Saturday, February 12, 2005

the soft city

yvonne wrote:

i like the idea of making everything, including the cars rather than buying them. i think lino stuffed cars would be cute. i don't know if my way of thinking about the project works with the unpopulated city/ everyone is dead concept. i kind of see the 'soft city' as opposed to the lifeless ie. cold, rational, rigid city; instead of the hard buildings, it's like the city that you can hug, live among, dream in/about, etc. my initial thinking about soft cities came from a book called Soft City written in the 1970s (by my classmate's dad!) which is considered a pretty seminal early work in this whole cities discourse. Here is a quote from it which captures the essence of Raban's idea really well (and seems to fit with our project so perfectly!):

"For better or worse, [the city] invites you to remake it, to consolidate it into a shape you can live in. You, too. Decide who you are, and the city will again assume a fixed form around you. Decide what it is, and your own identity will be revealed, like a map fixed by triangulation. Cities, unlike villages and small towns, are plastic by nature. We mould them in our images: they, in their turn, shape us by the resistance they offer when we try to impose our own personal form on them. In this sense, it seems to me that the living city is an art, and we need the vocabulary of art, of style, to describe the peculiar relation between man and material that exists in the continual creative play of urban living. The city as we imagine it, the soft city of illusion, myth, aspiration, nightmare, is as real, maybe more real, than the hard city one can locate in maps and statistics, in monographs on urban sociology and demography and architecture"

the soft city quote is neat. i'm not totally sure i agree with it, which doesn't really matter, but will make it more interesting to explore. in its way of setting up a relationship between the individual and the city (almost personified as another individual), the rest of the world does seem to get shut out (the part i'm not sure i agree with is that it implies that you have a lot of power in shaping it, and ignores, at least in the quote you sent, the fact that other individuals might resist those changes), so the abandoned city idea doesn't contradict the soft city and could complement it. both of them are about the city as a kind of organism with a personality of its own that we can relate to on a level outside of the everyday human to human relationships or smaller scale human to doorhandle relationships that pervade most of city dwellers' thoughts. it would be nice if lots of interpretations could fit all at once. the idea that the buildings would crumble without people there strikes me as a bit human-centric (despite it being "realistic"). Maybe the buildings would thrive without people. they wouldn't turn black from smoggy air and acid rain. maybe they'd be able to take care of themselves.
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