City; a focus on focal points,

When asked to predict the most important environmental influence on behaviour in the twenty-first century, researchers almost invariably give the same answer: urbanization, or making places ‘citylike’ but more and more this occurs without necessarily making cities. Vital components are forgotten in this hurried, inorganic progression.

The spaces in our cities are for us all. Plato referred to the city as the soul of the individual. If he was right then the city is not only around us but also within us and caring for it becomes even more essential.

‘As we are born into the world, we respond to it.’ (James Hillman, 2006:331)

Cities generally have a poor reputation. In comparison to the innocence, genius and peace of nature, the city is often seen as polluted, corrupted and almost satanic. When we raise children we often consider moving out of the city, as if it is no place for a child. Since biblical times, tales of Sodom and Gomorah, vice, disease, danger, perversion and greed have been associated with the city. Myth tells us to leave in search of goodness.

‘Goodness resides, as does beauty, truth and soul, in trees, rocks, streams, mountains, flowers, but not in streets, offices, garages, airports and apartments. Our sense of soul is restored by a tree or a stream and seems to be lost in a parking garage.’(Hillman 2006: 156)

The architecture of any city reveals a great deal. It informs us of its age, its history and its future. It describes the city’s priorities; demonstrating how it spends its money, what it thinks of art, education, youth, the aged and capitalism.

The people who are drawn to live in a city reflect these things: are they young, old, artists, bankers, criminals or students? As does their behaviour: do they feel safe enough to be out in the streets at night? Do they feel it is safe enough to let their children out to play? Do they like to sit on a bench in the high street and just watch city life?

‘the architecture of urban planning that promotes spectating, fosters city life . . . an essential aspect of civic life is spectating.’ (Hillman 2006: 236-37)

Spectating, or people watching, is part of being human. The city needs a focal point, an arena for us to indulge in, a main square, a place where all kinds of people can experience all kinds of things. Modern planners have sometimes been unsympathetic to this, compartmentalizing areas of a new city or town for different things, the same people in the same places; shopping centres, cinemas on industrial estates; segregated, leaving us all wondering – where is the centre? We inherently need somewhere to watch people, people unlike us. We need a focal point, a meeting place, somewhere where experiences can be shared.

Some of these experiences are less spontaneous than others and the commercial worth is now being exploited. But whatever the motive, people like sharing a city square with other people, without such a venue we miss out on something of fundamental importance to who we are:

One Comment

  1. Hedy Nazir 22nd June 2011