Postage and Packing Free - The majority of the world’s human population now live in cities, which are likely to remain the dominant form of habitat. How, then, do we envision (or regenerate) cities for a humane and viable future?
publication date: April 2012
This is the third volume in the cultural critique series published by University of Plymouth Press. Following volume 1 on culture and agency, and volume 2 on cultural memory, this volume asks how cities are envisioned, crossing various academic fields and professional practices from cultural theory to ethnography, and from art to sustainable food production. There is no attempt to define what a present or future city should be, nor to claim special insight for any one group of professionals or academics. The intention is to present a plurality of outlooks and observations, often incidental to debates on urban planning and design – on both of which there are extensive literatures. The volume suggests that new insights emerge in the interstices between approaches. The book is not a tool kit for creative cities, then, but an effort to provoke more serendipitous discussion. Some of the chapters are edited versions of papers from a conference, Nutopia, organised by Jennie Savage in Cardiff in April, 2009 (on which a note is appended). Others were added from academic research in progress at the University of Plymouth and elsewhere.
Together, the chapters indicate a refusal of a single model - the city – in favour of more complex and contingent frameworks. Cities are viewed as sites of contested claims to space, voice and visibility. Peter Marcuse remarked, at a symposium, ‘The Right to the Creative City’, in London in 2011, that of the six words of the title five are problematic (‘to’ is the exception). ‘The’ implies a single right and a single city; ‘right’ disregards the difference between a demand for justice arising from deprivation, a desire for utopia arising from unease; ‘creative’ is problematic when financial services are included in the creative sector; and ‘city’ implies, as said above, a single model which reduces or denies the diversity of urban forms, cultures, social orders, and lives.
The book is not divided into sections, but the first three chapters deal with broad ways of analysing cities. Robert Brown proposes, in a way close to some of Peter Marcuse’s thinking, that cities are palimpsests – constant over- and re-inscriptions in space. Bas Spierings looks at cities from a Dutch experience (but with wider import) as consumption sites. And Krszysztof Nawratek argues that cities have always been sites of contest, even of violence, from their archaic rites of foundation to the present. The next four chapters take different approaches to specific places: Nell Quest uses ethnography to gain insights into multi-ethnic Marseiiles. Aparna Sharma uses walking and photography to investigate contrasting neighbourhoods in Delhi. Gary Anderson and Steve Garrett both look at Cuba, Anderson recalling a visit there which raised issues of revolutionary commemoration, and Garrett celebrating the urban gardens of Havana as a greening of that city. In the next three chapters the focus moves to the arts and cultural work; Peter Dunn reviews his experiences as a community-based artist using digital media for democratic articulation of urban futures. Zoë Skoulding reflects narratively and in a series of poems on the city as a shifting, contingent and sometimes fragile landscape. Jennie Savage recalls her work as an artist in Cardiff, prior to Nutopia, using walking as a means to open dialogue with dwellers and urban professionals. The final two chapters return to theoretical and speculative approaches: Malcolm Miles looks critically, and perhaps a litttle nostalgically, at the overlooked (as if failed) utopian content in European modernist architecture and planning. Then, finally, looking at tools for re-envisioning cities socially, Paul Chatterton proposes nine principles for future urban viability. As said, the book offers no solutions. The Editors hope it will contribute to discussion, and provoke further efforts to gain insights into urban life (and lives), and future possibilities for democratic, empowering, and sustainable urban tactics.