I was reading the other day an article by Stephen Grasso titled, “Beneath the Pavement, The Beast” (2005 also at link 2). From my impression of the writing Grasso is a pagan anarchist, but makes a comment about urban planning and rethinking the way we think about city design, particularly from an anarchist perspective:
“The term dérive, or “drift,” was first coined by the Situationist International, who would go for long walks around their towns and cities, reimagining the concrete tower blocks, cenotaphs and public fountains as castles of wisdom, wishing spikes and ponds of eternal youth. The purpose of the drift was to see beauty in the urban landscape and to conquer the tyranny of grim, oppressive town planning through the transformative power of the imagination. Through the technique of the drift, the Situationists could radically change their experience of the city and turn their drab stretches of urban decay into a magical landscape of limitless wonder and enchantment.”
As one considers this concept of revisioning our cities one must consider that Capitalism wants us all to interpret the city in a certain manner. The Situationists, strongly influenced by Guy Debord and his work through such text and film as, The Society of the Spectacle (1967), as well as being influenced by Karl Marx and his concept of commodification of all things as found in hir book Capital, Vol. 1 (2005), one can understand how the they would want to break out of the spectacle.
This is what capitalism glories in, the spectacle. And in industrial society, being so disconnected from the means of production, we find ourselves in awe and worshiping the commodified things around us — created in so many other lands, and now owned by you. “Look at me, I own the thing I don’t have any connection to!” Basking in the glory, the pride of disconnected ownership, of at its root — exploitation and alienation. As if pride will help mend the disconnect of that alienation from others and from the items around you.
And so, turning back to the city, we find that to turn from that vision of disconnect and ownership pride preached to us daily from the pulpit of the capitalist-authoritarians, throwing off the filth of their lies, one reaches out beyond it to grasp a new vision of the world, to use “the transformative power of the imagination,” “to conquer the tyranny of grim, oppressive town planning.”
This all ties back to my text Anarchist Urban Planning and Place Theory (Tveter 2007) in which one can understand that human meaning is derived exclusively through the perception of unique differentiation. When we dream of the new world, without ownership constructs, and imagine nothing less than the buoyant radiance of fantasy made real, then is the picture of a world of true freedom and equality realized.
Presently, the streets, the neighborhoods, the malls, the parks, they are all “designed” to evoke specific capitalist driven “experiences.” So many are familiar with Allan Jacob’s book Great Streets (1993, 9,11), a book choking with capitalist hocus pocus about “types” and the mystery and “magic” of place. The end of “types” is here now. The end of the worship of capitalist driven mystery, spectacle, “sense of place,” and “sense of community” meant to bandage the hemorrhaging capitalist nightmare and sooth every frayed nerve into submission to its oppression.
They want to make the street, the mall, the park – a place where you can meet your neighbors within the alienating ownership construct. The whole concept of “sense of community.” They want the “small town feel” – a delusion to bridge the gap of gender, race, and economic class alienation. The housewife alienated from the husband by gender roles, the neighbors alienated from each other by the spectacle of ownership — a competition driven by the ownership construct to “keep up with the Jones’,” the people on the streets competing for “jobs,” for money and possessions which alienate us all from each other. Perhaps buying something will make us feel better. Perhaps smiling to the neighbors as if we’re doing great, in order to gain esteem from them in order to be able to borrow some tools they own if you ever need to.
Competition drives it, but so does violence. Without the police power to enforce it all, or the personal power of the sword or the wielded gun, the whole monstrous machine falls apart. Violence keeps everyone in line. They want us to think that they, the state and the capitalists are not driven by violence, they preach non-violence with every other breath as if they are a part of a peaceful institution – capitalism, when truly at their heart, violience is what keeps them together. Keeps everyone alienated and living their own lives as they want us to. It keeps us paying the rent to the landlord. It keeps you going to work as a wage slave so you can pay the landlord or the bank to live with a roof over your head. It keeps you obeying the zoning codes and the traffic laws. It bends us into submission to the capitalist-authoritarian machine. The nightmare.
The non-violence movement is to make us pliant. I am not advocating violence, neither do they, but the capitalists and authoritarians want us to stay in submission to their violence and so they preach peace and non-violence in the schools as a sacred morality, when they are two faced liars and manipulators.
City planners do it too. They smile and do try to be helpful to the people they are helping to be “obedient,” but behind the pleasant smile and “service” to the community is violence at its heart. The police power, violence itself, is the fuel which drives the planning field. The will to dominate and to own the world sold to the highest bidder keeps the logs being thrown continually on the fire.
The green cities movement, a focus of the most recent Journal of the American Planning Association (Sept 2008) is the same. It is like the service with a smile and the non-violence workshops and teachings in the schools, it is to draw our attention from the ACTUAL core of violence – the proverbial “man behind the curtain.”
When cities say they are “going green”, when they are loaded up with LEED certified buildings, when they are littered with bike racks at every building, semi-permiable pavement in every parking lagoon, and solar on every roof, when they glory in their passive solar designs it is all to keep you from seeing that very real proverbial “man behind the curtain” – capitalism and authoritarianism – the monsters which are REALLY killing us all and the planet. And so we must see our cities anew. And that starts with seeing our relationships with others anew. It is about not only understanding our “ecological footprint” but understanding that if we do not understand the consequences of our actions, and move to elliminate all forms of exploitation and alienation, globally and locally, then it will never matter how “green” we are.
As we invision the city and our relationships with others anew all around us, with no more authorities, no more ownership, we are released to see the world through those new eyes. Every place differentiated in our minds takes on all new and various meanings. It is a world without boundaries, without limits to your imagination and to living the fullest lives possible with those all around us. It is a life truly green, truly alive and living.
Debord, Guy. 1967. The Society of the Spectacle, trans. by Ken Knabb, in 2002. Electronic document, http://www.bopsecrets.org/SI/debord/
Jacobs, Allan B. 1993. Great Streets. Cambridge: MIT Press.
Grasso, Stephen. 2006. “Beneath the Pavement, The Beast.” In Generation Hex. Louv, Jason, ed. New York: The Disinformation Company Ltd. p.149.
Marx, Karl. 2005. Capital, Vol. 1. Electronic document, http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch01.htm
Tveter, Olympia. 2007. Anarchist Urban Planning and Place Theory. Pomona: The Anarchist Planner Collective. Electronic document, http://www.anarchistplanner.org/articles/AUP-for-reading.pdf
Dec. 4, 2008