You may or may not be aware at the archival potential of Google Street view, but ever since the search engine behemoth has been photographing and spying on as much of our cities as it can, it has created a rather useful, freely accessible public archive of outdoor space. Archival research has long been the preserve of historical geographical research, but as Keighren (2013: 577) has eloquently argued (and still does to this day in our regular corridor conflabs, and with the same level of eloquence)…
“The skills associated with historical research – critical evaluation of sources, triangulation of data, attention to the beliefs and opinions of particular cultural groups – are precisely those which are encouraged and valued elsewhere in the human geography curriculum.”
While taking a few minutes to scroll through the historical images that Google has stored in its ongoing panoptic assault on everyday urbanity does not, nor should not, replace the much longer time needed to conduct archival research in situ, it provides students a gateway into the vibrancy of archives and how they contain a real impact upon research of the contemporary condition. And in the age of the pandemic and online digital learning, it’s proved extremely useful for urban research.
The pandemic that currently grips our world has been many countries go into unprecedented lockdowns multiple times. Characterised by stay at home instructions, education going online, the closure of non-essential businesses; they have caused misery for millions. However, in some parts of the world they have had unintended benefits such as the
in CO2 emissions in China, public urban space being redesigned for pedestrians and not cars, the near annihilation of the needless commute; there are real tangible benefits that have come about surprisingly quickly. After the pandemic fades, we will face new emergencies the likes of which we have not seen before, not least those caused by the extreme weather events of climate change, and the social, political and economic upheaval that will inevitably ensue. These ‘lockdowns’, if managed and governed properly, could
be recast as going into a ‘planetary safe mode’. No, wait, bear with me…
London’s Glass War © User:Colin / Wikimedia Commons
Stand on London Bridge on a sunny day and look East, you’ll see the towers of Canary Wharf glistening in the distance, the Shard looming to your right slicing into the sky, and the bloated curves of the Walkie Talkie shimmering like a newly blown glass vase. Walk further west along the South bank, and you’ll come across the ‘South Bank tower cluster’, with its centrepiece One Blackfriars jutting it’s chest out ostentatiously over the river. Further still, and you’ll reach Nine Elms, the biggest building site in the city. Scores of towers are flashing into the sky and construction has begun on the remarkably opulent ‘sky pool’, a 25m long, glass-bottomed swimming pool that hangs 10 storeys up.
These towers represent the most visible beacons of London’s continued development. They contain the moneymaking corporate machines that swell the city’s coffers but fuel the city’s rampant housing crisis, and the unaffordable luxury flats that are the symptom of the city’s hyper-gentrification. Yet there is another aspect to their representation that often goes under-recorded in the hyperbole around London’s gentrification problem – namely their most visible constituent material, glass. Read More
At the same time that the nation tuned into the first TV debate of the 2015 general election, the Aylesbury Estate occupation reportedly ended. One event saw a bunch of lowlifes bickering about how to run a doomed institution, the other? Well….
The Berlin Wall of the new Creative Berlinᵀᴹ
One cannot have failed to notice the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall over the weekend. Coupled with Remembrance Sunday, it has created a milieu of memorialisation over the weekend that has invoked process of grief, global strife, hegemonic power, activism & resistance, personal loss and spirituality. There has been a lot of pontification and media chin-stroking about the geopolitical wrangling and consequences of the fall of the Wall in the lead up to the anniversary, but what has always been present in the urban studies literature is the way in which the Wall acts very much within the urban geography of Berlin. I was lucky enough to visit Berlin last month for a very interesting and enlightening Workshop on Controversies of the Creative City, and given the content of my talk (which was, in a nutshell, a 20-min dash through the themes of my book) the inventible question I always seem to be asked is ‘what is the alternative’? If neoliberal capitalism is unjust, damaging and polarising, just what is the answer?** Given that we were in the city that symbolically saw the collapse of one viable ‘alternative’ it seemed like an apt arena in which to have the debate. With the workshop discussions pinging around my thoughts, I took it upon myself to practice what I so often champion which is the act of drifting à la The Situationists, something which can (can) begin to inculcate a more creative city. But of course, this is neigh-on impossible in the contemporary Creative City, so using the old line of the Wall (which is of course now, a recognised tourist route – Berliner Mauerweg, the Berlin Wall Trail), I walked from the SouthEast of the city centre to the North, keeping as close to the line as I could. This practice has been done elsewhere far more vividly that I ever could by Will Self (the flâneur of our time), and my photography skills have a lot to be desired (to say the least – click on the photos to see a larger version). But what follows is a photographic essay which speaks to the changing urban condition in Berlin from a city divided along geopolitical and revanchist lines, but which now has perhaps lost the former in favour of a more global city-inculcated version of the latter. Read More
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.
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. Read More