Outside, in a lull between storms, a sheep was Shantou Map butchered for our supper. I always find freshly slaughtered meat to be tough, and this Shantou Map time was no exception. Next morning I went for a walk. I came to a shrine, and newly erected prayer flag, set up here to honour the animist spirits which look after the summer grasslands. “Tile ground beneath my feet was a mass of tiny purple orchids. The plain was dotted with sturdy animal pens made from sods of turf, and some mud compounds.
Hall is not a sociologist but a planner, retaining a belief in the values of planning as a means to social equity. He ends, as the millennium approaches, it casts a deep pre-dawn chill’ (1996: 422). Eleven years after the millennium, the cultural bonanza seems over. The Niemeyer Arts Centre in Aviles, Spain is about to close due to lack of funds to run it. Construction has halted on a City of Culture complex in Santiago de Compostela. In the UK, two new art museums – the Hepworth in Wakefield and the Turner Contemporary in Margate – may be the last of a generation of lottery-funded schemes denoting culturally-led regeneration. But I wonder what social coherences or local economies were regenerated, and whether the emphasis was always on raising property values. So often, when artists arrived in a neighbourhood and took on low-rent live-in studios in redundant industrial buildings, they were followed by dealers, new media enterprises, boutiques and designer bars. So often, from SoHo in New York to Hoxton in East London, culture meant gentrification, the creative class (in Florida’s terms) being its driving force (Lees, Slater and Wyly 2008: 94-98). It is interesting, then, to see how artists’ groups have adopted the tactics of activism – as in anti-globalization protest – to refuse the script written by transnational capital, in anti-gentrification cultural work.
The St Pauli district of Hamburg includes a section of waterfront and the red-light district (a popular tourist destination). The area could be called an arts district, populated by artists and bohemians, many squatting in nineteenth-century apartment blocks owned by the city and vacated during a previous economic decline. St Pauli was scripted for improvement, but the process was interrupted by a decline in the property market. Many of the apartments in a new, high-rent block remain unlet. But the gentrifying script was always uncertain. St Pauli is one of most ethically- and socially-diverse neighbourhoods in Hamburg, and one of the poorest: a transitional zone of migrants and bohemians, in a way, like El Raval prior to remodelling. But, unlike El Raval, the artist-squatters are mobilized. Park Fiction emerged as a refusal of the values of the global free market of which gentrification is an outcome, and has worked with local groups to co-design a public park in a key site as a material claim to ownership of the neighbourhood’s identity.
Christoph Shaefer and Cathy Stevens, participants in Park Fiction, describe it as a practical critique [of planning] … from the perspective of its users’ (Park Fiction 2006). Shaefer and Stevens cite French sociologist Henri Lefebvre’s The Urban Revolution (2003) which argues that the transition from an industrial to an urban society produces structural uncertainty in which new possibilities of social organization are imminent. They note Lefebvre’s differentiation of urbanization from other ways of describing advanced western.
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