Side Note I: generosity & hostility in the city

Considering the lack of time that I have to write here I’ve decided to start a new category, Side Note, not an exceptionally original name but it does the work. It will be the place to quickly share some ideas about topics that I am interested about, but while I am in this adventure of that-thing-called-phd  I should not focus on the topic of my research. A friend suggested I should have a box to keep ideas ‘for after the that-thing-called-phd’. The Side Notes could be my box. I could filled it with Basque Typefaces. Or the concepts of generosity and hostility in the city.

In June (2015) during the London Festival of Architecture 2015 I joined four walks around the city, completely different one from the other. The last one, ‘Everywhere a Sign‘ (organised by the Landscape Institute), introduced really interesting topics, and in a way  it was a fantastic sum up of the previous ones (that can be another Side Note), and it’s still echoing at the back of my mind. I am still thinking about some of the concepts that Tim Waterman introduced as we walked around Fitzrovia. One of the main inputs of the walk was to ask ‘why’, why are we only allowed to walk in the pedestrian area? why and when was that decided? why cars won the battle of the streets over pedestrians? and how signs (whereas its a long yellow line on the pavement, a vertical sign, a railing, etc)  mark limits that we, pedestrians or drivers, obey?, etc.

One thing that Tim Waterman did not address, there was no time for everything, was cultures differences between countries. Whereas here in London people might follow basic rules to achieve a social harmony in other countries chaos might rules social harmony. Obviously this could be the topic for an entire conference, so fair enough.

However, what really struck me was the definition of the city as hostile or generous, and the attitude of the councils and developers in the same terms. Creating a harmonic space, with large spaces to sit and enjoy can be seen as a generous offer to the citizens, but also creating waiting spaces for pedestrians in the middle of busy streets, as Oxford Street, is a generous act. On the other hand, designing spaces with uncomfortable benches, excess of railings protecting buildings, indestructible walls to stop intruders, etc, will create hostile spaces that can originate hostile situations. How these concepts could inform (graphic) design is a different issue, but I guess that it could start by being loyal to its own environment, respect some visual peace, or diminish light pollution…

This is quite a simplistic summary, but this is all I allow myself to think about this topic, it will have to wait a few years until there is time to think about it again.