Urban Futures: Critical Commentaries on Shaping the City

By Malcolm Miles; Tim Hall | Go to book overview

CONCLUSION

In the preceding chapter Nigel Clark, citing Derrida (2001:259), asks if urbanism can face the threat of catastrophe by admitting the unprogrammable at the border of its programme. Clark alludes to the enjoyment of unscripted encounters which he sees as characteristic of metropolitan life, and contrasts this with the heavy tread of regulation. Urbanism, it could be argued, is a discourse in relation to which various practices are situated, though it would be equally necessary to say that the discourse is situated in relation to the practices; but it would be difficult to argue that urbanism has a programme. Although the notion of a modern project has currency as an attempt to construct a society of the new, this is a figuration encapsulated in histories. Leaving that aside, the prospect of admitting the unprogrammable raises many questions. This conclusion examines three of them as a way to end the book without either summing up or unveiling a grand solution. If this is a diffusion rather than a bang, the grand finale is not the only way to end a piece of music. Sometimes the lingering sounds of a procession passing by give rise to unpredicted speculations. The questions are: first, how real and of what kind is the threat of catastrophe? second, what is the relation between the unprogrammable and claims for regulation in the public interest? and third, why is it relegated to the borders?

Clark adopts a concept of turbulence derived from the volatility of natural forces. He explains the urban desire for a countryside, either external to the city or in forms such as a landscaped park or suburban garden, as a quest for a safe middle ground between the wilderness from which city life gives freedom and its settled, static aspect. Disasters are most threatening to high-density populations, and Clark goes on to say that upheavals re-set patterns in ways beyond prediction. The implication is that the model of a city worked out in the relatively stable climatic, tectonic and social conditions of the northern hemisphere, with its middle grounds, may have limitations which will become increasingly evident. The brittleness of the concept then becomes the threat.

For others, outside the scope of this book, it is the rapidity of growth in cities in the non-affluent world which renders them unstable, and the pressures of global capital which wreck local economies: David Drakakis-Smith notes that the fastest expansion takes place in what are already the largest cities (Drakakis-Smith, 1990:18), and Oswaldo de Rivera sees national economies in the non-affluent world as less viable when global production of commodities is relocated to centres of new technologies and raw material prices fall. He concludes that when 'the virus of scientific and technological poverty colludes with another non-viability virus, such as demographic explosion, non-development is virtually inevitable' (de Rivera, 2001:118-19). A further threat is identified by Jennifer Elliott (1994:34-5) in a rise in the rate of global water use over that of population growth, from which she predicts a water crisis. While Clark sees the city as failing to adapt to conditions (post-Darwin?), other voices see a need to adapt conditions (post-Marx?).

-195-

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