Place Specificity and Unique Cities. An answer to Kavaratzis. (Part 1)*

Monuments are often used to promote the uniqueness of places. Here the Acropolis of Athens

by Ares Kalandides

The other day Mihalis Kavaratzis made a very interesting point about the uniqueness of places (read Mihalis’ article here). He observed that while city promotion campaigns try to create difference, what they actually do is produce homogeneity. Cities are thus easily perceived as interchangeable. But how are we supposed to catch the unique city? His answer is twofold: On the one hand that ‘the whole is larger than the sum of its elements’, i.e. that it is not enough to look at the different characteristics, sum them up and promote them. On the other hand, that the city is an atmosphere more than materiality, and that this atmosphere is created in everyday practices. I want to take these arguments a step further and think both of ways to conceptualize them and to approach them methodologically.

It is generally accepted in recent geographical thought that space is constituted through social relations. It is not just a pre-existing map on which these relations take place, but it only exists through them. The other way round, space influences these relations in very complex ways. Social relations and space, in other words, are co-constituted. Some geographers have also suggested that we should understand space as the dimension of the simultaneity of multiple trajectories, an open process that includes the dimension of time. Places, in the same line of thought are articulations of these trajectories and place character will be a product of their intersections. Specificity is the result both of existing and non-existing connections (exclusions) (1). What is interesting in this view is that the ways that the different trajectories interact and produce space remain open. They are of course inscribed into broader power-relations, but the way that they materialize will always be locally different. Seemingly similar narratives produce a totally different story when interwoven into a particular place.

But how are we, in our trade, supposed to find out, first what these trajectories are and secondly how they intersect to produce place specificity? There is an essay by Dieter Läpple (2) that may assist us in approaching the first question:

(Part two will follow tomorrow)

* This is a summary of a paper that appeared in the Journal of Place Management and Development.

(1)Massey, D. (2005), For Space, Sage, London/Thousand Oaks/New Delhi.

(2) Läpple, D. (1991), “Essay über den Raum”, in: Häußermann, H., Ipsen, D., Krämer Badoni, T., Läpple, D., Siebel, W. und Rodenstein, M. (eds.), Stadt und Raum. Für ein gesellschaftswissenschaftliches Raumkonzept, Pfaffenweiler, pp. 157-207.

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