The contemporary city exists as an amalgamation of two distinct types of physical territory – place and non-place. Place, in the anthropological sense, is created through a mixture of interactions between local references, social and cultural codes and practices, as well as the individuals themselves who inhabit the physical space. [Architectural place would include the architectural significance, or lack of, within that locality]. On the other hand, non-places are those locations devoid of collective interaction with a physical location in possession of a distinct identity or socio-cultural significance. In other words, place is an inherently social territory whereas non-place promotes social solitude and individuality. With an understanding of the particularities of place and non-place, urban planners could be more effective in reconciling their intrinsic differences and polarities, and could potentially formulate new strategies for more effective integration of place and non-place within the modern city.
Auge defines the term modernity as “the presence of the past in a present that supersedes it, but still lays claim to it.” This definition would suggest that, far from eradicating the old places and temporal rhythms of the city, modernity simply nudges them into the periphery. By doing so, the city is imbued with the ability to evolve and develop, whilst maintaining its historic and cultural soul. According to Auge, we have now entered into the age of Supermodernity, in which the old rhythms and places are segregated from the whole into less-significant sub-narratives, being treated as mere spectacle for the consumption of the masses. In effect, Supermodernity produces non-places, meaning spaces which are not anthropological places and which do not integrate the earlier places. Instead, these historically- or locally-referenced places are promoted [or demoted?] to the status of ‘places of memory’, and permanently consigned to a restricted and specific location.
> Place vs. Non-place
Anthropological place can be defined as a physical territory, located in time, in which events occur, potentially political, social, economic, or religious. Therefore, place is always in possession of a specific identity that is rooted in historical events, customs, practices and processes. If a physical territory is not in possession of these qualities then it is merely space. Space is an abstract representation of place [virtual place?], that is free from time, and in which exists the potential or capacity for physical events to occur. Spaces which contain events and activities which are non-relational with historical, social or cultural aspects of a particular location and which possess no specific identity have been coined non-places. Non-places only form relations towards a particular event and the inhabitants of those spaces. Examples include transportation networks and nodes, temporary accommodation, and large-scale leisure and retail outlets. Non-places are partly defined by their visual references and indicators, which may be either prescriptive, prohibitive or informative, [or a combination] and are either projected in ordinary, written or oral language [signs or loudspeakers] or graphic mechanisms [maps or symbols].
> Non-place: The Dominant Urban Territory?
Has the non-place become the dominant and defining element within the contemporary urban landscape? Certainly their influence is considerable and is seemingly ever-increasing and pervasive. This undoubtedly raises issues with the subject of urban planning – just how do you integrate place with non-place, modern with ‘supermodern’? As place and non-place exist as opposing polarities, with place incapable of being totally erased, and non-place being immune to completion, this would appear to be a difficult task requiring a pragmatic and locally-informed solution. The primary problem that non-place creates within urban locations is widespread and socially divisive – that of promoting social solitude and similitude, whilst simultaneously eroding the social, cultural and architectural identity of a specific physical territory. Not only do they erode the identity of the present, but they also sever the present from its past – history is merely employed as a spectacle, a superficial and somehow peripheral event within the wider urban tapestry, rather than as the foundation for cultural, social and architectural practices, and a pilot guiding the future evolution of urban civilisation.
|+ Non-place vs. Place - [place = land + society + nation + history/culture + religion] [CTW 2010]|
> A Future ‘Place’?
In contemporary society, place has become the sanctuary of the regular user of non-places. The relentless and regular loss of identity is having a profound effect upon the nature of the city and its inhabitants. Non-place is exclusively lived in the present moment – a perpetual present, and we exist in “a world thus surrendered to solitary individuality, to the fleeting, the temporary and the ephemeral.” Unfortunately, having to experience non-place has become an essential and unavoidable constituent in modern urban life, due entirely to the twin phenomena of the acceleration of human history [a combination of social, cultural and technological upheavals], and the contraction of our physical territory [as a result of communications and transportation technology]. It would appear that our urban future will continue to contain a major element of non-places, and that these will remain an essential mechanism for the future functioning of the ‘supermodern’ city.