In the Global Streets (and Alleyways) of Asia

Society of Architecture Urban Historians of Asia

Jeffrey Hou, University of Washington

Protesters, vendors, dancers, office workers, migrant workers, law enforcement – streets (and alleyways) are where cities in Asia come alive and space where people from all walks of life participate in their collective making. Designed primarily for utilitarian functions and even social and political control, streets in Asia are often subject to appropriation and adaptation, sometimes in the most subversive manners – as a stage of political uprising. As such, the streets of Asia are a window through which we can begin to understand the shifting politics of space and society at both macro and micro levels in the region. Borrowing the term “Global Street” from Saskia Sassen, this talk examines streets, alleyways, and other formal and informal public spaces in selected cities in Asia as a stage for both agonistic and affective forms of collective actions. Distinct from the ritualized forms of public spaces in the other traditions, the appropriation and adaptation of streets themselves represent a form of transgression and insurgency, a process that involves the agency of individuals and collectives in challenging or circumventing the established norms and hegemony. By challenging the contemporary norms of publicness and properties, the recent actions in the streets and alleyways in Asia also signify a resurgence of urban spaces as commons.


Jeffrey Hou is Professor of Landscape Architecture at the University of Washington, Seattle. His work focuses on community design, civic engagement, and public space. In a career that spans the Pacific, he has worked with indigenous tribes, farmers, and fishers in Taiwan, neighborhood residents in Japan, villagers in China, and inner-city immigrant youths and elders in North American cities. Hou is recognized for his pioneering writings on guerrilla urbanism and bottom-up placemaking, with collaborative publications including Insurgent Public Space: Guerrilla Urbanism and the Remaking of Contemporary Cities (2010), Transcultural Cities: Border-Crossing and Placemaking (2013), Messy Urbanism: Understanding the “Other” Cities of Asia (2016), Design as Democracy: Techniques for Collective Creativity (2017), and City Unsilenced: Urban Resistance and Public Space in the Age of Shrinking Democracy (2017). He was a recipient of the Great Places Book Award and the CELA Excellence in Research and Creative Work Award. Hou was appointed as the City of Vienna Visiting Professor at TU Wien in 2013 and was a Fulbright scholar in Taiwan in 2015. For the past 18 years, he has worked with community organizations in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District to renovate and develop new community open spaces and streetscapes while building community capacity. More recently, his work has focused on civic urbanisms in East Asia, examining new models of community building and civic actions.


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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