Sunday, 21 December 2003

Repressed spaces In my note about residents not needing signs, I mentioned Paul Carter's book Repressed spaces, so I went back to some notes I had made when I read it. It's valuable if you're interested in understanding the meanings of public space and its uses. Carter explains agoraphobia as a 'movement inhibition' and uses a wide range of cultural and historical insights to help move us all on to a more sensitive approach to planning and design - "A different design on place-making is required to transform places of gathering into meeting places." Without taking us (in my unlearned view) too deeply into pschoanalysis, Carter nudges us into thinking about when a space is a place, how issues like orientation, proximity, gathering and lingering reveal "the characteristics of sociable space." The fear of the agora, Carter suggests, "is a critical way of inhabiting the environment, one standing at a dissident angle to the orthodoxy which identifies stability (mental, political and architectural) with stasis." OK that's probably an excessive charge against orthodoxy but it certainly helps me think about what matters where people move about in public space. The task is to apply such understanding of what Carter calls "the invisible topography of relations" to the local social context. And thinking about movement reminds me to mention the CeMoRe conference on alternative mobility futures early in January. I can't recall when I've so much looked forward to a conference - I only worry that the programme is overflowing and my appetite won't match the feast. The event is organised by John Urry (with others), who gave an insightful keynote paper on 'mobility and community' at the CDF/OII conference in October - recounted by David Wilcox here. A couple of other points about Repressed spaces. Tall buildings have poked through on this blog a few times so it's curious to note that in passing, Carter suggests that "Towers form in response to agoraphobia." The tallness, he says, "is a phobic reaction to the ground disappearing under our feet..." Well. And on the next page (213) there's a note of some personal interest to me. "Agoraphobia, it seems, can be a characteristic of speaking and writing. Smoothing over discontinuities implies a dread of gaps opening up in the chain of logic, a fear perhaps of thinking and acting freely." As a novice blogger I'm pondering this quizzically, but this is not the place for further analysis.

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