“Living in a city is notoriously an ambivalent experience. It attracts and repels, but to further complicate the situation of the city dweller, it is the same aspects of urban life, intermittently or simultaneously, that attract and repel” (Zygmunt Bauman, liquid love).
Beginnings in a new city are never easy. Whether due to forced or voluntary migration, adaptation to new rhythms, times, social behaviors or ways of understanding and interacting with the environment involve a personal effort that only those who have experienced it can understand.
Ana Kinsella’s debut in her book lookhere, Published by Daunt Books, narrates, precisely, the adaptation process of a young Irish woman to the British capital. And how, the very experience of living in the city – which is the city itself – becomes a story to understand urban and territorial problems, presenting the city as the heart of the aesthetic insurrection against everyday life.
Through personal experience, it is explained from the most mundane to the complicated effects of living in the metropolis. And it is that with all its synchronicity and serendipity, Ana Kinsella’s work is an admiration letter to London through an idiosyncratic combination of curious interviews, memoirs and flânerieall molded through that clear and empathic look that characterizes and defines his own style.
Academically complex concepts are exposed very clearly through lived experiences. For example, questions related to otherness are raised –how strange is the stranger in the city?, a concept discussed by philosophers such as Zygmunt Bauman–, aspects related to the production of space bounded by Henri Lefebvre, or what is affects perception and image of the city to love it or hate it, as Kevin Lynch pointed out. And it is that, walking and crossing the London streets, for the author, becomes a sensory experience through her experiences.
Today, a phenomenon that is observed in the cities of the world is that not only life is celebrated, but also the return of life after the ravages of the pandemic. But, what is it that each city has to attract new visitors? An obvious feature is that each metropolis is unique; and this attribute is achieved by traversing its streets, which, as Kinsella writes, is “moving through time itself.” And not only of history, but also of the personal history of each individual.
One of the most beautiful passages in the text is where the importance of walking in Mediterranean cities is explained, considering the way in which urban life places us intimately in contact with thousands of strangers and strangers, sharing the same space. Among the fragments of the book, the Italian term “passeggiata” that is worth mentioning. Literally translated from the book:
“Passeggiata’ It is the Italian word that designates the quiet and pleasant walk that takes place in the light of sunset. It is a social activity. This is not a walk for health or fitness, but an opportunity to see friends and be seen by all. Interactions that normally take place in private homes, or at least in semi-private spaces such as restaurants or bars, are part of the public realm here. If you find yourself on a busy Italian street just before dinner time, especially on a Sunday night, you’ll notice that the locals dress up for dinner. passeggiata. People take advantage of the flattering evening light with the clothes they want to wear.”
In other words, the walk translates into an act of socialization and becomes one of those city pleasures that makes us part of the city. Doing an exercise of introspection, the passeggiata it materializes in many Spanish cities in the form of a boulevard, main avenue or promenade. These spaces become signs of local identity and, unfortunately, also in spaces of attraction and tourist massification.
The walk translates into an act of socialization and becomes one of those city pleasures that makes us part of the city
In the same way that there are these spaces designed to be open and pleasant, spaces that have disappeared, others that survive and even others that have become stronger after the pandemic are also mentioned. The author’s discovery of spaces as perverse as the Coal Drops Yard, Dubbed the new mecca for London trends, it appears in 2018 as a semi-private space near King’s Cross and St. Pancras Station. Designed by Heatherwick studio, this complex used to be a coal warehouse in the 19th century and today houses almost 10,000 square meters of retail and leisure space. In Seres Urbanos we already talked about this type of spaces that are transformed into select, restrictive and exceptional places. And, it is precisely in London where the processes of privatization of space do not stop growing.
It is relevant to mention Coal Drops Yard because the author detects this space as a place that attracted her for being a trend, for its modern, innovative and cosmopolitan quality, but at the same time, she describes it as a point that hides the conflict and where the control, reducing the possibility of social interaction between different.
The reading of space through observation and experience, walks and interactions with strangers, social relations and affective ties with certain places are what create our attachment, desire and affection towards the city. Rarely is written about a specific city from a phenomenological approach. And I think it is interesting to promote readings by young emerging writers, where the city environment is explained from the observation and experience of navigating the urban streets. In short, writings that continue to be a love letter to city life; an ode to urban life.