CONTEMPORARY CITIES and the Complex Array of Forces Affecting Them_Anna Roos
At a time of unprecedented urban migration with an estimated 1.5 million people per week (!) moving to urban centers, it is imperative to analyze what makes communities thrive. The people who decide how and where new cities are built and how they function impact millions if not billions of peoples’ lives in fundamental ways. Urban planners sometimes seem to forget that cities are not just stagnant physical objects, but are rather complex, evolving, living systems. It must be remembered that a city equals a community of people not a bunch of buildings. This should not be forgotten in the rush to get buildings built to earn a quick buck. There is no point in planners behaving like demi-gods, looking down from an elevated vantage point with grand idealistic projects that end up being uninviting and soulless.
We need to remember the dire failures of the so-called urban renewal projects that took place in cities all over America, starting in New York and spreading like a cancer to Detroit, Denver and dozens of other cities in the 1950s and 1960s only to be torn down a decade later. They were literally so unloved, indeed detested by those who lived there, that they crumbled. Shiny utopian dreams turned to depressing dystopian nightmares—a tragic and shameful waste of peoples’ lives and public resources. We need to look carefully at why these projects were so disastrous for the people who lived there. In order to avoid creating inhospitable ghettoes, we need to think about the relationship of city to building, building to sidewalk, sidewalk to street, and street to public realm. By revisiting journalist and activist Jane Jacobs and her savvy observations of urban life in New York, we are given cogent insights into what makes cities thrive in all their inexhaustible wonder.
On the Roofs of Community_Sabrina Puddu
Sociologist Richard Sennett argues that the main tension in modern cities lays in the simultaneous desire for individual freedom and communal bonds, the predecessor of such a phenomenon to be found in the dichotomy economy/religion as propagated in medieval cities. It is exactly in the gap left by the fall of the Roman Empire that an idea of community was shaped as a place of exemplary and sometimes contrasting moral reference for the whole society; it was firstly incubated in the countryside – in the walled Christian monasteries and abbeys dotting the rural realm – to then flourish in the heart of the reborn European city. “The Christian religion was global in its theology – Sennett claims – but it fostered intensely local attachment” making manifest a need for community in this refunded civilization. The Church has overtime been exemplary, and probably still unsurpassed, in managing globalization and localism in a way that its usual counterparts, the market and the national state, have understood only centuries later – or never fully grasped.
The formation of the national states in the XIX century was coupled with the birth of new laic institutions, whose absolute end was to shape the modern subject on the basis of enlightened bourgeois values. The Museum, the Theatre, the Hospital, the Library, and the Prison became the elements of a taxonomy made popular by Jean-Nicolas-Louis Durand. Neoclassical in style, these grand building types had a scale and scope that disregarded the mid-scale of a neighbourhood to address the two opposites of the People and the individual. Yet, human desire for community bonds never disappeared in modernity and soon society endorsed the transmutation of Durand’s types into miniature domestic and local versions whose network was to complement that of the larger institutions.