The end of postmodern city
Two hypothesis, three cities and one conclusion
First hypothesis: the postmodern city is not the city of ducks, but it corresponds to the territories of spreading urbanization. For postmodern we meant “the cultural logic of late capitalism” (Jameson), declined everywhere locally. The postmodernization of the Italian territory, therefore, has its starting point in the 50s and 60s, during the economic boom and not in the 90s.
Second hypothesis: the cultural logic is closely related to spatial density, according to Mauss’ and Durkheim’s teachings. A consequence of this hypothesis is that whereas territories densify there are qualitative leaps in the cultural logic that characterizes them.
The densification of territories of spreading urbanization is nowadays such that it is possible to argue that the cultural logic, that until now they have expressed, is deeply changed.
Rise of the postmodern city
This stage corresponds to the presence of urban life in lack of proximity, we are in the 50s and 60s, and it deals, in most cases, with urbanized countrysides. Populating of urban dispersed territories corresponds to a mass de-domestication and to the rise of a consumer society.
Two socio-spatial facts related to the economic boom undergo a profound acceleration: the escape from the compact city and a rural world that urbanizes itself. In Italy the notion of city-territory establishes itself (Piccinato, Quilici, Tafuri).
Triumph of the postmodern city
In the second stage the territories of spreading urbanization continue to explode and in some of their areas to densify progressively. The infrastructuralization of these territories and the emergence of a network of services makes them, by now, a city: the spreading city.
In the 80s Secchi states that the conditions have changed and that urbanists should look beyond the reassuring boundaries of the compact city. Indovina builds a narrative on the emergence of the spreading city that distinguishes it profoundly from the American urban sprawl.
Fall of the postmodern city
The third stage corresponds to a further densification of spreading cities that, in many aspects, transforms them in territories with all the constitutive features of a metropolis. Metropolitan malls, commercial strips, gated communities and “Lewittowns” by now can be found even in Italy. With the metropolization of dispersed territories the proximity establishes again and with it new forms of association and cooperation.
The lifestyle of spreading city inhabitants now profoundly influences the inhabitants of compact city. With the end of this stage the compact city and the spreading city combine themselves into a unitary urban experience. The cultural logic of late capitalism rather than coming to an end, fails.
A generation of natives of the postmodern city by now perceives postmodernism as something that happened before them.
In the three stages of the postmodern city the densification has never ceased to advance, producing qualitative leaps in the cultural logic until the current discontinuity. At the present stage compact space and spreading space are organized into a unitary urban experience. It is a porous and biopolitical city at the same time, consisting of different levels of density which we assume that correspond to different cultural logics and to different answers to welfare state and market crisis.
If the consumer society and the postmodern individualism are in crisis, that does not mean that we came to the end of capitalism and to a new collectivism. The new forms of association and cooperation of our time belong to a purely socio-spatial process, they were fostered by the new contiguities that are produced with the end of the postmodern city and the rise of a new city.
The barbarian city
Supporting the end of the postmodern city and the rise of a new kind of city is useful to think about the closing of a cycle of the dispersing urbanization and the beginning of a new one. Lefebvre in “Marxism and the city” writes of a city tripartite into public, private and common: the barbarian city.
If for common we mean all those forms of reciprocity third to State and to market, maybe we are in a city, in many respects, barbarian.
Daniele Vazquez Pizzi
Daniele Vazquez Pizzi, La fine della città postmoderna, PhD thesis, Scuola di Dottorato in Urbanistica, Università IUAV di Venezia, ciclo XXVI 18 April 2014