“Cities are organisms, not objects in need of completion”: Lessons in living heritage, from Tokyo to Adelaide

Tokyo: grown, not planned. Image: Getty.

When you think about Japan, you probably think of cherry blossom, kimonos, sashimi, sumo, gardens, bathhouses, neon lights or space-age toilets. What you might not think about is the rich and complex layering in Japanese cities.But, for issues of heritage and conservation, Australia's architects, urban planners and policymakers could learn a lot from Japan.

Tokyo is a city that most visitors remember as being bustling, if not overwhelming, in every sense of the word. The pace is frenetic. People are packed together like sardines.

But, at the human scale, Tokyo has an incredibly rich layering of experiences. The towers of Shinjuku sit alongside the tightly packed informal streets that inspired the movie Bladerunner. Tourist meccas and shopping malls co-exist with open street markets and questionable boutiques. Pockets of traditional houses sit in a strange tension with the megastructures of the heaving metropolis.

The complexity of Tokyo has emerged organically; it could not have been designed. Master planning has a place, because a city needs structures and guidelines for development. But, like planting a seed instead of designing the flower, accepting that cities can evolve organically means that they won’t bow to the will of a single architect or reflect just one moment in time.

The constant state of flux denies the singular and encourages the pastiche. Working in flux requires a shift to thinking of cities as organisms rather than as objects in need of completion. This shift allows each generation to add their chapter to the story, rather than constantly trying to “finish” it.


Progress vs heritage

Adelaide is in many ways the opposite of an organic city. It was planned according to a regimented grid that permits little deviance. However, it has organically retained many heritage buildings and a range of architectural styles.

While we might like to think of this as deliberate: much of this preservation arguably happened as a result of South Australia’s comparatively slow economic growth.

The phenomenon of buildings being protected by economic rationalism rather than cultural idealism is amplified in Japan. Many of Japan’s most interesting urban areas are full of seemingly mismatched buildings, which combine to tell a complex story of their place.

While these areas are now celebrated for their diversity and historical significance, many remain because of cancelled construction projects (during the economic contraction of the 1990s) rather than a deliberate preservation agenda.

Economic growth is not necessarily bad for heritage, and Adelaide doesn’t need another State Bank collapse. But historically slow growth has left the city with a built environment of incredible cultural value.

Adelaide’s North Terrace strip is an obvious example of this. Yet, much like Melbourne in neighbouring Victoria, the South Australian capital is starting to see the value of some of its “less beautiful” parts. The transformation of unloved buildings into thriving small bars demonstrates how buildings of little economic value can have immense urban and cultural value.

While economic hardship largely explains why Adelaide’s North Terrace (pictured here circa 1940) has been well preserved, it is now treasured as the city’s living heritage. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Thinking in terms of living heritage

Instead of ascribing value to buildings simply because they are old or rundown, we need to develop a way of assessing and understanding value. “Living heritage” is a concept that encourages us to think more deeply about the value of buildings through the contribution they make to their surroundings.

Since Marcel Duchamp put a urinal in a gallery and called it art, we have understood that objects are defined by their surroundings as much as by their own design. In a living heritage evaluation, the role of a building in defining and anchoring its context can be as important as its stylistic details.

Buildings normally represent a single moment in time, but the urban environments around them continually evolve. If we understand the contribution a building is making to the story of its surroundings, we can make decisions that go beyond preserving historical facades to foster opportunities to protect, and add to, the stories and layers of the past.

To take this concept further, we could considering whether the ardent preservation of streetscapes as museum pieces is actually holding back the development of cultural identity. Perhaps rather than trying to freeze parts of our cities as examples of the past, we could look at supporting appropriately designed (and scaled) new developments. If done well, these interventions build on and enhance the cultural narrative of place.

Heritage will always be a complex issue, but our understanding needs to go beyond aesthetics to consider cultural (and environmental) dimensions. Contemporary architectural interventions are challenging for any urban area.

But if carefully crafted, good architecture can create an abstract continuity that adds a new layer to the story of a place without compromising its identity and integrity.The Conversation

Aaron Davis is doing a PhD in architecture at the University of South Australia.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

Everybody hates the Midlands, and other lessons from YouGov’s latest spurious polling

Dorset, which people like, for some reason. Image: Getty.

Just because you’re paranoid, the old joke runs, doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you. By the same token: just because I’m an egomaniac, doesn’t mean that YouGov isn’t commissioning polls of upwards of 50,000 people aimed at me, personally.

Seriously, that particular pollster has form for this: almost exactly a year ago, it published the results of a poll about London’s tube network that I’m about 98 per cent certain* was inspired by an argument Stephen Bush and I had been having on Twitter, at least partly on the grounds that it was the sort of thing that muggins here would almost certainly write up. 

And, I did write it up – or, to put it another way, I fell for it. So when, 364 days later, the same pollster produces not one but two polls, ranking Britain’s cities and counties respectively, it’s hard to escape the suspicion that CityMetric and YouGuv are now locked in a co-dependent and potentially abusive relationship.

But never mind that now. What do the polls tell us?

Let’s start with the counties

Everybody loves the West Country

YouGov invited 42,000 people to tell it whether or not they liked England’s 47 ceremonial counties for some reason. The top five, which got good reviews from between 86 and 92 per cent of respondents, were, in order: Dorset, Devon, Cornwall, North Yorkshire and Somerset. That’s England’s four most south westerly counties. And North Yorkshire.

So: almost everyone likes the South West, though whether this is because they associate it with summer holidays or cider or what, the data doesn’t say. Perhaps, given the inclusion of North Yorkshire, people just like countryside. That would seem to be supported by the fact that...


Nobody really likes the metropolitan counties

Greater London was stitched together in 1965. Nine years later, more new counties were created to cover the metropolitan areas of Manchester, Liverpool (Merseyside), Birmingham (the West Midlands), Newcastle (Tyne&Wear), Leeds (West Yorkshire and Sheffield (South Yorkshire). Actually, there were also new counties covering Teesside (Cleveland) and Bristol/Bath (Avon), too, but those have since been scrapped, so let’s ignore them.

Not all of those seven counties still exist in any meaningful governmental sense – but they’re still there for ’ceremonial purposes’, whatever that means. And we now know, thanks to this poll, that – to the first approximation – nobody much likes any of them. The only one to make it into the top half of the ranking is West Yorkshire, which comes 12th (75 per cent approval); South Yorkshire (66 per cent) is next, at 27th. Both of those, it may be significant, have the name of a historic county in their name.

The ones without an ancient identity to fall back on are all clustered near the bottom. Tyne & Wear is 30th out of 47 (64 per cent), Greater London 38th (58 per cent), Merseyside 41st (55 per cent), Greater Manchester 42nd (53 per cent)... Not even half of people like the West Midlands (49 per cent, placing it 44th out of 47). Although it seems to suffer also from the fact that...

Everybody hates the Midlands

Honestly, look at that map:

 

Click to expand.

The three bottom rated counties, are all Midlands ones: Leicestershire, Northamptonshire and Bedfordshire – which, hilariously, with just 40 per cent approval, is a full seven points behind its nearest rival, the single biggest drop on the entire table.

What the hell did Bedfordshire ever do to you, England? Honestly, it makes Essex’s 50 per cent approval rate look pretty cheery.

While we’re talking about irrational differences:

There’s trouble brewing in Sussex

West Sussex ranks 21st, with a 71 per cent approval rating. But East Sussex is 29th, at just 65 per cent.

Honestly, what the fuck? Does the existence of Brighton piss people off that much?

Actually, we know it doesn’t because thanks to YouGov we have polling.

No, Brighton does not piss people off that much

Click to expand.

A respectable 18th out of 57, with a 74 per cent approval rating. I guess it could be dragged up by how much everyone loves Hove, but it doesn’t seem that likely.

London is surprisingly popular

Considering how much of the national debate on these things is dedicated to slagging off the capital – and who can blame people, really, given the state of British politics – I’m a bit surprised that London is not only in the top half but the top third. It ranks 22nd, with an approval rating of 73 per cent, higher than any other major city except Edinburgh.

But what people really want is somewhere pretty with a castle or cathedral

Honestly, look at the top 10:

City % who like the city Rank
York 92% 1
Bath 89% 2
Edinburgh 88% 3
Chester 83% 4
Durham 81% 5
Salisbury 80% 6
Truro 80% 7
Canterbury 79% 8
Wells 79% 9
Cambridge 78% 10

These people don’t want cities, they want Christmas cards.

No really, everyone hates the Midlands

Birmingham is the worst-rated big city, coming 47th with an approval rating of just 40 per cent. Leicester, Coventry and Wolverhampton fare even worse.

What did the Midlands ever do to you, Britain?

The least popular city is Bradford, which shows that people are awful

An approval rating of just 23 per cent. Given that Bradford is lovely, and has the best curries in Britain, I’m going to assume that

a) a lot of people haven’t been there, and

b) a lot of people have dodgy views on race relations.

Official city status is stupid

This isn’t something I learned from the polls exactly, but... Ripon? Ely? St David’s? Wells? These aren’t cities, they’re villages with ideas above their station.

By the same token, some places that very obviously should be cities are nowhere to be seen. Reading and Huddersfield are conspicuous by their absence. Middlesbrough and Teesside are nowhere to be seen.

I’ve ranted about this before – honestly, I don’t care if it’s how the queen likes it, it’s stupid. But what really bugs me is that YouGov haven’t even ranked all the official cities. Where’s Chelmsford, the county town of Essex, which attained the dignity of official city status in 2012? Or Perth, which managed at the same time? Or St Asaph, a Welsh village of 3,355 people? Did St Asaph mean nothing to you, YouGov?

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

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*A YouGov employee I met in a pub later confirmed this, and I make a point of always believing things that people tell me in pubs.