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DOWNTOWN


For city read big. There are small cities. In Britain if there is a cathedral it is a city. But for me it has to be big, the bigger the better.

My obsessions with bigness in cities, whatever its origins, means I understand why Ceaucescu wanted to build his Bucharest boulevards and his absurd Palace. Speer and Hitler's plans for Germania do not seem ridiculous to me (though their mistake would have been this: plan too big and it can look small). I look at John Martin's visions or Ferriss' drawings for The Metropolis of Tomorrow, or the opening shots of Bladerunner and think, I genuinely think: hmm, that looks nice, I'd like to live there. (Not least because Bladerunner reassuringly held out the option not of a white and antiseptic future; no; rather of a Baroque future!)

I love to contemplate city population statistics, to try to imagine their significance. From behind the digits, all those zeros I hear a muffled riot of voices, machinery, communications. As they said in the film and TV series of that name: "There are eight million stories in the Naked City". There is no way of hearing the voice, the one voice of the city; the city is too huge, too multifarious, too chaotic; a tangle of delirium and anguish. Such that at times, almost, one yearns for some intervention, apocalyptic almost; an angelic visitation to tell us that it is all alright. The films Wings of Desire (Berlin) and City of Angels (Los Angeles) gives us the images of relief from the hell, the undeniable hell that is the city.

Many people, even those who profess to like cities, are concerned at size; they seek a city of a "human dimension" ; one you can walk across in an afternoon, say. And very pleasant these cityettes are: Siena, Bruges etc. But they do not interest me; I have no feeling of being included in their perfection. Indeed I am excluded. The smaller the city the more you are excluded. Only in a big city can the stranger hold his head up high, feel marginally at home; for who knows him? Certainly no one knows him as an outsider. In the real city there may be the poor, the recently arrived; but there is never the outsider.

It is the big cities that make me feel included; In New York, Sao Paulo I feel big. I feel proud to belong to the race that made them, proud to be in the modern age; determined to be forever, both sprirtually and actually: Downtown.

   
 

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