In these parts, we’re engaged in a fascinating or horrifying struggle – depending on your perspective. I mean visions of what a city should be. On the one side is the Artist’s Impression bunch. We’ve all seen the increasingly slick images of a proposed new development. Shiny new buildings, fetching trees, people walking, cycling, talking. It’s very smooth and sanitised. The result is usually far from the impression, with concrete, plastic and glass buildings that are soulless. It may well be described as the modern equivalent of Baron Hausmann’s ‘revitilisation’ of Paris in the nineteenth century. The aim: obliterate the way people make the city their own; undermine resistance; and make massive profits for what we now call developers. The outcome: some cities in the United States are the best example.
The other vision is the Faux Grunge one. This is the city of cafés, bars, ambient eateries, hole-in-the-wall art galleries. It seems to grow ‘organically’, delighting in the detritus of city spaces and claiming them. Rather than obliterate the old city, it seeks to work with and around such a city. This would seem to be the direst opposite of the artist’s impression. The problem is that the grunge is inevitably manufactured and that you need money to live in such cities. ‘Cafs’, bars and rents are costly. The outcome: a Disneyworld image of the city and its past that you find in so many European cities.
As was pointed out to me not so long ago (ht cp), the crucial test of a city is how it incorporates the down-and-outs. Where do the homeless, druggies, and strugglers find their place in the city? The artist’s impression wants to obliterate them; the faux grunge is fearful of what grunge itself looks like. Thankfully, the down-and-outs are adept at reclaiming city spaces for themselves.