Jason Winn is a certified planner with the American Institute of Certified Planners, and certified energy manager with the Association of Energy Engineers. He has practiced architecture and urban planning in Texas and Illinois for 14 years and is currently conducting research at the Eastern Mediterranean University.
Deriving a Narrative Infrastructure
from Community Stories in Famagusta Walled City - Cyprus
by Jason Winn, AICP, RA, CEM, LEED AP+
I had never visited Cyprus before I decided to move here from Texas. Eastern Mediterranean University offers an academic community situated in contested space on the doorstep of an abandoned modern city—unique conditions to study urban sustainability through the lens of storytelling.
My professional work over the last decade led me to ask how can planners and architects support the sense of place? I hope to add to the work in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, Planning Education and Research, the Community Development Society, Public Policy and Administration, or the Policy Studies Journal which have been publishing authors with diverse backgrounds all focused on how stories define cities for good or ill.
Famagusta/Gazimağusa, cradled in a great bay on the east coast of Cyprus, is a city fractured by conflict. After emerging from 2,600 years of colonial rule, Famagusta’s resort community Varosha briefly prospered as the most popular tourist destination on the Mediterranean. The centuries of ill-will between Greek and Turk ideologues erupted in a civil war during the 1960s that was only quelled with the intervention of the Republic of Turkey who forced a partition now overseen by the United Nations.
Yet, for all the drama, it is a laid-back Mediterranean island.
North Cyprus’s role as a meeting place of the Middle-East, Europe, and Africa is unusual. With its fleet of private universities, tens of thousands of students from Iran, Iraq, Syria, UAE, Niger, Palestine, Turkey, and many other places converge on North Cyprus striving to change the world together.
My neighbors, like many native islanders, typically spend Sunday in the company of family—barbecuing meats and sharing foods all afternoon. The ladies gather in the kitchen or around a big table to assemble the dozen side dishes (mezelar). The men of the family gather around the fire to debate the best way to cook the kebab. Later, having over-salted their own portion, they attempt to cleanse the meat with douse of lemon juice. All the while, children dash about exploring new ways to alleviate their boredom without wireless Internet.
Seeking Stories
There are subtle stories. Weekly another neighbor ventures into the ancient church-yard outside my window to fetch a bag of groceries from a tree left for her moments before by a vagabond-looking elder with a Bob Marley backpack. Over Türk kahvesi (Turkish coffee), my friend and translator Mehmet explained to me, "As long as you have a job and the latest car, no one will question what you do at home. Your home-life is entirely private and you can get away with anything."
There are the stories told about Cyprus: "a fractured land and divided people." There are the stories told by the Cypriots: "The young left for London and Frankfurt. Many elders moved out of the old neighborhoods. The immigrants moved in and we don’t know them." Then there are the secret stories they keep to themselves. All these stories inform the land use policy, they inform the sense of citizenship, and the result is a landscape of hidden histories and ruins – both ancient and modern – that is the setting of daily life.

Three years ago, the Famagusta Walled City Association (MASDER) started recording the narratives of walled city natives (in Turkish). The organizers graciously provided copies of forty-six of the taped recordings to me to raise funds to translate for research in stakeholder narrative mapping.
A typical public stakeholder-engagement process is a sharing of stories about life’s problems and joys relevant to the specific urban context (Hoch 2000, p.438). The cross-sectional nature of this process means it is limited in duration and its scope focuses only on specific issues (Sandercock 2003). Historic community narratives embody local cultural values (both civil and uncivil) and impart the meaning behind the observable urban context. These narratives provide a longitudinal means of public stakeholder-engagement with development actors (i.e. city administration, builders, and consultant designers and planners.) Reviewed and updated over time, such a method can lead to more germane outcomes. These narratives become the infrastructure that informs place identity (Valera 1998).
In a similar manner as the civil infrastructure systems underlie the city and support its function, a narrative infrastructure is the pattern of memories that underlie the outward manifestation of the city and impart "meaning" (or "relevance") to inhabitants and visitors (Arendt 1959, p.176). Civil and narrative infrastructures are both long-term investments that, when well maintained, improve stakeholders’ quality of life. Synthesis of narratives is a critical skill of urban designers (Hammer 1999). However, because narratological analysis has not been extensively employed by planners and urban designers, the synthesis of community narratives to both disciplines are not well understood.
Space and Narrative
Using the Walled City of Famagusta as a case study, my research aims to describe the spatial relationships of informal narratives at the meso (neighborhood) level. The first objective is to define and populate the components of the narrative infrastructure. The second objective is to define how the narrative infrastructure evokes the sense of place in stakeholders.
In the context of this study, domain is the approximate boundary of the teller’s range of activities. Meaning is the approximate degree of continuity of urban fabric from past to present that aids recall of spatially-addressed narratives. Identity is defined as the teller’s emotional investment in their narrative.
Using the explanatory and independent variables (teller, narrative, and urban fabric) to understand the dependent variables (domain, meaning, and identity), these are my initial research questions:
1. What is the spatial distribution of the narratives?
2. Do cohorts occupy the urban fabric in patterns defined by the narrative themes
3. Are the patterns of memory influenced by Walled City space syntax or service locations?
4. Is there a correlation between narrative characteristics and neighborhood condition, type, or age?
Using this narrative infrastructure, future research should ask:
  1. Can counter-narratives be responsibly and ethically applied through social and mass media to adjust a local narrative thus resulting in improved urban fabric?
  2. Can public policy, building codes, and urban design standards be derived from community narratives?
  3. After a narrative infrastructure is formally published, does it then influence tellers’ use of urban fabric or the narratives they express?
Planning Practice
All codes, all ordinances, all policies—from Hammurabi to Euclid—are the distilled "moral" of someone’s story shared with the polis. As a foreign planner, my biases and cultural-narratives are different from this island community.
Yet, the practice of planning is an exercise in listening to stories—from people, elected officials, the land, the specialists, and the developers. By gathering a narrative infrastructure for communities, practicing planners will have an enduring and adaptable tool derived from the stories of the local people to leverage both incremental and strategic planning processes. Without knowing whence we have come, how could we know which way is forward?
This article originally appeared in the American Planning Association, International Division periodical "INTERPLAN" in March of 2018. The author would like to thank the editor Alan Mammoser and the staff at the APA.
Arendt, H., 1959. The Human Condition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Hammer, D., Lileiman, J. Park, K., 1999. Between Positivism and Postmodernism: Hannah Arendt on the Formation of Policy Judgments. Review of Policy Research, 16, pp.148–182.
Hoch, C.J., Dalton, L.C. & So, F.S. eds., 2000. The Practice of Local Government Planning 3rd ed., Washington: ICMA University.
Sandercock, L., 2003. Out of the Closet: The Importance of Stories and Storytelling in Planning Practice. Planning Theory & Practice, 4(1), pp.11–28.
Grand panorama from the west wall of Famagusta’s Walled City: http://www.gigapan.com/gigapans/207220