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The city is not about community, not in any cosy, dynastic, co-operative sense. In London there is very little feeling of community. This city is astonishingly uncohesive. I have walked hundreds of miles, north-south, east-west. I don't feel community. I feel instead what Murray Bookchin in his analysis of the city calls "a common "humanity" rather than a parochial "folk". And by humanity I am sure that Bookchin meant nothing cuddly or cohesive; just a theoretical (and rarely called upon) solidarity. One thing for sure; it doesn't need us to hob-nob in the street to exist.

Put it this way; when did I last feel a sense of community, or at least a feeling that disparate communities could get along? When, in the most recent Brixton riots, I observed from my window that the gangs trashing shops across the road were half black, half white, Community? Whatever. But it made me think, good, whatever was happening was not that urban nightmare, black/white polarisation.

So, we can't count on or expect to find community. What we do find, however, variety, infinite variety, multiple-choice, a fact that has infinitely excited (and sometimes appalled) writers in the city. Conrad writes in the Secret Agent":

"Then the vision of an enormous town presented itself, of a monstrous town more populous than some continents…a cruel devourer of the world's light. There was room enough there to place any story, depth enough there for any passion, variety enough there for any setting, darkness enough to bury five millions of lives."

Baudelaire describes "plunging into the Crowd" …and yes it is not community that cities are all about; it is crowd. The two are clearly different. Crowd is mere (or rather sheer!) quantity. The crowd is a roughshod substitute for community; it may for a while look like community, it may share some of the outward appearances of community but it is the opposite of it. For community has some qualitative features, some lowest common denominator. The crowd on the other hand is purely random and promiscuous quantity.


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  verybigcity: e-Book by Rodney Blakeston
  :: SITEKICK.CO.UK :: 2002©Rodney Blakeston