The Legibility of the Everyday City

March 26, 2014 - 12:52pm by Amy Su

In The Legibility of the Everyday City, Amin and Thrift present the dilemma of how one can theorize about cities without losing the unique variations, vitality, and urban practices that make a city what it is and how it is experienced. How does one further the study of cities without making a method too systematic to the point of losing the true values or traits of a city?

In discussing the topic of transitivity, the authors point out how the experience of the individual is important to the understanding of a city. How has the relationship between individual and city developed over time and more specifically what is that relationship today? How do contemporary map interfaces or easy access to narratives online help us understand a city differently? How have maps and narratives evolved to help us understand contemporary cities? With various applications easily accessible and transportable, such as Google Maps or Foursquare on our phones, how are our experiences of cities changing? The fact that people are constantly checking their phone to find their way around a city changes our mental maps or navigability of a city. Is the interest in getting lost in a city or exploring without any predeterminations (aims of the flaneur) lost due to these technologies? And how do we communicate them or share experiences of cities differently? How has this changed our understanding of them when so many voices of various experiences are broadcasted and accessible?

Perhaps the contemporary flaneur is someone more similar to Walter Benjamin in having preconceptions or having some idea of knowing what to look for. “He was armed instead with a transcendental speculative philosophy that allowed him to select, order, and interpret his sensory experiences of the city. These were reflexive wanderings underpinned by a particular theorization of urban life, with the demand from theory to reveal the processes at work through the eye of a needle” (11). Instead of such a ‘transcendental speculative philosophy,’ the contemporary flaneur (perhaps with a more shallow desire) is looking for a certain experience built upon the narratives or experiences of previous urban explorers, a curated experience of the city.

Another point I found very interesting in the essay was the topic of rhythms and rhythmanalysis. How has the mix of rhythms changed as we are more interconnected and the rhythms of cities across the world are collapsed and layered even further? Instead of the absence or neglect of domestic rhythms (as pointed out by the authors) have rhythms of the world outside entered too far into the domestic realm and interrupt the calm of domestic life?

Lastly, I had difficulty understanding ‘everydayness’ as the authors define “as a kind of immanent life force running through everything.” The question of “how cities manifest everyday life…” is vague. What is the opposite or counter to everyday life? The less banal occurrences? What do the Amin and Thrift mean by “everydayness as an immanent force.”

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