Thursday, 21 May 2009

That a city undergoes ceaseless, divulging change is of no doubt. The realities of human movement within a city, both physical and abstract, are incomprehensible, such is the barely finite set of variables that necessarily accompanies life in a city. So, let us assume that we can never know a city. Let us posit that cities, for the purpose of their definition and explanation, require detachment from any kind of reality that pertains to that city. One can never know a city. It simply cannot exist.

What of two cities? Two cities! What exchange then? Let us think of two people, in a room, talking about their cities, describing them to each other. Each faces the other with their detachment, bold as brass. Each present a tangible abstraction of an intangible reality. How can one describe relentless change, a movement from A to B, if A and B have no sense to remain still long enough to be grasped?

A city is more than flows of concrete or channels of brick, but even these mediums remain susceptible to change. Think of the purging of streetnames in the east of Berlin, a process undertaken to counteract the Stalinist affect of yesteryears. Notice the renovation of living spaces, new sites of construction, the gentrification of Florianska in Krakow, the rejuvenation of industrial areas as the industry raises it to self-regulated continental standards, the designation of areas and quarters of cultural or ethnic import. And what of the management of traffic flows, the authoritarian enforcement of urban parkland or segregation of old landfill in these places?

Within these structures are the unremitting shifts of temperature and light, both gradual and sudden. As birds migrate between neighbourhoods and continents, so too do colonies of vermin begin to flood basements and infrastructure, always noticed, never sought. In moments, the pearling blankness of a summer sky rapidly ripens into a heavy, black hailstorm. Water tables silently rise and fall, a run of fish moves out from the Vistula docks. Clouds of blossom settle into the streets of Prądnik Biały, Harlequin ladybirds invade the window frames of Pankow. Meanwhile a mild, overwintering influenza virus spreads quietly through entire districts in several cities at once. There is no rest in the city; stories of it simply serve to detach us further.

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