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Planning and the Multi-Local Urban Experience.

An interesting book about the new way of living and working. Philiosophical book discussing what it means to live, being present or absent.

Planning and the Multi-Local Urban Experience

Kimmo Lapintie, 2021

I took this book to learn what is “urban planning”. This book answer partially the question, as it talks about the issue of old planning, statistical view of living, and the new way of working. This book is more a philosophical approach to the topic: the “old” literature lack of definitions, of adaptation to the new world where people live and work in different places. So, in my opinion, it doesn’t expose real problems of urban planning, but more missing points in traditional analysis.

The book is dense and short, so you need to focus, otherwise you miss the direction. As the book is mostly about ideas and concept, it doesn’t focus on a particular area of the world (Europe vs Asia for instance). I think this is a missing point, you cannot compare the different states of urban planning.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed it a lot: the author has a nice writing style, not going into endless story, exposing clearly its arguments and way of thinking. Because it is mostly ideas and definitions, the summary is mostly a list of unordered ideas.

Table of Content

  1. Revealing the Paradox
  2. Epistemology
  3. Modalities of Power
  4. Multi-local
  5. Politics of Territorialism
  6. Political Topology
  7. Presence VS absence
  8. Heterotopia
  9. City of Cyborgs

Revealing the Paradox

Before Covid, city was considered as the best place to live: friends, services, work. Also, as everything is concentrated, globally we save energy: public transportation vs individual cars, heating apartments cost less than heating a house, public infrastructure (water, electricity, internet, gaz) cost less to deploy, … So, it seems that density has positive effects on human life. This is a narrative, a story: the city will save the world. This view is not traditional, compared to urbanism researchers which try to find as scientists do “truth”.

In 2018, the urban population on earth was of 55%. What does it means ? The author takes the example of a man: he wakes up on its apartment, take the subway to move to another city to work, take a break into a park, go to the groceries, and go back home. In which city does this man lives ? Because his time is splitted between several places. Also, he accepts to live in a small apartment, rather than a large house, accept air pollution and noise. Is it the best place to live ?

On the recommandation of United Nations, the goal of statistics is to gather data to measure “everyday life” to improve infrastructure, living condition, services, rights, and others. The problem is that you are registered in a given city, but you frequently move to other cities, other district. You rarely stay in the 15-minutes-radius around your home, unless you are wealthy and lucky. Here comes the concept of corporeal, the people that are here at some moment, doing something, not the administrative imaginary people. A kind of difference between living and staying. Living is more linked to the place where you stay for the night, the residential address, while staying is a place where I can take a snapshot of your presence. So living is more administrative, staying is where you spend your time.

Another point to highlight is the amount of second homes, which is “high” in some countries, such as spain (15%). With the pandemic and homeworking, their occupation rate increased. As “social distancing” was recommended, being in less dense area was a better option for living. For retired people that have no restriction to move from one place to another, making a hierarchy between two or more homes is not straightforward. So now, people tends to live in several places at the same time, which is far from the statistician paradigm that think people live in a single place.

A strange concept is the “neighborhood”, or dormitory areas, where you would have your apartment and some services. But you would need to work elsewhere, so to move away from this area. Urbanist are still planning this type of enclaves.

The Epistemology of Escape and Predator Epistemology: Knowing and failing to know multi-local spatiality

During summer, the population of a city can double. What about a nomad, like a journalist that will move from country to country to work ? Who live where ?

There is some problem of thinking: there are the utopia, the social norms, the way of thinking, and what there really is. It is not that easy to think about living correctly. So, people have multi-localities.

Before mobile phone, you needed to wait for someone to be near a phone that could not move. Now with smartphone, it doesn’t matter where the person is, as long as she can listen at you, wherever she is.

During Covid and lock-down, two things showed up:

Modalities of Power: What are the many Places for their Users, and who can use them ?

We tend to think with a narrow view, a kind of prototype of a human being, someone who work and who has a family for instance. However, we fail to consider the set of all possibilities. There isn’t a single human prototype which represents the dominant living style. Also, people are not static. People move from one place to another. We need to look at the flows of people, not the individuals.

There are move factors that are important: if you can go by foot, by bicycle, by car. Also, if it is accessible (if you have a disability or if you have a stroller). There are additional factors, linked to the perception: is it safe, what is the image I give by going there, do I know if this place exist… Last, do I have the right to go there, who are the people allowed ? There are some activities that are permitted by the law but which are unknown by the users. For instance, in a forest, you might be allowed or not to gather mushrooms, depending on if the forest is private or not, if you need to ask first to get a license or whatever. This type of “unknown” prevents the full usage of a shared place, and can lead to conflicts.

Multi-Locality as Urbanization

There are two main schools which study urbanism:

The second school deals with data, to measure the phenomena. But according to the author, the terms like “urban population”, “communities”, are not well defined.

When the United Nations says that urban share changed from 17% to 50% between 1950 and 2015, definition of “urban” is missing. How do we count the number of people ? Based on where there are living, spending their leisure time, or working, or all ?

movement and modality

Some people see a correlation between cities and the level of wealth. If people are concentrated, the likelihood that two people that can do business together is larger. There are more chances for ideas to fructify. This is not because of the density, but because of the connectivity, how stuff are organized together. In city, some places are famous and attract people: a theater, a good university, an hospital, … these specialized places, where people from the region, not just the city come, allows people sharing similar interest to meet.

In city, the promise is to get everything within 15 minutes walk. In reality, it is difficult to have everything you want within this distance.

The Politics of Territorialism

The limit between urban and rural is often unclear. Urban cities often control the nearby rural area for its own desire: to get more space, to product / store stuff, to build services, commercial centers, etc.

The boundary between two cities or two regions are easy to deal with. However, there is a hierarchy: city, region, state, and all have their own interest on to use the land.

Nations are not natural limits. They are abstract for the people that live in. But they are here, and they govern trade possibilities, embargo, protectionism, high level rules. They have at least the role to protect their territory thanks to the army.

Political Topology

You can start considering the people with multiple houses, but you can also start by looking at homeless people. They have no stable place, but they are in the city, and move from place to place. They can go in many places without having any stable one. Even if they don’t have an address, they are here, and they occupy space, need to have access to toilets, food, etc.

There is a mismatch in a city: this is not because you have a lot of work in, that you can afford to by a house or an apartment. This creates a lot of frustration to commuters who need one hour to move from their house to their office.

Now we have “teleworking”: working from home or from the office, which reduce this commuting time. You still have a legal place to work, but now, where do you really work ? Some workers may misinterpret the situation, and use their Friday to go on weekend earlier, to avoid commuting on crowded roads.

The Logic of Presence and Absence

What does it mean to be absent ? If you are absent from the office, you are teleworking: from home, from a café, from your car (maybe). You are absent and present at the same time.

When you are late to the office, you might be criticized not for your poor performance, but because you were absent when you should have been there.

Heterotopia of the Body

There are homes that we stay for a long time, and temporary homes that we consume for a night: a tent or an hotel.

A museum is the accumulation of time: old objects are kept while new one are added. Nothing is replaced or discarded.

The City of Cyborgs

You would say that humans are not cyborg yet. However, cities are made for pedestrian, which is in summary a human being with shoes that has the capability to move from one place to another. What about a driver, which is in summary a human being with tires that has the capability to move (faster) from one place to another ?

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