[-empyre-] "can cities 'know' things?"

ayesha hameed hameed.ayesha at gmail.com
Sat Jan 19 08:45:06 EST 2008

On Jan 17, 2008 5:11 PM, Christina McPhee <christina at christinamcphee.net>

> hi all,
> Srdjan, you write eloquently about the riddles inside the complexities
> of what you call arranged space to constructed culture, in cities..
> you ask,
> Can cities 'know' things?
> ...
> "What if cities were to act as "knowledge" that was in a sense
> suppressed or , even, oppressed under the siege of 'culture'?
> How do you create in each city you work in, 'a iste for scouting and
> detecting missing knowledge?"

I think this is a provocative set of questions and connects in some
interesting ways to the previous discussion on passports and access to
movement.  In other words: what are the secrets that a city keeps within its
well-polished infrastructure?  And what are the barriers that it erects that
are visible to some and not to others?

I live in Montreal where, as some of you might be aware, a
government-appointed commisssion has recently toured the province of Quebec
holding public forums asking to what extent it is 'reasonable' to accomodate
the cultural practices of immigrants from other countries.  In the
mainstream media, 'accommodating' and 'tolerating' difference is seen as
radical. While the fact that Montreal is on Algonquin and Iroquois land and
is a settler culture of immigrants, is erased from this account.

I bring up this 'writing out' of memory in order suggest how such erasures
have a domino effect within public policy and within the city: where the
term 'immigrant' becomes racialized, and where 'tolerance' becomes shorthand
for exclusion.  Consequently here (and I'm sure in several other places),
youth of colour are routinely detained at metro stations while others can
move with ease and might not even notice this routinized detention.  Or
earlier today there was a rally and march in support of Abelkader Belaouni,
a refugee claimant who has been living in a church sanctuary for two years:
a paradoxical situation where the person in whose name rallies have taken
place in several cities, is only visible in picures on banners, and in order
to stay in this city and country, cannot in fact go anywhere outside the
church where he lives.

Like many cities, this is a city whose infrastructure functions differently
for different populations.  Schleuser.net in Germany has initiated a project
that looks at tactics used by people without papers to navigate public
transportation. I am a part of a collaborative perfomance project that
attempts to embed traces of these missing accounts in the form of low tech
interventions in public spaces across the city of Montreal.  And I'm sure
there are many others.

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