Featured on : The Croydon Citizen, 26th January 2015
“Sire, I am from another country. We are bored in the city, there is no longer any Temple of the Sun. […] We are bored in the city, we really have to strain to still discover mysteries on the sidewalk billboards, the latest state of humor and poetry”.
[ ‘Formulary for a New Urbanism’, Ivan Chtcheglov, 1953, Internationale Situationniste #1].
There comes a time in each of our lives when everything around us begins to feel alien and the rhythm of the city no longer belongs to us: that moment in which the panorama slows down whilst everything continues to move, controlled by standardized habits conformed to human silhouettes; that moment which makes us aware of the power of a discovery, and we cannot do other than communicate and share it with those around us.
We live in a vibrant world; a world in which it is not us who ooze energy, but rather the multitude of events that invest us with euphoria leaving nothing inside except miserable traces of tedium. Events have replaced Situations, and the city has become a collection of achievable desires arranged on shelves of sad rationality.
Dreams have abandoned imagination, dissolved in the traffic jam of passive entertainments with which we fill our days, disguising useless activities as leisure needs. Life has turned into a circus of professionalism and style; a luxury held in suits and trench coats in places devoid of spirit, in rooms of public acclaim praised for their fake perfection, abstraction and righteousness.
Public spaces have been transformed into ‘platforms’ – urban waiting rooms in which we only stop to seek a key hidden at the bottom of a bag and sit for a few moments to eat a sandwich filled with cheese and chaos. The residual space of the city has become a ‘vibrant’ place; that is to say an area assigned to the free movement of feet, hands, money, commodities and construction machinery that annihilate the depths of earth until their telescopic arms decide to gift silence some moments of relief.
The time we use to congest our days moves quickly and does not leave us the freedom to think. Everything is reduced to a competition to reach an unknown prize – certainly something special that makes us forget who we are and how we should live. Smooth movements, instants of rest, contemplation, reflection are excluded from our cities as deeds too slow, too devoid of any energy that may eventually drive profit. The mood of today’s cities never varies, neither with the changing of seasons nor with the passing of time. The constant emotional flatness leaves in us a mental emptiness that prevents spontaneity initiating action to get out of the continuous flow of routine. We are led to think and act in prescribed ways, in prescribed places, in prescribed times and we are not able to wipe out this infinite web of acceptance and conformity that imprisons us like spiders in the invisible net built by ourselves.
I believe that if the pounding sound of voices which tell us what to do and how to behave vanished from our cities and our minds, and the intimidating advertising billboards were transformed into white screens on which we may paint thoughts, draw fears, construct words, then we truly would become involved in the creation of a city that surprises us every day, with no need of exceptional Events but a constant Normality that binds us to the place in which we carry out our lives, where we activate our creativity to vent our need to dream – to have unrealistic dreams, perhaps even unattainable ones, but dreams that lead us to imagine a world that no one else has thought like ours.
[I was inspired to write the article after seeing readers’ suggestions for ‘I would make Croydon better by…’ in recent editions of the Croydon Citizen, and finding that the dreams of Croydon citizens are public fountains, bike hubs, a left luggage facility at East Croydon station, a tea shop, an arts centre and a cultural department].