With democracy enclosed.
In one of his aphorisms, Gandhi affirmed that in democracy no fact of life is untouched by politics.
Politics, when it means government of the polis, takes democracy back to its original urban scale. City and democracy are then seen to be two sides of the same Athenian coin whose die, after twenty-six centuries, has still not ceased to mint currency.
When is a city truly democratic? When it is intended as an open space in which different and dissonant models of life, visions of the world and purchasing powers can intersect and connect.
Cities today, as places of intersecting and coexisting differences, are meant to be the true open-sky laboratory of a global and multiethnic society. The challenge posed by contemporary cities lies precisely in the capacity to govern and guarantee the crossing of heterogeneity which produces democratic difference. Without yielding to the temptation of shutting the open circuit of infinite diversity into a set pattern of sameness. Architecture must still play a conspicuous socio-political role in the achievement of urban transformation. But to do that, it will be necessary to assume the point of view of difference, to adopt a heteronomous outlook which refutes the idea of the city as a smooth indifferent space, organized according to the logic of an archive. Gated communities and VIP spaces, satellite and residential towns are all negative answers to the demand for a fluid and open dimension of living. True, the archive logic holds the multiple together, but as juxtapositions of separate units: all in the same place, but separately, a being next to which is very different to being with.
This conception of the city as a system of watertight compartments reduces the areas of conflict and points of promiscuity. Also, it publicizes as added values the exclusion of difference and the construction of control frontiers that are explicit (physical barriers, CCTV) or implicit (economic thresholds, symbolic borders). I believe the survival of urban democracy must, on the contrary, pass through the principle of inclusion, through the enabling of all systems which introduce the idea of difference into the heart of urban transformation itself. One can think, for example, of the community as playing a bigger part in the designing of public places. The experience of Idea Stores in London is an exceptional case of effective and positive interaction between community and architecture. These public spaces have developed the concept of difference on the strength of active participation by citizens and the differential values which they embody. The adoption of a perspective of difference certainly must not be limited to public projects. Instead, it is extendible to every architectural design on an urban scale, which as such will affect the whole city.
In the design of a skyscraper, too, for example, the point of view of its attachment to the ground is more essential than that of its skyline. So the question that ought to be asked is not: “how its profile will fit into the panorama”, but “how its base will be grafted into its context”. What degree of heterogeneous connection will the new building be able to guarantee? Will it be capable of embracing and multiplying difference, or will it lock that difference out of its own perimeter, while keeping watch on it carefully with telecameras and armed guards?
To design urban democracy, the principle of multiple living must be brought back into the core of the debate. An architectural approach to the city can no longer dodge the concepts of difference and multiplicity. With democracy enclosed.