Authentic cities

Is it an oxymoron to talk about authenticity in relation to an urban environment? Or can our man-made abodes be understood as having an essence which they can fulfill or defy?

Trevor Davies opening the Metropolis Lab 2012

An insightful point about the authentic city is that there is a hunger for the authentic city but, paradoxically, the more we long for the authentic city this hunger kills off the authenticity. As Sharon Zukin explained in her presentation at the Metropolis Laboratory 2012 in Copenhagen earlier today, the very pressure for our demands exert a constant pressure on the possibility for the city to be authentic.

Zukin talked about a fight for authenticity and I understand this as a constant aspiration to achieve authenticity. She mentioned the following four points as being important pointers in this battle:

  • Re-enchant the city
  • Bring a new vision of the city
  • Sense of place and time.
  • Preserve the city’s multiple identities.

Zukin summarised authenticity as “the city we love and the city which we want to remain the same”.

Imanuel Schipper asked some useful questions which may help the question around authenticity by questioning whether the city is a performance in itself? Also it might be worth considering whether the city has a memory and whether theatre – or more generally culture – can articulate this memory.

Sharon Zukin similarly said that authenticity ultimately is an experience created by people for themselves. She also admitted that authenticity has within it very contradictory meanings but it may still be a useful term to keep developing the best cites for us as citizens. I think it can help us keep our aspirations and not be too complacent.

Sharon Zukin has recently published the book The Naked City where she elaborates more on this subject.

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One Response to Authentic cities

  1. christiane says:

    Totally agree with Sharon. All this Meta – hey; I make the city and so does everyone else. Characteristics (one of them) of a city are that there a tons of people – otherwise it would be a town. What I think is definitely needed is awareness, loyalty and some pride. Be proud of your city, know the history, deal with that, stand for it, help it to be good, make everyone feel welcome – don’t just stand around.

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