The latest in city iconography as luxury objects. Louis Vuitton city guides 2014.
History of “The Farm” utopian spiritual settlement in Summertown, Tennessee. Article in Hey Beatnik (1974) by Stephen Gaskin.
This is the second part of an ‘anthology essay’ about creativity in forms of urban resistance. (See part 1 here)
Summer in Athens
Back in the summer of 2010 the Greek capital Athens was experiencing the first larger waves of public outcries on behalf of the slumping economy, salary cuts and job losses. Daily protests were taking place in the Syntagma Square and in front of many banks. Weekly strikes halted traffic and public service at regular intervals. Visitors stuck in town due to flight delays or canceled ferry connections, like me, had the opportunity to witness a strangely animated Athens. Posters with names and faces of the alleged political culprits were covering the fences of many halted construction sites. Bank windows had been sprayed over with black crosses. Flyers of protests, marches and parties were handed out everywhere. A dangerously appealing sentiment of uncontrol was in the air.
One could try to put it into context. It seemed that within the previous decade, Athens had seen many fashionable developments. Concept stores, bars and designer spaces were popping up, with the current global must-have items readily available. The city’s past perceived image as a boiling chaotic pollution kettle, with the slowly eroding Acropolis on top, had started to change into a scene of creative activities.
But it seemed that as the global financial crisis really began to seep in, the newly formed high-end retail was taking the first blow, leaving last season’s key pieces hanging in the racks. Scented candles from an up-and-coming Swedish niche perfume brand were already collecting thick dust on the shelves, simply being too expensive and strangely unnecessary in the new situation.
To some part, this material well-being, a cornucopia of the global pulse and cool imports had been financially unsound. However, as a result the city had also become a home for an unprecedented number or creative businesses, many of which had been set up by young Greek professionals returning from abroad during the booming years, or alternatively, by locals encouraged by the refined new urban life. As the financial crisis eventually began to spread, with sales dropping, these entrepreneurs and new-seekers were still around, equipped with their contemporary skills and more dynamic mind-sets than the more traditional city dwellers, now losing their pensions or savings. This meant that the popular culture of protests and their branding was about to change.
As the rendered visualizations of property developments were fading on billboards, it seemed that the everyday urban life of old Athens was truly unraveling. Visually, strolling around the city, it was a moment in spotlight for the brush salesman, a street herb shop operating from the back of a van, and the old meat market. None of these small scale businesses was actually re-emerging or growing in importance. More likely, their perceived prominence was simply enhanced by so many things going under around them, almost as if to underline the moral of the story. This was obviously not the time of new skylines. It was a time of reinvention.
The audiences for this type of spectacle of the ordinary in Athens and elsewhere in similar circumstances, has not been just the often elderly people who have always been using the traditional services throughout their lives. Instead, it is the young and the over-and-over-called creative, seeing possibilities in the remains of urban authenticity, seeing them as both real and romantic and above all, newly urban. Unused spaces, closed down businesses and the life of the street have become an ideological match to the protests taking place on the more symbolic public spaces. Stickers, stencils, street gatherings, temporary uses, anti-commercial happenings, reclaimed spaces, urban agriculture projects, bike shops and MacBooks have begun to merge into an alternative urbanism with a global following. Local food markets and heritage shop items are re-organized and curated for display. What was going on, was import replacement in action: no more luxuries – look what we have right here!
Back in 2010, it seemed as though some seeds of future developments were being sown. But I remember being curious to see later, if my observations would ultimately signify a new urban economy being structured. Or would the process in the end start to gentrify the same urbanity it was offering as the alternative. At which point, would design, communication and marketing skills change a newborn grassroots urban movement yet again into a global trend?
Now in 2014, Greek tech start-ups are apparently booming. Almost every outlet is letting us know about this new vibrancy. How austerity turns into creativity. Obstacles into possibilities. Crisis into innovations. This sounds actually a rather natural path of events. But today, as the start-up investments are coming from the global elsewhere, it’s worth remembering that cities are in fact the places where the creativity is fostered. How to survive the new balance, where a strand of economy benefits from the creative resistance, but also quickly becomes its enemy?
I realize that I’ve mentioned Frances Benjamin Johnston’s photos before but it seems I keep re-finding them. Seen here are places to sit in private townhouse gardens of New York and Washington DC, ca.1925. I think these images somehow visualize the history of longing to have that small own balcony, terrace, backyard spot while still living the urban lifestyle (a lifestyle really just born at the time of these photos).
Terrace at William Windom house, 1723 de Sales Place, Washington, D.C.
George Hoadly Ingalls house, 154 East 78 Street, New York, New York. View to corner of terrace.
Ruth Bramley Dean house, 150 East 61st Street, New York, New York. Garden bench.
Infographics produced in 1890 by Atlanta University. From “African American Photographs Assembled for 1900 Paris Exposition” collection at the Library of Congress.
Ouagadougou (Upper Volta, now Burkina Faso) in late December 1930 or early January 1931. Air photo taken by Swiss pilot and photographer Walter Mittelholzer (1894-1937).
Modernist urban planning meets African village, probably for no reason.
Research and Practice in the Urbanity.
info(at)mikasavela.com Subscribe via RSS.