Photo credit: Aad Hoogendoorn
Sennett was speaking about his new book Building and Dwelling, where he argues in favor of open cities, and against closed, controlled, monolithic (my words) city planning. One of the most compelling aspects of the book for me is the idea that the aim of planning cities should not be to control them or make them predictable, but rather to facilitate the interactions and forms of daily life that emerge in concert with the city. In our response, Tina and I did manage (true to character in my case) to seize on the most pessimistic implications, asking: openness for whom?–though in a positive spirit of running with the idea and working to get at the nuts and bolts of what open cities can be.
Tina pointed out that a form of openness that appears to be progressive, might be less so when seen from a different angle. She gave the example of nannies and domestic workers taking their lunch in a large park or urban square. On the one hand, it’s a picturesque scene of people enjoying a day out and getting fresh air. On the other, one reason they’re outside is because they don’t have adequate space for themselves in their homes or the homes where they work. So it’s lovely that the park is there, but not so lovely that they don’t many options and are somewhat forced into being in public and potentially being vulnerable. (Tina explains it far more eloquently in the video below.)
Talking about police profiling and the Wall in Palestine/Israel, I made the point that there are many different options for what openness could be, and indeed several examples are given in the book. But that also requires paying attention to the ways that phenomena that might be open for one social group (such as a day out strolling down the street), might not be as open, or at least not in the same way, for others who are targets for harassement and imprisonment. As I’ve written about in my book, this extends not just to different interpretations of urban landscapes, but also to different empirical views about what there is in the city, and who it’s for.
It was a wonderful experience in terms of thinking about what kinds of cities there could be if there weren’t so many borders and exclusion, and also thinking with Sennett about how to help generate cities that work against closure, instead of for it. I also really enjoyed meeting everyone that evening, and working through our various agreements and disagreements in what felt like, at least to me, quite a productive way.
Here’s the video of the full event: