The quality of neglection

Cities, especially big cities and metropoles, are involved in processes of globalization. They are the most important scenes of current technological, economical and cultural transformations. An important feature in this context is the influence of an ever growing number of migrants, tourists, investors, and developers in cities today. These developments have a big influence on public spaces. Large scale developments like; highways, industrial areas, shopping malls, sports facilities, residential areas, theme parks, airports, harbors, etc. are influencing the contemporary city.

‘In the eighties Paul Virilio metaphorically predicted a future in which communication and transport networks would bring about the disappearance of public space. People in the network city would no longer be able to identify with a geographical location and would be doomed to a nomadic existence.’ [1]

Today, the debate on this subject is still going on. Specialists in different fields study the effects of globalization in the contemporary city. Scales are increasing and spaces are becoming more capsular. My area of interest in Marseille is the area under and next to the highway [A7]. The highway divides the residential areas St-Mauront and La Joliette and has no function for the residents.
There is a confrontation between large scale [highway A7] and small scale [residential areas]. Houses are demolished for the construction of the highway and the residential neighborhood is totally neglected. Because of this neglection I expect the area under and next to the highway becomes ‘non-place’ without quality. The problem statement that I derive from this is; what are the consequences of the neglection for the neighborhood? and what are the possibilities of the area under and next to the highway [A7]?
In order to answer these questions and to understand the processes in the contemporary city [and especially the research area in Marseille], I used literature related to the network city and capsules.

The Network City
According to Dupuy, A city’s life comes from its connectivity. All that geometry in the city does, is to facilitate the support of a connective network so that human interactions can occur. [2] There are three levels of operators that [re]organize urban space. The first level operator consists out of different physical networks [roads network, telephone network, rail network, etc.], the second level operator [production network, consumption network and domestic network] and third level operator [the network of an urban household] are virtual networks. They are both dependent on the first level operator to create interactions between people.

Dupuy; The three levels of operators that [re]organize urban space

The interaction is formed as follows; each connection takes place in order to carry out information exchange between two nodes [Castells]. This information could be encoded in goods. For example, a person needs to go from his house to his office. The two nodes’house’ and ‘office’ need to be connected. A physical path must facilitate this interaction; otherwise the person is not able to go from his house to the office.

The city life depends directly upon its connections and its substructure, because the geometry either encourages or discourages people’s movements and interactions. A city consists out of distinct interacting networks, each of them working on several different scales. These networks with very different character have to connect with
each other, which define city life.

Increasing scale
The contemporary city is under influence of technological, economical and cultural globalization, therefore different scales are increasing. The process of spatial and social scale increase was described in the sixties by Melvin Webber. Increased spatial and social mobility means that people are no longer only involved in their own neighborhood or town but in the whole region or even the whole country.

The increasing scale of daily life and enhanced mobility causes a decrease of close local communities. Neighbors have become strangers to each other and new social networks are created on a larger scale. Transport and communication networks enable social networks to be maintained although people are not living in the same neighborhood as their friends. Today for example, the location of the house is based on personal reasons and depends less on the location of work. The expanding networks and technology provides more freedom in that sense.

Combining different scales
The emphasis on increase of scale in contemporary cities is only one side of the story, city life is experienced for a large part on small scales. Le Corbusier’s ‘Plan Voisin’ [1925] can be seen as a good example of combining different scales. Its components are skyscrapers, highways, and vast paved open spaces. Skyscrapers are situated in a giant park where the smaller scale is dominant. The trees and benches make it a place to stay, while the highways are made to increase speed.

plan voisin for paris [1925]

The famous words; ‘A city made for speed is a city made for success.’ [3] are only relevant when the human scale is present. But what happens with the space in-between the scales, is it necessary to create fluent overlaps? And what happens when the different scales are confronting each other?

Within infrastructure, which consists of different spatial networks, virtual, social and economical networks are built on different scales. ‘I suggest that the city is, or rather has been in its best moments, a machine for supporting intelligibility and for supporting interface – interface between people, and particularly interface between people operating and doing things at different scales.’ [4]

Stephen Read also talks about networks and the ways networks of different scales overlap each other. The different overlapping networks have influence on the public space, in a certain amount. In the contemporary city local and larger scales confront each other; in the best case they enrich each other.

Confrontations in Marseille
In the periphery infrastructure is mostly directed towards the city centre, and disengaged from the local connections. In the case of Marseille several highways divide local neighborhoods, there are no
exit lanes into these neighborhoods. For tourists and businessmen is possible to go directly to the city centre. With a constant view on the Notre Dame de la Garde, the in-between space is totally neglected. Maarten Hajer and Arnold Reijndorp are discussing this phenomenon; ‘The motorway makes it possible to travel directly from one themed environment to another. The in-between spaces simply fly past […] parts of the city that have a bad reputation based on TV images or newspaper reports. This is an impression that will not be amended, because people do not even consider going there. Unless these parts of the city also develop an attraction value, are given a theme; a deprived neighbourhood packaged as an exotic environment where people go on ‘safari’.’ [5]

Unite d’Habitation, Marseille and Area under highway [A7]

By neglecting certain areas people are disconnected from an important part of the network. The people who live in those neglected areas do not have influence; simply because it is possible to make such interventions in the neighborhood. According to Manuel Castells; the city becomes a network society; “What is distinctive of new social structure, the network society, is that most dominant processes, concentrating power, wealth, and information, are organized in the space of flows.”[6] Before my trip to Marseille, I thought people would avoid the disconnected and neglected area under and next to the highway. I expected the area would not have an attractive value, the noise and dominant structure of the highway would prevent it to be an attractive place to stay.

It seems the vision of Maarten Hajer and Arnold Reijndorp is one sided, their view is been seen from the angle of the tourists and businessmen. Their lifestyle is dominated by themed environments and large scale networks. Is it possible disconnected areas have quality? Not for the tourists and businessmen, but for the residents of such a neighborhood.
For example Le Corbusier’s Unite d’Habitation, which a visited during my stay in Marseille. It is a big touristic attraction in Marseille. The area under the highway [A7] has al lot of similarities with the Unite d’Habitation [see picture], only the large number of tourists visiting the two sites is a big difference.
By simply comparing the two pictures it is clear the area under the highway [A7] in Marseille has quality. It is defined by the concrete material, the beautiful light, the perspective lines, the situation between building blocks, etc.

Developments in the contemporary city
The technological and economic integration, which Castells terms as the ‘spaces of flows’, is taking place in all cities today. Spaces of flows are those spaces where information flows and networks are located. Therefore these spaces are not tangible but do have a big influence on the development of cities. Infrastructure in cities [or systems of publics spaces and access] can be seen as networks too, for example as material networks supporting a multitude of different social networks. The flows themselves are not material, but the infrastructures, nodes and routes used, are material.

The traditional city transforms into an irregular urban landscape. Spaces have been ascribed particular roles according to their activities [office parks, leisure centers, shopping malls] and people travel from one themed environment to another. I think places are becoming more and more capsular in the contemporary city; they are monofunctional spaces with a clearly defined visual form and situated outside the most important infrastructures.

The notion of place
According to Auge, place is the sum of three components; people who are in certain way related go there and communicate; the character of a place; and the potential memory of a place. If a place lacks one of more components he calls it ‘non-place’, which is dominated by its transitory character [where people do not repose, but at best pass time] and thus in fact contradict the notion of place.
About the creation of new places in the contemporary city Auge© says; ‘At the moment it is not a case of the development of new ‘places’ that leads to the continuation of urban life at other locations. On the contrary, the new ‘places’ lack the essential characteristics that would make it possible to actually call them places.’ [7] According to this definition of place it is logical to state that the area under the highway in Marseille is ‘non-place’, because people are not related to this place.

Boundaries between the unknown and familiar
‘According to Castells, space of places is coming into being alongside the space of flows, and apparently a reassessment of local identities is in progress within this space of places’ [8]

The same can be said of a neighborhood, anywhere can be considered as a possible place to live; the only limit is time. Social and cultural factors are becoming more and more important in the search for a place to live; the image of the area, the recreational qualities, etc. Networks allow people to avoid unpredictable situations and groups; they only make contact with people in whom they recognize themselves. New boundaries are created between the unknown and the familiar.

Homeless person living next to highway [A7] in Marseille

‘The network city adjusts itself to the individuals that life in it, to their ultimate wishes and to their deepest fears.’ [9] In the case of Marseille, flyovers are going directly to the city centre and totally neglect the area it divides. The tourists, businessmen and rich people are not confronted with those neglected areas; they want to go directly to the city centre, which has an attractive value for them.
The homeless people who are living under the highway are the other part of modernity. Space, Time and Architecture [Gideon] have a totally different meaning for them, Space is a place to stay for one night, time is to survive one day at a time, because they have a different notion of future, and architecture does simply not exist for them.

According to Manuel Castells, the restructuring of capital in the network society, in other words the shift from industrial to informational capitalism, leads to polarization of the society in a global economy. Disconnected groups of the population, abandoned zones and ghettos are created. The rise of the network society and the disconnection of groups are, according to Castells, intimately linked processes.

Introduction of the Capsule
The notion of the capsule is for the first time introduced in 1965, in the sixth issue of Archigram, Peter Cook wrote; ‘conceptually the ‘capsule’ serves to describe [..] and industrial design approach. It implies a deliberate – even a preferred – lifestyle. It suggests that the city might contain a defined conglomeration of such a lifestyle, rather like a hotel. At the same time it is definitive, and would by-pass many of the myths of urban design which depend upon hierarchies of incident and the treatment of housing as folk art.’ [10]

According to Cook, the emergence of the capsule is one of loss, the loss of urban life and architecture. I think that Manuel Castells and Marc Auge are also talking about increasing capsularization of places in the contemporary city in a sense of loss. Another opinion about
capsules in a sense of loss is that of Webber. According to Webber the introduction of monofunctional traffic lanes and the reduction of public space to enclaves or capsules, is resulting in an environment which he calls; ‘non-place urban realm’.

Because of the increase of technological, social and economical influences in the contemporary city, people are more and more looking for protection devices. Lieven De Cauter calls these protection devices capsules. The word capsule comes from the Latin word capsa, which means box or container. Capsa comes from capere, meaning grasping, holding, keeping. ‘A capsule is a holder. A capsule is a tool or an extension of the body, turning into an artificial environment that shuts out the hostile external environment.’ [11]

City of capsules
More and more material and psychological capsules are needed when physical and informational speed increases. Today, we spend more and more time in capsules; in cars, planes, trains, metros, etc. These capsules are material, but we also spend more time in virtual capsules, for example television screens and computer screens. ‘A world of screens is a capsular world. When looking at a screen you are in a closed mental and virtual space that is far from real space.’ [12]

These individual capsules are not the only capsules, the contemporary city consists of capsules; the highway, shopping malls, theme parks, industrial areas, or whole residential areas can be seen as capsules. The network is needed to connect all the different capsules and is becoming a capsule also. In everyday life people are traveling from one capsule [home], using transportation capsules [car] to another capsule [work].

The paradox of the network city is: that increase in scale is accompanied by decrease in scale. This means, more and more capsules are created when networks are expanding, home is becoming more important. The house is the personal capsule from which networks are maintained by car, telephone, computer, etc. There is no network without capsules and there are no capsules without a network. A home cannot function without different networks; electricity, water, internet, etc.

Besides the capsule as protection device against influences from the outside, it also is a control tool. In the case of Marseille, the highway which divides residential areas also provides a quick transportation to the city center. This is guaranteed by the absence of exit lanes. On the other hand, the space under the highway is not capsular. This area is not completely controlled, it is space of neglection; the functions are not welcome in the residential area, trash is not cleaned up, homeless people are living here for a long time, etc.

Go-No-Go Capsules
The technological, social and economical processes in the contemporary city may result in a capsular environment where the public space outside the capsule is by definition unsafe and uncontrolled space. Today there are already specific areas in cities all over the world which are defined as no-go areas.

According to Lieven de Cauter; ‘It might end up changing the world into an archipelago of insular entities, fortresses, gated communities, enclosed complexes [like hotels and malls], enclaves, envelopes, cocoons, in short capsules in a galaxy of chaos.’ [13] and he also claims; ‘To really ‘go out’, i.e. leave the capsular routine, is for the rare moments of leisure, and, as we all know, in the new working ethos,leisure for most people is a thing of the past.’ [14] Leisure also is organized in capsules; parks, shopping streets, cafes, etc. are controlled environments in different ways and try to attract a specific social groups of people.
While doing research in the area under the highway A7, people were constantly aware of my presence. If I was standing still for five minutes, people asked me what I was doing [in their neighborhood]. I was also more aware of other people than in my own neighborhood, simply because I didn’t know what to expect, I was out of my capsule and entered someone else’s capsule.

The quality of neglection
The economic, social and technological processes have come together in what Castells has termed the network society. The influence of the space of flows is more and more disconnected from the ‘spaces of place’. The other side is the capsule, capsules generates networks. All kinds of networks; car, telephone, pedestrian, internet, electricity, metro, water, etc. can only function with capsules. According to Lieven de Cauter; ‘From the perspective of the network one can redefine the concept of the capsule; I put forward the capsule as the most general concept for every enclosed and plugged-in entity, and the sum of these capsules creates the network. No network without capsules.’ [15]

Plan Obus; highway on roof and highway [A7] in Marseille

The highway to totally neglecting the areas it divides, but it has great qualities for the residents, otherwise people would not use these spaces in so many different ways. There are formal functions like; parking lots, basketball fields, football fields, parks, squares, government buildings, elderly centre, jeu de boules courts, etc. and informal functions like; trash places, urinate places, homeless people, etc. This unique collage of functions makes it possible to create interaction between different social groups.
This area can be seen as the new public domain according to Hajer and Reijndorp; ‘The new public domain does not only appear at the usual places in the city, but often develops in and around the inbetween places in the archipelago of homogeneous and specialized islands, in surroundings that belong to different social, economical and cultural landscapes. These places often have the character of ‘liminal spaces’; they are border crossings, places where the different worlds of the inhabitants of the urban field touch each other.’ [16]

The problem statement becomes a quality statement, the highway which divides the residential area in a brutal way and has no use for the residents generates at the same time quality and new possibilities for the residents of the neighborhood. The highway functions like a roof which protects against rain in the winter and provides shadow in the summer. Because only the necessary parts of buildings next to the highway were removed to make it possible to build a highway, it has become a lively place with interaction between different social groups.

Plan Obus for Algiers [1932]

The area can be seen as Le Corbusier’s ‘Plan Obus’, the integration of different cultures, architectural styles and life-styles are granted, by the coexistence in the same huge infrastructure.

[1] OASE 53, Network Urbanism, p.115
[2] The town planning of the networks, theories and methods, by G. Dupuy
[3] L e corbusier
[4] Neighbourhood spatial processes: Notes on Public Space, ‘Thick’ Space, Scale and Centrality, by Stephen Read
[5] In search of new Public Domain, by Maarten Hajer, Arnold Reijndorp, p.57
[6] The Rise of the Network Society, by Manuel Castells
[7] Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity [Cultural Studies], by Marc Auge, John Howe
[8] [9] OASE 53, Network Urbanism , p.120, 121
[10] OASE 54 – Re: Generic City, p.38, 39
[11] [12] [13] [14] [15] De capsulaire beschaving, Over de stad in het tijdperk van de angst, by Lieven De Cauter
[16] In search of new Public Domain, by Maarten Hajer, Arnold Reijndorp

The town planning of the networks, theories and methods
By G. Dupuy
Paris Armand Colin (1991)
ISBN: 2200312946

Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity
by Marc Auge, John Howe
Publisher: Verso; (1995)
ISBN: 1-85984-051-5

In search of new Public Domain
by Maarten Hajer, Arnold Reijndorp
Publisher: Nai Uitgevers/Publishers (2001)
ISBN: 90-5662-201-3

De capsulaire beschaving, Over de stad in het tijdperk van de angst
by Lieven De Cauter
Publisher: Nai Uitgevers/Publishers (2004)
ISBN: 90-5662-406-7

The Rise of the Network Society
by Manuel Castells
Publisher: Blackwell Publishing (second edition 2000)
ISBN: 0-631-22140-9

OASE 53 – Network Urbanism
Publisher: Nai Uitgevers/Publishers (autumn 2000)

OASE 54 – Re: Generic City
Publisher: Nai Uitgevers/Publishers (Winter 2001)

Neighbourhood spatial processes: Notes on Public Space, ‘Thick’ Space, Scale and Centrality
by Stephen Read
Faculty of Architecture, Delft University of Technology

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