Conversational interview inspired by scholar Eugenia Afinoguénova’s article “Liberty at the Merry-Go-Round: Leisure, Politics, and Municipal Authority on the Paseo del Prado in Madrid, 1760-1939,” published in the Journal of Urban Cultural Studies (1.1, 2013). Topics range from the contemporary Occupy movements and 15-M in Spain to the historical legacy of the Prado Promenade and the popular festivals known as verbenas – discussion centers on the relationship between city authority and state authority, commerce and public assembly.
The 2012 T2M Transportation and Mobility Conference was held in Madrid — since this was my first time attending I would have to say I would definitely go back. It was a very cozy and even intimate conference with a conversational feel, sessions were well attended and discussion was lively. Each year they take what I would call a ‘class photo’ above you can see the photo from this year. Usually there are optional excursions highlighting the theme of the conference — the one I went on was a tour of the ‘ghost station’ Chamberi in Madrid that is open to those interested, now as a museum of sorts–not to be confused with the Railway Museum / Museo del ferrocarril, which was the conference’s central location (Delicias). The session comprised by Susan Larson, Araceli Masterson and myself was framed as a way of blending trains/transportation with culture in general terms, and the discussion was quite interesting indeed, (thanks to those who made it so worthwhile!), and even though most of the other sessions were not as ‘cultural’ (in humanistic terms) there was a great talk on intermodality in Anglophone film as well as some fascinating airport talks (the phrase “airports are about cars” is now etched in my memory). Anyone who attended the excursion to the ghost museum should take a look at Araceli’s paper on that very museum, which can be found with some other excellent articles in this book (ch. 8) – Trains, Culture and Mobility: Riding the Rails (2012). See the full program below… Continue reading
The Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space (MoRUS) is a living archive of urban activism. The Museum chronicles the East Village community’s history and grassroots activism. It celebrates local activists who transformed abandoned buildings and vacant lots into vibrant community spaces and community gardens. Many of these innovative, sustainable concepts and designs have since pulsed out to the rest of the city and beyond.
[reposted from artlog.com here]
Last week we asked you to submit questions for David van der Leer, the Guggenheim architecture and urban studies curator behind stillspotting nyc. The two-year project calls on architects, artists, and composers to create “stillspots” throughout the five boroughs, and this time around, legendary Estonian composer Arvo Pärt has collaborated with architecture firm Snøhetta, the designers of the museum pavilion at the World Trade Center site. The current edition of stillspotting nyc runs September 15–18 and 22-25.
How does a museum step out of its iconic building for experimental, off-site urban studies projects? Isn’t stillness the antithesis of the city? And why include an improv comedy group? Read Van der Leer’s response Continue reading
If you are heading to Paris before the end of August you might want to check out the current temporary exhibit at the Cité de l’architecture et du patrimoine. This museum used to be known as the Musée des monuments francais [c cédille] and is situated in the Palais de Chaillot, which sits across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower.
The exhibit is called “Circuler. Quand nos mouvements faconnent [c cédille] nos villes,” or “Flow. When Movement Shapes Our Towns,” (their translation). By way of introduction, the museum’s website offers the following short text, of interest as it shows the ambitious nature of the ideas the exhibit tries to get across to visitors:
Our lives are made up of moments of activity and inertia, comings and goings, arrivals and departures. Space within towns and between towns is organized to support this constant movement. From the earliest days almost, towns were structured to allow for both the gathering of men, and their accumulated wealth, and, at the same time, to facilitate movement and encourage meetings and interaction.
The exhibition offers the visitor the opportunity to follow the development of urban design through the ages and explore the urban spaces and buildings which are a consequence of man’s movement across the land. The exhibition incorporates both real-world movement, dating back thousands of years, together with today’s virtual movement. Streets and squares, roads, motorways or railways, ports, caravanserail, stations and terminals, compact cities and sprawling towns – these are just some of the places and concepts, born out of our desire for movement, which punctuate the history of our land. The exhibition takes the visitor on a playful and sensory journey, presented as a theatre set. Reconstructed roads, computer generated images, films, soundtracks composed by Louis Dandrel and Bernard Lubat, transport the visitor through time and space, leading him to reflect on his environment and future. While the 20th century was characterised by a sort of “transport war” strongly influenced by the myth that progress equalled speed, the start of this century represents a time to question our travel and movement patterns. The exhibition makes numerous novel suggestions about how man can organize his life of motion. In this exhibition, Jean-Marie Duthilleul illustrates how town development should achieve a subtle balance – a balance that needs to be constantly adjusted – between movement and stillness, between places you stay in and places you pass through. When you design a town, you are designing a system to accommodate groups of people and allow for interaction. Thus the town is the result of a constant dialectic between mobility and immobility.
As has become common for temporary exhibitions, a celebrity of sorts has been designated as ‘commissaire’ of the exhibit: not really curators, they lend their prestige, fame, or institutional gravitas to the exhibit, in addition to any design input or writing they may contribute. For this one, architect Jean-Marie Duthilleul, who has an interesting professional connection to the subject: he has had a hand in designing dozens of train stations, both new and remodels. (A partial list of his projects can be found on the French-language Wikipedia, here.) For this reason, one of the stronger points of the exhibit is in fact the material on French train stations near the beginning of the tour. Another strong point worth highlighting here has nothing to do with train stations: near the end of the tour, the curators have prepared some very interesting ways to map how often, where, and when Parisians use their cell phones using data from Orange’s cell network (a corporate sponsor of the exhibit, btw). Visitors can observe mappings of cell-phone use in the city on certain important dates like New Year’s Eve, during the Fête de la Musique, etc. Adjusting some parameters the same data can be used to trace the routes and distances inhabitants take through the city–which, if one had more control over the datasets, would allow for potentially very rich ways of visualizing how urban spaces are used by various subsets of users. (Including mappings that would be akin to the bubble-map of Budapest bicycle use posted below).
Does the exhibit work, in the sense that it might successfully convey important observations and assertions from mobility and urban studies to a mass audience? Meh, in my view it’s a mixed bag. It’s certainly an interesting exhibit for visitors who go in with a particular affinity for the topics and in seeing how they handled, but it may not generate much excitement or enthusiasm in those who don’t. At times it’s too abstract and misses opportunities to engage the visitor, and at others it’s too focused on gadgetry and downright naively utopian. Still, I think it’ll be of interest to readers of this blog–check it out and post your thoughts here!
Take note of the way in which Zukin’s work plays with the (much) earlier title by Lewis Mumford’s 1938 text.
In the preface, Zukin writes that hers are “very different concerns from those that animated Lewis Mumford’s classic work The Culture of Cities, whose title inspired mine. Though his book and mine are both concerned with urban design, democracy, and the market economy, for me the very concept of culture has become more explicit and problematic.”
The two books share many commonalities–as Zukin points out, even if only at a general level–but also differ fundamentally. This is true in terms of both content and perhaps more importantly, method. The content of Mumford’s book harkens back tot he medieval city as a way of gradually approaching more contemporary problems–namely, the way in which capitalist industrialization scarred the nineteenth-century city. And he is right to point out that the legacy of this formative role of industrialization on city planning has been disastrous. But Zukin focuses on more contemporary realities (museums, restaurants, theme parks, public spaces, etc.) and on a pluralist and more problematic notion of culture, asking “How do we connect what we experience in public space with ideologies and rhetorics of public culture?”
In the end, if culture for Mumford is a generalized reflection of the state of humanity’s civilization/barbarity, for Zukin, it is some else–something intimately connected to issues of power. Culture–while a “powerful means of controlling cities,” a “source of images and memories,” a “set of architectural themes,” the “unique competitive edge of cities” and the fuel for “the city’s symbolic economy”–is also a “dialogue” (heterogeneous and fluid), involving “material inequalities” and necessarily rooted in place.