The Geography of Desire

Desire is the flip side of misery. Let's look again at Rio de Janeiro, where desire and misery clash. The city has a powerful resonance: sexuality, heat, glamour, energy. Our vantage point is the giant 38m-high Christ the Redeemer statue on the Corcovado mountain, 710m above sea level. The city's vista is unrivalled anywhere in the world, even by Sydney, San Francisco, Hong Kong or Vancouver. Even the favelas look enticing. But down on the ground, things are different. The 1950s and 1960s, as nearly everywhere, took their toll, as rampant redevelopment fractured the tree-lined boulevards and decorative apartments.

Carnival, beautiful women and men, samba, bossa nova. Even the once seedy and dangerous Lapa is now a hub of the music scene and is a regenerator's dream: faded 19th century houses and warehouses are waiting to be turned into more hip apartments and offices. It still has an edginess, yet the clubs, bars and restaurants are opening and beginning to tame the threats.

Rio's resonance is why the Guggenheim wants to be linked with it. The associational richness of the two brands, Rio and Guggenheim, seems irresistible; they are a city-marketer's dream. At first, the idea was to help regenerate the Maua Pier area in the historic centre of Rio de Janeiro. The redevelopment of this site as a new cultural centre is expected to be a crucial and strategic landmark in Rio's plans to bring life back to the Cais do Porto region. Apparently mutually beneficial, the aim of redevelopment is to strengthen the Guggenheim's 'global brand' and turn Rio into a 'global city'. Visionary architecture was contractually required, and Jean Nouvel was chosen and has provided the design.

But there has been a stand-off: The plan has stalled politically and the city cannot get it approved. The battle lines are drawn between those who believe the Guggenheim will be a regenerator and those who think it will only gentrify the area and be of little or no benefit to the poor. The fate of the Rio/Guggenheim connection is the supreme symbol of The Art of City-Making story and of the battle of how to deal with misery. Do you create fashionable desire, whose economic effects are unlikely to trickle down in a positive way for the poor but which pleases the better off, or do you go about the less glamorous process of bottom-up economic development?

It is only when we see these things from a detached, eagle's eye view that the shape and overall dynamic of things are clear. Those who move around from place to place can see the full impact of the dull sameness of the 'same place everywhere' syndrome, which is why the promise of another Guggenheim icon seems so attractive. Then the sharp dominance of global brands becomes clear, from Wal-Mart to Tesco to McDonald's to Gap, whether you are in California, Milan, Lyon, Moscow, Yokohama or Johannesburg. But locals instinctively know too that in spite of the glamour of the brands, they are a double-edged sword, endangering local distinc-tiveness. Finding an inventive route that balances the local and global is the challenge.

Which way the creativity of people is focused to make cities great places is a subtext throughout this book. It is highlighted more sharply below when we talk of the geography of desire. The question that lurks in the background is this: What if the immense energy, resources, creativity and imagination that are used to seduce us to buy more were used for different aims? Inevitably the text has a somewhat critical tone, but it is not a personal criticism of the many shopping centre managers, developers, marketers or policymakers I meet daily through my work. They, like me and all of us, are caught in a maelstrom and a system that pushes us inexorably towards speeding up, consuming more, with greater focus on individual wants than on bigger-picture, communal needs. Many want to bend the market to more lofty aims. But to stand alone against the prevailing wind is hard.

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