The Urban Revolution 2009

Th e Ur ba n Re vol uti on
Urban Theor yAdva nce Cours e AG21 08
Do Ngoc

The Urban Revolution 2009

Throughout the book, the author regarded urban as a totality, a global phenomenon, shaping and influencing all the society. The urbanization process hasn’t completed yet; the convergence of all the fragmentation science, which allows us to grasp the totality of the urban, seems impossible. It is therefore full of possibility. To capture this possibility, he suggested us to change from old ways of thinking, extrapolating from the agrarian and industrial “revolutions” to ones that enable us to realize the reality of our current revolution, the urban. His book made use of a number of propositions and concepts to draw a better understanding of the urban phenomenon and urban space. In this essay, I just summarize and discuss some of the interesting points, which run the main flow of the book.

From the city to urban society
Review Throughout the book, the author assumed the existence of a virtual object, “urban society” which he claimed as the society that results from industrialization. The word “urban society” is used instead of “postindustrial society” to indicate the tendencies, orientations and virtualities rather than any preordained reality. He introduced a space-time axis which illustrates how the complete urbanization takes place. He presented this process running from 0%, which represents the complete absence of urbanization to 100%, the complete urbanization as followed:

Political City

Mercantile City

Industrial City

Critical Zone

0%

100%

He took the risk of locating the political city at the point of origin on the space-time axis (the complete absence of urbanization). He thought agriculture is little more than gathering, and was only formalized through pressure from the urban centers (the political city), generally occupied by skillful conquerors – the administrators, the rudiments of a state. Therefore, the political city accompanies agriculture and the village. Market towns and suburbs, which were initially commercial and artisanal grew in importance and began to struggle with centers of political power for influence, forcing them to compromise, entering with them in the construction of a powerful urban unity. As a result, there is the formation of the mercantile city. Then this was soon followed by the appearance of industrial capital and consequently, the industrial city. Industry gradually made its way into the city in search of capital and capitalist, markets and an abundant supply of low-cost labor. After that, the industrial city serves as a prelude to a critical zone, which is perceived as kind of black box. We see what enters the box and sometimes what comes out but we do not know what goes on inside.

The Urban Revolution 2009
He summed up that the non city and the anti city would conquer the city, penetrate it, break it apart and in so doing extend it immeasurably, bringing about the urbanization of society and the growth of the urban fabric that covered what was left of the city prior to the arrival of industry. Globalization as the third dimension in the space-time axis It is incontestable that the world is transforming from the industrial city stage to the critical phase given the space-time axis. During this period, I recommend that “globalization” should be added to the axis as the third dimension. The process stretches through space, develops over time and extends correspondently with the increasingly intensive influence of globalization. In my opinion, the urban society is not all about the prevalence of the urban fabric over the space… It is partially about the presence of the alien values in the heart of the society, which are brought about by the globalization. For example, the globalization today has vehemently urged the Asian-Western culture interference. Accordingly, the Western values have penetrated into the Asian countries violating some of their norms and affecting their lifestyles. Regarding the Asian countries, it is exactly expressed in the word “westernization”. The Asian nowadays tend to be less conservative about sex and marriage. The way they wear is also vigorously affected by the western fashion. The Asian teenagers love wearing bowler hats, bling-bling jewelry, sportcoat…which express their Hip Hop fashion style. They consume more products from the Western countries such as milk, cheese and butter… Moreover, the globalization has encouraged or even forced people to be able to speak some other languages beside their mother tongue. English has more and more affirmed itself as the dominant language. Japanese and Chinese are getting increasingly popular. It is probably more suitable to discuss the globalization on the country level instead of the city level. The country has become globalized by accumulating capital in the form of the oversea investments, which bring along wealth, the urban fabric such as parks, metro station, high- rise buildings, resorts, casino…These investments mostly focus in the large cities where promise the investors with the huge profit. The cities are accordingly pushed to slide on the space-time axis more quickly towards the 100 % point. To enable these investments, the partners from different countries gather, debate and orient themselves towards the mutual wining situation. They even learned how to practice their partners’ culture to show respect and create harmonious environment. Taking one step further, together with globalization, countries and cities are getting more and more interdependent. As one economy may be greatly affected by the performance of other economy, they tend to create relationships, cooperate and develop. The global harmony is a tendency featuring this stage of transformation. In my point of view, it is also a sign of the urban society regarding global scale.

The Urban Revolution 2009

Blind field
Review The author associated the critical phase with a blank or a dark moment, or that it designates a blind field. He argued that the field is blind because we focus attentively on the new field, the urban but we see it with concepts that were shaped by the practices and theories of industrialization, therefore resulting into the reduction of emerging reality. The urban assumes and proposes the concentration of everything there is in the world: the fruit of the earth, the products of industry, human works, objects and instruments, acts and situations signs and symbols. But, as soon as we stop defining the urban in terms of industrial rationality (its projects of homogenization) appears as differential, each place and each moment existing only within a whole, through the contrasts and oppositions that connect it to, and distinguish it from other places and moments. In one word, the urban space is concrete contradiction. From time to time, it reverses the direction and surrounds itself with emptiness and scarcity. During the critical phase, industrialization and urbanization ravage nature. He claimed that the nature is theoretically shrinking but the signs of nature (a tree, a flower…as those of an illusory and fictive presence) are multiplying, replacing and supplanting real nature. He added parks and open spaces, the last word in good intentions and bad urban representation, are simply a poor substitute for nature. In this chapter, he introduced new concepts: isotopy, heterotopy, utopia. Isotopy is everything that makes a place the same place. However, alongside this “very place” there is a different place, an “other place”, which is of heterotopy. There is also an elsewhere (utopia), the non-place that has no place and seeks a place of its own. Within urban space, elsewhere is everywhere and nowhere. He believed that we will enter a period that is no longer part of history, a time when uniformity struggled with heterogeneity. In this sense, it would be posthistoric.

The Urban Revolution 2009

Urban space defined in term of industrial rationality It seems more tempting to define the urban space in term of industrial rationality (its projects of homogenization) and it is reasonable to do so. The urbanization process can’t avoid being affected by the industrial rationality to some extent, especially in the period that people are getting more and more aware of their actions. The fact that it will dominant does not mean that it has the power of eliminating totally the industrial elements. It may transform it and fix it in the new situation instead. Furthermore, there is no apparent proof to visualize urban space as differential, from time to time surrounding itself with scarcity and emptiness either. For example, Singapore is unique in that it is essentially totally urban. Even though the Central Area contains a high concentration of financial and commercial districts, other areas are highly developed as well, providing the residents living within their neighborhood with schools, cinema, supermarket, open space and even good jobs. There is no place which is supposed to be left empty. Moreover, the government has also based on reclaimed land to extend their urban activities. The whole island is highly homogenized and functions complementarily without leaving any area undeveloped. The fact that Singapore is just a small island may give rise to some ideas against my argument. But at least it shows us that it is possible to get everywhere on earth urbanized if we are capable of multiplying this example on the larger scale (the global scale). On the other hand, the urban space tends to spread out and under the control of industrial rationality. The central city has enlightened the area around it so that they can work as a totality and together develop. The politicians take responsibility of guiding the urban planning rationally and strategically so that the pattern of decentralization (the extension of urban space) is not one of shapeless sprawl. Accordingly, there are emergence of the edge cities or satellite cities, which are to clusters residences businesses, commerce and recreation on an urban scale, removed from the central city but related to them. The reason why I think that the urban space’s extension is somehow under the control of industrial rationality because some of the satellite cities are formed due to the realization of agglomeration economies, which is the benefits of being near other activities in the same business sector. For example, Silicon Valley is considered an edge city that sprawls along interstate between San Jose and San Francisco and interstates between San Jose and Oakland. It agglomerates the high-tech businesses. Despite the development of other high-tech economic centers throughout the United States, Silicon Valley continues to be the leading high-tech hub because of its large number of cutting-edge entrepreneurs and engineers and venture capitalists such as Adobe Systems, Apple Inc., Cisco Systems, eBay, Google, Intel, Yahoo…Empirically, the urban space spread out over space and through time. From time to time, it might spread out endlessly and cover the whole surface of the earth except those untouched for good reasons such as forests, animal habitats, the ocean…But, those places can’t definitely be indicated by any of the author’s words, namely scarcity and emptiness. The different urban spaces on earth might have some kinds of connection to each other and become homogenized, probably not differential as the author suggested.

The Urban Revolution 2009

Nature in the critical phase Whether is the pure nature what people always desire for? Even though the cross breeding flowers are considered the sign of nature, the substitute for nature in his words, people simply love those because they are more colorful, more charming, more lively than the wild one. In the same way, I think that open space and parks are not the poor substitute for nature. In one way, they try to look natural as much as possible. In another way, they try to organize nature, bring nature to humans and make them more entertaining and friendlier with humans. Realizing the importance of nature in the everyday life, humans have multiplied the real nature in a creative way, diversifying nature in other words. Nowadays, people seem happy with the sign of nature. They appreciate the trees with animal shapes, the violet or blue roses…They try to maintain the real nature by putting rare species in the Red List and prevent nature from shrinking by control the human activities against nature. In this way, nature still maintains its fundamental functions, which is specifically the environmental balance, while being made more diversified, contributing to the happiness of humans. In this sense, nature can’t be stated as being “ravaged”. However, the above picture draws the situations in the developed countries rather than those in the developing countries. In developing countries nowadays, the forests have been badly destroyed for some myopic purposes such as space for human activities, trees for construction and furniture; the rivers have been heavily polluted because people discard the rubbish into the rivers…The fact that the developed countries are more urbanized than those developing countries can draw the path that in the urban society, nature might be reserved and be recovered. The posthistoric period Even though the heterotopy (heterogeneity) is getting prevalent alongside with the isotopy (uniformity), I do not think we one day will enter the period that is no longer part of history. The nature of humans is inherent and it is hidden in every society that humans have undergone. For example, humans need shelters because they inherently like to be protective, secured and private. Their shelters have changed the forms which is getting more sophisticated…They might be in the form of caves in the primitive society or in the form of apartments, luxurious houses. No matter what might be introduced into the society and be considered as heterotopy, the “nature” element hidden within it is still the same. It creates the abstract link running through the whole history of all the society forms. The posthistoric period which the author claimed to be no longer part of history is just what happens on the surface of the object (urban society). Within the object itself, the reality can’t totally get void of the history which gives rise to the reality.

The Urban Revolution 2009

The urban phenomenon
Review He asserted that every reality contains “elements” that can be revealed by analysis. These constitute its internal order but appear to us in state of disorder. During this chapter, he explained how the urban phenomenon can be analyzed. The urban phenomenon is based on descriptive methods accurately measuring what people see and do within an urban framework. However, description is unable to explain certain social relations. Nevertheless, none of the sciences can claim to exhaust it, but that each specialization must maximize the use of its own resources to comprehend the global phenomenon. He concluded that the science of such a phenomenon could result only from the convergence of all the sciences. To become global, to overcome its inconsistency, social practice requires synthesis. Rather than constructing models, critical reflection provides an orientation, which opens pathways and reveals a horizon. Constructing a scientific corpus (unchangeable core) would mean confusing experimental and theoretical, empirical and conceptual research, and in consequence, verifiable and therefore falsifiable hypothesis. Traditional finalism collapses in the face of the onslaught of criticism. In terms of historical becoming and given the inevitability of change, there is no definite, prefabricated goal. No synthesis can be accomplished in advance. Urban society provides a goal and meaning for industrialization only to the extent that it is engendered by it, encompasses it and directs it toward some other thing. Rationality seemed to imply finalism. If rationality is supposed to evolve from speculation to global practice, from political rationality to social rationality, from industrial rationality to urban rationality, it can only do so by resolving the relation between self affirming, self developing and self transforming rationality. They are conceived, projected and declared but can only succeed if they are able to accommodate the most comprehensive strategy possible.

The Urban Revolution 2009

Economics as one fragmentary science to the realization of urban phenomenon One of the economists’ tasks is to calculate the macro indices such as GDP, CPI…Those figures when being compared helps them to evaluate the economic performance. They based on their economic knowledge and their evaluation of the present to forecast the future. The politicians will rely on those forecast to make the rational decisions. It reminds me of the famous quote of Harry Truman, the 33 rd president of United States that “Give me a one-handed economist! All my economists say, on the one hand on the other hand”. Because the future varies significantly due to the sudden changes, the economists forecast the future by delivering possibilities and alternatives. As suggested by the author, the scientists should take responsibility of maximizing the use of its own resources to comprehend the global phenomenon. As they don’t have the knowledge of other sciences, they are incapable of deciding the comprehensive rationality rather than suggesting such possibilities as “if we cut tax next year, it may cause…on one hand and…on the other hand” to the best of their knowledge. They leave the decision makers to decide what is rational. The politicians, also the decision makers who are supposed to grasp the whole picture in many aspects (demography, economy, sociology…), are believed to make the rational decision than any other. However, the fact is that they do not make the right decision all the time. No matter how much they know, the totality is unachievable and the convergence of all the sciences is still far away. In this sense, they can’t grasp the totality; consider all the aspects of the urban phenomenon. Therefore, the most comprehensive strategy is impossible. However, the fragmentary sciences even without the absolute convergence suggest the prudent alternatives that the politicians can trustfully rely on. They will make the right decisions if everything follows the path and nothing unexpected occurs on the way. Onechild policy, which is a population control policy in People’s Republic of China, is one example. The Chinese government introduced the policy in 1979 to alleviate social, economic, and environmental problems in China and authorities claim that the policy has prevented more than 250 million births from its implementation to 2000. The reduction in the fertility rate and thus population growth has reduced the severity of problems that come with overpopulation, like epidemics, slums, overwhelmed social services (such as health, education, law enforcement), and strain on the ecosystem from abuse of fertile land and production of high volumes of waste (Richard Egg, 2009). This policy is most probably associated with the rationality suggested by knowledge of demography.

The Urban Revolution 2009 Levels and Dimensions
Review In this chapter, he suggested the methodological concepts of dimensions and levels in analyzing the urban phenomenon. To construct the picture of society he introduced 3 levels, namely the global level, the mixed level and the private level. Power is exercised at the global level. At this level, the decision-making center is strengthened, changing the urban core into a citadel of power. The state tends to perpetuate its own conditions to maintain the separation of manual and intellectual labor. The state could then be said to be organizing a process of unequal development in an effort toward global homogeneity. The mixed level is specifically the urban level. This specifically urban ensemble provides the characteristic unity of the social “real”, or group: forms-functions-structures. He indicated about dual-purpose functions (in the city and of the city: urban functions compared with the surrounding territory and internal functions) as well as dual-purpose structures (for example, for services such as trade and transport, some of which operate in the service of the surrounding area-villages, market towns, smaller cities and others in the service of urban life). The private level (wrongly) appears to be somewhat modest, even unimportant. The private level refers to habitat (habiting), housing primarily. Dimensions of urban phenomenon (essential properties of the phenomenon) are as followed a. It is concrete abstractions because the urban phenomenon comprises the abstract social relationship. b. It is means and instruments of action c. The urban practice concerning space can’t be reduced to global ideologies or to specifically “urbanistic” activities, which serve as means to often unknown ends During the critical phase, these levels and dimensions tend to blur. The city explodes. The urban arrives. He presented the two critical phases that intersect the urban in historical time as followed:

0%

100%

First critical phase (agriculture subordinated to industrialization)

Level G (global logic and political strategy of space) Level M (mixed, middle, mediator) Level P (private building) Second critical phase (industry subordinated to urbanization; global

The Urban Revolution 2009
subordinated to urban and the urban to habiting)

The Urban Revolution 2009
During the critical phase, a process of subversion is under way: a level that was always considered unimportant now becomes essential, namely habiting (the private level). He claimed that the urban is primary and priority is given to habiting. Habiting as priority of the urban As anticipated by the author, the urban will be subordinated to “habiting”, which he defined as the diversity of ways of living, urban types, patterns, cultural models and values associated with the modalities and modulations of everyday life. Given his anticipation, I visualize the urban society as the place where the industrial activities are shrinking leaving space for housings. Housings in this form of society might be transformed in such a way that humans enjoy their everyday life being within their shelters and feel a strong sense of belonging to their shelters. Those housings might follow some pattern so that it enables the occupants to get exposed to nature and encourages the social interactions among occupants living within the neighborhood. In this way, they could probably produce a happier, more harmonious and enlightened society. The Usonia house, which is Frank Lloyd Wright’s vision for the landscape of the United States, could depict the images of “habiting” in the urban society in my mind now. It emphasizes on a strong visual connection between the interior and exterior spaces and open living space. Those are the pictures of the Usonian architect:

(source: http://www.essential-architecture.com/STYLE/STY-052.htm)

Urban form
Review During this chapter, the author tried to give the definition of urban phenomenon based on substance and content. The urban is pure form: a place of encounter, assembly, simultaneity. This form has no specific content but is a center of attraction and life. It accumulates all content: living creatures the products of industry, technology and wealth, works of culture, ways of living, situations, situations, the modulations and ruptures of the everyday. Its contents (things, objects, people and situations) are mutually exclusive because they are diverse, but inclusive because they are brought together and imply their mutual presence. The urban is form and receptacle, void and plenitude, superobject and nonobject, supraconsciousness and the totality of consciousness. The independence between form and content precludes a definition of the urban phenomenon in terms of a system. It also precludes defining it as an object (substance) or subject (consciousness). It is a form. Because of this, it tends towards: centrality; polycentrality; omnicentrality (the rupture of the center). In this way, the notion of “rupture” is made concrete. This form relegates certain outmoded contents to the past. It absorbs other contents as well, combines them actively in a totality or virtual synthesis. Through the dialectical movement, the urban reacts to what has preceded it, grows out of it, and serves as its terminus, without this implying any sense of metaphysical finality. That form affirms itself as an end so he suggested that we should rely on knowledge to control this process. The theory of differential place goes something like this: Space changes with the period, sphere, field and dominant activity. There are, therefore, three layers in space: rural space, industrial space, and urban space, superposed, telescoped, sometimes absorbed into one another. The major social groups act with/ against one another. From their interactions, their strategies, successes and failures arise the qualities and “properties” of urban space. The general form of the urban encompasses these various differences by bringing them together.

Polycentral city as the rupture of urban center The emergence of the polycentral city on the global scale appears concrete given the author’s claim that the urban form affirms itself as an end. Followed is the Singapore map:

(source: www.ura.gov.sg) Based on the map, Singapore is divided into 5 regions, namely central region, west region, north region, north-east region and east region. The central region used to be the centrality of the whole island, where concentrates various industrial, commercial and social activities. The central region was then decentralized by moving the residents and the industrial activities out of the area. Now, it is mainly for commercial activities only. The other four regions act as the smaller centers where occur commercial activities such as banks, shopping centers…, healthcare and sport facilities such as hospitals, swimming pools…, schools, parks, open space... Those on the other hand generate jobs within the regions so that the residents do not necessarily travel out of their own region. In this sense, Singapore

might be considered as polycentral city, which features the urban form. The same also happens in Berlin, Florida…and has become more and more popular form globally.

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