coromandal


fear itself
January 21, 2010, 12:29 am
Filed under: brave new world, the sweet life | Tags: , , , , , ,

Last week I had an argument with a friend about the skating rinks in Manhattan.  She argued that the ‘market should decide’ what we pay for the rinks, and I argued – a bit forcefully, I guess – that the rinks should be made accessible to a broad public which could involve the market but also other decision making bodies.  It ended badly and COFRB “The Chairman” Greenspan’s name was taken in vain.

It is patently absurd that something that doesn’t care be made an oracle that we consult and beseech and yea verily believe in.  Market truth is an ideology that is particularly unyielding and unhelpful when it comes to how we build and live in cities.  The city, like a lover, needs more than mere assertions of truth:  without nuance and care the deal goes south in a hurry.

In the excerpt below, from the essay Confronting Fear by Sophie Body-Gendrot, is a discussion of how fear is a cancer to the proper public use of the city.  In imagery reminiscent of a witch trial – only on the other side – Body-Gendrot tells us we need to drag fear and rumour into the public square and reveal their intransigence and wrongheadedness.  Fear has lead to flight and sprawl, and sprawl destroys the city, and the people who partake should be taxed.  Now that’s a daring statement, and one of the few that is worth listening to in the clang and din rising from the prophets and hawkers of the new sustainability.

Here is the excerpt:

It is our task as urban scholars to deconstruct such elusive terms as unsafety, urban violence, disorder, community and ‘sensitization to violence.’  It cannot be denied that crime and terrorism are urban threats in our time.  There is a before and after 9/11, with global repercussions.  Yet the answer to fear is not to escape from the city, buy a gun and shelter ina gated community.  It is an illusion to think that families, their children, and their grandchildren can live safely for ever after in a bunker, dismissing the outside world.  Because the city is a historical construct, what they miss is the overlapping and intersecting urbanisms, each representing different historical moments and existing simultaneously.  Parks, riversides, shopping centres, museums and shared collective moments of celebration illustrate the vitality of cities.  Fears and rumours about crime that undermine the use of public space should be selected, confronted and addressed in public debate.  The debate about sprawl is open:  according to Anne Power and Richard Rogers, the harm it produces to the city should be officially acknowledged and higher taxes should be implemented for those whose lifestyle destroys the urban core.

-Confronting Fear, Sophie Body-GendrotThe Endless City, Phaidon

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a country of cities
January 3, 2010, 3:28 pm
Filed under: brave new world, the sweet life | Tags: , , ,

This is a – rather long – excerpt from Vishaan Chakrabarti’s essay A Country of Cities on Urban Omnibus.

He lifts the velvet curtain on the elephant in the sustainability room:  change all the lightbulbs you like, swap out the insulation, carpool, do all these things and you still aren’t close to living sustainably if you live in a suburb.

I know it’s comfy, and it’s what you know, and mom and grandpa live there.  But let’s be honest, it is a bad invention originally based on the myth of going west, settlin’ all over the land, and eventually evolved into an idea of being entitled to expansion and space and consumption.  It also needs to be stated that, beside being a terrible use of resources, sprawl has led to really bad social lives for generations of people.

Chakrabarti’s argument sounds sneaky:  the suburb is subsidized heavily, like a welfare program for the middle class; and we should use the market to get away from irresponsible land use patterns and begin to build cities.  That’s the reverse of what we collectively believe in this culture!  We think the market made the suburb.  C is right, it didn’t.

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annunciation

Here are three works by the photographer Gregory Crewdson, all untitled, set in the generic suburb, landscapes and portraits, each with strong beams of light.  They question our normative assumptions of what is real by showing meta real events.

The first is of a suburban neighborhood at dusk with stacks of railway ties in the foreground and several porch lights just on for the night.  There are three meta real lights:  the beam, the spot in the forground and the tree in the background.  All three light abjectly uninteresting subjects.

The second is a portrait of a woman perhaps in a dream, in her night clothes, simultaneously in her garden and in her kitchen.  She is a flesh and blood woman, fertile and organized. We see her in a meta real moment: conceivably the police have arrived, but more likely God or the Truth based on the intensity of the light.

The third is a pregnant woman in her yard at dusk in the suburbs, in the kiddy pool which her husband or boyfriend is filling with a hose while a friend sleeps on the lawn nearby.  The spot light is again extra human, like a renaissance annunciation:  a miracle birth in the yard.

Each image presents a narrative that collapses the distance between the banal and the transcendent wherein lies its power.

Untitled, from the series Twilight, Gregory Crewdson

untitled, Gregory Crewdson

untitled (pregnant woman/pool), Gregory Crewdson



nowhere

(photograph by Todd Hido)

… the suburbs are the tundra, and at night the effect is doubled. The suburbs at night are what you see from the window of the plane: chains of light, some of them in patterns like a diagram, some of them too bright, some of them as diffuse as if underwater, all surrounded by nothingness.”

~Luc Sante

“The suburbs dream of violence. Asleep in their drowsy villas, sheltered by benevolent shopping malls, they wait patiently for the nightmares that will wake them into a more passionate world.”

~J.G Ballard