Initial Thoughts on ‘Total Landscape’

So here are my initial thoughts on the volume reblogged earlier on a recent book titled Total Landscape, Theme Parks, Public Space (2006) by Miodrag Mitrasinovic with Ashgate. I wanted to give the book a closer look before forming an opinion. And I still have questions as I haven’t gotten all the way through it yet…

The first issue is this: Continue reading

(an) Indian City–Gurgaon (urban planning vs. urban life)

I knew nothing about the city of Gurgaon, India before watching this…. its current building boom…

Nonetheless, this video is a clear example of how worldwide discourses of ‘globalization’ often lack nuance. Notions of growth (w/o development) are largely unproblematized (they lead with talk of multinationals coming to the city)–as painted by interviews with urban planners, discussions of infrastructure, the problems with predatory developers, etc. the city comes across as a thing (the bourgeois project of modernity) instead of a complex organism (a la Jane Jacobs) or a human lived space (Lefebvre) (a panel member–Prof & Environmental Planner Darshini Mahadeva–voices this complaint in other words around minute 14:00-15:15).

Charleston architecture–and thoughts from a New Urbanist…

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If you’ve been to Charleston, South Carolina–(home to the College of Charleston)–you’ve likely heard about/seen the typical Charleston house, which has a porch alongisde the entire length of the building (on two floors). The slideshow images above were snapped on a walk I just took around the downtown area–gotta get out of the office sometimes (In one of the shots you can see that the porch has been retained for show near the front of the house while the back section has been walled in as extra interior footage). The porch is marked by a ‘false door’ or sorts, which in years gone by was left open to signal that visitors were welcome (well, that’s what they tell you on the tourist carriage tours at least).

I was thinking about what was said in a recent lecture here by a self-proclaimed New Urbanist who came to speak at the College (here’s New Urbanism in a nutshell, and a New Urbanist site)–which was [take it with a grain of salt]:

this particular New Urbanist always tells Europeans that they shouldn’t leave their tours of the United States without first visiting Charleston, that while (in general terms of course) in Europe there are magnificent public spaces (walkable areas, broad avenues, parks etc.) and impoverished private spaces (apartment-caves with little light, little room, etc.), and while the United States is lacking in rich public spaces (strip malls, car culture predominates), but has rich private spaces (well, McMansions or the North Dallas special type construction of home, built for comfort, light, etc.)–Charleston has the best of both worlds–public and private spheres.

It follows from this contextualization that the Charleston architectural style, with its porch as an open habitable space between public and private (to use this binomial characterization that has been questioned by many…) typifies this connection…

All in all, happy to call Charleston home, and we’re happy to have an upcoming talk at the College by Dr. Sonia Hirt [who was not the New Urbanist discussed above, but who has done some research on New Urbanism] on “Jane Jacobs and Urban Knowledge” (flyer below with clickable links).

Sonia Hirt lecture CofC poster

Images, essays related to Madrid’s inclined towers

For those who read the earlier post on the Torres KIO in Madrid with interest, here is a book just out featuring one half of the towers on the cover.

The great thing is the photo itself, which was taken by photographer Miguel Sandoval Díaz, an incredible shot–the extended exposure time allows for shadowy, mobile traffic at the bottom right (although that is slightly covered up in the layout). If interested in his photography (I believe he is based in Madrid), he has volunteered his email (msandoval1985@gmail.com) as contact information.

For hispanist scholars, there are three essays in the book (Nathan Richardson, Susan Divine and Thomas Deveny) that deal with the films of director Alex de la Iglesia–the towers, aka the Puerta de Europa appear in his cult classic The Day of the Beast (1995)–and a few more that deal with geography/urban space in literature and film (by Edward Baker, Susan Larson, Agustín Cuadrado, Araceli Masterson, Shalisa Collins…).

Link

Dr. Reena Tiwari published a book called Space-Body-Ritual: Performativity in the City in which she puts a reading of Henri Lefebvre’s Rhythmanalysis to use in arguing for approaching the ‘city-as-body’, rather than ‘city-as-text’. It’s in my stack of current ‘to-reads’, and may be of interest to readers here.

Looking for information about the author, I came upon this Q&A, in which she touches on issues relating to urban architecture, public housing, poverty and migration. She makes some interesting points about making spaces that are ‘mixed’, both socioeconomically and public/private. Tiwari is both a scholar and an urban planner; is anyone here familiar with her book, or her work in general?

Note too that the website (www.cluster.eu) hosting this conversation may well be worth exploring, especially to readers interested in urban thought in Italy.

Urban Voices: The Situationists, Psychogeography and Drift

Image

Formed by the coming together of a number of avant-garde European groups in 1957 and dissolved in 1972, the Situationist International “developed an increasingly incisive and coherent critique of modern society and of its bureaucratic pseudo-opposition, and its new methods of agitation were influential in leading up to the May 1968 revolt in France” (Knabb, “Preface” ix). Guy Debord’s work The Society of the Spectacle (1967), which was to become the most recognized written work produced by a member of the SI, explored the city as itself a commodity-form riven through by capitalist ideology in material form. Consisting of 221 numbered entries, ranging from a sentence to a length of several paragraphs and organized under nine chapter-headings, the work seizes upon the Marxist trope of totality to explain the spectacular nature of contemporary urban and social life: “The spectacle is not a collection of images; rather, it is a social relationship between people that is mediated by images” (#4, p. 12); “Understood in its totality, the spectacle is both the outcome and the goal of the dominant mode of production […] it is the very heart of society’s real unreality” (#6, p. 13). Though perhaps revolutionizing Marxism to a certain degree, arguably reformulating a schism between base and superstructure equated with traditional Marxian thought, the focus on the dialectical relationship between thought and action, ideology and material production as well as concepts such as alienation, capital, commodity fetishism, the class character of society, and the triumph of exchange-value serves to reestablish Marxism as an appropriate lens through which to view even those more contemporary qualities of capitalism which Marx himself was perhaps unable to articulate.

The Situationist (psychogeographical method? — drift

“dérive (drift): A mode of experimental behavior linked to the conditions of urban society: a technique of transient passage through varied ambiances. Also used to designate a specific period of continuous dériving.” (Guy Debord, “Definitions” 52).

The role of art?

There can be no situationist painting or music, but only a situationist use of these means. (Guy Debord,”Definitions” 52)

[both quotations are from the Situationist International Anthology. Ed. Knabb. Berkeley, Bureau of Public Secrets, 2006. 51-52.]

See an online text library here.

Here’s a 1983 Interview with Henri Lefebvre discussing the Situationists, with whom he shared ideas and had arguments.

Baltimore syndrome

wikimedia commons: Iracaz (talk). Original uploader was Iracaz at en.wikipedia

In the March 2012 Wired, an article on the Jerusalem syndrome, the religion-related psychosis associated with visits to Jerusalem (“The God Complex”).  The article doesn’t really develop any new angles on this culture-bound syndrome, but its appearance in Wired is important.  My thought: while we may never travel to Jerusalem, our future will be the Jerusalem Syndrome.  Now that we have crossed the tipping point of urbanization (over 50% of the world’s population as of 2007), all of us have an opportunity to be overwhelmed and enraptured by our urban lives: the Baltimore syndrome.

Generally speaking, discussions of the Jerusalem syndrome devolve into a discussion of religion, psychology and (more recently) neuroscience.  That’s certainly the case with the Wired essay (it’s the limbic system!), but there are several interesting asides here, especially those moments that move beyond psychologism to the power of the city:

The Old City is a mosaic of sacred spaces, from the al-Aqsa Mosque to the Western Wall of the Temple Mount to the well-trodden stones on which Jesus supposedly walked.  Like every city, it’s the combination of architecture and storytelling that makes Jerusalem more than just a crossroads.  Great cities, the places that feel significant and important when you walk their streets, always rely on stagecraft–a deftly curving road, finally wrought facades, or a high concentration of light-up signage can all impart a sense of place, of significance.  (Nashawaty 2012: 117)

That is, psychology aside, there’s a lot coming together in a city like Jerusalem: discourse, place, architecture, history.  Something, in other words, more akin to genius loci, the spirit of place, then to the overactivity of the limbic system.

But does this “complex” only exist in Jerusalem? Many point to the “Paris syndrome,”  where it’s the art and architecture of the city that overwhelms.  And, indeed, the psychological anthropologist Yoram Bilu seems to locate the power of the city in the depths of its history: “The city is seductive, and people who are highly susceptible can succumb to this seduction.  I’m always envious of people who live in San Diego, where history barely exists” (117).  But this seems unfair.  People in San Diego (or Baltimore, or Busan) live suffocated under the overdetermined weight of the city–its spaces, its discourses, its histories.  Of course, if this triggers some “syndrome,” then it is a syndrome of humanity, with a majority of us living in urban areas.

What this “Baltimore syndrome” needs is not a neuroscience of religious psychosis, but something more along the lines of Benjamin’s ruins, a way of apprehending the city that bring together the assemblage of discourse, time, self and space–a cultural analysis of the spirit of place.  We will all be “overwhelmed” by the spirit of place; that is, the city will continue to bring us up against assemblages that overwhelm the self.  We will variously sink under the waters of the city’s deep significations. Of course, very few of us will exhibit symptoms deviant enough to warrant professional help, bit all of us will need to understand the genius loci around us.

References

Nashawaty, Chris (2012).  “The God Complex.”  Wired (March):112-117.

Videogame Space: What’s in it for Urban Studies?

There is a rich literature on space in videogames.

(non-specialists should start with M. J. P. Wolf’s The Medium of the Videogameand the two readers on videogame theory he’s edited with B. Perron).

But how much of this is relevant to urban space specifically, and not merely to space in the abstract?–the answer: some, but not enough (yet).

Which only makes work by Michael Nitsche, for example, stand out more. His book Video Game Space: Image, Play and Structure in 3D Game Worlds with MIT Press even references urban theorist Henri Lefebvre. Here’s a brief online review.

Another book Space Time Play. Computer Games, Architecture and Urbanism provides a number of articles that suggest a dialectical relationship between videogames/digital representation and the practice of urban planning itself. The Introduction to the book can be downloaded here.

What is Urban Studies? What is Urban Cultural Studies?

One reason for this blog:

In a recently published essay titled “What is ‘Urban Studies’: Context, Internal Structure and Content,” authors William M. Bowen, Ronnie A. Dunn and David O. Kasdan discuss the primary ‘elements of the corpus of knowledge in the field’:

1) Urban Sociology

2) Urban Geography

3) Urban Economics

4) Housing and Neighborhood Development

5) Environmental Studies

6) Urban Governance, Politics and Administration

7) Urban Planning, Design, and Architecture

(Bowen et al. 2010: 200)

Clearly what is left out of this assessment is the importance and relevance of cultural studies / humanities fields–there are a lot of people out there arguing that “culture” (if not also specific cultural products themselves such as film, literature, videogames, photography, music, graphic novels…) is an essential part of the urban studies puzzle…

More later…

Deaf Geographies session titles (AAG 2012)

[reposted from Deaf Geographies Sandbox]

Session 1

Session 2

Session 3