Power resides in the manipulation of words, images and symbols2. In a world where JVC pro-duced my imagination, I am inspired by Siemens to let Microsoft decide where I want to go today. These corporate marketing strategies reduce meaning of words (i.e. mobility, democracy, individuality...) to images of words shaping in our minds a dangerous description and detailed instructions on how we perceive reality.

Symptomatic of the constant reconstruction complex, the City of Architecture and it’s symbolic skyline illustrate a parallel marketing strategy in the commodification of the city employing comparable slogans and one-liners to sustain interest, support and belief in the extended development. The city, as product or image of the new product, has become a marketing campaign directed not only at (architectural) tourists but also at the inhabitants themselves. Rotterdammers inhabit a monological consensus representation3 generated by this market orientation. The superimposed City of Architecture identity is the dominant story being told suffocating the potential for other individual stories to be told.

"Your gaze scans the streets as if they were written pages: the city says everything you must think, makes you repeat her discourse, and while you believe you are visiting [Rotterdam] you are only recording the names with which she defines herself and all of her parts." —Italo Calvino: Invisible Cities

Time was when cities were more than products. Supposedly the highest expression of human civilization, cities were a reflection of the interaction between diverse communities and their com-ponent individuals. In Rotterdam, we have found little tangible connection between the image and the experience of the city, let alone to the exterior global community in which Rotterdam wishes to become known. Through scale, repetition and the manipulation of the media, the most undeniable being architecture, the monotone language of the City of Architecture dictates a rational cultural climate based on 9-5 werken en wonen and traditional hierarchies.

"De indrukwekkende skyline von Rotterdam krijgt er een nieuwe eyecatcher bij: de Luxortoren zal een echte "skyline-vuller" worden." —CIC Rotterdam Infopoint: Luxortoren Project

Believing that Rotterdammers were also creatures of fantasy and that a dynamic cultural climate benefits from the suggestion of other possible realities, we looked like Dorothy behind the curtains of authority for the authors of this story. In the City of Architecture, it is the government, the city planners and their corresponding communication departments who play the Wizard. (Architects are farther down the line.) In the Kafka-esque labyrinth of bureaucracy of the Marconi Towers, there is always someone else who you should talk to. In several discussions with dS+V (R’dam City Planning), we encountered individuals intensely involved and concerned with these images and others unconscious or oblivious to their effect. As a short summary of the innquisitions, there is no conspiracy and no evil empire, just individuals within the inherited legacy of the hierarchical organ-ization and flows of communication of democratic society. Exactly due to this hierarchical organ-ization, they often have little time to reflect on their work and its effects in the outside reality. As in the case of the dS+V, there are departments set up to encourage cross-fertilization of ideas and interaction with other competence groups. They know they ain’t hearing the whole story.

Nevertheless, the combination of neo-liberal democracy with the market-orientated mechanisms of Late Capitalism has arrived at a social/political/ethical quandry in Rotterdam: how can individual storytellers participate in the shaping of the city when unable to perceive alternatives beyond the prescribed?

 

 

2. Amenta Manifesto

3. Roemer van Toorn: Rewriting the City