwane’s inner city between 1993 and 2016. The narratives emerging from this neighbourhood was brought into conversation with a range of other narratives, hoping to discern and propose a vision for a community-based urban praxis. 

The journey originated from a deliberate option for the city’s most vulnerable people, hoping to contribute towards a city characterized by radical forms of inclusion, sustainability and justice. It recognized that space is not neutral and spatial constructs are shaped by deep value frameworks that are prejudiced, exclusive and oppressive, or equalizing, inclusive, and life-affirming. What De Beer sought to discern and outline was a spirituality that can infuse planning praxis and spatial thinking: making spaces that will mediate dignity, justice and well-being.

Part I considered a new epistemology, identity and methodology, expressed in the metaphor of “becoming like children”, requiring a new self-understanding for those involved in planning, city-building or place-making, but also amongst urban citizens and vulnerable urban dwellers: to reclaim their own voice and agency in processes of city-making.

In Part II, after describing and deconstructing urban spaces and discourses in a contextual-narrative way, a spirituality and ethic of urban space are developed. It argues for a radical shift from planning as bureaucracy and technocracy, to planning as immersed, participatory artistry: opening up to the “genius” or (S)pirit of space – the Mother bird – hovering over urban spaces, responsive to urban cries,  of humans and earth alike, and inviting us to be co-constructors of new and surprising spaces, mending and making whole.  

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