The City of the Spectacle: Aestheticizing Urban Space/ Urban Nature in the Rebranding of the Neoliberal City

Authors: Joern Langhorst*, University of Colorado Denver, College of Architecture and Planning
Topics: Urban Geography, Cultural Geography
Keywords: Urban Aesthetics, Urban Space, Urban Nature, Urban Redevelopment, Neoliberal City
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/14/2018
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Studio 3, Marriott, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper contends that the agency of physical change in urban spaces extends into aesthetic-representational practices. Analyzing iconic design projects on post-industrial urban sites, most prominently the High Line in New York City, it develops a framework that complements the traditional focus on material-physical-capital-ecological performances in the production and reproduction of contemporary concepts of “sustainable” and “green” cities. This framework employs Debord’s concept of “spectacle” and Baudrillard’s notion of “hyperreality” to critically interrogate the aesthetic and representational processes through which urban space and “urban nature” is involved in its own production and reproduction. DeCerteau contrasted the participatory and immersive practices of the urban dweller from those of the mere voyeur in the production of urban space, pitting authochtonous, direct and active experience against the detached and passive consumption of urban space as imagery. Past and contemporary concepts and experiences of the city then are not just generated through production of images of urban space (the mediated city), but through production of urban space itself as image to be consumed and interacted with (the city as medium). This aestheticizes and reduces complex lived experience, producing a narrow range of acceptable meanings and behaviors, replacing the aesthetics of performance with a performance of aesthetics. These aesthetic-visual practices play an important and often underestimated role in territorializing and deterritorializing loci and processes of memory, meaning, place and community identity, and need to be analyzed to understand “urbanity” and “city” in its quality as a socio-ecological assemblage involving conflicting and contested values and agendas.

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