Dance Dance Dance: Urban Planning and the Desire to Choreograph Urbanity

Helen Runting

Project Period:
Type: Affiliated PhD research
Program Area(s): Material Conditions/Critical Projections


Broadly, my doctoral research addresses the possibility of theorising a mode of “critical” urban planning practice. I’m interested in whether, despite my discipline’s intrinsic lack of “autonomy”, planning is able operate critically with respect to the socioeconomic and politicoaesthetic conditions of architectural production. Specifically, I take as my point of departure the task of constructing a critique of several “images of complexity” that planning currently projects ((i) in the performance of participation, (ii) in the curation of architectural variation, and (iii) in the choreographing of the use of public space), arguing that such projections constitute a veneer that cross-clads one market logic as another, thereby evading the possibility of targeted critique and thus the production of alternative forms of complexity.

Part of the series of three introductory critique described above, this paper represents an attempt to critically makes sense of the way in which the city of Stockholm attempts to programme public space through its “activation” via planning policy mechanisms. It traces the notion of “activation” through urban design theory, emphasising the appropriation of space syntax theory in the task of emphasising co-presence and connection; and further makes links to economic rhetoric of the “experience economy” and its accompanying focus on “meetings”. As a theoretical sketch intended to precede a more detailed empirical investigation, the paper focuses on the role of planning and planners in stimulating presence and co-presence, using the model of the “choreographer” as a disciplinary counterpart through which the limits of planning might be revealed.

In performing the above sketch, I use science fiction as a methodological tool and source material, using the paper to frame and expand upon a short
science fiction story recently submitted for publication in ‘The Swedish Dance History’, and drawing upon the character of the Sheep Man in Haruki Murakami’s novel Dance Dance Dance (hence the title of this article).

Researcher(s) Bio and Publications