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Peripheries. Searching the informal modernity of urban peripheries. Section edited by M. Cremaschi

Searching the informal modernity
of urban peripheries

by Marco Cremaschi

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Most of the cities of the world are somehow at large in the sea of modernity. The landscape of urban peripheries is anything but coherent. The resilience of slums, the renovation of brown fields, and the development of waterfronts has involved a debate on the sustainable design of cities. All these have been areas of growing involvement for the local authorities over the last 30 years. Besides, the impacts of all urban projects are problematical, due to the strength of societal networks and the local state. In fact, all new developments show a consistent process of mediation that is subject to all sorts of influences by the state, the local communities, and the technical bodies.

Cities are not built to fit a form of production, instead they are progressively restructured to match an ever evolving one; this is one of major difference between the European and the American city, but it interferes consistently with both historical and colonial cities in the global South. The “rational dream” of matching the urban environment to a mode of production generated a demand for planning, politics and ideology, with all the non rational, rather mythological implications of these disciplines. Finally, “events” and occasions interfere consistently, being cities exposed to the long list of humanity disasters, calamity, wars, flooding and migrations waves. The adaption process is thus sometimes delayed and sometimes accelerated.
But modernity does not unfold equally at the core and at the periphery of world systems. Where power and money concentrate, the logic of development seems easier to retrieve. Elsewhere, development and modernity seem to lose some of their features. Two equally disappointing logics have tried to justify these cases; modernity has been delayed, as if it were a train; or exceptions have been made, as if modernization were a one-fit-all set of rule.

Freely borrowing from Latour, we can suggest that cities “have never been modern”. Modernity has tried to reconfigure them, but never successfully. A reluctant modernity, however, showing confusing and sometimes conflicting feelings with regards to the urban heritage. Moreover, an incomplete modernity, a never accomplished project of emancipation and growth. And finally, an informal modernity that has renewed, rather than erasing, traditional bonds and old ties.
Peripheries are thus a repository of social experiments that deal with the issues brought by modern restructuring. Urban modernity has modified “the cultural experience of contemporary city life” (Robinson 2004), i.e. the urbanity of social life; urbanity is fluid, and subject to the typical change of cultural phenomena. Urbanism instead is more structural by definition, and it concerns the arrangement and improvement of urban sectors as part of a whole. Though different, they are linked, and modernity has questioned both.

Stressing everyday life and urbanity, modernism designates an alteration of the emotional structure that connects individual bodies and minds in a shared world, an acceleration of time and space where “everything solid melts into air” (Berman 1982). Emphasizing the development of the physical structures of the city, and thus urbanism, modernism comes to signify the outcomes of different processes of regularization and de-sacralization that are often recognized as varied and contradictory. Urbanism in particular is a good example of such distinctive movements of modernity as “emancipation, renovation, democratization, and expansion” (Canclini 1990).
As known, the Chicago school of sociology elaborated upon this link between urbanism and way of life. Wirth posited a substantial unity. Urbanism as a ‘way of life’ is determined by dimension, organization and culture.
Fading social bonds and diminishing proximity cause problems on one side; new political mobilization and new non place bound networks enriches cities on the other. As a consequence, urbanity and urbanism do not coincided, and often are not even “synchronized”. Breaking up the equivalence between urbanity and urbanism is a major challenge for the understanding of modern cities.

This section of Planum explores the informal modernity of the peripheries of the world. More precisely, it investigates the decalage between urbanity and urbanism, analyzing both urban development and policies. The focus is on the description of the new combination of factors which lies behind the unending change of present-day “invisible cities”.

• Berman, M. (1982)All That Is Solid Melts Into Air: The Experience Of Modernity, Simon and Schuster, New York.
• Cremaschi M., Eckardt F. (2011, eds.), Changing Places. Urbanity, Citizenship & Ideology in New European Neighbourhoods, Techne Press, Amsterdam.
• García Canclini, N. (1990), Culturas híbridas. Estrategias para entrar y salir de la modernidad, Grijalbo, México.
• Robinson, J. (2004), “Cities between modernity and development”, in South African Geographical Journal, 86:1, 17-22.
• Latour, B. (2004), Paris: Invisible City, Online Project, included in Airs de Paris Exhibition, 2007, Centre Pompidou, Paris (E. Hermant: Photo; P. Reed: Screen Design).