Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

There is not only violence in cities, but also violence against cities by Sue Tilden

Not only do cities suffer from social violence between inhabitants, but they face a deterioration due to violence occurring against the City itself. This may be direct or indirect, intentional or barely recognized as violence, nevertheless, it represents a deterioration in the quality of life available to both residents and any other people who may venture into the urban environment.

Some over and obvious examples of violence against cities may be noted:


We might lump such activities under the term ‘vandalism’, remember that this word refers to the destructive, violent actions of the Vandals against the physical artifacts of civilized Roman cities, which came about as culture clashed with culture. In modern times, vandalism is also a cultural problem based on such things as: lack of identification with the collective benefits of community, frustration against ‘untouchable’ systems, economic malaise resulting in underemployment and lack of fruitful activity, and the deep-seated human desire to make one’s individual mark – even if this mark is a violent and hurtful one. Present-day vandals may be said to be out of the culture, or to be participating in an alternative culture of violence, which unfortunately can have such an environmentally degrading effect that the primary culture is then impacted and itself becomes more violent and less able to care, reflecting the deterioration of the city in which it exists – a downward spiral.

There are technological solutions available, that can be used to discourage or defend against graffiti and sabotage. These include non-markable surfaces such as stainless steel, very tall light poles with sodium or mercury vapor lamps that cast a huge amount of light in ‘problem’ areas, chains on garbage cans and benches and so on. These tactics do work to some extent for specific places and purposes, and do have the effect of diverting vandalism and graffiti away. They can be useful as interim measures while the underlying causes of violent actions are being addressed. But they reflect and feed an attitude of siege mentality and can even inspire more creative violent expressions. Worst of all they themselves detract from the quality of life in a place by their brutish, defensive aspect.

Some other strategies to counter over city-targeted violence have been successful because they took into account the root issues of alienation and frustration with inclusionary ploys. Graffiti artists have been challenged by public competitions which recognize the artistic merit of this human endeavor, street forums in inner cities for citizen poets and lyricists have been held. Within each is the possibility of reversing the downward direction to a positive movement up and out of the dead end of life in a degraded setting. For these kinds of things to work, they must be sustained efforts, that is on-going and enhanced.

There is a distinct challenge to specialized members of the artistic society here to become even more inclusionary. Specialists can never be the exclusive ‘keepers of culture’ or they will be besieged and marginalized. A poet is not only a poet if she or he is published – there is poetry in the human soul, a grace to lives even if never a word has been written or spoken. In Greece almost everyone is a dancer, despite their profession or occupation, or lack of it – street sweeper, doctor, shop keeper and underemployed soccer fan all participate in this cultural activity. Through such cultural doors perhaps the ‘expressively violent’ can bring their own contributions to a society which has seemed to be closed to them and their gifts and energies.

There is also a more subtle violence at work in the city, things hidden from our perception by their very commonplace or objective nature.

Indirect violence against cities can include:


This sounds like a catalog of major urban ills. But it is informative to think of these things as being covert violence inflicted on our cities by ourselves.

All too often, shortsighted planning, or the lack of planning, or plain bad planning can be seen at the root of many of these manifestations. Planning for livable places requires that we put human needs foremost. And it requires a concern for quality of life issues that can only be fully realized when the public actively participates in decisions about these issues. Such concerns do not have to exclude growth and development, indeed it would be inhuman to deny the need for increased well-being through economic investment and improvement and upgraded social infrastructure, such as hospitals, power generation and the like. Enterprises which seek to reap the benefits of locating in a population center need to accept, or be required to accept, the responsibility of making sure that the impacts inflicted are mitigated by amenities provided.

A specific example: People do not actively want to create parking congestion and might even prefer to park in large enough, convenient enough, safe parking structures, out of the sun and weather, if such were provided. There are development and zoning code techniques which can be used to shift the costly burden of building them to private rather than public purses. Prior to allowing any development, either new or renovation, municipalities could require parking impact studies to be submitted for approval along with the building plans. These would indicate the number of parking spaces that will be needed for different categories of purposes. Then the development could be required to show how such parking will be provided for municipal parking garages. Other related impact issues are garbage collection, noise levels, light plane and open space calculations, and even non physical concerns such as worker child care and employee training.

In fact, if we stop to think about it, people do not consciously want to inflict any of the listed types of violence on the place where they exist – if they can have acceptable alternatives. To give people these alternatives, it is necessary to have standards of livability by which to plan. It is necessary to use human-scale as the measure by which new technologies are evaluated.

Finally, such an attitude shift has to come from the people, they need to insist upon it, and from there it can enter the consciousness of government and institutions. This comes through realizing that the place where we are is ours and that there is a choice to be made in daily life between continuing the violence or creating a better life for ourselves.


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