Urban Futures: Critical Commentaries on Shaping the City

By Malcolm Miles; Tim Hall | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

The image presiding over Part I is Klee's angel at the momentarily still threshold. Part II crosses the threshold into a city of movement, a city such as Simmel's Berlin (1903) always in flux, disconnected from origins and with no predetermined end. Simmel describes the conditions of metropolitan cities which to him seemed radically new, but as the trams are housed in museums and the department stores give way now to malls and franchises, the vocabularies as well as the categories of urban discourse have changed. Instead of movement, or the Futurists' celebration of the speed of a racing motor car, the key word might be mobility: geographical mobility in business travel and tourism; social mobility through education and fluid patterns of employment; cultural mobility in contrasting networks; political mobility as electorates switch allegiances more frequently, adhere to single-issue campaigns, or switch off altogether; economic mobility for some and dreams of winning the lottery for others … but always moving on. Identities, too, shift, produced in formations which are themselves in motion. Fashion demonstrates something of this flux when styles, represented by images in magazines, condition what people wear but are also themselves conditioned by street-level appropriations. The relation, however, is not entirely reciprocal because power remains with capital while consumers negotiate their space as best they can within what is on offer as well as in relation to other groups. Perhaps a key question of urban mobility is how they do that, how much they get away with.

Steven Miles asks whether urban youth are rebellious or complicit in consumerism, or whether they have an ambiguous relation to it, taking what they want and rejecting the rest, appropriating space as they can. Seen as driving much inner city renewal through their spending power in boutiques, bars and clubs, as well as fuelling industries such as popular music, young people may seem to enjoy an unprecedented sense of their own empowerment, colonising urban spaces for their (sub-)cultures. Miles argues, however, that a more critical appreciation of the data reveals that while young people do consume extensively and their identities may as manufacturers and advertisers know be defined in terms of highly specific, branded forms of consumption, they are also, in some cases, able to play games with the conditions they encounter. Against the presiding image of free-wheeling, free-spending youth, Miles cites a study of unemployed youth in Australia who use the mall as social space, performing themselves there rather than in urban wastelands, without spending money on things they have no means to afford. He questions the assumption that youth and rebellion go together - they might be chalk and cheese rather than bread and cheese, so to say - and the conventional dualism of youth and mainstream society. Young people should not, then, be expected to lead revolt against consumption, even though the way youth consumption shapes some city centres has little reflection of needs they might articulate themselves. As Adorno writes, looking at the culture industry: 'The customer is not king, as the culture industry would have us believe, not its subject but its object' (Adorno, 1991:85). The same may

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