Polis

Richard Sennett talks of the spaces of democracy in ancient Athens: places where speech and debate and the physical presence of people were built into the city.

There was a differentiation

between the spaces of logos, of reason and argument and debate, of individual responsibility and critical focus

and the spaces of community, of people as a mingled single being, of shared authorship and trust and mythos.

It is the second that the agitated theorists of contemporary life deem so achingly absent.  But ancient Athens overlooks the community of exchange: of bartering and trading, of corner-shop interactions and the belongingness of acting in custom.  Markets were the instigators of the cities of prehistory. Later, Roman cities were legitimised through repetition: the same city image, exported with the legions and stamped, grid-iron, across the empire.

Joseph Rykwert, meanwhile writes of the city as a vector: a composite of the multiple actions and decisions and agency of many, mild and drastic, individual or corporate or communal.  The city is ‘a willed artifact.’  De Certeau emphasises the autonomy of individual action.   Traces are inevitable; it is the diversity of the traces that truly measures the city.   He perceives a reciprocal relationship between the governance and the governed, the marketers and the market, the city built and the city lived.  For one to change is for the other to do likewise.  Even the dominant forces are composed of individuals, each with their own history of cities and landscapes inscribed in their own, personal sense of place.