"Is it Possible to Urbanize without Capitalism? De-valuing and Un-commodifying Labor?"
(Some thoughts, in response to the polemical texts of David Gordon, David Harvey and Edward Soja on capitalistic urbanization and regionalism)
Both David Gordon and David Harvey presented interesting critiques on the view of urbanization existing tied to the shackles of capitalistic regime, but with an unclear solution as to how to break free from this bondage; and that “a genuinely humanizing urbanism has yet to be brought into being.”(1) However, continually, “more and more people live in cities (even) as capitalism develops...(yet) more and more people dislike many aspects of urban life.”(2)
Admittedly, it is true that capitalism plays a vital role in the process of urbanization and that in some ways is an inevitable part of urban growth—at least as the only system we are familiar with that we have come to adapt and continue to re-adapt in the production of spatial forms of the urban. Additionally, Harvey noted that any (socialist) movement, which does not confront capitalistic urbanization would fail (Harvey, 1989).
Edward Soja’s experimental concept of density with the isolated state scenario provides a reversed fact that land value increases as it is within a closer proximity within the city center (Soja, 2010). This is a prime example to which why urbanism is under control of capitalism and the bourgeois elite. Because of population growth and the densification of the spatial form of the urban, capitalism then takes advantage of these phenomena. It then produces more intensification of land use, further increasing its monetary value, in turn demanding more labor, mass production of goods and infrastructural systems and frameworks needed for distribution, therefore attracting more people with a promised apportionment of its economic profit. Labor has been its fuel; more so, the commodification of labor has continued to feed the machine of capitalism, which has been an on-going cycle.
In the end, the economical inputs and outputs of its dwellers are just as proportional to those who live in less industrialized and less urbanized spatial forms.
What if, in some way, labor becomes an un-commodified and devalued economic force yet continues to produce; then it could potentially halt capitalism. Although, one would argue that this notion is inconceivable, as the process of urbanization would discontinue along with its symbiotic dialectic with capitalism.
With the removal of capitalism, the populace would rely on a more localized system of production, one where they would produce the (solely) necessitated infrastructures preventing over-accumulation, which Harvey sees as an endemic dilemma with capitalism anyway. This would not produce surplus that are usually absorbed and metabolized into over-consumption, only benefiting the bourgeois. The absence of a governing authority of the capitalistic bourgeois and the western model of infrastructure would sustain an autonomous new mode of social practice producing new spatial forms of urbanization. Since labor would be de-valued, urbanization would grow and morph into a more even and less dense occupation, where there will not be an agglomeration of population, in turn creating a median economic value of land and population dispersion.
(1) David Harvey, “The Urbanization of Capital,” in The Urban Experience, Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989, 58.
(2) David Gordon, “Capitalist development and the history of American cities,” in Marxism and the Metropolis, New York: Oxford University Press, 1978, 25.
(3) Edward Soja, "Regional urbanization and the end of the metropolis era," in The New Blackwell Companion to the City, Cambridge: Blackwell, 2010, pp 679-689.
On the Aura
“The presence of the original is the prerequisite to the concept of authenticity,”(1) and without the original the latter would not exist, as the “authenticity of a thing is the essence of all that is transmissible from its beginning.”(2) This is analogous to the icon which the Transamerica building has created for the San Franciscan skyline, as it has been, and is still is being used as a “signifier” of what San Francisco IS. It is through the process of reproduction and re-representation that building gained its authenticity. Although, it can be added that “the reproduction” creates an aura for itself as it can not capture the aura of the original. Nonetheless, an object’s aura changes and adapts through time, as the perception of it is dynamic in the temporal context. It is “related to the production of its time,”(3)but also in the current environment it occupies, as “the medium of contemporary perception can be comprehended as decay of the (original) aura.”(4)
Ironically, it is the opposite case for the San Francisco skyline as the removal of the Transamerica Pyramid loses the contemporary aura of how we know and experience San Francisco. Inversely, the city relies on the icon that the building presents, and the removal of its iconography loses the current aura as we know it, and in some ways loses its identity in the present and eventually its authenticity. However, before the construction of the building, many opposed its erection as the locale viewed it as a “scar” on the skyline even though its architect defended that it will actually preserve it. Regardless, we can argue that the Transamerica Pyramid truly definesthe aura and authenticity of the city and that its removal causes a disorientation and deterioration in the current time-period it occupies.
1. Walter Benjamin. The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. http://bid.berkeley.edu/bidclass/readings/benjamin.html, 5.
2. Ibid., 6.
3. Beatriz Colomina. Chapter 15: Architectureproduction.
4. Benjamin, 8.
Architecture is Dead!
As Friedrich Nietzsche infamously challenged, “God is dead,” can be applied synonymously with our perception of what “architecture” IS. Nietzsche reveals that the creation of our idea of “God (s)” is a concept that is formulated and created subjective to our wants and needs. Can we not say the same for architecture? Through fictitious imaginations and interpretations, we create and re-present the “idea” of what architecture could be, either based on our own aesthetic judgments or through our unconscious beliefs to bring forth in the sensible world from the realm of the “essences” of what architecture IS.
Architectural existentialism is almost autonomous in that in order for the pure essence of architecture to be expressed it must not be represented through any means of medium. Architecture is architecture when it is presented in its most essential and ideal form. Once we create "architecture" through a medium (such as a building or even a drawing), it instantaneously loses its essence and becomes nothing but a representation and a fiction brought to reality, therefore true architecture only exist within the realm of the ideal, and could never be brought upon the realm of the being.