Human Territoriality and the Downfall of Public Housing


Kenny Cupers
Public Culture, 29: 1, 2016

This article examines theories of human territoriality and their historical role in the demise of public housing in Western Europe and North America between the 1960s and the 1980s. The neglect and privatization of the public housing stock and the withdrawal of the state in direct provision in this period is often subsumed under the category of neoliberalism. This article unpacks this narrative by focusing on the intersection between architecture and social science. It argues that the neoliberalization of housing not only constitutes a transformation of housing economics—from public to private funding—or design—from high-rise blocks in large estates to semi-detached or detached individual dwellings; it also constitutes an epistemological turn, which revolves around the shift from “habitat” to “human territoriality.”

Photo from Alice Coleman’s Utopia on Trial, 1985 © Coleman