Sustainability in the post-capitalist city. A short impression
VOLUME’s research on sustainability for VOLUME 18, perspectives beyond issues of CO2 emission and carbon fossil fuel consumption, inspired collaboration with the Van Abbemuseum. On October 4 its ‘Heartland’ exhibition opened. Ideologically there are clear links between these projects. The institutes share an interdisciplinary research approach and both teams attempt to understand social, cultural and environmental sustainability in a manner, which is disconnected from development discourse and market driven practice.
To exchange and discuss positions and findings an expert meeting was staged at the Van Abbemuseum. Two positions initiated the debate. These will be presented more extensively in VOLUME 18, here we present some core ideas.
Marjetica Potrč linked the disillusionment with state structures to disillusionment with modernist architecture. She illustrated this with imagery of decaying social housing and school buildings in New Orleans. Post-capitalism, she argued, can be understood as entering a stage of survival. According to Potrc in Albania’s capital Tirana one can see how a societal agreement by citizens who go against modernism works out. She referred to the city painting project of Mayor Edi Rama. Potrč also mentioned that societies which came into being in a situation of post-capitalism do sustainable design in a local way: more autonomous, with vernacular methods and focused on self-sustainability. As an example she presented the Shot Gun house. As such, post-capitalism implied for her also a sort of post-nationalism, which could be seen in the arising of city-networks in former Yugoslavia. A theme she researched in her Lost Highway project.
Andrew Herscher, who discussed a project entitled Detroit Unreal Estate Agency, argued that Detroit in the normal economic, political and cultural narrative is characterized as a city of the urban sublime, the shrinking city (empty spaces), ruins, a forgotten city or a city of loss (in terms of population, economy and urbanity). The city transforms because of these narratives into something invisible, disconnected from the realm of economy. Yet, Herscher pleas that we might as well consider this a transformation: the city gains other values in terms of the dream or the desire; the non-existent according to capitalism. As such, the city becomes the site of creativity instead of the site of inefficiency, danger and inflation. Herscher claims that focusing unreal estate is not an attempt to discard the suffering and violence in Detroit, which capitalism normalizes, but that challenges our concept of sustainability and our view on the urban condition.
Some questions and propositions that arose from the discussion:
- Sustainability is in many ways to be considered the next stage in a class war.
- To really understand what is happening in a city in terms of sustainable development over time, we need not only to zoom out spatially but also temporally.
- A practice of the post-capitalist city which might enhance a different kind of sustainability could be brought about by the practice of play, in other words the practice of the homo ludens. A practice of play would most likely challenge boundaries of the private and the public.