The Anxious City: British Urbanism in the Late 20th Century

The Anxious City: British Urbanism in the Late 20th Century

The Anxious City: British Urbanism in the Late 20th Century

The Anxious City: British Urbanism in the Late 20th Century

Synopsis

In a culture that largely fears the urban, how can the contemporary city be imagined? How is it supposed to be used or inhabited? What does it mean? Taking England since WW2 as its principal focus, this book considers the western city at a critical moment in its history.

Excerpt

The London of Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway is a London of multiple fears: anxiety of war and destruction; anxiety of post-war reconstruction; the disequilibrium in high society introduced by the unwanted effects of war; the real shell-shock of returning soldiers, unable to speak of the horrors they have witnessed; anxiety of a new generation determined to break free from the social conventions of their elders; anxiety of the professional class whose preconceptions of neurosis and fear have been shaken by their real irruption in war. All these anxieties and more are set in an apparently unchanged London of springtime parks and broad streets; a pre-war London imagined as without anxiety. Woolf's London, if extended to the London of Second World War anxieties; of bombardment and destruction, of wholesale death from aerial attacks, of claustrophobia in the underground and agoraphobia on the roof-tops at night, and if extended still further to post-terrorist London; subject to random attacks from within, once thought safely confined to the late-nineteenth-century anarchism of Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent, this twentieth-century vision of London stands, for all world cities, for the fears of modernity.

First cataloged in the late nineteenth century, and characterized as phobias, neuroses, and neurasthenias that seemed tied to anxieties of place and space, then incorporated into the sexual etiologies of Freud, only to be resurrected in the modern world by war and real terror; these anxieties that haunt the metropoles of the world, equally haunt their plans for redevelopment. the architecture of their reconstruction, apparently so pure and well-intentioned, so modern and postmodern, is similarly shadowed by fear: fear of contamination by an insensitive populace; of decline in value by an uncertain market; of stylistic obsolescence in a rapidly changing taste culture; and now, more urgently, of security from ground and aerial attack.

If New York's attempt to proudly reassert resistance to terror and freedom from fear by means of a triumphalist architecture of height and display following September 11, 2001, remains the most extreme example of an architectural culture determined by fear, nevertheless all cities share the disease to some degree. the fear of the 'laboring and dangerous classes'

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