Thursday, March 17, 2005

Fear, safety, surveillance and resistance

Surveillance DK:UK

In spite of the advantages they bring, the burgeoning use of surveillance systems is eroding our understanding of privacy and our right to be anonymous within the terms of the law. Denmark and London are two prime examples of the ever-widening presence of surveillance. London is the most visually observed city in the world. For example, every single car entering the centre of London has its number plate registered. Denmark has a less visible but all-pervasive state; the personal state number is the only key to society. The Danish government doesn't even need an official census.

Research into the state of surveillance in London and Denmark forms the basis for six concepts that will be exhibited by Designskolen Kolding at the Danish Design Centre during spring 2004. The individual exhibits are currently under production. This website presents the concepts that the students are creating for the exhibition.

E.g. How to Disappear

As the title describes, the 'How to Disappear' kit is a practical do it yourself kit containing all the tips and gadgets you need to fight surveillance. Packaged in anonymous video cassette cases you will find a selection of 'disappearance-articles' along with usage instructions, a catalogue with more gadgets and tips, and of course, a lot more information on the subject.

We hope, that by making this extreme kit, we can provoke the visitor, NOT to disappear, but to take part in the debate and demand the respect for their own private life we feel is an essential part of a democratic society.

Elsewhere: SAFE: Design Takes on Risk

SAFE is an exhibition of design objects and prototypes designed in order to 1) respond to situations of emergency; 2) protect the body and the mind from dangerous or stressful situations; and 3) provide a sense of comfort and safety. In the tradition of such great MoMA exhibitions as Machine Art (1934), Architecture Without Architects (1964), and Modern Masks and Helmets (1991), it redirects the pursuit of beauty toward the appreciation of economy of function and technology. The exhibition was proposed and is organized by Paola Antonelli, who chooses objects traditionally considered products of engineering, rather than of design—a distinction that has never given much pause to MoMA curators. It features objects that were born from innovation, as well as solutions that stem from traditional material culture.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Class reminders

Everyone will get their research papers back in class on MAR 15 - they look really good so far!

Group projects are due MAR 22

Each "unofficial guide" to Ottawa will be posted on the course web site, and links will be added to this weblog. Please email any electronic files to me after you submit the project and I should have everything online within a few days.

And I also want to gently remind everyone that they should be keeping up on their journals (or weblogs for some). Remember that this is where you collect notes and questions on the readings, reflections on class discussion - especially if you are someone who likes to listen more than talk - as well as your research notes and project ideas.

Journals are due on MAR 29

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

On cars and mobilities

Lowrider Cruising Spaces (pdf) by Ben Chappell

Automotive Emotions: Feeling the Car (pdf) by Mimi Sheller

Inhabiting the Car (pdf) by John Urry

Automobility, Car Culture and Weightless Travel (pdf) by John Urry

Centre for Mobilities Research, Dept. of Sociology, Lancaster University

Alternative Mobility Futures Conference - Papers

Mobile Cultures (pdf) by John Urry

Advertising and the metabolism of the city: urban space, commodity rhythms (pdf) by Anne M. Cronin

Rushing around: coordination, mobility and inequality (pdf) by Elizabeth Shove

On skateboarding and parkour

Review of Skateboarding, Space and the City: Architecture and the Body by Iain Borden

A Performative Critique of the American City: the Urban Practice of Skateboarding, 1958-1998 by Iain Borden

Streetstyle: Skateboarding, Spatial Appropriation, and Dissent by Taro Nettleton

Godzilla vs Skateboarders: Skateboarding as a Critique of Social Spaces

CBC Radio 3: Bouncing Off the Walls: A Parkour Primer

"The name 'parkour' literally mean circuit in French, and for those who practice the sport, the idea is simple: cut a path through the city without letting obstacles such as 4.5 metre high walls, concrete stairwells, or buildings get in your way...

'Everything is way more fun; there are no more sidewalks or streets, just endless possibilities...'"

Also:

Check out Andy Day's stunning photos, his Parkour Life article for BBC Birmingham, and his research paper, An Introduction to Parkour (pdf) - which focusses on the performance of space and traceur identities

Space and Culture: Parkour Space

BBC News, The art of Le Parkour, 19 April, 2002

New York Times, New Way for Teenagers to See if They Bounce, March 28, 2004

Guardian Unlimited, A Jump Ahead, July 10, 2004

Carbon JUMP LONDON (reviewed by Matt Jones) & JUMP BRITAIN documentaries

Urban Freeflow

Le Parkour: L'art du deplacement / The Art of Movement

On walking, space and culture

Walking as Knowing as Making: A Paripatetic Investigation of Place

Theory of the Dérive by Guy Debord

What is Psychogeography?

A Short History of the Future of Walking by Phil Smith (member of Wrights & Sites, the fine folks who created An Exeter MisGuide)

Pedestrian Culture Through the Ages

Flâneur journal

venice.ambulantscience.org

Psychogeography and the dérive

Walkscapes: Walking as an aesthetic practice by Francesco Careri

Walter Benjamin's New York

A Few Foot Notes on Walking by David Macauley

Toronto Psychogeography Society blog

Walking in the City: Spatial Practices in Art, from the Mid-1960s to the Present

Algorithmic Psychogeography: The generic principle applied to the city walk

Fragments of the Passagenwerk : A meander through the Arcades Project of Walter Benjamin

The Toronto Flâneur: Get Lost in Your Own City by Shawn Micallef

Walter Benjamin and Flânerie

LECTURE - Moving through the city

[discussion placeholder]

Readings

Michel de Certeau, "Walking in the City" from The Practice of Everyday Life

Sally Munt, "The Lesbian Flaneur"

Iain Borden, "Another Pavement, Another Beach: Skateboarding and the Performative Critique of Architecture"

Mimi Sheller and John Urry, "The City and the Car"

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Global Cities: Berlin

Ramesh Kumar Biswas and Felix Zwoch, "Berlin: Potzdamer Platz and Beyond" in Metropolis Now!

Summary


Further

Potsdamer Platz, early 1900s(?)

At the wall, Potsdamer Platz, 1987

Potsdamer Platz, current

Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire / Der Himmel über Berlin

Berlin, the unchanging symphony of a big city: Determining story in Der Himmel über Berlin and Lola rennt by James M. Skidmore

Review of Run Lola Run / Lola rentt & Berlin location photos

Tom Tykwer's Lola rennt: A Blueprint of Millennial Berlin by Margit Sinka

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

LECTURE - Public Spaces & Public Lives

[discussion placeholder]



Readings

Richard Sennet, excerpt from The Fall of Public Man

Henri Lefebvre, "The Right to the City"

Rosalyn Deutsche, "Uneven Development: Public Art in New York City " from Evictions: Art and Spatial Politics

William Julius Wilson, excerpt from The Truly Disadvantaged

Also:

Henri Lefebvre on the Situationist International

On the Plaza: The Politics of Public Space and Culture by Setha Low (library)

The right to the city : social justice and the fight for public space by Don Mitchell (library)

Variations on a theme park : the new American city and the end of public space edited by Michael Sorkin (library)

Brave new neighborhoods : the privatization of public space by Margaret Kohn (library)

And I know you guys get plenty of my voice as it is, but when we didn't have class in February, I was in Boston giving a talk about wireless art, play and public space. In it I talked quite a bit about Sennet and the difference between public space and common space, and if you're interested you can listen to the lecture.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Class reminders

Just a reminder that there is no class on the 22nd because of Reading Week, but I will be in my office from noon until three on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

Your research papers are DUE when we go back to class on Tuesday March 1, 2005.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

LECTURE - Cities and Bodies

This week we looked at the relationship between cities and bodies, from a variety of perspectives.

First, Vidler addresses the question of bodies and cities from the perspective of "metropolitan psychopathology" and masculinity. Beginning with the idea that the modern illness of agoraphobia was connected to the turn-of-the-century view that urban spaces cause fear, dread and isolation in their inhabitants, he reminds us that a fear of open or public space was also assumed to be a problem that particularly afflicted women and homosexuals (two social identities that were supposed to stay in the private realm). Adding claustrophobia to the mix further supports the idea that cities were seen to be responsible for mental illness, and Vidler suggests that modernist architects stepped up precisely to restore the city to a more "natural" state and reconfigure it as open, extended and "cleansed of all mental disturbance".

He also claims modernist (architectural) space has, for the most part, been constructed by and for men. The predilection for sharp lines and angles, as well as the transformation of natural spaces into construction sites, can be read as a desire to reshape the world in which these architects lived. Le Corbusier's "ineffable space" (l'espace indicible) was infinite and transcendent, and "objects, if possible free-standing, generated force-fields, took possession of space, orchestrated it and made in sing or cry out in harmony or pain". The values of these "men in space" sought to "conquer" the city by returning to natural form and forces, or as Giedion wrote in 1948: "Our period demands a type of man who can restore the lost equilibrium between inner and outer reality. This equilibrium... keeps a continuous balance between [man's] being and empty space".

Second, Gleeson addresses bodies and cities in terms of disability or matters of physical inaccessibility and socio-spatial exclusion. In this way he problematises the body for which, and by which, cities are made: "In terms of ease or comfort, most cities have been designed not merely for the nondisabled but for a physical ideal that few human beings can ever hope to approximate".

Beginning with the recognition that physical inaccessibility reduces the ability of disabled people to participate in urban social and political life, Gleeson creates a geography of disability that automatically defines cities as "invisible gaols" for the disabled. Focussing specifically on the relationship between social welfare models for caring for the disabled, and how they play out in physical space, he describes what he calls "zones of dependence" and related forms of "ghettoisation". However, this reality has also led to cities emerging as "spaces of resistance" and centres for disability movements.

The remainder of the excerpt has Gleeson looking at the differences between the pursuit of individual rights and changes to social policy - and how they relate to our assumptions about bodies and cities. In the end, he favours broad societal changes because they better accommodate the idea that cities are not merely surfaces "upon which materialities are rearranged" but rather "artefacts of human society". As such, it will take changes to society to create cities that do not exclude the disabled.

Finally, Elizabeth Grosz problematises our very understanding of how bodies and cities are related. She defines the body in terms of a material organisation given unity only through psychical and social inscription, and as such, always already incomplete. By city, she means a complex and interactive network of social relations, activities and processes (including architecture, geography and civic infrastructure). We can also see traces of earlier course readings in her assertion that the city "provides the order and organization that automatically links otherwise unrelated bodies."

But her article critically evaluates what she calls the "body politic" and "political bodies" - two pervasive models of the interrelation of bodies and cities. In the first model we see that the city is viewed as a "product or projection" of the body. In other words, "humans make cities" and cities develop according to the needs and designs of people. In this model, cities and bodies are binary opposites (objects and subjects) that have a contingent or causal relationship either conceived of as one way (from subjectivity to environment) or dialectical (from subjectivity to environment and back again). In the second model, there is a "parallelism or isomorphism" between the body and the city, where the two are seen as "analogues...in which the features...of one are reflected in the other". In the body-politic, the city reflects the "natural" organisation of the (always male) body, where hierarchical relationships are "justified and naturalised" as for the "good of the whole".

As an alternative to the causal and representative relations described above, Grosz combines the two:

"Like the causal view, the body (and not simply a disembodied consciousness) must be considered active in the production and transformation of the city. But bodies and cities are not causally linked [and] the body does not have an existence separate from the city, for they are both defining. Like the representational model, there may be an isomorphism between the body and the city. But it is not a mirroring of nature in artifice. Rather there is a two-way linkage which could be defined as an interface, perhaps even a cobuilding."

Put simply, the relationship between bodies and cities is not contingent, but mutually constitutive. Her proposed model then sees bodies and cities as "assemblages capable of crossing thresholds" or a "fundamentally disunified series of systems and interconnections, a series of disparate flows, energies, events or entities, and spaces, brought together or drawn apart in more or less temporary alignments."

The implications here are quite profound if we recall the common claim that cities are alienating: "If bodies are not culturally pregiven, built environments cannot alienate the very bodies that produce. However, what may prove unconducive is the rapid transformation of an environment, such that a body inscribed in one cultural milieu finds itself in another involuntarily".

In this way, our concern necessarily shifts to the organisation of subjects and objects. Cities establish spaces, divisions and interconnections which simultaneously individuate bodies as subjects and organise social rules and expectations. Grosz ends her article by tentatively predicting the impact that communication networks will have on these mutually constitutive relationships: "The subject's body will no longer be disjointedly connected to random others and objects according to the city's spatio-temporal layout ... [but rather] modelled on and ordered by telecommunications".

How can we use Grosz's critique to evaluate the positions of both Vidler and Gleeson? Is it fair to characterise Vidler's position as belonging to the second model she describes, and Gleeson's to the first? How does the concept of the bodies/cities assemblage reconfigure their claims? Or are they interested in fundamentally different qualities?

Readings

Anthony Vidler, "Bodies in Space/Subjects in the City"

Brendan Gleeson, excerpt from Geographies of Disability

Elizabeth Grosz, "Bodies/Cities"

Also:

Madness, Disability and Social Exclusion The Archaeology and Anthropology of 'Difference' edited by Jane Hubert

Global Cities: Moscow

Felix Zwoch, "Moscow: Hotel Moskva" in Metropolis Now!

Summary


Further

Moscow graffiti: language and subculture by John Bushnell (library info)

Moscow days : life and hard times in the new Russia by Galina Dutkina (library info)

How Moscow is becoming a capitalist mega-city by Vladimir Kolossov & John O'Loughlin

Urban planning in Russia: towards the market by O. Golubchikov

Moscow, the global city? The position of the Russian capital within the European system of metropolitan areas by I. Brade & R. Rudolph

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

LECTURE - Space, power & everyday life

So far we've looked at how cities are defined, and in whose interests. Now we're going to focus on how cities organise social difference and interaction, or how power plays out in spatial terms.

Madanipour looks at how exclusion is always already a socio-spatial phenomenon. Defining exclusion in terms of lack of access to employment, lack of political representation and marginalisation from cultural symbols, meanings, discourses and rituals, he reminds us that the worst kind of exclusion combines all three. These forms of exclusion, he argues, tend to be spatially concentrated in places like the inner-city or peripheral areas.

"In the past, this spatiality of social exclusion has led to attempts to dismantle such pockets of deprivation without necessarily dismantling the causes of deprivation or the forces bringing them together in particular enclaves... [resulting in] attempts to despatialize social exclusion."

In order to demonstrate the spatiality of social exclusion, Madanipour cites national boundaries as well as neighbourhoods. In the case of nations we have political boundaries, and in the case of neighbourhoods we have property boundaries, and in terms of management or governance, both nations and neighbourhooods are regarded as mutually exclusive, if inter-related, areas. In other words, the "spatiality of social exclusion is constructed through the physical organization of space as well as through the social control of space".

Zukin addresses the privatisation and commercialisation of public space in New York City by focussing on the creation of collective identity as a function of the symbolic economy:

"Building a city depends on how people combine the traditional economic factors of land, labor, and capital. But it also depends on how they manipulate symbolic languages of exclusion and entitlement... What is new about the symbolic economy since the 1970s is its symbiosis of image and product, the scope and scale of selling images on a national and even a global level, and the role of the symbolic economy in speaking for, or representing, the city... The symbolic economy unifies material practices of finance, labor, art, performance, and design... Developing the city's symbolic economy involves recycling workers, sorting people in housing markets, luring investment, and negotiating political claims for public goods and ethnic promotion."

By equating the city with cultural production, Zukin essentially positions the city as brand, and then evaluates the consequences of turning public space into brand(ed) space. Central Park, Bryant Park and the Hudson River Park, she argues, are more private than public if we consider how they are funded and governed. She outlines the history and implicit values associated with privatisation or restoration of public space. Separate, quiet, attractive and safe, these public parks offer rather precise defintions of which public they serve. Zukin characterises New York's public parks as the "visual and spatial representations of a middle-class public culture", deliberately constructed and maintained to be "equated with a return to civility" and attempting "to reclaim public space from the sense of menace that drives shoppers, and eventually store owners and citizens, to the suburbs".

She concludes by noting that each section of the city gets a "different form of visual consumption catering to a different constituency... In general, however, their vision of public space derives from commercial culture." In this process of social stratification we may find what she calls the "politics of everyday fear" - which then forces us to ask "who will occupy the image of the city?" and "how do we connect what we experience in public space with ideologies and rhetorics of public culture?"

We'll return to the question of public space in later classes, but for now Zukin questions who gets to do what, when and where, in our cities - and keeps us oriented towards issues of space and power.

Davis offers a view of Los Angeles that draws on points raised by both Madanipour and Zukin - especially the politics of fear and the organisation of difference. In this short excerpt he sees residential and commercial security undermining any "residual hopes for urban reform and social integration".

"In cities like Los Angeles, on the bad edge of postmodernity, one observes an unprecedented tendency to merge urban design, architecture and the police apparatus into a single, comprehensive security effort..."

[See also Military Operations as Urban Planning by Phillip Misselwitz and Eyal Weizman and War as Architecture by Tom Vanderbilt.]

"[But] 'security' has less to do with personal safety than with the degree of personal insulation, in residential, work, consumption and travel environments, from 'unsavory' groups and individuals, even crowds in general... [and] the universal and ineluctable consequence of this crusade to secure the city is the destruction of accessible public space... The 'fortress effect' emerges, not as an inadvertent failure of design, but as deliberate socio-spatial strategy."

Davis claims that urban (re)development in L.A. reproduces "spatial apartheid" and further entrenches inaccessibility - or the spatial and social separation of old and new, poor and rich. He fears that much urban gentrification leads to not just the "killing of the street" but also the "killing of the crowd" as ethic diversity becomes almost impossible in these spaces of [white] "middle-class work, consumption and recreation".

If we bring these questions and concerns home, so to speak, do you see any evidence of this in your neighbourhoods? How does socio-spatial exclusion work in Ottawa? If we understand the problem to be both spatial and social, what are some ways of building more inclusive cities?

Readings

Sharon Zukin, "Whose Culture? Whose City?" from The Cultures of Cities (library info)

Ali Madanipour, "Social Exclusion and Space" from Social Exclusion in European Cities

Mike Davis, "Fortress L.A." from City of Quartz (library info)

See also:

Out of place : homeless mobilizations, subcities, and contested landscapes by Talmadge Wright (library)

Behind the gates : life, security, and the pursuit of happiness in fortress America by Setha Low (library)

Geographies of Exclusion by David Sibley (library info)

Tearing down the streets : adventures in urban anarchy by Jeff Ferrell (library)

Inclusion and Exclusion in European Societies edited by Martin Kohli & Alison Woodward

Spaces of Social Exclusion by Jamie Gough, Aram Eisenschitz & Rosemary Sales (forthcoming)

Global Cities: Soweto

Henning Rasmuss, "Soweto: The Dis-Location" in Metropolis Now!

Summary


Further

State Power, Violence, Crime and Everyday Life: a Case Study of Soweto in Post-Apartheid South Africa by M. Chabedi

Soweto Now by Achille Mbembe, Nsizwa Dlamini & Grace Khunou

'I Saw a Nightmare . . .': Violence and the Construction of Memory (Soweto, June 16, 1976) by H. Pohlandt-McCormick

Backyard Soweto by O. Crankshaw, A. Gilbert & A. Morris

Monday, February 07, 2005

Cities and violence

Martin Amis reports from the streets of Colombia - and draws a vivid picture of a culture of violence.

How does he describe the social make-up of the barrios or neighbourhoods? How does violence weave itself into the practice and experience of everyday life?

Are these scenarios reserved only for stories of the 'third-world'? How do these descriptions compare and contrast with stories you have heard about American inner-cities? And when do Canadian cities get discussed in these ways?

Canada's 25 Major Metropolitan Centres

Vanessa passes along a recent report from the Canada Research Chair in Urban Change. Thanks!

Canada's 25 Major Metropolitan Centres: a Comparison (pdf)

"Canada's urban system is characterized by growing diversity. This diversity is manifested in a number of ways: the percentage of foreign born, differences in income, housing characteristics, rates of population growth and levels of education just to name a few. The following brief discussion and accompanying charts of key indicators highlight some of the differences that exist between Canada’s 25 major metropolitan centres. The analysis also illustrates the position of Winnipeg for each indicator that is profiled. The analysis is based on the 2001 census data with some indicators illustrating change over the 1996-2001 period. The discussion suggests a growing concentration of Canada's population in the major metropolitan centres, particularly the largest of these centres."

The report covers population change, education, employment, household income, households falling below the poverty level, tenure, dwellings in need of major repair, dwellings built prior to 1946, dwelling values, renters and owners, housing affordability, lone parent families, persons of aboriginal identity, foreign born and recent immigrants.

Looking at local conditions, Ottawa-Hull has grown more rapidly than the national average, has a higher percentage of people with more than one university degree, a lower unemployment rate, lower poverty rates, newer housing, higher rents and less affordable housing. unfortunately, the report doesn't give information on Ottawa's social and ethnic make-up.

What do you think of the mandate and research objectives of the Canada Research Chair in Urban Change and Adaptation?

After reading the last post, what do you think of the indicators this study used?

Does this research tell you what you want to know about quality of life in Canadian urban areas?

Cities and civilisation

When I was on the plane last week, reading Air Canada's enRoute magazine, I was struck by their Civilization Index:

"It began in August 2002 with a simple, optimistic premise: that civilization was a thing to be measured, like population or GDP. If the UN could measure Human Development, then why couldn’t enRoute measure Human Civilization? With indices and formulas prepared, our correspondents – wherever possible, locals who knew their cities intimately – started collecting data. For 2.5 years in 24 cities, we stood on street corners ... [and] finally, we are ready to present the complete rankings, summarizing what we’ve learned about the world’s great (and not so great) cities."

But get their five indicies of civilisation!

1. Soft Drink/Beer Ratio
In the absence of distorting government taxes, a single beer costs the same to produce and distribute as a soft drink and should therefore cost the same.
2. Signature Carbohydrate Comparison
This comparison of the quality of that most basic of all foodstuffs, the carb, uses the Parisian croissant as the benchmark of quality at 100 points.
3. Babe and Hunk Index
Truly civilized places cultivate the arts, among them the sophisticated practice of adorning oneself with a certain sense of style.
4. Street Life Indicator
A measure of the health and vitality of any city is the availability of the stuff of everyday life for sale on the street.
5. Public Order Index
Order is a subtle thing, a balance between over-regimentation and anarchy, measured in this case by the dynamic tension between the number of pedestrian jaywalkers and the traffic flow, as measured by the speed of a taxi trip.

I'll admit instantly dismissing the first three indicators of civilisation, but the last two, street life and public order, are quite interesting.

What do you think?

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Global Cities: Singapore

Puvan J. Selvanathan, "Singapore: The Forbidding City" in Metropolis Now!

Summary


Further

Singapore edited by Garry Rodan (library info)

Cosmopolitanism and its exclusions in Singapore by Brenda Yeoh

"Clean and green — That’s the way we like it": Greening a country, building a nation by Chin Soon Peter Teo

On the Waterfront: Globalization and Urbanization in Singapore by T.C. Chang, Shirlena Huang & Victor R. Savage

Creating and Recreating Heritage in Singapore by Kim Jane Saunders

Pathways to global city formation: a view from the developmental city-state of Singapore by Kris Olds & Henry Yeung

Global Cities: Marseille

Michel Peraldi, "Marseille: Layer Upon Layer" in Metropolis Now!


Summary



Further

Virtual tour of Marseille

Global Cities: Instanbul

Jean-Claude Guillebaud, "Istanbul: A City In Search of a Continent" in Metropolis Now!

Summary


Further

The politics of rapid urbanization: government and growth in modern Turkey by Michael N. Danielson & Rusen Keles (library info)

"There Is an Istanbul That Belongs to Me": Citizenship, Space, and Identity in the City by A. Secor

Citizenship in the City: Identity, Community, and Rights Among Women Migrants to Istanbul by A. Secor

The impact of urban renewal and gentrification on urban fabric: three cases in Turkey by C. N. Uzun

City, Music and Place Attachment: Beloved Istanbul by F. H. Sancar

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Bits & pieces

Just a reminder that there is no class this coming Tuesday (Feb 1) so that you can work on your individual research projects. By the time we see each other next (Feb 8) you should have a clear idea of what you want to do and will need to run it by me before you proceed.

One important thing to keep in mind: this is not a descriptive project - your task is to problematise, research and critically evaluate something about global or local urban life.

I've already received email from some of you, but if anyone has questions or concerns please contact me.

Also, some links to inspire your individual and group research projects:

Remapping High Wycombe / Tele-tap / A Consumer's Guide to Times Square Advertising / Location is Everything / A generation lost in its personal space / The Gates @ Central Park / AlgoMantra

Friday, January 28, 2005

Global Cities on film: Cidade de Deus / City of God

City of God (pdf) by Bülent Diken

Diken examines the spaces and cultures of the Rio de Janeiro favela in Cidade de Deus. In turn a wild zone, a dumping ground, a labyrinth, a liminal space, a sacred space, a space of fantasy, of exclusion, of flows, a sublimated space, a real space and a fictionalised space, City of God raises interesting questions about how spaces and cultures are performed on and off screen.

Film website

Global Cities on film: Hong Kong

Michael Wolf, Architecture of Density

Michael Wolf, Architecture of Density, Hong Kong

"One of the most densely populated metropolitan areas in the world, Hong Kong has an overall density of nearly 6,700 people per square kilometer. The majority of its citizens live in flats in high-rise buildings. In Architecture of Density, Wolf investigates these vibrant city blocks, finding a mesmerizing abstraction in the buildings' facades...

Some of the structures in the series are photographed without reference to the context of sky or ground, and many buildings are seen in a state of repair or construction: their walls covered with a grid of scaffolding or the soft colored curtains that protect the streets below from falling debris. From a distance, such elements become a part of the photograph's intricate design.

Upon closer inspection of each photograph, the anonymous public face of the city is full of rewarding detail - suddenly public space is private space, and large swatches of color give way to smaller pieces of people's lives. The trappings of the people are still visible here: their days inform the detail of these buildings. Bits of laundry and hanging plants pepper the tiny rectangles of windows - the only irregularities in this orderly design."

Wolf's photo project Hong Kong: The Front Door/The Back Door: Adapting to the architecture of density takes an even closer look at how people make space for themselves, further challenging our understanding of private and public places. Beautiful work, if slightly suffocating.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Global Cities: Bombay

Ramesh Kumar Biswas, "Bombay: One Space, Many Worlds" in Metropolis Now!

Summary



Further

Photos here and here.

Bombay: metaphor for modern India edited by Sujata Patel and Alice Thorner (library info)

Bombay: mosaic of modern culture edited by Sujata Patel and Alice Thorner (library info)

Life and labour in a Bombay slum
by Jeremy Seabrook (library info)

Bombay: the cities within
by Sharada Dwivedi (library info)

Global Cities: São Paolo

Giselle Beiguelman, "São Paolo: Main Street, South America" in Metropolis Now!

"São Paolo is an atypical metropolis - neither a political capital, nor one based on a pre-European settlement like Mexico City, it is nevertheless the sole South American megacity."

Beiguelman's vignette of one of the world's largest cities begins with one particular space, Avenida Paulista, but "it would be a mistake to consider the avenida Paulista a miniature of the city or its metaphor. Megacities do not easily fit into this kind of box. But it is one of the most powerful and dynamic images of São Paolo's contradictions and paradoxes..."

A much more poetic account than Burdett's pragmatic and cool tale of London, the city emerges as simultaneously beautiful and decaying, both empty of meaning and saturated with symbolism. Levi-Strauss, in Tristes Tropiques, wrote that it would be necessary to draw a new map of the city every day if one wanted it to be accurate, and São Paolo is still described in terms of chaos, or "movement, speed and agglomeration".

She describes the city as one of gaps and interruptions, but the voids are actually home to millions. More than half of the city's official population of 11 million live in illegally occupied properties, favelas or slums, and over one quarter lack basic infrastructure like water and electricity. Topographically, and socially, the city is divided into highlands and lowlands - "Up there, they eat ... Down here, we work!" - and the organisation of the city is described as one of "disintegrated integration". Nonetheless, Beiguelman considers economic forces, and associated transportation infrastructure, to be the driving forces in the development of São Paolo. Public and private space in the city have always existed in tension with each other. In colonial times, the agrarian and industrial bourgeoisie lived along broad open avenues, establishing these areas as political and economic centres of the city - although "formerly Latin America's leading industrial center, São Paolo City now concentrates the telecommunications market within it". This shift to a high-tech economy is moving urban life away from Avenida Paulista, something which Beiguelman sees as a predictor of the decline of public space, and particularly laments because transformation is not so much indicated as it abandonment.

When I read this article, and despite the fact that Beiguelman is Brazilian, I was reminded of Wilson's "World Cities" and what she describes as the "voyeuristic horror of the westerner". After all, in Rio one can take favela tours - "not voyeuristic at all" - although this also points to some interesting cultural complexities and tourist economies, as well as the (advertised) idea that this is the "best way" to experience the "contradictions and paradoxes" of Brazilian urban life. Less horrific, but perhaps equally voyeuristic, is American business' love affair with São Paolo or the common characterisation of the city as "Blade Runner in the tropics". But can we say that Beiguelman 'suffers' these kinds of voyeurism? Is her view patronising? Overly nostalgic? Exploitative? What would an 'appropriate' account of a 'third world' city look like?

Further

City of Walls: Crime, Segregation, and Citizenship in São Paulo by Teresa Caldeira

Social struggles and the city: the case of São Paulo edited by Lúcio Kowarick (library info)

Shadow Cities: A Billion Squatters, A New Urban World by Robert Newirth

LECTURE - Urbanism & Culture

I wanted to begin looking at urbanism and culture by introducing how different perspectives shape urban experience. The two excerpts for today will open the way for a more substantial discussion of space and power - whose city and whose culture? - in the coming weeks.

In "World Cities" Wilson begins by summarising a viewpoint with which we have become familiar - the anxious assessment of the growth of cities and its social implications - but adds that "the city they discussed was the western city". This exclusion has been both advertent and inadvertent, but has too often had the effect of distinguishing 'third-world' cities as embodying the worst of western growing pains - and in need of western attention:

"It has been usual to take the view that the cities of the third world are becoming, at least superficially, more like western cities ... At issue in the whole debate about urbanisation in the third world is an underlying presumption that urbanisation must always follow the same path taken historically by western cities in the industrial period ... Despite the changing form of colonialism, the west has not lost interest in former dependencies and new 'spheres of influence'. On the contrary, research on a huge scale has been undertaken into the problems of the new world mega-cities ... As a result, there is today a mass of information about non-western cities, but this knowledge is itself used as the instrument of power and domination ... 'Detached observers' have attempted to investigate and describe the life of the 'teeming' cities, not in order to enter into the experience of urban life - as the flaneur of nineteenth-century Paris or twentieth-century Sao Paolo had done - but in order to change and reform."

She continues to discuss the differences in urban planning and city life around the world, in particular focussing on the impacts of colonialism on the development of local ways of urban living. Central to her perspective is recognising how colonial rule often conflicted with traditional settlement planning and cultural practices by imposing new organisational structures, as well as creating new social relations and changing existing relations within local communities. Not surprisingly these impacts varied greatly according to the different cultures of the imperial powers and the wide variety of colonised people and places. In other words, despite the western tendency to view the 'third world' as rather homogeneous, there are significant differences in Asian, African and Latin American spaces and cultures.

If western cities have been characterised as impersonal and chaotic, third world cities have been described as poverty-stricken and crime-ridden places where families and communities sink under this double-threat. In many ways, third-world cities are 'unplanned industrial cities' of the kind described by Engels, and Wilson argues, have been subjected to virtually no end of 'improvement' projects based on western assumptions about 'normal' families, work practices and living requirements. While this does indeed sound oppressive, she cautions the reader not to assume that third-world city dwellers live lives of total apathy and despair:

"Life in the city provides the preconditions for continuing struggle, since in the city the poor, although excluded from the comforts of the city, are exposed to its modernity. The existence of the benefits of urban life - even though they are excluded from them - justifies their demand for inclusion. The gulf between what is and what might be may appear to widen; on the other hand, the city both raises aspirations and gives more chances of their realisation."

In the excerpt from Tomlinson's Culture and Global Change, he continues to unpack the idea of global culture, or what urban culture means around the world. Some varieties of the globalisation argument include notions of cultural imperialism, or the idea that world cities are inevitably becoming westernised under the power of mass media and other economic and political forces, and Tomlinson offers several challenges to such perspectives.

First, he outlines a history of 'global culture' that spans the imperial projects of both the ancient and modern worlds, the prostelitising efforts of the major religions and various movements for world peace - all of which are utopian in the overly optimistic sense that differences will be overcome and humanity will enter a new era of cooperation. In contrast, today's version of global culture is more often seen as inevitable and somewhat dystopic.

"It is not a culture that has arisen out of the mutual experiences and needs of all humanity. It does not draw equally on the world's diverse cultural traditions. It is neither inclusive, balanced, nor, in the best sense, synthesising. Rather, globalised culture is the installation world-wide, of one particular culture born out of one particular, privileged hisorical experience. It is, in short, simply the global extension of Western culture."

But, Tomlinson argues, this assumes particular things for which there is much evidence to the contrary. For example, it is difficult to define exactly what constitutes Western culture in the first place. Western culture actually comprises many cultures, and so is heterogeneous while also incorporating a wide variety of non-Western values and practices. And while not ignoring the influence of global capitalism, he suggests that much of what is taken to stand for Western culture (brands like CNN, Nike and McDonald's) are not usually considered by Westerners as indicative of any sense of 'owned' culture, but rather the one 'that is just there'. In some ways, then, everyone is equally subjected to the 'culture industry' being described. And in any case, we have come to understand that cultural transmission is never one-way. Many Westerners resist in a multitude of ways, and anthropologists have long described the ways in which culture contact plays out. People tend to take what fits and discard what doesn't, and in most cases, make their own from what they encounter by force or choice.

In tamdem, we can see these articles as pointing towards the ways that global cities and global cultures emerge as part of a complex web of relations, where power and control play out not only in global scale but also in local forms. This sense of hybridity between the local and global will also be a theme to which we return in later readings.

Readings

Elizabeth Wilson, "World Cities" from The Sphinx in the City

John Tomlinson, "Globalised Culture: The Triumph of the West?" from Culture and Global Change

See also:

Department of Sociology, Lancaster University, papers on Globalisation and Ethnicity, Identity, Migration.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

What makes a city?

Italo Calvino, Hermit in Paris:

"And besides, cities are turning into one single city; a single endless city where the differences which once characterized each of them are disappearing ... This idea, which runs trough my book Invisible Cities came to me from the way that many of us now live: we continually move from one airport to another, to enjoy a life that is almost identical no matter what city you find yourself in ... At the same time, we are close to the time when no city will be able to be used as a city; you waste more time on short trips than on long journeys."

SuperCity: Will Alsop's vision for the future of the North

"Imagine a future in which the vast M62 corridor is a singular entity, a huge coast to coast 'SuperCity', 80 miles long and 15 miles wide. Here city limits are blurred, its inhabitants live in Liverpool, shop in Leeds and go clubbing in Manchester. Using the latest forms of advanced transportation, SuperCity residents could wake up by the Mersey and commute to an office overlooking the Humber. Air travel from a central hub puts the world on our doorstep. What impact will this have on the traditional definition of a city and the people who work, rest and play in this radical new landscape?"

The shape of things to come - if you live in Manchester

"At the heart of SuperCity ... is the key issue of what makes a city... To survive, cities depend above all on their sense of identity. It's the product of their architecture, their history and their geography but, in the end, it's stronger than any physical reality.Edinburgh and Glasgow, for example, may touch each other but they are not the same place ... Liverpool and Manchester are similarly edgy about each other. London, on the other hand, has a different problem. It is no longer a territory defined by political boundaries or transport authorities, or even the M25, but spreads all the way from Bournemouth to Ipswich..."

Show to unveil vision for northern 'SuperCity'

"[A]lthough the SuperCity between Liverpool and Hull could be thought of a single entity, the success of the area rested on celebrating the different characteristics of individual centres.

'A seamless coast-to-coast city would be nightmare. This exhibition is anti-sprawl, it's a plea against homogenity. The places in between towns are as important as the centres themselves.'"

Also: Will Alsop's Supercities video (real media)

'Super city of north' is unveiled

Related:

Cedric Price's Potteries Thinkbelt

Superstudio's Il Monumento Continuo

Guide to Ecstacity by Nigel Coates (in the green research section)

Predation and consumption: adrift in ecstacity
(book review)

Zoomscape by Mitchell Schwarzer