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Disruptive Practices: Disordering Boundaries to Social Potential in Milton Keynes

Part 2 Dissertation 2023
Gabi Watkins
University of Cambridge | UK
This dissertation considers the extent to which participatory spatial practices enable tactile democracy within cities, raising political questions in evaluating resident-led planning. The brief addresses the spatial manifestations of the legacy of post-war planning decisions in Milton Keynes, a British new town designated in 1967, whose rationalised grid-roads create physical and perceived boundaries still affecting mobility today. The architect’s role in enabling social potential is assessed through the lens of affirmative spatial practice, enabling communities to resist naturalisation of ideologies, through sustained dialogue and a diversity of tactics in creating democracy capacity relationships. Such non-placatory relationships can be found in the social practice of commoning, therefore this dissertation proposes a potential “third space”, reclaimed to practice tactile democracy. The precedents draw from interdisciplinary fields and situated fieldwork, attempting to untangle the social from architectural practice. The dichotomy between assumed value-free logical planning, and supposed ethical participatory best practice, is assessed against prevailing political power structures. Rather than presenting the vague notion of community as the crux of urban planning, this dissertation argues for participatory politics over nostalgic ideologies within spatial practice, balancing intentional disorder and careful management, to disrupt social boundaries in Milton Keynes.

Gabi Watkins

Timothy Brittain-Catlin
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