The Ambiguity and Resilience of the Urbanity Myth

<p>Thomas Wüst’s semiotic work on urbanity reviews literary contributions on the topic of urbanity, coming to the harsh conclusion that urbanity is, after all, nothing but a myth, and therefore likely to be instrumentalized by "symbolic politics".</p>
January 30, 2008, 5am PST | Nate Berg
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Thomas Wüst's semiotic work on urbanity (Urbanität: Ein Mythos und sein Potential), whose english-translated
excerpts ("The Urbanity Myth") are featured in "The Urban Reinventors", reviews literary contributions on the topic of urbanity, coming to the harsh conclusion that urbanity is, after all, nothing but a myth,and therefore likely to be instrumentalized by "symbolic politics". That is, by politics making use of symbols, ideal visions and rhetoric, rather than concrete commitments, in order to achieve consent.

"The concept of Urbanity seems timelessly modern. However, the subject matter is quite confusing. In fact, addressing the question of what urbanity actually is, still doesn't bring us to a rigorous answer. Countless conventions, symposia, seminars, workshops, forums, reports, lectures, contests, projects, exhibitions, publications and research papers have hardly been able to change this fact. At best, they have only managed to illuminate single facets, without actually coping with the core meaning of urbanity itself."

[ ] Urbanity is timelessly modern even as an urban development political goal. Even the strongest critiques against the validity of the notion of urbanity certainly haven't curtailed its popularity. Urbanity is a timeless fascination, and it's resilient to any critique [ ].

The "strong effectiveness" of the word urbanity is illustrated by Wefing (1998: 86-87): "The word evokes images. Speaking of urbanity, we call to mind a sequence of dreamy city views. Rain on the asphalt, soft filtered light under leaves of the trees, and the dust of the streets. Ideal images of an urban utopia that embraces in one San Gimignano and St. Michael's Boulevard. A far-away place of longing, on whose avenue are the tables of cafés, where the scent of coffee lingers in the air, light wine is poured in glasses, where voices, calls, the honking of cars overlap. A city that whirrs day and night, summer and winter, in wind and nice weather, always lively, loud, and tumultuous. A city of casual encounters, worldly discussions and civil manners, where forks clink behind the big windows of the cafés and restaurants and pretty women quietly laugh about the speeches of poets...".

Wüst argues: "It doesn't matter here that the word "urbanity" brings images to mind; what matters is mainly what kind of images this word recalls: images of a good and beautiful way of life in the city – in any case, images created according to the perception of the dominating classes. Ideal images, from which the quality of daily life is not precisely molded."

Thanks to Alessandro Busa´

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Published on Tuesday, January 29, 2008 in The Urban Reinventors Online Urban Journal
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