[-empyre-] The city as a skin -- Sparta and the helots / time and space and movement

Johannes Birringer Johannes.Birringer at brunel.ac.uk
Tue Mar 20 00:41:46 EST 2012

dear all

the week begins with wind-swept nostalgia and faint tango rhythms (of lost times), and I wonder how you want to reconnect your dreams of "cities" to the theme of "urban resilience - trying to understand the new ways and methods of activism and resilience performed in the urban environment" (March 03 outline)? especially if, as Eduardo I believe intimates (below), your re-collections   - and i would argue Benjamin's flaneur does precisely not "appropriate all cities and flavors of all cities of the world" – are inevitably personal and subjective, marked by your biographical histories. Revising "skins" - to quote Eduardo and, in extension, the posts by Sabela ("city of skin") `- i gathered from some of the fascinating political posts of the past days, is a very difficult proposal, and I hope more discussion is forthcoming on the issue of whether urban activation, and the "agonistic model" (Aristide) is a political process (following Ricardo Dominguez's very complex essay from last week) or a theory or a matter that can be left to architects /urban planners and developers  (am i understanding Aristide correctly here, in terms of his claims for architectural practice?).....?  What is "the point of view of architecture" in our debate here, regarding actions and what some of you refer to as "performative city"?  Is Aristide suggesting an archaeo-tectural practice or political ethnography working with communities that act in the city, and how would that come about?

The public space is unimportant or "occupy-able". It is important from a point of view of architecture to make an account of this aspect of the communities that act in the cities. They can exist if they occupy a space. A different relation to what was meant as public space is recorded here. An occupied zone is hospitable if we accept its rules. But it installs again a different attitude than the civic: a civilian is not the performing subject of the occupation. New rules apply to the occupied territories in a way that we cannot say if we are or not in the realm of a typical western society. Furthermore from this occupation practices we may learn how a separative concept will perform new divisions of the old society. (Aristide)>>>

I also think we have not responded to Alicia's provocation to think through "peripheral agendas" and garner a different way to listen and look:  "For the people from the South the thing we expect from the intellectuals from the North implicates a strong twist, deconstruct their global agenda and look again" (Alicia).

Thus, I wish to listen more to Sabela's fascinating critique of the "overclothing" or overtattooing of the skins of urban individuals:

she wrote:
"La fugacidad de la apariencia, a su vez,  el desvanecimiento de la fuerza de lo espectacular, es contínuo; el situarse con naturalidad ante un vacío recurrente que desafía  la subjetividad, impone nuevos comportamientos, estrategias de sobrevivencia y mantenimiento de la esperanza"  

-- did Sabela not challenge precisely, ask to get rid of precisely,  the kind of nostalgia you evoke in your responses, Ana?


Johannes Birringer

Ana schreibt
My city is Benjamins flaneur appropiating all cities and all flavours and all smells of all the cities of the world.
My city is Metropolis and Gotham City and Camelot and Ulan Batar and Petra and Troy and Izmir and Samarkand and all the cities Calvino wrote in Invisible Cities, my favorite book :)

Eduardo schreibt:
Reading your description of Visby reminded me of my visit and stay in the island of Gotland a couple of years ago, when I also had the pleasure to meet you in person.  It was a wonderful experience—thanks for making that possible with the Swedish Traveling Exhibitions.

I also found myself doing the same thing you describe on Sundays, when I was there.  For me Visby did not feel like a city, but more like a small town.  Yet, everything needed and expected of big cities was to be found in the local stores.  Visby is great in that the architecture is untouched but the shops, themselves, are super modern. To this day I still remember having some of the best coffees in the local shops.

Regarding Montevideo, I visited it a few years earlier, and was hosted by Brian Mackern.  It felt like a different type of city than any other I had visited at the time, and have visited since then.  The architecture is absolutely beautiful, yet at the same time, during my visit, many buildings appeared abandoned, and many streets were not well kept.   Very windy during my time there—just like Visby!

In any case, I was compelled to respond to your post, not so much because I am acquainted with the cities you describe, but because your post made me realize how the concept of the city, when we think about it, is quite elusive and difficult to define and especially describe formally in “universal” terms if we really tried to move beyond the usual descriptions we are used to sharing.  As I read other posts after yours, I realized that while, as someone pointed out, when one may think of a city, it is Paris may come up, (in my mind is also New York), such generic definition is understood in relation to the city(ies) one lives or has lived in.  The concept of the skin of the city could be extended in this case to the diversity within the city as a concept beyond a singular urban center.  I think of this especially since regentrification has become a way to revise the “skins” of very different cities in different parts.  I noticed the act  of reinvention (one could argue a more distanced form of regentrification) in both Visby and Montevideo, and in this sense I think that cities are amazing social organisms that reflect the diversity and complexity of the people who dwell in them.

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