Politics of Place

Place built from Space and Politic

Jacob Chapman
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...urban upbringing and city living have dissociable impacts on social evaluative stress processing in humans.

Nature volume 474, pages 498–501 (23 June 2011)

It’s interesting to think about the differences in economy and culture that arise from the changes in urban planning and transport systems. I feel that although there are significant economic benefits to modernization there is potential for huge increases in those benefits. If we look at the cost of a whole system we might be surprised how much some things cost (like cars) because there are a whole host of effects that come with the frequent use of cars.

…people are strongly affected by building façades. If the façade is complex and interesting, it affects people in a positive way; negatively if it is simple and monotonous. For example, when he walked a group of subjects past the long, smoked-glass frontage of a Whole Foods store in Lower Manhattan, their arousal and mood states took a dive, according to the wristband readings and on-the-spot emotion surveys. They also quickened their pace as if to hurry out of the dead zone. They picked up considerably when they reached a stretch of restaurants and stores, where (not surprisingly) they reported feeling a lot more lively and engaged.

Colin Ellard, Charles Montgomery

Cars are not a necessity, even in rural areas, but because we have gotten used to cars we have designed cities in such a way that it is even harder to live without them. South Korea has a pretty good bus system such that there is a bus stop about every few blocks or so. It’s even more convenient than a car because you don’t have to worry about parking and it’s quite a bit cheaper (though some cars are very cheap).

Once you’ve experienced a reliable bus service where you know the bus will be there every 5 minutes there is really no comparison especially once you add up all the costs and risks of car ownership. But cities in the US rarely have bus service that is this good because so many people don’t need the bus. They just use the car that they are renting from a bank. Cars are sometimes the right answer but they are not always the right answer.

All Great Paintings Have a Moment. What I mean is that all great paintings place us in a unique place or time, or perhaps help us reflect on some iconic or eternal truth that is within all of us. The same can be said of an artful piece of architecture. Great paintings and architecture go beyond any immediate time and place and have a kind of transcendent sense about them. They defy time as much as they define it. I’m reminded here of Louis Kahn’s Salk Institute. Standing in that exterior courtyard transports us to another place that is not about style but about the art of the experience. It is a moment made even more magnificent because of its clearly manifested composition and value, its edges, and the use of space and light.

Jeremiah Eck

The weather can have a profound impact on how much people will get to know strangers in their community. But there are multiple variables here. If you’re in Whittier, Alaska, the architecture and design of the “city” encourages communication and random encounters with people even on the other side of the town. But for the most part, if it’s nice outside or if the weather is pretty consistent then people are more likely to socialize with a wider spatial distribution of the people of their city.

America’s geography has been fully impacted by the logistics of car storage.

The space needed for vehicular storage in America equals, if not exceeds that for vehicular movement.

John A. Jakle and Keith A. Sculle, Lots of Parking (via Parking Public)

I can agree with the above statement. In my walks of Busan, the difference between one lane roads to ten lane roads is astronomical. A ten lane road world is basically unwalkable because things are so far spread out. Busan is a really good area to study this because there is a huge diversity in the way places are built. The area around Centum City and APEC-ro is designed for the use of cars. There is a generous sidewalk but it still takes on a completely different feeling from the nearby dense and designed-for-pedestrian areas.

The open-air surface parking lots often alienate the pedestrian as they walk within this liminal place. If you live next to WalMart it might feel like you’re breaking some unsaid rule when you walk across the vast parking lot to the store without using a car.

One way of reading the history of municipal parking programs is that they represent an instance of appropriate government intervention into an otherwise naturally operating market. Local governments had to create a solution as their tax base was semiotic with success of businesses operating within their jurisdictions.

Along with the economic imperative driving parking development were needs for legal and spatial regulations to stabilize the chaos forming in the wake of the combustion engine.

Parking Public

Any discussion of land use and construction leads to a discussion of politics and permits. People of the community might have the opportunity to voice their concerns about how a new building will fit into the current city image or whether it will be good for the environment or local economy. The city officials themselves might have a set of guidelines that you must follow to keep development within the boundaries of community standards.

The local “environmental image" (how one perceives their surroundings) has political implications on the room, building, neighborhood, city, and nation-state level.

Walking through a neighborhood of full of tall skyscrapers can make me feel small and disconnected with the environment. But does it make the people who finance or build skyscrapers feel powerful and connected to the environment? I'm not sure. it's an interesting question that I'd like to find the answer to. If you know any of these people, please ask for me. I'd like to know.

But if I follow the line of reasoning in Personality of Place, then there are different personalities of environment. People connect with different places with different levels of comfort and engagement. If this is so then the building of place is political as certain groups of people will be benefited by those places and others will be emotionally pushed out of those spaces--regardless of whether they directly inhabit those spaces or not.

Despite being close to Busan, certain places in Tongyeong feel completely different from Busan. There are certainly still skyscrapers here but the geology is different. The city was built on top of a different natural environment. In this way the natural world heavily influences the political climate of the area. Where other cities might need stronger law enforcement to settle disputes, the shape of the city and the stress-relieving beauty that surroundings Tongyeong potentially dissipate negative emotions that would have otherwise led to a negative event.

Motion of the environment influences local culture to be either more busy and harsh or more laid back and forgiving.

The topology (shape of the land surface) affects the citizens of the city and thus the politics of the city.

You know Eastern China, part of the problem in California, the big price tag is getting through the Tehachapi, very expensive tunneling, or over the Pacheco Pass to get into San Jose from the Central Valley.

You know, Eastern China, the flatlands of Japan where they've built the Shinkansen, all of those are settings where they have, didn't incur the very high expense of boring and tunneling that we face so the costs are different.

Robert Cervero

Because of differences in topology, it can be much more expensive to build critical transportation systems like roads or train tracks which impacts the cost of everything else via taxation. It’s not bad that we build one 1.5 billion dollar bridge but do we really need more than one? If the only goal is to cut the amount of traffic, maybe we can just help people to choose better lifestyles by making the costs of their choices more transparent. Maybe instead of taxing the whole state or nation for certain local projects, maybe it would be much better for people to see the costs and participate in the development of their local environment.

Place is not just an environment but it is always a social interpretation of the space. A vacation, whether on a cruise ship or any other place, can be recognized as a liminoid state (like being in limbo) or it can be recognized as an event with full active presence of character (like the same way that you recognize your everyday life—hopefully).

Introvert places like libraries are more dependent on the space than time. The library is dependent on having a solid structure for functional reasons like not having to move a bunch of books into different places.

Extrovert places like parties are more dependent on time than space. Parties and meetings may take place in the same space but they have a specific starting and ending time which is thought to be more important than the building itself. They are more event-like timed-places than timeless-places.

To an individual, all space that isn’t conceived does not exist. If a person doesn’t know of a party or a library then neither exist to this person.

Without emotional fusion with members of a place that we travel to then it is likely that we have experienced a place more as a liminal event rather than as an active participant within the place.

We ought to be conceiving of many places because we live in a multi-national world. It is critical that we understand the role of our own country and also the characteristics of other major countries which we have relations with.

It has often been said that tourism is the modern realization of a human urge to be elsewhere. But how does this urge mutate when the elsewhere becomes the right here, or vice versa? The more closely we look at the right here, the more we might see the elsewhere within it.

This isn’t an appeal to that popular artistic employment of seeing things anew—finding the strange in the everyday. We mean this quite literally.

Places may be distinct spatial categories in our minds, but they are far from materially exclusive—their boundaries form overlapping volumes that share varying amounts of matter and history.

Stories in Reserve

If you pass through a small airport or a remote gas station your experience is much more absurd than if you worked there 9-5 Monday-Friday. At the very moment that emotional fusion within the space takes place, the space becomes a place of significance. It is regarded by the individual as being a place with meaning rather than empty or misunderstood space.

The state of Israel and the site of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict serves as a liminal place as each side's existence depends on the negation of the other, creating an impossibly liminal situation in which both sides are betwixt and between what is normally expected of an autonomous society.

The opposition between Israel and Palestine aims at diminishing the other when the end result is the creation of the opponent; thus, though they may try, one cannot exist without the other. The no man's land of space and place in identity, recognition, and homeland between Israel and Palestine is inherently liminal.

Reader on Liminal Spaces

Our homes and native areas were once empty or misunderstood spaces. We moldered our current perception of the local environment over time. We can again discover new meaning within our everyday places through active exploration whether we use techniques of psycho-geographic dérive or not. We can take the recognizable and make it liminal once again or insert other contexts for our reinterpretation of the environment.

Our liminal space may be someone else’s active space. Like the ocean is for seafarers and the life that lives below. There is often a hierarchy where the liminal is placed spatially underneath the space of the creatures that are considered as "active". The creatures below are active within their space though it is not often reported or thought about. 

The boundary between air and water separates the worlds of fish and man. For man the depths are a liminal space that he can only access for short amounts of time even with advanced technology. For fish the space above the depths is one that few fish desire to enter. At least a few flying or air breathing sea creatures have a concept of this boundary but I'm not sure that all creatures below share this concept and it's very likely that their "ideas" about the surface are much different whether they be dolphin or mackerel.

Places that are unconnected to the people who are in them become liminal to this kind of person. If a city dweller goes to a remote island without any electronics or friends he might hate it for a while, adapt, then like it. It's also possible for this type of person to like it immediately, adapt, and grow to love the new island life with intermittent phases of missing his previous life. It depends on the individual and the context of his arrival to the island.

In the same way all places have this feature. But the effects might be more subtle. It depends on the specifics of the individuals personality and the divergence of the environment to the characteristics of this personality. The women’s section of a clothing store might be uninteresting, interesting to the individual, and to this same individual there are varying degrees of indifference that the section could emminate depending on price, quality, utility, or style of the products within but also the lighting, sounds, movement, colors, or other architectural forms of the environment.

This ability to see our own lives from such a radically different perspective is one of the greatest gifts travel can give us. For once we can see our problems and preoccupations as they must appear to the hawks or the gods.

It can be depressing to come home from a holiday. Suddenly it’s as if we’ve never been away. Home is routine, boredom, misery and meetings. Where as abroad was fun, sexy, confident, and bright—which is actually rather strange when you think about it.

Imagine the average aeroplane descending on the average city. Let’s say that half the people on board are returning home—they’re sad, depressed, back to gloomy old home. But the other half are going to somewhere new, they’ve never been there, and they’re incredibly excited, looking forward to discovering it. And yet the paradox here is that these two sets of passengers are going to the same place.

Alain de Botton

This practice of exploration is not only useful for the rebuilding of our environments but the skill has independent value. We can learn to think more critically about the everyday decisions that we make and how the environment interacts with our consciousness.

Not being able to govern events, I govern myself.

Michel de Montaigne

The effect that environment has on psyche is subtle but over time it shapes attitudes and behavior. Place is a social context and the sequencing of place creates a narrative which will change the psychological reaction, importance, and meaning of space and place.

[Travel] guidebooks distort the psychology of our curiosity. They present a vision of the world where everything is already known, already measured and appraised.

Alain de Botton

A neighborhood is best if it can be both well connected to other neighborhoods but also self-sustainable. This type of neighborhood exists in many places around the world but it is no longer widespread as market forces seek to maximize. But it’s hard for humans to see that even just the cost of their chosen transportation may easily negate the benefits of their increased salary. Working and living a life close to home is not such a bad thing.

I'd love an open city design optimized for pedestrian traffic (no cars, maybe very few radial roads for faster transit to further reaches of the city), libraries (open super late or just 24/7—the dream), heaps of parks and common spaces for collaboration, gardens, etc. Basically, a way to do all hobbies anytime for free and in good company, and the ability to occupy diverse and varied spaces without cost.

Tyler Constance

This is a dream that is shared by many people but not everyone. The diversion between like and dislike is mostly driven by personality. Whether people believe in applying systemic solutions to personal problems. Some people believe that bad people are just bad rather than looking at the big picture to see how those people became bad. People always make decisions, yes, but the decisions people choose to make are much more similar than we would like to believe.

The child who is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth.

Someone in Africa, probably (author unknown)

There are different ways of thought which are largely measure-able as personality differences. How many personalities are there? Well, infinite but they can be grouped into the 16 MBTI, or something like 32 if you want more complete coverage. The Big 5 is arguably more accurate if a little less descriptive. I think it’s safe to say that personality traits have a probability distribution. Maybe there are four main types of personalities but a fair number of people exist between these four “types”. It’s hard to argue that human decisions aren’t predictable when we can create services and products which fit the needs of most people when we solve for our own needs.

Cultural norms are not completely separated from the environment though they can be self-referencing. More often, the norms are supported by and reference the environment. The norms very often cause laws to be made to further reinforce or protect the status quo. Norms dictate how strictly the laws will be enforced. Norms also nurture the characteristics of the average personality in the local environment. Norms influence how closely we notice the environment and determine how much the environment will influence us via self-reference.

If the norm is to never litter garbage on the street then it can be reinforced in the environment by never seeing garbage in the street. But via self-reference the norm does not depend on the environment to be followed, instead it references itself. Say you live in New York and you see trash all over the street since you grew up but your family taught you that a respectable person does not do this and you see yourself as a respectable person so you don’t litter. In this case the norm references itself. When you see littered garbage you are reminded of your respectability rather than think to throw some more garbage onto the street. But you wouldn’t think to clean up after others unless that was an established norm within your personal community.

This is different from a traveler visiting a place with streets more or less clean. In this case the traveler sees the divergence between expectation and reality as either freeing or destroying. The individual will need to develop a new but connected attitude to process the difference in environment. If the individual from New York came to a very clean place it would lead them to either believe that the people of this place were all respectable people (via symbolic misrepresentation) or it would destroy their belief that respectable people are defined by their ability to keep their streets clean once they see that even the “bad people” of this place don’t litter. Both interpretations are imperfect though the initial understanding of the New Yorker was a false dichotomy.

Architectures of control are features, structures or methods of operation designed into physical products, software, buildings, city layouts–or indeed any planned system with which a user interacts–which are intended to enforce, reinforce, or restrict certain modes of user behaviour.

While the use of architectures of control in computing is well-known, and a current issue of much debate (in terms of digital rights management, ‘trusted’ computing and network infrastructures themselves), it is apparent that technology–and a mindset that favours controlling users–is also offering increased opportunities for such architectures to be designed into a wide range of consumer products; yet, this trend has not been commonly recognised.

…whilst fascinating, it is perhaps counterproductive to go too deep into this vein, since within the context of product design, it is clear that many of the objectives of Foucault’s “technologies of punishment” can be achieved, and even surpassed, through architectures of control–surpassed in the sense that people can be prevented from committing the crimes in the first place.

From the website of Dr. Dan Lockton

Anything that controls or shapes human mood or behavior is inherently political because it shapes society as a whole. Using “strategic design” or “disciplinary architecture” means that you are aware that your design can impact people in this way.

…architecture really doesn’t do research. The field produces many PhDs. It provides Master’s degrees and a lot of graduate education, but most of it is theoretical and historical. Architecture doesn’t teach science, because it doesn’t know science. And architecture has an inherent belief—at least according many of the architectural deans that I know—that undergraduate American students don’t want to learn research, they don’t like science, and all they want to do is “art.”

Steven J. Orfield

Many architects don’t seem to think quite this deeply about their work. They strive instead for some kind of visual or functional aesthetic instead. People need to be more mindful and conscious of the side effects of design.

Architectural concepts such as natural surveillance demonstrate that certain forms of crime pose special dangers to society. These crimes target social networks and make it more difficult for interaction to develop. Examples are hate crimes, rape, and some other forms of violent crime that have the effect of creating stratification among divergent social groups. Others are some more minor crimes, from assaults to public urination.

People who are afraid of being hurt do not venture outdoors, and so even a garden-variety assault, given the circumstance, may undermine natural surveillance. Similarly, if the sights and smells in a neighborhood are not pleasing, it is unlikely that people will walk the streets. Offenses that are considered trivial can thus have more dramatic consequences. Instead of focusing on the act involved in the commission of a crime, I am arguing that its probable consequences are relevant when apportioning punishment.

One such consequence concerns complementarity. Complementarity is the economic notion that two products "go together" and that a price decrease in one will lead to additional consumption of the other. If offenses such as public urination have low "prices" attached to them, more of these offenses will be committed, and these may prompt additional, more serious offenses. The apportionment of sentences and of investigative and prosecutorial resources should take into account consequences of crime and, in particular, its harm to social networks.

. . .

…by focusing on design, governments [may] forget about other goals of architecture, such as its aesthetic appeal. Until now we have been considering one facet of architecture-its ability to constrain crime. This facet is only one of the several values architecture serves. The emphasis on crime can, of course, run the risk of obscuring these other values. Such a result would stand the moves made in this Article on their head. To be faithful to architecture, law must first strive to understand these other values and then incorporate them into a crime prevention strategy through design.

Architecture as Crime Control (Neal Katyal)

The word Politics is rooted in the word polis meaning ‘city’. If we look past the differences in ideology, the specifics of nomination, or the measured distance in political spectrum then we can start to see a clearer picture of what the Politic is and why it exists.

The Politic is the judicial and executive movement of the group, the community, as a whole. It’s not a football game or something where success or failure is limited to subgroups. This is a much different phenomenon. The Politic only exists within local communities. It is symbolically extended to such extents as nation-states. In some countries the Politic is non-existent, in other countries it is sometimes the lowest level of law (Barangay Tanod, 交番 Koban, etc). The Politic can only exist and occupy within one place. Beyond the level of neighborhood, organizations only exist within hierarchy or hegemony. Judgement and execution always occur at the most local node of the governance graph.

Cities, states, and nations don’t exist in the physical sense but are actually a network of neighborhoods. Neighborhoods are still very conceptual but they are physically connected in appearance, community, culture, socio-material, and spatial networks—nations fail to take on these qualities of structure because there is a distance across not just space but more importantly place. Nations are like books.

When you first open a book, you enter a liminal space.

You are neither in this world, the world wherein you hold a book (say, this book), nor in that world (the metaphysical space the words point toward). To some extent this polydimensionality describes the feeling of reading in general—one is in many places at once.

Peter Mendelsund

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