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the post-geddesian world of fantasy destinations

December 5, 2007

valley-section.jpg

Geddes’ valley section has a specificity that makes it seem quaintly out of place in our contemporary world. It continues to describe Dundee in its geographical location, but no longer seems to describe Dundee. It is not simply that the industries (miner shepherd fisher) illustrated in it have moved on; more importantly, they have been replaced by industries that are no longer linked to this – or any – place. Dundee the jute centre could only exist here, with its harbour and its watercourses, down the road from the linen industry in Edinburgh and England. Cardiff the coal port could only exist at the point where the mining valleys reach the sea. Dundee, the centre for digital gaming, medical research, and tourism, could be almost anywhere. The post-industrial European city that has had to trade heavy industry for service industry can be anywhere there is a high speed connection and most of them are now more economical to run in India. And consumer ‘industries’, aka retail, is the same in Dundee as in Dubai. It is not to say that geography is not longer important, indeed, one of Dundee’s salient features is its waterfront on the Tay estuary and one of the salient features of Dundee’s identity is the relation of its fabric to the waterfront. Nevertheless, there is a creeping locationlessness to the city that could almost be anywhere now that its raison d’etre lies no longer in the heavy industry that was necessarily linked to natural resources. This is one reason why the mall has the oneiric quality of Calvino’s Invisible Cities: they are everywhere and nowhere, each new city is the same city reiterated. We are committed to the importance and efficaciousness of place for a healthy body politic, indeed this research intends to look at the way we make places by inscribing them with identity (temporal and spatial markers, oral and visual artifacts), but we note the way places are beginning to get all floaty on us, we note the way a creeping locationlessness is putting pressure on places.

Of course, for Geddes this section inscribed the city not only in a location but in the historical development of civilisation from river head (its beginnings) to harbour (its industrial flourish). This section inscribes the city in its temporal as well as spatial coordinates. And in the same way that place is beginning to lose its spatial moorings, so too is it beginning to lose its temporal ones. The city will have a future in a defacto sort of way (lets not talk about environmental political social apocalypse, not just yet), but it is difficult for the inhabitants of the city to form any coherent pictures of the future because these pictures are so co-opted by the advertising, tourist, and governance industries. The future is not just a picture but also a direction: it is difficult to locate oneself on this line also, because our pictures of the past have been similarly co-opted, disrupted, corrupted, bankrupted.

Lorens

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