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Baudrillard on Functionality

This one I may actually use in its entirety…

“Every object claims to be functional, just as every regime claims to be democratic. The term evokes all the virtues of modernity, yet it is perfectly ambiguous. With reference to ‘function’ it suggests that the object fulfils itself in the precision of its relationship to the real world and to human needs. But… ‘functional’ in no way qualifies what is adapted to a goal, merely what is adapted to an order or system: functionality is the ability to become integrated into an overall scheme. An objects functionality is the very thing that enables it to transcend its main ‘function’ in the direction of a secondary one, to play a part, to become a combining element, an adjustable item, within a universe of signs. The functional system is thus characterised in a thoroughly ambiguous way, on the one had by a transcendence of the traditional system under its three parts – as the primary function of the object, as drives and primary needs, and as a set of symbolic relations between the two – and on the other hand by a disavowal of these three mutually reinforcing aspects of the traditional system”.  (Baudrillard, 1996: 67, original emphasis)


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Harvey on Urban Entrepreneurialism

Another quote that I seem to be going back to a lot when talking about the shift from urban managerialism to urban entrepreneurialism and city marketing…

“Many of the innovations and investments designed to make particular cities more attractive as cultural and consumer centres have quickly been imitated elsewhere, thus rendering any competitive advantage within a system of cities ephemeral. How many successful convention centres, sports stadia, disney-worlds, harbour places and spectacular shopping malls can there be? Success is often short-lived or rendered moot by parallel or alternative innovations arising elsewhere. Local coalitions have no option, given the coercive laws of competition, except to keep ahead of the game thus engendering leap-frogging innovations in life styles, cultural forms, products and service mixes, even institutional and political forms if they are to survive. The result is a stimulating if often destructive maelstrom of urban-based cultural, political, production and consumption innovations. It is at this point that we can identify and albeit subterranean but nonetheless vital connection between the rise of urban entrepreneurialism and the post-modern penchant for design of urban fragments rather than comprehensive urban planning, for ephemerality and eclecticism of fashion and style rather than the search for enduring values, for quotation and fiction rather than invention and function, and, finally, for medium over message and image over substance”. (Harvey, 1989: 12-13)


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De Certeau on Walking

As I’m currently finishing off my first monograph, it’s customary of course to (re)read some of the great texts that formulated the ideas of the book in the first place. So I thought I’d start a blog series that block quoted some of the prose that has inspired/is inspiring the book writing. They won’t be in the final edit, but are worthy of note given their foundational status to the ideas of the book. So to start off, a piece from De Certeau’s classic, Walking in the City (the full pdf of which can be found here):

“It is true that the operations of walking on can be traced on city maps in such a way as to transcribe their paths (here well-trodden, there very faint) and their trajectories (going this way and that). But these thick or thin curves only refer, like words, to the absence of what has passed by. Surveys of routes miss what was: the act of passing by. The operation of walking, ‘wandering or window shopping’, that is, the activity of the passer-by, is transformed into points that draw a totalizing and reversible line on a map. They allow us to grasp only a relic set in the nowhen of a surface of projection. Itself visible, it has the effect of making invisible the operation that made it possible. These fixations constitute procedures for forgetting. The trace left behind is substituted for the practice. It exhibits the (voracious) property that the geographical system has of being able to transform action into legibility, but in doing so, it causes a way of being in the world to be forgotten”. (De Certeau 1984: 161).


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Miéville’s ‘The Scar’ & the Global City

China Miéville’s ‘The Scar‘ is the second novel in the Bas-Lag series, and quite possibly, the best. There are plenty of excellent reviews of the book elsewhere and I don’t intend to add to them here. Rather there is an interesting allegorical reading (one of many it has to be said) to be gleaned from the wonderfully multiplicitous world that Miéville creates.

Armada - the archetypal Global City (Source: http://thelakeandmountain.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/its-been-while.html)

Armada – the archetypal Global City (Source: http://thelakeandmountain.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/its-been-while.html)

The story revolves around Bellis Coldwine, a fugitive from New Crobuzon, on her way to a distant city when her ship gets set upon by pirates. They commandeer the ship and take it to Armada, an urban conglomerate that is made up of hundreds of ocean vessels that are roped, chained and linked together. Armada floats the sea, ruled by The Lovers, a couple who cut symmetrical scars into each other’s face during their ‘intimate’ times. The Lovers have a plan, involving raising a Leviathanical sea creature called the Avanc, yoke it to Armada and navigate to The Scar in the Earth, a site of mystical and untold power. The story is however full of so much more complexity, intrigue and fantastical aesthetics though, and is by far the most enjoyable of Miéville’s Bas-Lag series to date. Because Miéville is an articulate, competent and highly accomplished Marxist weaver-of polysemic narratives, it is no surprise therefore that the story has resonance with the way in which we can critique the capitalistic idea of the Global City. In what follows, I will attempt to conceptualise Armada’s Global City-ness, and show (through links) how it can be used to narrate the contemporary paradigm itself.  Continue reading


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Who Framed Roger Rabbit as urbanist critique

rogerrabbit

Doom v Rabbit or Moses v Jacobs?

Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988) is no doubt a classic film. It was technologically innovate, and spliced the detective film-noir genre with the comic, slapstick animation of classic ‘toons of the 1960s and 70s. Truly, a masterpiece of Hollywood cinema, and if you are not familiar with the film, you can read a great review of it here. One aspect though that often goes unnoticed is the urbanist narrative that runs through the film’s plot. It is set in 1947, and essentially, ‘Judge Doom’, the evil protagonist of the film, is plotting to destroy ‘Toontown’ (the suburb of Los Angeles where the animated characters live) and replace with a freeway. The film therefore is very much a critique on the ‘freeway-ization’ of LA, with overt glorification of the city’s transit-orientated past. Such a mantra is signposted early on in the film with the main hero ‘Eddie’ sitting on the back of a trolley car proclaiming, “Who needs a car in L.A.? We got the best public transportation system in the world!”

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The Americana, transit-orientated history depicted in the film

In his famous villain’s speech where he reveals his dastardly plan to the heroes, he claims that the freeways will revolutionise LA, and create a vast automobile-based city that will “be beautiful”. You can see his speech in the video below.

This short segment highlights one the film’s most overt social critiques, namely that of the automobile dominated city that Los Angeles had become in 1988, and still is to this day (relatedly, you can read about my day-long trip around LA by car in search of the film locations of The Terminator films here, and my ode to UK motorways here). With this narrative in mind, it becomes extremely obvious that ‘Judge Doom’ and Toontown are simply comic metaphors for the classic urbanism argument of ‘walkability’, most readily articulated by the battle between Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs. Continue reading


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A city’s obsession: A commentary on the BBC’s ‘London and the Rest’

MInd the Gap: London and the Rest (Source: BBC)

The show currently on BBC2, Mind the Gap, is well worth a watch as it covers many of themes that are important to modern urban geographical studies (you can watch it on the iPlayer, but only till 17th March), notably those being taught at undergradute level, not least by me for GG2053. The first episode ‘London and the Rest’, offered a useful insight into why London is a Global City, and what this means not only for the population of London, but for the rest of the UK and indeed the world. However, despite it’s rather glossy veneer and The Apprentice-style, helicopter, Gods-eye-view aesthetics that is so ubiquitous within mainstream documentaries, the program masked just as many important issues as it did illuminate. It failed to launch the visceral critique that its presenter threatened to do at times (his conservative approach masked an obvious desire to launch a tirade against this gargantuan urban behemoth), and in so doing presented a rather polemic, but no less informative pointer to why London has become the teeming Global City it is today. So I want to map out (using the traditional scalar model for clarity’s sake) a few points of departure from the episode that will help contextualise it in the wider relevant debates about contemporary urban studies.

Continue reading


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Long Live Southbank: Petition delivery

Community of Practice

Community of Practice

So it’s done. 20,000+ petitions submitted from the Long Live Southbank campaign to Lambeth Council, apparently the largest number of objections ever raised to a single planning issue in the UK (see the ITV “news” segment on it here or the BBC one here). To be sure, there is no guarantee that it will work because as is painfully obvious in contemporary urban politics, the voice of the many is more often than not outweighed by the few writing the cheques. I have written on this blog previously that the undercroft skate spot that has been there since the 1970s is microcosmic of how urban subversions proliferate and reconfigure the urban spaces around them. And the current planning proposals of the South Bank Centre (including the proposed ‘urban arts park’) is again representative of how large-scale urban development programs subsequently appropriate subversive urban practices for economic and commercial gain. Continue reading

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