Midan Tahrir: The square, site of public, site of performance?

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So the events in Egypt have been inspiring. How could they not be. Moreover, I have read a few things within the last 48 hours or so, that have me thinking. Specifically, about 1) urban interventions 2) citizen as actors/designers 3) the politics of Public 4) and some things from my history graduate seminars regarding: politics as culture.

To begin check out these two images of Tahrir Square before and during the current political upheavals.

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Next one can read Fin-de-siècle Vienna: politics and culture, by Carl E. Schorske (which I read during an old history course on the Hapsburg Empire and Central European 19th Century Revolutions and still own), in which Carl draws on Camillo Sitte‘s view of the public square. In such a formulation a square can be the ideal performance site and representation of community. A “theater of common life“. The square and coffee-shop, newsprint and broadsheets, or the Ringstrasse and early urban Modernism of Otto Wagner, for Carl all were indicative of a new public, anti-monarchical, Liberalism. A new Public discourse.

So, there is that. Meaning, the idea of the square, urbanism, politics and civic ideals. The historical and moderns ways of viewing the square. From, Greece (agora) through Rome, then the Venetian piazza to Nazi Germany’s the Reichsparteitagsgelände, Red Communist’s Red Square or even Capitalist Times Square. The square as site of public spectacle or commons.

Along similar lines via Javier I came across this article in which Rob Wipond challenges the notion of “What is a sidewalk for?”. The tension is between simple traffic (read pedestrian) flow and the notion of public space for humanity. Civil engineering vs social engineering. With a similar insurgent spirit, Mimi Zieger announced an at least occasionally reoccurring series at Places journal, entitled The Interventionist’s Toolkit. With which she promises to focus on the sort of DIY, citizen/artist based hacking, cheap and performative, urban praxis which has, in light of the continuing recession, taking on an even bigger role within design circles. Whether, paper architecture, unsolicited architecture, Design Fiction, or jam-hack, for instance. At least in my own interest and reading.

Then, over at the UrbanSpaceInitiative they say about the public square; “The true value of an urban public square is that it is free from large obstructions. The square allows people to make use of its openness for a range of activities. This openness is a valuable asset within a wider urban environment that can often be crammed and cramped with traffic. William H. Whyte notes how a city can devour space unthinkingly and rapidly

Finally, back to the events in Egypt. The main site of events at least in Cairo has been Tahrir Square. The citizens have flowed there from all over the city. Some commentators have even noted the fact that rather than demonstrating in front of the palace of Hosni Mubarak, they have focused their energies in the square. This is partly due to the history of the site being tied to previous riots and revolts. A site of demonstration, ritualized political chanting and behavior. A revolution, the ultimate in public acts/displays of Liberalism. The power of people. A happening, liminal zone or apolitical place/space. I think it is instructive that in such a context a range of communal, public and urban interventions of a sort have been reported.

Tahrir Square has basically become occupied or domesticated. The citizens have grasped control from and extended (at least symbolically) their own control over the square. It has become a multi-day home for these volunteers. So, they are helping to clean up trash after recent protests. Hosing down the streets. Some are providing free medical service and food. They are even in some cases providing their own form of security for national institutions like the Alexandria library or Cairo’s Egyptian Museum. Protecting the patrimony and assuming the role of the state. Sleeping in groups, huddled around fires. As the protests move into their third week the protesters have even formed a tent city of sorts.

Or even this report of protesters building a trebuchet to use against security forces/thugs..

Some of these sound right out of the CCA catalog for the Actions: What You Can Do With the City exhibition, don’t they? Where does one draw the line between political act, human ingenuity or hyper-aware media ploy? Or perhaps a more medieval, tactical urbanism?

Are these sorts of acts an extension of the revolutionary events? A reflection of politics as representational culture? A way of emphasizing the protesters pro-Egyptian sensibilties? Are they discursive? What lessons can we learn about civic based urbanism? Is the answer a new regime? Pedagogical, economical or political. The need to create a public through the physical urban development of a public realm. Where do such thoughts tie in with concerns over the Right to the City?

The square was given its initial modern makeover in the 19th century. Commissioned as part of the new downtown district’s design by Khedive Ismail. How did those design decisions impact the current layout and usage of the park? Imagine if the square had been designed to accommodate only vehicular traffic or no vehicular traffic. How could recent events have been affected by the addition or removal of the adjoining public garden or the giant traffic circle?

More information on Cairo and Egyptian revolution (?) see this BIP by Orhan Ayyüce over at Archinect Or for more on history and urban development of Tahrir Square see this very informative post over at the blog Cairo: Multi-Schizophrenic. City

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re: #climateurbanism #PortlandME #MadisonWI et al.

From the NYT we read Where can you escape the harshest effects of climate change?

The Northeast and Midwest are going to have plenty of water, and they’re not going to be subject to coastal flood issues…from a climate perspective, Boise outranked Denver and other Southwestern cities

Guantánamo and “the Sea”

The tarps remained down for a few days, and the detainees started making art about the sea. Some wrote poems about it. And everyone who could draw drew the sea. I could see different meanings in each drawing, color and shape. I could see the detainees put their dreams, feelings, hopes and lives in them. I could see some of these drawings were mixtures of hope and pain. That the sea means freedom no one can control or own, freedom for everyone.

Each of us found a way to escape to the sea.

Those who could see the sea spent most of their time watching, listening and looking at that big blue color, which cools our souls. The sea was a little rough, because of the windy weather. Huge waves that rose high and hit the land. Looking at a sea like that was scary, but it was what we got, and it felt good. Afghans started calling out to one another and expressing their feelings about what they saw, and turned to us with many questions about that beast.

A painting by Mohammed Ansi, a former Guantánamo detainee.

Mansoor Adayfi was released in 2016 and is at work on a book about this detention. Above excerpt is adapted from the catalog for “Ode to the Sea: Art From Guantánamo Bay.”

re: landscape punk

I find myself in difficult position. I consider myself to be an anti-fascist, and yet I read many, many books concerning the British landscape – I have written a fiction collection partly about that fascination myself – and I’m aware of how these feelings I hold towards landscape dovetail with those I disagree with, and at times despise. I care deeply about wildlife and conservation – to the point where I have been accused of holding a kind of animal anti-immigration policy, because I dislike the invasive species green parakeets, signal crayfish and grey squirrels. I am increasingly being affected by the ideas of radical ecology, of the notion of hyperobjects, the bleak but often truthful output of the Dark Mountain Project, but I felt very uncomfortable to see a writer I read with great interest associated with the Dark Mountain project sink into a kind of left-wing, pro-Brexit eco-nationalism. Troubling concepts like ‘Anglarchism’ leave me cold. The whole point of the Crass-inspired anarchism I grew up with as a punk was that there were no borders and no nations. You could deeply care the environments we inhabit without having to claim ownership of them.

Over at The Quietus,  Gary Budden calls for a reweirding of the countryside & a new landscape punk.

Two from Places

One from September (the former) and one for October (the later).

David Heymann on sustainability, The Ugly Pet

I’m particularly interested in how sustainable buildings might affect the experience of landscape differently — actually better, differently — because, as a human being, I’m hoping for more sustainable architecture, and, as an academic (and as an architect), I’m thinking the consequences should be revolutionary to architecture, as the consequences of every other major technological revolution have been. But they haven’t been, at least not yet.

The piece is also (at least in part) a paean to the architecture of Glenn Murcutt.

Amanda Kolson Hurley published The Forgotten Crusade (housing) of Morris Milgram

Regarding

Concord Park, one of the first private, integrated housing developments in the country, established years before the 1968 Fair Housing Act would make racial discrimination in housing against the law…Concord Park was Morris Milgram’s initial venture as a professional homebuilder. His motivations were idealistic: Milgram wanted to prove that multiracial suburbs were not only practical but also superior to segregated developments…To assess Milgram’s legacy, it’s crucial to view his career in the context of the Open Housing Movement, in which he was a leading figure. Today the Open Housing Movement is most closely identified with MLK and the Chicago Freedom Movement of 1965 to 1967; but it can be traced back to the early 1940s, when the NAACP first challenged restrictive covenants, and it was national in scope.