Place Specificity and Unique Cities. An answer to Kavaratzis (Part 2)

Monuments are often used to promote the uniqueness of places. Here the Gendarmenmarkt in Berlin

by Ares Kalandides

(read part 1 here)

Läpple proposes the following four constitutive elements of space, which can help us think about what we need to look for:

First, the material-physical substrate of social relations, as the material external form of social space. This socially produced substrate consists both of place-bounded artefacts and of the human body. It also functions as crystallized history and materializes collective memory.

Secondly, there are the structures of social interaction, i.e. human practices in relation with the material substrate. This includes production, use and appropriation of materiality and relates to differentiation of class.

Thirdly, there is an institutionalized and normative regulation system as mediator between the material substrate of social space and the social practice of its production, appropriation and use. This regulation system consists of forms of property, power and control relations, legal regulations, planning guidelines, social and aesthetic norms.

And fourthly there is the spatial system of signs, symbols and representations linked to the material substrate.

It is important though to examine all of the above as trajectories (i.e. as processes) with an understanding of how they are articulated together with power relations.

If we finally decide that these are the elements that we are looking for then the question remains about the research method. I think the social sciences give us the answer to most of them. Using a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods (especially ethnographic tools) we may come close to understanding how the above trajectories interact to produce place. Also, and this is a point that needs to be developed, I would argue that art (cinema, literature etc.) sometimes gets much closer to conveying a place’s unique character than any research and definitely any promotion.

Yet we shouldn’t have any illusions about discovering the whole truth about a place. This is bound to be a very elusive concept that changes before our eyes the moment we try to catch it. What research can do is bring some of its elements to the fore through a series of approximations.

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