Author Archives: mshiva

Yerevan’s Soviet Past and Capitalist Present

Beyond history: How Does Armenia’s Capital City Resolve Its Soviet Past with Its Capitalist Present?

 Text Dina Akhmadeeva

In her film My Pink City, Greek-Armenian film director Aikaterini Gegisian examines Yerevan as a place where the past meets the present. What does it look like when Armenia’s politics have changed but the physical remnants of the city’s communist past refuse to be brought into submission?

How are our impressions of urban space constructed? What happens to a place when its monuments outgrow their function of supporting an ideology that is no longer the official line? Can a city ever really break with its past, or does it take on a life of its own that resists and spills out from beyond the confines of its official representations? My Pink City (2014), Greek-Armenian artist Aikaterini Gegisian’s filmic portrait of Yerevan, Armenia’s capital city, combines archival photography and film, location footage, voiceover narration and images filmed from a television screen. It interrogates the city as a nexus of memory and amnesia, the official and the personal, Soviet past and Yerevan’s present, visualising its ability to disorient time and resist the official narrative of a smooth transition from past to present.

While the politics of Armenia have changed, the physical remnants of the city’s communist past refuse to be brought into submission

The city is animated by the movement of a female fruit and nut seller, a voice that proclaims: “Her past is an undigested and indigestible meal, which sits upon her stomach.” Could the protagonist be speaking about Yerevan itself as much as about the woman? Like that indigestible meal, the city’s Soviet past presses onto its present, in the form of now-derelict or disused public spaces and recognisable symbols of communist ideology. Only the washing that blows in the wind or the occasional bored woman leaning on her elbow rupture the rhythmic patterns formed by row after row of windows and balconies of Yerevan’s modernist housing blocks.

In 1920, with the founding of the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic, Yerevan became the site of rapid urban transformation in accordance with the state’s new ideology. Such high-rise building blocks replaced the bazaars, baths, mosques and churches that had made up the fabric of the city. Much like in other post-Soviet states, these blocks remain the predominant source of housing.

A disused and unkempt open-air Soviet-era theatre, complete with an abandoned mattress, is a place without use in present-day Yerevan, but which nonetheless persists and refuses to disappear from the landscape or the memory of the city. The distinctive modernist circular control tower of Zvartnots Airport’s Terminal 1, built in 1971 as part of the Soviet architectural “rebirth” between the 1970s and 90s, no longer functions as part of the city’s infrastructure, having closed in 2011. The building, now an abandoned and unmaintained Soviet ruin, with cracks quickly forming in the concrete, is technically useless. Nonetheless it remains within the fabric of the city, remaining in place, stubbornly recalling the country’s Soviet past and inadvertently acting as a testament to the impossibility of having full control of the topography of the city from above. While the politics of Armenia have changed, the physical remnants of the city’s communist past refuse to be brought into submission.

Yet how different are these two systems? Pink tufa hammer and sickle carvings appear in various locations around the city, one after another, as the still-visible signs of Yerevan’s Soviet past. Contrast this with Yerevan’s present-day landscape — the garish, luminous signage of casinos and supermarkets. In one shot in Gegisian’s film, a supermarket sign sits on an archway framed by two communist symbols. How different are the mechanics of each system that offer up images for consumption, even in the service of two conflicting ideologies? For Gegisian, this became one of the main threads of the film. She comments that, “the idea of the […] transitional narrative is hardly ever a radical break with the past. Maybe the forms of the ideology have changed but the way power is articulated is more or less the same. In the film I wanted to point to such complexities especially through destabilising the idea of the transition and the break with the past.”

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Rustavi, A Mono-Town

Rustavi, Georgia: History of a Mono-Town

Soviet factory towns have turned out to be unworkable under a globalised market economy – but these cities continue to live. I traveled to Georgia’s metal town of Rustavi to find out more.

Olga Pinchuk
6 June 2019

Inside Rustavi’s metal plant       Source: Author

Rustavi, a town hastily flung up to support one of Soviet Georgia’s largest heavy industrial plants, is typical of these former factory towns and villages. Once an enormous complex with tens of thousands of workers, for the past 25 years, the Rustavi metallurgical plant has lingered in a precarious state.

The fall of a mighty complex

Rustavi is not far from Georgia’s capital Tbilisi – a 20-minute minibus ride and you’re already passing the rows of pastel high-rise blocks that line the road.

Some of their facades are decorated with bright murals. At first sight, Rustavi seems like a pleasant and orderly settlement. The “new town”, with its animated streets and up-to-date infrastructure, is full of multicoloured buildings, shopping centres and outdoor and indoor cafes. But then it suddenly turns into wasteland. An unattractive clearing followed by a bridge over the river Kura makes for a natural border between the “new” and the “old” town. Totally symmetrical straight lines of buildings in monumental Stalinist “Empire” style line the “old” town’s main street, forming a kind of gate into it.

Inside Rustavi local history museum | Source: Author

Here, in the “old town”, built in the Soviet era at the same time as the factory, the streets are lined by low-rise buildings interspersed by narrow lanes. It’s recently been painted in warm colours – orange, light blue, green, pink. The smooth, clean pavements, the relative lack of traffic and the leisurely passers-by produce the impression that the wasteland and bridge have transported you to another town, or possibly another time, 50 years ago.

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Yerevan’s Circular Park (Part 1)

Yerevan’s Circular Park: Commercial Interests, Illegal Construction Deprive Citizens of Much Needed Green Space (Part 1)

By Amalia Margaryan and  Ani Hovhannisyan

“Yerevan’s Circular Park was envisaged as a green space, some 2,500 meters long and averaging 120 meters wide, to provide residents with a respite from the noise and fumes resulting from a fast-developing urban landscape in the Armenian capital.

Little of the green remains today. Cafés, amusement parks and other assorted commercial establishments have been built on the land over the years.

Hetq reporters filed a query with the Yerevan Municipality and obtained copies of 57 contracts between private companies and Yerevan Municipality on privatization, construction and rent in the Circular Park.”

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APPLYING POST-SOCIALIST STUDIES OUTSIDE POST-SOVIET SPACE

APPLYING POST-SOCIALIST STUDIES OUTSIDE POST-SOVIET SPACE

By: Johanna Bockman

This article was originally posted in the March NewsNet; for a full list of sources please see the original.

 

Over the past three years, I have been conducting a historical study of gentrification and displacement in Washington, DC. At the same time, I have also been working on a project about the 1980s debt crisis from the perspectives of the Second and Third Worlds. I find it stressful to work on very different projects and follow several, very different literatures – for example, on the one hand, American urban sociology and, on the other, Eastern European Studies focused on economics and finance. It often seems like I am operating in two different, unconnected worlds. This sense of disassociation results at least in part from the post-1989 reorientation and ultimately destruction of networks that had once connected these worlds and literatures. Here I explore these connections and apply the lessons of post-socialist studies to a less conventional space, specifically Washington, DC.

Post-socialism may seem irrelevant to DC since it has long been a major center of capitalism. However, one could argue that everyone, and especially major actors in the Cold War, have experienced “the global post-socialist condition” in some form or other(Gille 2010). The city of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank reshaped Soviet and post-Soviet space, relating to it in new ways. Yet, there are many DCs. For example, in the late 1970s, the city of Black Power forged DC into a democratic socialist space, connecting many parts of the city to the socialist and Third Worlds. After 1989, within DC, the city of the IMF and the World Bank implemented the same shock of post-socialist neoliberalism that Black Power fought against. The lessons of post-socialist studies should, in fact, be helpful to the study of DC. Here I have put together a list of potential applications of these lessons.

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Of Anxious Rooms and Modernist Architecture

Et tu, brutalism: of anxious rooms and modernist architecture

Grafting utopias

The annual festival of Delhi’s oldest architecture school is called Utopia. When I ask the students why it is called so and if they know what it means, they look confused. One exclaims, ‘Utopia is what we will create… it’s the perfect place, the perfect city…’ So I ask them, ‘But does it exist? And if it does, where is it?’

Generation after generation of architecture school students are fed on the idea of architects as the creators of perfect houses, cities and townships. They are taught about master plans that will save the world, from itself; they are trained to build townships with glimmering sharp-edged buildings, which no one can clean; they are taught about the deliverance of the world through architecture. This could be a deliverance based on emulating the glass facade high-rises of Dubai, London, Shanghai or the dull concrete corridors of Cold War era buildings across South Asia, Eastern Europe and the erstwhile USSR. Such prototypes reflect a deep and determined utopian imagination that continues to be entrenched in architectural planning and practice. Modernism and brutalism made a promise, a social contract of being architecture for the people, for their needs. Yet they failed in many ways either through buildings that people cannot use or those to which people have to fit themselves.

Is modernist architecture adaptive or normative? Can it accommodate the expansions of desires and the accumulation of years? Does it fabricate buildings for people or people for the buildings? The utopian world delivered by architecture or ‘the city of the future’ as Corbusier called it was believed to have the power to get rid from the world all its social evils. This imagination needed a frame that could avoid the disorder of the real world and yet be perfect in totality. The modernist plan was precisely this frame, which provided relief to architecture’s anxieties about the chaotic world. The axiom of the modernist frame—‘perfect cities make perfect citizens’—allowed architecture to not have to engage with the disorderliness of the social at all and superimpose the idea of a utopian future in blueprints and master plans, which could actually never be implemented in entirety but perfected and completely controlled in their internal form.

 Of architectural anxieties

Three main anxieties have continued to haunt architecture: first, the presence of human beings; second, how to control humans and their actions; third, who will be the master controller (planner) of the future. Where are these anxieties coming from?

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REVIEW of CAPITAL CITY

REVIEW FORUM: CAPITAL CITY BY SAMUEL STEIN

FORUM INTRODUCTION BY ERIC GOLDFISCHER
HOME / CRITICAL GEOGRAPHIES IN ACTION / REVIEW FORUM: CAPITAL CITY BY SAMUEL STEIN

9781786636393

Samuel Stein, Capital City: Gentrification and the Real Estate State. Verso Books, London, 2019, 208 pages, $17.95 (paper), ISBN 9781786636393

Early in Capital City, Samuel Stein gives readers a glimpse of why his book, and (I would argue) critical scholar-activist work plays an invaluable role in movements for social justice: “Planners provide a window into the practical dynamics of urban change: the way the state both uses and is used by organized capital, and the power of landlords and developers at every level of government. They also possess some of the powers we must deploy if we ever wish to reclaim our cities from real estate capital” (6). This sentiment, to me, embodies one of the core tenents of the framework of “critical geographies in action” that animates this section of Society and Space. When geographers talk about mobilizing geographic theory and spatial analyisis, we  aim to combine a keen gaze at the apparatuses of power with an open mind for learning and utilizing tools from social movements, and, yes, urban planners–those working directly at the day-to-day controls of the neoliberal city. This multi-faceted analysis–among many other strengths explored by the reviewers in this forum–makes Capital City a must-read for anyone interested in how scholars might actively resource the work of urban justice.

The reviews contained in this forum grew out of two events: The first, the initial book launch of Capital City at Verso’s headquarters in Brooklyn in late February of 2019, and the second, an author-meets-critics session at the AAG meetings in Washington DC in early April of 2019, organized by Cindi Katz. At each event, Stein engaged directly with interlocutors and brought forth further avenues of conversation that lingered far beyond the confines of these respective gatherings. As he alludes to in his response, organizers and scholars are actively engaging with this book in a number of cities, perhaps using it as a grounding point from which to rethink our social and spatial relations around housing and the mechanisms that produce and limit it, and to plan, organize, scheme, and rebel accordingly. It is my hope that this forum may spark similar conversations and actions in our own respective and intersecting spheres of work.

Contents:

 

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Speaking Stones

http://speakingstones.jumpstart.ge/en

 

Listen! See! Say!

Speaking Stones is a tool by JumpStart Georgia which allows you to explore, compare, and engage in the old and new faces of different places, districts, regions, cities, and countries.

Using the slide bar, you can drag the photos overlapping each other so that you can see how places, buildings, statues, nature, or people have changed over time.

You can share your observations and discoveries with us using the comment section below every picture.

At the moment, Speaking Stones only has photos from Tbilisi. However, JumpStart Georgia plans to widen the scope of the project and add photos from all over Georgia, and maybe beyond.

You, too, can participate in making Speaking Stones better for everyone. Wherever you are in the world, in or out of Georgia, if you have old pictures sitting in your closet, scan them, take new pictures of the same area and send them to us. Giving you the credit, we will add their story to Speaking Stones and share them with the world.

If you have any other ideas, comments, or questions, please, give us a shout at:

info@jumpstart.ge
+ 995 032 214 29 26
5, Shevchenko St, Apt 2
Tbilisi, Georgia 0108

Globalizing Urban Theory

Starting from anywhere, making connections: globalizing urban theory

Pages 643-657 | Received 15 Nov 2016, Accepted 09 Dec 2016, Published online: 28 Mar 2017

This paper offers a commentary on the papers in this special issue, drawing out the ways in which they bring forward tactics for comparative and global urbanism, contributing to urban theory on the basis of experiences in a range of post-socialist contexts. The paper begins with an analysis of a short story by the South African novelist, Ivan Vladislavič, which provocatively brings post-apartheid and post-socialist contexts into conversation. Inspired by this drawing of lines of connection, the potential for ex-centric and regional studies traditions of urban studies to inform global urban theorising is explored through a reading of the comparative tactics adopted by the papers in this collection – reading practices informed by area studies; thinking with the multiple processes shaping urban outcomes; contributing to the revision and invention of concepts; and extending theory. An invitation, inspired by the scholarship reflected in these papers, is extended for drawing new lines of comparison across a wider range of different urban contexts.

 

Eurasian Geography and Economics 

Volume 57, 2016 – Issue 4-5: Post-Socialist Cities and Urban Theory

 

The urbanization of transition: ideology and the urban experience


Pages 607-623

Abstract

This paper debates the relationships between transition and urbanization by problematizing the operation of transition on three inter-related levels. Firstly, at the level of ideology, it is important to rehearse the understanding of transition from that of merely area-based reforms and rather understand it as a totalizing project of planetary reach, which completes the subjugation of the whole world to capitalism and crowns neoliberalism as the only global order. Secondly, at the level of practice, it is important to properly account for the spatializing effects of that ideology – which is not simply “domesticated” by local practices, but itself mediates the subsumption of pre-existing practices by capital, thus alienating them from their history. Thirdly, at the level of the urban: while urban change is usually portrayed merely as a projection of societal relations, the urban is actually the central stage where ideology mixes with the everyday, through which the societal change is mediated; new meanings, social relations, and class divisions are construed; and through which ideological transition achieves its practical completeness. What combines these three levels is the notion of urbanization of transition, which articulates the centrality of the urban in the spectacular post-socialist experience.

Changing Multicultural Tbilisi

A City In-Between

Riowang

You can still find your way in Tbilisi with the old maps of the city published by the Baedeker on Russia in 1914 or of the guide of Moskvich from 1913. But as to the details, everything has changed, as the city hugely expanded, especially to the west and north. So in this city there is a “Europe” in the west – with absolutely no originality –, while to the south or to the east it seems that you have arrived to the Orient.“Europe” is of course where the city expanded in the twentieth century. The windows have preserved all their glasses, there is hot water on all floors, the apartments perhaps were not divided in 1937, after the disappearance of their occupants, the stairs have no missing steps, no metal or concrete block clutters up the yard, the facade was not riddled with bullets in 1991, you do not have to illuminate the corridors with your mobile phone, you do not share the entrance hall of your apartment with a cantankerous neighbor, nobody hangs the clothes in the yard.


Map of the city from the guide of Moskvich, 1913.

Map of the city from Baedeker Russia, 1914.

What you find in the east and south, is not necessarily the Orient, but it is neither quite Europe any more, and it is this in-between where the city we love and its people thrive: a world in turn asleep or full of vitality; some spaces crumbling slowly and with indifference, and others being vigorously rebuilt; a city stepping forward from a very distant time with its churches dating to the sixth century, several cities in the city inherited from hostile empires – some of which disappeared by now and some others faded, but still alive – that seem to have born spontaneously from the dynamism of their inhabitants; a world where memory and oblivion meet face to face.

In these obviously dilapidated quarters, at any time you walk the dusty streets, you see children playing and others carrying their schoolbag on the back, cats spinning between your legs, women with their bags going to buy things, men lost in the engine of a car getting ever older. On New Year’s Eve everybody shot their fireworks here, rockets and flares fly out of every window. And in the night, to celebrate the new year, men dressed in black dance together in a circle in front of their cars with open doors, and with the radio turned on to the maximum.

entredeux1 entredeux1 entredeux1 entredeux1 entredeux1 entredeux1 entredeux1 entredeux1 entredeux1 entredeux1 entredeux1 entredeux1 entredeux1 entredeux1 entredeux1 entredeux1

There is also the “Armenian” neighborhood – small houses, or even shacks, clinging to the slope of a ravine plowed by the rains just behind the glass roof of the presidential palace. I take a photo of a house, a man comes out and thanks to me. He knows France, his brother lives in Blois. When he went to see him, he visited New Orléans – newpronounced in English, but Orléans in French. I assure him that in France, we have only Orléans, and that New Orleans is in America. He doubtfully shakes his head, after all, he went there… while I, when did I go for the last time to Orléans?
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