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Dire et produire la ségrégation

From ‘southern’ to ‘ordinary’

Conceptualizing and contextualizing segregation in public space in southern European cities
De « méridionale » à « ordinaire » : théoriser et contextualiser la ségrégation dans l’espace public des villes d’Europe du Sud
Nick Dines
p. 101-108


This article discusses segregation in public space in southern European cities. As well as questioning the appropriateness of associating the concept of segregation with public space, it considers the possibilities and limits of using ‘southern’ and postcolonial urban theory in order to analyze cities in southern Europe. Drawing on long-standing research in Naples, the article reflects upon how two issues of global significance – migration and cultural heritage – have been implicated in the reordering of public spaces in the city’s historic centre. Besides accounting for the nuanced nature of spatial segregation in the city, the article argues that the notion of ‘ordinary’ is a more useful point of departure than ‘southern’, because it alerts us to the different exclusionary dynamics that exist both between and within cities in southern Europe.

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1This article considers segregation in public space in the context of southern Europe. In doing so, it grapples with two questions: first, to what extent is it appropriate to examine urban public space in terms of segregation; and second, how might southern Europe provide an alternative view to thinking about the contemporary politics of public space in the so-called ‘Global North’. As a British academic who has been working on Italian cities over the last twenty years, I am appreciative of the array of critiques of Anglo‑American dominance in the production and circulation of urban theory (LEONTIDOU, 1996; ROBINSON, 2006; ROY, 2009; MALOUTAS, 2012). Ideas about ‘Mediterranean’, ‘southern’ or ‘ordinary’ cities can be useful, if nothing else, in stimulating contextualized perspectives about processes that occur across the world but which are often interpreted through models devised in its northern/western core. At the same time, this article will argue that the ways in which some of these approaches are posited – and here I refer in particular to Greek geographer Lila Leontidou’s formulation of ‘southern urban theory’ (LEONTIDOU, 1996) and more recent postcolonial perspectives in Anglophone urban geography such as that of ‘worlding cities’ (ROY, 2009) – actually work to reduce or erase the complexity of southern Europe, and thus paradoxically run the risk of disavowing what Gregson, Simonsen and Vaiou have termed Europe’s ‘gamut of situated knowledges and cultural heteronomies’ (GREGSON et al., 2003, p.13).

2The concept of urban segregation offers a strident example of what occurs when a concept elaborated in a particular historical and geographical setting is transformed into a general interpretative model. At its most essential level, urban segregation can be understood to mean the overlapping forms (institutional, structural, voluntary, etc.) of socio-spatial separation within cities that operate along and across lines of difference such as race, gender and class. Thomas Maloutas notes how the idea was first elaborated in response to the ethno-racial divisions of industrial cities in the United States during the first half of the twentieth century, but that the progressive blurring of this history ‘meant that those origins have become implicit and were carried forward affecting the ways of seeing and the interpretations within the different contexts this concept was applied in’ (MALOUTAS, 2012, 40). Nevertheless, it is precisely by thinking about how a concept like segregation travels over time and across space that we are compelled to engage with the specificities of southern Europe, whether this means highlighting the particular role of the family and state in the case of housing (ALLEN et al., 2004; MALOUTAS and FUJITA, 2012), or interrogating the suitability of related terminology, such as gentrification (PETSIMERIS 2005; MALOUTAS 2012).

3I want to shift attention from the usual questions of residential distribution to examine segregation in relation to the open public spaces of cities. My focus here is specifically on segregation within given public spaces, rather than on the disparity between different urban spaces. Literature on this topic is relatively sparse. By way of indication, a search in late April 2016 for “segregation in public space” on Google Scholar returned 59 results while “segregation in housing” provided 3,330 results. Some authors have argued that overemphasis on the latter engenders a reductive view of urban life and have sought to identify links between access to public space and wider social and structural inequalities in cities (LEGEBY and MARCUS, 2011). However, while neighbourhood spaces may reflect the particular social composition (and internal divisions) of a local area, there is no direct correlation between patterns of residential segregation across a city and the configuration of its public spaces. This is especially the case in nodal places characterised by a range of local and non-local users where the accommodation, regulation and restriction of the co-presence of diverse groups of people can vary according to different circumstances and times of the day or year. In other words, the task at hand is not a straightforward one because there is no clear-cut way of defining and measuring segregation in public space.

4It is, nevertheless, a task worth pursuing, if only to countercheck the persistent stereotype of the vibrant and intermingled nature of the Mediterranean public realm. The theme of public space has been, in fact, largely absent from theoretical debates about southern European cities, although it has entered into discussion in a roundabout way as a result of interest in the recent anti-austerity protests in Spain and Greece (LEONTIDOU, 2010; 2012). One of the reasons for this absence, I think, is that public space points to a more complicated, inverted relationship between a ‘northern centre’ and a ‘southern periphery’. Indeed, certain ideal types of southern European public space have historically functioned as tropes in modern urban planning in the West, while, crucially, other areas of the region have occupied marginal positions in public space imaginaries on account of their reputed lack of appropriate spatial forms and ‘civic traditions’ (PUTNAM, LEONARDI and NANETTI, 1993). Hence, through the lens of public space, urban southern Europe, with its multiple and divergent histories, cannot be classified simply as a ‘western other’ (LEONTIDOU, 1996, p. 191), but needs to be understood as a region of variable geometry that demands careful attention to contextual differences.

5This article starts by discussing the possibilities and limits of southern urban theory and postcolonial perspectives to framing the study of southern European cities. It proceeds to cross‑examine arguments about the increase in social segregation in urban public space over the last three decades before addressing how such discussions relate to southern Europe. In order to flesh out the dilemma of defining segregation in public space in this region, the last part of the article draws on long-standing research conducted in Naples (DINES, 2012, 2013, 2016), a city both denigrated and celebrated over history for its bustling urban life. I briefly consider two issues of global significance – migration and cultural heritage – and how these differently operate as ‘trajectories of separation’ in the public spaces of the city’s historic centre. By this term, I want to emphasise that segregation cannot be understood simply as the material outcome of a set of overlapping processes and measures but it also needs to be considered as something immanent to the competing ideological discourses about the appropriate nature of the urban public realm, irrespective of whether these ever come to fruition. I conclude by arguing that the idea of ‘ordinary’ public space may be a more useful point of departure than ‘southern’, because it alerts us to the different exclusionary dynamics that exist both between and within southern European cities, and precisely because its prior goal is to provincialize the centres of urban theoretical production wherever these may be, be they Chicago or Athens, London or Siena.

1 - The possibilities and pitfalls of thinking through the South

6Before proceeding, I should clarify my definition of southern Europe. This moniker is conventionally used to refer to the aggregation of four (non-contiguous) states: Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal. According to Effie Pedaliu, this particular denotation emerged during the 1970s with the end of the dictatorships in Portugal, Spain and Greece and the strategic repositioning of NATO’s Mediterranean European member states as a result of Cold War détente and rising tensions in the Middle East (PEDALIU, 2012). The entry of Greece into the EEC in 1981, followed by Portugal and Spain in 1986, bolstered southern Europe’s status as an economically weak periphery, which alongside Italy’s Mezzogiorno, would become a principal recipient of European structural funds. This reputation has recently been reiterated with the financial crisis, but a dominant public image – at least in northern Europe – is now that of a spendthrift and wayward periphery (LEONTIDOU, 2014). In other words, ‘Southern Europe’ is a mutable construction that has been imagined variously as an internal Other, a cultural heartland, a marginal outpost and, increasingly, a crucial border zone.

7While most of my focus here is on Naples and Italy, I deliberately adopt a broader definition of southern Europe to refer to the landmass flanking the northern shore of the Mediterranean and sitting below the 45th parallel that runs across southern France, the southern Alps and the northern Balkans. This, needless to say, remains an arbitrary demarcation and is not meant to fix the boundaries of a ‘greater’ southern Europe: it simply serves to disassociate the idea from the usual quartet of nation states with their presumed commonalities, while retaining a spotlight on the core-periphery tensions that I have just indicated. In addition, I use ‘Mediterranean’ as a straight synonym for ‘southern’: due to limited space and because it is beyond the immediate scope of this paper, I do not discuss the geopolitical and cultural significance of the Mediterranean Sea in relation to southern Europe and the wider transcontinental region (on such matters, see HERZFELD, 2005; GIACCARIA and MINCA, 2011).

8Most scholars engaged in critical debates about southern European cities will be familiar with the pioneering work of Greek geographer Lila Leontidou who, following her 1990 study of the post-war development of Athens, developed the idea of ‘southern urban theory’ (LEONTIDOU, 1996). Drawing on Antonio Gramsci and postmodern debates in geography, Leontidou argues that the cities of Mediterranean Europe represent an alternative tradition to the urban modernity of the northern European core. These are cities that are ‘based on late industrialization, a feeble bourgeoisie, and informal labourers rather than a proletariat’ (1996, p.180), and are characterized by anti-planning and informality rather than zoning and fordist factories. They exist as ‘geographical, socio-economic and cultural in-between spaces’ (ibid.) that contest the traditional dichotomies in political economy (development/undevelopment, core/periphery) and urban theory (urban/rural, modern/traditional). Leontidou calls on ‘organic intellectuals’ to dethrone the evolutionist bias that has long held southern European cities to be backward or even anti-urban, and to instead devise hybrid, situated theories that can be ‘incorporated/injected into the urban theory proper of contemporary geography’ (ibid., p.192).

9While I am sympathetic to Leontidou’s goal of challenging the ways in which northern European models have traditionally framed interpretations of urban development across the rest of the continent, I find her need to delineate the common attributes of southern cities problematic and somewhat counter-productive. Leontidou is certainly alert to the existence of exceptions and differences within Mediterranean Europe (she highlights, for instance, the particular case of Third Italy). However, besides the fact that her empirical bearings are firmly anchored in Greece, her desire to deconstruct urban theory is often trumped by her move to build a rescaled, southern ‘grand narrative’ (to use her own postmodern vocabulary) in order to expose and confront a ‘northern cultural hegemony’ (p. 183). This runs the risk of ironing out the plural and contradictory processes shaping the cities across Mediterranean Europe. For instance, although anti-planning and spontaneity are evocative ideas, they do not always apply to the case of Italian cities, while nothing is said about more mundane (and ubiquitous) questions such as nation-building and city-state relationships that are fundamental to understanding the divergent paths of post-war urban development in Italy. Moreover, as I argue below, some aspects of Italian urban culture have actually played a more influential role upon ‘northern narratives’ of urbanization than Leontidou’s schema would allow for.

10One could argue that Leontidou’s premises are by now dated. Since her key publications of the 1990s, some southern European cities have become, in fact, a common focus of international (Anglophone) urban studies, such as Barcelona, often singled out as a paradigmatic case of urban regeneration in Europe (MCNEILL, 1999; GONZALEZ, 2011; ARBACI and TAPADA‑BERTELLI, 2012), and Athens, more recently examined as a model of austerity urbanism (VAIOU 2014; ARAMPATZI, 2016; KOUTROLIKOU, 2016). While this attention has de facto broadened understandings of urban processes across Europe, research on southern European cities has not always actively engaged in interrogating conceptual hierarchies or unpacking the historically and geographically contingent ways in which urbanity comes to be defined, either because such an endeavour is of little immediate concern or due to an unspoken genuflection towards Anglo-American theoretical agendas. As such, and despite the limits of ‘southern urban theory’, Leontidou’s call to mobilize the aporetic positions of southern European cities in order to unsettle mainstream urban debates is as valid today as it was twenty years ago, and it raises a set of caveats to be heeded when we nominate, imagine and think critically about the ‘European city’: caveats that have become increasingly underestimated as the conventional fault line in critical urban geography has shifted to a Global North/Global South divide.

11Over the last decade or so, postcolonial debates in Anglophone geography have sought to similarly challenge the universal presumptions of northern urban theory, but from a broader global perspective and with a greater emphasis on a multi-sited, relational approach to analysis. While the postcolonial goal of working towards a realignment of core-periphery geographies and debates about urban futures through a ‘worlding of cities’ (ROY, 2009) resonates with Leontidou’s original aims of ‘bringing a global perspective into the critique of urban theory’ (1996, p. 188), it is significant that both Leontidou and southern Europe are largely absent from current discussions and analyses. For instance, in the recent Routledge Handbook on Cities of the Global South, which declares ‘explicit commitment to engage the twenty-first century through a ‘southern urban’ lens’ (OLDFIELD and PARNEL, 2014, p. 1), just one of the fifty contributions cites Leontidou’s work, while only one other briefly refers to southern Europe. On the contrary, some scholars seem to speak self-assuredly about the ‘parochial experience of EuroAmerican cities’ and ‘EuroAmericanhegemony’ (ROY, 2009, p. 820), to the extent that they erase any trace of north/south and centre/periphery binaries within these spaces.

12The fact that the very existence of a European South is not acknowledged in many discussions today would appear to reconfirm the marginal place of this area in global urban studies, and one would be forgiven for concluding that the dominant postcolonial perspective offers more of an obstacle than a stimulus for interrogating the particularity of its urban processes and outcomes.

13Nevertheless, I believe that Leontidou’s original concerns can be usefully combined with a postcolonial urban perspective to rethink the question of southern European difference(s). The idea of ‘ordinary city’ developed by Jenny ROBINSON (2006) signals a constructive point of departure. Decoupled from the imperative of a southern frame, it follows that all cities are necessarily ordinary, in that they all invent different ways of being modern, but this being modern can only be grasped by being brought into the same general field of analysis. The ‘ordinary city’ serves, first and foremost, as a mnemonic device that continually prompts us to contemplate how cities are perceived to produce or err from an urban norm, or are willed to lead or imitate other places. Fundamentally – and this is less ostensible in the postcolonial literature –the ordinariness of a city is never the sum of its various constituent parts but sits in tension with the competing claims and desires that exist within it. In other words, the task is as much about unpacking internal ethnocentrisms as it is about tackling external theoretical bias. However much we might seek to critically position, say, Athens, Barcelona or Tirana in relation to the northern Mediterranean region, Europe or the world, such connections are at the same time always actively negotiated and contested from inside these same cities. The dual role of ‘ordinariness’ – in underlining contextual meaning and allowing for an ethnographic perspective on comparative gestures – is particularly conducive for framing questions about public space in southern European cities.

2 - Segregation and public space: An appropriate couplet?

14As noted above, studies on urban segregation focus typically on housing and neighbourhoods. Nevertheless, over the last three decades the concept has also entered into international debates about the transformation of urban public space. Commentators point to, for instance, the correlation between growing social inequalities in cities and the proliferation of mono-functional spaces such as gated communities that are physically separated from the rest of the built environment and secured by control and surveillance mechanisms (KOHN, 2004, p.6). However, the idea of segregation in public space remains theoretically nebulous and more often than not is conflated with the term ‘exclusion’. It is also something difficult to measure: compared with studies of residential distribution, far less can be inferred from an analysis of statistical data about demographic change and related indices about income, occupation status or education.

15As critical studies routinely inform us, over history people have been refused entry or restricted in their use of public space on the basis of a host of variables: gender, ethnicity, age, physical and mental ability, legal status and so on. This points to the complicated, evanescent nature of public space, which is both a material setting of urban life and the sphere where representations of different publics become embedded within the social imaginary. But the difficulty of a rigorous definition is also due to the fact that both segregation and exclusion exist in constitutive tension with urban public space: for this has always been the site where social differences are defined, censured, enforced and contested. Some forms of segregation are, of course, functional to the very success of a public space, as in the famous case of Coram Fields in London where adults are banned from entering the park unless accompanied by a child. Moreover, it has been argued that the utopian notion of a totally non-segregated space, where difference is free to thrive unchecked, would in practice privilege certain powerful groups, while displacing and deterring weaker others (MERRIFIELD, 1996).

16Generally speaking, however, critical debates on segregation and public space have been couched in negative terms. Hence, segregation often operates as a synecdoche for any unwelcome restriction on free access and encounter. It also tends to be associated with the creeping privatization of the public realm; a process that is considered most acute in cities where neoliberal restructuring is at its most advanced, particularly in the United States and the United Kingdom, but it is also evident in Global South cities with wide disparities in wealth, such as São Paolo (CALDEIRA, 2000). The mutation of public space is a politically and morally charged issue, connecting with questions such as social justice, democracy and the right to the city, and unsurprisingly has been an established topic among radical social scientists and urban planners who, especially during the 1990s, were given to denouncing the erosion or even ‘end’ of public space in contemporary cities (SORKIN, 1992).

17Despite their lasting appeal in popular discourse, such pessimistic accounts have not gone unchallenged. Contemporary observers were quick to underline that the more extreme doom-laden scenarios were not only politically ineffectual but simply did not square with empirical reality. Proclamations tended to extrapolate from iconic sites, such as the shopping mall or the theme park, while ignoring nondescript or peripheral spaces in the same sites. As Paddison and Sharp asserted in their study of inner-city Glasgow, ‘much public space functions in a more banal way, integrated with the routines in which everyday life is conducted in the local neighbourhoods making up the city’ (PADDISON and SHARP, 2007, p. 88). Attending to the banality of public space can help us avoid making peremptory allegations about segregation and encourages us to be alert instead to the often subtle and unexpected trajectories of separation that exist in public space, and which are shaped, crucially, by different historical and geographical circumstances. It is especially important to adopt such an approach when considering southern European cities in order to elude the usual trap of decontextualization but also, as I now discuss, to tackle the counter discourse that there exist areas in the world where urban public space is reputed to be in a healthier, less segregated state.

3 - Between the exemplary and the extra-marginal: The public space of southern Europe

18When it comes to the question of public space, southern European cities have rarely been seen to be playing a catch-up game with their counterparts in the North. On the contrary, Mediterranean Europe has long provided the West with some of its most heralded urban forms – the Greek agora, the Roman forum, the piazza of the medieval Italian city state – that have acted as exemplars of public life and have offered, especially since the late eighteenth century, ideological ballast to western patrimonial claims to democracy and citizenship (SLATER, 2004). The spatial and architectural legacies of the classical, medieval and Renaissance periods have occupied privileged positions in notions about the ideal city and have persisted as objects of desire in modern and postmodern urban planning, as epitomised by the famous late‑nineteenth‑century celebratory treatise on the Italian piazza by Austrian planner Camillo Sitte (SITTE, 1965).

19Urban thinkers have often viewed the public realm of southern European cities to be more resilient in the face of contemporary socioeconomic ruptures than in certain northern cities blighted by industrial decline. Put another way, if segregation in public space is a diagnosable malaise, then southern European public spaces might offer an antidote. For Henri Lefebvre, doyen of critical urban studies, the solar rhythms of the Mediterranean afford a more intense and richly contrasting urban experience than that experienced in the lunar oceanic towns of the North (Lefebvre and Régulier 1986), while for Richard Rogers, chief architect of the New Labour government’s urban renaissance agenda in the UK, the compactness and vibrancy of urban life of Barcelona offered inspiration for the regeneration of Britain’s beleaguered public realm (URBAN TASK FORCE, 1999). In a more recent switch in emphasis, the central public spaces in southern European cities, such as Puerta del Sol in Madrid and Syntagma Square in Athens, have today become, alongside equivalent spaces in north Africa, global symbols of urban insurrection, which have been interpreted as confirmation of an intricate link between grassroots collective action and the urban life of the region (LEONTIDOU, 2010).

20The task at hand here is not to discredit the global North’s recurrent fantasy about public space in Mediterranean Europe. Of course, the various piazze, plazas, trgova and other spaces are just as subject to exclusionary dynamics and regeneration plans as everywhere else. For example, in Barcelona new public spaces created through selective demolitions of condemned buildings – or esponjamiento – were meant to decrease population density and resolve the social marginalization of popular neighbourhoods but have also been implicated in gentrification processes in the same areas (ARBACI and TAPADA‑BERTELLI, 2012).The point, rather, is to understand how ideas about ‘good’ public space in southern Europe are themselves acts of enclosure that are able to circulate, like any urban model, by virtue of establishing internal hierarchical orders and removing heretic or non-exemplary elements from their paths.

21Similar to Achille Mbembe’s argument about the West’s negative essentialization of African politics and economics (2001, p. 8), some areas and cities of southern Europe more than others are interpreted principally for what they lack, be this a clearly defined class structure or public space itself. For example, as a paragon of civic space during the modern era, the Italian piazza was closely associated with the urban traditions of Central and Northern Italy. Indeed, iconic sites such as Siena’s Piazza del Campo played a leading role in the construction of an Italian urban culture following Unification in 1861. In sharp contrast, contemporary declarations about the dearth of appropriate urban forms in the Italian Mezzogiorno acted to exclude the region’s cities from the cultural foundations of the new nation state (GRIBAUDI, 1997, p. 85). Rather, the physical layout and social composition of cities such as Naples and Palermo provided a unified Italy with negative templates from which to countermeasure the progress of the economically favoured North.

22Foreign observers have consistently reproduced this lopsided view of Italian public space. For instance, North American and British architects have long been captivated by the civic and political dimensions of Italian piazzas (ROWE, 1997; CANNIFFE, 2009), but rarely mention examples south of Rome. It is worth also noting that the image of an insurrectionary Mediterranean that has resounded across global media and academic circuits of late is itself the result of a process of enclosure. While the ‘movement of the piazzas’ in Athens and Madrid has been deemed to encapsulate ‘a re-invention of politics…all around the Mediterranean’ (LEONTIDOU, 2012, p. 310), the coeval public protests against landfills during the Naples trash crisis between 2008 and 2011 were instead dismissed by international commentators as little more than irrational jacquerie (DINES, 2016).

4 - Segregation alla napolitana?

23I want to now flesh out the points raised above by briefly reflecting upon how two issues that are reshaping the public space of cities across the world – international migration and cultural heritage – play out in the particular context of the historic centre of Naples. Italy’s third metropolis has historically been renowned for its vibrant public life. For example, Walter Benjamin and Asja Lacis (1978) famously wrote of the city’s ‘porosity’ whereby Neapolitan street life was characterized by the perpetual commingling of public and private activities. Benjamin and Lacis, like many before and after them, describe urban space in Naples as socially permissive and promiscuous: in other words, as unsegregated. However, it is precisely for this aspect that the city has been deemed to lack public space in the civic, northern-central Italian sense. Visitors and academic scholars alike have been appalled and enthralled by the apparent absence of social and spatial order in the city’s public realm, which was compounded by the unfettered preponderance of the subaltern classes in its central streets and piazzas. During the post-war period, like other southern Italian cities such as Bari and Palermo, the immense historic core of Naples became increasingly associated with its lower-income residents as the middle classes moved out to modern suburbs. Following the 1980 earthquake and the strengthening of organized crime, the local media and sections of the Neapolitan bourgeoisie cultivated a public discourse about the debarment of ‘normal’ people and tourists from much of the historic centre on account of perceived dangers and the overbearing presence of traffic, and an accompanying revanchist call for the area’s ‘civic renewal’. Since the early 1990s and under a succession of centre-left administrations, this discourse has been institutionalized as the historic centre of Naples and its public spaces have become the focus of urban regeneration strategies. Hence, while the resort to architectural design and traffic calming measures to entice people back to the historic centre has resonated with initiatives carried out across Europe, in Naples a particular stress has been placed on redefining and civilizing local publics (DINES, 2012).

24Allegations about the permissive nature of Naples’ public space have also been echoed in political and media debates about international migration in the city. A case in question is Piazza Garibaldi, located in front of the city’s main railway station and since the 1980s the principal social and economic hub for numerous groups of migrants in central Naples. During the so-called ‘Neapolitan Renaissance’ of the 1990s, which saw the restoration and pedestrianization of a number of monumental spaces (DINES, 2012, p. 130‑68), this piazza came to be seen as the historic centre’s unregenerate site par excellence on account of a host of identified problems, in particular illicit and informal economic activities and the unregulated congregation of migrants. Although the space had historically been associated with informality and disorder (and not necessarily in a negative way), the shift in emphasis during the period reflected the concomitant securitization of Italian immigration policy and the proliferation of security discourses in national and municipal politics, which was particularly pronounced in the positions of the city’s post-communist mayor. Migrants thus found themselves increasingly the target of law and order offensives in the piazza, which sometimes sought to curtail particular uses of the space (for example unlicensed street trading), while, at the same time, they were invariably omitted from regeneration visions for the area. Nevertheless, different groups of migrants have continued, regardless, to use and reshape the piazza, and, among other things, have contributed significantly to the revitalization and transnationalization of the neighbourhood’s retail economy (SCHMOLL, 2012).

25Here I want to highlight two things: first, spatial segregation is never a finished outcome but is always in the process of being made and remade and, second, an understanding of how this unfolds in Piazza Garibaldi needs to draw on different scales of analysis. At the global level, the dynamics in the piazza can be seen to reflect how migrants across the world are often vulnerable to the exclusionary consequences of urban restructuring, but also how they simultaneously transform urban space and reposition it within global flows of power and capital (GLICK-SCHILLER and ÇAGLAR, 2010). At the southern European level, Piazza Garibaldi represents a microcosm of broader trends that have occurred in Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece: the settlement of migrants in large urban areas from the 1980s onwards (i.e. later than in northern Europe); their incorporation into low-wage and informal labour markets; and the emergence of multi-layered, super-diverse spaces that, even when centrally located, are often marginal or entirely separate to the public space itineraries of the ‘local’ population (NOUSSIA and LYONS, 2009). Nationally, as noted, major political shifts with regards to immigration and public security framed debates and actions in the piazza. Meanwhile, like other cities in the Mezzogiorno, the historical experience of emigration and a certain laissez-faire attitude towards the multiple economic and social uses of public space were perceived by locals and migrants alike to temper the conflicts that had occurred in northern Italian cities (such as anti-immigrant patrols by resident committees), although this did not prevent crude generalizations about the causal links between migrants and crime being made by the media and local ‘moral entrepreneurs’ in Piazza Garibaldi. Finally, at a specifically local scale, the socio-spatial dynamics of Piazza Garibaldi can be seen to expose the irreconcilability between, on the one hand, public rhetoric about the ‘multicultural spirit’ of Naples and, on the other, the assumption that the regeneration of the historic centre and the rehabilitation of urban identity were essentially ‘indigenous’ affairs. At best, migrants were the passive beneficiaries of any planned improvements to the piazza, while their integration into revived public space depended upon their adherence to appropriate spatial behaviour (so, no loitering, no unlicensed street trading, no excessive domestication of the public realm such as open-air meals and naps, etc.).

26Public anxiety about the recalcitrant conduct of local people has been a central motif in the regeneration of public space in Naples over the last two decades and is closely bound up with the second question of cultural heritage. Since the 1990s there has been growing emphasis at institutional level on conserving and harnessing the built heritage of the entire historic centre as a resource for economic and tourist revival and as means of reinvigorating civic pride. The time frame for this interest in Naples contrasts sharply with central and northern Italian cities such as Venice, Florence or Rome with their consolidated heritage tourism industries. For instance, until the 1980s, low-income neighbourhoods in Naples’ historic centre were still being earmarked for demolition. With a shift in political consensus, heritage protection has since been used as a premise by the local media, administration and members of the Neapolitan bourgeoisie to censure the unrefined habits of local residents in the historic centre, from street football to the participation in illicit economic activities (DINES, 2016). The various calls to respect the cultural heritage of Naples have ranged from sober proposals for heritage education programmes in schools to knee-jerk demands that local vandals and their kin be sent to a ‘Siberian gulag’ (DINES, 2013). Either way, heritage protection is perceived as a civilizing process that potentially can render Naples more appealing and competitive on the national and global stage. As in Piazza Garibaldi, this has actually resulted in intermittent clampdowns on the most conspicuously errant uses of public space such as locals’ motorized incursions into pedestrian zones. However, when the unrelenting flurry of the city transgresses prescribed limits of propriety and perhaps results in physical or symbolic damage to the public realm, this tends to fuel public denouncements about the inherent backwardness of certain Neapolitans. Segregation in public space thus also fundamentally exists as something desired: political discourses about a regenerated historic centre contain within them trajectories of separation, wherein public space is imagined as a contact zone between civic-minded and culturally conscious citizens and tourists, and where the recalcitrant are either reformed or kept at bay.

Conclusion: The variable geometry of spatial segregation in southern European cities

27The reordering of public space in central Naples has been explored in depth elsewhere (DINES, 2012). The brief reflections above are not intended to provide a summary of spatial segregation in Naples. Instead, they have aimed to tease out two key issues: first, the nuanced and contradictory nature of segregation in public space; and, second, the multi-layered contexts through which such a process needs to be examined.

28Segregation in public space cannot be defined as the incontrovertible outcome of some form of inequality that is measurable through recourse to statistical data. Rather than a quantifiable thing, it needs to be viewed as something that is incomplete and unstable, material and discursive. While instances of spatial exclusion certainly exist as the corollary of public security concerns and immigration policy, this article has argued that attending to the ‘trajectories of separation’ implicit within social relations or political agendas can elicit a more incisive understanding of segregation in public space. Thus, for instance, the governmental desire to separate the ‘normal’ citizen from the wayward user will always remain unconsummated, but this nevertheless influences strongly the way in which public space in Naples is managed, represented and experienced.

29Tracing the complex processes of exclusion in public space requires thinking through different scales of context. As I have noted, approaching the question of spatial segregation through a southern European frame in order to counter northern theoretical models (and rhetorical accounts about the ‘end’ of public space) itself risks overlooking the divergences and hierarchies that exist within Mediterranean Europe. The example of Naples, with its fraught relationship with Italian urban culture, helps to unsettle certain arguments that are made in the name of the ‘southern European city’. As revisionist historians of the Mezzogiorno have insisted, there are many Souths to the South, and some are considered more southern than others.

30This article suggested that ‘ordinary city’ might be more conducive as a starting point for a situated analysis of spatial segregation in Europe’s South: not as a theoretical model but as a mnemonic device. The notion of ‘ordinary city’ (and, indeed, ‘ordinary public space’) encourages us to acknowledge the particular scale of the southern European city and how this has been marginalized in ‘northern’ urban theory, without the ‘South’ turning into a conceptual haze that precludes other international, national and regional scales of comparison. But if ‘ordinariness’ is to have traction, it needs to fully take on board how discriminatory binaries, conceptual biases and ethnocentrisms also play out within cities.

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Bibliographical reference

Nick Dines, From ‘southern’ to ‘ordinary’Méditerranée, 127 | 2016, 101-108.

Electronic reference

Nick Dines, From ‘southern’ to ‘ordinary’Méditerranée [Online], 127 | 2016, Online since 01 November 2016, connection on 04 June 2023. URL:; DOI:

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About the author

Nick Dines

Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, European University Institute, Italy,

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