Cities are called to face problems and challenges that don’t find a solution in current paradigms of intervention. Participatory approach has been increasingly evoked against rising socio-spatial inequality and urban exclusion but, while generating practices of emancipatory nature, participation is also appropriated by neoliberal discourse and becomes an expedient for co-optation of consensus. This paper aims at critically reflecting about limits and virtues of participatory approach and socio-spatial impact of participation on the upgrading of marginal self-produced city. The notion of ‘self-production’ which I use here emerged among researchers of the Gestual – Grupo de Estudos Socio-Territoriais, Urbanos e de Ação Local of the Faculty of Architecture of the University of Lisbon (Portugal). It refers to Lefebvre’s production of space notion – not only to self-construction – and it aims at drawing the attention to the energy spent by the ‘producers’ of spaces, instead of emphasizing (as the dominant concepts of informal, illegal or irregular do), what these places do not have, in opposition to the consolidated city.
Small participatory local interventions implemented in Cova da Moura and Bairro da Torre (self-produced neighbourhoods of Lisbon) will be evaluated at the level of: (1) strengthening democracy among the actors involved and community empowerment; (2) social and urban inclusion, as well as spatial justice; (3) urban and housing quality, and (4) environmental and socio-economic sustainability. The critical interpretation of the different participatory essays and their assessment against current trends at a global level will be carried out at the light of Lefebvre’s Droit à la ville (Right to the City) in its emancipatory meaning of Droit à la oeuvre (Right to the Work) defined as everybody’s right to active participation, to co-authorship and co-transformation of the city. I aim at identifying a more imaginative and experimental participatory approach that contributes to spatial quality as well as social inclusion and emancipation (in line with Lefebvre’s Oeuvre) and leads to the creation of a ‘democra-city’, a democratic, empowered, inclusive, just, qualified and sustainable marginal self-produced city.
I will also consider the figure of the architect/ urbanist questioning the global paradigms of intervention to find new ways of re-thinking the marginal self-produced city and new ways to upgrade it through a renovated participatory approach.