The Brazilian geographer, Marcelo Lopes de Souza coined the word “phobopolis” (“fobópole” in Portuguese), to discuss the idea of generalised and banalised fear as well as the militarisation of the urban question. This is in line with other works about fear, paranoia and militarised spaces such as Zygmunt Bauman’s “Liquid Fear”, Stephen Graham’s “Cities under Siege: the new military urbanism”, or Lieven De Cauter’s “The Capsular Civilization: on the city in the age of fear”, among many others. Marcelo explains:
“Phobopolis (Port. fobópole) is a new word; it means city of fear. I introduced the concept in order to emphasise the degree of intensity in terms of violence and fear prevailing in some cities today.”
The disturbing perception of fear and the atmosphere of paranoia in contemporary cities are also captured and discussed in many films and novels. Sometimes very explicitly, others as a background for different stories, these issues are the focus in the feature film Neighbouring Sounds, directed by Kleber Mendonça Filho (Brazil, 2012). I will be the curator for one of the UCL Urban Lab film sessions on March 8th, when the film will be screened and followed by discussions with the audience and special guests.
The context used by Mendonça Filho gave me the idea for today’s message to Jeremy Bentham. The winds of global capitalism and recent economic prosperity brought about some complex clashes between modernity and a colonial culture of masters and servants in countries like Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, and many other fast-growing emergent nations. Placemaking in these countries is a process marked by constant tensions in the simmering relations between the parties in an ever more complex social stratification. Upper and middle classes, working and low-income classes, dispute power and protagonism in the making of urban spaces and territories. Fear and paranoia contaminate the perception of “the others” and help defining commonalities and separations…
Day 64: Fear and paranoia define our notion of “the others”!
Another message based on territorial control and how boundaries are managed, sometimes by law and regulations, sometimes by negotiations between potential insiders and outsiders. Although the definition of a territorial boundary may not always involve a final agreement by all parts involved, there is a mutual recognition about the portion of the space being on dispute, and the possibilities for border and boundary interpretations. It’s a power struggle, so a dispute might go on for years and years without a consensus (see the cases of nation-states and disputes like the one between North and South Korea, Spain and Catalonia or the Basque Country, and so on).
Obviously, territorial control is not only about nation-states and disputes involving spatial jurisdiction and boundaries definition can happen in many different scales. In the article that served as an inspiration for today’s message, “The S.U.V. model of citizenship: floating bubbles, buffer zones, and the rise of the “purely atomic” individual”, Don Mitchell explains how much blurriness and confusion can exist when we try to understand these kinds of controversy. On his analysis of the relationship between territory and citizenship, Don starts with the case of a court ruling in the US which defined spatial buffers and bubbles around health clinics and people, respectively, in order to avoid forms of protests that include person to person interaction. Don explains that:
“The law creates two kinds of bubbles. First, it establishes a one-hundred-foot radius buffer zone around health clinic entrances. Second, within that buffer zone, it establishes an eight-foot floating bubble around each person who enters, a bubble that cannot be pierced for the purposes of politically charged conversation, leafleting, “education,” and so forth.”
This is a very interesting idea to explain some socio-spatial experiences and also resonates Sloterdijk’s theory that uses the metaphor of spheres and foams to engage in the debate of securitised spaces, fear and paranoia.
Day 63: Get out of your “territorial bubble”!
Last week, I had a very nice and informative walk around the City of London to “see” the boundaries and spatial control strategies for the ring of steel. I thank Henrietta Williams for kindly accompanying me and for explaining everything she knows about this famous urban territory, created in the 1990s to secure the financial core of London against, at that time, bomb attacks by the IRA.
Sentry box on the ring of steel
Jon Coaffee has written many important papers describing the different material and immaterial (technological, political) strategies put in place at the Square Mile (one of the names by which the City is also known) since the 1990s to maintain the ring of steel in place, motivated by ever changing domestic and foreign threats to the security of the powerful businesses situated in this area.
Another interesting work I came across was one by Camilo Amaral on the (re)production of urban enclosures in London – “Urban Enclosure: Contemporary Strategies of Dispossession and Reification in London’s Spatial Production” (2015, unpublished) –, where he analyses various strategies for dispossession and land control in recent urban developments in the English capital. The idea of “tangled control” is particularly useful to understand the material and immaterial forms through which private corporations manage and take control of privatised public areas. It also helps us debate the limits between public and private spaces in the contemporary city. According to Camilo,
“The institution of multiple specific rules, with each place imposing a different set of use norms (such as prohibition of bikes, drinking, or the necessity of leaving a licence on a parking vehicle) transforms the city into an intertwined set of tangled orbits of hierarchy and control.”
I have been revisiting these and other works about securitising urban spaces because of my recent interest in territorial/boundaries control. This has been at the core of my recent work and I am trying to see if there’s any ground for comparison between what is happening in the UK and Brazil with regards to privatised public spaces and the territorial changes triggered by this swap in landownership. So, more to come in this theme soon…
Day 62: How do you control “your boundaries”?
No timelapse video from the Panopticam project today, so picture’s resolution is not great.
Obviously, this message was inspired by a phenomenon increasingly common in today’s urban world. Privatised areas with public pathways or of public interest (in some cases even previously owned by public authorities and sold or subject to concession as an agreement) have been mushrooming in medium and large cities around the world. London has been an attractive target to this kind of managerial practice for years and there are several areas of interest of the public around the city signposted as private land (see picture below).
Private property, Regent’s Place (London)
These places are usually carefully monitored by private security personnel and rely on a great number of (many times very visible) surveillance and security technologies. Contracts and regulation restrict the number of activities that are and are not allowed in these areas. Group gathering, skate boarders, and long stays of certain individuals are among the “most feared” occurrences, and therefore commonly prohibited. There are many articles on newspapers and journal papers about this controversial option for the viability of urban land renovation. The Guardian published many of these (here, here and here), and also tried to build a database of privatised publicly used areas in the UK. This debate is also very alive around the building permissions for a private garden bridge, to be built between Temple and the South Bank, in London. As part of the agreement, if the plan goes ahead, visitors “will be tracked by their mobile phone signals and supervised by staff with powers to take people’s names and addresses and confiscate and destroy banned items, including kites and musical instruments.”
Fear of “the other”, or fear of “the unexpected” are common motivations for flooding these areas with exaggerated security and repulsive/aggressive behaviour. Today’s message was influenced by this kind of treatment to areas of public interest, implying that this is the same as to deny public space in its essence, and therefore to renounce the city.
Day 53: Privatised and securitised public areas deny the unexpected and renounce the city!
Today’s message was inspired by a recent article on The Guardian about 2015 Paris attacks, questioning the balance between security/surveillance and what they called “France’s love of liberté and fraternity”.
Indeed, I think authorities and ordinary citizens should be more open to debate how much of our rights to privacy and anonymity we are prepared to compromise for an alleged safer world. This is exactly what organisations such as Privacy International and the Electronic Frontier Foundation have been doing for years…
Day 52: How much of your rights are you ready to give in for security?