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(en) US, Phoenix, Anarchist journal, Fires Never Extinguished - In the Distance: Suburbia Against the Barricades - Haussmann and city planning: the birth of the human tide

Date Sat, 29 May 2010 11:38:55 +0300


"Having, as they do the appearance of walling in a massive eternity, Haussmann's urban works are a wholly appropriate representation of the absolute governing principles of the Empire: repression of every individual formation, every organic self-development, 'fundamental' hatred of all individuality."--JJ Honeger 1874(Benjamin, 122) "But by the any standpoint other than that of facilitating police control, Haussmann's Paris is a city built by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." -Guy De Bord Haussmann did not invent city planning, the Romans and ancient Chinese planned cities. Modern cities were planned and built in the British and French colonies earlier than in
Europe. Washington DC was planned and built on an empty field decades before Haussmann refashioned Paris.

What was different about Haussmann's Paris is that he built his
new national capitol on top of the old Paris, a pre-industrial
city. Haussmann's Paris reveals more about the architecture
of capitalism and of the nation state than L'Enfant's D.C
because it shows us what Haussmann chose to destroy as
well as what he chose to build. In his demolition of poor
neighborhoods and narrow streets we can see what he
considered a threat to the new state and economy.
Boulevards were already replacing narrow streets in Paris
two decades earlier than Haussmann took office, but on a
much smaller scale. During the July revolution of 1830 an ironic twist befell government soldiers. The large squares of granite that were being used to pave new boulevards were
dragged up to the top floor of houses and dropped on the
heads of soldiers. These stones became a common source of
barricade building materials. In 1830 there were 6,000
barricades. Haussmann took office after both the 1830 and
1848 insurrections, in 1853. In an attempt to prevent other
insurrections, Haussmann tried to eliminate the construction
of barricades by destroying narrow streets and replacing
them with wide boulevards. He also built boulevards in
order to allow for the easy transport of troops "connecting
the government with the troops and the troops with the
suburbs" and allowing troops to surround neighborhoods in
the city. (Benjamin, 137-8) By paving boulevards
Haussmann facilitated the regulated and regular movement
of troops.
Haussmann's Paris was more than just a city. It was a
symbol; its monuments and boulevards created an image of
the capitol of a powerful empire. The fancy new boulevards
that were part of this image pushed rents up just like recent
"urban revitalization" projects. In 1864 Haussmann gave a
speech venting "his hatred of the rootless urban
population." (Benjamin, 12). The construction of
boulevards drove the proletariat into the suburbs and
increased the population of wandering homeless. Working
class neighborhoods were destroyed to literally pave the
way for boulevards, and when this didn't drive workers out
of the city rising rents did. Haussmann's destruction and
construction placed neighborhoods that were likely to revolt
outside of the city. Boulevards allowed traffic to flow to the
center of the city. The movement of workers' homes to the
suburbs meant that 'commuting' to and from work was born
on a mass scale.
"Hundreds of thousands of families, who work in the center
of the capital, sleep in the outskirts.
The movement resembles the tide: in
the morning the workers stream into
Paris, and in the evening the same
wave of people flows out. It is a
melancholy image...I would add...that
it is the first time that humanity has
assisted in a spectacle so dispiriting for
the people." A. Gravneau, L'ouvrier
devant la societe -Paris, 1868
(Benjamin, 137)
Haussmann aimed to detain and fix the
rootless and to channel workers into
linear movement: from home to work,
from work to home, a precursor to
metro, boulot, dodo.
Haussmann planned the construction of railway links between the center of
Paris and its outskirts during a period
in which the European railways
expanded considerably. "Space is
killed by the railways and we are left
with time alone." -Heinrich Heine
(Rice, 207) Space may not have been
killed by the railways but high-speed
travel has made travel time a greater
consideration than travel distance.
What Georg Simmel said of money can be said of the modern city. They both
allow connections between previously distant things but make that which is
close more difficult to reach. While
distances were conquered by the
railways, the nearby slipped further
away. That is, at the same time as
transportation and communications
allowed one to reach far away places in a short period of time, ones neighbors became more distant: industrialization demanded more hours of work and
more travel time to and from work,
there was less time to socialize.
Let's not forget that the separation
between work and leisure time is
accompanied by the separation
between living and working spaces.
Industrialization and the subsequent
proletarianization of large sectors of
the population created this separation
on a mass scale. Peasants had worked
at or near home, those that had worked
and lived in separate quarters generally
found that the distance between these 2
points increased with industrialization.
The increasing partition of time into
working and living in separate spaces
effected customary meal times,
household labor and its sexual division,
family relations and leisure activities.
This separation began a process of
increased dependence on consumer
goods for previously home produced
items. The creation of suburbs
increased the distance of this
separation. This separation corrodes the
type of relationships that could form a
basis for attacks on the established
order. This separation organizes the
spatial and temporal imposition of
consumption and production. The
prevalence of the spatial and temporal
separation between work and 'life' was
born with industrialization but has
come to appear timeless and natural.
The naturalness of this separation kills
the passion for freedom by limiting our
capacity to imagine any other
organization of space and time than the
repetitive constriction which capital
imposes on us.
North American Suburbs: the paved
dream.
Before World War II, the U.S. was
already a highly industrialized country.
Thus, the conditions I describe above
were already common to North
American cities. From the 30s on, the
distance dividing living and working
spaces increased exponentially as
millions of Americans moved to the
suburbs, highways were built and
millions of Americans bought cars in
an attempt to close this increasing
distance.
The federal government employed
millions in the thirties to build a new
landscape. After WWII the Veteran's
Mortgage Guarantee Program provided
low cost housing to millions of people.
From the late 40s to the mid-60s
developers built 23 million new homes.
Industry followed these mostly white
new suburbanites out of the city, partly
because unions were weaker there. In
the 40s and 50s the government
invested millions of dollars on the
suburban infrastructure: gas, electricity,
roads, sewer systems and highways.
They built thousands of roads and
highways allowing for easy movement
between suburbs and city centers. Poor
neighborhoods were unable to resist the
construction of highways through their
neighborhoods whereas rich
neighborhoods had the clout to prevent
this from happening. One more recent
example of this is the construction of a
highway in South Central Los Angeles
while the rich of Beverly Hills were
able to stop the construction of a
highway in their neighborhood.
The defense department spent millions
of dollars on freeways after the war.
Just as Haussmann's boulevards were
strategically useful to the military,
highways could potentially be used as
runways to land bombers. More
significant though was the alliance
between, car companies, the oil and
rubber industries that lobbied for the
construction of highways, and the state.
These companies used the coercive
power of the built environment to
insure the consumption of their
products. Suburbanization was a
perfect accompaniment to the
construction of roads, highways, and
mass produced automobiles. Greater
distances between work and home
along with terrible public
transportation (again thanks to the
friendship between government and car
and oil companies) created a need for
automobiles.
Alienation is built into the city and into
the suburbs, in its concrete and asphalt.
Take the example of Los Angeles, the
city built to accommodate cars but not
walking human beings. In LA many people think nothing
of driving 45 minutes just to go a bar to have a drink.
Instead of having neighborhoods where one finds a whole
street of bars or cafes, places to socialize are spread out
over the city. North American cities lack any pre-capitalist
history; they were built from the beginning by the dictates
of capital, with government help. The result: urban blights
that are more adapted to the automobile than the human
being.
--------------------------------------------------
“The increasing partition of time into
working and living in separate spaces
effected customary meal times, household
labor and its sexual division, family
relations and leisure activities. This
separation began a process of increased
dependence on consumer goods for
previously home produced items. The
creation of suburbs increased the distance
of this separation. This separation corrodes
the type of relationships that could form
a basis for attacks on the established
order. This separation organizes the
spatial and temporal imposition of
consumption and production. The prevalence
of the spatial and temporal separation
between work and 'life' was born with
industrialization but has come to appear
timeless and natural. The naturalness of
this separation kills the passion for
freedom by limiting our capacity to
imagine any other organization of space
and time than the repetitive constriction
which capital imposes on us.”
-----------------------------------------
Unfortunately cities that predate capitalism can be also
transformed into concrete monsters. In Torino, Italy the
gigantic FIAT plant began assembly line mass production
based on Ford's model decades before the rest of Europe.
The result is the same as occurred in U.S. cities: mass
production needed mass
consumption to perpetuate
itself, a cityscape was built
that conformed to the
requirements of
accumulation. Someone had
to buy the cars, to make this
possible the car companies
made sure that roads were
built. Torino is a rare
European example of the
results of the dominion of a
car company and its allies
over a cityscape. Concrete
partitions between
seemingly endless
apartments and a
proliferation of roads have
surrounded the walkable
narrow streets of the old
city. The FIAT plant
employed a large
percentage of Torino's
residents for many decades.
The employees were
scattered throughout the
city while the FIAT was in
one location, the result:
auto, boulot, dodo.
Back in the U.S.A., the
suburban lawn and
backyard were offered to a
section of the working class
section of the working class
and to the middle classes. The alienation from nature they
experienced in their new automobiles and at work was
compensated for and then hidden by an equally alienated
but much more pleasant relationship to nature at home.
Forced to buy what they could easily make at home if there were time, watching adventure on TV, the suburbanite
resorts to control over nature where he lacks control over
his own life. Therefore we observe bushes trimmed into
squares, a neurosis for mowing lawns and meticulously
planted rows of flowers. Garden stores have proliferated
and the suburban yard has become nature as commodity.
The suburban yard, the lies on television and 17 choices of toothpaste all helped perpetuate the illusion of the
American dream. The American dream is lifeless and as
uniform as the suburban lawn; it is produced by the
television instead of by subjects that intervene in life in
order to transform it. The American dream hides the
degrading reality of a processed life from those "lucky"
enough to afford it. Where private property reigns the
ownership of one's living space, work-space, and just about every other space by capitalists the property poor
individual is perpetually constrained. Suburbs conceal
alienation from nature and other human beings as well as
the lack of power that suburbanites exercise over their own
lives at home and at work.
The separate ownership of living and working spaces
divides opposition to Capital into labor and rent struggles.
On the other hand, the illusion of homeownership (getting
bank loans to buy a house) gave millions of workers a
vested interest in the system of private property, and
diffused any potential struggle against landlords. This has
resulted in community action to protect the property values
in a given area. Workers have organized to keep other
workers out of their neighborhoods. When millions of
blacks moved to northern cities, white neighborhoods tried
to prevent blacks from moving into their neighborhoods in
order to protect their property values. This "community"
action" is in many cases the action of illusory communities.
The average suburbanite or city dweller doesn't know many
of her neighbors. When she
chooses to take community
action to protect her
property value, this is a
"community" connection
based on money, and seldom
on direct human
connections.
While Haussmann's Paris
served to create an image of
the capitol of a powerful
empire, city revitalization
projects create an image of
the new "beautified" city
that is sold to us under the
guise of community pride.
In both of these examples
this was achieved through
the displacement of the
poor. The "community" is
sold to us with citywide
celebrations, city fairs or
official Millennium
celebrations. The State and
the media help create and
perpetuate these imagined
communities, that is,
communities which lack
commonality based on direchuman relations but are
instead based on an abstract
conception of common
identity, the most obvious
example of this is the Nation. Capitalism destroys human
connections but it replaces this vacuum with imagined
communities.
Haussmann built boulevards to prevent the construction of
barricades and completely destroyed the neighborhoods
where insurrection was most likely to occur. These
neighborhoods reappeared in a different form in the
suburbs. North American suburbs are built so that few
direct relationships of the sort that Haussmann paved over
ever develop. Communication is as much a threat to state
control as barricades. In the suburbs, houses are far from
shopping areas, places to socialize, and work places.
Meanwhile the suburbanite is sold the idea that she likes
this on TV, and is bought off with excessive consumption.
The suburbanite is lost alone in a labyrinth of reflections.
Unable to find anyone to discuss anything of substance
with, she is left with only images for companions. While
the suburbs were being designed to placate and stupefy, the
inner cities were becoming increasingly marginalized
economically. Haussmann destroyed slums to prevent
insurrection, but in the U.S. slums sprouted up right in the
shadow of the American dream. During the Rodney King
Riots, suburbanites watched the adventure on TV.
Originally printed in Killing King Abacus 1 Spring 2000
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