Urban informality is hardly a new reality for the world’s cities. The term itself has a young theoretical life, being championed by urbanist Ananya Roy as a lens with which to think about how cities are planned and made without the need to approach an urban planning department. Informal settlements exist in a huge variety of forms, from the gradual occupation of the Torre David skyscraper in Caracas to the built-overnight towers of outer Istanbul, and offer ad hoc solutions for housing, retail, and community space alongside questionable building quality.
Architectural details in the urban village often have multiple functions that would otherwise be discouraged elsewhere in the formal city (Photo: psychosteria on Flickr)
The growing consumer demand for locally produced products in cities has led to new forms of urban consumption and production processes. Products that are locally grown, processed or produced are often defined as ‘authentic’ by consumers and producers. For instance, growing environmental awareness and concerns about health effects and quality of products, has led to an increasing demand for organically and locally produced food by consumers and producers. If we look at the city of Amsterdam, consumption of organic and ‘authentic’ food is getting increasingly popular. Organic products are offered by supermarkets as the Marqt and the Ekoplaza, who consider themselves as authentic food stores by selling ethical, organic and local food as an alternative to the traditional supermarket. The origin of where the product is produced plays an important role in the growing demand for these products; the place shows the uniqueness of the product. Souvenirs are products which are definitively linked to a certain place; they function as messengers which give meaning to a place. These objects are usually purchased during travel by tourists and may remind the consumer of past experiences and places visited.
One would expect a growing interest in local production and consumption of souvenirs as well. A growing interest in souvenirs that are perceived as original and authentic by consumers and producers, instead of the mass produced tulips, clogs and windmills which make no explicit claim to authenticity. Let’s see if this is the case in Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands, by first looking into some background literature while drawing the picture by two examples of authentic consumerism.
Authentic Souvenir: Hema sausage
Filming Cities is a monthly series on The Proto City, in which one of our authors will review a film about the urban environments that we inhabit. This month we review “Pedal”, a documentary on earlier years of the bike messenger culture in New York.
“If you is fast, then you would go to the Tour de France, to earn some good money.”
While the bike messenger subculture has nowadays largely been taken into the main stream in cities of the West, their origins lie in New York City, where in the 1990s a small group of brave bike fanatics quickly took over the delivery market, as the bike proved to be the fastest in this permanently congested city. Continue reading
The availability of locally produced craft beers next to the mainstream lagers in shops and bars nowadays seems to be self-evident. However, the opening up of the market for a variety of locally produced craft beers is a fairly new phenomenon in the Netherlands, where the beer market is dominated by eight large companies (i.e. Heineken as many of us probably know). Over the last few years a remarkable rise in the production and consumption of independent craft-made beers can nonetheless be witnessed. Dutch overall beer consumption is decreasing, but local brewed craft beer is getting more popular. According to the association of microbrewers the number of independent microbreweries has doubled over the last three years, from 104 listed independent microbreweries in 2011, to 220 in 2014.
Brouwerij ‘t IJ, popular microbrewery in Amsterdam (picture by Bastian)
Cape Town is known for its cosmopolitan yet laid-back lifestyle. The city centre is surrounded by magnificent mountains and stunning beaches. Walking through the vibrant city centre it seems that apartheid, the period of minority rule and institutionalised racism that shocked the world, is well and truly over.
Cape Town Taxi Rank (Photo: Wikipedia)
Yet, during my five-month stay in Cape Town in which I did research on the Indian community, I found that there is still something unsettling about the city. When I first arrived, I found it hard to deal with the uneasiness I felt when sitting in a crowded upper-class bar while only white faces stared back at me, or walking into someone’s house while the unacknowledged black maid cleaned quietly around me. This is the story about how I eventually learned to navigate and, to some extent, overcome the extreme segregation that still plagues South African society.
How I did this is simple: by taking a taxi to Rylands. Continue reading
Lampposts covered in knitting, pop-up parks, and mid-20th Century housing painted with officially-sanctioned graffiti: from New York to Cologne, these are now ubiquitous features of the shift of cities across the world to an embrace of all things ‘creative’. It is now over ten years since Richard Florida’s ‘Creative Class’, which, as well as spurring policy replication on a global scale has led to a significant amount of critique and debate. With time, including the advent of, for example, the smart city agenda, it might be tempting to think of the notion of the creative city as being past its sell by date. Yet its ideals continue to hold sway and its discourse continues, even if almost impossible to untangle from the wider discussions about urban regeneration. The creative city is therefore something much bigger than Florida’s original prescription and has, when merged with ideals of policy-led gentrification and wider dynamics of the cultural economy, become a capture-all for reinventing what the city is and whom the city is for. This is a city-image that somehow brings together the tech industry, hip cuisine, and bike lanes into one cohesive entity. In its most caricatured form it is the city as portrayed through the likes of Monocle Magazine rankings as a picture-perfect world of beautiful people sporting fixed-gear bikes and lattes.
After the ‘Pop up park’: The Sphinx building and former Sphinxpark being readied for redevelopment, November 2013
The ‘Creative City’ for All?
In addressing the growing environmental issues and global population growth, the builders of tomorrow must understand and address city living as a viable solution to our modern day dilemmas. In learning from past cities that are unsustainable, unhealthy, unsafe, and a complete separate entity from the natural world, architects and designers alike have an opportunity to reform the future of city living for a healthier and happier urban standard. This optimistic urban reform seeks to ultimately return modern building culture to a healthier and more natural state, while maintaining equilibrium with the technological advances of the 21st century.
Maybe we were supposed to get this far in the human timeline of achievements, so that we may stop for a minute to examine the clouds of smog that have engulfed Beijing, or the bumper to bumper traffic of the carbon emitting streets of New York City. We live in an era in which we have the ability to harness natural energy and convert it into electricity, by means of photovoltaic panels, wind farms, and various water-related systems. We have the design capabilities to organize urban infrastructure that works with nature rather than against it; by means of storm water management, conservation of plant and tree life, and being mindful of the wildlife habitats that are typically destroyed in city development.
We also have the ability to go back and ‘revise’ our mistakes that have been left unattended in our urban mess through adaptive reuse design, in which we may readdress our grey cities with much needed green initiatives. In imposing a productive design upon a preexisting structure of little use or potential, we can create something spectacular out of nothing in a cost efficient and space-conserving manner. The New York High Line, for example, took what used to be an elevated railroad, and greened it into a park stretching 1.45 miles through the city. Simple, productive, cost efficient, and beautiful.
NYC High Line (photo by Urban Land Institute)