Yet ordinary desire is a more beautifully mundane thing, a less thrusting desire, one that is softer. It is the ordinary day-to-day lived urban experience of people. It is the basic needs that count. Can I walk from where I live or work to a public space where I can just be rather than having to buy something? Desirable places fulfil the need for just being, so enabling us to experience the moment, a chance for incidental encounter, a space open for coincidence rather than having to do something specific or continuously having to consider, 'What next?' The Plaza Nueva in Bilbao fulfils this need, as does the contained Caracas town hall square or Stavanger's S0lvberget Square, where, as so often, the public library, the Kulturhus, is an anchor. The sensually perfect oval square Piazza dell'Anfiteatro, the shopping street Via Fillungo in Lucca or even Djemaa el Fna in Marrakech, one of the world's great squares, satisfy ordinary desire, as does idling around one of Amsterdam's many markets or even ambling along its canals. Mothers looking at their kids running around, idle chatter, old guys reading the newspaper and smoking, a stall to buy a drink or a bun, a market selling flowers and food one day, second-hand knick-knacks the next. The community centre or library, a place to browse, let a chance encounter with books or through the internet take its course, read a magazine. A city is not only a static thing consisting of its built form, but also a series of small human interactions that fill a cauldron. Ordinary culture in action.
Is the housing well designed, well built, well maintained, spacious and affordable? Does it meet the varying needs of single persons and families? Does the urban design meld the interior and exterior landscapes into an integrated whole? Does it meet the needs of privacy yet also encourage people to interact? Are uses mixed so that living, working, shopping is convenient, so that people have many reasons to cross paths and communicate in the
Libraries are among the most inclusive cultural institutions ... and Vancouver's is one of the best: note how rounded the building is, which may account for its popularity simple ways that build social capital and make communities work? Can I go swimming? Is there a gym or a cinema nearby? Are services - doctors' surgeries, schools, meeting places - local? Is the rubbish cleared, does the graffiti get cleaned and do potholes get dealt with? Can I ring a council official and get someone - a human being - to answer the phone? Do I have confidence in the voluntary bodies or the businesses around me? Ordinary needs well met.
How do you get around? Does the transport system work? Is the metro clean? Does it operate frequently and without hiccup? Are suburban train lines efficient? Is the journey itself worth the experience, so you relax into the journey itself, just travelling, as you might in Hong Kong? Or is it more unpleasant, like in London, where you feel crowded in and your body tightens up and where you think of the next experience to take your mind off the present one? Does the car traffic flow through the city? Is parking available? Ordinary facilities working like clockwork.
Are there bright lights in the city core to stimulate aspiration? Are there places to hang out - special shops, cinemas, theatres, outdoor spaces for gathering, celebrating, demonstrating? Could you call your city a vibrant hub and a place of flourishing neighbourhoods? Is the gap between the rich and poor leavened? Are segregations reduced? Do cultures cross boundaries? Is prejudice minimal? Does it all add up? Does this stage set feel safe? Does it meld into an overall quality of life? Ordinary equality lived out in real life.
This picture exists in snatches in many of our cities without conscious planning or any new 'ism'. It is astonishing how simple this quiet desire feels, where time is slowed down and with the occasional burst of excitement. This is what makes café culture so appealing. Yet economic drivers go against maintaining its simplicity.
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