Place-making initiatives, mens sheds, farmer’s markets, industrial heritage parks, moveable benches, wiggly earth walls in community gardens, proposals for high-lines, things that pop up that everyone loves calling “pop-ups”… how can it be that all these ground-up initiatives look exactly the same no matter where in the world they occur? Whatever this thing is that I hear being called “the local community”, I can trust it like McDonalds to taste exactly the same wherever I go. That is a pity. Community initiatives aught to be antidotes to the homogenisation of culture. But they are just stuff white people like.
A month ago I spent a week in the West Village in New York and grew increasingly leery. There is hardly any place left that the place-makers haven’t turned into “places” with tricks from the same menu of flash cards they use all over the world. In just 8 years since I lived in south harlem and felt so assailed that I wrote a novel, New York has become so soft, that the hardest thing it has been able to squeeze out out its arse, is Lady Gaga. Forget Andy’s Factory. Forget another Lou Reed. If Talking Heads were just forming now, they would be performing on pop-up stages at place-making events arranged by mayor Bloomberg’s special unit for Sustainable Community Arts Projects and Urban Beekeeping. This couldn’t happen:
I’m not expressing sympathy for muggers, or nostalgia for the reckless driving that is starting to be cleansed from most cities. What I’m sad to see being lost, is the pleasant air of neglect. It is ignoble for a child to have helicopter parents. Being overly doted on is likewise ignoble for cities. I spent that last decade living in a part of a city identified as having “issues” and never could quite escape the sense that I and my street were being “worked on”.
My advice to bike advocates, is run a mile if you hear the word pop-up. Know that “place making” means over priced muffins and wage-earning buskers. “Community” is a buzz word that should only be used in grant applications.
Cycling has real economic power. It gets populations to school and to work. Every bike trip is worth $14 to Australia (see p. 6): that’s not muffins and moveable chairs! There is a danger in letting others confuse the cycling agenda with all of this other window dressing being added to cities. How much worse if that window dressing is stripping cities of their real spark!