Migration; geography, City in Transition, Lines / Borders / Margins

Interior Architecture and Design Stage 2 History + Theory
Cultural Context 04: Text As Site

Lines, borders, margins, boundaries, fences and walls, we are surrounded. Some of the barriers are physical, but most of them are psychological and not always easy to recognise, since we are so use to live with them/within them.

Barriers are there to enclose, define, protect, confine, liberate, in general to give order to society. Although many of the barriers are physical, mostly their physiology is there just to represent the psychology of them. Rarely the physical power is attended, it’s the psychological one that is keeping us in or out, making us feel safe, secure or not welcome.

The aim of this essay is to recognise the barriers in urban city and “global” society we live in, to investigate the meaning, bases and need of them and to find possible alternative ways to organise life in a “global city”.

David Byrne writes about American cities in his Bicycle Diaries and wonders if it is Le Corbusier with his utopian proposals we should blame for the development of the cities designed more for cars than for people. Motorways are cutting through the neighbourhoods, pollution driving people off to move out from the cities and shopping malls replacing the small boutiques, offering easy access to cars with plenty of parking place, but leaving hearts of the cities empty.

Starting with industrialisation and continuing with rapidly developing technology, crossing the boarders has become seemingly easy. Goods and people are moving around the globe in fast pace and there is only few places on earth that are difficult to access for one reason or an other. Spacial science has already made the moon travel possible and there is more to come.

While globalisation is marrying technology and speeding up the pace for goods to move, by introducing free trade, supporting neo-liberalism and so taking down fences for multinational corporations, it is lining the possibilities out from huge groups of people by fencing them in non-human conditions for capitalism’s sake. Globalisation is taking over everything.

“ After all, the past decade of economic integration has been fuelled promises of barriers coming down, of increasing mobility and greater freedom…The economic process that goes by the benign euphemism “globalization” now reaches into every aspect of life, transforming every activity and natural resource into a measured and owned commodity.” (Klein, 2002: 20)

Every boundary, barrier or fence has two sides it separates, but also brings together. When just a few decades ago boundaries were found rather between the continents, cultures, nations, language groups, ethnic origins, religions, genres, generations, subcultures and social classes, barriers are now growing inside these groups. Global economy, capitalism has brought people, from all the different backgrounds together to fight. To fight, not against the globalisation, but to challenge power centralisation on principle.

The problem with power centralisation is not that who is in power, whether it is the state or the multinational corporations, but how the power is distributed. “… to take power away from communities, give it to a central government, then give it to the corporations through privatization.” (Klein, 2002: 36) Further the decision making moves from people who must live with the decision, more difficult it makes them to participate, act or vote for themselves.

Power centralisation is a complexed thing. It is not necessarily visible for people who haven’t come across the subject, but it is brightly visible, in every area of life, for those who have got involved with it. There are machine like groups, working to keep the secret, to feed us with meaningless information, making us see and understand everything else but the truth. “The media are terrorists in their own fashion, working continually to produce (good) sense, but, at the same time, violently defeating it by arousing everywhere a fascination without scruples, that is to say, a paralysis of meaning, to the profit of a single scenario.” (Baudrillard, 1983: 113) This means that it is extremely difficult for those, trying to tell the truth, to get all the necessary information and thus be able to convince those believing the information fed by mass media, on behalf of governments, which are eating the bread from multinational corporations’ hands.

“When advertising in all its forms aspires to provide the entire terrain of social reality, one can understand why the judiciary, in its turn, distances itself from the political sphere, and from a democracy presumed to be the guardian of the old moral order – to seek out, as we have seen it doing, a new popular legitimacy based on its tacit alliance with the mass media.” (Virilio, 2002: 29) We talk about corruption in eastern Europe and in the developing countries, while in the west the corruption is just more sophisticated, a well hidden secret.

Since the power has moved out of our reach we are left with two choices. We can either accept it and go on with our lives in front of televisions, absorbing meaningless information that makes us numb, but keeps us quiet or we can take the action to our own hands. Taking action can take several forms and there can be found suitable tool for everyone to act with. But first and most important step is common to everybody, we need to educate ourselves on what is really going on and why we don’t want to accept it.

The two alternative ways, with different approach from each other, to fight against globalisation or to fight for a fair globalisation, this paper is looking at, are the Adusters and the Tools for Action. These two tools are just examples of many others, but they will hopefully give an brief insight and hope of alternative ways, dealing with globalisation or in other words power centralisation and its outcomes; in this case meaningless information or information kept from us and the loss of the public spaces in the urban areas.

Adbusters is a not-for-profit 120,000-circulation magazine based on Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. With their own words magazine is “concerned about the erosion of our physical and cultural environment by commercial forces.” Adbusters action to wake people to see the other side of the coin, to make us look at the ugly truth that is kept from us, to give us the views that the mass media is not giving or the views that many of us are not willing to see.

“We are a global network of culture jammers and creatives working to change the way information flows, the way corporations wield power, and the way meaning is produced in our society.” (Lasn, Kalle, 2010: about) Adbusters work has been embraced by organizations like Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace and featured in hundreds of alternative and mainstream newspapers, magazines, and television and radio shows around the world.

Adbusters manipulate advertisements, adding the real information and taking out the “information” corporations wish the consumers to find they identity in and thus relate to. The aim is to try to make people to understand that a product doesn’t change consumers life or identity, but in a wider sense, consuming a product or refusing to consume certain product, because of its backgrounds, could be used as a tool for choosing better lives for less fortunates (fair trade, etc.), to support local production or as a tool to act against climate change (ecological, sustainable, etc.).

“It is about recognizing that every piece of our high-gloss consumer culture comes from somewhere. It is about following the web of factories, shell-game subsidiaries and outsourced labour to find out where all the pieces are manufactured, under what conditions, which lobby groups wrote the rules of the game and which politicians were bought off along the way. In other words, it’s about x-raying commodity culture, deconstructing the icons of the age of shopping and building real global connections-among workers, students, environmentalists-in the process.” (Klein, 2002: 30-31)

Action tools, on the other hand, give ideas of alternative ways of taking back the cities, the spaces that are public but still out of our reach. Different tools are demonstrating our loss in the cities, but also showing us how to shape the urban spaces in creative and productive ways and to strengthen community interactions. The Canadian Centre for Architecture presented the tools, they call Actions: What You Can Do With the City.

“Seemingly common activities such as walking, playing, recycling, and gardening are pushed beyond their usual definition by the international architects, artists, and collectives featured in the exhibition. Their experimental interactions with the urban environment show the potential influence personal involvement can have in shaping the city, and challenge fellow residents to participate.” (Graham Foundation, 2010: about)There were 99 actions featured in the exhibition that instigate positive change in contemporary cities around the world, including projects related to the production of food and possibilities of urban agriculture, recycling abandoned buildings for new purposes and the use of urban terrain for play.

“According to their imaginary representation, the masses drift somewhere between passivity and wild spontaneity, but always as a potential energy, a reservoir of the social and of social energy; today a mute referent, tomorrow, when they speak up and cease to be the silent majority, a protagonist of history…” (Baudrillard 1983: 2) This potential energy is a challenge and enormous capacity, if get in right action. As said before the tools introduced in this paper are just two examples of many. Action follows recognition of current situation; power centralisation or globalisation in its negative form, leading to privatisation of our urban spaces, unequal sharing of goods and natural resources, limiting our rights and depressing our lives. The barriers surrounding us, keeping us away from the “real” information, have to be taking down. It is time to stand up and act.

Books – bibliography

Baudrillard, Jean (1983) In the Shadow of the Silent Majorities. Semiotext(e)

Byrne, David (2009) Bicycle Diaries. Penguin Books

Klein, Naomi (2002) Fences and Windows Dispatches from the Front Lines of
the Globalization debate. Flamingo

Virilio, Paul (2002) Ground Zero. Verso

Websites – bibliography

Graham Foundation (2010) CCA – Tools for Action – Actions: What Can You Do With the City. http://cca-actions.org/ (Accessed on 30.4.2010)

Lasn, Kalle (2010) Adbusters: Journal of the mental environment. https://www.adbusters.org/ (Accessed on 30.4.2010)