Oct 31, 2018

Masterplanning for the short run | In search of missing pieces

Is anyone else bothered by the increasingly common phenomena of adding the word ‘luxury’ to new developments or newly renovated architecture: luxury apartments, luxury stores, high-end galleries, etc.? Luxury then becomes a program all on its own, no matter the secondary use it is added to it. Luxury is the program of capital, and if we were to map all the places and spaces that are considered and promoted as such, we would have to think of the city as becoming-luxurious — a luxury to be afforded — thus increasingly unaffordable and inaccessible. Cities are not being diversified at all then, they are just being redeveloped into economic exclusion zones, unified around a sole stimuli, money. As a consequence, the city is increasingly dehumanized. 

Cultural assets have fallen prey to capital. Historical neighborhoods are turning into high-end commercial and financial centers. Private money is surely proving to be a better incentive than the polyphonic wellbeing of public heritage. If we were to ask how much a city is worth, we would have to also ask, how little is its past valued? We’re just starting to see the  quantification of such unfathomable equation (equity/equality) — its value — but it will take a long while to grasp its qualification (quality+fiction) — its weight. How much will it weigh on us? How much will we weigh in it?

As master of a regulatory plan that pretends to decentralize (much of what it takes away), the state-capital system works to internalize the flow of capital — thus normalizing the inequality it is based on and legitimizing the design of a new luxurious class. 

Masterplanning, then, as a blueprint and rendered image of redevelopment, becomes a way to reduce and streamline the city’s public heritage (both, its public + heritage) — abstracting the time and material history of a hundred(s) year old city — into this flow of capital, which in turn emerges as the manifest of (its) “quantification of power”, where “each member profits in his own way.” (1)

As it materializes in the city, capital’s influence is revealed to be greater than the city’s historical, natural, judicial and cultural resources — therein lies its undisputed (yet unchallenged) thus absolute power. Because of this unprecedented acceleration of dominance, capital may in fact be the only (if not truly) autonomous organism (species) of man’s progress.

Masterplanning in the age of capital is a strategy of isolation and restriction, which deepens class segregation by isolating access and opportunity as it takes over and deplets shared assets and resources. The masterplan is capital’s masterpiece. It is how capital metamorphoses in real space — colonizing bodies, spaces, and psyches, a total embodiment by design instituted by self-serving systems of governance, whose political rigidity reduces governing to policing in order to maintain the hegemony of the status-quo — to ensure their dictatorial genealogy lasts; and, whose aesthetic guard-ism manifests an image of uniformity under the “luxury” moniker. 

The masterdesign may promise a one-of-a-kind relationship with capital, though what it actually produces is an endless desire to (over) consume. Meaning: it doesn’t matter how luxurious the relationship with capital may be, it still produces a commodity, which makes capital quite a high-maintenance partner. The more access one is given to “consume” another, the more unrequited and all-consuming this relationship becomes. The masterdesign assures an almost immediate consumption of luxury, thus enabling an addiction that needs to be kept up just so one can function. In the end, this addiction is how the human species consumes itself. It reduces life to a basic existence that requires nonsensical constructs of unprecedented realities that the city (and environment in general) simply cannot capacitate and won’t ever be able to support if it continues to be looted by the intensity of the addiction to capital. Hence, the uniformity of luxury can be understood as a double-headed form of violence: first, as an exponentially multiplying unity (i.e. colonization) of cannibalistic consumption of (it)self as well as the city’s (and all it encompasses); and second, as a guardism (i.e. addiction) that “only reproduces itself when it is reproducing something new”. (2)

Luxury is a product of power. It designates how power is seized, distributed and enforced. It is the incentive to re-categorize what at one time or another, but for a long time, was shared by many publics. It is a remastering of the human, its environment, and the master[ed]pieces it has created (as well as its not yet fulfilled potentialities) in a way that maximizes or mastermizes profit. As evidenced thus far, suc
h remastering or reduction is a total (planetary) redesign toward extinction of life as we perceive it, as we understand it, as we live it. We don’t have to know it anymore, as long as we consume it and as long as it becomes easily digested and digestible.

What’s even more curious is the coupling of the ‘luxury’ program with pedestrian activity and green spaces, such as these areas are the first to have biking and pedestrian lanes, greenery, maybe a water feature or two, street lights, and so on. It is curious because when do we see a rich person walking? In developing countries, and especially in Albania, they tend to drive some of the most luxurious cars, that is, if they’re not chauffeured around. Walking is a practice of the masses; it is how the public processes its independence and individuality in and through the ever-changing city. What, then, does it mean to luxurize the space of walking, if not to transform the individual, the public, the masses into spectral beings? (3) 

Such is the dogma of masterplanning for the short run. Short, implies an extinction — while run, implies a blur. It’s no secret that I am not a fan of the word “masterplan” and what it currently consists of. I would rather ask how a regulatory plan is and can be mastered. What is it to plan and what does it mean to designate? What is it to design and what does it mean to master the self and the other? I would rather mine a masterplan than interpret it, but it is hard to ask questions when so little is made available prior to (the decision of its) execution. 

I read somewhere — can’t exactly remember where at this moment, but it said something to this effect — that, we might’ve sold our souls or even want to do so, but who’s buying?

With everything that’s happening in the world, I wonder how much (and for how long) we would weigh without one; and if our road to extinction would be heavier or lighter as result. I don’t mean soul in a romantic or religious way, but soul as a force of life, essential to its being its essence, or rather what makes human life possible: mind, heart, will, integrity, intelligence, empathy, consciousness, health, language, politics, shared space, etc.

As far as Tirana (or any other such developing city in Albania) is concerned, I cannot imagine what would its architects and urbanists talk about in local or international conferences and seminars on history and preservation. If until now there was a preserved and protected architectural district or building to talk about, from this moment on it would be hypocritical to assert any historical standing. I guess there’s always nostalgia to fall back on.

(1) Deleuze & Guattari, On the Line, 1983, Semiotext(e)
(2) ibid.
(3) Arjun Appadurai, Spectral Housing and Urban Cleansing: Notes on Millennial Mumbai

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