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VII. Environmental Planning

And he who becomes master of a city used to being free and does not destroy her can expect to be destroyed by her, because always she has as pretext in rebellion the name of liberty and her old customs, which never through either length of time or benefits are forgotten, and in spite of anything that can be done or foreseen, unless citizens are disunited or dispersed, they do not forget that name and those institutions....
— Machiavelli, The Prince


THE CAPITALIST PRODUCTION system has unified space, breaking down the boundaries between one society and the next. This unification is also a process, at once extensive and intensive, of trivialization. Just as the accumulation of commodities mass-produced for the abstract space of the market inevitably shattered all regional and legal barriers, as well as all those corporative restrictions that served in the Middle Ages to preserve the quality of craft production, so too it was bound to dissipate the independence and quality of places. The power to homogenize is the heavy artillery that has battered down all Chinese walls.


IF HENCEFORWARD the free space of commodities is subject at every moment to modification and reconstruction, this is so that it may become ever more identical to itself, and achieve as nearly as possible a perfectly static monotony.


THIS SOCIETY ELIMINATES geographical distance only to reap distance internally in the form of spectacular separation.


HUMAN CIRCULATION considered as something to be consumed — tourism — is a by-product of the circulation of commodities; basically, tourism is the chance to go and see what has been made trite. The economic management of travel to different places suffices in itself to ensure those places' interchangeability. The same modernization that has deprived travel of its temporal aspect has likewise deprived it of the reality of space.


A SOCIETY THAT molds its entire surroundings has necessarily evolved its own techniques for working on the material basis of this set of tasks. That material basis is the society's actual territory. Urbanism is the mode of appropriation of the natural and human environment by capitalism, which, true to its logical development toward absolute domination, can (and now must) refashion the totality of space into its own peculiar decor.


THE REQUIREMENT OF capitalism that is met by urbanism in the form of a freezing of life might be described, in Hegelian terms, as an absolute predominance of "tranquil side-by-sideness" in space over "restless becoming in the progression of time."


IT IS TRUE THAT all the capitalist economy's technical forces should be understood as effecting separations, but in the case of urbanism we are dealing with the fitting out of the general basis of those forces, with the readying of the ground in preparation for their deployment — in a word, with the technology of separation itself.


URBANISM IS THE MODERN way of tackling the ongoing need to safeguard class power by ensuring the atomization of workers dangerously massed together by the conditions of urban production. The unremitting struggle that has had to be waged against the possibility of workers coming together in whatever manner has found a perfect field of action in urbanism. The effort of all established powers, since the experience of the French Revolution, to augment their means of keeping order in the street has eventually culminated in the suppression of the street itself. Evoking a "civilization . . . moving along a one-way road," Lewis Mumford, in The City in History, points out that with the advent of long-distance mass communications, the isolation of the population has become a much more effective means of control. But the general trend toward isolation, which is the essential reality of urbanism, must also embody a controlled reintegration of the workers based on the planned needs of production and consumption. Such an integration into the system must recapture isolated individuals as individuals isolated together. Factories and cultural centers, holiday camps and housing developments — all are expressly oriented to the goals of a pseudo-community of this kind. These imperatives pursue the isolated individual right into the family cell, where the generalized use of receivers of the spectacle's message ensures that his isolation is filled with the dominant images — images that indeed attain their full force only by virtue of this isolation.


IN ALL PREVIOUS PERIODS, architectural innovation served the ruling class exclusively; now for the first time there is such a thing as a new architecture specifically for the poor. Both formal poverty and the immense extension of this new experience in housing are the result of its mass character, dictated at once by its ultimate ends and by the modern conditions of construction. At the core of these conditions we naturally find an authoritarian decision-making process that abstractly develops any environment into an environment of abstraction. The same architecture appears everywhere just as soon as industrialization begins, even in the countries that are the furthest behind in this regard, for even these are considered a fertile terrain for the implantation of the new type of social existence. The threshold crossed in the growth of society's material power, and the corresponding lag in the conscious appropriation of this power, are just as clearly manifested in urbanism as they are, say, in the spheres of nuclear weapons or of the management of births (where the possibility of manipulated heredity is already on the horizon).


WE ALREADY LIVE in the era of the self-destruction of the urban environment. The explosion of cities into the countryside, covering it with what Mumford calls "formless masses" of urban debris, is presided over in unmediated fashion by the requirements of consumption. The dictatorship of the automobile, the pilot product of the first stage of commodity abundance, has left its mark on the landscape in the dominance of freeways that bypass the old urban centers and promote an ever greater dispersal. Meanwhile, instants of incomplete reorganization of the urban fabric briefly crystallize around the "distribution factories" — giant shopping centers created ex nihilo and surrounded by acres of parking space; but even these temples of frenetic consumption are subject to the irresistible centrifugal trend, and when, as partial reconstructions of the city, they in turn become overtaxed secondary centers, they are likewise cast aside. The technical organization of consumption is thus merely the herald of that general process of dissolution which brings the city to the point where it consumes itself.


THE HISTORY OF the economy, whose development has turned entirely on the opposition between town and country, has progressed so far that it has now succeeded in abolishing both of these poles. The present paralysis of overall historical development, due to the exclusive pursuit of the economy's independent goals, means that the moment when town and country begin to disappear, so far from marking the transcendence of the split between them, marks instead their simultaneous collapse. The reciprocal erosion of town and country that has resulted from the faltering of the historical movement by whose means existing urban reality should have been superseded is clearly reflected in the bits and pieces of both that are strewn across the most advanced portions of the industrialized world.


UNIVERSAL HISTORY WAS BORN in cities, and attained its majority with the town's decisive victory over the country. Marx considered that one of the bourgeoisie's great merits as a revolutionary class was the fact that it "subjected the country to the rule of the towns" — whose very air made one free. But while the history of cities is certainly a history of freedom, it is also a history of tyranny, of State administration controlling not only the country but also the city itself. The towns may have supplied the historical battleground for the struggle for freedom, but up to now they have not taken possession of that freedom. The city is the locus of history because it embodies at once a concentration of social power, which is what makes the historical enterprise possible, and a consciousness of the past. The present urge to destroy cities is thus merely another index of the belatedness of the economy's subordination to historical consciousness, the tardiness of a unification that will enable society to recapture its alienated powers.


THE COUNTRY DEMONSTRATES just the opposite fact — "isolation and separation" ( The German Ideology). As it destroys the cities, urbanism institutes a pseudo-countryside devoid not only of the natural relationships of the country of former times but also of the direct (and directly contested) relationships of the historical cities. The forms of habitation and the spectacular control of today's "planned environment" have created a new, artificial peasantry. The geographic dispersal and narrow-mindedness that always prevented the peasantry from undertaking independent action and becoming a creative historical force are equally characteristic of these modern producers, for whom the movement of a world of their own making is every bit as inaccessible as were the natural rhythms of work for an earlier agrarian society. The traditional peasantry was the unshakeable basis of "Oriental despotism," and its very scatteredness called forth bureaucratic centralization; the new peasantry that has emerged as the product of the growth of modern state bureaucracy differs from the old in that its apathy has had to be historically manufactured and maintained: natural ignorance has given way to the organized spectacle of error. The "new towns" of the technological pseudo-peasantry are the clearest of indications, inscribed on the land, of the break with historical time on which they are founded; their motto might well be: "On this spot nothing will ever happen — and nothing ever has." Quite obviously, it is precisely because the liberation of history, which must take place in the cities, has not yet occurred, that the forces of historical absence have set about designing their own exclusive landscape there.


THE SAME HISTORY that threatens this twilight world is capable of subjecting space to a directly experienced time. The proletarian revolution is that critique of human geography whereby individuals and communities must construct places and events commensurate with the appropriation, no longer just of their labor, but of their total history. By virtue of the resulting mobile space of play, and by virtue of freely chosen variations in the rules of the game, the independence of places will be rediscovered without any new exclusive tie to the soil, and thus too the authentic journey will be restored to us, along with authentic life understood as a journey containing its whole meaning within itself.


THE MOST REVOLUTIONARY IDEA concerning city planning derives neither from urbanism, nor from technology, nor from aesthetics. I refer to the decision to reconstruct the entire environment in accordance with the needs of the power of established workers' councils — the needs, in other words, of the anti-State dictatorship of the proletariat, the needs of dialogue invested with executive power. The power of workers' councils can be effective only if it transforms the totality of existing conditions, and it cannot assign itself any lesser a task if it aspires to be recognized — and to recognize itself — in a world of its own design.

VIII. Negation and Consumption in the Cultural Sphere