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Post-urban Development

Why contemporary megacities have lost city features

©ISTOCK

A contemporary city expands; it is stitched together with communications, but lacks integrity. Districts, urban communities and practices are so heterogeneous, that they often don’t interact with each other. A united space is split into fragments. Communication is replaced with alienation. Dmitry Zamyatin, geographer and researcher of culture, chief research fellow at the HSE Graduate School of Urbanism, called this phenomenon a ‘post-city’. The scholar spoke to IQ.HSE about this issue.

Space of fragmentarity

The common features of a traditional city, such as ‘borders, clear distinction from the surrounding space, a defended and centralized area’, as well as connections between local communities, don’t work during the contemporary stage of urban development.

Expansion in the context of atomization — this is how the evolution of a contemporary city can be described.

 The city is changing its outlines; it is expanding and splitting up,  as well as losing integrity, all at the same time. Instead of one space, one time (con-temporaneity), co-spaciality evolves, which leads to a neighbourhood of very different spaces and communities.

 In the context of intensifying urban activities (economic, social and cultural), a united city culture has almost vanished. Interactions between different demographics have weakened.
 Life dynamics are accompanied by growing scatteration, and centripetency inherent to traditional cities, with growing suburbs.

A rigid planned framework, such as the rectangle network in the construction of St. Petersburg, the ‘fan’ of streets in Kostroma, or attempts to build a ‘regular’ city in the 1970s Moscow Development Master Plan, is no longer possible or effective. ‘Brasilia (the capital of Brazil) can be considered the final example of traditional planning, while the Moscow agglomeration is the last breath of state master plans’, Dmitry Zamyatin believes.

‘A diffusing space of fragmentarities’, ‘an amoeba that is constantly changing its outlines’, - this is how the researcher characterized a ‘post-city’. These features may appear in megacities, such as New York, Shanghai, Singapore, to some extent Moscow, and small towns as well. A post-city is not always a ‘pile of glass skyscrapers’. The key feature of this space is dissociation, both social and cultural: an abundance of communities and various types of activities, in the context of their ‘mutual invisibility’ and a lack of interference.

Communication falling off

Traditional face-to-face communications are minimized in a post-city. Post-city residents, who live physically close to each other, at the same time exist ‘in very different psychological, mental spaces, and don’t notice each other’. In fact, these are ‘parallel worlds’, alienated from each other.

A vivid example is the phenomenon of the metro. Despite all the crowds, people do not see each other. There is an ‘anonymous crowd’ effect.

Loneliness is a state specific for a person in a megacity (Georg Simmel, a German philosopher, who studied the sociology of cities, demonstrated this in his work The Metropolis and Mental Life ).

In the city, people develop ‘communicative practices of avoiding, ontological guerilla war’. People avoid communication, they avoid ‘sociality’.

Public urban spaces are declining (which was noticed by Richard Sennett, an American sociologist, in his book The Fall of Public Man ).

Social integrity is no longer possible in a post-city. This atomization today, unlike in other eras (such as Modernity), seems irresistible.

Time diversity and eclecticism

According to Dmitry Zamyatin, the urban space has become a ‘swelling mess of all and everything’, a combination of the incombinable.

 
City districts live in different historical periods: there are archaic ones (with their residents feeling nostalgic about the past), and there are super modern ones. There are overpopulated remote residential areas, and there is a ‘non-residential’ downtown.

 
Architecture is variegated and eclectic.

 
The common urban culture has split into many sub-cultures (ethnic, social, and local).

 
Heterotextuality has evolved. ‘Many texts are born within the urban space (novels, stories and short stories), which don’t interact’, the expert explained. One discourse is no longer real.

 
The digital revolution and globalization have catalyzed this process. A lot of communication has gone online and does not demand any physical movement.

 

Post-nomadism

Urban residents in modernity used to have a sedentary lifestyle. Post-urban residents are exceptionally mobile. In fact, they are modern-day nomads, who can have several homes and shuttle between them. They are less tied to a place than their predecessors, less ‘condemned’ to certain social roles. ‘The life has become much more dynamic, than in a city of modernity, where an urban resident had only two or three kinds of activity’, Zamyatin noted. A post-urban resident can be a family member, an employee, a consumer (visitor of restaurants and shops), a fan, a blogger etc. within one day.

This essential mobility — post-nomadism — is a structural feature of the new city:

 Districts may regroup depending on, for example, big events, including sport (world championships) or cultural (rock festivals etc). Some of the space may be occupied with temporary settlements.

 Flexible architectural solutions evolve, such as modular, mobile buildings.

It is no coincidence that urban planners are talking about ‘adaptive planning’. This is reinventing the essence of architecture: it is losing statics and gaining flexibility, dynamics, and interactivity. Construction adjusts to various tasks. ‘Responsive architecture’ (a term introduced by American architect Nicholas Negroponte in late 1960s, when designers started to be seriously interested in the capabilities of cybernetics) means adding responsive technology into the building’s load-bearing frame. Buildings can be assembled and disassembled like a construction set. Responsive architecture is able to adjust function, form, and colour to operational needs.

Post-city map

‘Imaginary maps’ of the new space, with its subjective topography, are as important as its objective, real landscape. Associations and meaning assigned by people to certain places (streets, gardens, districts etc) are no less meaningful than the real geographical characteristics. Such a synthetic, interdisciplinary approach combines the anthropology, sociology, philosophy, and culture of the megacity.

For post-cities, this approach is particularly relevant. Contemporary urban media practices related to ‘social media and creative ways to reproduce reality’ will develop thanks to imaginary maps.

November 27