Author Archives: mshiva

Zones of Entrapment in a Yerevan Park

Zones of Entrapment: Yerevan’s 2800th Anniversary Park and the Tyranny of Taste-Fullness

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There is no denying the ecstatic cries of the children and the content faces of their parents who have been flocking with their families to the newly inaugurated 2800th Anniversary Park of Yerevan. The mosaic-laden, grid of fountains, benches and astonishingly schmaltzy statues is a massive success. The general jolliness of the public inadvertently silences those naysayers who decry the supposed ‘tastelessness’ of the park. Just like the derided Northern Avenue, this new initiative by the city’s municipality – realized through the auspices of private capital – has given Yerevan’s residents a much-needed stretch of public space where people can socialize in relative comfort and safety. So what is the issue here and is there an issue at all? If we were to strip back the layers of meaning and intent in this site, what we’d find hidden is not so much herd mentality and tastelessness, but quite the opposite. This park, along with its even more grotesque twin – the recently reconstructed Central Avenue square adjoining Mashtots Avenue – are taste-full. Overwhelmingly so, in fact.

To put it crudely, ‘good taste’ is a historical and cultural phenomenon that evolved in the Western world during the early modern period in the 17th century and served as a way of delineating the aesthetic judgement of the nobility and the upper classes, from that of the ordinary folk. Possessing ‘good taste’ meant being aligned with superior levels of power and political standing – a position reflected through luxurious material objects and richly decorated residences. While it transformed dramatically during the 19th and especially 20th century, the concept of ‘good taste’ was always decried by Marxists and the artistic avant-garde as the epitome of petit bourgeoisie, and was passionately fought through the standardization of mass-culture and lifestyle in communist republics such as Soviet Armenia. Nevertheless, the ambition for social elevation remained an undercurrent drive that exploded with untamed force after the collapse of the USSR. This repressed desire to show one’s ‘taste’ in fine things – and hence, higher social ranking – was reflected in every aspect of everyday, post-Soviet Armenian life: from the extraordinary number of luxury cars to the neo-imperial style of the gargantuan private and public buildings constructed in the last two decades. The two newly reconstructed parks in Yerevan’s center boldly extend this tendency into the development of public space. Attendant political, sociological and cultural implications of such conversions have been ignored by the popular media and despite some critical reactions, the local intelligentsia has passively shrugged the matter away.[1] The present article is an attempt to continue the discussion and examine the wider consequences behind the relentless subjugation and transformation of existing public spaces in Yerevan, under the auspices of private capital and neo-liberal cultural policies.

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Archaeology, Modernity and Post-Soviet Industrial Decay

Archaeology, Modernity and Post-Soviet Industrial Decay
“Archaeologist Dr. Lori Khatchadourian spoke with EVN Report about her current archaeological and ethnographic research in Armenia that focuses on the afterlife of socialist modernity, focusing on the forces shaping industrial ruination. Khatchadourian is an Associate Professor in the Department of Near Eastern Studies at Cornell University, the co-director of a long-term field project in Armenia called the Project for the Archaeology and Geography of Ancient Transcaucasian Societies (Project ArAGATS), co-director of Cornell’s Landscapes and Objects Laboratory and co-founder and co-director of the Aragats Foundation.”

Podcast

Ideologies and Informality in Urban Infrastructure

Ideologies and Informality in Urban Infrastructure:
The Case of Housing in Soviet and Post-Soviet Baku
Sascha Roth

Introduction
Since the early 2000s, the Azerbaijani state has made enormous efforts to turn its capital Baku into a showcase of modernization in urban infrastructure, housing and architecture. The authoritarian government of the oil-rich country has forged large infrastructural projects, such as renovating the old city, the seaside boulevard, parks and metro stations, as well as constructing luxurious hotels and elite housing estates in the context of Baku hosting international mega events like the ‘Eurovision Song Contest’ (2012), the ‘European Olympic Games’ (2015) or the ‘Formula One Grand Prix of Europe’ (2016). Preparations for these events were accompanied by largescale demolition of pre-Soviet neighbourhoods, which is often legitimized by their deficient infrastructure. Many such neighbourhoods were replaced by new infrastructural model sites such as the Flame Towers1 or park areas in the central districts. In this context, infrastructure constitutes a key concept in public discourse.

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Heterotopic Landscapes

Heterotopic Landscapes: From Green Parks to Hybrid Territories

Abstract

“This chapter develops an interest in clarifying the meaning of cyberparks through an interrogation beyond its material preconditions. A cyberpark, as a fold in space generated by a hybrid emergent form of co-mediated space, is a disjunctive combination: it presupposes an encounter between open public urban places and the use of ICT tools. Outstretched beyond its physical manifestation as a place of encounter, a «heterotopic» reading might reveal that the subject is displaced in many different ways, from the analogue to the digital landscape, and from the specificity of the local to the universal of the global web. It is in such transferences that several worlds blend, both in its symbolic function and social significance. Impacts of such «Other Spaces» on the nature of human being’s behaviours can be critically reflected by the consideration of the social role of ICTs as tools of alienation through reinforced governances. Hence the question of creating «non-places» arouses, affording both a consensual appropriation process and the representative commodity networks, that henceforth includes natural, technical and human aspects and at the same time constitutes hybrid identities at the interfaces of its users, subjects, objects and places.”

Keywords

Heterotopia Non-place Technology Experience Hybrid-place

 

Setting «Other Spaces» as a Place Theory

Heterotopias are considered to be aporetic spaces: open and isolated, universal and particular, juxtaposed and disaggregated, collective and individualized. A heterotopia is a place of otherness inasmuch as it raises a certain ambiguity on similitude and emancipation, alienation and resistance. In this regard Edward Soja said it is «frustratingly incomplete, inconsistent, incoherent»1 in spite of him devoting an entire chapter to it in «Thirdspace» (Soja 1996). The term arises for the Social Sciences2 in «Des espaces autres», a conference given by Michel Foucault in 1967 in the Cercle d’Études Architecturales, published only twenty years later3. It is a raw work left in abeyance, perhaps even abandoned by Foucault, but powerful if we confront the public space with the new mediations, plus the so called «Internet Galaxy»4. Although the web renders possible the exploration of Foucault’s diverse notion heterotopia, this chapter works with it to reflect on the potential of the possible engagement of technology with space.

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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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