The Politics Of Urban Space Cultural Studies Essay

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Kevin Lynch talks about the regulation of physical space and behavior associated with it as a code of control. Lynch tries to explain this through five spatial rights; right of presence, right of use and action, right of appropriation, right of modification and right of disposition(lynch,1984; p 206-208). Lynch explains these with direct relation to physical space and objects in it. It seems to be more rigid and materialistic but explanations are certainly true to its context and associations it relates. The right of presence is the right to be in a place, to which may be added the further right the right of excluding others, but the later is a practiced right which is usually seen as antisocial. In normal cases the right of presence is the right to be in a public square or to walk on a public sidewalk and cannot keep others of them. The right of use and action is the right of behaving freely in a place or using its facilities with our disturbing others. Necessarily there is a code of control for both these rights while in a public realm. The third right the right of appropriation deals with the use of resources or space for oneself which in some way might prevent their use by others and become monopolistic in nature. The fourth right the right of modification deals with the modification of space according to the choice/needs of user. And the last one the right to disposition deals with the transfer of rights, here control of space becomes transferable like money. The notion of control in both private and public spaces acts as a regulatory agent between the five rights. It defines the code of conduct, behavioral patterns and user groups for each space.

Lefebvreian thoughts start directly from space and particularly by what he calls social space. He connects this to the space of people who deal with material things, most of his arguments are connected to the attributes of this space and on his main hypothesis that social space is a social product and every society produces its own space (Lefebvre,1991). So he actually examines societies through the spaces that they produce. The concept of physical space explained by Lefebvre itself is materialistic; he says the space is like clay which is molded according to the needs of the user[s]. Lefebvre's concept is deeply influenced by the Marxist thought.

Lefebvre's theory is based on what he calls the spatial triad, which is physical, social and mental triad. Then he identifies them with three moments; perceived spaces, conceived spaces and representational spaces. With the perceived space he refers to the physical space which is the society's space which is manifested to a physical form. The conceived space is the space which is related to representations of space, the conceptualized space, which is conceived by scientists, architects, planners, urbanists and social engineers. This is the dominant space in any society. Representational space is the space as lived and experienced through its associated images and symbols. This space overlays physical space making symbolic use of its objects. Based on these triads Lefebvre classifies the space into four categories based on the modes of production of space. The first one is the 'absolute' space which was the politico-religious space, made up of sacred or cursed locations: temples, palaces, monuments, places etc. With the medieval town a new space emerged, the 'abstract' space, the space of accumulation (of money and commodities), the space of exchange, of communications and networks. This space is also referred as capitalistic space, it governs the disconnect between the space and nature. It is institutional and political at the same time since it is perceived as a product of violence and war, competition and survival. He believes that although abstract space seems homogeneous, it is not; it is the space of consumption which initiates itself by the consumption of space. It encompasses contradictions between economic growth and social development, between the social and the political, power and knowledge, need and desire, productive and unproductive spaces. Because of these inherent contradictions the 'abstract' space itself has given rise to a new space called 'differential' space (Lefebvre,1991:373). This is the space of 'the right to difference', usually the space of the 'marginalized' and 'excluded' from the spaces of capital. Lefebvre points that the space is more than a stage, an effect of past or embedded in the history of society; it is a medium, an instrument with a role and goal. The abstract space, is the space of strategies, it is a 'dominated' space, transformed and mediated by technology and practice which makes it closed and forced at the same time. The meaning of the 'abstracted' space can be perceived deeply only when it is contrasted with the opposite and inseparable concept of 'appropriation'. For Lefebvre the appropriation is related to cutting off space from the capitalistic power. The appropriation of the abstract space will make it to a differential space and then to the everyday lived spaces. In order to appropriate space, Lefebvre believes that a "revolution of space" is necessary which will be achieved by the establishment of a theory of space (Lefebvre,1991:422).

Lynch and Lefebvre explain the notion of appropriation at different levels and are contrasting when looked at individually. Lynch attributes appropriation to the privatization of space which leads to exclusion of some people in physical space. Lefebvre explains it as cutting off space from the capitalistic power, which in turn makes them as differential spaces, which is usually the space of the 'marginalized' and 'excluded' from the spaces of capital. For Lefebvre appropriation is all about creating socially inclusive equitable spaces without marginalization and exclusion. But for lynch appropriation is an individuals process of utilizing the space for his own private needs and may affect others negatively. If we look at this process in a collective way or as a societal action in an urban contest it will either produce differential spaces or will contribute to abstract space. That is where we can compare and relate the notion of appropriation by both Lynch and Lefebvre. From here onwards we will look at appropriation as a collective action in urban space. The later part of the paper tries to perceive this act of appropriation in a contested urban space i.e. the street. Here we will try to understand the dynamics of this contested space, the street, in Indian context in a narrative way through some specific examples. Basically the attempt is to explain the politics of this urban space, the street, by understanding its inherent qualities, dynamics and its changing notions along time. Here we will come across abstract space, rise of differential space and the act of appropriation both individually (lynch) and collectively (Lefebvre) and its coexistence in a single contested space called the Street.

"A great street should be a most desirable place to be, to spend time, to live, to work, and at the same time that it markedly contributes to what a city should be. Streets are settings for activities that bring people together" Allan B. Jacobs, 1993.

From the ancient times to the present, throughout the evolution of our cities, villages and suburbs streets have been the major element that binds and consolidate our built form, activities, interactions; giving identity and contributing to the liveability of the place. Streets form the backbone of the settlements, both structurally to hold the built form and socially to bind the people together. Allan Jacobs in his book (1993) says that a great street should facilitate people acting and interacting to achieve in concert what they might not achieve alone. Thus a great street by its physical, strategic and social bond it creates or initiates a collective action with the people where they feel contained, interactive, private and fluid. A Street at the same time can become a part of the public realm and private realm, since it lays as a transition between the two it is the choice of the user to perceive it in either way, not physically but virtually. This created attachment to the street by the user will define its usability, sense of security and fluidity; thus understanding street as a facilitator of activities, interactions and mobility.

Looking into the Indian context, we have altogether a different understanding of streets. Keeping aside the western influence, streets are the backbone of our cities and villages. The overcrowded and thriving activities in the streets of our city's old cores are classic examples of multidimensional and efficient use of space. A multitude of activities happens here, from markets to marriages, festivals to protest rallies. Our streets are highly dynamic; it changes its colours from time to time according to the needs of the user. It is not a long term strategy1 but mostly a tactic, more temporal. It always manifests itself to different activities and functions to cater to the heterogeneity of the inhabitants thus contributing to a newer version of control measures (lynch,1984) and space-social politics interconnecting all realms of people and built forms; thus defining its role as a facilitator again in the Indian context.

Let us try to define a street, physically, socially and virtually. The physical definition of a street can be a space between the built form, which binds the buildings and spatial volumes together and facilitates movement along and across the buildings or it can be just a movement corridor connecting nearby destinations; or it can be a pathway defining the end and start of two territories (lynch). A street can be a space between the buildings of various usages like residential, commercial etc. connecting and binding them physically; it provides opportunity for people to move along, perform activities, rest, play, work and becomes a platform to interact, exchange goods, perform rituals and congregate; thus contributing to the social aspect of life on streets. Virtually it can define the territorial boundaries, can create an image of the place and can become a landmark to recognize the place. By its spatial definitions and activities it generates it activates itself by forming public and private spheres of micro activities, one flowing to the other as the spill over of each other; thus binding everything together and creating a fluidity in activity, movement and in built form( Margaret Crawford,2008). Way back from the history to the present streets are acting as a potential public space. All other designed open spaces, parks and public buildings connect or abut the streets. The character and variety of activities along the streets defines its connected components (like parks, public buildings etc.). The variety or magnitude of activities along the street will reflect the attitude of people, life style and quality of life of its inhabitants in its context.

Streets: Perceptions along time.

Looking back to the history from the pre historic era streets were the main public interaction spaces in the city. Baghdad, Cairo, Ahmedabad, Bharuch, Calicut, all had its own market street as its backbone. The trade and the life were oriented in and around the streets. Early mornings the streets transforms to a busy place to exchange goods, loading and unloading goods for the days sale, then it shrinks to give way for the morning traffic, back in the evening it transforms again to a informal market catering to the people back from work. In the night it transforms to food joints and recreational areas. Throughout the day it changes its activities contributing tremendously to the social life in the cities.

Street typology in the old cores of Ahmedabad and Bharuch has residential buildings opening directly to the streets with verandas or otlas as interface between the inside and outside. These are the main interaction zones especially for the women but the change in lifestyle and economic status in course of time modified these typologies to plotted developments with compound walls and then to apartments. This was an act of appropriation (Lynch) where the privatization of this interface created a new dynamics of space and collectively it contributed to the decay of this space. The function of this space got reduced to mobility and connectivity.

The industrial era envisaged a different kind of streets. Streets together with roads were looked at as mobility corridors catering mainly to the move traffic and goods. Automobiles took over most of the activity and pedestrian spaces. At the end of the industrial era in Europe and US streets were dead, out of activities; pedestrian spaces were eaten up by parking areas. Development of suburbs and road connectivity increased the distance between the work place and home. People spent most of their time in traveling. The modern era also had neglected the potential of streets as open spaces. The modern minimalist buildings sitting in huge plots exhibiting its charm became a usual practice, it failed to generate interesting street sections and to generate activities. The postmodern era saw a return of streets, the ideas in new urbanism talks about the importance of streets in public life and how it should regain its character to serve movement and activities of people other than serving automobiles. The concept of shared spaces and living streets are attaining popularity in the current era. The new development plans for the cities throughout the world gives a positive message by recognizing the importance of streets. Copenhagen's development plan for 2011 has automobile free streets connecting to all parts of the core city with dedicated pedestrian and bicycle ways.

Looking into to the development plans of Indian cities like Ahmedabad, Hydrabad, Banglore etc we can see transit oriented developments are getting more popular, we have to wait and see how its polycentric development pattern will accommodate great streets along with its transit corridors . But these conceptualized spaces (Lefebvre) after physically manifesting becomes areas of dominant spaces, contributing to the abstract space, were marginalization and exclusion becomes embedded in the development process. This gives rise to the differential spaces in the grey areas, transitional zones and fringe areas of the city (slums and squatter settlements). Another phenomenon we can see here is the existence of differential spaces within the dominant abstract space. This will contribute to the informal activities on our well planned streets, where individual and collective efforts to appropriate this public space by the excluded or the marginalized can be seen evidently. Usually it becomes an area of conflict where the notions of abstract space and differential space collide, i.e. there is always a forced negotiation between the dominant and the marginalized.

Contrast between the old and new in Indian context

Our newly developed urban areas are very heterogeneous. People from different parts of the country, with different ethnic, socio-economic and racial backgrounds constitute our new neighborhoods. To get them under a common platform to interact is becoming more difficult. Our newly developed neighborhood design principles also fall into the same crisis which our urban designers and planners are facing. The crisis of uncertainty, our new city designs takes a few years to design, a few decades to construct and generations to evaluate, by the time our designed urban spaces must have been transformed or the intended activities must have been changed. This shows that there is a disconnect between conceptualized space, the manifested space and then to appropriated (collective) space. It takes a huge amount of time to understand what the common man wants both physically and psychologically. If we compare the neighborhood level open spaces and streets in a rural setting and in an urban setting we can definitely make out the difference in the interaction level, activities and unity among themselves. The change in life style from a rural to urban, change in economic status, security concern, racial differences etc are major factors which affects our newly developed neighborhoods and their street networks.

But if we take the examples of highly urbanized and dense old cores of our cities, which have a history of hundreds of years, we can see a different life style there. The open spaces and the streets are active throughout the day, number of activities happening in very close proximities. It will be very difficult to find a underutilized space there. The neighborhoods are very closely knitted. Although there are virtual boundaries created within the communities mainly due to their racial status, still it haven't transformed into a more introvert kind of atmosphere like in our new developments. Here life is in its full colors and the public neighborhood spaces and streets are becoming healthy interaction and socializing places. In these old streets we can see a coexistence of both abstract and differential spaces. I think that is because the act of appropriation here is a collective phenomenon. If we take the examples of newer developments like the GNFC Housing in Bharuch, we can see the lack of interaction and underutilized streets and open spaces. Although they are mostly homogeneous communities, here the change in life style, economic status and generation change are major factors. The houses were modified by the user to meet their needs of changing life style and economic status. The size of families increased and need for the space also, which resulted in the vertical development of these houses. Due to the volumetric increase, the existing private public space definitions changed. This resulted in converting of front and side setbacks to more private and customized areas thus compromising on the interaction zones between houses and streets. This created scenario reduced the use of neighborhood level open spaces. In this context the act appropriation (Lynch) played a very negative role there by changing the collective notion of space.

The era of globalization also visualized multiple and virtual neighborhoods. People who migrated to cities formed new neighborhoods both heterogeneous and homogeneous in nature. But their old native neighborhood also remained with them as virtual neighborhoods. It is technology that is keeping them together. So a major chunk of free time they spent on this virtual world by making themselves more introvert and only professionally social, so going out and experiencing the streets and open spaces becomes more like a routine or it becomes more need based. Here we are talking about a spatial disconnect(physical) which is creeping in due to the unpredictable character of abstract space; the space of accumulation (of money and commodities), the space of exchange, of communications and networks(Lefebvre,1991:373).

The above explanations help us to understand the social and spatial dynamics of streets; its politics of space. The collective and individualistic actions of appropriation happening with in this space ascertain its representation as a contested space. And also appropriation as a collective action adds more dynamicity to the space and finds equilibrium between the differential and abstract space. To conclude, appropriation is a never ending phenomenon, [both individualistic (Lynch) and collective (Lefebvre)] no matter what is the conceptualized space and its dominant physical manifestations; the act of appropriation will exist in one form or other.