Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Urban place and flow: Towards a Culture of Ambivalence by Andre Loeckx, Architect, Leuven

1. The historical city as mimesis of society

1. The city - Athens, Firenze, Amsterdam, St. Petersburg - is a synthesis of European culture. Not so much the city as an object, but the city as a mental and spatial construction that enables "the most heterogeneous fragments to live with and next to each other" (Geert Bekaert). It is something that stands for a culture of difference and of "brassage" of all possible influences but which at the same time affirms a oneness rooted in centuries-old history.

The co-existence of coherence and heterogeneity, or order and chaos, of program and coincidence, is an intrinsic part of the very definition of historic urbanity. Only in this way urban place, urban culture and urban society express each other. They are the basic conditions of our culture, our Yin and Yang, our Tao and Te. European cities, worthy of the name, have always been topos and heterotopia. The European city is mimesis of European identity in the twofold meaning which some authors (Erikson, Ralph and Heynen) evolving from Heidegger, attribute to this concept: a process of identity formation propelled by a tension between uniqueness and sameness. Such cities cannot rely upon the status of hallowed monument to past glories. They can only survive as a dynamic continuum being constantly repudiated, reinvented and constructed.

2. Ambivalent urbanity is not just an abstract concept but a programmatic devise that in many ways has been considered within the historical built form of the city. The radio-concentric morphology of many medieval cities, for instance, combined the logic of gathering, defending, centrality - expressed by concentric walls - with that of exchange, connection, network , and accomplished by its radial connecting roads to all surrounding towns. The convenient dialogue of centrality and networking - of place and flow - contributed to the flourishing of the city. In Flanders a tight network of smaller, self-willed towns provided for a more balanced regional development which differed considerably from the pronounced centre - periphery dominance which major capitals imposed upon their hinterland.

3. Aldo Rossi's "Architottura della Cittΰ" (1966) based upon the solid Italian discipline of urban history and urban analysis, proposes conceptual tools for a heuristic of urban ambivalences, in architectural terms. For Rossi, the city is an artefact which took shape in the course of time: a place made of time. The "longue durιe" of the historical city resides in the complementary rhythms of built forms and urban functions. The carefully built, costly, durable forms of the stone city are responsible for the city's continuity; its slowness. These slowly transforming forms generate various functions that - in Rossi's opinion - are linked to short term needs and priorities, to events, to dynamics and ephemeral dimensions. Urban basic forms become generic places. Lasting urban architecture, modelled by history, following a steady genealogical development of types, acts as a body that brings order in the midst of the chaotic functional life of the city. Identity than relates to the specific qualities the urban forms developed through time: their capacity to generate and to accumulate functions as much as the richness of genealogical ramification of types.

For Rossi, the identity of a city not only refers to the unique objective course of events the city went through, but even more to the resulting history - selected and remembered in its actual urban form. The urban fabric is the built-memory of present urban society. Memory acts as a key metaphor in Rossi's theory, clarifying different aspects of historic urbanity. There is memory as a selective process in the long term construction of the city by which certain urban facts are remembered and others forgotten. Memory leads to layering and depth. It operates in a partly conscious, partly unconscious sphere and includes mistakes, exaggerations, lies, displacements, and losses. Just as the personal memory orientates the individual's future practices, the collective built-memory enables or resists future urban interventions. A person's memory - that personal incorporation of individual experiences and common contextual factors - is a basic dimension of its identity. In a similar way the collective memory of urban forms and places defines a differential urban identity as a long term process of formation involving uniqueness and sameness.

4. Two other concepts Rossi introduces, namely "type" and "analogy", help to clarify the differential nature of urban identity. At the same time, type and analogy illustrate the ambivalent cultural role of historical European urbanity in structuring heterogeneity. The built-memory is not confined within a fixed formal code but dwells in an extremely diversified and complex gathering of forms. These forms belong to various families of types. A type defines a series of relatively stable characteristics (plan, location, style, symbolism, technology, etc.) of each identifiable architectual object that composes the urban fabric (house, tower, gate, square, alley...) yet at the same time it covers a wide range of unique typological variations. A type identifies a unique object and positions this object within open families of similar though different objects. Typology relates to "diffΰrance" (Derrida). Each urban form and place, each building, each open space, each urban space is unique. Its uniqueness, however, only gets a precise content by its position within non closed ranges of variations. The more elaborate those ranges, the better the differential identity gets contours in a play of uniqueness and sameness. The relationship between variations of a type, between typological families, between typological features etc. is based on analogy. As a figure of speech analogy indeed plays on a subtle tension between similarity and difference. The city is analogous, Rossi argues. The historical urban scene is a "collage" of architectural objects or fragments whereby the unexpected suddenly shines out from a combination of familiar typological features.

Analogy establishes links between unique, non-exchangeable forms and their typological ranges. It suggests a relative coherence based on a "logique de l'ΰ-peu-prιs" (Bordieu). Moreover, beyond and between the coherence of these ranges appear hybrids, loose fragments, anomalies, mutations, innovations. Analogy and typology trace a structure, in the interstices of which chaos becomes visible.

5. Relatively stable forms as generators of unstable functions, typological coherence between unique urban facts, selection and layering within the built memory make Rossi's historical urbanity eminently fitted to function as a medium, a mediating scale (Lyndon). Rossi's architecture of the city is a construction of mimesis that ventures to reformulate the dual, exclusive, contradictory 'instances' of society into ambivalences: past and present, the individual and the collective, the unique and the common, fragment and structure, rule and freedom, chaos and order, continuity and change. Such a cultural enterprise obviously never reaches an end but presents an absent utopia that motivates constant deconstruction and reconstruction.

6. Forms that generate functions, genealogies of types, analogy, are all concepts that deal with the prevailing internal making of urban places. These processes become, however, part of a specific destination, or a characteristic role, of an individual course each city follows through history. They moreover interact with the geographic and landscape particularities which are per definition unique. In all of this accident and coincidence do play a considerable role. All-embracing historical circumstances get in a unique way entangled in and with a setting. This spatial concourse of circumstances shapes the unique and multiple context - geographical, cultural, economic, political - that will offer the framework for processes of typology and analogy. Thus emerges, in an interplay between differential identity formation and multiple but localised context, the historical city as mimesis of European culture.

2. The decline of place culture

7. The urban ambivalence, the unstable ensemble of rule and freedom, is not a comfortable condition. It continuously risks to run down in soft relativism or in trivial compromise. On the other hand, tension may also rise too high. The capacity of the stone city to structure difference is not unlimited. From the nineteenth century on, modernisation brought about a multiplication of activities, interests, utterances, cultures and contradictions - a proliferation of heterogeneity. For some time, the historical city succeeded in absorbing the acceleration of modernisation into typological "diffΰrances" and "longue durιes", by translating it into new types, morphologies, places, styles, behaviours. The city became modern "Grossstadt". However, as the pressure to accommodate ever more complex and transitory functions reaches a certain level, the historical city runs out of breath. It's memory fails, the functional capacity of typological ranges breaks down. This seems not to be a transitional period, a moment of hesitation in the trajectory of the historical city, but the emergence of a radically different mode of urbanity.

Many authors try to give an overall description of such a new urbanity. Francesco Dal Co positions "the metropolis", city with meteoric development but devoid of historical depth - Los Angeles, Jakarta - versus the "Grossstadt", the modernised historical city described by Rossi - Milan, Vienna. For Jameson, Harvey and Castells this other urbanity relates to a different mode of production, a different phase in the development of capitalism. Informatics and telecommunication progressively broke the link between urban concentration and the localisation of production and consumption, a link which had already considerably slackened because of the generalisation of private road traffic. Power, decision making, production, distribution, accumulation of capital sever their contract with urban places. They are no longer interested in the places offered by the compact city, in spatial synergy, in direct physical proximity of goods, peoples, services. Traffic- and communication networks disenclose a boundless and unstructured space, a diffuse reach in which all and sundry, information, knowledge, decisions, money, services, people and goods may simply come from everywhere and go to anywhere. The "informational mode" (Castells) no longer depends upon existing places but searches for appropriate locations for specific facets of production and consumption no matter where these are to be found. The diffuse economy invests only exceptionally in a real "informational city" (Castells). Usually, the "space of flow" dissociates itself from the existing urban space, "the space of place" (Castells). Harvey considers the locational sprawl and the ad hoc reconcentration as a "Global Village". Webber's compound term "non-place urban realm" might be the most suggestive one.

Whatever it may be, the "space of flow", "non-place urban realm", the "metropolis" appears as an entire different mode of urbanity. In contexts where historical urbanity is not fully developed this new modus bluntly dominates the present day urban reality. In the European context the "space of flow" glides without consideration over and through the historical urbanity and the rural landscape. Inside as well as outside the city she concretises herself by means of a completely different formal and functional vocabulary, or a heterologous spatial syntax, of other principles of semiosis. Metropolitan urbanity is "instant city", city of speed, change and transience. The city that has no time, not even for types and analogies. A city that prefers functions to forms. In the metropolis functions do not appropriate places but rent and vacate them. In metropolitan formal dynamics replacement, addition and juxtaposition take over from gradual transformation, stratification and interaction. Dispersal overrules steady growth. Metropolitan appearances like cladding, imagery, artificial light. Sensation and spectacle replace memory, expectation drives out recollection. Under the shiny surfaces of the metropolitan, there is often no depth.

In present-day urbanity, flow space and place space inevitably co-exist, sometimes reactivating the historical places, many times abusing them. The metropolitan mode takes over where the historical city can no longer or can not yet handle certain pressures of modernisation; when functions and messages run wild and break out of form. The metropolitan mode produces quick, temporary solutions at the drop of a hat. Temporary solutions that will soon be overtaken by other emergencies. No time for place, no time for mediation, no time for the formation of differential identity.

Metropolitan urbanity commodifies and consumes places. Certain places that occasionally fit the ad hoc logic of flow economy are promoted and overinvested. After intensive use, they are rejected by the flow as non-recycling packings. The relationship between built forms and functions is turned inside out. Functions are no longer generated by places to reactivate and reappropriate the built fabric; flow functions isolate, occupy and exploit all places which are useful for a momentary functional display.

8. In Flanders, as in several other European regions, the confuse development of post modern urbanity (Harvey), "global village", flow economy" closely relates to the complex phenomena of deurbanisation and suburbanisation. More and more people reject the city as valuable place for inhabitation, driven out by urban land and building prices, frightened by inner city deterioration or simply seduced by the suburban Ideal home. Popular distribution and leisure are also swarming outwards where parking space and accessibility are in abundance for their middle income car owning clientele. Companies more and more prefer to build head offices in highly visible locations next to the motor ways. This phenomenon results in a thinning out of the inner city functional fabrics, a loosing of its ever vulnerable social diversity and a physical deterioration of urban places hardly softened by desperate upgrading attempts. In what used to be the countryside, the spread of urban functions does not result in a new urban fabric. What arises is a non-place urban realm (Webber), a vague space full of loose urban fragments. The hybrid and fragmented space no longer performs as a mediating scale. Fragments fail to create urban synergies. New functions ignore the generic character of places. The non-place urban realm is an archipelago of univalent entities, ignoring each other, each connected to their own flow network. Coherent rural places get spoiled. Radical fragmentation missing typological coherence results in an isotropy that dissolves differential identity. In the outskirts of Firenze or Brussels, outside Barcelona or Birmingham, everywhere peripheries start to look the same. And so are the dying popular inner city fabrics.

9. Through the confused trends of des- and suburbanisation a rough and distinctive spatial order establishes itself. The heart of the old city, the old historical centre is apparently managing quite well thanks to prompt urban renewal programmes supported by exclusive commerce and tourism. Gentrification and "heritage industry" (Hewison) keep up appearances of an historical urbanity. Popular habitation, dwelling related retail and daily life services are not a part of this spectacle. Saleable historic places get a new life as tourist item, shopping mall, or big business billboard. Others degrade into service area or are replaced by the ready made history of commercial post modernist architecture.

In the green peripheries a common version of Joel Garreau's "Edge City" arises out of nothing. There seems to be no limit to the sprawl of small business, mass distribution centres, leisure palaces along arterial roads and turn-offs. Gradually, a vast regional constellation is created that offers an unprecedented amount of services, sensations and potentials within the reach of one hour car driving on the condition that one disposes of the necessary mobility, time, health, information and financial means to gain access to it. Others, children, elderly, low income groups, less mobile people, less informed, less integrated in the logic's of flow economies, have to rely upon the remains of the declining urban or rural place economies.

The extensive road network cuts the landscape into pieces, countless islands where suburban dwelling dreams are cultivated in residential estates of all sizes and statutes, monofunctional and socially distinctive. The little villa at the end of the tidy driveway, surrounded by its safe and surveyable lawn is apparently satisfied with the simplicity of the edge city. The house does not need a boulevard, a park or square, nor a cafι or a theatre. Videogames bring adventure straight into the living-room and cable television replaces the public forum. One deals as little as possible with the city or with others. Suburban dwelling culture expresses a profound fear of exposure (Sennett). Places for mediation are no longer needed. One no longer learns how to deal with the foreigner. His - even virtual - presence arouses fear and induces excessive security reflexes. The suburban dwelling ideal speaks about exclusivity but in fact seeks conformity, sameness. Difference becomes disturbance, even a potential danger. The process of formation of a differential personal identity, a basic dimension of urban culture, is broken.

Between the old historical centre and the sprawling periphery a third urban zone exists: the so-called 19th century belt, a reservoir of popular urban life, a dense fabric of various dwelling forms, mixed with workplaces, services and large scale infrastructures. The genuine urban coexistence of rule and freedom. Full of places for mediation. The mix, however, is not stable and fully affected by desurbanisation. The old retail business cannot compete with the commercial violence of the new periphery. The industrial infrastructure stems from first and second industrial revolutions and is irreversibly obsolete. The houses, hastily built to cope with 19th century housing crisis, lack elementary dwelling qualities: privacy, access by car, open space. The better-off, job-secure inhabitants move out or refuse to move in. Newcomers who are non-native, poorer and have less job security fill the empty places. These new urban dwellers unfold the ingenious and tenacious survival strategies typical of their society of origin: informal business, close networks of community life and mutual aid, exclusive solidarity's. They again switch the city lights on and keep the street life going. However, the ageing and impoverished native dwellers see themselves competing with active, resourceful and forever young foreigners over the ever shrinking inhabitable urban places. The familiar neighbourhood suddenly seems to be threatened territory. The mediating scale stops functioning, the ecology of fear takes over. Distrust, isolation, intolerance, racism, violence.

The urban conglomerate, post-modern urbanity, the flow city, the non-place urban realm is not a neutral grid of endless opportunities but a realm in which new hierarchies, segregation's, marginality's develop. A global "dual city" (Harvey) grows. Its duality, however, does not show itself in a single spatial split, uptown - downtown, centre - periphery, East End - West End. Desurbanisation and suburbanisation entail a decline of traditional centrality and a proliferation of a peripheral condition - in spatial, economic and cultural terms - both in the centre and in the periphery. A dominant force in this tendency is the growing dissociation between the new flow economy / culture and the historical place economy / culture (Castells). The resulting duality operates within and between the multiple fragments of the global urban realm.

Pieces of the open city are closed off and transformed into artificially protected interiors. Islands of prosperity, renewal and security exist next to areas of decay, new urban ghetto's, obsolete industrial fringes and neighbourhoods where searches for lost identity turn into excessive localism (Verschaffel). Elsewhere apparently nothing happens, life goes on. Duality remains hidden, totally fragmented beneath observable spatial features or absorbed into the indifference of the urban bustle.

10. The growing dominance of flow economy / culture with a series of correlated developments that gradually reverse the familiar functioning of built places in a radically different way of dealing with time and space. These developments gnaw at / thwart daily life from the most trivial to the most extraordinary doings. Often it concerns a radicalisation of phenomena already familiar; which seldom make it to the main lines of the news and equally remain absent on most of the political agendas. A cultural revolution without striking a blow.

More and more, the exchange of goods, people, services, information and leisure is organised according to a network system (Verschaffel). Networks deal with routes, addresses, terminals, subscribers. Networks are, however, not interested in the place qualities of their routes or addresses. A familiar network for instance is the road system with generalised private car mobility. Roads of the network are not considered as inhabitable places - streets, boulevards - but as thoroughfares that connect a nebulae of destinations whose only spatial relationship is a car drive. In general, terminals should be efficient pick-up points which strive for a minimum stay or waiting for their subscribers. Terminals as such are the reversal of place, aiming at the shortest possible appropriation, the absolute nil of inhabitation. The most perfect networks - computer, fax, cable TV - Verschaffel argues, no longer transfer people or goods, only information or imagery. They even no longer need any terminal space only an instrument or a screen.

Networks are exclusive in several ways: they go by their own rules, employ a merely commercial logic in which the client or subscriber has no say - "take it or leave it" - and outsiders are simply excluded. Their operational headquarters stay out of view. The closed network is the contrary of the open public place. Public places allow for observation, negotiation, initiation, hesitation, difference of opinion, confrontation, choice, refusal, free entrance and exit, networks don't. Networks do not mediate, they accept or reject, one stays in or one remains out. Subscribers are treated as separate entities, quantifiable units. Many networks dislike sharing; they prefer large quantities of lonely subscribers: in the underground; at the ticket office, in the car, in front of the TV. Networks contribute to the decline of mediating public places, they encourage isolation and exclusivity. Networks fit into the logic of a flow economy and culture. Networks easily deal with sprawl and fragmentation. They are both cause and result of the non-place urban realm.

3. Place and flow, designing for urban ambivalence

11. This is not the annunciation of the apocalypse. The end of the city is not near. The further development of "the informational mode", of the "flow economy", nevertheless turns the historical urbanity inside out. Its effect on the urban space and culture is even more important than that of the first and second industrial revolution. Flow economy disrupts very basic notions such as place, function, proximity, distance, duration, centrality, periphery, object, simulacrum. Notions on which the urbanity of place economy has been founded. The non-place realm that emerges from this, however, is still urban. This merging urbanity did not yet find its own logic. It needs to elaborate new structures and consolidations; it has to reconstruct its own equilibrium. The dynamics of the flow city are hybrid, they contain both destructive and emancipatory potentials. Flow space breaks open the many walls and territories of the old fabric. It dethrones the old centres of power and prestige. Boundary-free flow-spaces and their multiple networks combine the promise of unlimited accessibility to services, information and pleasure with a factual tendency of spoliation and marginalization.

Return to the historical place urbanity is not at stake. At least not as a general objective. Disconnected from mainstream economical moves it would be but a regressive utopia. The main challenge seems to be to dislocate the internal contradictions of flow economy / culture so as to stimulate its emancipatory forces and to counteract its destruction action. To undertake this, a general doctrine or overall strategy is - fortunately - not available. Multiple, more or less converging local strategies are more meaningful. Several of these have a common objective; rethinking the role of places in flow urbanity. Architecture and urban design definitely lost their dream of designing the world. But at this point, the general cultural discussion touches the heart of their discipline: the articulation and inhabitation of places. What follows here is only a programme, a rough outline of possible architectural contributions to local strategies of dislocation and relocation aiming at the reaffirmation of place within flow economy and culture.

12. Although people often identify the city with its historical centre, the latter occupies a relatively modest surface of the global urban conglomerate. Not only in popular memory and tourist publicity but also in current urban policy the powerful image of the radio concentric city shape persists. Concepts such as city centre, ringroad, belt, periphery, suburb still relate to the image of a sacred nucleus served and protected by profane belts. The metaphor is, however, completely deficient in grasping in reality of desurbanisation and the non-place urban realm. The flow city needs other key metaphors. A key metaphor is a heuristic frame that in its way of looking and naming already reshapes a formless and nameless reality. The global urban conglomerate can be looked at as a grid or, to put it better, one can seek out its grid-like qualities. A grid redistributes hierarchy and centrality. A grid is made up of connections, junctions and fields which are, though in theory different, of equal worth and accessible from several sides. Each field, each node, each connection can acquire centrality or uniqueness on the basis of a specific interaction between the neutral grid and the particular context. Each component of the grid maintains several links with the other parts of the network. The grid defines a spatial structure that organises differences of equal parts, that offers a receptive neutrality inviting further elaboration. The radio-concentric morphology on the contrary operates like spider's web whose main focus lies in the geometrical centre. Using the grid metaphor as a general devise for regional spatial planning could help to counteract the present brutal split of the urban conglomerate into three exclusive zones: tourist zone, declining popular belt and non-place outer peripheries. Within the logic of the grid, hierarchy gradually dissolves into juxtaposition of difference, exclusion is challenged by accessibility. The grid is the logic of the open city, a structure superimposed upon flow. Maybe one could, just like Walter Benjamin did in the historical Grossstadt, delightfully wander in the grid.

13. The grid replaces the concentric morphology, that stresses the dominance of one absolute centre by a structure that stimulates the development of multiple but relative centralities. Each square, each neighbourhood can develop its own centrality, be it even on a temporary basis for an occasional fair or festival for instance.

Another way of countering the fragmentation of the urban space into exclusive islands or defended neighbourhoods is the development of the interspace. The post-industrial city is full of fringes, edges, remains from irreversible industrial decay which are not considered by the hasty flow economy. They often form dirty and dangerous no man's land surrounding the protected islands. In ecological systems edges are sensitive area of decay but also of regeneration. Redeveloping urban edges could contribute to a sustainable cultural ecology. Taking the fringe as opportunity for urban renewal has different advantages. Fringes offer cheap land that - at least for a while - stays out of the pressure of speculation. Edges are left over spaces that nevertheless are often more accessible than inner area. Fringes often contain left over infrastructures that sometimes offer unexpected architectural qualities - waterfronts, warehouses, abundance of space. Operating from the edge makes it possible to turn backsides into active fronts without disturbing the heart of adjacent neighbourhoods. On the other hand, fringes often interrelate different parts of the urban fabric so that the effect of an urban renewal intervention surpasses the merely local level. While turning backsides into eccentric centres one not only searches for other modes of centrality but also corrects the fragmentation of the urban realm by transforming dangerous waste land into mediating scales.

14. Correcting the global city does not mean to conceive a post-modern version of Thomas Morus' Amaraute. On the other hand Koolhaas' attitude of "surfing on the waves" (of multinational capitalism) seems to be as little a satisfactory strategy as John Turners' belief in a "third sector" (of community self help) eventually is. In the architectural milieu the reasonable fear of mega-stories led to a reassessment of the mιtier proper. The appropriately conceived project, within the chalk line of what the market allows, is a sufficient heroic deed. Many architects shall be eternally grateful to Lyotard. Together with the worn-out modernist doctrines, critical theory - as if it were a mega-story - is thrown out of the house. And yet an open but theoretical framework remains necessary. A critical concept of post-modern urbanity that each time is being checked newly, corrected and reinforced in numberless architectural projects.

Such urban theory counteracts the dual city. It tries to reformulate duality into double. It searches in many different directions to define post-modern analogies of the ambivalence proper to Rossi's historical city. Architectural places are able to act as catalysts of such ambivalence. Places can escape binary coding, talk with double tongue. Vernacular architecture is full of places of transition and mediation. But also Aldo Van Eyck's thresholds and twin places tried to realise ambivalence. Charles Jenck's "double coding" or John Habraken's "double scale" contained suggestions of ambivalence that unfortunately got lost in narrow minded interpretations. To elaborate new modes of spatial mediation is a major challenge in contemporary design. Inventive design, for instance, can transform large scale obsolete infrastructures, occupying large interstices between neighbourhoods, into places that mediate between the realm of domestic life (belonging, intimacy, familiarity) and the realm of urban dynamics (exposure, displacement, otherness).

Ambivalence includes also the refusal of fake paradigmatic antithesis: modernity against history, spectacle against memory. Ignasi de Sola-Morales distinguishes "mnemonic design" - relying upon built memory - from "rhetoric design" that evokes metaphors of flow. These opposites, however, only define two poles of a conceptual field in which the best of contemporary design - Rafael Moneo's railway station in Madrid or Manuel de Sola-Morales' Moll de la Fusta in Barcelona, to mention only two examples - manages to give tangible form to spatial ambivalence.

15. Desurbanisation and the non-place urban realm creates a new condition of urbanity. Although the historical architectural language of typo-morphology remains an essential source of design it no longer suffices. Formal inventiveness is indispensable. Known forms of compact urban dwelling, for instance, are needed to stand up as a valid alternative to the suburban pavilion. Guaranteeing privacy and easy transport connection, offering space and good access to the intense urban life at costs which are affordable to many, is an already extremely demanding design challenge.

Moreover, contemporary urban dwelling cannot reanimate the lost neighbourhood community life. Other social relationships will generate other spatial behaviour and other spatial needs. Urban places should be as much places for exposure, distant observation and tolerant avoidance of otherness than for the meeting and gathering of sameness. Urban social life includes the distant solidarity of people sitting next to each other in the underground. Urban dwelling culture deals with subtle balances between flow and place in very common day-to-day activities.

A key issue in urban design is the concept of contemporary public space. Urban culture cannot continue using and abusing the public places offered by history: the dwelling street, the square, the urban park. Again innovative design is needed to counteract the current privatisation and interiorisation of so-called "public" places: the shopping palace, the tropical swimming paradise. The reduction of network spaces to placeless terminals for quick transit relates to the same issue. Here the disease may become medicine. Networks can activate public places and even give form to powerful new types of place as did the 19th century railway stations.

Ready-made solutions are not available. Nevertheless the prime function of public places is no longer to mediate between rulers and subordinates, or between a collective history and the personal life, or simply between the community and the individual. Public places above all should mediate between place culture and flow culture. Design please.

16. Ambivalences generated by urban places contribute to the cultural ecology of the built environment. Urban sustainability is not limited to issues of natural ecology in the urban setting: air and water pollution, consumption of energy, solid waste treatment etc. Sustainability deals with the rational use of contextual opportunities of all sorts - landscape, patrimony, skills - without exploitation or exhausture. It aims at recycling urban waste land and obsolete fabrics. It stimulates the achievement of a land reserve through active interventions for non-development.

Sustainability asks for a differentiation of the rhythms of the city: durable structures - stable morphologies, basic types, primary elements - have to support urban flows. Spatial coherence contributes to a sustainable city. Coherence stimulates synergy between functions and places. It acts against wasteful fragmentation. The global urban grid reintroduces structure and connection in the chaotic urban realm. Re-use of large scale infrastructures structure and connection in the chaotic urban realm. Re-use of large scale infrastructures bridges the gap between the domestic and the urban scale. Dead fringes become active strips linking isolated fabrics.

Coherence, however, does not mean uniformity. The urban cultural ecology needs interaction and continuity but also difference. Ambivalent urbanity structures also human heterogeneity. Newcomers, migrants introducing other cultures and economies in the city are not a threat but, on the contrary, an enrichment of the urban ecology and a renewal of human resources on the condition that the urban frame - including the urban forms - keeps mediating between sameness and otherness.

Last but not least, counteracting the dual city in favour of urban ambivalence is not only a softening of the excesses of late capitalism. One easily identifies the post-modern economy with the power of multinational networks, with unlimited growth and ever accelerating flows. But maybe the future opens another post-industrial economic perspective. One of scale resources, modesty, limited welfare. In that case urban coherence, synergy of difference, durable morphologies, economy of space, rational use of contextual opportunities, flows supported by place become major resources of urban society.

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