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William George Jewsbury | Are attempts to divide city space undermined by the fact that urban spaces are highly differencial?

on Tue Aug 07, 2018 9:38 pm
William George Jewsbury | Are attempts to divide city space undermined by the fact that urban spaces are highly differencial?



A definitive answer to the question of ‘what is a city?’ is not easily ascertained (Pile, 1999). For Massey (1999), a key feature of the city is its diversity and the dynamism of its daily workings. Its heterogeneous concentrations of convoluted cultural entanglements, burgeoning daily intensities, occasionally conflicting social interactions, and multitudinous overlapping fiscal exchanges, create a complex and paradoxical image of the urban milieu (Allen, 1999). In concurrence, Mumford (1937) evocatively describes the city as a ‘geographical plexus’ of multiform interaction networks, with a diversity and intensity that ‘fosters art’ and ‘creates theatre’, via ‘conflicting and co-operating personalities’, which cohabit city spaces (p.185). The city is therefore a concoction of disparate peoples with differing aspirations, beliefs, and socio-cultural backgrounds, with numerous external connections, brought together in close proximity and embedded in relative cosmopolitanism (Erskine, 2000). Such concentrated differentiations and paradoxical relations are likened by Steve Pile (1999) to a bubbling ‘cauldron’ of reactionary ingredients, ‘ready to catch fire, and burst into flame’. However, ‘flames can be both beautiful and deadly’, and need careful management in order to control their intensity (p.19). Mumford (1937) recognised that the city’s fiery energy would inevitably dissipate due to growth, and in order to sustain its creativity and external influence, planned urban developments would need implementation. Urban architects have long sought to divide city space, re-ordering the city to ameliorate any disorderly expansion, and create a modernized and economically attractive image (Mooney, 1999). However, these attempts have often met with limited success due to different perceptions of urban order and disorder, as the populace negotiate their own differentiations within the intense concentration of city relations (Pile, 1999). This essay will discuss how the demarcation of urban space is produced, and how the divisive strategies of urban planners have attempted to alter social and architectural geographies in search of a more succinct ‘urban utopianism’ (Cochrane, 1999). In order to purposefully deliberate such a multifaceted subject, this essay will focus upon several different mechanisms of imposed urban order. The exploration of Glasgow city’s post-war re-ordering, and the political and cultural (dis)connections of Harlem communities and the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, will demonstrate the segregators of social class and racial background within urban planning. Then a short discussion of fortified gated community formation will denote the inability, even in extremis, of attempts to divide the city, showing that such boundaries can be seen as porous and challenged, often from within.

There is a plethora of differentiations within the city. Those of age, cultural background, ethnic origins, even sexual orientation, and arguably the most poignant of urban space segregators is that of class. Certainly, within industrial city histories, the intrinsic productive values of civilian members have been stereotyped, labelled, and segregated into the upper, middle and lower classes (Pile, 1999). Burgess (1925) and Hoyt’s (1939) orderly models of class differentiation within the city demarcate specific bounded patterns of these social classes (see Figure 1). Their models attempt to envisage the city as a centralized space of places, with Hoyt’s model building on the foundations of the Burgess concentric circle view in considerance of transport changes and mobility increases during the early twentieth century. During the mid-twentieth century an effort to re-order and modernize cities such as Glasgow ensued. An ever-expanding population intensified congestion, thus prompting an increased need for new infrastructure and a decentralization of urban sprawl. In theory, a planned decentralization of the working class residential areas would lessen city core congestion, whist making space for new industry and development (Pile, 1999). 200,000 new council estates were built in peripheral areas during the 1946 Clyde Valley Regional Plan. Steven Pile (1999) describes that ‘this new layer of social and spatial differentiation was superimposed on previous layers of class segregation’ (p.77). In other words, the ageing urban models of Burgess (1925) and Hoyt (1939) were to be modernized further to enable economically beneficial expansions of the central business district and industrial zones, whilst altering the geographies of the economically disadvantaged populace. Pushed to the periphery, the working classes forfeited their attachments and ‘close-knit communities’ (Meegan, 1989 p.76), which differentiated their social identity within the city. Subsequently, this new anonymity and relative geographic isolation from main areas of employment and entertainment, led to social dislocations. In adaptation, new identities were forged within Glasgow’s housing estates. Growing lawlessness, poverty, crime, and juvenile delinquency then contested the view of Glasgow’s regeneration. Order effectively became perceived as disorder, as the 1946 utopian plans of housing estates were undermined by a form of urban ghettoization (Mooney, 1999). Mediated as areas of ‘deviants’ and ‘corrosive of the social fabric’ (Devine & Wright, 1993 p.81) Glasgow’s re-ordering clearly denotes how several social problems arise out of attempts to divide previously embedded city spaces.

Indeed, the embedded geographies of differentiated communities, contest the very definition of order and disorder within the city, whilst simultaneously challenging the divisive plans of those in power (Robinson, 1999). Mediated and socially constructed as pathologically deviant areas, the council estates of Glasgow, hold several similarities with the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, or the communities of Harlem. Wacquant (1997) writes that ‘far from being disorganized’, these places are ‘organized according to different principles, in response to a unique set of structural and strategic constraints’ (p.346). In other words, these areas of the city have a complex network of relations, with their own unique conceptions of order. Harlem, a New York City neighbourhood of inner-city Manhattan, has long been divided from the city’s core relational networks. It is an area which consists mainly of black African-American’s, who have found themselves socially marginalized by racial exclusion throughout history (Smith, 1987). In effect, Harlem was divided from the core city, relationally distanced due to the colour differentiation of its inhabitants. Harlem’s ghetto status was then further confirmed by its relative economic disconnection, with a deprivation of investment compared to other parts of the city. Similarly, Perlman (1976) argues the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, are stereotypically portrayed as ‘disease-ridden’ disorderly locales. Social labelling is used as a ‘political weapon’; to further justify divisive policies which increase stigmatization and marginalization of the favela inhabitants (p.242). However, what the favelas of Rio and the black African-American population of Harlem have in common more so than their assumed relational distancing from the city, is their ability to contest and undermine the boundaries drawn around them. In the case of Rio de Janeiro, Perlman (1976) argues that although spatially decentralized (see Figure 2), the favelas are central to Brazilian culture. The samba, contemporary arts, religious cults and colourful slang all originated in the favelas, contributing to the identity, vitality, and intensity of city life. In concurrence, Harlem has fostered a remarkable period of cultural creativity. Power (1997) writes that during the 1920s, black ‘cultural confidence began to stretch beyond the borders of Harlem’ and ‘into other black communities of the Western world’ (p.17), becoming a city within a city, with unique global connections. White supremacy then became challenged out of Harlem, with prominent figures such as Malcolm X and the Black Panthers able to gain political traction (Pile, 1999). Although still fiscally marginalized through lack of investment, Harlem flourished culturally, with an intensity of creativity that differentiated it, whilst politically undermining many porous attempts to deal with it dividedly. (Mooney, 1999) The favelas of Rio and the communities of Harlem thus demonstrate an alternative vision of order within the city. A social order where the ostracized and highly differentiated populace of the city can be seen as self-organized communities with well developed alternative networks of social, political, and cultural union.

Despite this realization of alternative perceptions of organization, order, and disorder within the city, many affluent inhabitants choose to protect themselves from the intensity of distinctly different ways of living. Gated communities represent, in extremis, an attempt to ‘de-intensity’ life for the city’s wealthy residents. They have become an increasingly popular trend across the globe, with households moving from mixed city spaces into self-segregated homogenous housing enclaves (Watson, 2008). Singer’s (2002) cartoon (see Figure 3) playfully depicts the utopian perfection of an affluent community of similarity (Sennett, 1996). However, can its residents feel free if the divisive action of gated communities clearly segregates, and paradoxically contains and restricts its inhabitants from mixing? Bauman (2003) suggests that this spatial shift is a transition from ‘moxophilia’ to ‘mixophobia’, as citizens become reluctant to live alongside the highly differential populace. Affluent people are then driven towards such ‘purified communities’ (Sennett, 1994 p.124) due to ‘psycho-social fears’, and perceived threats from the strangeness and unknowability of others who are different from themselves (Bauman, 2003 p.115). Therefore, Watson (2008) proposes that freedom is more felt than real, in that it is prescribed through a fearful protectionism from the disorder of others. However, Teresa Calderia’s (1996) study of Sao Paulo’s gated communities, asserts that these areas are never truly impermeable to outside influence. She suggests that they depend upon a wide range of services provided by the general population of the city. Everything within these communities, from the ‘working-class guards’ to the ‘badly-paid maids’ who wash their clothes, make their beds, and prepare their foods, is precisely dependable on the same kinds of poor and/or disorderly people they attempt to keep out (pp.307–14). Caldeira’s (1996) study therefore implies that even within a gated community, the highly differential surrounding city influences and undermines attempts to deal with city space dividedly.

The homogeneity of a definitive city space paradoxically appears demarked and segregated in several ways. In this discussion, social classification and racial discrimination materialize as the dominant urban separators through history, with people choosing to live within communities of similarity (Sennett, 1996). Although hinted through an introduction of ‘what is a city?’ (Pile, 1999), this essay’s breadth is limited and does not take into account the multifaceted highly differentiated intricacies of intense urban interaction, or the dynamism of its daily workings (Massey, 1999). Instead, the focus has considered the planned urban re-ordering and mediated classifications of people, with discussion of the possible limitations of trying to deal with the city dividedly. The re-ordering of Glasgow’s inner-city populace was denoted in concordance with the ageing Burgess (1925) and Hoyt (1939) models of city housing constitution. Orderly and utopianistic council estate plans demonstrate an attempt to decentralize the working class residential areas, in order to de-intensify and modernize the city. The working classes forfeited their ‘close-knit communities’ (Meegan, 1989) and became attributed with a new identity, borne of relative geographic isolation from main areas of employment. Peripheral council estates became abodes of the unemployed and unempowered (Mooney, 1999), thus suggesting a failure of the original plan for Glasgow’s regeneration. Supposedly orderly council estates are perceived as notoriously disorderly city spaces of ‘deviant’ and ‘corrosive’ inhabitants (Devine & Wright, 1993 p.81), which is not dissimilar from the favelas of Rio de Janeiro or the communities of Harlem in New York. These places were noted as being organized, albeit according to different principles due to the economic constraints which befall them (Wacquant, 1997). Indeed, the favelas of Rio de Janeiro appear to install much of the Rio’s definitive culture, contributing to the identity, vitality, and intensity of city life (Perlman, 1976). Similarly, Harlem became classified as a ‘black metropolis’ of great cultural significance across the globe (Smith, 1987). A statement supported by its unique alternative political connections, which undermined localized white supremacy through figureheads such as Malcolm X and the Black Panthers. At the other end of the fiscal spectrum, the housing enclaves and gated communities of affluent city residents demonstrate what Bauman (2003) calls a transition from ‘mixophilia’ to ‘mixophobia’ (p.115). Highly divisive spaces, such as these ‘purified communities’ (Sennett, 1994), are created in response to ‘psycho-social fears’ of the unknowability and intensity of daily city life (Watson, 2008). These divisive attempts supposedly separate the rich from the poor; however, Caldeira (1996) notes that these spaces are still dependant on the poor maids, housekeepers, and security guards who come from the supposedly disorderly city that surrounds them. Therefore, this discussion suggests that concise plans to divide city space are often opaquely blurred by alternative perceptions of order and disorder within the highly differentiated city. Despite this, the evidence supports Mumford’s (1937) assertion that divisive planning is still required in order to ‘foster art’ and ‘create theatre’, via ‘conflicting and co-operating personalities’. Without alternative ways of living this fiery intensity and creativity which serve to define the rhythm and culture of the city would dissipate.
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