The conflict that has assailed Syria since 2011 is generally explained in terms of Islamic extremism, government atrocity and geo-strategic jostling between foreign powers. Media coverage has over-looked the influence of Bashar Al Assad’s adoption of neo-liberal policies. These resulted in a widening of the gap between rich and poor and fomented civil unrest. Rebels have been driven out of Aleppo but siege and bombing have laid waste to this ancient city. Its bullet-marked medieval citadel now affords views of devastation.
Michael Ignatieff (1997) posits that objective convergence, economically facilitated by the processes of globalization, inspires a narcissistic need for subjective divergence. Coined the ‘narcissism of minor difference’, such need is satisfied by over-stating minor collective differences and is blamed by Ignatieff for arousing previously submerged notions of Serbian and Croatian identity and fuelling the ethnic conflict of the 1990s.
Creativity is a crucial feature of urban success. However, few planners have ever advocated the true measures required to foster creativity as laid down by Richard Sennett: abolition of policing, schooling and zoning. Lip-service to the "creative city" is paid without wanting to encourage anywhere near the disorder that true creativity entails. Various types of creativity within the city are not officially recognised because they involve protest, subversion or social agitation. Yet these are often the very types of creativity that make a city attractive.
Richard Dawkins is negatively critiqued on the grounds that he misses the significance of religion and power structures in society. This is despite the fact that the very thrust of his more recent argument is that religious constructs have inspired brutally significant action – often at the instigation of those most benefiting from existing theological power structures. Does belief in unicorns rile him as much as religion?
Where the public realm is increasingly withdrawn, pissing in a public square or picnicking in a car park becomes politically poignant. The holding of picnics and birthday parties on sites formerly designated as public but now converted in to parking lots - or simply closed to the public – reminds of what was and promotes reflection on urban processes. Such acts by urban activists in Zagreb suggest that the narrowing of public space can be met with self-initiated and self-organised actions that return collective participation and reinforce the notion that public space should be accessible, inclusive and free.
Urban consolidation (or densification) is a much-vaunted contemporary planning paradigm with environmental, economic, psycho-social and cultural foundation. However, the social success of high-density development will be circumscribed without an address of urban fear.
The urban densification / consolidation paradigm has the potential to realize a modern utopia. Why would we not strive for its promise of an organized, responsive city that affords environmental, economic and socio-cultural benefit?
Emphasis upon ‘fear of crime’ has resulted in misanthropic urban design measures that prioritize security over civic engagement. Paradoxically, design driven by security heightens perception of insecurity and increases suspicion.
All photography © Paul Tulett 2019