Improvising the City Multiple: Working Through Uncertainty in Ekaterinburg
21 Pages Posted: 9 Apr 2019
Date Written: January 19, 2019
This paper discusses improvisation as an urban practice in the face of uncertainty. It develops the notion of urban improvisation as situated and emergent action at the encounter of planning and event. To that end, it analyses the multiple mutations of what eventually became the Boris Yeltsin Presidential Centre in Ekaterinburg, a flagship cultural project in Russia’s third-largest city. Morphed from an office block into a memorial multi-purpose complex, the Yeltsin Centre is the product of acting under protracted uncertainty while mobilising the potentialities immanent in that very uncertainty. Based on documents, media reports, interviews and ethnographic research, the paper analyses three aspects of improvisation that made the Yeltsin Centre emerge in its current, precarious form: improvising a purpose, improvising uses, and improvising a public space. As a result of this improvisation, the Yeltsin Centre today is not just a presidential memorial, but one of the most popular public spaces in Ekaterinburg and a rare forum for controversial political debate in an authoritarian setting. The paper concludes to discuss uncertainty as a chance for the political openings it can create and improvisation as a form of uncertain acting in an uncertain world to actualize the potentialities of the city multiple.
Keywords: flagship projects, culture, improvisation, uncertainty, Russia, memorial
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