URBAN GORILLA

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USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

Urban Schizophrenia

The condition of schizophrenia is a state of delusions that can be challenging to understand. It is a terrifying battle that takes you through an existence that is “deranged, empty, and devoid of all anchors to reality”. In several cases, schizophrenics often have separate personas or ‘controllers’ whom entice them to abandon their realities and enter a place that causes severe emotion and a loss to what we perceive to be real. It would then become hard to decipher thoughts and eventually the everyday consciousness would be lost and taken over. In a similar way we as inhabitants act as schizophrenics in how we perceive reality within the realm of the metropolis where we are no longer aware but desensitized by the very factors that make up the city.

In Simmel’s Metropolis and the Mental Life, he clearly defines two key components that act as the basic construct of the city: the man and the external forces. As man it is essential to understand that we adapt to environments in forms of habits, convictions, and impulses that clearly “take a regular and habitual course and show regular and habitual contrast” (Simmel 410) From this Simmel suggests that the metropolis manipulates man’s formulated nature and conditions it with the “sharp discontinuity in the grasp of a single glance and the unexpectedness of onrushing impressions”. This in turn slowly alters our psyches and distorts what we perceive to be real and uninterrupted in order to fuel a successful city growth. “With each crossing of the street, with the temporary and multiplicity of the economic, occupational, and social life, the city sets up the sensory foundations of a psychic life.” (Simmel 410) The forces in our daily routines are so constant and matter-of-fact that we have lost our sense of judgment in distinguishing what is real and untouched. Thereby numbing our actuality to make the metropolis’ reality our own reality and the metropolis’ struggle our own struggle. These external forces in the city play the parallel role to controllers in the schizophrenic world. The external forces or ‘urban controllers’ if you will, condition and entice man to constantly struggle in defining and achieving his individual role. And like the schizophrenics and their alternative personas, the urban controller and the man eventually become one.

About two weeks ago as I flew into Hong Kong, I felt that I understood the city very well. I knew every bar, every subway line, and every good restaurant because beginning a few years ago I worked in the city for a few summers. Every morning I would go from my apartment to the office and every night I would leave the office for my apartment. Moving from place to place within Hong Kong became a daily routine and eventually I molded my habits and routines to the point to where I could travel swiftly across the streets, up the escalators, and through the foot bridges. Then as weeks pass I eventually discovered places to eat, things to eat, places to meet people, and places to shop. It is not until now do I realize that as I came to Hong Kong all those years ago that my mind was actively adapting to its environment by absorbing the streets, the advertisements, the people, the culture, etc. My daily choices and impulses came from the many external forces that is Hong Kong. I, in this case, was the schizophrenic and the urban controller was very much apparent. For instance if I picked up a particular brand of water bottle it would be because of the simple glance of a poster somewhere on my way to work through an air conditioned mall that I wanted to pass go through because the weather was so hot. Just by this simple, quick, yet unconscious decision I actively participated in the economic life of Hong Kong by fueling that particular business which fuels that particular habitant’s life. My needs, just as it is in the United States are the same as it is here in Asia. And the city, knowing well my internal nature has implemented forces into the city to subconsciously convince me to participate in city life. All these forces take over and eventually the urban controller and I became one.

In a recent public online diary entry, Janet Jordan, a 27 year old schizophrenic, has had severe hallucinations through the last 25 years of her life. She states in her entry that the controller in her head has taken over for so long that she does not remember the point when the controller wasn’t there. Fortunately her hallucinations would fall in and out thereby giving her a reality to anchor to. It was not until she acknowledged this reality could she feel she had a problem and begin to take hold of it. In the same way if we begin to take hold of these two components and understand the relationship between the man and urban controller, as Simmel calls us to, we can begin to experiment and begin an entirely new phenomenon much like the experimental city of Shenzhen. However in my observation I consider Shenzhen to be a fake reality because of its reaction to the extreme rate of urban control. At the ‘untouched reality’ Shenzhen is still a lower class village while the ‘controlled reality’ sees Shenzhen as a rapidly growing city, dense of glass skyscrapers, and with the highest GDP in China. In this case Shenzhen plays both the man and the controller because Shenzhen is trying to condition itself to catch up to their wild and experimental standards. I believe that the natural slow altering of the man’s psyche has not quite caught up with the pace that the urban controller is trying to condition the city to be. The city is expanding at such a rapid speed that there is a very big gap between habits and actuality and thus course the urban controller and the man are not one.

In the comparison between Hong Kong and Shenzhen in the case of urban schizophrenia, the relationships are so different and interesting that it calls into question which one will work better. Will the urban controller that has a steady pace or a rapid pace work out better? Will the rabbit or the turtle win? We can only allow the disease to play out in order to fully study and understand the condition of the mental vs. the metropolis.

//Anita//

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Filed under: Architecture, Hong Kong, mental disease, Metropolis, schizophrenia, Social Development, Urban Village, Urbanism, Urbanism Is About Human Life

Welcome to the Good Life?

“One city, nine towns.”  This is the initiative passed by the Shanghai Planning Commission in 2001, calling for the creation of nine new urban developments outside of the Shanghai city center to provide an alternative living condition.  Thames town in the Songjiang district, and Zhujiajao in the Qingpu district were two towns we toured a week ago, Thames town a new development, and Zhujiajao an ancient river town around which a new development is being planned.  Visits to their respective urban planning exhibition halls preceded our arrival, as we learned of the district’s new plans for urban growth in the area.  What was most interesting about these new developments was their seemingly “reverse” urban strategy.

As we have studied over and over, the development of great cities is wedded to the infrastructural networks that sustain them.  Following this notion, airports, train lines, subway systems and highways often develop simultaneously with the city itself, if not before.  Thames Town and Zhujiajiao’s development strategy has proposed the opposite; Build first, infrastructure later.  Neither town has it’s own metro station in place or any semblance of a major transportation hub.  Our group arrived by bus to both locations, after more than an hour travel time from Shanghai’s center.  So what of their success and vibrancy, without a critical infrastructure in place?  In Thames Town’s case, it is quite dead.  Empty streets, vacant shops and restaurants, a strange ghost-town feel pervades the atmosphere.  The only sign of life comes in the form of young Chinese newly-weds, who flock here for a photo shoot against the picturesque English market town backdrop, after which the architecture is modeled.

Zhujiajao is much more promising.  Woven through the context is a small river, from which the life of the historical village thrives.  It is along this waterway where the most vibrant street life can be found… hundreds of small shops, cafes, restaurants and residences line the riverbanks, and crowds of people wander through the narrow streets and over the bridges of this old fabric.  A Far East Venice, if you will.  Interestingly enough, this small river which now only serves tourist boat rides was once a major infrastructural artery, providing transport and goods into and out of the village.  Even though it cannot be considered a major piece of infrastructure in the contemporary sense of an urban node, it was still essential to the sustainment of the area, and eventually the decision to develop around it.  The new development under Shanghai’s initiative seems to be working as well, and feeding off of the inner-vibrancy of the waterway.  Quite literally, this historical pocket is being left alone, as new development is building up around it.

Another question to ask of these new development models concerns their legitimacy within a larger urban agenda.  As mentioned before, the goal of the “one city, nine towns” initiative is to provide a different living condition from the “suffocating” city center.  In doing so, many of these towns are appropriating new, undeveloped land around the periphery of central Shanghai.  This could have a negative affect however, and result in vast urban sprawl and inactivated developments, especially due to the missing infrastructure.  As Robert A.M. Stern argues in his piece Urbanism is About Human Life, “We don’t need new cities; we need to reuse and make better use of our existing urban areas.  We don’t need to take new land; we need to reclaim wasted, abandoned land.”  I am not arguing that Shanghai should not be expanding, but only to consider solving some of its urban issues from more of a “compact urbanism” standpoint, from which more broad scope urban tactics can be reasoned.   If “urbanism is about human life”, than our urban interventions should respond to it, and enhance it.  Developments like Thames Town seems to be completely re-defining what life is for Shanghai; Cobblestone streets, red brick buildings, and Victorian churches couldn’t be further away from city life, and as of now are proving unsuccessful.  New life doesn’t necessarily mean better life.  Ultimately, we should continually remind ourselves of the questions Stern asks… “What is a good city?  What is the good life that we as architects should advocate?”

Alex

Filed under: About, China, Infrastructure, Robert A.M. Stern, Shanghai, Thames Town, Uncategorized, Urbanism, Urbanism Is About Human Life, Zhujiajiao

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The views and opinions contained in this blog are solely those of the individual authors and do not represent the views and opinions of the University of Southern California or any of its officers or trustees.

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AAU FALL 2013:

University of Southern California
School of Architecture
Asia Architecture and Urbanism
Study Abroad Program

Director:
Andrew Liang
Instructors:
Bu Bing
Steven Chen
Yo-Ichiro Hakomori
Andrew Liang
Yuyang Liu
Neville Mars
Academic Contributors:
Thomas Chow, SURV
Bert de Muynck, Movingcities.org
Manying Hu, SZGDADRI, ITDP, Guangzhou
Clare Jacobson, Design Writer, Editor, Curator
Laurence Liauw, SPADA, Hong Kong
Mary Ann O'Donnell, Shenzhen Noted, Fat Bird, Shenzhen
Paul Tang, Verse, Shanghai
Li Xiangning, Tongji University, Shanghai
Students:
Daniel Aguilar
Hong Au
Michael den Hartog
Caroline Duncan
Nefer Fernandez
Christian Gomez
Isabelle Hong
Jin Hong Kim
Ashley Louie
Javier Meier
Paula Narvaez
Ashlyn Okimoto
Tamar Partamian
Samuel Rampy
Luis Villanueva
Krista Won
Tiffany Wu