1.16.2009

A call to (urbanist) arms



The new year is a perfect excuse to picture ourselves starting over. This year in particular promises to be cathartic, with the end of the Bush era and probable (if only temporal) end of freewheeling capitalism and impending social disasters and the dawn of Obama and everything else that’s cooking these days.

With all the doom and excitement building up, I find it really difficult to concentrate on architecture or urbanism. It just seems daffy worrying about how pretty or ugly buildings are, and simply frustrating having to remind myself of how ineffective and near-sighted the usual strands of planning and urbanism are in times of crisis, how thinking about place and space always seems to fall back to second or third tier when emergency sets in.

It’s quite difficult to justify a focus on architecture and urbanism at times like these, particularly when the “disciplines” (the general sets of understandings, and tools and consents encasing practices) are so terribly stuffed with vagueness, superficiality, piecemeal solutions, and detachment.

But just when I’m about to get depressed again, I whisper to myself, “for new social relations there must be new space and viceversa…,” and then, like after reciting one of those little bedtime prayers that never failed to keep me safe and sound and sleeping like a log when I was a kid, I feel better.

Lefebvre takes me back to Mayakovsky too, with his beautiful bald head and crazy eyes and his poems and drawings of the city dissolving onto napkins and paper bags at the same time Petrograd itself was dissolving into rubble and smoke and chaos and newness. And Lunacharski singing of the days when the streets were filled with the roar of politics and revolution and urbanism.

Or in a somewhat more contemporary and much less boisterous tone, Gottdiener, confirming that:

“Just as other commodities, (space) represents both a material object and a process involving social relations. Unlike other commodities, it continually recreates social relations or helps reproduce them…it is, therefore, simultaneously material object or product, the medium of social relations, and the reproducer of material objects and social relations.”

So maybe, just maybe, its a good time to start thinking and talking explicitly of urbanism and architecture again, as the fundamentally social and political endeavors they are.

1 comment:

Peter Sigrist said...

Inspiring post. I hadn't heard of Mayakovsky or Lunacharski, and enjoyed finding out more about them. It also brought to mind Neil Smith's Uneven Development. Thank you!