It is true that the urban environment, we said last week, influences the citizen in a way that creates differences between individuals, differences that can separate, exclude, be a factor of unrest and tension. The education of the urban man, and as a consequence of it the improvement of the quality of his family life, has to have like objective the reduction of those differences by means of an elevation of his sensitivity to the deficiencies of the city, whose consequence is a challenge to the State, a challenge to the Institutions.
I’m not just talking about the city, the neighborhood, or the home having or no water, or telephone, or even electric light, that is, satisfaction of needs. I speak of all the other things that “make” the city “polis, civitas”, which make it the highest cultural creation of man.
And in that respect it is worth mentioning the differences between a European, a citizen of any of the cities that have filled chapters of the cultural history of humanity, and an American inhabitant of one of those great cities born of the industrial expansion of the United States. , in which all basic services are satisfied but which mean nothing for the purposes of those values that we have just mentioned. Cities such as Basel, for example, a marvel of balance, or Detroit, a prodigy of irrationality and dispersion. Or choose a small city, Pontevedra de Galicia and Lexington, in Kentucky.
How much difference of attitudes of the citizen before the rest of the cohabitants of his urban space!
The one practicing the coexistence in the square, the park, in the many spaces that the old city and its successive expansions offer, full of history, while going to work many times on foot, or enjoy the leisure of the civilized coexistence of the public spaces that belong to everyone. The other, accustomed to seeing the urban landscape from his car, traveling along a highway still living in a tiny city, which coexists with the others in a shopping center, that is, in the practice of consumption. Two opposing cultures of the city. Two different types of man. Two dynamics of family life. And that of the country of the North has greatly contributed to disperse the relations between parents and children, between siblings, between members of the extended family, to replace them with a self-absorbed relationship in the terms of the couple, a couple that by the way is considered so essential, so unique, so justifiable only by herself, that it no longer matters whether the mystery of life is revived or not within her. And then, as a necessity, couples of the same sex emerge.
In Venezuela it is particularly necessary that we talk about those values of the city. It is necessary to overcome the journalistic discourse on emergencies so that we understand that the demands must go much further, aimed at developing in all of us a more mature, broader understanding of what can be expected from a modern city. It is not a question of forgetting the enormous daily problems, but that we realize that the final objectives imply a level superior to the petty populism.
We have not understood that we are actually founding our urban culture. That although it has been assimilated largely to the imitation of the North, is differentiated from it by the strong coexistence that we maintain here with the popular, coexistence that perhaps offers us the possibility of conferring our cities their own personality. Indeed, in Latin America, the persistence of popular behavior patterns, which have not been able to be subdued by the city because it is weak, unstructured and babbling, especially in countries like ours, seems to be the most important force on which to rely to try that which I have called new modes of coexistence.
This, together with a consistent effort to prevent the disappearance of the traditional nineteenth-century city, can be the key to seeking balance. A balance which will undoubtedly have to be part of the “modern” city, imitative and to some extent superimposed, but also part of our process. In short, it is about modifying trends. And to make a systematic and sustained effort to recover for each one urban conditions that stimulate personal development. That as we said, is done, if it is really development, in family life.
It is a slow and difficult task. Instead of being the civilized, orderly, relatively harmonious city, which progressively “civilizes” the unassisted city hit by the abandonment, the deteriorated historic city or the marginal city, what is happening is that the marginal, the deterioration, diminished standards, abandonment, institutional headquarters without any quality, erode the civilized city.
That is the sediment that has left in our countries the illusion of populism, the belief that democratization is a kind of even distribution of opportunities that should come from a philanthropic state, imbued with an elementary distributive idea. Illusion that was a political response to another illusion, that of Marxist socialism, today housed by the caudillista power, conceived as a tight control capable of guaranteeing a theoretical balance and a production of wealth enjoyed by the great majorities.
Both populisms, overwhelmed by the idea of quantity, have hit the quality of our education in the name of the universality of education at all costs, are the support for housing policies that built and built throughout the country homes unable to form a city , which made and makes hospitals empty shells: a way of seeing public action that is the biggest obstacle to the formation of our urban culture. And one of the fields where this fight against populism must be resolved triumphantly if we want to reverse these nefarious tendencies, is in the city, in the way we see ourselves as citizens.
Óscar Tenreiro Degwitz, Architect.
Venezuela, january 2008,
Entre lo Cierto y lo Verdadero