Zozobra: the tensions of urban space

Cottam, Hilary (1999). Zozobra: the tensions of urban space. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.000049b5


My enquiry starts from a practical perspective: that of the intractable problems of our inner cities; inadequate service delivery, absent infrastructure, poverty, unemployment. Themes unquiet and persistent. I offer a critique of approaches to policy and argue that post-structural theoretical shifts offer new practical perspectives and the potential for imaginative understandings, which remain largely unexplored. I focus on the built space and the emotions in an attempt to alter the perspective from which questions are asked, and to problematise the questioning process itself. Questions of method are integral to this thesis.

The story told is that of the barrio of La Cienaga. It is at once a particular story; that of one of the oldest barrios of Santo Domingo, the capital city of the Dominican Republic, and of the individuals who live there. It is also a typical story of a deprived inner city area that can be found the world over. Residents of La Cienaga discuss the public spaces of the barrio, the private spaces of their homes and their links and visions of the wider city which surrounds them. Stones tell of what it feels like to live in such a place, how the built environment affects social relations, the possibility of community, aspirations and a sense of self. In the second half of the thesis I look at the story telling process: the purpose of stories: their ability to reveal and heal. I return to my practical concerns and examine the implications of both my method and the findings uncovered in the first half of the thesis, for the concrete recurring problem of the barrio: waste and absent infrastructure. The result is a solution that neither I, nor the barrio residents, could have imagined at the outset.

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