Public Transport as Public Space in European Cities: Narrating, Experiencing, Contesting (PUTSPACE)

Wojciech Kębłowski, David Bassens

Research Cosmopolis Centre for Urban Research Mobility & Transport

Tallinn University (Estonia), Leibniz Institute for Regional Geography (Leipzig, Germany), Åbo Akademi University (Turku, Finland), Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB), Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB).

Public transport research is dominated by economistic and technocratic readings and remains peripheral in the humanities literature. Yet public transport is an intense and intimate site for encountering cultural diversity, facilitating social integration and negotiating public space. In the project, ‘Public Transport as Public Space in European Cities: Narrating, Experiencing, Contesting’ (PUTSPACE), we aim to humanise transport research by studying diverse narratives, experiences and contestations of public transport, as they have been unfolding in cities across Europe since the late nineteenth century. The project places public transport at the frontline of contesting what is, can be, or should be public in the city. 

PUTSPACE examines public transport as one type of public space, challenging existing definitions of public space. The project will explore how public transport confronts citizens with social diversity, speaks of different types of ownership, disciplining and surveillance, subversion, interaction and remaking of social norms. We articulate this conceptualisation through four objectives:

(1)   to critically conceptualise and analyse what kind of public space public transport is;

(2)   to understand urban transformations of public space in European cities – leading to increased social diversity and polarisation, liberalisation, privatisation and securitisation –by attending to public transport as one of the most intense and contentious of all public spaces; 

(3)   to offer a located and historicised perspective on the transformation of public space by examining narratives, experiences and contestations connected with public transport in different European cities; and

(4)   to contribute to public transport-related research, as well as to intervene in civic mobilising, planning and policy via a humanities-led analysis and conceptualisation of public transport.

The project brings researchers from across Europe together with transport practitioners, enthusiasts, civil activists and curators, profiting from a strong involvement of Associated Partners. In so doing, the project aims to have an impact that is both academic and societal, humanising public transport research and practice.

Running time: June 2019 - May 2022