Page 1

n I t n e o c i c e e i e r , e o t y l s m f o d e d n l l t n g n n o s e e m o t s a n i - i e t n o d n - c n e - c s i - n r o t - i - e , e ! e e h d r d e e r n r , r l l t d n r n s n - n d n r e - r - l . s

? e c a ps c i l b u p a si tahW .ecaps cilbup a si si a e w e t a v i rp fo htym eht yb dedavrep yteicos e d n a e c r u o s er ,ecaps ,tcejbo yreve hcihw ni d e h r a r e g n ol on si siht ,deifidommoc si thguo b u p d n a t s r e dnu ew ,ecnesse nI .noitseuq c h w n o s e c a p s ;ydobyreve yb denwo eb ot seca f a ; l o r t n o c ro thgir lluf mialc nac ydob , d e i p u c co e b nac ti ;tnereffid eb dluow eca i u q c a ro e r u s olcne hguorht ydobemos ot gnoleb n s n e s s i ht n I .esu hguorht gninaem cificeps , t c e p s er e r o m ,noitnetta erom sdeen ecaps cilb e m e r t xe t c af ni si tI ;ytirailucep siht niatni o d e e r f e ht e vreserp emit revo tsum dna eliga , t n e m e v o m f o modeerf ruo ees eW .su enifed ta t c i r t s e r g n i eb gnirehtag fo ,noisserpxe-fl a s n o s a e r f o rebmun a rof sneppah sihT .yad yre i w e w t a h t s noitca fo yteirav a hguorht sruc e m o m s i ha magazine collecting critical thoughts about t tA .emit fo esruoc eht hguorht erolp e l l a h c                   ot t n cities, spatial and urban studies emtimmoc ruo eniltuo ylno nac i t a t i m il t c e r id a redisnoc ew hcihw ,seussi ese i t e i c os nI . noitanimreted-fles ot thgir ruo o c e b s e c a p s cilbup ,noissessop hguorht denif d e e n g n i s a ercni na si ereht sa ,elbarenl “...Well,  the  city  is  meant  to  h e c a ps c i l b up nommoc ehT .renwo na meht ngis tell  the  story  of  the  people  e m i t a ni t p ecnoc nettogrof tsomla na eb ot em that have lived there...” r p d n a n o i t a z itavirp ,ycavirp rof deen eht hci u o R . n o i s s e s bo na otni denrut si pihsrenwo et i s i v e v i t a n r etla na ot uoy ediug yllufepoh ll a e t a e r c e w t aht ,su dnuorrus taht secaps eht e“...What l l o c looked r u o like h gan u ourban r h t war ecnacifingis evig ew hcihw hon w the , e screen c n a t r o p at m i times e h tan d n a t s r e d n u eW .snoitca ev was aalmost r e t ncalm i esuspension h t g n iofy law l r and ednu fo ,ecaps a tuoba gnikl e n o s a e c a p s order...” lacisyhp dna laicos neewteb no o p s e r e ht t p e cca eW .rehto eht fo noitcelfer e f e c a p s a r e v o mialc eht htiw semoc taht ytilib i w t u b e c n a g orra htiw ton os od ew dna enoyre v h t i w e d i v o rp dna selpmaxe esoporp ot lliw e r o t s r e h t o etalumits nac ,epoh ew ,taht sno g d e l w o nk s i h t si ti dnA .snoitca ekat dna tce t u o R h t i w w ollof lliw ew taht saedi ese t e g n e l l a h c l liw eW .etavirp si ecaps cilbup si a w r o f g n i t t up ,denwo sa ecaps etavirp fo tpecn t c e t o r p s a ” secaps etavirp“ fo egami na daets o m e v i g o t t netni eht htiw detaerc stnemnoriv e c n o c ro n o i s iv ,aedi na sserpxe ot seitilibiss a i l i m a f a n i a tniam ot os od eW .modeerf latot i w t a ht e r e h p somta ,lufecaep ylirassecen ton t a t s i m r o f n oc rof deen eht tcejer ot elpoep wol a e v i t a e r c eht redner dluow hcihw ,sedut e t s e v e i h ca o t tnaw ew ,taht troffe gnikam-eca o c t a ht e v e i leb ylmrif eW .evitceffeni dna e a e m t i n e h w n eve ,ecrof evitcurtsnoc a era stci o c e r o t r e d r o ni secaps ruo fo trap gniyorts a s n o i t c n uf n evig gnignellahc ,yadoT .meht tcur h t e h w ( s e c a ps nommoc eht fo sessecorp noitcudo o p m i y l g n i s a ercni smees )ton ro cilbup yllamr a h c d n a s s u c sid ,erolpxe osla lliw etuoR .tn r o h t u a s t i yb desoporp sevitanretla egn

l v t l i r

01_2012

Spaces in crisis

h n h i p o p a u a r h e v c x e h f e u s o h a i f o i a i h i v h i l h h o n n o n u l i l l l e t r o a e


Spaces in crisis Route | 01_2012


Editorial A new ROuTe [Editorial].........................................................................5

Spaces in Crisis [Theme]...........................................................7 To Riot [Anonymous]..............................................................................8 A non-symbolic action [Lena Theodoropoulou].......................................16

“Making Sense” – [A sensible approach to cities] Stephen Willats: Street talk [Richard Townsend]....................................21

Reviews & Opinions A Letter From Greece [Anna Papoutsi]..................................................25

Spaces in crisis Route | 01_2012


Preface to Route

Route will be structured around one specific theme per issue for which witnesses, scholars and alike will intervene with their accounts and reflections. There will be no specific guidelines given to the writer as we hope to gather different approaches and points of view on the proposed theme. We realize that this may cause some confusion to the reader as the articles might differ considerably between each other but we are confident that our reader will take up this challenge as a positive one. The following “Making sense” section will explore our daily spaces in unconventional ways, through different senses in order to change our perception of spaces and places. At last we will gather reviews on particularly interesting events, articles or books as well as gathering opinions from readers about “hot” topics as well as previously treated themes. This last section will, in our intentions, develop over time into a discussion space inside Route.

Spaces in crisis Route | 01_2012


5

[EDITORIAL] ORIAL]

A new ROuTe - [ROuTe Editoral Board]

This is a public space. What is a public space? In a society pervaded by the myth of private wealth and in which every object, space, resource and even thought is commodified, this is no longer a rhetoric question. In essence, we1 understand public spaces to be owned by everybody; spaces on which nobody can claim full right or control; a free space would be different; it can be occupied, it can belong to somebody through enclosure or acquire a specific meaning through use. In this sense, public space needs more attention, more respect, to maintain this peculiarity; It is in fact extremely fragile and must over time preserve the freedoms that define us. We see our freedom of movement, of self-expression, of gathering being restricted every day. This happens for a number of reasons and occurs through a variety of actions that we will explore through the course of time. At this moment we can only outline our commitment to challenge these issues, which we consider a direct limitation of our right to self-determination. In societies defined through possession, public spaces become vulnerable, as there is an increasing need to assign them an owner. The common public space has come to be an almost forgotten concept in a time in which the need for privacy, privatization and private ownership is turned into an obsession. Route will hopefully guide you to an alternative vision of the spaces that surround us, that we create and to which we give significance through our collective actions. We understand the importance, when talking about a space, of underlying the interaction between social and physical space as one is the reflection of the other. We accept the responsibility that comes with the claim over a space for everyone and we do so not with arrogance but with the will to propose examples and provide with visions that, we hope, can stimulate others to reflect and take actions. And it is this knowledge, these ideas that we will follow with Route!

Spaces in crisis Route | 01_2012


6

This public space is private. We will challenge the concept of private space as owned, putting forward instead an image of “private spaces” as protected environments created with the intent to give more possibilities to express an idea, vision or concern in total freedom. We do so to maintain a familiar, but not necessarily peaceful, atmosphere that will allow people to reject the need for conformist attitudes, which would render the creative and place-making effort that, we want to achieve sterile and ineffective. We firmly believe that conflicts are a constructive force, even when it means destroying part of our spaces in order to reconstruct them. Today, challenging given functions and production processes of the common spaces (whether formally public or not) seems increasingly important. Route will also explore, discuss and challenge alternatives proposed by its authors. Who is Route? Route is an open collective of people that are interested in the inhabitation and the possibilities offered by social spaces. Our effort of diffusion, critique and visioning are collective and each contribution will be treated as a fragment of our society. As such, the reader is encouraged to interact with us to enrich whichever argument we bring forward.

[EDITORIAL] ORIAL]

Building spaces though, whether it’s through change, conflict or planning, is a hands-on business; so it is better to leave the space open for the articles. We hope the readers will enjoy. Notes 1.

Although

thouse

contributing

to

“ROuTe” share an overall approach towards the themes presented in the magazine the “we” refered to can only be limited to the editorial board. It is important to choose sides as well as not limiting the choice of others to do the same. This choice comes from the awareness of the importance of individual voices in order to enrich and complete a common vision, which is our ultimate goal.

Spaces in crisis Route | 01_2012


7

[THEME] ME]

Spaces in Crisis - How Europe suddenly wakes up to a different use of public space...

Spaces in Crisis. We wanted to start by picking up on a theme which has been at the centre of attention in the last months, starting from the uprisings in northern Africa and the Middle East (Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt and Libya) early last year and then spread to Europe in other forms. We felt that the revolutions and riots we witnessed were not only a symptom of the people’s anger against the local corrupt regimes and a struggle for representation and freedom. The way these played out pointed towards a crisis of how public spaces are understood and of the rules (official or perceived) that regulate them. By following the events the clash between different uses of public spaces, the meaning given to these and the state’s response towards “out-of-line” practices became evident. This made us wonder what public spaces actually are and how their values and symbolic meanings are constructed nowadays. We decided to focus on the European “riots” as these are physically closer to us physically and to which we’re more used to think about. We might venture outside Europe in another instance. The two articles presented here give us an insight in two very different approaches to a perceived privation of power over public spaces: a very instinctive and immediate response in the case of England, consequence of a society that results much more fragmented and exclusive than we perceive in our lives ruled by a social peace that seems more and more unilaterally imposed by the ruling classes. In the case of Greece instead we can recognize a very different, more structured and organized response to a lack of representation in the state’s institutions as well as a need to create a common, public, space in which to share ideas and confront the unsustainable current state response to a crisis that threatens to disrupt our model of society both economically as well as socially.

Spaces in crisis Route | 01_2012


8

[THEME] ME]

To Riot [Anonymous] I am not for or against it. I am it. Howe, 2011 [1] To riot is to make a subjective statement, implicitly to declare how one relates to one’s objective conditions.” Zizek, 2011 [2] Rather than yet another generalising analysis of the London riots, their causes and concerns, this is my own subjective statement, a declaration of my relation to the conditions of actions in public space that I experience in London, and the conditions I experienced during those days in August 2011. I do this both because there are already some excellent written and spoken analyses [3] to which I have little to add, but mainly because I would rather not be embroiled in the task of explaining and judging the conditions and actions of others, balancing each word to make sure it remains within the acceptable and politically correct. The riots, a spontaneous, dispersed and diverse series of events, are all to easily instrumentalised for political aims that in one way or another reduce what happened. This text is therefore the mere fragment that is my experiences in those days and in London more generally.

Not Our People. This was both about Mark Duggan and it was not … just as the recent rebellions in Oakland in 2009 were both about more than Oscar Grant, just as 2008 Athens was about more than Alexandros Grigoropoulos, 1992 L.A. was about more than Rodney King, the 1965 Watts Rebellion about more than Marquette Frye…” Ciccariello-Maher, 2011 [4]

Spaces in crisis Route | 01_2012


9

On the Monday, the third day of riots, when the eruptions had spread from Tottenham and Enfield to the borough of Hackney where I live, I was told by someone, who had recently participated in the student demonstrations, not to go out because “these are not our people”. But I did go out. Firstly, because the police had killed Mark Duggan and looked like they were once again going to get away with it[5], and this made me angry, so if the people on the streets were also angry, then yes, they are my people. And secondly because the eruptions in the streets had been spreading from place to place over the last two days and were now looking like a response to more than the one killing, so I wanted to hear what people were saying on the streets. “These are not our people”. This person’s comment expressed a sentiment that was not uncommon amongst what I heard from the political Left in the days of the riots. It reflects an intense but often ignored class and race segregation in England that runs deep both historically and materially and psychologically. It goes for not only the Right but also much of the Left that there are those who are a legitimate part of social and political life, and act accordingly, and those who “are

[THEME] ME]

not our people”. They are the “feral youth”, the gangs and the underclasses of England, whether black, brown or white. This underclass is supposedly irrational, they don’t know what is best for themselves and they are governed by “base instincts” rather than “rational motivations”. It is a suffocating condition. -A pressure cooker of antagonism. And I was left wondering why so many people were surprised that riots had finally broken out. The supposed irrationality of the rioters was finally challenged, at least slightly, when interviews and comments from “the youth” and people had taken part in those days and nights started to trickle through on youtube and facebook[6]. One comment of a person speaking to an ITV journalist[7]: “You wouldn’t be talking to me now if we didn’t riot, would you?… Two months ago we marched to Scotland Yard, more than 2,000 of us, all blacks, and it was peaceful and calm and you know what? Not a word in the press. Last night a bit of rioting and looting and look around you.” The next evening I read some status updates of some of my “friends” on facebook and saw some saying things like “send in the army and gas them

Spaces in crisis Route | 01_2012


10

all!” Disgusted, I thought about their responses, watched the news and realised that these TV screens, full of burning police cars and trashed buildings, overshadowed the triviality of many of the situations on the streets. What looked like an urban war on the screen was at times an almost calm suspension of law and order, the goods simply being there, free to take, with what seemed like no consequences at the time. People were meandering in the streets, one or two clashes and then the deserted shops, the burning cars left to warm people chatting about what was happening, some getting drunk, some arguing and discussing and other people picking up what they figured they needed, a can of beer, a TV, some cigarettes, diapers, crisps. When the trials began in the subsequent weeks, it became clear that the looters had included people of all classes and backgrounds, and were not limited to the “feral youth” category of the English working class that had been blamed for the “mindless destruction”. In other words, the looting had been done by anyone, people simply thinking, “why not?” The window is already smashed, and I kind of want those trainers, everyone else is doing it, so why not? The hypocrisy of my facebook “friends” was evident. It might as well have been them. But in

[THEME] ME]

the end, it was those who are “not our people” who got the blame and provided the excuse to call these events a non-political lashing out of mindless thugs and criminals [8].

Not Political. “These are not hunger or bread riots. These are riots of defective and disqualified consumers.” Bauman, 2011 [9] Bauman’s analysis forgets the other half of the story, that defective and disqualified consumers are also defective and disqualified producers. In other words the notion of the rioters being out of control consumers that just “want, want, want” - whatever the social cost - is a skewed analysis. It turns the actions into an individualistic pursuit and places the blame on the selfishness and base materialistic desires of the individual rather than recognising the (non)working conditions of an increasing amount of people in the country and the nihilist and no-future condition of the young: under suspicion in any public space, nowhere to go[10] and a future of unemployment or wasting life and energy on a shit job for shit pay. Instead, the majority of statements in the media, from all political spectrums, dismissed the riots as selfish consumer thugs and

Spaces in crisis Route | 01_2012


11

the mantra “this is not political” was repeated over and over. But the politics was everywhere, present in the discussions happening on every street corner about what the police had done in the neighbourhood, what the government had done to the education system and what the bankers had done to society. Politics was also present in the smiling faces behind bandanas, balaclavas and headscarves, an excitement and joy that I have never experienced on the streets of London before. I was on Clarence Road in Hackney, and the police were being pushed back and repeatedly challenged. At one point a police car was spotted down the road and half of the people ran towards it, jumped on top of the car and threw things at it until it sped up and escaped the scene. People had taken the streets. This was not a symbolic “taking the streets” of demonstrations in which permissions are granted by the correct authorities, safety and property laws respected etc. This was a territorial taking over of the streets in which the forces of the state no longer had control. And it was liberating. There could be no bystanders, everyone saw each other and you had to get involved, talk to people, participate in some way or another. Politics was everywhere. In the anger that was vented to the police, the shouts

[THEME] ME]

of previous abuse and repression, the discussions and arguments between people about the most efficient ways to react, the challenges to those who came to just watch and take pictures… An essay by Christos Filippidis[11] describes the de-politicising apparatus of media discourse following the riots in Greece after the police killed Alexandros Grigolopulos in 2008. He describes how the city during the revolt was conceived as an urban jungle and how the jungle, the wild and primitive, had been associated with the impossibility of politics and therefore beyond comprehension, something to be repressed, cleared away, or eradicated. This was very similar to what was happening in London in those days and the fear that the irrationality of the urban jungle would take over entirely meant many people stayed inside in fear. But Filippidis then goes on to refute the basis of these assumptions, beginning with the notion of the jungle as pre-political. In Hackney I saw a few distinctly middle class people out with camera in hand, a “safari” through the jungle to get some “good shots” of the “animals”. Most of the “animals” were smarter than that and would either steal the cameras which would otherwise incriminate them or simply make sure the safari tourist knew it was time to go. The usual seg-

Spaces in crisis Route | 01_2012


12

regation of this area in which young black kids are too frequently harassed by the police and where gang violence has resulted in too many deaths while white internationals can take advantage of the resulting low rents, but are otherwise unaffected by these conditions, was temporarily suspended. Everyone saw each other. And in one way or another, you had to show which side you were on.

Not Me. “The fact that the rioters have no programme is therefore itself a fact to be interpreted: it tells us a great deal about our ideological-political predicament and about the kind of society we inhabit, a society which celebrates choice but in which the only available alternative to enforced democratic consensus is a blind acting out.” … Zizek [12] A suffocating condition. And the riots were liberating to me. I know that there will be those who read this that will disagree with me and some will probably be very angry. Angry that I have anything positive to say about events that involved the destruction of some people’s livelihoods, that involved the deaths of five people. But this is a description of my experiences in those days, my subjective state-

[THEME] ME]

ment, and no single person’s statement will be able to capture what happened in those days. There was no unified group that acted and therefore no single social group can be held responsible for every act that was committed. To speak about the rioters having no programme – in fact to name “the rioters” as if they were a coherent group is a flaw in itself, but nevertheless Zizek’s point about a “blind acting out” as the “only available alternative to enforced democratic consensus” describes well the liberating feeling I had when I went out: This was a (re)action that made no demands and asked for no dialogue with a system that would not change regardless. Zizek speaks of a society that celebrates choice, but one can add to that, a society that marvels in its democratic openness refusing any flaws, repressing anyone who dares critique its framework or reveal their suffering within this supposedly reasonable and rational system. One can freely demonstrate in this country, but only in the designated areas, at the designated time and in an orderly fashion. Because in that way, traffic can be redirected so as not to inconvenience to anyone, health and safety and public order can be upheld, commerce can continue unhindered and society can generally go on, ignorant and unchanged by any protest or event. The boundaries of legitimate action are

Spaces in crisis Route | 01_2012


13

heavily guarded. And when broken, there will be public moral hysteria resulting in severe punishments[13]. I overheard a discussion on the streets between one guy and a priest next to a burning car that went something like this: “Do you think that when the slaves rose up in Haiti that it was done peacefully?” This is not to say that riots is the one thing that can change everything, but rather that, sometimes, it is the only thing that signifies a refusal to communicate on the terms which are forced upon us. While inequality is a blatant and irrefutable fact, only increasing, people nevertheless refuse to make any connection between that and the riots. Instead, there are calls for higher punishments, increased security, and my housemate even suggested we put bars in front of our ground floor windows. I was reminded of a text written in the days after the riots by a friend who had recently moved back to Brazil: “…why is it that what is crystal clear for people in the global North when talking about the global South seems so difficult to process when it happens ‘at home’? Ask any relatively well-informed British citizen about violence in Brazil, and they are likely to tell you something about unequal wealth distribution, lack of opportunities, or even how the drug traffic

[THEME] ME]

goes to places where the state has never been, how many young men see carrying a gun as the only way to earn a sense of worth and respect, how the police make matters worse by being widely perceived as corrupt and prejudiced, and how the political system mostly reproduces this situation.” Orangoquango, 2011 [14] In the meantime, back in London, police patrol the streets, helicopters and chanuks hover above the city, and parents in the borough of Hackney are receiving letters and text messages from the council, urging them to keep control of their children. The police have gathered every single piece of CCTV camera footage from both council and private security cameras and comparing with mainstream media and youtube video footage [15]. They are backtracking the steps of each individual involved in those days, tracing them back to any moment in which they are unmasked in order to register their identities. Thousands have been arrested. Convictions have been unprecedented in severity[16]. The space for discussion is shut tight. Like the thousands who took to the streets, whether arrested or not, I therefore say I was “never there”, I “didn’t see anything” and you will not know my name.

Spaces in crisis Route | 01_2012


14 Notes

[THEME] ME] 18.10.2011)

1. Darcus Howe, speaking about the London riots at the anarchist book fair 22nd October 2011 2. Slavoy Zizek http://www.lrb. co.uk/2011/08/19/slavoj-zizek/shoplifters-ofthe-world-unite (Accessed 09.10.2011) 3. See for example: Mohammed Abbas and Kate Holton http://uk.reuters.com/article/2011/08/09/uk-britain-riot-contrast-idUKTRE7785XQ20110809 (Accessed 18.10.2011). George Ciccariello-Maher http://www.counterpunch.org/2011/08/12/planet-of-slums-age-ofriots/ (Accessed 17.10.2011). Paul Gilroy on the riots, August 2011, Tottenham, North London, August 16, 2011 http://dreamofsafety.blogspot.com/2011/08/ paul-gilroy-speaks-on-riots-august-2011.html (Accessed 18.10.2011). BBC interview with Darcus Howe, for which BBC had to apologies for after for their accusations of Darcus Howe for being a rioter http:// youtu.be/biJgILxGK0o. And for a relatively comprehensive list of reporting and analysis see: http://www.metamute.org/en/news_and_analysis/riot_round_up (Accessed 10.10.2011) 4. George Ciccariello-Maher http://www.counterpunch.org/2011/08/12/planet-of-slums-ageof-riots/ (Accessed 10.10.2011) 6. See for example http://inquest.gn.apc.org/ website/statistics/deaths-in-police-custody (Accessed 18.10.2011). http://www.minorityperspective. co.uk/2011/04/13/black-deaths-in-policecustody-we-should-never-forget/ (Accessed 15.10.2011). http://www.obv.org.uk/news-blogs/demetrefraser-outrage-new-death-police-custody http://www.injusticefilm.co.uk/ (Accessed

6. See for example http://www.guardian.co.uk/ uk/video/2011/sep/05/why-i-rioted-video (Accessed 18.10.2011) http://youtu.be/Zmo8DG1gno4 (Accessed 18.10.2011) http://youtu.be/gYvc0B9QY-c (Accessed 18.09.2011) 7. George Ciccariello-Maher http://www.counterpunch.org/2011/08/12/planet-of-slums-ageof-riots/ (Accessed 10.10.2011) 8. This was the general discourse of mainstream media. David Cameron stated: “This is criminality, pure and simple, and it has to be confronted and defeated.” http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/crime/8691034/ London-riots-Prime-Ministers-statement-infull.html (Accessed 20.10.2011) “These riots were not about government cuts: they were directed at high street stores, not parliament. And these riots were not about poverty: that insults the millions of people who, whatever the hardship, would never dream of making others suffer like this. No, this was about behaviour.” David Cameron http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/aug/15/ david-cameron-riots-broken-society (Accessed 20.10.2011) The usual story that was reported in those days was that a small demonstration about Mark Duggans death was hijacked by looters and thugs when they took advantage of the situation. http://uk.tv.ibtimes.com/london-riots-areopportunistic-not-political-journalist/1561.html (Accessed 20.10.2011) http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/content/2011/ s3291677.htm (Accessed 20.10.2011) 9. Zygmundt Bauman http://www.socialeurope.eu/2011/08/the-london-riots-on-consumerism-coming-home-to-roost/ (Accessed 09.10.2011)

Spaces in crisis Route | 01_2012


15

[THEME] ME]

10. http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/video/2011/jul/31/haringey-youth-club-closuresvideo (Accessed 18.10.2011) 11. Filippidis, C. (2011) The polis-jungle, magical densities and the survival guide of the enemy within. In Dalakoglou, D. and Vradis, A. (Ed.) Revolt and Crisis in Greece. Athens and Baltimore: AK press 12. Slavoy Zizek http://www.lrb. co.uk/2011/08/19/slavoj-zizek/shoplifters-ofthe-world-unite (Accessed 09.09.2011) 13. See for example: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2024605/UK-riots-Daniel-Sartain-Clarkesfamily-evicted-Wandsworth-Council.html (Accessed 17.10.2011) http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/aug/12/ london-riots-wandsworth-council-eviction (Accessed 17.10.2011) http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/ crime/facebook-rioters-who-incited-disorderhave-appeals-rejected-2372578.html (Accessed 17.10.2011) http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/oct/18/ riots-lengthy-sentences-upheld-appealcourt?newsfeed=true (Accessed 17.10.2011) 14. Orangoquango http://orangoquango. wordpress.com/2011/08/10/the-other-sideof-%E2%80%98we%E2%80%99re-all-in-ittogether%E2%80%99/ (Accessed 09.10.2011) 15. My housemate had his camera stolen during the riots. He reported it in order to claim his insurance money, and since then has been rung up by the police on a weekly basis who told him the progress they were making in gathering CCTV footage and tracing the movements of each individual during the riots. 16. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/oct/18/editorial-sentencing-riotersalarming-benchmark (Accessed 17.10.2011)

Spaces in crisis Route | 01_2012


16

[THEME] ME]

A non-symbolic action [Lena Theodoropoulou]*

Following the Arab spring, the European movement of the squares started in Spain on the 15th of May. A few days before the local elections the Spaniards gathered spontaneously at Puerta del Sol to declare their frustration for the current political system. The movement spread quickly to all the main squares of Spain with its main characteristics being the daily assemblies and the rejection of any form of violence. The Greeks copied the exact same pattern and by the end of May they had occupied Syntagma square. Thinking about it retrospectively Syntagma is probably the only public space in Athens where such a diverse crowd could have united. The prime mover that led the people to the squares was a general indignation for the political system and its reaction to the financial crisis; a reaction that has been based on extreme austerity measures and tax raids. Self-organisation became the first step and precondition for the assumption of positive action, upgrading the movement from a simple protest to a conveyor of political action. An exhaustive political analysis could shed some light on the accomplishments and failures of this action, the possibility of self-organisation on a State level and the potentiality of direct democracy. The issue that will be examined here though is not the formation of a political thought but the transformation of the public space as a political action. It could be argued that the changes made to the square were to meet practical needs, accompanying the ideas that necessitated these transformations; and this affirmation would be most probably true. The public space though is not a static construction but a formation that is constantly produced. It does not respond to a social reality but is an integral part of it. In addition to that there is no form of power that can be exercised or confronted without the existence of a space, whether this is real space or utopian . Different social spaces might be the bearers of symbolic or real values, without the former necessarily excluding the latter. Tiananmen Square for example, al-

Spaces in crisis Route | 01_2012


17

though it remains a symbol of peaceful resistance to the State’s violence is not currently an actual space of resistance. This is one of the many examples that narrate the natural transformation of a space imposed on history, memory and functionality. The question though that remains is whether a public space that has once been the ground of political action, can escape a pure symbolic value and remain a producer of political action even when this is opposed to the main political power. It is under this perspective that the movement of Syntagma square will be examined. Syntagma in Greek means Constitution. The Square is named after the Constitution that King Otto was forced to grant the people after a popular and military uprising, on September 3, 1843. Since then though, besides the history and the semiotics of its location (opposite the Greek parliament) Syntagma had never been the gathering point of any kind of social protest. On the contrary, it has functioned more as the symbol of social stability and the conveyor of legitimate authority. It is the place where the busiest metro station is, where all Christmas activities organized by the mayor of Athens take place and where the Christmas tree is placed. The first time when the public image of Syntagma was disrupted was during the riots of 2008 when the riot-

[THEME] ME]

ers burnt the Christmas tree that was standing in the middle of the square, destroying the “Christmas spirit” that the State was struggling to maintain. In general though, the main square of Athens has been more of a passage rather than a reference point. The protest at Syntagma started as a spontaneous gathering in order to express the dissatisfaction of the people with the Greek political system and, as mentioned above, the need for self-organisation was raised simultaneously. An event that started as a symbolic occupation of a public space, quickly evolved into a re-inhabitation, transforming the square into a functional and very real free space. The way the square was inhabited can be examined on two different levels. The first has to do with meeting the needs related to the viability of a space. One of them is the circulation of people. The space of the square was organized as such: the sleeping tents were placed at both side edges of the square under the trees, the other constructions that served as reference points for the working groups and some type of ‘institutions’ were developed in the same way, in front of the tends. The main space of the square was left free for the people to gather and for the daily assembly to take place. In addition to that, there were passageways designed on the square that had to be

Spaces in crisis Route | 01_2012


18

free during the assembly so that anyone could join without disturbing the flow of the discussion. The chemical toilets brought to the square ensured the sanitation of the space. Finally, the public lights were adjusted according to the people’s needs. Thus, the three main flows rendering a space viable – circulation of people, of water (sanitation) and electricity – and are usually in the hands of an external authority to handle, were re-established by the new inhabitants of the square. The second level of inhabitation is the existence of ‘institutions’ as a precondition for the formation of a social construction; formations that not only make the space viable but familiar and functional as well. Different working groups and teams were set up (law team, cleaning group, environmental group, coordination team, communication team etc.), while other formations like the kindergarten and the first-aid station facilitated the residence of people in the Square. In a couple of days two of the main conditions for the creation of a social space were met: viability and familiarity. All these actions achieved the transformation of the value of the space from symbolic to real. The demonstrations that took place in June and their violent suppression by the police revealed the power that the Square had acquired as not only

[THEME] ME]

a symbol of resistance, but as a functional, self-organised space. It was clear that the riot police had orders to evacuate the square. On the 29th of June, what started as a peaceful demonstration became a battle between the protesters and the police for the occupation of Syntagma. It seems easy to understand that for the protesters it was essential to re-occupy a space that they felt they had possession of. In any case, repelling citizens from a public space is an action that cannot be tolerated by any type of Democracy. What would be interesting to examine though besides the sentimental importance of the space is the fact that the demonstrators actually needed the Square. As it had become a point of reference, it was the only place where people would run in a case of emergency, they could re-unite, ask for help at the first-aid station, feel safe. Apparently though, the importance of the Square had become clear to the State as well, hence the will to evacuate it; a plan that failed thanks to the urge of the people to sustain everything they had created during the last month. A major failure of the State can also be located on the level of language: it did not manage to impose its own discourse against that of the protesters. The events of the 29th of June were obviously breaking news on all the local media. Observing the language

Spaces in crisis Route | 01_2012


19

that the mainstream media used to describe the events, it can be noticed that even those that were actively trying to conceal the excessive use of police violence, were referring to the incidents adopting the vocabulary of the protesters, referring for example to the existence of the first-aid station in the same way that the protesters did, ‘legitimizing’ the Square as it had been transformed by the people. This might have been the most important victory of the Syntagma movement: the people managed not only to re-inhabit a public space but to impose this re-inhabitation on other forms of power like the media and the State. They achieved thus to legitimize in everyone’s consciousness something that by definition was illegitimate. Transforming a public space might not be illegal (yet) but forcing authorities like the media and the State to acknowledge this transformation is rare to happen. What does the case of Syntagma square though has to offer on the general discussion regarding the perspective of sociopolitical self-organisation? Any kind of self-organised community has developed in similar ways, becoming a reference point and a very real space for the people that are involved in it. The case of Athens is worth further examination for two main reasons. The first one has to do with the location of the square – in the very center

[THEME] ME]

of Athens – and the second with the fact that the protesters did not share a preexistent social or political identity. Self-organised spaces are usually hidden, outside the everyday life of the city. Squats, parks, neighborhoods in the suburbs, although in many cases they constitute a threat for the stability of the State, they hardly ever transform the image of the city. In addition to that they are usually the outcome of a getting together of people that have a common, predefined ideology. In the case of Syntragma though a new community occurred in a space nothing but isolated from the city life. The geographical location of the square eliminated the possibility of the creation of new heterotopias, with the everyday life of the square becoming a parallel reality to the quotidian flow of the city. When it comes to the people, they formed their common identity starting from zero ground, exploring from the very beginning the structures of society. Whether this led them to something positive or not is yet to be discussed. It might be that we have reached the end of revolutions, and the traditional way of resisting and protesting creates nothing but a vicious circle in the game of power. However, public spaces still exist, contributing to the formation of policies. How much can a free square in the middle of a city affect these poli-

Spaces in crisis Route | 01_2012


20

cies? Not much, unless it works as a virus; unless it spreads and it multiplies, it crosses the line of reaction and becomes an action. What constitutes a space is the way we choose to inhabit it; our movements, the lines we form, the routes we create. Athens has an advantage in this case: public space is still defined through liberties and not through prohibitions. While Londoners for example, falling into the trap of safety accepted the inhabitation of public space as a series of don’ts, Athenians still claim possession of the public space, maintaining thus the ability to transform it. Going back to the discussion about symbolic vs. real spaces, Syntagma square could now register the recent events as history and add them to the symbolic value that it has as a public space. Are there more symbols needed though? Wherever there is a history, there is a symbol; symbols of liberty, of massacres, of democracy, of honor. Without trying to diminish the importance of symbols for the collective memory of a space and its inhabitants, it might be the case that we have had enough of them. We have reached a critical point that we do not need another symbol but real, functional and free spaces; actions rather than reactions. The square has for sure gained the symbolic value it had missed over the years, since the day it

[THEME] ME]

took its name. The question is if it will become another symbol of freedom, diversity and social turbulence or if it will become an actual conveyor of all these things. * I would like to thank to Anna Papoutsi for being my correspondent from the square.

Spaces in crisis Route | 01_2012


21

[MAKING SENSE] NSE]

“Making Sense” – A sensible approach to cities

“Making sense” will be a fundamental part of ROuTe through which we aim at exploring our cities through our senses. Changing perspective is an important exercise that gives the reader and us the opportunity to “see our spaces” as something else, outside the meaning we associate with them daily. In much the same way as this section wants to interrupt the reader from the stream of thoughts given by the “Theme” section. We will ask artists as well as architects and designers to intervene giving us their account on a particular way of approaching cities and their spaces to generate, hopefully, a creative interaction of ideas and approaches to place-making.

Spaces in crisis Route | 01_2012


22

[MAKING SENSE] NSE]

Stephen Willats: Street talk [Richard Townsend] report of a talk with the artist held at Tate Modern, Monday 26 September 2011

Framing details to describe cities. Highlighting fragments and single objects as a mean to describe complex phenomena. A distant, often obsessively neutral eye of the artist, causing in more instances a sense of confusion rather than a cohesive and constructive vision, are the main feelings left behind by the talk of British artist Stephen Willats at Tate Modern (Stephen Willats: Street Talk, Monday 26 September 2011). The eye of an artist often catches the complexity of cities in such a way that allows the spectator to create a new, separate vision matching or conflicting with their pre-formed experience of the space. For this reason the framing of reality, be the focus social or physical, as well as the medium chosen is a fundamental choice. This is the main focus of Willats’ talk and screening. Three white screens stand awaiting at the centre of the stage, creating the expectation in the viewers that what they are about to witness needs more space, more complexity, more perspectives than a single screen can reproduce. This setting and the expectations though are immediately accompanied by the warning, often repeated in the course of the night, that: “The screenings were never meant to be Framing details to describe cities. Highlighting fragments and single objects as a mean to describe complex phenomena. A distant, often obsessively neutral eye of the artist, causing in more instances a sense of confusion rather than a cohesive and constructive vision, are the main feelings left behind by the talk of British artist Stephen Willats at Tate Modern (Stephen Willats: Street Talk, Monday 26 September 2011). The eye of an artist often catches the complexity of cities in such a way that allows the spectator to create a new, separate vision matching or conflicting with their pre-formed experience of the space. For this reason the framing of reality, be

Spaces in crisis Route | 01_2012


23

the focus social or physical, as well as the medium chosen is a fundamental choice. This is the main focus of Willats’ talk and screening. Three white screens stand awaiting at the centre of the stage, creating the expectation in the viewers that what they are about to witness needs more space, more complexity, more perspectives than a single screen can reproduce. This setting and the expectations though are immediately accompanied by the warning, often repeated in the course of the night, that: “The screenings were never meant to be seen with such attention”. What follows on screen is a series of works by the artist over a thirty-year period, focusing mostly on the question of the media rather than the subject; the art work is both representing spaces and becoming integral part of them. In Willats intentions this is to give the appropriate attention to the media itself, to its own form. Interesting therefore that he considers those participating in the projects, often people from local communities, almost as neutral agents. The question remains whether, despite Willats’ explanation, the slightly arrogant and patronising feel to this mode of interaction is just an impression or something more. Moreover though such an approach starts to make sense once the audience is aware of the setting in which

[MAKING SENSE] NSE]

the work was originally presented. The neutrality of the work suddenly takes a whole new meaning, as it becomes itself part of the environment it represents. The artist becomes describer as well as creator of space; A reminder that the space around us is nothing more than a social creation in which planners, architects or any other professionals are, at the same level as those inhabiting them. I am not, in this instance, arguing against specialised knowledge but rather on the need for a greater awareness of the role we give ourselves when intervening on spaces that we don’t inhabit directly. I conclude with a last thought in accordance with Willats view of his work, on the role of the medium itself. The use of videos in an almost photographic way, by capturing extremely short sequences of details and constructing syncopate movies in which the focus switches nervously between object or the use of videos replayed backwards is a good attempt of changing the viewer’s perspective on a space; An idea that becomes stronger if we think of the original installation on site. Overall therefore the experiment of taking the installation to such a different environment has probably not achieved all the promoters had in mind but it remains nevertheless an important reminder of the importance of the environment, its physical

Spaces in crisis Route | 01_2012


24

[MAKING SENSE] NSE]

features given by sounds, lights and the “normal� use people make of it and the disruptive power of the arts to make people reflect on themselves and the spaces they create on a daily basis.

Spaces in crisis Route | 01_2012


25

[REVIEWS & OPINIONS]

Reviews & Opinions

A Letter From Greece [Anna Papoutsi]

For the past two years, everyone has been talking about Greece; especially the past six months the conversation has intensified and many people, mostly in Italy, Spain and France, have begun to identify with us. The situation in Greece is pretty much known and, by now, people have formed their opinions. Some think Greeks are lazy even if they work longer hours and have fewer days of holiday than most Europeans; they had it coming living above their means for so many years! But isn’t that what we all did? Since Sunday the 12th, everyone seems to be concerned with the destruction that took place in Athens during mass protests against the new so-called “aidprogramme” that the Greek government has supposedly negotiated with the EU, the ECB and the IMF. The content of this new agreement is more or less known but I cannot help but stress that, aside from all the fiscal measures that will further “drain” the Greek people, it includes a clause stating that Greece quits its National Immunity. That means that, despite what international law says, in case of default the creditors can claim national property as remuneration… A state’s property as well as its national treasures are legally protected; however, our politicians saw fit to agree to wave this right! I say even only for that they are traitors! Understandably, we are furious! And furious people take it to the streets!! Hundreds of thousands of us protested against this government and this agreement under heavy police crackdown. It is outrageous that none of the Greek mass media has shown a single photo of this extraordinarily massive protest; instead, they once again focused on the devastation

Spaces in crisis Route | 01_2012


26

and the burning of banks and stores. Of course, the numbers are impressive (as well as the pictures): 29 banks and ATMs, 71 stores, one cinema of historic value, 3 public buildings, 5 office buildings and 3 hotels; impressive count and impressive images… But why do we keep focusing on that? Understandably, people do tend to focus on spectacular and cinematographic scenes; at least, as a first reaction. But the outcry for the burnt city continues and no one is really looking at the issue more deeply. Let us assume that the fires and the devastation were not caused only by secret police or parastate elements that, without a doubt, act in Greece during protests. Let us also get over the myth that black-hooded youths or anarchists acted alone; there would have to be thousands of them in order to be able to cause such damage and havoc… But even if it were only them burning, breaking and throwing marbles, they would have to have the support of the hundreds of thousands of protesters that witnessed such acts. A safe conclusion here is that the devastation of Athens last Sunday is directly proportional to people’s anger. Don’t get me wrong. I love Athens, the city centre that is; every little bit of that city is so dear to me; the beautiful spots as much as the ugly ones. It is an admittedly neglected city but it has

[REVIEWS & OPINIONS]

a long history and one can see it very clearly if one knows how to look for it! And history is actually being made every day; the Roman desecrations of the Pharaohs’ tombs in the Valley of the Kings in Luxor are now displayed as part of the history of those monuments. Won’t what happened on the 12thbe considered history some day? Maybe future generations will long for a remnant of this rebellion. Well, the city is meant to tell the story of the people that have lived there in the same way that is the mirror of their lives. In Athens, we are angry and desperate; and desperate people destroy! At least, they do not care about buildings being burnt! Not even the pretty ones… Our lives are being destroyed and we mourn for buildings. The country is basically for sale and we care about the image of the city. We are hypocrites! If people’s rage is so great that is burning down buildings (that, by the way, are as we speak functional or will be in a few weeks’ time) then I say be it. Cities are meant to be lived and reflect the citizens. How and why can the city stay untouched? To provide a sense of normality so that we can pretend nothing is wrong? Then let us also get rid of the new-homeless that remind us of our problems. I have heard friends of mine that have not stepped foot in the centre in years complaining about the burnt buildings! Hypocrites!! And yet

Spaces in crisis Route | 01_2012


27

I never heard a word about all the traffic lights in the city centre that were not repaired until five days later! Imagine a city of 5 million without any traffic light for a week! But no one complained! Hypocrites!! Why weren’t the tear-gas residues cleaned from the streets for two days? We kept smelling and inhaling this poison but no one complained! Hypocrites!! So cinema Attikon, this magnificent neo-classical building, was burnt! Why do we all of a sudden care so much? Who is mourning for all the rest of the magnificent neo-classical buildings that are rotting in the centre all these years or, even worse, the ones we tore down to build ugly blocks of flat? Or aren’t we destroying Athens every day by driving our cars everywhere, by littering and throwing the cigarette bats from the car window, or by not picking up our pets’ feces; that is when we do not dumb them all together to die in the street; all these acts that have rendered our city unlivable. Hypocrites!! I think most people are upset because it is the politically correct thing to be in the face of this devastation; deep inside, if we were to be honest with ourselves, we would admit that we do not care; either because the centre is out of our lives or because we actually applaud the fires! Maybe we even did applaud a little when we saw the fires being set. It is normal: first of all,

[REVIEWS & OPINIONS]

burning public property is illegal and secondly the mass media have already set the tone: total and utter indignation for the destruction. Of course, no one is more indignant than the political establishment; Ministers and MPs still present themselves as the elected representatives of the citizens, judging the use of violence as a non-democratic expression of anger, taking measures to prevent these events, struggling to maintain stability and normality. However, if there is someone to be held responsible for this need for violence it can only be the politicians. Rage is not rational; and when this rage is being expressed in public spaces in such a massive way it is nothing else but an ultimate political action; maybe a desperate, self-destructive one, but yet as political as it gets. The Greek people are not represented by anyone; and it is not the citizens but the politicians who burn and destroy just by staying in power, illegitimately in the eyes of the people. Respectively, they are not legitimised to talk about violence, about anger, about stability, about solutions. They are simply not there; not part of the streets; not part of the every-day life of the city; not part of the political future. Social space belongs to those that form the society. And the current government is not part of this society.

Spaces in crisis Route | 01_2012


28

[REVIEWS & OPINIONS]

I will be honest: Monday morning on my way to work the fire-fighters were still putting down a fire at a bank in Monastiraki square; I couldn’t help but grin. Anna Papoutsi - Athens, 21/02/2012

Spaces in crisis Route | 01_2012

Route Magazine - Issue 01  

The first issue of Route. A magazine on critical thoughts about cities, spatial planning and urban design

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you