It's not only that young local boys live different lives to the new, gentrifying, arrivals. They live in different versions of the city, tooby Ciaran Thapar / May 24, 2018 / Leave a comment
In his book Building and Dwelling: Ethics for the City, the urban planner and sociologist Richard Sennett describes two sides to the modern city. What he calls the “ville” is the designed, built, physical city; the actual buildings we live and work in, bridges and pavements we walk upon, the parks and squares in which we eat lunch with friends or walk our dogs in solitary peace. The“cité,” on the other hand, is the lived experience of the city; the way people socialise, generate income, make decisions and navigate their lives.
One of Sennett’s main aims in elucidating his concepts of the “ville” and the “cité” is to observe examples from around the world in which the two interact in a way that is ethical. How should a city be physically designed and lived-in so that the most socially just and equal urban experience can be shared by its people?
The walk I take to Marcus Lipton Community Centre in Brixton, South London, where I have volunteered for three years, takes me through a part of the capital that is in flux. Gleaming new blocks of flats, interwoven with pristine, rigidly-cut public walkways back onto greying, faded, litter-strewn structures of social housing. Hipster professionals sit on their balconies eating dinner in the summer, overlooking excitable groups of hooded teenagers riding on bicycles below. Here the strands of the ville and the cité are intertwined and identifiable.
Yet Brixton’s character also divides along a different line: one of personal identity. In other words, how you experience the city physically and socially depends on whether you are young or old; a newcomer or a veteran; rich or poor; black, white or neither.
The idea that people from different walks of life participate in the urban environment in different ways is not new. But like other historically impoverished pockets of London over the decades—such as Dalston in the north-east, or Notting Hill in the west—gentrification in Brixton has been occurring at an exceptionally fast, and visible, pace.
The process has accelerated since I moved here and became a youth worker. I have thus come to experience Brixton through the erratic courtship of its ville and cité—the symbiosis of its modernising physical infrastructure, and the…