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Liveability and the Right to the City

 for the second year running, Australia’s political capital was named the best city in the world by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), a result that made northern hemisphere observers wonder if, down under, they were looking at the rankings upside down.

Canberra is a deathly place. It is a city conceived as a monument to the roundabout and the retail park, a bleak and relentless landscape of axial boulevards and manicured verges, dotted with puffed-up state buildings and gigantic shopping sheds.  (The Guardian 12 Dec. 2014)

“Liveability” and “liveable cities” do not have anything to do with the right the city, Lefebvre’s vision of cities as oeuvres or collective “works of art”.  The Guardian complains “The Economist Intelligence Unit puts Melbourne in first place, followed by Vienna, Vancouver, Toronto, Adelaide and Calgary. There is never any mention, on any list, of London or New York, Paris or Hong Kong. There are no liveable cities where you might actually want to live. ”  This is a common complaint, for liveability means public spaces that are in practice new, untroubled by historical memory, and often-times actually private property “lawns” and fountains in front of office towers, “lobbies without walls” as Oliver Wainwright sums up.

“Liveability” is a dream of an urban communion in the consumption of public spaces as a collective good.  Public sidewalks are privatised as outdoor cafe spaces to enhance the spectacle of enjoyment.  But the resulting urban environments are not platforms for self-expression, collective memory or political voices.  Contra apostles of “new urbanism”, bodies do not assemble here but pass through in a pedestrian transit vision of public space and social order or they pay to stay.   The architects protest that they are powerless, just following orders of capitalist owners.  But this total vision suits the paternal order that sets these bodies in motion, atomised and probably texting, at the feet of monumental buildings.  In Wainwright’s article, Gehl is quoted saying “It’s good for democracy if people can meet each other on the street.”  But people are discouraged from any collective encounter in these streets.  In this sense, is “liveability” totalitarian?

Totalitarian: Lacking rights to redeveloped urban spaces, has there not been a new enclosure of the urban commons?  Totalitarian: what sets limits or counterbalances a version of liveability that privileges a professional class of well-heeled “Bobos” that are “bohemian” only in their own eyes?  As consumption goes online and is thus increasingly individualised or enclosed in the “telephone booth-sociability” of online tweets and comments, these unpublic spaces become a key ritual site of belonging for inhabitants of the cities of OECD.  It confers on some the rights to these spaces and excludes others that are not “properly” active economically, bodies that do not comply, are disabled or disordered.

As consumption goes online and is thus increasingly individualised or enclosed in the “telephone booth-sociability” of online tweets and comments, these unpublic spaces become a key ritual site of belonging for inhabitants of the cities of OECD.  However, Occupy and the revolutions of the second decade of this century demonstrate that it is in the moments of political ferment when these spaces are occupied by people that there is a self-recognition by the public as a public and as citizens.

How about a liveability index based on the total number of park benches — ideally “sleepable” benches — the absence of loitering rules, and the number of public events and demonstrations held annually?

-Rob Shields, University of Alberta

Space and Culture Reading and Research Group, Univ. of Alberta

This last term we have been re-reading Lefebvre’s Production of Space in the English translation and my own 1986 English précis published as a University of Sussex Urban and Regional Studies Working Paper.   We have rehearsed the critiques summarised in Spatial Questions and noted geography’s preference for applying rather than critically responding to Lefebvre’s unedited text.  Some great questions have emerged from our discussions, thinking with and from Lefebvre’s text.  What is the theory of the body implicit within this work?  Last week discussions linked up with Janine Muster’s Intermedia Research Studio exhibition on Alleyways.

Continue reading Space and Culture Reading and Research Group, Univ. of Alberta

Kilmahew interior

Michael Granzow – Review Essay: Industrial Ruins and Ruination

Ruination has emerged as a fashionable concept in recent discussions of post-industrial decline. Whereas ruins refers to the actual material traces of a bygone era, ruination incorporates such traces with processes, experiences and perceptions that continue into the present. Recent studies of ruination tend to focus on modern ruins – those ruins that have emerged as part of relatively recent processes of deindustrialization and are most often associated with a capitalist mode of production. In this short review essay, I assess Alice Mah’s (2012) book Industrial Ruination, Community and Place. After an overview of the text, I briefly compare it with Tim Edensor’s (2005) influential work, Industrial Ruins: Space, Aesthetics and Materiality. Continue reading Michael Granzow – Review Essay: Industrial Ruins and Ruination

Simon Dawes

A variety of excellent reviews and articles related to the urban, publics, topology and assemblage are up on Simon Dawes‘ Media Theory History and Regulation site:

Representing the City: Non-Representation, Digital Archives and Megacity Phenomena (for TCS)

Review:  Chris Berry, Janet Harbord and Rachel Moore Public-space Media Space (for Media & Society)

Interview: Celia Lury, Luciana Parisi and Tiziana Terranova on Topologies (for TCS)

Interview: Stephen J. Collier on Foucault, Assemblages and Topology (for TCS)

Simon Dawes is at Univ. Paul Valérie I, Montpellier

La Ville dans touts ces états – The City in All its Forms

Crane operator wins photo competition prize for aerial photos taken from his crane, Shanghai, China - 26 Nov 2013

 

 

Review: La Ville dans touts ses états Fabbio La Rocca. Paris: CNRS Editions 2013

La Ville dans tous ses états” surveys the ambiances and affective understandings of the city. These include the proliferation of iconic images of specific cities and of moments in city life that are channeled through cinematic and other visual media. In addition, in this book one also encounters the city-as-movie-character, with a persona built up from movies set in actual cities, the virtual cities that serve as sets for science fiction films such as Luc Besson’s Fifth Element, advertising images, graffiti and digital media. All of these images function as metaphors for social interactions in city spaces. Debord sought to eliminate alienation through situations as the ‘concrete construction of momentary ambiances of life and their transformation to a more passionate quality’ through play, dérive or ‘drifting’ in the city, ‘hijacking’ or détournement of slogans and images and a ‘unitary urbanism’ where people could live spontaneously. Urging the reader to ‘think with their eyes’, Flabio La Rocca draws on the sociology of Simmel, the communication studies of Canevacci and the cultural studies of Baudrillard and Perniola to consider how the notion of ‘situations’ and the atmosphere of public life has been hijacked and commercialized as hype for cities, urban redevelopment and a consumeristic vision of urban life.

Continue reading La Ville dans touts ces états – The City in All its Forms