Sunday, 2 October 2011

Riots...and the cities they happen in

According to Alberto Perez-Gomez and his discussion of the city as “genus loci (not postcard)” - the ideal city, and presumably the ideal citizen, is supposed to leave behind the “repugnant prejudices of the past and transcend both totalitarianism and anarchy. Phenomenologically speaking, city space (built or otherwise) has to be made or re-invented through experiences. As Perez-Gomes posits - it cannot be done by merely creating a series of images of what the city should be. Reality has to be created intentionally by dwellers not just a fantasy of reality.

When discussing the making of experiences, or the making of the city - one has to examine the notions of ‘building’ and 'dwelling'. According to Heidegger, the act of dwelling itself “demands a reinvention of the ground of architecture by identifying first our renewed, non-Cartesian body image and its particular and necessarily fragmented recollection of Being.”

The relationship of the being, the body image and the act of dwelling needs to be analysed with relation to the city as a collective. The experiences, motivations and reactions of citizens may appear to share commonalities – indicating a collective notion of being, or a collective (unfortunate) mis-understanding of dwelling.

The meaning of dwelling becomes particularly important when Heidegger says - “To be a human being means to be on the earth as a mortal. It means to dwell. The old word bauen, which says that man is insofar as he dwells, this word bauen however also means at the same time to cherish and protect, to preserve and care for, specifically to till the soil, to cultivate the vine. Such building only takes care – it tends the growth that ripens into its fruit of its own accord.”

Therefore dwelling becomes much more than inhabiting, it has connotations of existence, of ‘being’ as a verb as well as of ‘being’ as noun. Dwelling also implies growing, preserving, cultivating as well as the act of building. “1. Building is really dwelling. 2. Dwelling is the manner in which the mortals are on the earth. 3. Building as dwelling unfolds into the building that cultivates growing things and the building that erects buildings”.

Riots reflect how a city has been built and dwelled in by citizens – or conversely, merely inhabited in an impersonal way. In some cases, the act of dwelling may lead to feelings of disassociation or even discord with the city. This maybe why citizens involved in riots and destructive violence do not appear to feel remorse for the consequences of their actions. 

Thus the behaviour and motivations of citizens during times of riots can be studied in the context of the built environment. How one interacts with and within the urban environment, and the deficiencies of not being able to realise a sense of ‘being’, of not being able to construct a desired reality or of not being able to ‘dwell’ in the sense of cherishing and protecting/being protected.

The discussion on violence and its causes is particularly relevant today, the 142nd birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, proponent of अहिंसा or non-violence. 

Carpetright Store set ablaze by rioters in Tottenham
London, 06 August 2011
Source: The Guardian newspaper

Author: Shahana Dastidar
Note: For more information or references, please write to the author at urbanruralfabric(at) 

1 comment:

  1. Well put,

    Would you agree if I were to include 'Riots' as a (Trial and Error) part of the evolutionary process of Human Social Structure/Interactions ?

    In such a case there would be more of an emphasis of 'human relations' than with their built environment.

    Also, with reference to 'built environment', would there be a massive difference between riots and 'Revolutions,.. and the cities they happen in' ?