Cities of People

Last week I came across an essay that I wrote in 1996 examining the role that a city’s inhabitants play on transforming their space and how they are the architects of the future, especially through their diversity of thought.  This essay is as relevant today as it was when I wrote it. I asserted that cities are comprised of people whose lives, experiences and perspectives are the pulse of any community.  I contended that the diversity of human thought and experience breathes life into every city’s sky-scrapers, tenements and developments.  Though ever-changing skylines may reveal the physical history of cities, it is the people themselves who define the culture of cities.  As Lewis Mumford, observed in The City in History, the common denominator of all cities is that they bring together “not only the physical means but the human agents needed to pass on and enlarge.. [our cultural] heritage.”  Consequently, multifarious voices of city dwellers speak to us from the past and inform our future, enabling us to recognize diversity as a vital, rejuvenating element rather than a reason for urban demise. 
The Message

The recent developments in Turkey and Brazil are powerful illustrations of the capacity of diverse people to act inclusively when they share common goals.  Like many of you I have been paying close attention to these events.  I have been observing how people respond when they believe that they have been excluded. The people who have been filling streets and plazas in Turkish and Brazilian cities represent a diverse range of class, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, age, education level, profession, parental status, marital status, and political affiliation.  They have come to send a message to the leaders of their nations:  “We matter!  What we think matters!  Listen to us!”  
Our Space
When developers or politicians make decisions that result in an altered public landscape without the informed consent of the public they risk the wrath of that body.  Few people who grew up in New York in the 1950s and 1960s hear the name of Robert Moses without thinking about the neighborhoods in New York City that were destroyed as a result of his arbitrary decisions to build highways that cut off the life blood of those communities by separating residences from shops and schools and services.  The South Bronx suffered the most critical damage as a result of Mr. Moses’ actions and the urban blight that became synonymous with that borough has yet to be completely cured. 
The people of Turkey and Brazil have spoken up and reasserted their right to decide the fate of their cities, neighborhoods, and public spaces.  This is not just a response to the use of their hard earned tax dollars, but an expression of revulsion that they have been told, by the actions of their nations’ leaders that they have no voice, no opinion that matters, no stake in the outcome of decisions.
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Reuters June 12 2013

Never Say “Just A Housewife!”
People matter, not just in an abstract way, but in a very real way. As the personal stories of those who are risking a great deal to raise their voices begin to emerge, I hear what can be described as spontaneous harmony.  One voice is that of Ayse Diskaya, a 48-year-old housewife who Murad Sezer wrote about for Reuters:  http://blogs.reuters.com/photographers-blog/2013/06/12/taksim-square-one-womans-protest/  Ms. Diskaya’s story is a poignant one of a women who has risen above adversity.
Diverse Voices
As I stated above the protestors represent a diverse range of people, thoughts, ideas and issues.  People are also protesting for various reasons and causes.  That is the beauty of democracy, we can really agree to disagree and still stand side-by-side in opposition to being excluded.  You were wondering when I would get to the word inclusion, weren’t you?  Well, people need to be included.  It really is quite simple.  As a result of the protests in Turkey the demolition of Gezi Park has been halted, at least temporarily.  In Brazil, the bus fare increase that sparked the protest has been rescinded.  The protesters in both nations have cited many issues as the reason for their outrage.
Datafolha 18 June 2013

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The New Public Arena
One way that people are speaking up all over the world is via social media, Twitter and Facebook, in particular.  Those who formerly gathered in the public arena, the local plaza, and the corner pub, have all convened on the internet with access to all in unprecedented and unpredictable ways.  The diversity of opinion that is exchanged in the span of one hour of any event is mind boggling!  People are free to say whatever they want about any subject and to get feedback from a huge number of other people.  This may seemed chaotic at first, but order really does emerge and people really do let each other know when they are being rude or ignorant or anti-social.  The democracy and inclusion of their diversity is what makes social media so astronomically successful. 
Harmony
On June 10 hundreds of people in Taksim Square in Istanbul sang “Do You Hear the People Sing?” from “Les Miserables.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=FctAww-4p9k
When people sing in harmony, the sky is the limit!
W. Wark, 2011
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People need to be included in decision making whether those decisions are about the alteration of public space, their access to health care and education, their right to free speech, or their right to assembly.  Demos, after all means “the people” in ancient Greek.  We cannot have democracy without the people.  Just as we cannot have cities without the people.
So, what do you have to say about it?
Onward,
~ Wendy
 

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