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City Fortresses / Mike Davis

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“This epochal coalescence has far-reaching consequences for the social relations o the built environment. In the first place, the market provision of ‘security’ generates its own paranoid demand. ‘Security’ becomes a positional good defined by income access to private ‘protective services’ and membership in some hardened residential enclave or restricted suburb. As a prestige symbol – and sometimes as the decisive borderline between the merely well-off and the ‘truly rich’ – ‘security’ has less to do with personal safety than with the degree of personal insulation, in residential, work, consumption and travel environments, from ‘unsavory’ groups and individuals, even crowds in general.” (“Fortress L.A.” in City of Quartz by Mike Davis)

One of the topics we discussed in the City of the Future class was security and surveillance in cities and, as part of it we read this chapter from Mike Davis’s City of Quartz. In conjunction with this reading, we took a field trip to the Federal courthouse in downtown Seattle. We spent that time looking around and observing all of the security features that you’d otherwise not have known were security features and I became aware of just how many security cameras were up above, all around the city. I’ve been hyper aware of “security” and surveillance ever since.

I frequently think about the original flâneur and how the concept of “disappearing” in a crowd has changed. (I have several thoughts on this and City and the City by China Mieville but I’ll get to those later). I’ve also thought back on the various neighborhoods I’ve walked where I’ve seen gated communities and driveways. I, as a white women, have easily passed through neighborhoods with high concentrations of ambassadors, government officials, and affluent homes. I have even paused to admire, to stare, and to take photos. Most recently, I spent some time moving slowly through beautiful neighborhoods in Berlin, passing by buildings with gates and impressive locks. I don’t rouse any suspicion , I am not considered an “unsavory” individual, I don’t rouse any concern over safety and insulation.

Then I think of all the instances where someone who is not white enters these spaces. For example, Trayvon Martin who was shot in 2012 because someone (I will not write his name here) decided that he was well within his rights to protect that space. That particular space was a suburb and though I am focused on cities here, the same applies to “rich” neighborhoods and enclaves of cities. There is an infamous neighborhood social networking site called “Next Door” which covers both suburbs AND cities. It’s infamy comes from the fact that, thanks to NextDoor, people have discovered how racist their neighbors really are.  (If you take a quick look at any NextDoor forum, it won’t take long to find posts in which “concerned” residents want to let everyone know they’ve seen a black man walking down the street and you should keep your eye out. Here, “suspicious” is synonymous with “not white.”) We don’t need surveillance and security – we’ve got nosy, racist neighbors!

The message here, again, is: The flâneur/se is welcome, as long as s/he’s white.

(An amusing sidenote: the only time I’ve ever been watched or followed while looking around and taking photos was at the main Scientology estate in Los Angeles. It was said that Tom Cruise’s mother was staying there at the time. I was morbidly fascinated and was circling the building taking photos with my large DSLR with my now-husband and a friend. A couple of men in dark suits – who were obviously security – began following us.)

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