Pay-As-You-Go Urbanism

[Image: By San Rocco].

In December 2010, San Rocco, an Italian magazine dedicated to contemporary spatial culture, produced the two images seen here. They were created in response to a move by the Italian Minister of the Interior to extend an anti-hooliganism ban—originally intended as a way to protect the city from violent sports fans—and using it, instead, as a means for spatially preventing “political rallies.”

San Rocco have thus shown both Venice and Rome closed off behind museum-like turnstiles and security barriers, or what the magazine calls “efficient technological devices to regulate access to public space.”

[Image: By San Rocco].

Even divorced from their political context, though, these images are provocative illustrations of another phenomenon: that is, the museumification of urban space, particularly in Venice, a city steadily losing its population.

The idea that we might someday see the urban cores of historic European cities simply abandoned by residents altogether and turned, explicitly, into museums, surrounded by pay-as-you-go turnstiles, does not actually seem that far-fetched.

(Spotted via Critical Grounds).

11 thoughts on “Pay-As-You-Go Urbanism”

  1. The idea of city as museum is truly fascinating. What of the streets? The doors? Is culture frozen in a moment in time, or does it shift like a museum exhibition (San Francisco in the 20's then the 50's then the 90's)? Endless possibility.

  2. The problem in not the museumfication of Venice but the fact that Venice became the image of itself, a commercial Icon. Tourists are not looking at Venice itself but they just are happy when they see the image it that was expecting. Then they take pictures to prove how the virtual image oF Venice perfectly fit with its digitalization. And nobody smells the perfume of incense coming from its Cathedral, where the veins of marbles are disposed like in German Pavilion at the 1929 Barcelona Exposition. Reality has bees substituted with its eterotopia. Pierfrancesco Cravel

  3. This image seems to be relevant to the discussion of "authentic experience" and the comments of Pierfrancesco:

    Click here to view Picture

    I took this picture in the summer of 2009 in front of the St Mark's Basilica, holding a postcard purchased earlier in the day, prior to my visit of the site, in the lower left-hand corner.

  4. That question of authentic experience versus the images for tourists is pretty common these days, not just in Venice. I'm thinking for example of the "Disneyfication" of Times Square in NYC.

    I find it hard to imagine that European urban cores will actually be turned explicitly into museums, that's a level of authoritarianism that is hard to swallow.

  5. A city as a museum is contrary to the experience of a city & what makes a city. A city is never one moment in time but rather a combination of atmosphere, icons and history which evokes a feeling & represents the area’s culture and identity. Preserving the architecture alone is only a snap shot of urban form (which of course is ever evolving). A city as a museum does not tell the storey of its urbanism, or go anywhere near creating the sense of place. This is not to say that urban design should not be preserved in some way for future generations; however that can be done whilst the area is still useable and very much liveable.

    A truly successful urban outcome is one that can stand the test of time and can be reinvigorated throughout the ages through urban renewal & reinvention; a warehouse becomes apartment, a park becomes a wetland, a rubbish tip becomes a park etc… With urban sprawl continually eating into our natural spaces the responsible response to historical cities is to make use of their existing infrastructure, connectivity & established cultural identity rather than fence them off for paid visitation.

  6. I had to reformat a comment from Pierfrancesco. Pierfrancesco wrote:

    What Elisabeth wrote seems as obvious as wrong. German sociologist Wolker Kirchberg demonstrated how authenticity of a city can be made exclusively by freedom as wel as by it's inhabitants.

  7. I see this not just as an issue of commodification of heritage but as commodification of public space. I was genuinely shocked (naively probably) when I spent several months in Florida in late 90s to find that almost the only "public" spaces were roadways and the pseudo public spaces of parking lots in front of big box retailers. It seems only a small step to move from security patrolled malls and walled estates to actually walling of all open spaces. In heritage and tourist areas it seems a no brainer as just one further step in enclosing and stealing the commons.

  8. Wow. This is so true here. And by here I mean Venice.

    I had this conversation myself, but I know of many who heard it declined in slightly different ways:

    A few years back, a friend from the UK came to visit me in Venice. She'd travelled quite a lot, but had never been to Venice before.

    It's around 10pm. It's a beautiful winter night.

    Federico (me): Let's go have a walk. It's nice to see Venice by night as an imprinting instead of the sweaty-rushy-touristy place it's by day.

    Friend: is it still open?

    Federico: is it still open what?

    Friend: Doesn't it close at night?

    Federico: …

    I swear that's not a joke. And she wasn't joking. But, as distressing as it may be for somebody who lives here, it's understandable: the city tries so hard to look like it's a theme park.

    It behaves like one since the moment you set foot here.

    When you get to Piazzale Roma, the bus hub right on the edge of the island, you're greeted by signs telling you what you can find in each direction, shops, highlights, exactly like in a shopping mall or, again, a theme park.

    The bridge right in front of you, the new Calatrava Bridge – it has an official name, Ponte della Costituzione, but nobody cares – is the fourth and the last bridge on the Grand Canal. And it is the gateway to the city for all the people who come here in four wheels.

    Rialto in its current form was completed in the 1500s, the Accademia Bridge is a "temporary" military structure first built in the late 1800s, and the Scalzi Bridge is from the 1930s. none of them has any prohibition regarding weight or number of people: the Calatrava one, jewel of XXI century technology, has.

    This is exactly like entering Disneyland: single file, please! this way, please!
    During the day, you look around town, get strategically misdirected to fake-traditional souvenir shops, and go out from the same bridge. Single file, please. This way, please.

    Unfortunately this city doesn't need San Rocco's mock pictures, or Government anti political rallies initiatives, to fear a possible future.

    That future is its reality already.


  9. hey Geoff,

    I don’t really know where else to post this.

    the article is in Italian and I haven’t found any English version yet. but I’m sure something will pop up soon, as it may interest many Jews planning to spend a Saturday or the Pesach/Passover in Venice, Italy.

    As I’m not Jewish, the reason I’m putting this here has to to with urban exploration, and the effects of religion on urban “borders”, overruling architecture (I’m reading A Burglar’s Guide to the City and this topic relates to your book only tangentially, but it’s still very interesting to consider)

    The mayor met with the representatives of the Venetian Jewish community(ies) and approved a document that considers the whole of Venice – streets, squares, homes – as one place, belonging to the citizenry.

    This document is valid five years starting April 22 (Passover’s Eve). It will allow observant Jews to freely move around in Venice – and carry objects inside and out their houses – during holidays and holy days–something prohibited by traditional Jewish Law.

    According to this document Venice is now “one home” and there are no borders between private and public. And this is only possible in consideration of the unique structure and history of the city.

    It must be said: Venice is the place that invented the Ghetto. And this is the 500th anniversary of that event. Venice is the first city to ever constrain Jews in one tiny portion of its urban space–another act that generated architecture, making buildings grow higher and higher to accomodate the growing Jewish population. It is significant, then, if not altogether timely, that it’s Venice that makes this symbolic move of inclusiveness for the first time.

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