The increased mobility of people and the development of communication and information technologies changed the relation between people and their city. People are less bounded to places than before, free to move and relate with the whole world.
At the same time cities in the Netherlands develop itself more and more as a compilation of enclaves, functional and social different islands. People are moving from one homogeneous place to another. The structure of the city provides the conditions, this structure makes it possible for people to move between homogeneous places and avoid heterogeneous places.
The make-up of our society becomes more heterogeneous every day in different ways, cultural diversity and the increased plurality of life patterns are two clear examples of the diversification of our society. Like Castles writes:
‘Globalization, the increased mobility of people and the burgeoning of new forms of communication make myths of homogeneity unsustainable.’(Castles, p.127)
The Dutch society is so called ‘Multi-cultural’. It is my opinion that this term is problematic, therefore I would like to call our society ‘Multi-diverse’ instead. Mutli-cultural only expresses cultural differences between people, though people differ form each other in many other ways. Emphasizing cultural difference between people suggests that identities of people are static and one-dimensional and this will stimulate stereotypical ideas about people from different cultures. Identities are dynamic compilations of many identifications. A person can be an architect, a woman, Dutch and a writer at the same time, different identifications will occur more important on different moments.
City: time and social layering
It is important to perceive the city as something more than just a physical form, because if we do not we will not be able to understand how the city really works, what the city means for people and how they use it.
As Peter Marcuse puts it: ‘…ignoring the dimension of time and the layering of social uses leads to a fetishization of the built environment, of the city as a physical form, which supports a rigid, one-dimensional view of the city…’ (Marcuse, p.289)
Looking at the layering of social uses can show us the way different social groups use the city and where different people use the same locations or where they do not. Time is important because the city is a dynamic place. Places like business areas can be very busy during daytime and completely abandoned at night.
City, diversity and public realm
Multi-diversity and city life is about confrontation and contradictions. Utopian ideas of communities inside which different people life happily together deny diversity. As Young explains: ‘Commitment to an ideal of community tends to value and enforce homogeneity’(Young, p.234)
Confrontation with the co-presence of others is important in our multi-diverse society, Hajer and Reijndorp explain this: ‘Confrontation with other opinions makes us develop our own ideas. …The concrete and physical experience of the presence of others, other cultural expressions, confrontation of different meanings of the same physical space, is important for the development of our own opinion and collecting information about the society we live in.’ (Hajer & Reijndorp, p. 13)
The place where we can find this kind of confrontation is called the public realm, this is the place that people with different backgrounds and different interests appreciate as places of shared experience. The following quote explains what public realm is:
‘The sphere of social relations going beyond our own circle of friendships, and of family and professional relations. The idea of public realm is bound up with the ideas of expanding one’s mental horizons, of experiment, adventure, discovery, surprise…’ (Hajer & Reijndorp, p.12)
Moments of contradictions and confrontation.
In order to let public realm emerge in our cities we should create moments of contradictions and confrontation. Combining different usage, social layering and time bound activities on the same location. Like Young explains: ‘The interfusion of groups in the city occurs partly because the multiuse differentiation of social space.’(Young p. 239)
Creating places where different moments in time, different actions, different social layers intermingle, touch, overlap or bounce. This will be moments of confrontation, contradictions, adventure, eye-openers, conflict, contrast, surprise, excitement and discovery.
Epilogue– further research
Public realm and new meanings
A characteristic feature of Postmodern art and culture is the exaggeration of clichés and indisputable codes through which an interpretative space originates were new meanings become possible. Can exaggeration, extreme combinations and confrontations in the built environment boost the origination of new meanings?
Pierre Bourdieu in an anthropologist and political philosopher who conceptualises our daily indisputable actions as ‘doxa’s’. A doxa is a fundamental idea that is never questioned.
It would be very interesting to find out how extreme we, as architects, can go with public realm. Is it possible to expose doxa’s in the public realm? Can the moments of contradictions in the built environment stimulate the origination of new or other meanings? What does this mean for diversity?