Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Considerations and Reflections by Hatto Fischer

Regional / Urban planning is moving definitely closer to local factors, when it comes to consider or even to integrate 'culture' into its activities. Nevertheless the institutional convergence at European level is not in sight. There is on the one hand very localised activity like that of B.O.M., while on another level institutional planning agencies tie in with governmental policies responding in part to EU initiatives. The institutionalisation of long-term policy is a matter of issue: planning or not. The discrepancy makes itself felt in the usual failures (i.e. homogenisation or imitations), because a truly cultural development would go beyond the normal political categories and take on "identity". If culturally defined, such an identity would be a powerful autonomous manifestation of something going beyond society and state. Hence such a development would be out of control and thus not desirable, given the plight of the state to try to keep things under administrative jurisdictions and society's wish for 'order'.

Adding to the problem is the confusion of various 'legal' instances, given the different levels of competence from DG's in Brussels to governmental ministries in various countries having different 'political systems', while autonomous space has become scarce at Municipal or local level. The latter describes a modern plight. After in some cities initiatives like the squatters of empty houses in West Berlin had been either driven out or into state controllable 'legality' (which includes paying electricity, water and garbage collection bills) their ability to reproduce even own cultural images was negated. The best example of cultural destruction by the conservative forces in that city was the decision by the Weizsaecker/Diepgen West Berlin Senate to remove a huge mural painting depicting the squatters boiling like the witches in Shakespeare's Macbeth molotov-cocktails while on the other wall (one has to image the four storey blank walls of typical Berlin apartment houses) the '68 movement was shown to be able to make only soap bubbles which floating off would burst like dreams in no time. It was a powerful comment by one generation having become political through the squatter movement about the previous political generation, the '68 movement. The destruction of the mural goes far beyond white washing simply graffiti: weak forms of protest against otherwise a completely sterile surrounding beginning with the shopping plazas and the neat flower beds beside cement rubbish bins. The local aesthetics of the garden planning department would be alone a worthwhile contemplative subject matter and possible explanation where reactionary forces are at work. To have things neat and tidy is not identical with places alive. It is also interesting to examine the places where graffiti's appear: almost always places of extreme desolation and loneliness, because on walls to be found near railway tracks or in unfriendly tunnels for passengers on foot underneath highway like streets to let cars jet through the inner core of the city. Most of them seem to ignore the person on foot as the most important communication linkage. Instead artificial dependencies rob the human being of an important freedom: to reach everything on foot. Venice is here a beautiful exception. The local inhabitants run virtually to their work, since going over bridges, through small alleys is faster than taking a gondola through the channels. The latter is reserved for the tourists.

It is a wonder that the workshop did not comment upon the destruction of cultural identities at local level through modern transport systems. Nor it seemed that the workshop reflected the question which cultural identities are desirable, politically speaking? Cultural movements are always up against established interest groups whether now in the region or in the specific locality (city quarters). Again, the squatters' movement in Berlin West was also opposed by the construction workers since the squatters renovated the houses themselves at economic costs well below the usual market prices, wages and costs involved when using architects, engineering offices and construction firms used to sponge huge sums of money off a difficult to control building process. Corruptions in that branch are well known. Even the construction workers having bought in a move to privatise state housing their own apartments were dependent upon an over-average monthly salary, in order to be able to pay back the bank loan. It is a vicious cycle, for once locked into the system, there is no choice but to abnegate any cultural movement.

The result is that against such powerful vested interests little can be done to give any locality its own flavour back which it may have had back then. For once certain functions are destroyed, they cannot be easily replaced by creating the kind of 'heritage industry' Arantza refers to when commenting on re-build waterfronts of former active ports, but which have lost their colourful life once container shipping had replaced the days of cargoes being unloaded by hundreds of dock workers. Even here technology and modern transportation linkages play a role in determining diversity of jobs and forms of organisation, including the modern centralised versions being completely computerised and easy to handle by not more than three people.

There is still a further form of control often overlooked. Security reasons have made planning a constraint in terms of accessibility for military and police vehicles. Different identities prevail in old towns with narrow alleys and many hiding places when compared to anonymous city areas having been blazed free from any form of resistance whether trees or crocked streets. As a reminder, the Warschau ghetto resistance was the strongest in the old town exactly because it could not be entered by motorised vehicles and thus it became a house for house fight during that heroic uprising against the Germans back then, 1944. The same repeated itself when Solidarnosc was outlawed and demonstrators fled into the old town, in order to escape the police chasing them. Berlin is a perfect example of a controllable city from this military-police perspective. That is why it is also called an example of architectural and planning dictatorship. It took many years to correct the mistakes of social injustices inflicted upon the population by such a monstrous, equally monotone urban environment. The opening of the wall has thrown way back this attempt in West Berlin to rectify these social contradictions. In the past, even millionaires had to share with the penniless student the same pub; the environment was breathing for a short time social equality enforced by the wall as all sitting in the same boat. Conservative tastes, however, started already 1981 to try to carve out special places for the privileged; as a result, segregation set in at both extreme levels of society, the rich and the poor. Social hierarchies followed out of price increases especially in housing making way for, as said above, privatization processes and modernisation's (i.e. built-in roof apartments or the German version of pent houses) while whole populations were forced on internal migrations, that is, from a former cheap (in terms of prices for renting apartments) district like Kreuzberg having become expensive after the artists and modern image makers moved into that district. They left for other districts with still more squalor, insecurity in the streets and lower housing quality, but still economical for unemployed or those with unsteady incomes.

However, it is worthwhile to contemplate the practical dimensions behind Frank Moulaert's paper. Fighting unemployment in areas of former shipyards now laying off their workers, these local specificity's have been handled more or less with many illusions. It is, therefore, good when planning starts to come down to this level of everything still before one: no overview, just heaps of problems and little to go by. This is no chaos, but being in the midst of problems besetting more living conditions. A contradiction draws here the line: initiatives seem to derive their strength or momentum from development of technology, whereas finally the very local drive will have to gain its own strength out of cultural, that is, non-technological factors.

On the other hand, Phil Cooke shows in his sophisticated way that the dependency upon 'culture' could be equally called 'industrial atmosphere'. Here the almost undefinable concept of 'culture' comes within grasp of human understanding. Philosophically speaking, everyone knows this need for 'atmosphere' whether at home or in a pub. It is something everyone notices immediately after having stepped in the door. In some pubs one would like to turn around and leave immediately, so hostile is the feeling one gets from the looks of the others, while in other pubs no one says it, but one feels invited to sit down. Phil Cooke approaches this question very much as Alfred Marshall, the famous British economist who followed Adam Smith's footsteps in looking into the reasons for the wealth of nations. In the examples he cites, it is interesting to note that no longer so much a specificity of resources counts, but the interaction of people, firms etc. to give rise to that 'industrial atmosphere'. As if everyone is willing to share information to improve upon one's work, the common feeling or identity of cutlery workers in Sheffield or motor workers in the Baden-Wuerttemberg area near Mercedes-Benz sites suggests that a higher efficiency can be reached once the level not only motivates everyone, but also attracts such kind of investments as a decentralised, co-contracting net of different responsibilities can take over. It is interesting to note that some of the most pronounced regions in terms of political demand for autonomy and a distinct cultural identity are among the ones Phil Cooke cites as examples and to which the initiative of the Flemish government relates to when talking about 'culturally defined regions as building stone for Europe 2002'. This correlation between highly efficient regions and political-cultural demands should have been discussed further, but Phil Cooke gave this another dimension by citing the example of Benetton, a highly successful company making designs exclusively in a town run by conservatives with little wish to intervene in the free market, hence leaving workers at poor conditions, while more or less regions and municipalities under 'red', that is, communist control in Italy flounder along due to many interwoven joint ventures between private initiatives and governmental support / intervention. Certainly, Phil Cooke's emphasis upon 'excellence' as t h e criteria of success stands out as a possibility to reflect upon culture as just that: reproducing excellence through autonomous, decentralised activities given the maximum chance to integrate vertically and horizontally with the region in local, national and even international terms of competitiveness. By looking at 'successful' stories, he may be reversing the discussion at local level usually involved in political complaints while looking for more state support (i.e. fetter economy and local markets) without guaranteeing that their 'social consciousness' will improve upon the 'industrial atmosphere' and hence the ability to become truly autonomous.

One crucial question seems to be left open after this workshop and Fifth Seminar: how to relate a realistic appraisal of what is going in the urban / regional economy to political initiatives following the example of the Flemish government in Belgium? The question can be reformulated: what substantial interests are behind the initiative for an emphasis on regions? Somehow this emphasis upon decentralisation for the sake of the people is not really convincing. It looks more like a political initiative to get what you want while really not able to convince that 'regions' ought to be the future building stones of Europe. To put it into a context of critical understanding, until now democracy had very much to do with urban structures able to support a multi-cultural life. If regions wish to return to a kind of homogeneity, despite hiding it behind the concept of cultural identity, then this deurbanization of political structures would mean what in terms of democratic life? The latter means not only direct political participation in a local council or some municipal initiative, but is a cultural affair when it goes beyond local interests. To safeguard openness against what used to be called provincialism was one of the key factors in trying to steer developments towards freer societies. This includes the freedom of choice in terms of existence. After reading the papers presented in this workshop one can be convinced of many things, including of the importance of culture when it comes to urban and regional planning, but nowhere is there a suggestion that the political future of Europe ought to be based upon a further process of regionalization. Rather the blending of region with city when it comes to questions of planning suggests that the future of democratic life in Europe rests upon including 'local' factors in an interesting manner, so as to stimulate further thoughts about cultural differences within the overall economy. Anything else seems rather absurd.

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