research laboratory for the contemporary city

>> Productive Space

Faculty of Architecture Delft University of Technology Berlageweg 1 2628 CR Delft

Stephen Read
Everyday life is the ‘integrated by form’ Ash Amin and Nigel Thrift1 Hybrid world, mobile society For a long time people concerned at the planning or design level with cities – and not just cities as logistical-functional or formal-architectural (engineered or aesthetic) objects but as more or less meaningful distributions of humans and things on the surface of an urbanised or urbanising landscape – have had to negotiate a sociology which gave scant regard to those distributions, or to the inhabited and active physical spaces of cities, which some of us believe are part of their very substance and generative principle. Thinking about cities has as a result tended to neglect the role of cities themselves, in their everyday materiality and specificity and in their situating power, in the constitution of our social worlds – seeing the city instead as something sitting rather passively on the receiving end of a process of social or economic or cultural ‘production’. A moment of thought is all it usually takes to recognise that, spatially constituted and situated as the social, the economic and the cultural necessarily are, it is hard to imagine how dynamically inhabited physical urban spaces could not be productive of everyday societies, economies and cultures. But we are stuck still, it seems, as far as our ideological predispositions are concerned, in an uncomfortable situation that on the one hand regards the idea of a ‘deterministic’ urban space with suspicion, while on the other recognises the inadequacy of a view, in our dynamic, connected contemporary world, which honours with too much leverage social ‘structures’ that are founded on static and categorical orderings. These orderings into hierarchies and categories (of class for example), and their ‘reflection’ or ‘representation’ in spatially bounded entities (communities, nation states etc.) ignore completely the role dynamic processes of connection may have in driving processes of social formation in the city. We fail to acknowledge any socially constructive effect of the material city itself. Our concern is to try to find a way to conceive the city as a product of a dynamic space, and to include an understanding of the social effects of the dynamic workings of the city itself. The question is: How do we get beyond a spatial as it is conventionally conceived as a distribution of facilities and events over a surface that is in itself neutral and already there – and approach a spatial that has to do with a modulation of fields, with tendencies to concentration and dispersion and with the orientations and movements with which these tendencies are coterminous? We, as makers and manipulators of urban form, must be looking for a spatial which can begin to indicate answers to the questions of what the city itself (its space and its form) is doing with



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respect to our social, economic, cultural and psychological lives – and with how transformations in one are connected with transformations in the other. The power of horizontal forces – of motion and connection tied to situation – are becoming more readily recognised today as being potentially productive (or for that matter destructive2) of the orders of our social, economic and cultural worlds. The mobilities and connectivities of people, information, commodities and finance at a global scale, for example, are recognised as constituting an increasingly dominant global space, which impacts on and transforms all our local ones in many profound ways. As well; the explosion of mobilities and connectivities at the metropolitan scale has shifted the centres of gravity of our cities in many profound ways we are still struggling to come to terms with, and to reincorporate into our preconceptions and understandings of the order and shape of the contemporary city. We find also, in this increasingly horizontally mobile configuration, the until recently unproblematic division of the world into realms of ‘social’ and ‘natural’ suddenly not looking quite so straightforward. We find ourselves in the middle of a world that, while being quite clearly of our own making, is steadily increasing in dynamism and force, and galloping away from us – adding to the quotient of risk and unpredictability previously identified with a wild and untamed nature. Where does this leave the division between society and nature? – a division designed in the first place to allow us to dominate and tame the wild and ‘natural’ of the world. The problem has not been solved by seeing the physical as dominated and shaped by a social which somehow assembles itself before doing the same to our spatial and temporal worlds – by seeing a ‘structure’ of the social as something which automatically, or functionally and mechanically, reproduces and represents itself in the stuff, and the structures, we call urban. We have to somewhere, we believe, come to terms with the fact that many of the processes we encounter in the dizzying flux of our modern world have effects which are somewhat contingent and accidental – more or less ‘natural’ products of the material processes which underpin them, and not organically or mechanically and transparently products of the social, and directed as if by rights to our human and social ends. The great artefact of the city therefore, ostensibly socially-made, built ostensibly to our social ends, is not limited in its effects and productions to the realisations of those social ends. There is an excess in its productive effects that approaches the ‘natural’ in its properties of wildness and unplanned spontaneity. These products may nevertheless, and often do we believe, become absorbed and appropriated into our social existences in many diverse and unexpected and creative ways. This shift of thinking raises an interesting possibility which we should also seriously consider: How many of the processes of movement and connection we encountered in the past in a less forcefully dynamic (but still much more distributed and mobile than we normally give it credit for) pre-modern and early modern world, in a similar way produced an excess of contingent, ‘natural’ effects; ones we have already absorbed and appropriated into the patterns of our everyday social existences? Is it at least a theoretical possibility that social and social-functional ‘structures’, and forms, realised and potential, of our situated social existences, emerge out of situation? This would place a different emphasis on our conception of social production in the first place, and would place the environment, and its built active spaces and connectivities, much more centrally into our considerations of the production and the ordering of the social. The dialectical thinking then of many of the most influential social thinkers of the past tended to cast the problem of societies as one of thought, and neglected the role of site and of situated objects and subjects in the production of cities and of the socialities that emerged out of urban movements, connectivities and location in a


situating environment. And as John Urry suggests, this does not necessarily imply falling back on the autopoeitic thinking of Luhmann or of the functionalist morphogenerationalism of Archer; the object of the city may be active and generative without at the same time being a completely integrated order or system the way we tend to think of these things when we think them through the metaphor of organisms.3 Most advanced thinking about organisms has in any event left behind any assumption of purposefulness, but purposefulness remains insistently as part of a strong metaphor of organism, overspecifying processes and products that need to be seen more in terms of ‘drift’ or tendency, and a convergence or cogredience of effects. The fact that the world, and our cities, are becoming ever more mobile, may have forced some of this rethinking, but it is at least possible that the world has always been constituted this way. The neglect, even negation, of the city as a factor of social production may have to do with the neglect of the matter of the production of our sociality in situation. The view proposed here is therefore one which emphasises action over reflection, the ‘natural’ and dynamic and situated over the ‘structural’ and assumed priority of the social – as well as tropisms, cogredience and ‘perception as form’4 over mental maps and cognitions and representation.5 Attention shifts to the active part the environment plays in the constitution of the social; the environment encountered in movements comes to constitute and generate at least a part of the social envelope in which people find themselves and act. To the extent that this envelope is a product of this movement and this encounter, the social world becomes something that is suspended within and supported by these movements rather than being preconstituted and inserted into an environment in which movements just take place, as if against a neutral background and without regard to its dynamically relational situating substrate. The social becomes dependent on exact movement and connectivity patterns, by its very nature therefore, something radically provisional, and liable to change as configurations of mobility and connectivity change. All this becomes much clearer in fact when we remove ourselves, and our intentions and expectations (and fears), from the exact centre of the stage. When we understand and acknowledge that many or most of the things that happen around us in fact just kind of happen – not quite the way they are intended or expected or structured to happen, but still as part of the world in which we are fully and integrally involved and immersed, and in which we deal with events as opportunities and as openings as much as endings and consequences. It becomes easier to see from this perspective, when we don’t overdetermine the world in structures, why the world is always opening out for us, why closure eludes us – why the world is in fact much less determined and closed than we or our governors expect it to be. It becomes easier to see why the effects of a material, not entirely tamed, continually transforming city itself may be a part of this fabric of opening and part of the generation of creative potentials which affect and infect and transform our unfolding lives. Putting cities first For a long time therefore, we have considered cities and the ways they appear and the way we interact with them to be a relatively trivial matter; a matter of style, image and ‘representation’. The social was what we understood as being the active force behind productive processes, and the brute material of the city, what was acted upon – the more or less resistant clay, formed to more or less conform, by an active principle which sculpted it. The city was ‘socially produced’, and once produced, was part of the ‘just there’ – laid out (not always very tidily) on a horizontal surface and more or less transparently available as a more or less intelligibly structured object to our intentionality and agency. 3

The question we really want to ask is: What is the productivity of urban space? What does urban space, of its own account, produce? Henri Lefebvre says: “Each network or sequence of links — and thus each space — serves exchange and use in specific ways. Each is produced — and serves a purpose; and each wears out or is consumed, sometimes productively, sometimes unproductively.”6 This is clearly not the end, nor even for us, really the beginning of the story. What about the creative productivity of this thing that is produced? It doesn’t always wear out — it may generate its own and unexpected uses and products, regenerate in unplanned ways, it may shift spontaneously from one production or productive mode to another, and it is seldom consumed to nothing. Even in its decline we see it accommodating and becoming productive of probing, opportunistic energies of the marginal — energies which even in their marginality, perhaps because of it, identify and find creatively divergent paths to the future. It is precisely at the point where urban space itself becomes productive — where the urban body begins to generate its own constructive (or destructive) effects on the social body — that we can start to talk about a space that worthy of our attention, and interesting for us as designers. The physiological processes of this urban body are the subject of our research. We act as physicians and diagnosticians on this body of our interest, calling it to account for the way it adds to or subtracts from its own potential to participate in the growth and creative transformation of the social body – as well as, of course, its potential to participate in the growth and creation of the individual and collective human body and spirit. In order to understand how this productive capacity of urban space is activated, we need to see the city firstly as a dynamic space, capable of generation out of its own dynamism. We need to see it in the first instance as a producer of a configuration and circulation of dynamic social material, or better material in potentially social relations. We need to see it not in terms of ‘representation’ or ‘reflection’ of social or cultural ‘structure’, or as neutral background to individual and collective subjectcentred desires, actions and identities, but rather as a gathering and patterning of connected material; a forming of lives and livelihoods within a circulation of material activated by the force of time which is the ‘engine of becoming’. This is a bit like the physiological body, which is a configuration of materials which if it remained just that would be without life. A body is vitalised by dynamic process – drawn together by the force of time – which drives it and sustains it in its forms and in its vital productivity. The city, as a material trace on the face of the earth, is in fact made twice: firstly as we pursue the everyday demands of daily lives, adding to the city as a material aggregate of work and construction and energy and exchange; and then by the aggregation of produced spaces as they intermesh and turn back on us and produce around us a dynamically integrated world of social, economic and cultural interface and form. It is made by us on the one hand as the aggregated productivity of individuals and on the other by our productivity as multitudes. As individual human subjects we enter into and inhabit a space already created by us as dynamically situated populations. If the suburbs of the US and the rest of the ‘developed’ world are today the preeminent place of the individual, relatively poor in the sustaining and integrating fabric of the population, Asian cities and cities of the so-called ‘developing’ world exist as those pre-eminently of the population. Stretched to their limits by the dynamism and momentum of numbers, they produce copiously, social and economic energies proliferating out of every crack and fissure. The response of the planning establishment, when it exists, is often one of terror, and reaction against the ‘chaos’ of the uncontrolled, and against the ‘inhumanity’ of numbers. In fact it is precisely


these numbers, in their situated streams which cross and overlap each other in rather precise patterns within complex and layered webs of connectivity, that interfaces of exchange and interchange are formed, supporting and sustaining existing situated social-spatial forms and producing new ones. The aim of our research is to explore the socially creative potentials of the selfintegrating and self-proliferating urban body – as well as to acknowledge and identify the real and sometimes dangerous stresses on this body. In the end we are not sure what part the city itself is playing in the lives we live, and in the changes we experience around us. The city itself and urban space may be productive of more of these effects and these changes than we customarily acknowledge, and we are particularly interested in the ways the city may be opening us to, or be constraining of change. This is a particularly important point given the speed of social and urban transformations today and the need for city and society to continually adapt to new demands and opportunities. We go further and try to see if the city itself is capable of being a space which actively promotes or facilitates change. The city itself may indeed be a generator of change — but not in all places, and not under all conditions. What are the conditions and parameters of an open and creative urban space? We need to know also what the relations are between transformations happening in the social-technological sphere and those happening in the shape of urban space and the city. We are in need of ideas about how we can profit from and intervene in the creative processes of the city without simply strangling them with our sterile and fearful visions of order and control. But in order to throw light on these questions, we need first to know some of the technical details of how socially and economically productive interfaces are formed in the dynamic of urban space – about how the basics of social proximity and distance are established within webs of connectivity. These basics are – or should be, we believe – the most elementary building tools in an urban design practice which considers the city as a generator of social formation and transformation, and a means to creative and sustaining openings to the future. Building blocks of urban creation: ‘grids’, interface, centrality What I hope to illustrate here is how design and research, by focussing on the specific and concrete object of the city can begin to show us where the pivotal points of urban formational (and transformational) organisation might lie. I will begin to look at key concepts like ‘distance’ and ‘centre’ and make some steps towards an understanding of cities as dynamically relational entities – not as relational entities simply strung together and expected to hold together by their own devices, but rather as relational entities integrated by a dynamical and stabilising spatial schema or diagram. These ideas revise some rather taken for granted presuppositions about the city. They privilege the topological over the metric with regard to space, and the dynamically relational and mobile and provisional over the solid, the compositional and the static. It is part of the starting hypothesis of our research on urban form and formation, that urban-social form emerges at ‘interfaces’ between horizontal infrastructural ‘grids’ of connectivity in the overall connective fabric of the city. The first motivation for this presumption is empirical evidence of the emergence of patterns of activity and centrality in the movement grids of the Dutch city. This evidence comes from research on the form of the Dutch city7 – and our elaboration of ideas coming out of this research is illustrated here through recent research work done in Spacelab. We have, over the last three years, been developing and deepening a vision of how the material flux of the city is implicated in establishing central locations and active areas of public space, and in locating points and areas of social and cultural vitality and creativity in the urban surface. The extension of the basic hypothesis to the role and


creative potentials of larger-scaled movement and ICT networks in forming and transforming socially active space is the subject of current PhD research, but the present paper will limit itself to describing the most basic building blocks of a new urban design practice, at the level of neighbourhood and city-scale centralities in urban fabric. Our research begins to see the city itself as a organising and sorting apparatus; a coordinator, sorter and regulator, in built networks, of multiple space-times, and an organiser of the interfaces between different speeds of movement, reflecting different space-times, within the connective fabric of the city. It begins to see the city as a device forming, transforming or refracting of social relations by way of its sorting of space-times, and of their meeting in rather precisely defined and structured interfaces. The medium is movement, not mobility — we are not as interested in the more discussed contemporary question of mobility as in the much more fundamental idea of movement as an underlying principle of urban organisation. A point about organisation needs to be made before we start, and that is that the productivity of organisations has been considered before — from the point of view of theories of systems, especially related to the organisation or self-organisation of natural and eco-systems. In general our conventional assumptions about organisation are dominated by static organisations and by organisations in equilibrium. In fact there are many systems in nature which exist on the so-called ‘edge of chaos’ and whose capacity for creativity is founded on the simple fact that the system as a whole topples regularly out of equilibrium, allowing the whole to reconfigure itself from the ground up in a new way. The productivity of the system in fact is founded not on equilibrium but quite the contrary on disequilibrium — or on the serial breakdown of equilibrium conditions and a rebuilding in ways which may share organisational similarities with the original system but may also differ significantly as regards the disposition and make-up of the constituent parts. Von Bertalannfy had pointed out already in the 1960s a slightly less radical version of this theme of barely organised disequilibrium, the so called ‘steady-state’ system, where a steady state is maintained, which is not an equilibrium, by the continual through-flow of matter or energy or information or whatever. The important point is that, in both cases, productive states are dependent not on any sort of mechanical or systematic closure, but on an openness of the system to invasions and disruptions, serial or continuous, from the outside.8 Equilibrium thinking has also played a huge role in the past in theorising about cities and continues to dominate popular presumptions about how the city hangs together and works. What I will begin to elaborate here is a story of simultaneous stability and instability – where active stable layers in the connective fabric of the city produce in the interval between layers, conditions which are capable of supporting activity forms which belong simultaneously to both layers, and are in a sense a new actualisation out of a convergence of different potentialities. It is these situations, suspended in the interval between layers, that appear, from the empirical evidence to hand, to produce precise actualisations of urban activity and what we call ‘urbansocial form’. The emergence of a network ‘grid’ The first point I want to address, through the research of Martine Lukkassen is one about the ‘natural’ – if one can use the word – contours of the city. In order to make this point I want to point out first two commonly assumed ways of spatialising and contouring the city, one related to time, the other to space, which I will oppose with another which could be called a ‘psychogeographical’ perspective.9 6

A very influential view on the city today reduces it to lived time. In this view, influenced by the rapid increase in speeds and reduction of travel times, the city and its locations are seen as an availability, to be taken and used in an unproblematic way, by way of time-budgets or ‘space as time’. Much urban research on centrality related to travel times assumes this view. The experiential and everyday-functional shape of the city is seen as something each of us puts together ourselves out of networks of locations of everyday personal significance. This ‘putting together’ is something that happens in relation to a personal diary of appointments and movements. The city becomes a simple geographic mapping of a temporalised (in clock-time), and otherwise despatialised, personal existence. Another view is connected these days to the first, though its history is older and has to do with the definition of neighbourhoods and areas by their boundaries. I’ll describe it in the version in which it is connected to the ‘space as time’ view above: When someone lands at her destination, in the space as clock-time model described previously, on time and with no cognisance given, or needing to be given, to the interval of space between arrival time and the time of departure from the last place to appear in her diary, she finds herself in a place perfectly centred on the location where she has landed. This place has certain properties or attributes which attach to it — like architectural and historical type or period, dominant programme and use, social or ethnic composition — which get then used to define boundaries around the area where these characteristics apply. What we get are bounded, named, spatial domains – islands in an archipelago of other islands, with attributes hanging onto each like labels – which are linked to each other in another framework entirely; that of perfectly and smoothly mobile and connected ‘travellers in time’. Connective space becomes a smooth undifferentiated time of movement; locational space, an archipelago of disconnected islands, and the only remotely interesting thing we can say about contemporary urban space from the perspective of this model is that it is firstly turning into islands of the local — and then that where it is not local it is becoming ‘compressed’ with increasing speeds and connectivities. Space itself in this view is not productive — it is either ‘just there’ in the case of the locational and local, or it is ‘overcome by time’ in the case of the connective and non-local. A view of urban space which attempts to deal better than this with its experiential properties (and as we will see with its everyday functional properties) is that of the Situationists. They proposed, as an analytical technique, the dérive, described by d Guy Debord as ‘a technique of rapid passage through varied ambiances.’ Analysts ‘...let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there. Chance is a less important factor in this activity than one might think: from a dérive point of view cities have psychogeographical contours, with constant d currents, fixed points and vortexes that strongly discourage entry into or exit from certain zones.’10 When Martine applied the dérive, in the city of Rotterdam for example, she found d indeed that the city appears to have psychogeographical contours that encourage or discourage entry into or exit from certain zones.


1. Frits Palmboom’s division of Rotterdam into an ‘archipelago’ of ‘island’ places.

If we take a well-known division of Rotterdam into ‘islands in an archipelago’ as a test case for these urban ideas,11 as soon as we start applying the dérive a quite d different division of the city begins to suggest itself. Instead of dividing itself up by ‘island’ areas, with clear boundaries, what we find is that the city starts dividing itself into quite clear horizontal and distributed network-levels of consistent ambience. The technique of the dérive begins to articulate traceries of consistency — unities of d speed, character and functionality in the city — which themselves map as distributed movement networks. In plan they map as webs or grids defined by particular characters or atmospheres – attached, I would argue, to particular speeds of movement. These grids tend to hold the traveller rather tightly within consistencies, discouraging exit from the grid itself. Entry into or exit from these horizontal grids involves a positive shift, an effort of breaking through a threshold, demarcated by a speed and a time produced in movement, from one experiential domain to another.

2. Patterns of activity in ‘archipelago’ place – the violation of the boundary.


3. An extra-local scaled pattern of activity ‘projected’ through Rotterdam centre.

4. The ‘middle-scaled’ infrastructural grid as an armature of this extra-local pattern of activity.


5. Depth (graded from red to blue) from the ‘middle-scaled’ infrastructural grid – an instrument used to investigate instances of vandalism and graffiti (tagging) in the local area.

What we find in fact is that far from the spatial fabric of Rotterdam being overcome by time, the island-places of Rotterdam are overcome by the dérive, and by the d experiential continuities of horizontal grids of constant ambience as they slice through island boundaries as if they were not there. The contours of the city become turned through exactly 90 degrees. From boundaries of neighbourhood areas, they become lines or ridges of psychogeographical continuity which when mapped in plan form a movement network grid. These ridges attest to a continuity and a duration of movement through cities and not to a hyperspace click-on-the-destination resistance-free transit. The research on Rotterdam revealed a dominant grid of consistency lying over the fabric of the central city – precisely tying together into a unity of movement and experience what the archipelago model proposes is untied. We call this grid of consistency, dynamically produced by the everyday spatial practice of movement, and unifying the fabric of the central city, the supergrid.12 It is a grid that, in the experience of motion through the fabric, floats out of the more general block grid structure of traditional central cities of a European type. We call it also sometimes the middle-scaled movement network because as one of the horizontal grids of movement affordance and performance I am talking about, it sits between two other distinct grids of consistency: that of the local neighbourhood grid of backstreets and slow movement on the one hand, and the regional or metropolitan grid of freeways and high-speed movement on the other – the one that in the Netherlands facilitates movement for the most part between central cities. This alternative to the archipelago model starts taking seriously, as Bruno Latour encourages us to do, the friction of transit. It also starts articulating the actual and concrete pathways, within a continuous local, between the scales of the neighbourhood


and the city and the metropole and the global, again as Latour urges us to do.13 The distance, in this continuous local, to the scale of the city, will be the distance to the corner of the shopping street – to where we encounter the movement grid that unifies the urban centre. The distance to the metropolitan, will be the distance to the freeway or to the railway station or to those places that the metropolitan has already invaded by way of these grids. The distance to the global will in today’s world be rather short, given that the global has already seeped through the global networks into the metropolitan and city networks, and by way of media networks into our very homes. The scales of the neighbourhood, of the city and of the metropolitan are represented and embodied by distributed grids – self-consistent horizontal webs of time-space – that overlap each other. These scales come via grids of consistency to us – they are not far off areas or nodes that we have to travel all the way to. Areas or locations become infected by all these scales, to different degrees depending on their exact relationships to the respective grids and webs. There is a certain experiential and functional ‘distance’ of the city then that has nothing to do with metric measurement. It has to do instead with moving ‘up’ or ‘down’ in a layering of grids embodying scales – and this is, we will see, a ‘distance’ we use to make ‘social distance’ and places for everyday social lives. In the first place, in this research on the relation between movement space and experience in Rotterdam, it was discovered that neighbourhood centrality was linked directly to the horizontally-layered structure just outlined. Neighbourhood centres, with their high-street shops and neighbourhood identity, turned out (and this remember is within the more traditional central fabric) to be precisely the same spaces which we had noticed before as being part of a higher speed middle-scaled grid or supergrid which unified our experience of the central city. Now, because we are looking at them in a different way, we notice that they also centre the neighbourhood grid of local streets which surround them. What’s more, the marginal in local neighbourhoods – which in this research was measured by instances of broken windows and graffiti – could be located in the number of changes of direction from these simultaneously locally centralising and wider-scaled unifying middlescaled spaces. Most local streets more than two changes of direction from middlescaled streets turned out in this particular study to be problematically marginal. A great deal of research done in other neighbourhoods in other types of fabric all over the world, show that while there is some variety in the detailed neighbourhood diagrams which work in different cases, the best space in which to inscribe these diagrams is that of layered communicative grids which firstly form horizontal, experientially coherent ‘grids of consistency’, and then relate to each other in a ‘vertical’ step-wise or topological way.


Social distance and proximity
6. The Gaziosmanpasa informal settlement in Istanbul.

7. The distinguishing of different characters (and speeds) of public space attached to different infrastructural web layers.


In the research of Ceren Sezer which focused on two informal settlements in Istanbul, the researcher, building on the results described above, first sought out traceries of continuous ambience in the open spaces of these informal settlements and then investigated the way these related to the life patterns of the people who lived there.14 What became clear was that the everyday life tactics of people in these settlements involved an establishment of both ‘distance’ in these ‘vertical’ topological terms from, as well as proximity in metric and horizontal terms to, the metropolitan scale which is clearly the necessary connection in most cases for establishing a livelihood. There in fact seems to be a pattern in a lot of our research work in rapidly growing metropolitan regions, of the simultaneous holding at a distance of the metropolitan

city (to which these people are often recent migrants) and a closeness in metric terms to this same metropolitan for its opportunities for securing a living. In Istanbul this was thought through in terms of what Ceren called ‘everyday resistance’, which involved both spatial strategies built into settlement form, and living tactics in terms of the ways this form is used for the maintenance of an economic livelihood, at the same time it is used to support patterns of culture and community that they as immigrants bring with them.
8. Space-time mappings of people’s movements related to the layerings – the use of these layers to establish ‘social distance’ and place.

9. The movements of women, structured by the layerings of infrastructural grids.


10. The overlap of layers – the creation of particularity in the overlap.

It is possible to trace the pathways to the metropolitan and to a livelihood conducted in informal trade as well as in formal and informal employment. These informal settlements may become rich and supportive living environments – they may of course also limit possibilities for self-determination and for individual growth. In the example considered here, many women in traditional marriages seldom leave the grid levels most isolated by the topological step-wise distance mentioned above from the metropolitan.

Another research, by Chintan Gohil, investigated the ways rural villages, swallowed up by the rapid expansion of the city of Ahmedabad, articulate and situate the lives of their inhabitants.15 Again, it was found that the idea of topological ‘vertical’ distance is useful in understanding the processes by which people locate themselves in and inhabit the city. The movement patterns of a number of inhabitants of one particular urbanised village were traced in order to understand the role of the village
11. Two villages absorbed into the expanding fabric of Ahmedabad


12. Tracing the movements of a vegetable vendor and situating him in relation to village and metropolis

itself and of the differently scaled movement grids of the surrounding city in their lives. Again, movements to the outside had to do with tactics of livelihood, but in this case the ‘distance’ the village establishes from the metropolitan establishes also an interior space for the production of goods like water pots which are then distributed and sold outside the village in urban and metropolitan scaled movement grids. Again livelihoods are spatial in the way they distribute themselves topologically between the metropolitan and the local. Again the village is productive of particular and ‘resistant’ life patterns — but here it also operates as a space of production for the outside urban and metropolitan market. It is interesting to note that the situations of differently mobile people in this framework of layered communicative grids may be different – even when they occupy the same topographic place. A tourist or university researcher, who may temporarily ‘drop into’ the local grids of inhabitation of these parochial places, from higher scaled grids of global and metropolitan movement and travel, is differently situated to local inhabitants because location seen from this ecological perspective always refers local place to the horizons of that person’s place in the world. A person’s place in the world refers to the mobile and communicative ‘reach’ of the grids they customarily occupy or have access to.


Productive difference Having established some of the locating and social space defining ideas which will be necessary for outlining an idea of productive urban space, I want to look now at the engine-room if you like of such productivity. The important notions here are those of difference and of interface — of the infusion or intrusion of one dynamic population into another and its interface with another, and of the creative, productive potentials thereby generated for growth and change through an upsetting of the status quo of similarity.16 What makes the research of Gerhard Bruyns so clear as an example of intrusion and of the creative potentials of difference is the simplicity — one could say the black and white nature — of the problem he was tackling.17 Apartheid South Africa institutionalised racism spatially, not only through the establishment of separate areas for different races, but also, and working just as powerfully as an instrument of segregation, through the definition of racially specific movement channels. The breakdown of apartheid has removed the legislative underpinning of systematic apartheid but South Africa is still constructed as a space of segregation. Gerhard’s research proposes a strategy for subverting the logic of this segregation machine by design – by means of a development plan for the centre of Pretoria.

14. Physical armatures of ‘black’ and ‘white’ space.


Gerhard takes the existing infrastructural connections of black and white populations respectively, from the centre to the metropolitan region, and strategically manipulates their outflows into the space of the centre towards a crossing of population trajectories. He manipulates the machine to the end of constructing a space of difference — of ‘productive conflict’ if you like, as an armature of ‘live centrality’ – in the public space of his development plan. The development plan includes a massive regeneration plan giving an important impetus to Pretoria’s centre at the level of the formal economy. At the same time the movement machine of the centre promotes the logic of the informal economy, folding these two spaces of the formal and the informal through each other in a ‘productively conflictual’ way. Black and white

15. Subverting the apartheid machine

space, formal and informal economies, are woven through each other, establishing a dynamic steady-state disequilibrium, and giving direction to future small-scaled development without specifying its exact form or outcome. Generic difference machines Having proposed that the meeting of difference can be a productive force in a productive space, I need to mention a more generic dynamic urban structure and how this has generated spatial productivity as a matter of course in historically evolved urban layouts. We often think of the meeting of difference in the urban surface in terms of borders — it remains a theme for example in Richard Sennett’s recent work.18 In urban configurations however we need to think about dynamic organisation rather than static organisation, and there is a very simple and generic effect of the ‘layered movement grids’ urban model I mentioned previously, which facilitates the intrusion of one space into another. Grids integrating different regions – we saw earlier that the supergrid integrated the region of the urban centre of Rotterdam while the neighbourhood street and block grid integrated the neighbourhood region – bring those different regions (city and neighbourhood) into direct contact or interface with each other on the high-street. The effect generates a tension between propiniquity and distantiation — out of the simple fact that things situated locally can have at the same time relations between themselves and relations with other things that are relatively distant. How it works is that relations of propiniquity demand their own grid of movement and communication for those relations to be performed and actualised. Relations of distantiation similarly require – they seem as a matter of course in real urban environments to acquire – their own grid of movement and communication. The two grids, each coherent and distinctive ‘grids of consistency’, become laid over each other, maintaining their experiential distinctiveness, while at the same time being entirely open to each other. This is the basic active pattern or diagram of the early


modern European city up to the early part of the 20th century — already outlined here in Martine Lukassen’s research work on Rotterdam. The interface of difference that we are talking about is constructed in the superposition of these two grids, as a meeting between the local and the scale above the local in the space where these two grids overlap. This is a productive order, a social ‘micro-technology’ maintaining a constant and relatively steady state of creative disequilibrium, and it has been enough to support the variety and diversity and small-scaled ‘householder’s and shopkeeper’s’ social productivity of the European city for three or more centuries. We can speak therefore about an interface between the dynamic populations of the local and the above local, rather than about a border as the most basic common ground of difference – and as the ‘machine’ of productive public space as we understand it from the great 18th and 19th century cities of Europe. The generic interface between the local (neighbourhood) and ‘middle’ (city centre) scales in the fabric of the European central city produces as a ‘live’ space the neighbourhood shopping or high street. This can be contrasted to the relatively ‘dead’ streets at the local or at the middle scales where no overlap and interface occurs.


Designing by grids A research and design project by Guillermo Vidal for the renewal of a waterfront district in Buenos Aires used interface ideas as the principle for design.19 The renewal area was analysed first for what processes of metropolitanisation had brought in terms of changes of organisation, experience and functionality. He was particularly interested in the ways the connective grid brought the higher scales of the city differently to different places, and in the ways contingent regularities, irregularities and overlaps in grid patterns affected this.

17. The metropolitanisation of a waterfront area

18. ‘Interfacing’ the metropolitan with the local area


The design became a careful rethreading of larger scale influences and flows through the site — with a view to not only restoring the openness of the urban area to influence from the outside but also to the generation of new activity patterns in line with changes in mobility and lifestyle and the changing image and function of the

central city. What Guillermo attempted in fact was to establish a pattern of active potentials in the site, set up at interfaces of the local and larger scales, that could respond to changes in mobility and connectivity and accompanying social and urban formative and transformative potentials. Openness is seen in this case as an openness to the contingent meeting of difference and an openness to the contingent ways to a fundamentally open future. Another very powerful and ambitious example of the way cities can be designed as interfaces between layered scales is that of Gonzalo Lacurcia for the redevelopment of a degenerated area of Caracas into a new financial and business centre.20 The shift in development potential in Caracas is today, as it is in countless metropolitanising cities, towards the freeway and the scale served by freeway and other regional transportation grids, and away from the fine-grained grid of the centre. One of the biggest urban design challenges many cities face today is that of the rescaling of the more traditional centre to the metropolitan scale and the creation of new centres at the metropolitan scale. The question is one of how to begin to get out of a new conflation of scales the sort of social and economic productivities that the high-street and the boulevard offered in early modern cities. The crux of the problem lies in the resistance of the freeway to being enfolded, as an urban element, into central urban fabric. Higher scaled and speeded transportation routes remain stubbornly linear and apart, their speeds establishing an almost insurmountable distance from the rest of the fabric as they resists any degree of creative re-appropriation.

19. Repairing the grid alongside the transnational motorway


Gonzalo’s proposal for a new financial district for Caracas spotted the opportunity to repair a break in the central urban fabric and at the same time to overlay and interface it with the one spontaneously emerging metropolitan settlement type we know, the so-called ‘edge city’. In this folding of the edge city into the central fabric the opportunities were created, in much the same way as in Gerhard Bruyns’ redesign of Pretoria centre, for the creation of a public space which creatively crossed formal and informal and rich and poor into a web of mutual exchange.

20. A new ‘edge city’ business district for Caracas as a fully integrated extension of the existing centre

A fabric of productivity The productive possibilities of urban spaces lie in their potential to be the sites of a creative interface of difference. They lie in the potentials of overlap between populations inhabiting differently scaled horizontal ‘grids of consistency’ and their potentials to be intruded into and contaminated. Clearly today there are serious problems with the openness of many spaces to this kind of creative productivity, and we witness this in the many lifeless contemporary spaces we refer to as ‘centre’ and ‘neighbourhood’ or ‘community’. We propose the more technical and syntactical movement of intrusion in order to find ways of thinking directly and instrumentally about a space of inclusion. We try to deal in an urbanism founded in the first instance in space-time and movement. We take our eye off place as a given, to find it popping up again out of the flux. If we can characterise the research agenda of our group it may be here — that we regard the appearance and actualised reality of our cities as effects out of relations and movement and regard the urban connective infrastructure — seen in the most general way — as fundamentally implicated in these effects. What we begin to generate by focusing on movement – by moving through the city as a process of knowledge of the urban – is a practical view of issues of spatial productivity. Other views seem to have us skimming over the surface of the city as if it were no more than the plane of our mental activity. Our instruments and our research begin to point to the way the space of the city itself imposes its grip, engaging us in a choreography of place and situated collective existence whose effects are active and socially formative, and which we for the most part entirely misattribute to other levels of agency. It is an urgent task, we feel, of the urban researcher and designer today to find or invent and exploit opportunities for an active cogredience of differences – for a space of co-appropriation and contamination. It is urgent that we invent strategies that avoid closing futures into the shapes constrained by the limits of our present day imaginations or current notions of what may or may not be possible. It is urgent also that we find ways of avoiding projecting our fears onto our futures and constraining and limiting future courses of inventiveness and creative assembly and reassembly of the urban. Our societies have for long subsisted on urban productivities and the


everyday opportunities for livelihood, exchange and expression cities have offered. This is particularly true today of a vast urban and newly urban population which exploits generic economic opportunities offered by an urban fabric of creative margins and centres. It is important we maintain open fabrics if we are not as societies to fall victim to that curiously passive, unresponsive, brittle and unforgiving stuff that urban space would otherwise become.


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Ash Amin & Nigel Thrift (2002), Cities: Reimagining the Urban, Polity, London. p. 47 Transformative production is always going to appear destructive from certain perspectives. There is a substantial discourse today of ‘loss’; the loss of community, of place, of a certain integrity and ‘wholeness’ of the world, which we should be careful not to take too quickly at face value. See Chapter 1 of John Urry (2002), Sociology beyond Societies, Routledge, London. The phrase comes from Merleau-Ponty’s idea of a ‘structure of behaviour’. See M. Merleau-Ponty (1983), The Structure of Behaviour, Duquesne University Press, Pittsburgh Penn. See Read (2005) ‘Questions of Form’; paper presented at the 5th Space Syntax Symposium, Delft University of Technology, Delft. Henri Lefebvre (1991), The Production of Space, Blackwell, Oxford. p. 403 See: Read (2006 – forthcoming) Urban Life, Techne Press, Amsterdam; Read (working paper), ‘The patchwork landscape and the ‘engendineered’ web; Space and scale in the Dutch city’. Available on request. Von Bertalannfy (1969), General System Theory, George Braziller, New York Martine Lukkassen (2004), Research monograph: ‘Transurban Situations’. Available on request. Guy Debord (1958), ‘Theory of the Dérive’; published in Internationale Situationniste #2. Available at Frits Palmboom (1987), Rotterdam, Verstedelijkt Landschap, 010 Publishers, Rotterdam. The word is used in space syntax research and reflects the origins of the idea proposed here in space syntax research I did for my PhD completed at the TU Delft in 1996. Bruno Latour (1993), We Have Never Been Modern, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass. Ceren Sezer (2004), Research monograph: ‘Resistance Spaces’. Available on request. Chintan Gohil (2004), Research monograph: ‘Urban Villages’. Available on request. There are two relevant discourses of difference. The first is on difference and the public domain which has become central also in the discussion of public space. Leading exponents are Hannah Ahrendt, through Richard Sennett to people like Iris Marion Young and Chantal Mouffe. The second is in philosophy and finds identity not in the categories partitioning similars but in a cogredience of nearchaotic and self-proliferating difference. This is the field of process and ‘emergence’ philosophers like Whitehead, Bergson and Deleuze. Gerhard Bruyns (2002), Research monograph: ‘Ubuntu’. Available on request. See for example: Richard Sennett (2004), ‘The city as an open system’. Paper presented at the Leverhume International Symposium 2004, London School of Economics, London. Guillermo Vidal (2003), Research monograph: ‘Edge in Transition’. Available on request. Gonzalo Lacurcia (2003), Research monograph: ‘Urban Compressor’. Available on request.


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