Magazine article The Spectator

What a Waste

Magazine article The Spectator

What a Waste

Article excerpt

Pospective mayors of London make green noises. How could they fail to do so, however unconvincingly? It is hard to oppose the idea of decreasing pollution, saving the countryside by developing brownfield sites and improving public transport. My heart almost goes out to the pro-motorist and small shop candidate, Geoffrey Ben-Nathan, for his daring to be different. The issue of quality of environment ought to play a crucial part in local government, and when better to launch the idea than at this moment of economic prosperity, among a constituency which is supposed to contain the intellectual leaders of the nation?

The Royal Institute of British Architects has taken the opportunity of the mayoral election to stage an exhibition London living city (sic), described as `the interactive exhibition about the development of sustainable cities', with the collaboration of Herbert Girardet, a well-known author in the field of urban environmentalism (at 66 Portland Place, Wl, until 8 July). It promises `a debate about sustainability', and includes interviews with three of the candidates. The pro-motorist and small shop candidate is not included among these three, which seems to limit the scope of `debate', but since this word is seldom now used with its proper meaning of a dialectical open discussion, but understood rather as a form of fuzzy focus-group, this is not surprising.

The exhibition includes an inflatable screen in a darkened room, on which are projected images of a dsytopian city and statistics about its material wastefulness. The projection itself is solar-powered. There are statistics on the floor and the walls, and barely legible panels of overlong and platitudinous text, including a lot of dayglo orange decoration, as if to deter reading even further. In the larger part of the gallery, screens and headphones offer the interactive experience, a large would-be mayor talks (at a volume too low to hear properly) from a grid of TV monitors. A delivery tricycle and two architectural models with lots of green bits spread themselves thinly to symbolise the rich life of the sustainable future. This is an exhibition of a type commonly encountered, where the subliminal messages far outnumber the supraliminal ones, thus permitting an abdication from explicitness and a spurious kind of objectivity. …

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