"I wonder if failed space isn't more conducive to creativity. This may be a romantic notion, but it's also a classical idea. Think of Goethe pondering Roman ruins. Postindustrial cities that are seeking to remake themselves as cultural centers might also benefit from pondering the success of failure: the glamour of their own collapse." - Herbert Muschamp1
When does a industrial city become post-industrial? How does thriving innovation give way to urban degeneration? Once booming with industry and culture, American cities like Detroit, St. Louis, and Cleveland have become shells of their former identities facing uncertain futures. In economic terms, the point at which a cities' soft economy surpasses its industrial production can be pinpointed. But in the life of the city, this is just one moment in an era of urban decline - a slow process of regression. As a label, post-industrial implies a transition beyond a former industrial state, but refers more to the past than to the future. More finite than 'after', the prefix 'post' underscores this notion of the past, implying a nostalgic sense of loss.
In 1967, Henri Lefebvre declared that society had already been completely urbanized. By this, he meant that beyond cities themselves, society - its way of being, perceiving, and interacting, was a product of the urban condition. He described a time-space continuum from 0% (agrarian) to 100% urbanization, with four critical phases: the political city, mercantile city, industrial city and the critical zone. The industrial city phase is located beyond the halfway point in the overall transition from agrarian to urban society. However, the implosion-explosion point in which urbanization becomes ubiquitous marks the transition from industrial city to critical zone. This sequence is significant in the processes of urbanization and industrialization. According to Lefebvre, the process of urbanization precedes industrialization, but the industrial city is the catalyst for the total subordination of the agrarian to the urban.2
So, the City as a construct has already won. It is widely known that more than half of the global population now lives in urban areas. This shift can be accounted to the explosion of the urban population of the developing mega-cities in Asia and across the southern hemisphere, as well as a symptom of the economic crises of the past decade in the developed, western world. US census data in 2010 revealed that, for the first time in nine decades, the population growth of major American cities surpassed the growth of their suburbs.3 On the whole, these patterns could suggest a generally optimistic future for the City. Still, in 2010, as the 'general' American population moved to the city, residents of Detroit had been leaving the city at a rate of 1 person every 22 minutes for 10 years.4
Detroit is of course an extreme case - perhaps the most studied, most discussed 'Post-Industrial' American city. Still, Detroit's urban exodus, is indicative not only of the city's unique situation, but also a precursor of a subtler crisis of the City in general. As Krzysztof Nawratek points outing his 2012 book Holes in the Whole, "The only reason for the flourishing of modern cities is that they are nodes in global flows." And although these flows of capital, people and ideas are currently sustaining cities, they are also undermining each city's individual integrity. "The weakness of the modern city is primarily the result of cities being more of a condensation of global flows than autonomous entities."5 The era is approaching in which the industries which fuel many developed cities will have no physical relationship to them. Rather, they will be fully embedded hubs within an increasingly globalized network which is inherently negligent of any singular entity within its total system.
Today, in the fleeting moment after the existence of the city has proved victorious, yet its conceptual failure is palpable, and before the transformation from industrial to information society is complete, it is an opportunity to reflect on this shift, and perhaps to predict a possible future of the urban condition. According to Lefebvre, urbanization, superseding industrialization, is the force of capital growth in the city. The city, its development and its history, is an urban phenomenon, rather than a byproduct of its industry. And the industrial city, as a predecessor to the 'critical zone' of complete urbanization, is understood to be transient. As the city follows this linear progression, however, its complexity grows exponentially. The space-time continuum breaks, as the physical space of the city no longer correlates to the networks of activity which occupy it. The critical zone, then, is where the linear progression of the city breaks down. "The unconscious appears sometimes as a deceptive and blinding emerges of a rural and industrial past, sometimes as a sense of loss for an urban reality that is slipping away..." (Lefebvre, 166). This is the crisis of the Post-Industrial city.
The silver lining of this crisis could be the escape form what Lefebvre ultimately suggests to be a highly politicizing process of enterprise as strategy for the urban society - the state of the functioning industrial city. In its failed, delirious condition, the Post-Industrial city becomes the space of exception from total urbanization.
Now that everything is urban, an emerging dialectic within the urban condition could be the Delirious and the Determined. The Determined City - the established and emerging industrial cities - will follow the linear progression and will continue to be epicenters of production. Perhaps in either or both cases they will be capable of withstanding the transition to fully embedded node in the global network of flows. However, in the future, the relationship between city and industry will become increasingly estranged. With the introduction of technologies like mass accessibility to 3d printing and the immaterial commodity of data stored in the cloud, proximity to a physical means of production will become less critical. Urban density will no longer directly correlate to a higher yield of capital, a higher production output. The future of the Determined City is still uncertain.
The Post-Industrial, or Delirious, City is a state of exception that is completely free to transform. The process of transformation implies a change in appearance which could refer to the regeneration of the existing built environment. The Delirious city inhabits a shell of its former identity - an over-built environment constructed for a past urban density. Still, as dilapidated or underused as it may be, the physical body of the city also signifies its history and its failure. Failure is not the same as death but instead, as Muschamp inplied, a rich source of inspiration. As urbanization will drive not industry but the production and exchange of ideas and information, recycled physical infrastructure could become productive sites for new cultural and creative 'factories': creative laboratories, labyrinthian data centers, platforms of experimentation.
Formerly an industrial belt situated on a medieval fortification, the Meelfabriek complex in the Netherlands is an interesting precedent for this type of urban transformation. Already empty for a decade, in 1998 a design competition was held a decade later to gather strategies for its preservation and regeneration. The Swiss architect Peter Zumthor won the competition with a proposal to strip the industrial buildings down to their 'structural anatomy' and apply mostly transparent facades to complement the old structure and materiality. The buildings were each given a new function and architectural character according to its original structural concept. Among the convention residential and retail facilities are some more intriguing cultural attractors like the House of Fashion and the House of Design, occupying cavernous former silos and warehouse forests of concrete columns. The industrial complex is remade as a cathedral of contemporary lifestyles.6
Cultural makers will embrace the Delirious city. As unfailed, Determined cities continue to reconstruct themselves, becoming more expensive and less distinctive, a innovatory creative class will relocate to the more desirable, opportunistic environment of the Delirious city. Whereas the Determined city is an organism in itself, the Dispersed city is a palimpsest of inspiration, a project of which its citizen can still take ownership.
The critical shift yet to be made is foremost a psychological one. Delirious cities can no longer suffer the association with a past that can never be reincarnated. Like other 'post' movements - post-colonialism, postmodernism, the label of Post-Industrial imposes constant nostalgia onto a city. The 'post' condition can not exist independently of its historical reference. It is also important to note that a singular city can be an assemblage of the Determined and Delirious cities. I have a hunch that in the future most cities will be composed of both the Determined and the Delirious. This is an optimistic vision because the presence of both conditions will ensure constant adaptation of the city and the urban society, breaking down the linear progression to total urbanization. For now, the transformation of Post-Industrial cities begins by reveling in the glamour of its failure.
- 1 Herbert Muschamp, "Public Space or Private, a Compulsion to Fill It," The New York Times, 27 Aug 2000. http://www.nytimes.com/2000/08/27/movies/art-architecture-public-space-or-private-a-compulsion-to-fill-it.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm
- 2 Henri Lefebvre, trans. Robert Bononno. The Urban Revolution. (1970). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 2003
- 3 William H. Frey, "Demographic Reversal: Cities Thrive, Suburbs Sputter", Brookings Institute, 29 June 2012. http://www.brookings.edu/research/opinions/2012/06/29-cities-suburbs-frey
- 4 Lauren Knapp, "Detroit's Population Decline: 1 Person Departed Every 22 Minutes", PBS Newshour. 23 Mar 2011. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/2011/03/-sarah-hulett-of-michigan.html
- 5 Krzysztof Nawratek, Holes in the Whole. Winchester: Zero Books. 2012. Pg. 8-13
- 6 "De Meelfabriek: A project of redevelopment and urban renewal", Architect: Peter Zumthor http://www.demeelfabriek.nl/index.php