In the pub last night I was reading Nicholas Lezard’s illuminating review of Cities Under Siege by Stephen Graham. I’ve chalked this up on my ‘books to read (but probably will just read about)’ list.
The book is provocatively subtitled ‘The New Miltary Urbanism’ and aims to be an “exposé of how political violence operates through the spaces of urban life”. On the most basic level this is expressed by the intense surveillance that urban populations are placed under – and Londoner’s are some of the most watched over of any city dwellers in the world.
Lezard mentions the London Transport poster ‘Secure beneath watchful eyes’ that he ponders may have employed a 1940’s design style to invoke memories of Orwell and Big Brother.
That poster first appeared in 2003 when people were still in the grip of post-9/11 paranoia. But the increased level of CCTV did little to prevent the 7/7 bombers bringing carnage to London’s bus and tube network 2 years later. And it was noticeable that after the attack next to no CCTV images of any of the suspected bombers appeared even though they had passed along thoroughfares covered every inch by surveillance cameras. So who are the cameras really there to reassure?
Lezard’s review highlights Graham’s point that, “the powerful, particularly those in the Republican party in America, do not like cities. For a start, they’re ethnically diverse places full of liberals who don’t vote for them.”
As the recent UK riots demonstrated, cities are places of insurrection and dissent that can spread quickly and uncontrollably. It put me in mind (again) of a line from Patrick Keiller’s London where Robinson argues that:
“That the failure of London was rooted in the English fear of cities, a protestant fear of Popery and socialism, the fear of Europe, that had disenfranchised Londoners and undermined their society.
Like the idea in Graham’s book that the provincial Repulicans fear the inner city, Robinson/Keiller sees London as, “a city under siege from a suburban government which uses homelessness, pollution, crime and the most expensive and run down public transport system of any metropolitan city in Europe as weapons against Londoners’ lingering desire for the freedoms of city life.”
The other recent manifestation of urban disquiet that has given the ruling elite a rude awakening has been the Occupy movement, seeming to randomly spring out of the asphalt to reclaim prime strategic locations to assert the case of the “99%”. Over the weekend I ‘stumbledupon’ two articles exploring the links between Situationism and the Occupy movement.
I suppose people were always going to see the parallels with Situationist-inspired events of 1968 and here on The Bureau of Public Secrets those theories are further drawn out.
On Cryptoforestry, Wilfried Hou Je Bek writes about ‘Occupy as psychogeographic urbanism’, “Psychogeographically speaking the idea of a tent Potemkin village has great appeal.”
I have to confess that when I headed down to Occupy LSX at St. Paul’s I was partly inspired by the significance of a tented village emerging on the ancient and significant site of Ludgate Hill. Of all the places in London to occupy, the protestors had claimed a geographic node point in the city’s history. A feature of the landscape that had been noted from the first Roman incursions right up to the building of the church on a site of great pagan ceremonial importance.
By the time I had left the encampment I could see the psychogeographical resonance would have to emerge at a later date. For now it is still about economic injustice and corporate greed.