Cities, on the surface at least, seem stable. The imposing physical materiality of concrete, steel and glass projects an endurance that is ‘built to last‘. Yet decades of urban critique have elucidated the fluidity of cities. From Walter Benjamin’s Arcades, through Cedric Price’s Fun Palace to Nigel Coates’ Ecstacity, people have been envisioning cities that are mobile, mutable and malleable. These concepts of literature, art and architecture articulate cities that are far from static; they are fluid assemblages that wax and wane in response to cultural representations, economic global processes and social practices. And one only has to take a short walk through seemingly any city today before they encounter some construction or development of some kind. This affirms that the urban landscape is constantly changing in response to development pressures, policy tweaks and financial speculation. The ‘stability’ of cities is hence only an illusion; there is far more than meets the eye… Continue reading
Jurassic World is a film about dinosaurs isn’t it? Well yes and no. Like all good films, the subtexts run rather differently to what we actually see on screen. So while we see giant dinosaurs taking chunks out of each other, we’re also witnessing a rather subtle commentary on social relations, and how this is mediated by technology. More specifically, the film reads (for me at least) as a rather stark allegory of the way in which personalised technology (smart phones, wearable tech etc.) is eroding the ways in which we relate to each other as a society. Allow me to explain. And yes, there will be spoilers. Continue reading
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!”
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
Recently, I was involved in a Twitter conversation with Allan Watson (and others) on a recent debate he had in his class about a zombie invasion, and whether it would be better for survival to live in a sprawling city or a dense urban centre (and what a great way to engender such a debate by the way!) I then took to Google to find this article, about a concerned citizen of Edmonton in Canada, who has argued that a dense urban centre would be easier to defend against a rampaging horde of brain-munching zombies than a sprawling megalopolis. Zombies love sprawl, apparently. As well as being a brilliant way to engage students about urban geography, I want to consider three of the more famous zombie films that take place in urban areas, and see what conclusions about sprawl versus density (and indeed, the broader urban condition under late capitalism) can drawn from them. So here goes… Continue reading
Just a quick post to point you toward my review of Ridley Scott’s masterpiece Blade Runner over on That Film Guy. I’ve been using that site to vent my film fanboy amateurish tirades and this certainly falls into that category. Hopefully, now that the marking has died down, I’ll be able to get a few more reviews on there so keep your eyes peeled – and those Royal Holloway students taking GG2061 next year might also want to pay extra attention…
Los Angeles is one of the most written about cities in the world, particularly from an urban geography perspective. Perhaps because of its magnificent sprawl, its constant mediation through film, television, music and other cultural artefacts, or its postmodern-inflected anti-liveable layout, no other city in the popular consciousness has such an imaginary that combines enigma, fascination, frustration, confusion and awe all at once (although I suspect that Shanghai, Mexico City and perhaps Johannesburg are giving it a run for its money). One of the major reasons for my fascination with it is the way it has been so scrutinised through film. Masterpieces such as Pulp Fiction, Timecode and Collateral portray the de-centred, fragmented, multiple, nonlinear and alienating characteristics of the city fascinatingly. However, for me the Terminator films (and here I refer to the first two, not the bilious and soul-destroying detritus of Terminator 3 and Terminator Salvation) put Los Angeles firmly in my minds eye as a city of fascination and wonder. The films themselves do not necessarily have a narrative that ‘gets’ LA’s character, but Cameron has utilised the cityscape as a platform for thrilling action and compelling story-telling perfectly. Continue reading
A quick post to let you know about some other bits and pieces that I’ve been penning around the Interweb and beyond.
First, having spent all too-brief a time in Shanghai last year I felt the best way to experience it was to take my camera and just start walking (in true De Certeauian style). One of the ‘threads’ that can be extricated involved creativity (what else?), and hence that is the theme of my piece for the excellent ThisBigCity blog – Creative Shanghai. It’s available in Traditional Chinese too.
Also, given that I watch too many films as it is, I thought the best way to make it a productive exercise (sorry, what was that? Impact?) was to start reviewing them. So I asked the lovely ThatFilmGuy if he’d let me be a regular contributor, and for some reason, he said yes, with my page here. The upshot of this is the occasional film screening, which is great, as it makes me feel like a proper film critic (even though clearly, I’m not). The recent review of Flight got some attention too if anyone managed to catch the TV advert for it recently.
Then, there is the Urban Subversions paper that was published in the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, co-authored with Maria Daskalaki. This has been a major oeuvre for us two, taken as it has over 4 years to get published. If you want the pdf copy, feel free to email me and I’ll hurry you a copy.
Finally, there are some book chapters coming out on Media Cities and the Cultural Dimensions to Global Cities, which have actually been more enjoyable to write than some journal papers (why is that writing enjoyment is inversely proportional to REFability?), and the Cultural Quarter work is finally working it’s way through to publication. Again, if you want any of these articles, just let me know.