Page 1


0 Introduction The purpose of this book is to cope with a set of issues relative to strategies and logics inherent in contemporary urban planning, while highlighting some outstandingly debatable aspects – presently scarcely discussed – and, at the same time, trying to outline some fields of reflection within which to single out the elements of an innovative planning attitude. On one hand, I will deal with an increasingly growing practice of social exclusion, with the on-going increase of spatial inequalities, with the more and more tiring and hostile dimension which the open spaces of European cities tend to develop as it is more and more ‘appropriate’, segmented and trivialized, despite the crucial quality this has had in recent processes of transformation; on the other hand I will deal with planning styles which overlook these phenomena or which are somehow interrelated therewith. Such a condition is what legitimates the reflection about modes of planningwriting different from current ones. It’s not a question of dening the validity or the efficiency of many mainstream strategies in urban planning (energetic and environmental sustainability, infrastructure planning meant as project of territory, the palimpsest as a technique of interpretation capable of values and/or of long-lasting emersion of elements, the planning of a city as research of the forma urbis or as project of urban landscape); nor is it a misrecognization of its successes where these are obvious, all the less so, the wealth of commitments and research underneath, but to bring these project-modes (which nowadays tend to acquire a sort of “automatic-process” quality, inherently indifferent compared to the operational conditions above mentioned), close to a more critical action-mode, pertaining to the condition of crisis which characterizes both planning and European cities, and is apt to account for the ever-growing conflictual quality which urban spaces tend to acquire. Starting from the comparison with such a condition, which both the sociological and philosophical researches have been more able to grasp1, our proposal here2 is to start a reflection revolving around some issues, strategies and places of planning, suitable to account for the peculiar situation of both conflict and crisis connoting the contemporary urban condition. In the first part of this book, Project of Crisis3, we will try to outline such a critical attitude towards project-modes which, under several aspects, fall into a matrix of liberal town development, set in a field of reflections revolving around two main themes, i.e. crisis and resistance. In the second part, The Construction of the Transparent Space, we will single out some of the features which the practice of urban planning have acquired during the last ten years, without expecting to deliver a thorough critical description. The purpose is not an exhaustive reconstruction of a set of experiences which are still too close to our present times; the purpose is to just sketch out the contours of a field. In the third part, entitled after a phrase figured out from Sloterdijkian4 studies, The Democratic Reconstruction of the Crystal Palace, we will discuss some features of the relationship between the unfolding of liberal economies and modifications of western-world urban spatiality, while at the 1

Major studies deal with the logics of urban space modifications in the age of liberal urbanism; the issues most dealt-with are those pertaining the relationship between power and urbanistic project, deflected through the notions of empire (as per M. Hardt and A. Negri’s studies), of image-space (Regis Debray) and of crisis (Alain Bourdin). See: Alain Bourdin, L’urbanism d’après crise, L’aube, La Tour d’Aigues, 2010; Regis Debray, Vie et mort de l’image, une histoire du regard en Occident, Gallimard, Paris, 1992. 2 This book draws upon and further delves into some reflections contained in my book Adriatico. La città dopo la crisi, List-Actar, Barcelona 2010. In the themes developed in that essay I attempted a description of the Adriatic spatial model by means of a territoryscale project. 3 “Project of Crisis” is a Tafurian phrase which redefines the historical research as an original construction, not in the sense of a reconstruction but as a project, whose outcome is a crisis, a caesura from accepted habits; a concept meant in a productive sense inasmuch as suitable to trigger action. «At the origin of each critical deed there are always operations such as destructiong, severance and disintegration of a given structure. Without such a disintegration of the object to be analyzed […], any subsequent re-writing thereof would be impossible.» Manfredo Tafuri, La sfera e il labirinto, Einaudi, Turin, 1980. 4 Please refer to: Peter Sloterdijk, Im Weltinnenraum des Kapitals. Für eine philosophische Theorie der Globalisierung, Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, 2005. In addition it is possible to read the “trilogy of the spheres”: Peter Sloterdijk, Sphären I, Blasen, Microsphärologie, Frankfurt am Main, Suhrkamp Verlag 1998; Sphären II, Globen, Macrosphärologie, Frankfurt am Main, Suhrkamp Verlag 1999; Sphären III, Schäume, Plurale Sphärologie, Frankfurt am Main, Suhrkamp Verlag, 2004.


same time, attempting to single out the strategies which are best suited to re-define the contemporary western-world city in a sense that is more inclusive of the urban space. In the last part, Fields of Reconstruction, I will present some areas of reflection featuring terms such as “insides”, “membrane”, “after-landscape”, at one time corresponding to places, strategies, themes of planning. Each of them corresponds to a set of issues to be dealt-with, as well as particular operational modes used in the texture of contemporary western-world cities. The aim is twofold: on one hand it is to make the state of conflict visible, which runs across contemporary urban spaces; on the other hand it is to re-think the offer of better, more functional spatial outcomes in a projectoriented approach. The notion of “offerering” the way it is meant here, does not refer to marketoriented logics but to issues addressing questions which have been badly, if at all, formulated. The strategies, the terms, the issues dealt here mainly come from a series of planning, didactic and research-based experiences which have been led in several fields; therefore they deliver a non-linear type of reflection. Three of these will be delivered here: the research on the forms about living in the Olympic Village in Turin, the planning explorations on the suburban city of Meyrin near Geneve, the research about the strategies of urban and environmental reshaping of the city banks of the river Magdalena in Barranquila, Colombia. I have attempted to take a chance out of this lack of equality to observe both issues and problems related to contemporary city planning, offering a number of point of views which intermingle with one another, along with different executive contexts, interlocutors and phasis.


1.0 “Project of Crisis” En todas partes se percibe un smog cultural en todos los tonos del gris y una homogenización fenotípica, el mismo entretenimiento, los mismos gestos, las mismas poses politicas, las mismas actitudes. La indiferencia genera fuerza, por un lado, y feticismo de las pequeñas diferencias por otro5. Boris Groys Non ci manca la comunicazione, al contrario ne abbiamo anche troppa, ci manca la creatività. Ci manca la resistenza al presente”. Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari Vive la crise! Yves Montand The reflections by Boris Groys about contemporary rites and strategies for cultural productions, about the logics of the economy of differences, as well as the concept of the archive meant as a device for values and production of identity, can be extended to and exploited by (albeit with a certain degree of approximation) to discuss some current practices of city planning along with their implications about the modifications in contemporary urban space. When observed from the point of view of urban planning practices, the transformations of European cities during the years 2000-2010 can be seen as a particular form of capitalistic production modes in the urban space, a continuation, ‘decantation’ and clarification of both strategies and themes singled out during the 1990’s, which can be described as liberal urbanism, marked by a particular regard for the cultural dimension of space and aiming at the research of spatial control and economic growth through the values or the identity of the territory. These forms of urban planning read both the city and the territory as an overcontrolled consumer space and correspond to both the definition of forms of social control and the research of spatial transparency of an implicitly pan-optic type, inasmuch as sought after by means of seemimgly neutral or anti-modern operators, such as a cultural discourse (identity, palimpsest, heritage) or by means of enjoyment-oriented strategies (the city as landscape). This last phrase refers in particular to some deflections in urban planning, within which the issues tied-up to the definition of urban spaces as enjoyment spaces find their relevance, these being a series of themes connected to that revolution of desire6 which took place in Europe about the end of the 1960’s. Nowadays these themes find new justification in the realm of a bio-politically steady regime, fitness and wellness-oriented as well as featuring both sport and cultural identity. Examples of such a meaninng of urban planning include politics of local development (the so-called “zero-miles”) of Italy’s inner cities, the touristic waterfronts replacing old agricoltural areas along European coasts and the renewal process of the Gothic quarter in Barcelona to provide a citadel as a lodging for Erasmus-granted students.

5

Boris Groys, Politik der Unsterblichkeit, Carl Hanser Verlag, Munich / Wien, 2002. Spanish translation: Política de la inmortalidad, Katz Editores, Buenos Aires, 2008. 6 1968 saw the birth of a new type of revolution which can be defined as inner revolution, a concept describing revolutionary aspects on an individual’s behaviour level; the anthropologic type which best describes it, is the professional revolutionary: “my life as a revolution”. This new single-individual founded anthropology can be read as dominated by the dictatorship of desire, not aiming at the research of common/collective happiness but at satisfying individual urges, a research leading to re-defining the concept of “good life”. Such a research is the offspring of a widespread unsatisfying condition which derives from the destruction of mainstream values, worn out by an “opulent-society”-oriented model, uncapable to cope with the new expectations deriving from the improvement of material life. In such a new social context, awaiting a “new world”, devoid of constraints and formalisms, the way of life’s refusal on the part of the liberal-enlightenment own’s culture grows. To further this topic, see Slavoj iek, For They Know not What They Do. Enjoyment as a Political Factor, Verso, London, 2002. Italian translation., Il godimento come fattore politico, Raffaello Cortina, Milan, 2001.


Among the various accepted meanings of the ‘liberalist’ project, and according to a park fiction’s own logics, in particular its landscape deflections behold the regulation of the sincrony of countless spatial imaginative projections as its main goal. In other words it favours sharing of spatial images on the part of local societies as opposed to the space inhabited by them, a cooperative production of desires relative to a space, a territory, by using the culturalist discourse’s tools with its identitymaking7 and patrimonial implications. It consists in a project of cultural ecology construction, crossed by the attempt to describe and to agree on the exchange processes, to deliver a local society’s identity by means of their representation and consequently by means of their stabilization8. Unlike the modern type of planning, this one deliberately shows a totality of character: landscape is a totality. Whereas, according to the Modern, planning used to cross the construction of a space which was thought of as bright, transparent, smooth and placed outside history, now the challenge is to build such a transparence by means of the definition of culture-saturated living spaces, soaked with what Boris Groys would call “cultural smog”. The landscapist planning’s patrimonial-oriented attitude turns the space into an archive, a realm of objects and situations which all end up with earning the same importance, and with the implicit purpose to possibly bringing back in all that is placed outside9. The persuasive strength of these planning rethorics excludes their being questioned and yet the operational context of these forms of urban planning has radically changed in recent years. European cities are made up of aestheticism-professing spaces for the most parts, but these do show unsatisfactory, simplified performances and functioning, marked by encreasing processes of exclusion, whose texture mirrors growing social inequalities. In particular public spaces are those which can be considered as one of the main elements of a broad re-configuration process, mostly dominated by the principles of the lessening disorder and by the ejection of conflicts. Among the various terms used to describe such urban condition, “crisis” is one of the concepts which has recently been used10 with a certain degree of frequency, in fact in an attempt to establish

7

Landscape scholars have often insisted on the functions of planning s as a means to knowing reality, on its capability to grasp the deep structure, the identity of a territory as well as the ties it establishes with its inhabitants or, in landscape scholars’ terms, with the community inhabiting it, thus attempting to stand out from both old formalism and lack of sensitivity inherent in the Modern. This is the core of the problem about how landscape planning confronts with and eventually defines the identity, meant not as the most occurring feature in a given territory, but as the inner structure, or essence, of a spatial, social context. The concept of identity is one of the crucial elements in liberalist issues and the identity problem, of what is ‘typical’ and connotes a context, as already discussed by John Barrell, is always a political problem, something to be detected and which leads to conflicts. More in John Barrell, The Dark Side of the Landscape: the Rural Poor in English Painting 1730-1840, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1983.

8

Charles Tilly, Identities, Boundaries, and Social Ties, Paradigm Publishers, London, 2005 e Doug McAdam, Charles Tilly, Sidney Tarrow, Contentious Politics, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (MA), 2006. Italian translation, La Politica del conflitto, Bruno Mondadori, Milan, 2008.

9

Archive space is a finished one by definition, whereas all that is placed outside is infinite; therefore the boundary of the archive acquires a peculiar, political-strategic function, as it becomes the main space of conflicts. The archive, like a Cartesian plane, is a ‘ravenous’ device which expands, absorbs vibrations and vibrates; it is the tool of both construction and self preservation of identity, tool of the struggle of memory against time in the name of fixity, of immortality. In the relationship established between archive and space, the latter is lessened to a function of secondary importance since spatial reality ends up with being read through the archive filter only. This means that an alteration in the archive’s content entails a modification in the perception of reality itself and history (i.e. the representation of a territory) cannot be singled out any more from what is contained in the archive. Such a relationship has not just a temporal quality, but has an apparent spatial quality as well; the production of the new, in the operational context defined by the landscapist planning, consists of a boundary shift, that is to say in objects, materials, collected situations and ‘profane’ objects outside the collection. It is a physical operation which brings back some of the objects into the archive, while some others are left outside or ejected since they are considered as cultural garbage; building an achive equals to producing leftovers. See also: Boris Groys, Über das Neue. Versuch einer Kulturökonomie, Carl Hanser Verlag, Munich / Wien, 1992. Spanish traduction: Sobre lo nuevo. Ensayo de una economia cultural, Pre-Textos, Valencia, 2005.

10

The issues most commonly associated to this term are environmental/power production sustainability (post-Kyoto city), along with the decline of the logics for the construction of cities, which are made evident by the deflation of the speculative bubble in Dubai. According to Bourdin, such a phase of city planning/building came full circle with that event (on November 27th 2009) which


connexions among the worsening of living conditions, spatial transformations, social and economic processes and, implicitly, planning practices. The term “crisis” here is not used to discuss a trend of enclave-symbolizing urban transformations, a growth according common logics or a more general infiltration of colonial codes in European city construction – these being phenomena which have already been emphasized, mainly in the field of social sciences; it is rather used to describe a city marked by forms of exclusion and spatial inequalities11, whose places, when closely scrutinized as regards the notion of neighbourhood (i.e. the inhabited space around houses), show unsatisfactory performances, possibilities of usage as well as functioning. The crisis deals with a city where one’s quality of living is worse, in both open spaces and inside the homes themselves; it deals with a common impoverishment of the urban environment. In some respects, such conditions question certain habits and styles in today’s mainstream city planning. Never like today has the city been at the core of interests regarding global economic processes, seen as an answer to the decline of industrial economies, reconfigured as a place of image production, as landscape and, at the same time, as space of consumption of the very same images. It is a central quality which, unexpectedly, encounters a worsening in the quality of living. As usual, urban planning tends to emphasize the places and the forms of the change. Yet under several aspects, some practices of contemporary urban planning seem to have acquired a quality of complying with these ongoing processes, thus mirroring in hardly a critical way the unfolding of global economies upon urban and territorial orders, and adopting a simplifying language of management inspiration (project revaluation, challange among cities, pursuit of territorial competitiveness, culture, energetic sustainability), and taking on the strong powers of the market and of its operators, as ultimate reference point. The acritical dimension is one of the features connoting the ‘planning-surfer’, as inspired by Koolhaas (the planning-surfer having been able to gain auhority especially in the field of liberal urbanism) who, despite the fact he is often endowed with strong analytical and communicative skills, delivers such a result that is provocative only in its surface, even when showing the ability to work on worse, old-fashioned or popular elements connoting a given context; that’s because these skills are meant to gain the maximum possible interpretation, the maximum available results, from the urban reality. This way the phenomena which cross and modify the city, are not subject to a critical reading process, but they are, rather, followed, seconded to the extent of re-reading the urban space as realistically as possible. One should pursue a resistant planning process, by operating a shift relative to the more usual ways of thinking and transforming the space – no longer producing smooth spaces but ones provided with disagreements – as opposed to such a fresh conservatorism – proposing a fluid model of living, void of centre, made up of situations rather than spaces – which addresses emancipated, indipendent individuals having an unlimited capacity of movement. Under this regard, making a project out of the crisis means exaggerating the peculiar reflexive quality of such a practice while highlighting both the conflicts and the inequalities which contemporary European cities are connoted by, and refusing to second liberalist economical logics. Within such a strain, planning becomes suspension of a continuity, of a resistance, that is quite the opposite from both acceptance and compliance, a collection of differences.

marked the decline of liberalist ways for city construction (and planning). See: Alain Bourdin, L’urbanisme d’apres crise, Aube, La Tour d’Aigues, 2010. 11 This theme may be coped with on different scales. When considering the scale of the city, issues such as environmental resources and the research to achieve efficient transport systems are crucial in contemporary city planning, B. Secchi and P. Viganò’s Le Grand Paris de l’agglomeration parisienne being a reference therefor. In addition one may consider other themes when observing the modifications in urban space and the ways of living in a scale of proximity.


When crisis, planning and resistance are grouped together, the last two in particular identify, at least seemingly, an unsteady operational field, inasmuch as urban planning is the spatial translation of a peculiar way to observe the space as well as a system of values and a desire of order and strategy which corresponds to a form of power, even if not often in a linear or explicit way. In the field of urban studies with a sociological and anthropological matrix12, resistance is traditionally described as a peculiar practice with a spatial quality which expresses the ability to resist, on the part of one or more agents, the transformations of a part of existing or planned city, by means of a device, a process or an action. Resistance describes a clash between two powers. Because it is a phenomenon opposed to a dominant power, resistance is the event which makes its action apparent. Without it, operating a subordination would be impossible because something to tame would be missing and the project, meant as expression of power, is something which singles out the places where to exert a pression or an ‘abrasion’ and which makes disagreements apparent. Power is a work carried out on something which resists. From a sociological point of view, resistance is thus something which reacts against planning, a peculiar practice of inhabiting which re-works some spatial configurations or planning previsualizations, either by partially seconding them or by taking on an overtly antagonizing attitude towards them. In such a deflection, resistance is what opposes to space changes13, to its modification. In the struggle for persistance, there is established an interplay between power (exerted by the planning) and counter-power (exerted either by individuals or by groups of inhabitants) which – unexpectedly – charges new meanings on some of the elements of the stake, some objects or places of disagreement, buildings, streets, as well as styles of developments, producing a modification of their own anyway – raising to greater – thus re-defining them as symbols. The deflection from the notion of ‘resistance’ that we are here attempting to define, is far from such a realm and it is to be pursued by means of a shift of the resistance-practice towards the planning practice, thus establishing a connection between the principle of resistance and construction of the planning. It’s not a matter of a rehearsal of radical attitudes forty years after 1968. The term ‘resistance’ is here meant as a critical action against those mainstream examples of urban plannning which, albeit by means of different conceptualizations, can be seen as space-homologous or space homologous-oriented, aiming at building smooth spatial values, without disagreements, where the conflictual dimension of the urban space has been removed, relocated and – ultimately – heightened. The resistance practice exaggerates critical and reflexive qualities of the planning, indeed a silent resistance against dominant forms of both city and territory planning which are exceedingly in line with culturalist and/or market issues; resistance is conflict.

12

The studies on squatting or parts of cities like Christiania – a quarter in Copenhagen featuring a semi-indipendent status – are a rather well-known example. See: Andreas Roschitz, The Thing with the Ping. A Study on the Area Christiania, a Self Ruling Community in Copenhagen, Denmark, VDM Verlag, Saarbrücken, 2008. 13 Spinoza dealt with the notion of ‘resistance’, describing it as the essence of the very nature of things: substance demands persistance, and duration over a long time-span is vital for it to exist: somehow it has to retain its sameness. Spinoza’s main objects of political research are the principle of resistance and the democracy deriving from it. In his Teological-Political Treaty the individual is described as resistance, essential to opposing and resisting the dominion. Resistance is neither a generic or a passive figure and, even when acting as ‘reaction’, it organizes constructive actions; it is prudence i.e. the urge for an individual to avoid his/her own destruction. Spinoza’s notion of resistance intermingles with that of ‘multitude’ whereby the former corresponds to the strategy of the conatus, the effort, tension or «strength by means of which each thing strives to retain its way of being» . The multitude, as a consequence of its barbaric essence, is hostile to every attempt of “automation” (which can even be regarded as a happy servitude — like the acritic assent to a specific way of living) and of mankind’s “animalization”; «it partially retains its own freedom through a secret and factual claim». Claiming implies a mimetic dynamic of solidarity as well as the defense of rights arising from the very leading of a social life. See: Laurent Bove, La Stratégie du conatus. Affirmation et résistance chez Spinoza, Vrin, Paris, 1996.


Therefore here the term ‘resistance’ gains a double meaning: on one hand it is meant as a critical planning practice against some dominant forms in contemporary urban planning; on the other hand, as a conflict-emphasizing action which leads to a clash; within such a strain, a relationship among the notions of project, crisis and resistance is established. The construction of a crisis project is to be pursued through some processes, actions and disciplinary tradition’s own tools, since it is common practice condescending, observing and thinking of urban planning especially from the outside, adopting the methods of anthropologists, economists and financial operators. The crisis is a breaking off of normality, a severance within which the becoming processes of cities are marked by moments when some rules and places lose strength, to be later rebuilt according to different logics. This all echoes the Tafurian “crisis project”, a phrase which has shaped historical research not as reconstruction but as planning, as an action highlighting a breakage off or a crisis of usages. Such a way to consider the historical construction, claiming an active role, is here assumed as a reference to re-think the critical dimension of a project. It is an attempt to operare a semantic shift thus having the term ‘crisis’ become almost a synonim for ‘planning’.

The Reconstruction of the Crystal Palace  
Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you