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Friday, October 12, 2007

Comments

Phil Smith

John,

Thanks for a couple of very fine days of walking. Good to be lost at 10.30 of an evening, full of curry.

Strange then, that i should return a little saddened, not by the experience of walking together, but at some of the contrasts in the terrain we crossed.

There were wonderful things - the sheer extent of urban moss, the smile of the woman in the first Barm shop we visited, the strange feeling of the late night hospital, the verger patrolling his patch, and most of all the joy of passing across and through the different ambiences of the city.

And yet such a wide-ranging wander as ours revealed, for me, some great weaknesses in the city. Few, but ourselves, were enjoying these contrasts, most were, rather, confined to more uniform and bounded sectors, motion restricted to smaller journeys within the bounds and longer journeys in cars, often on large urban arteries, mostly sealed off from the detail of the changes.

Park were confined, shafts capped, the travellers' site walled in, the Crab Village with its restrictions chalked on the board outside,the woman who abruptly terminated our conversation about that capped shaft, the fenced off B of the Bang, the massive and yet discreet fences around the walk up to MCFC's stadium, the blatant use of art to increase property prices in a limited zone.

So many missed opportunities - so litte public acknowledgement of anything. Given a recent orientation to architecture I found myself, surprisingly, thrown back to first principles. Of the need to make the city ourselves, from our everyday. Of the failure, but also perhaps the inevitable failure of the 'public' realm to cope in the face of opportunities.

Snatching precipitately at some shards of urban theology on my train ride to Manchester, I grasped at two contrasting slivers: Augustine's heavenly city, bounded and full, spiritually policed and exclusive, contrasting with the immanent state of the Christian faithful under Rome, as "perigrines" - outsiders that might be "pilgrims". And a Zizioulas-inspired idea of being as inseperable from, and identical to, relation; a (perhaps suprisingly)close theological formulation of Doreen Massey's characterisation of space as (partially, but importantly) consisting of trajectories.

What was disappointing was the amount of heartless and uninspired boundedness - with a number of small regeneration (and security) projects evident. And the sheer ignorance and arrogance of that Pankhurst-referencing real estate sign - Emmeline and Christabel "sold out"!!

It was only once I was making my way to the station at the end of our two days that I passed through two streets that seemed to acknowledge something of the potential for hybrid. But two streets in so many miles? Just that one back alley laid out for collective leisure, all the others gated and filled with waste bins?

Equally, there was no sense of a celebration of social trajectory - only the 4x4 displayed in a weird rockery operation - almost exclusively the functional and the commercial.

I don't feel sad, because I'm surprised that I'm surprised. But it is good to be reminded of the monstrous discrepencies and contradictions: between the pleasure that is so freely available and the public organisation of social trajectories to persuade people to pay for their enjoyment. We saw many faces on which such a cost was written deep.

Walking with you, John, has this time been a necessary and salutary lesson as we experienced both the incidental wonders of the city and the game of making being from relations and trajectories alone - to imagine a being that needs to be no more than the sum of its relations - could such a being be social, a social pilgrimage, in the sense of a city made of travel.

We were welcomed both by those whose job it is and spontaneously - by the woman visitor to the Sports City centre, by the man who told us about the shaft collapse and about moss, by the woman at the brewery who sold us Boggart beer sticking on the labels then and there... and yet there is little public ackowledgement of these relations. The most striking perhaps was the 'Breaking Of The Mould' at Collyhurst, a 'new menhir', and an informal forum, with a contemplative view of the urban centre.

Mostly such moments and places were more modest, but of equal impact. What is lacking is the common, everyday language that urban 'pilgrims' use to map and join up these hubs.

What if social, cultural and spiritual agencies were to change their ways of making space and their way of conducting their affairs to a pilgrim-like rationale.

Against accumulation and for connection, exchange without currency.

The utterly massive potential for joy and the width by which most opportunties for it are ignored - this contradiction is a huge motor, if we could only recruit it.

Once again, John - a wonderfully eye-opening two days.

Thank you,

Phil

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