cities


…Frank Loyd Wright['s] design for Broadacre City … was based both on his wholesome appreciation of the hygienic and domestic values of rural life, and his Jeffersonian contempt for the many-sided corporate and institutional life of the city. In the name of the first, he was ready to shrink the acreage of productive soils and break down the special human values of the rural landscape, with the functional divisions of meadow, pasture, and woodland, of cultivated land and wild land, in order to give every house and family a subsistence garden; and he was no less ready to break down the natural coagulations of life in villages and country towns, in a new fashion that made every social activity call for long distance transportation and therefore the incessant use of the motor car….The high price of such remote lots automatically turns the farmer into a real-estate speculator, and results, as in California, in the slaughter of orchards, vineyards, and market gardens that once gave both health and delight–to say nothing of fresh food–to the nearby urban communities.

… the anti-city combines two contradictory and almost irreconcilable aspects of modern civilization: an expanding economy that calls for the constant employment of the machine (motor car, radio, television, telephone, automated factory, and assembly line) to secure both both full production and a minimal counterfeit of normal social life; and as a necessary offset to these demands, an effort to escape from the over-regulated routines, the impoverished personal choices, the monotonous prospects of this regime by daily withdrawal to a private rural asylum, where bureaucratic compulsions give way to exurban relaxation and permissiveness, in a purely family environment as much unlike the metropolis as possible. Thus the anti-city produces an illusory image of freedom at the very moment all the screws of organization are being tightened….

Because the anti-city is by nature fragmentary, any part can be built by anybody anywhere at any time. This is the ideal formula for promoting total urban disintegration.

Not the least factor in this development, certainly in America, is the persistent residue of the curious pioneer belief in space and mobility as a panacea for the ills of social life…. [which] is the current doctrine of space for space’s sake…. This has become the “space age” with a vengeance: in architecture space has become a substitute for urbane design….

No secondary modes of intercourse, neither the printed page, the telephone, nor television, can take the place of that direct face-to-face intercourse whose occasions the city, when it remains close to the human scale, multiplies. Without an urban container deliberately planned for such intercourse, the dominant economic and technical pressures of our time tend to form a multitude of over-specialized, non-cooperating, and non-communicating enclaves, whose spatial remoteness and social segregation favor the totalitarian automatism of our time….

Though the isolated institutional parts might be as hyper-productive as those computers whose data is already too abundant to be assembled and interpreted, the cultural creativity that fosters further human development is bound to drop, within a generation or two, toward zero.

– Lewis Mumford, “The Megalopolis as Anti-City” [c.1962-3]. In Jeanne M. Davern (ed.). Lewis Mumford. Architecture as a Home for Man: Essays for Architectural Record. New York: Architectural Record Books, 1975, pp. 121-128.

More and more the mnemonic function of the museum is given over to the electronic archive, which might be accessed anywhere, while the visual experience is given over not only to the exhibition-form but to the museum-building as spectacle – that is, as an image to be circulated in the media in the service of brand equity and cultural capital. This image may be the primary form of public art today.

– Hal Foster. Design and Crime (And Other Diatribes). New York: Verso, 2002: p. 82.

Property and possessions belong to the tactical sphere. Collectors are people with a tactical instinct; their experience teaches them that when they capture a strange city, the smallest antique shop can be a fortress, the most remote stationery a key position. How many cities have revealed themselves to me in the marches I undertook in the pursuit of books!

– Walter Benjamin. “Unpacking My Library.” In Illuminations. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1968: 63.

May Sky is a slowly-unfolding visual novel made by Japanese company Scrubbing, translated lovingly, painstakingly and slowly by Irene Ying. Ying writes about her translation process, “Remembering previous adventures, I reread May Sky multiple times, but not enough — I failed many times to realize I was setting up for the next scene. Possibly the hardest lesson for me to learn was listening to the voices of the speakers while I read…. all this was one very long lesson to me in listening to the piece and the characters inside. If I’d had more time that’s what I would have tried to focus on more. Since that was not the case, I will be spending some time after the release to study the original and the translation more.” You can download it from Insani, the hobbyist group Ying works with, which specializes in the “localization” of visual novels.

May Sky: Minori Kamiake at a piano in a Shinto temple and in the thoughts of Haruki Mizoguchi.

May Sky: Minori Kamiake at a piano in a Shinto temple and in the thoughts of Haruki Mizoguchi.

… the Nazis … mass-distributed images of [Albert] Speer’s models in the form of postcards. The monumental effect of architecture could just as easily, perhaps even better, be achieved, say, by a high-angle, totalizing image of architecture. No need to even build the real thing. For years after the war, many Germans mistakenly believed that Speer’s Berlin projects had actually been built and then destroyed in the last stages of the war.

Thus fifty and some years later, our own monumental seduction may be no longer tied up with real built space at all, certainly not with the mammoth shopping malls in the middle of nowhere, nor with international airports and their mass circulation of people and commodities, both of which are physically uncoupled from the traditional site of public space: the living city. No wonder, then, that some will look for the new public space on the Internet, our very own monumental seduction that holds the promise of conquering both time and space and that gives new meaning to McLuhan’s phantasm of an electronically unified global culture. Monumentality today may all be in cyberspace and the information highway. The Germans, at any rate, in seamless and oblivious continuity with another monumental Nazi project – the building of the Autobahn – call it Infobahn, and Deutsche Telekom, in a recent ad in the New York Times, has described without hesitation as the ‘fast lane to the future’. Monumentality is alive and well. We may in fact have to consider a monumentality of miniaturization, for the world wide web is in principle the most gigantic undertaking of our age, as promising to some and threatening to others as any monumentalism has ever been.

– Andreas Huyssen. “Monumental Seduction: Christo in Berlin.” In Present Pasts: Urban Palimpsests and the Politics of Memory. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press, 2003: 47-48.

The modern social imaginary is … both active and contemplative. It expands the repertory of collective action, and also that of objective analysis. But it also exists in a range of intermediate forms. In speaking … about the typically modern, horizontal forms of social imaginary, in which people grasp themselves and great numbers of others as existing and acting simultaneously I [mention] the economy, the public sphere, and the sovereign people, but also the space of fashion. This is an example of a fourth structure of simultaneity. It is unlike the public sphere and the sovereign people, because these are sites of common action. In this respect, it is like the economy, where a host of individual actions concatenate behind our backs. But it is different from this as well, because our actions relate in the space of fashion in a particular way. I wear my own kind of hat, but in doing so, I am displaying my style to all of you, and in this, I am responding to your self-display, even as you will respond to mine. The space of fashion is one in which we sustain together a language of signs and meanings, which is constantly changing but which at any moment is the background needed to give our gestures the sense they have. If my hat can express my particular kind of cocky yet understated self-display, this is because of how the common language of style has evolved among us up to this point. My gesture can change it, and then your responding stylistic move will takes its meaning from the new contour the language takes on.

The general structure I want to draw from this example of the space of fashion is that of a horizontal, simultaneous, mutual presence, which is not that of a common action, but rather of mutual display. It matters to each of us as we act that others are there, as witnesses of what we are doing and thus as codeterminers of the meaning of our action.

Spaces of this kind become more and more important in modern urban society, where large numbers of people rub shoulders, unknown to each other, without dealings with each other, and yet affecting each other, forming the inescapable context of each other’s lives. As against the everyday rush to work in the Metro, where others can sink to the status of obstacles in my way, city life has developed other ways of being-with, for instance, as we each take our Sunday walk in the park or as we mingle at the summer street festival or in the stadium before the playoff game. Here each individual or small group acts on their own, but with the awareness that their display says something to others, will be responded to by them, will help build a common mood or tone that will color everyone’s actions.

A host of urban monads hover on the boundary between solipsism and communication. My loud remarks and gestures are overtly addresed only to my immediate companions; my family group is sedately walking, engaged in our own Sunday outing; but all the time we are aware of this common space that we are building, in which the message that cross take meaning. This strange zone between loneliness and communication fascinated many of the early observers of this phenomenon as it arose in the nineteenth century. We can think of the paintings of Manet or of Baudelarie’s avid interest in the urban scene, in the roles of flâneur and dandy, uniting observation and display.

– Charles Taylor. Modern Social Imaginaries. Durham: Duke University Press, 2004: 167-68.

Description on back of a postcard of “Plaza in China City, Los Angeles” circa 1930: “Interesting shops displaying everything from genuine Chinese art to curios and firecrackers, and numerous restaurants serving delicately flavored Chinese food, attract throngs of visitors to China City, in Los Angeles.” Found in the Hagley Library Postcards of Motels and Roadside Attractions Collection.

Age of Power and Wonder Cigarette Card

Paris-London on a Beam.” Age of Power and Wonder Series. Max Cigarettes, cigarette card, c. 1935-38. Medium: Offset-Litho. In the Humanities and Social Sciences Library, George Arents Collection, at the New York Public Library.

… modernity is always citing primal history…. Ambiguity is the appearance of dialectic in images, the law of dialectics at a standstill. This standstill is utopia and the dialectical image, therefore, dream image. Such an image is afforded by the commodity per se: as fetish. Such an image is presented by the arcades, which are house no less than street. Such an image is the prostitute — seller and sold in one.

Walter Benjamin, “Paris, the Capital of the Nineteenth Century” in The Writer of Modern Life: Essays on Charles Baudelaire (Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 2006), p. 41.

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