30: Situationist Disneyland

Writing about Ivan Chtcheglov’s Formulary for a New Urbanism, Merlin Coverley is somewhat underwhelmed. He says that “the details for establishing such an environment are absent here”, giving as an example lines such as “Everyone will, so to speak, live in their own personal ‘cathedrals.'”

Coverley is perhaps a little too harsh, because Chtcheglov does have some suggestion; the problem is that the ideas are not as radical as he tries to claim. The main proposal is a division of the city into zones. Chtcheglov writes that “The districts of this city could correspond to the whole spectrum of diverse feelings that one encounters by chance in everyday life.” He gives some examples:

“Bizarre Quarter — Happy Quarter (specially reserved for habitation) — Noble and Tragic Quarter (for good children) — Historical Quarter (museums, schools) — Useful Quarter (hospital, tool shops) — Sinister Quarter, etc. … The Sinister Quarter, for example, would be a good replacement for those ill-reputed neighbourhoods full of sordid dives and unsavoury characters that many peoples once possessed in their capitals”

A proposal to zone a city hardly seems radical, particularly when such things are carried out in most areas. These attempts to control creativity, to plan and organise it, have irritated some people, such as the artist Bill Drummond: How dare someone tell me where the cultural quarter is? How dare anybody decide where culture can be found, or what it is, or how it can be safely packaged in a sanctioned part of the city”. Having a cultural quarter implies a restriction of creativity to a certain area. One suspects Drummond would not be a fan of Chtcheglov’s proposals.

Even worse, from a Situationist point of view, is the way in which Chtcheglov plans to support his imaginary project:

We know that the more a place is set apart for free play, the more it influences people’s behaviour and the greater is its force of attraction. This is demonstrated by the immense prestige of Monaco and Las Vegas… though they are mere gambling places. Our first experimental city would live largely off tolerated and controlled tourism.

While Debord was inspired by the idea of play, particularly in relation to Huizinga’s ideas, he was suspicious of ‘leisure’, seeing recreation as a way to keep workers participating in capitalism. The “tolerated and controlled tourism” that Chtcheglov suggests is indistinguishable from this. As charming as some of Chtcheglov’s visions are, the utopian city he suggests, his Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, is basically an urban Disneyland.

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