I [David] recently interviewed Dr Hélène Frichot for an article I am writing. Hélène is an Associate Professor and Docent in the School of Architecture, KTH Stockholm. She is the director of Critical Studies in Architecture, and the director of Research Studies in the School of Architecture, KTH. Along with Catharina Gabrielsson and Jonathan Metzger she edited the book Deleuze and the City.
I asked Hélène why so much regeneration seems disconnected and disparate, and how can we make sure that regeneration of our cities is connected?
Regeneration is my idea of an ambivalent concept; whether or not it destroys or ameliorates urban contexts will depend on how it is put to use in situ. If regeneration results in the displacement of a local population on account of that population being priced out, thereby resulting in the homogenization of a neighbourhood (gentrification), then regeneration benefits only a privileged minority. I’ve noticed the increasing use of the term ‘social cleansing’ for how neighbourhoods and inner cities come to be ‘regenerated’. The life of a city is made accessible to some and inaccessible to others.
And yet, if the infrastructures and the facilities required by a neighbourhood (school, child care, access to services from health to banking, not to mention jobs or the means of a livelihood) begin to dwindle, making life impossible for inhabitants then something needs to be done. This is where I have found the work of J.K. Gibson Graham interesting, as they spend time with marginal communities, working with them to understand the ‘goods’ that they do in fact share (without perhaps realizing it), by undertaking collaborative skills mapping exercises. Doina Petrescu and Constantin Petcou of Atelier d’Architecture Autogérée have also done this kind of work in and around Paris. Sometimes a situation may seem dire, but it just needs to be apprehended from a different point of view to see where relations might be rebuilt, and collaborations enabled. Nevertheless, the problem that persists with these examples is that the responsibility to solve an urban problem is returned to a grass-roots level, to a civic sector, rather than re-establishing structures at the level of governance, regulation and law (following careful processes of deliberation and consultation). The state continues to retreat and communities are expected to make do as best they can, to fill the gaps that are left behind.
When Jonathan and I wrote our essay for Deleuze and the City, and when I co-write my essays on feminist critical approaches to real-estate theory with my colleague Helen Runting (who has been a great inspiration to me) we are interested in how something like a well-thought-through state structure could intervene, slow things down as well as make other relations possible, or else, how, after all, populations might best organize themselves so as to creatively resist oppressive power take-overs (driven by greed, avarice, the relentless desire for accumulation, a great real-estate deal, etc). The ‘State’ is a concept that Deleuze and Guattari are wary of, but they did not live to see the outcome of decades of deregulation and the selling off of what should be common resources (public space, public housing, health, education, telecommunications etc). It is worth asking what kinds of institutional formations can help organise diverse populations, because a commons needs to be adequately organized and planned. Guattari would ask: how can we avoid either the complete disorganization rife in horizontal structures and the oppressive insistence of entirely vertical structures.
Global populations (including issues associated with aging populations) have grown so large and unwieldy, and, as is often remarked, the ‘polis’ can no longer support the full mass of a population in one ‘agora’ (ancient Greek public space of appearance and political representation), leaving aside the fact that such a political gathering excluded so many anyway (women, slaves, outsiders). How, after all, can a diverse population be adequately represented in an urban context? All the signs increasingly suggest that the concerns of the greater proportion of populations remain suppressed, implicitly and explicitly, in terms of how basic access to necessities (shelter, health, education) are being rendered inaccessible. Who can afford to attend university today (in the UK, US, and Australia…for instance)?
‘Regeneration’ when cited as an assumed ‘good’ (by local municipalities, by developers, by real-estate agents) must be carefully interrogated, and understood in relation to its immediate local context of application. It may sound like a great concept – suggesting how an urban environment might be suffused with new life – where instead it turns out to be a clever branding idea deployed by a strategic property developer to make the transformation of a neighbourhood palatable.
The ‘Image of Thought’ we have of a specific city, urban context, neighbourhood, was something Jonathan and I were struggling with. The Image of Thought is something like an idée fixe, a fixed idea of a city as something stable, something reliable, something that is maintained in picture postcard perfection, pinned and secured to a map with permanent boundary conditions. Rather than ever assuming that we know everything (or anything) about a city, and what it is, we argued that we have to understand in each case how a city operates, what it takes in and spits out, what it consumes and rejects, and how it is rarely or never disconnected from movements and hold-ups at larger global scales. Be wary of how Monocle and similar mags ‘review’ cities; be wary of your inflight magazines promising you the best holiday locations; be wary of how cities are ranked according to the most liveable, the most happy: all these ‘Images of Thought’ take us further away from how to think and practice amidst our local urban contexts.