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The user ***Nasty*** says it best.
She's a normal person who just lives there, a normal Jane, if you please.
She lives there, and she wants to live comfortably and with convenience.
Perhaps, for her, a new building will bring with it a certain comfort.
All those long-forgotten cemeteries, courts, councilmen, city preservationists, it's all just noise to her.
And that's the healthy approach.
We need to look into the future. Everything's become about the past recently. In more ways than one. This is bad, both for the city and for the country)
On the other hand, new buildings to live in, to work in, to gather, are also about people, however utilitarian and technocratic it might sound. Such buildings and spaces are about their comfort, their quality of life, their economic well-being.
In the end, we get two very different cities that lead two very different lives. One city is all about its past, the other is about progress, turning its face towards the ever-fleeing future. And both somehow bear the same name — Saint-Petersburg.
Those who try to preserve the city of the past seem like a basket of local crazies to those who inhabit the city of the future. After all, it's a natural economic process: the old, the ruined, the superfluous is torn down, to be replaced by the new. And then they
come, those pearl-clutching preservationists. Those troublemakers start their petitions, organize public assemblies, write letters and submit complaints to UNESCO. Meanwhile, those who defend the city, the inhabitants of the city of the past, observe it being taken over by strange new arrivals, people who do not understand its value. These people tear down hundred-year old houses just so the developers can make some quick money. Some sort of not quite educated strays decide what is important and what is not. And both sides know: here's the city, and here's the enemy. We, of course, are the city, we are the true citizens.
How do these two cities manage to exist together as one? Metropolises are, by their nature, a conglomeration of various and often incompatible smaller cities that have to live and coexist with one another. By losing even a single one of these smaller cities, a city becomes poorer, more boring, it shrinks and dwindles away.
The name of the biggest city preservation movement in St. Petersburg, «The Living City», sounds like a response to the phrase «The city must live». It's hard to accuse a crowd of people gathered under the green net-covered Basevich house of lifelessness,. The city preservationists might be protecting the dead, yet the movement itself is not lacking in life. During perestroika,
public politics and democratic reform in St. Petersburg began in large part due to the city preservationist movement. Take the street protests on St. Isaac's square in 1987 that grew out of a demonstration to save the hotel «Angleterre» from demolition. Since then, city preservation efforts have always sparked a lot of social discourse. One needs only to remember cases like Okhta-center and a tram station dating back to the Siege of Leningrad.
It does not make sense to exclude city preservation activists from its city, but the same also goes for developers, construction companies, public officials, or indeed any unseemly types. City development has never been a particularly «clean» sort of business. Moreover, the houses that the activists are fighting were also built at some point, often taking the place of earlier buildings. People writing «The city must live» in a comment section are neither developers, nor officials: they're just ordinary people. They do not see a point in fighting that which will happen even without their input. «The city must live» is a form of aggressive neutrality. You can almost hear the shouts: «Are they tearing it down? — Good, it's about time!». Such rhetoric arises when the speaker is excluded from the decision-making process, but doesn't wish to recognize this fact and thus louder than anyone expresses their agreement with what is taking place. It is this very same exclusion that city preservation activists are reacting to with street protests, complaints, and newspaper columns.
All sides of the city preservation argument declare their right to the city, they just do it in different ways. One side signs permissions, changes the general city plan, demolishes the old, fills the foundation pits and builds something new. The other side defends its right to decide what the city looks like, goes to protests, and signs petitions. The third group accepts what the city becomes, whether or not they like it. And all of them identify with the city, all of them want to be a part of it.
The phrase «The city must live» is meaningless. The city always lives, and it is especially lively when people argue about it. The real question is, how does the city live, and who decides how it lives? When people argue about city preservation, they are really arguing about the right to the city. It's about the right to define the city, whether as technocratic, a museified space, or even something else. The word «city» here takes on a different, Ancient Greek meaning, that of the polis
: by declaring their right to the city, activists fight for their right to engage in politics, for their right to influence policies which affect everyone. And politics, whether in the city halls or in the «Fontanka»'s
comment section, constitutes the life of the city in its purest form.
by Zakhar Lisitsyn
translated by Marina Bazarnaya