Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Nine questions to be handled by the analytical group by Hatto Fischer

These questions have been formulated in consideration of:


The questions were designed to bring together the tender group and to clarify terms and verify references. A prime task has to be to clarify terminology needed for urban planning so that European cities can be livable again. Proposals vary from cities regaining human centers (AGORA concept) while Phil Cooke would propose urban policy orientated towards the region finding cohesion through a “culture of excellence”.

1. Does there exist at all any city planning?

Who are the real decision makers / first evaluation of planning versus non-planning situations and assessments of what the European Commission considers to be a “city’s behavior” (see call for tenders to ACT-VILL)?

2. What evaluation methods are used to establish current state of affairs?

This question can relate to several things, including evaluation of current programs, with prime concern being what kind of research design is needed to link the urban to the regional level and vice versa? Methodologically speaking, it will involve statistical research, evaluation reports, measuring systems (including those linked to the environment e.g. ozone levels in cities), demographic changes, shifts and alterations in business / market economy etc. What alterations in these analytical approaches would be brought about when new approaches include references to poets and what observations they make about life in cities? Further clarification is needed as to what are a) qualitative judgments compared to analytical appraisals as used by planners, decision makers, specific system specialists etc. and b) the contents inherent in a metaphorical language as used by poets to describe life in cities. As this touches upon the relationship between planning terminology compared to poetic language when it comes to, for example, public participation (i.e. citizens speaking with experts), the question is what coordination and cooperation is required so that definite evaluation methods come into use. What counts as an indicator, if not people believing also in their city? In other words, if citizens are content or discontent, this measure must also be included in any evaluation, but how to gauge these different layers of emotions affected by moods / sentiments / loves / hatreds etc. It depends further on what experiences citizens make in a city and has to be taken as an indicator with regards to current state of affairs. So far philosophy of science has not resolved this issue between the need for empirical research (the poetess Katerina Anghelaki Rooke would say poetry is primarily ‘empirical’) and interpretative approaches (looking at reality through literature), while politically speaking, several opposing tendencies have never been reconciled, leaving cities at the mercy of certain interests being played out while the institutional capacity to mediate remains extremely limited.

3. What technical options are available?

There have been many programs for cities emphasizing technical options, including the matter of ‘invisible infrastructures’ (telecommunication) allowing cities until now behind in their development when compared on a world basis to other cities and alone on the new technical basis gives them the chance to jump ‘scales of activities’, so that through networking and opening up the city to the world can achieve another status (see, for example, Phil Cooke’s study of Cardiff and its chances to become a European city).

4. What constraints have to be faced when making decisions with regards to how a city wishes to develop (aside from financial constraints)

For sure, every city faces budgetary problems, but why and what other self-imposed constraints can impede but also guide development e.g. architectural guidelines such as no high rise buildings).

5. What unresolved problems exist in the urban environment?

The identification of problems is reflected in the urban agenda, but how these problems are defined, that depends a lot more on the urban culture. For example, juvenile delinquency can be related to a lack of creative spaces within a city. It can start with playgrounds and does not end with training possibilities. As this entails an ongoing evaluation a city applies upon itself to know where, when and how to respond to the needs of the youth, the question is really if different types of interrelationships are taken into consideration, e.g.

Spatial: crowded cities, streets filled with cars, leave no space for

children and youth to play in.

Temporal: daily life rhythms and anticipation of future developments, but also speed and changes in traffic influenced by such policy tools such as opening hours of stores (in Greece the abolition of a break at noon reduced traffic flow between home and work) have to be taken into consideration. Traffic congestions and waste of time when ensnarled in different transportation needs requires a different kind of coordination of what kinds of activities, but what is a replica of life in cities?

Ideological constrain perceptions, but it is possible to depart from the a famous saying by Marx that “people are only then willing to see problems, if there are solutions available for them”.

Cities proclaim they offer solutions and therefore attract people hoping to find precisely solutions to problems besetting so far their lives. Obviously there are many who turn away from the city once disappointed, but obviously they do not depart altogether, thereby creating what Andre Loeckx would call “the culture of ambivalence”.

Crucial is here to elaborate in a more refined sense upon what constitutes ‘life in a city’. It requires some answer to this kind of ambivalence between technology offering solutions, but being as well a cause of still further problems. It is not only about “putting on the lights in the streets”, as Andre Loeckx would formulate it, but seeing what takes place when ‘those with higher incomes move either out of a specific district or never move in, while those left behind, feel abandoned and even more threatened by the newcomers, since mostly people from indigenous populations, who appear to be networked, in contact with each other compared to the social isolation those left behind, mainly poor, aged and with low qualification, that is without experience and skills on how to network even when within urban ghettos’. That leads to the questions how are multi-cultural tensions and social problems resolved.

Anna Arvanitaki makes here in relation to culture the relevant point that there is a difference between using culture / cultural activities to resolve social problems and using technology to further other solutions. Moreover, culture should not be so much for its own sake, but be used to feed into other activities to sustain meaningful processes in, for example, education. This sustains life in cities.

The critical question is, however, when culture is no longer autonomous, but an expression of the cultural industry, what happens then? It appears what threatens a sustainable life in cities as far as artists and cultural workers are concerned, is they are forced to move on because of high rents and lack of physical spaces (for ateliers and exhibitions). It leads to a lack of mobility, improvisation and innovation but also loss of artistic life.

6. What are the values in the city?

Are these values typical to hierarchical, social and ideological stratification schemes? (For example, the rich live in one part of the city while the poorer classes congregate in other areas with poor housing quality, low communal services, little green space etc. – see here the description by Marquez in “hundred years of loneliness” as to who lives on the other side of the railway track). Value disposition leads to recognizing or not problems of social division affecting the life in the city and what is being done to attain equality by providing access to communal services? As these are as much visible as invisible problems shown among other activities in the degree of cultural participation (very few make use of cultural resources – the old question why not as posed by Mitscherlich), it is crucial to find out how people find and get orientation. Values lived reflect themselves in types of priorities adhered to or else forgotten or given up for the sake of just getting on with life. These compromises leave many things unattended while the city expands along the sea side although it was, for example, in Greece a formal but equally unwritten law to leave the sea be accessible to everyone. An interesting example has been set here by the Chicago Master Plan according to Sue Tilden, where people grew up with the plan before it being implemented and everyone agreed on the value consensus that along the lake shore nothing should be built. Values are reflected as well in the city’s agenda and express themselves in municipal elections as to who stands for mayor and which groups gain influence as a result. That becomes apparent throughout a city’s history and it may be a good way to assess real components of human values as opposed to political expediencies linked to management methods and real power potentialities.

7. How does the city compare itself to others, does it establish linkages or networks on the basis of similarities or differences?

For instance, in a discussion with a member of the Irish embassy, the possibility of twinning Chania with Galway was considered. This was made on the basis of similarities in terms of size, character, port, and even cultural compatibilities. For sure, the networking between different European cities is a part of the official EU programs.

8. What conceptual solutions have been offered and tried so far?

Here the discussion should also refer to the concepts developed in the tender, insofar as the AGORA idea stands for both market and cultural accessibilities. By the same token, even when borrowing terms of Ancient Greek, it is crucial that the epistemological orientation which goes with them is understood.

9. Does the city offer livable solutions, if at all?

In connection with question 8, question 9 should bring about a discussion within the analytical group about the key concept used lately by the European

Commission, namely Sustainability / sustainable development

To what extent does this include such solutions which make a city being livable / alive? Here Pavlos Delladetsima would rightly argue that in planning, there is too much rhetoric involved and therefore he advises to avoid using terms which have come into fashion as of late or if use thereof cannot be avoided, then at least to use them with great care and caution.

Note: these questions are posed in the light of the invitation by the European Commission (DG XII) and the Coordination Centre for Technology Assessment (TVFF-Berlin) to Dr. Hatto Fischer as project leader of the tender / analytical group to report about this conference “Myth of the City” at the European Conference: “Urban Utopias, new tools for the Renaissance of the city in Europe (Sustainable and Intended Development of the cities in Europe)”

to be held in Berlin, Nov. 16th and 17th 1995.

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