Cities as Sites of Imagination, Invention, and Intervention
Cities are dynamic places perpetually reproduced through negotiations and practices of a myriad of complex internal actors and forces of external connections. Each of these contributes to a constant notion of urban transformation: from social to cultural to economic. While this may suggest that transformation is indeed a generalized condition of city life,[i]seeing cities as active, dynamic sites of encounter shapes their conceptual imaginaries allowing for new conceptual opening in the discourse of urban transformation. Cities are amalgams of socio-political processes as much as geospatial; this must necessarily inform the circumstances of change within the urban realm. “Urban scholars have long been fascinated with the idea that cities are sites of invention,” from Louis Wirth’s (1923) argument that cities produce markedly new ways of life to Susana Torre’s (1996) claim of the city as uniquely equipped for a discursive production of social action in space[ii] to Arjun Appadurai’s provocation that the contemporary nature of cities has made possible new, distinct conditions of citizenship.[iii] This conceptual opening is significant as inclusivity and citizenship are perpetually under threat – indicating new forms of governance and governmentality[iv] are necessary for achieving a paradigm shift.
Cities are sites of engagement and negotiation: the voiceless and the powerful, wealthy and poor, privileged and marginal, and continually redefining practices of cohabitation, pluralism, and inclusivity. Important to grounding this inquiry into the nature and function of the city is an understanding of precise mechanisms by which it supports transformation – socially, culturally, politically, and so on. Further, an understanding of the particular realm of inquiry necessarily focuses this broad discourse. Are all urban dimensions transforming equally, equitably? The particular relationship between spatiality and lived experience, urban structure and urban process reveal important notions of circumstance. “The particular spatial form of the city can establish the potential for transformation; and…the ways in which the city is experienced and used as a space opens up the opportunity for social relations to change, even as the physical form of the city might remain constant.”[v] Therefore, cities are sites of encounter - social, cultural, political, economic, and spatial - amongst internal and external actors, operating distinctly, yet in parallel.
With this in mind, cities as the object and condition of inquiry offer a unique platform to reflect upon how and why social construction shape urban processes. Within the context of this research, I am interested in prodding the implication urban has upon our sense of collective identity and shared culture. As discussed above, the distinct nature of the city is to perpetually reproduce desired condition of urban culture while also allowing for the construction of new paradigms. This particular consciousness in the urban realm necessitates complex understandings of existing processes and yet holds significant potential for intervention. NE
[i] Jenny Robinson, “Inventions and Interventions: Transforming Cities—An Introduction,” Urban Studies, Vol. 43-2, (2006): 251 - 258.
[ii] Robinson, “Inventions and Interventions: Transforming Cities—An Introduction,” 252.
[iii] Arjun Appadurai, Modernity at Large: Cultural dimensions of globalization, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996).
[iv] Referencing Foucault’s theorization of governmentality as a new understanding of power, including not only the hierarchical, top-down power of the state, but also the forms of social control in disciplinary institutions and forms of knowledge. Alan Hunt, Foucault and Law: Towards a Sociology of Law as Governance, (London: Pluto Press. 1994).
[v] Robinson, “Inventions and Interventions: Transforming Cities—An Introduction,” 252.