Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Considerations and reflections by Hatto Fischer

No doubt, this workshop touches upon important issues. Thanos Vlastos stated them as being lack of space, failed applicability of technical concepts to local conditions, need to overcome pollution and traffic congestion's, the negative side effects of 'individual behaviour', etc.. In short, civilisation's survival is linked to bringing about a 'traffic culture' which has positive impacts, i.e. social maturity and behaviour to safeguard scarce resources (air, public spaces, living conditions, active neighbourhoods). Given the problems of saturation, he states the policy choices lying ahead:

"Saturation and pollution will either lead to a more authoritarian society or to freely constituted and enriched social forms enhancing the deficient space: will tomorrow's citizen show a widened sensitivity and more responsible behaviour by limiting travel or by choosing transit modes, or will a new barbarism emerge whence, through methods such as road pricing, while the most socially valuable space, City Centre, will only be accessible to those who can afford it?"

Such negative tendencies prevail already and it is good to point out the political implications of limited accessibility to the centre of the city. This is being practiced already in London where the metro system has become almost exclusively a means of transport only for the income earning middle class. Those falling out of the system are forced to take buses or else walk. Security measures and the wish by the Conservative government to create illusions for the middle class of being a privileged group in society, has led to that social segregation by raising travel costs tremendously.

Some recommendations can be followed immediately out of that crucial difference between 'maturing' in terms of social behaviour versus authoritarian, equally barbarian forms of exploitations with little or no concern as to the implications for life in the cities, regions and the world:

1) It should not be allowed in future, that politics can use 'transportation systems' to cater only to the interests of their clientele, while ignoring the social and cultural implications of their adopted policies.

2) The European Union must ensure that critical checks are introduced; aside from 'environmental studies' having to accompany allocations of funds, for example, in the sector of tourism for hotels, there should be introduced as prerequisites also studies on the impact upon 'traffic culture'.

3) Such demands for new justifications could stimulate a proper allocation of funds while assuring that real investments in 'social' infrastructures are made.

Given the example of Parmenides (see the Introduction to this workshop), the logic of organizing 'traffic' must be reflected in terms of what kind of movement is wished to be created, so as to facilitate 'communication & transport', but in respect of the social fabric holding together communities. All too often new investment projects destroy social structures of mutual support systems which took years to be developed, while no replacement of the old, informal networks between people is facilitated by thought through transitions. Cultural adaptation to new living conditions is not made consciously on a wide scale. Only once traffic problems become apparent due to their high vulnerability to strikers or violent protesters, does the one-sided functional dependency of modern transport systems reveal its disturbing character (in reference to Picht's 'disturbed identities'). People seem no longer able to cope if trains run not on time. They have become too dependent without any autonomy left for them to decide alternative means of transport or communication. The high costs of modern transportation systems have created monopoly conditions; by being themselves permanently off-balance, they disturb more peaceful developments of societies, rather than enhancing a rich and satisfying cultural life in which everyone can participate in.

The political implications of such dependency must be recognized openly, rather than be covered up by claims that merely forces of the 'free market' should decide. When it comes to fast trains, super highways, or new airports, European and state funding is unavoidable; the allocation of 'public funds' must ensure that this is in the interest of really public life and not just a consumption of funds, for the sake of keeping the economy going by having new public works catering especially the construction industry. That means hidden lobbies in Brussels or in state capitals must be evaluated in terms of their contribution to a positive 'traffic culture'.

The difficult criteria in such cases of seeking 'excellent' (in reference to Phil Cooke's paper in workshop 2), and not just good or satisfactory transport and traffic solutions, relates aside from the costs involved to the concept of 'movement'. After all, the way and means to get about, should not be a burden to the people using the particular transport system. Rather there must be a basic 'enjoyment' in how people move about. This involves 'choice' on how to get from one point to another. EXPO 67 in Montreal demonstrated with its incorporated transport system that this means multi-levels of travelling means (on the water, by foot, bicycle, electric cars, overhead mono-rails, etc.), while making all places equally accessible, if so wished, i.e. main entrance, or less, if leading to parks or sanctuaries, less accessible roadways. Again certain major principles can be iterated:

1) The sublime beauty of space is to provide for many functions, while leaving open choices to integrate or to withdraw, in order to read a newspaper in peace. Any destruction of 'untouched nature' must be avoided.

2) The overcommercialization of space has also to be considered to be an obstacle to 'movement', i.e. neighbourhoods formed themselves by putting in the past tables on Berlin streets, but then commercial restaurants took over and made space costly, if one decided to sit down. Alone what forces people to move on rather than to invite them to stay, to meet and to discuss, is an indication that life has changed. (How such a negative system can make people move on, especially if beggars, has already been described by Orwell in 'Down and Out in Paris and London'). Security and control of space by the authorities in favour of the sole commercial usage should not be out of proportion to spontaneous manifestations of life; culture and a sense of identity develops in spaces kept free from 'the laws of exchange'. It is also an indication where outer or street life reflects the inner and lived culture, i.e. Italians playing cards on make-shift tables in the streets or the Chinese cooking in front of their main door. Legislation as to usage of space for purposes of having to remain clear for transport / movements must reconsider the private-public ratio as well, i.e. all beaches in Greece have to be accessible to everyone.

3) Impediment to 'movement', i.e. inability of children to cross streets by themselves or whole neighbourhoods being cut in half by major road-systems or transport on rails (Agata Bazzi), reflects the difficulties of societies to maintain 'spontaneously' and on a daily basis any kind of substantial 'social cohesion'. This must be avoided by future transportation systems. The architecture, or lay-out of streets can contribute a great deal to movement by either isolating people or else bringing them together (see, for example, the description of Carlos Fuentos in 'Skin Exchange' as to an architect having built Therasienstadt with a 'vision of loneliness', forcing everyone to go alone down narrow corridors). There must not be an intimidation of space by buildings trying to demonstrate 'power' while failing to recognize human beings, i.e. New York Manhattan or the 'City' in London with its monstrous post-modern scream of 'symbolic' contortions leaving no chance for human identity. The latter is a relationship between creativity and productivity, so as to ensure 'human self consciousness'. In London, it is interesting that the old and revised Covent Garden is attracting people, while the Themes River project remains an isolated area.

4) Transportation and communication must be linked dialectically, so as to avoid that more and more people stick to in-groups, known relationships, rather than to open up to 'others', given the fact that the coincidence to meet in public has been almost reduced to zero.

As Adorno stated in 'Minima Moralia', if social life is reduced to 'necessity', leaving out any form of 'coincidence', that means movement has succumbed to 'dictatorship'. It would be the beginning of authoritarian society about which Thanos Vlastos has warned. He added that 'fights about space' could limit the communication between people even more so, despite of their mutual dependency upon communication and mediation to resolve the problems of the city. In that sense, he sees 'traffic culture' as having a mission.

Some observations about failures to deal with 'traffic flows' in cities and regions:

For instance, it is absurd that the main pedestrian street of Antwerp becomes a painful walk due to many cement blocks meant to keep off cars turn out to be easy to be overseen obstacles at knee height and which one is prone to walk into when looking at the many historical facades of buildings along this tourist mall. Perhaps the stereotypical images reproduced in press coverages about Antwerp as cultural capital city of Europe '93 is related to that: traffic flow right after arrival at the train station is directed immediately to a sort of pedestrian mall to be found everywhere in the world whether in Ottawa or Munich. Again, the 'culture of consumption' dictates conveniences of places (allocations of shopping districts), rather than ensuring that 'traffic' remains multi-functional: pedestrians, bicycle users, commercial and business traffic, all combining to make space into liveable entities.

It seems a positive 'traffic culture' cannot unfold itself. When planners try to decongeste certain areas and reserve them exclusively for 'shopping' purposes, i.e. the shopping area near the Cologne Dom, they create in reality mono-type traffic routes. As a result 'movement' is defined by functional purposes only, i.e. shopping, local traffic, through traffic, regional and international connections. The kind of hierarchy shaped accordingly in terms of priorities runs contrary to the 'subsidiarity' principle claimed to be upheld within Europe; instead local space becomes less and less available, while the kind of urban sprawl exceeds all kinds of possible policy measures to contain traffic within certain areas. This implies Europe has given up the notion of the historical city (Thanos Vlastos), which since the Gothic was centred around the main town square where church, city hall, market and taverns guaranteed social cohesion. The new form in the making is the Diffused City (Agata Bazzi).

Since the introduction of modern means of transport, European cities have only adapted in a piece-meal manner to the 'traffic culture' from America. This has brought about European cities which are congested and contradictory in terms of what 'movements' are allowed. There is no coherence, nor a core of 'traffic culture' determined by the movement of people. Rather everything resolves around parking spots, super markets, industrial districts, residential areas, etc., so that the usual synthesis of informal-formal functions of a viable urban space are lost, but no real access to rural land gained. Everything appears broken, over modernized and yet at the same time outdated, since 'cement' construction appear timeless, but are in content meaningless materials. The modern traffic system brings with it many empty and equally 'negative' spaces because they are not included in any ratio with other spaces being used.

In such 'faceless' places with an interchangeable 'traffic culture' with other places, it becomes difficult to justify 'being' somewhere concretely. The system pressures everyone into a fake movement from somewhere to nowhere and back: 'no place nowhere'. With the loss of cultural orientation, people become increasingly disoriented. As Andre Loeckx would say people flee the centre of the city for whatever reasons; they prefer to stay at the end of some lane in a suburban house to which they can withdraw without any apparent need for political assemblies, cultural entertainment or even a local cafe, for video games and television has made them self-sufficient in an illusionary way. He goes on to point out that everything is located apparently at random and only accessible for those who can afford it, but also take it upon them to drive for one hour to reach a certain restaurant set-up along one of the freeways. Conscious 'traffic culture' must respond to this apparent lack of needs for 'culture'. If the answer is accepted, that the main philosophy of the world turned into consumption of everything is a kind of materialism (Prof. Baeck), then efforts must be made to rethink altogether the relationship between economy and culture. A meaningful 'traffic culture' could follow such a change in premise from the Atlantic way of thinking to re-interpreting progressive features of the Mediterranean cultures with their lively squares, little cafes or good restaurants by the sea-side while children play late into the night amidst the tables.

The difference between true orientation working with a knowledge of the place and 'memory' (see here especially the main speech by Andre Loeckx) and loss of identification of places, historical meanings included, comes when transportation systems are devoid of any meaningful connections. Instead masses of people are lured into congested areas thinking that there is adventure to be found. Usually that takes place only on one main street, which they seek out to discover why everyone talks about it. They walk back and forth in such streets, or rather ride in their cars up and down ('senseless movement') the same avenue or boulevard without knowing anything about the side streets (i.e. the cult about the 'K-Damm' in Berlin). This loss of orientation is overlooked by almost all policy measures. In the end, people can no longer tell a stranger where a street two blocs away is located, nor is there any economy in the usage of 'signs' or instructions on how to move. The famous joke in Germany is that the real forest has been replaced by a 'forest of signs'. Nor does the usual architecture of train or metro stations add anything, except to aggrevate still further this sense of urban estrangement. This adds only to the general confusion about the notion of transportation, when being in reality the form making possible communication between meaningful entities. This can be experienced when 'different voices' reflect people living and working at concrete places, that is alive, happy and demanding to be heard: social reality at its best. Yet due to the kinds of 'traffic cultures' that have been allowed to prevail in the shadow of the big transportation networks - highways, airports, ports, train stations - even these positive cultures are without any possibility to experience and to affirm the old philosophical truth, namely that movement creates energy and in turn 'social reflection'. Instead their contributions are negated. In capitalism 'time', not distance is costly; everything is made subservient to that and even the best living culture is made aware of the fact that costs are running up fast like the meter in a standing taxi waiting to get the passenger through rush hour traffic. Hence the new signs of 'traffic culture' are the messenger boys on racing bikes. They base their business on the reputation to get faster through the traffic than a car.

'Traffic culture' suffers as much of 'imitation' (Lutz Gelbert spoke about his efforts as a designer to avoid one commuter train designated for Guangzhou, China from becoming a plagiat of the one AEG built for Shanghai), as new local developments around some seaside port (as mentioned in workshop 2 by Arantsa Rodriguez) are quickly copied as a successful model by everyone else (i.e. shopping malls). Rather than preserving one's own unique identity, it seems as if everything is negated in favour of what has started to be elsewhere an attraction. Success in capitalism leads automatically to attempts to reproduce the success story elsewhere. In the end, only successful models, similar to the cars they drive, can finally be made out in the way people demonstrate their success stories in the streets by promenading. Benjamin's 'flaneur' has become today the masses not knowing what to do on work-free days. It also dictates one-sided traffic flows; once the holiday seasons have started, everyone ends up waiting for hours, so that the autobahns are freed of endless jams and allow the 'Stau' to flow again, while traffic accidents are always on the increase during peak hours, i.e. long weekend holidays. Instead of social, asocial behaviour or 'bad driving' besets both police and society by filling if not hospital beds, then graveyards (see proposal by Alexandra Grigoriadis). In cultural terms, lack of heed for others is the result of uniformity and sameness making everyone look as if already 'dead people', therefore apparently not worthy of any respect or further consideration. Thus, the impact of copied 'traffic cultures', and this includes motor cycle gangs following in the line of the Hell's Angels, is a negative social perception of others. By the slightest mishap, dramatic exchanges of words indicate tremendous amounts of aggressive potentials have been built up through a frustrating traffic system. These aggressive potentials can unload at any given time; it makes traffic scenes to be dominated by indifference or even dangerous provocations. The outburst of aggression reflects in itself the hidden fear an uncontrollable traffic system can create. The tremendous speed by which many travel is but one of the causes. Much of the society succumbs to that fear, i.e. passengers travelling in the car of a driver risking many accidents due to lack of control. The following day this negative side of modern 'traffic culture' is iterated in the daily newspaper, i.e. the Athens News reports that a motor bicycle rider went through the red light - a common feature in Greece - and smashed into a jeep with the result of killing a 28 year old girl sitting at the back of that jeep. An innocent victim of a deadly possibility that modern traffic systems have created. No one wants to hear the negative sides, only the success stories and yet daily 'traffic culture' encounters are dictated by numerous accidents and close-by escapes from certain death, had not some 'luck' intervened in the last minute. It is important that Anastasia P. Kamai had asked the participants of the workshop to reflect about 'accidents', itself a theme in need of further elaboration because the true difference between a non-violent and violent 'traffic culture' has yet to be made. A violent one destroys by its very content any meaning of 'culture' being a factor when people decide to move.

The fragmentation of urban space, as discussed in workshop 2, poses problems for a 'traffic culture' as well, if not practical guidelines can be given to people on how to move about. There can be argued 'accidents' are the consequences of aggressive forms of behaviour linked to fear of failures in a system basing everything on 'success'. The same applies for any 'traffic plan'. If not successful in the implementation, the world dominated by a traffic out of control becomes a world of absurdity. For instance, in Athens it takes longer to travel from the city's centre by car to the outer district Kifissia, than to Corinth. While the former takes nearly one hour, Corinth can be reached within half an hour. The difference becomes even more apparent, when considering that the shorter drive is along the coastline with beautiful views, as opposed to the drive along Kifissia avenue. It takes one past a peculiar type of construction since more and more stainless steel, glass and post-modern plazas or shops go up, while the traffic crawls from traffic light to traffic light as if the entire world was on this road. Urban space of this kind indicates a lot of money is around, but in no relation to what is experienced personally. Aesthetically, it makes no sense to invest that much money, except for the premise 'people shop only there, where it is accessible by car'. 'Traffic culture' must evolve subsequently out of the critique of 'urban rhetorics' (see paper of Pavlos Delladetsima about 'Development Rhetorics and the Notion of City Culture' in workshop 2) and the positive example cited by Odile Heddebout with regards to the possibility of the 'Metro becoming a Cultural Space in the City', i.e. the Lille Val metro project, presented in this workshop 3: 'traffic culture'.

The lack of integrating transport systems with surrounding areas has led to disastrous results. The outcome is an urban ugliness without any comparison to historical cities. Real liveable space with all qualities of life is becoming a rarity. Aside from noise and other forms of pollution, infrastructures are lacking while the entire network of different functions needed to sustain an interesting life is torn apart. Nothing seems to be in reach on foot. Human needs and cultural diversity, however, must be related at this practical level, otherwise the substance of cultural activities brought about by stimulation's of various human experiences is lost. Architects and planners are here to blame; when it comes to present their design, there are always in the model included those beautiful arrangements of trees and people walking, as if an autonomous entity could prove to enrich the urban environment and stimulate people to movements enhancing an urban culture. Rather the opposite is the effect: de-urbanisation even in urban centres marks the downfall of culture as still being the cohesive element of society. That means societies are themselves undecided as to what they really want. Rather than giving practical guidelines some thought, in order to ensure that 'local factors' are being reflected again in overall movements, these societies tend to just use, but equally to hate what is being built (including the transport systems) because of giving in completely to the 'culture of consumption'. A kind of purposeless traffic is the direct outcome of a society having resigned in terms of efforts to create meaningful movements.

Policy Options

Some policy options were discussed with ATTICO Metro since design, extra services (i.e. air conditioned wagons or not) and price level are directly connected with which class of people ought to serviced by the transportation system. This has not only an impact upon acceptability of a newly introduced transportation network, i.e. new Metro in Athens, itself a reflection of cultural adaptability when it comes to using new technical devices and systems (i.e. automatic door openers, telephone services in the train, etc.), but also upon the social cohesion of the areas like a city or region interconnected through the planned and implemented transportation system. That ties in directly with what Michael Parkinson stated in workshop 2, namely that the European Union, although restricted in terms of possible 'cultural actions', can then become active in the direction of an urban policy by including cultural factors for the revival of European cities, when in the name of social cohesion. In other words, social peace and guarantee of basic constitutional rights of every European citizen must be thought of as not only the right to equal opportunities, including among other things accessibility to jobs, information, cultural entertainment, participation in social, political or other events, but by having a transportation system available which services everyone. 'Traffic culture' itself is a reflection of the realized 'freedom of movement'. There should be no social polarization, first and second class created through a traffic system, contributing more to segregation than integration.

Another matter was raised by Mr. Stead from ATTICO metro with regards to recognition of cultural needs and legislation on the basis of democratic principles. He used the example of the American state passing a law stipulating public transport systems must make provisions for handicapped people. His case in point was that it is not a given that any particular culture is by itself 'progressive', that is able to articulate an 'insight into a special necessity stemming from social consideration for particular others, i.e. handicapped people'. The problem of articulation by the living culture directly was not discussed any further, but the case was made that recognition of aesthetical needs is not alone the solution to many problems. There must be included the political interest and the institutional set-up by which different needs of society are mediated especially between those who can afford an autonomous status, health and financially wise, and those who wish to live really in a 'different world'. Anastasia P. Kamai took up this point in her paper of proposals on how to structure workshop 3: 'Traffic Culture'. She termed it as the classical definition of 'respect of the law of the land'. That issue in terms of a 'traffic culture' for the future must be developed further.

There is a need to discuss further this connection between legislative laws and laws inherent in technical, but also economic systems when it comes to implementing transportation concepts. As in the case of workshop 2 and the difficulties in 'Regional / Urban Planning' faced due to a lack of methods on how to recognize cultural factors, the same applies for workshop 3. The latter has still to resolve this important question posed at the very beginning by Lutz Gelbert: 'is there an aesthetical definition of the need for mobility by which the specific identity of the city or region articulates itself, provided it is recognized as such?' Both AEG and ATTICO metro are examples of producers or transportation consortiums who wrestle with this difficult matter of cultural perceptibility. The problem lies exactly there, where "the vehicle technology, the technology of traffic management (signalization etc.) follow an international outlook which erases the specificity of each city." (Thanos Vlastos) If 'cultural identity' is to be retained, 'faceless' cities, all the same due to similar station and track architectures, must be avoided. Crucial is to find out whether or not cost effective savings can be made by involving local people in conceiving, planning and building local stations. Identification with a traffic system could become through such practical and social projects a means of identifying as much with neighbourhood associations (Agata Bazzi), as with the European integration progress. For stations could become easily centres of information, that is, orientation points that go beyond the mere functional usage of arrival and departure traffic flows. This in itself would already be a positive contribution to respecting the 'history of the place' by letting it become actively involved in newer developments. Often, however, transport systems are offered by international companies at a certain market price; anything special, and cultural considerations are considered as such, drives up immediately the price when such systems are offered. In very rare cases, there are really adjustments made to the aesthetical needs of the people who will use the system finally. In that sense, it was important to follow Lutz Gelbert on how 'design' as a production entity by AEG has become in recent years an integral part, rather than something which follows like the final paint touch. As a matter of fact, present guidelines of the European Union are changing when it comes to offer tenders for publicly announced projects like Athens Metro; companies submitting now proposals must have their own design studios, otherwise the offers will not be accepted. By the very same token, this is an indication of possible changes at policy level. These changes will become more evident and effective as more and more the concept of 'traffic culture' will influence European policies so that guidelines and preconditions for proposals to be submitted, will be in accordance with this new level of discussion.

There is a need for a special awareness of what policies or planning in both areas, regional / urban planning and policy measures in favour of a specific 'traffic culture', i.e. more 'public' rather than 'private' transport can effectively bring about. It seems far fetched, but not unlike the education of children, there are options varying from authoritarian styles to a soft guidance past particular danger zones. The difference lies within the concept of 'human nature' and touches, therefore, upon both philosophical and ethical value premises. As always, there has to be added the main streams of modern thinking, as all these discussions in the workshops reflect. Most crucial for 'traffic culture' appears to be the question of Agata Bazzi: should not be the term of reference for future cultural actions in this area be the Diffused City? Given the interest of the Fifth Seminar to find out in a complex reality possibilities for 'cultural actions' which support the European integration process (Senelle), then the kind of 'systemisation' the European Union may ask for, relates first of all to the need to clarify the 'terms' upon which such 'cultural actions' should be based upon. If Diffused City becomes a meaningful entity, then Anna Arvanitaki, chairperson of workshop 2, would have a strong case in her argument that both Agata Bazzi and Andre Loeckx are moving towards the same position, namely a 'cautious, but optimistic note on how to influence the future shaping of spatial entities like the urban environment'. In turn, this would mean in terms of 'traffic culture', active decisions as to what is to be connected, so as to sustain and to support a viable interconnection called a region with 'industrial excellence' (Phil Cooke). That gives already some indication as to the direction in which future developments in Europe should go:

The findings of both workshop 2 and 3 underline the importance of 'culture'. There is no doubt that 'traffic culture' has to be an integral part of any kind of urban policy the European Union may wish to propose in future to its member states. At the same time, transport by its very nature goes beyond individual cities and can provide a meaningful network between cities. As Andre Loeckx pointed out in his main speech about 'culture of ambivalence' due to 'flow economies' and cities being expressions of built memories of the present, there is this historical fact that regional identity is acquired by networking cities in a region. It depends whether or not a kind of decentralization approach to development is favoured among other things by transport policy, i.e. the networking between small, equal in size centres having higher priority to secure regional identities like those of Flandern, than those regions being defined by one capital city determining the entire 'hinterland', the centralized version of development, i.e. Paris, with all transport linkages running towards or away from that centre, while others have no independent connections amongst themselves.

Prior to the Fifth Seminar, Nasso Kokkinos wrote to Anastasia Kamai that he agrees with Dorothy Lee's definition of culture. He went on to explain:

" I personally feel that 'Traffic Culture', or better 'Transport Culture' is the total life experience of transport infrastructure or a civilised society which is passed down to forecoming generations or other societies either through tradition or by preservation, i.e. transport museums, heritage centres, historical documents. However, in having said this, I must question whether we as a Greek nation actually do have a traffic culture as we have none of the above mentioned.

I propose that although we may not at present have a transport culture, we do have a very rich history of transport within Greece, and one would hope that this could be developed into a transport culture for future generations."

Such perspectives for the future begin with a fruitful dialogue, even about the difference between the two concepts: 'traffic culture' versus 'transport culture'.

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