Sevilla Buitrago, Álvaro
Urbanism and dictatorship: perspectives of the field of urban studies.
"Urbanism and Dictatorship. A European Perspective".
Birkhäuser, Basel, pp. 27-35.
In 1933 public letter to Wilhelm Furtwängler, Joseph Goebbels synthesized the official understanding of the link between politics, art and society in the early steps of the Third Reich. By assuming the ethos of art, politics acquired a plastic agency to mold its objects —population and the state— as a unified entity in the form of a ‘national-popular community’ (Volksgemeinschaft); in turn, by infusing art with a political valence, it became part of a wider governmental apparatus that reshaped aesthetic discourses and practices. Similar remarks could be made about the ordering of cities and territories in this period. Dictatorial imaginations mobilized urbanism —including urban theory, urban design and planning— as a fundamental tool for social organization. Under their aegis the production of space became a moment in a wider production of society.
Many authors suggest that this political-spatial nexus is intrinsic to modernity itself, beyond dictatorial regimes. In this light, I propose to use dictatorial urbanisms as an analytical opportunity to delve into some concealed features of modern urban design and planning. This chapter explores some of these aspects from a theoretical standpoint, focusing on the development of dictatorial planning mentalities and spatial rationalities and drawing links to other historical episodes in order to inscribe the former in a broader genealogy of urbanism. Needless to say, I don’t suggest that we use dictatorships as mere templates to understand modern productions of space. Instead, these cases provide a crude version of some fundamental drives in the operationalization of urbanism as an instrument of social regulation, showing how far the modern imagination of sociospatial orderings can go. Dictatorial urbanisms constituted a set of experiences where many dreams and aspirations of modern planning went to die. But not, as the conventional account would have it, because the former were the antithesis of the latter, but rather because they worked as the excess of a particular orientation of modern spatial governmentalities — namely, their focus on calculation, social engineering and disciplinary spatialities, and their attempt to subsume a wide range of everyday practices under institutional structuration by means of spatial mediations. In my opinion the interest of dictatorial urbanisms lies in their role as key regulatory episodes in a longer history of our urban present. They stand as a threshold between the advent of planning in the late 19th and early 20th century, and its final consolidation as a crucial state instrument after World War II. We need, therefore, to pay attention to these experiences vis-à-vis the alleged ‘normal’ development of the field in contemporary democratic countries in order to develop a full comprehension thereof.