Recently, a very celebrated return to the neighbourhood has occurred. In the contemporary narrative of the ‘global’ -yet ‘divided’- city, the neighbourhood occupies a central position. New labels testify the need of produce sounder and better description of the neighbourhoods. One may wonder what definitions like gentrified areas, gated communities, or quartiers en crise have in common; or what the cultural districts, the creative hub, the ‘sustainable’ living actually promise. Apart from differences in purpose and ideology, they all revert to a recombination of social and physical units. What I am suggesting here is that most of these current definitions propose a plain and peaceful arrangement between contrasting images of society and space. They tend to assert an order where there is actually a field of conflictual practices. On the contrary, the neighbourhood requires an approach oriented to describe these practices, and retrieve from these hypotheses about the resultant order. The probing of the nature of neighbourhoods can not be severed from the inquiry onto the nature of the city. Urban reserchers have increasingly enlarged the list of relevant explanatory factors, warning about unfruitful generalization, since the world of cities is increasingly interdependent; urban living in particular is not anymore separated from the rural culture; urban lifestyles dominate the whole culture etc. Even more complex, cities do not seem to offer stable conditions on which concentrate the analytical effort; conditions like mobility, exchanges and transitoriety being crucial stakes to any possible description. However, neighbourhoods have heavily suffered from the rhetoric of global change and flows. On one hand, they are celebrated as the creative results of fashion design, attempting to contribute towards the marketing of new identities. On the other hand, neighbourhoods are stigmatised as contexts of “relegation”, the hidden area of marginality. Ordinary neighbourhoods are quite blurred in this clash of extremes. In this context, it comes as no surprise the emphasis placed on the identity of places: the design of the new building complexes and open spaces has been overloaded with expectations and promises, appearing almost as a thaumaturgical device against the wounds of cities. Even building companies have grasped the opportunities of marketing new styles of living either gentrifying former working class neighbourhoods; or building new ideal locations. A new romanticism has sprung, expecting new neighbourhoods and plazas to reconcile history and modernity, differences and public sphere. Such profound ideological discourse permeates not only building practices, but also broader policy frameworks. The mythical approach to design surfaces also in the EU’s urban policies, the UK urban renaissance framework, the US new urbanism. However, such rediscovering assumes all but too easy the “natural” deployment of the socialisation process. The communitarian effect of living together is not granted, if ever was. Most of the socialization took place in the streets, or in the secular struggle for expanding the public sphere, both occurrence heavily influenced by the working experience, rather than the neighborhood. Both the urban and the political public space are subjected to a profound restructutation, and the contemporary city is questioned precisely because is not anymore “producing society” (Donzelot 2006).
Cremaschi, M. (2011). The future of neighbourhoods. In Bauhaus and the City. A contested heritage for a challenging future. Würzburg : Könighausen & Neumann.