The city can be viewed as a habitat of cooperation and as a logical place for experimental social situations and social innovations to emerge. The urban realm offers the best conditions for the development of new tools and models of action to bring the promise of individual ways of living (as a positive accomplishment of modernism) more in line with the social constitution of human beings. It can indeed be argued, both in historical and current terms, that it is cooperation rather than competition that keeps humanity alive. For instance, David Graeber sees everyday cooperation as a foundational basis and constant in human history, labeling it as “elementary communism,” without which a society cannot function.
For urban sociologist Henri Lefebvre, cities were always oeuvre. His intention was to emphatically distinguish them from a commodity-like product and to emphasize that cities are the cooperative work of all city dwellers. He considered this development to be imperiled and, at an early point in time, predicted developments that are evident today, such as privatization, displacement, and global urbanization.
The search for alternative ways to meet social, ecological, and economic challenges has experienced a resurgence in recent years, which is also demonstrated by the many projects of Urban Practice. Yet the municipalities’ call for collaboration with their citizenry also harbors a good deal of neoliberal ideology. Important discussions about the distribution of power and resources and about the state of our democratic systems tend to fall by the wayside. Thus when it comes to collaboration, it is also important to ask exactly who should cooperate with whom, how, why, and on what basis.
The beauty of cooperation within Urban Practice is its potential both to create an entirely different image of a familiar situation and to orchestrate the urban surroundings as a more usable and more livable space. These new and different images evoked by Urban Practice are precisely what can strengthen and concretize notions of the future city in the here and now.
Christoph Laimer is editor-in-chief of dérive – Zeitschrift für Stadtforschung and, together with Elke Rauth, organizes the urbanize! International Festival of Urban Exploration. He is an active contributor to the habiTAT housing project “Bikes and Rails.” As coeditor with Andrej Holm, he most recently published the volume Gemeinschaftliches Wohnen und selbstorganisiertes Bauen (TU Wien Academic Press 2021).