Go Society, Go Go Go !

As I am preoccupied with submitting my urban design assignments on schedule, the city is pumped up for the end of the Stanley Cup. My exposure to the games is minimal: Some radio here and there, some comments from my daughter coming back from school and some newspaper. I am astounded by the price people are willing to pay and the amount of people I see walking with Canucks jerseys. I find this drift of individuals into some tribal fusion to be a disturbing degree of dogmatism.

A few weeks ago a group of concerned citizens reversed a Vancouver Council plan to approve construction of the giant casino complex near BC Place stadium. It was an illustration of the strong anti-establishment sentiments that exist in Vancouver; A small victory of creative civic sanity… or not. Even an anti-establishment confrontation entails a waiver of personal identity.

Thinking of my own tribal experience takes me back a few years. Two things I remember from the soccer game my dad took me to: in one of the highlights of the game between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv I heard Dad mutter excitedly: “The referee’s an S.O.B!”; my second memory is from crawling with the crowds to the exit gate: I suddenly feel my crotch wrapping fingers that are not mine.

Jumping an inch forward in the cramped space I can not tell who drew their hand before I had managed to look back. The crotch incident somehow surprised but did not concern me too much. But Dad, this was the first and almost only time since, that I’ve heard him cursing. I never noticed before a special identification in him with the team that we went to see winning. Even though I had feelings of sympathy for Jerusalem they were at odds with my growing recognition that teams change over the years. I prefer a good game, where the best team wins. If “mine” is playing bad why should “we” win?

Urban Design takes the complex tasks associated with planning and construction to shape the optimal response to society’s needs. What is this society? Who are my clients? Is it society or are these the investors and developers? My intellectual soul is not living in holy anger at the corporate culture in which I live.

However, I have many reservations about some of the symptoms of this culture. These are expressed for example in endless marketing phone calls we get during the year, daily junk mail and the choice of so many people in quick and cheap solutions.

The connection I make between the latter and the mobs downtown is perhaps superficial. Famous athletes are for many a symbol of praise-worthy human effort. Fans take the opportunity to connect to a positive public energy and have some ‘good time’. Some even manage to hide in this large crowd. If I do not like sports, if I am not a fan, once I tuck myself into the right jersey, no one will notice me. Does it matter who wins?

Before the first game started tickets for the seventh game were already purchased at record prices. The actual winners are those who control the resources. The crowds are now busy pursuing their thrills. What does it matter who wins? The money finds its place in someone’s pocket anyway.

Various structures in the city sport the investors’ names in recognition of their contribution to its development. The City celebrates wildly with its drunken young people reveling in the action. Urban designers can preach the importance of planning for the community when we are called to play around with the blocks that make up the city. Funding of the construction usually comes from large corporations.

Urban Design is also convenient for the planner who prefers to avoid dealing with the sometimes unpleasant sides of human behavior. But staying in touch with my community is actually crucial to the understanding of what is required of me. My interest is to be part of the process of building and maintaining great cities. Then I can tuck myself into the right jersey and shout “The referee is an S.O.B!”.

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