Tuesday, October 14, 2008

What is Jackson's Identity?

How many of you give driving directions like this...take a right at the Shell station, then go down until you see the sign for Home Depot, then you will take a right and you will see a Pizza Hut and a Taco Bell... etc.? If Jackson was stripped of all of these signs and all outdoor consumer propaganda, what would the identifiable land marks be? What is Jackson's Statue of Liberty, Millennium Park, or Bourbon St.?

In an article by David Harris featured in Adbusters magazine, Harris looks at just this sort of situation. Sao Paulo, Brazil the fourth largest metropolis in the world and Brazil's most important city imposed a
regulation that all outdoor advertisements be banned and removed. The city's mayor, Gilberto Kassab explains:

“The Clean City Law came from a necessity to combat pollution … pollution of water, sound, air, and the visual. We decided that we should start combating pollution with the most conspicuous sector – visual pollution.”

The article also includes and excerpt from and interview by Bob Garfield on "NPR's On the Media" with reporter Vinicius Glavao from Brazil's largest newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo. In the interview when Galvao is asked about the appearance before the ban he states:

"São Paulo’s a very vertical city. That makes it very frenetic. You couldn’t even realize the architecture of the old buildings, because all the buildings, all the houses were just covered with billboards and logos and propaganda. And there was no criteria. And now it’s amazing. They uncovered a lot of problems the city had that we never realized. For example, there are some favelas, which are the shantytowns. I wrote a big story in my newspaper today that in a lot of parts of the city we never realized there was a big shantytown. People were shocked because they never saw that before, just because there were a lot of billboards covering the area."

The interview later continues with the following dialogue:

BG: I want to ask you about the cultural life of the city, because, like them or not, billboards and logos and bright lights create some of the vibrancy that a city has to offer. Isn’t it weird walking through the streets with all of those images just absent?

VG: No. It’s weird, because you get lost, so you don’t have any references any more. That’s what I realized as a citizen. My reference was a big Panasonic billboard. But now my reference is art deco building that was covered through this Panasonic. So you start getting new references in the city. The city’s got now new language, a new identity.

Photograph of Sao Paulo taken by Tony de Marco

(Click here to see more photos of Sao Paulo)

Photograph of street signs after Hurricane Ike in Galveston, TX. (Click here to see flickr link)

Now, picture this:
If we were to wake up tomorrow and all evidence of outdoor advertisement had vanished, would the existing structures hold their own identity?

Which areas of Jackson would maintain their integrity? What measures would have to take place for those identities to begin to emerge?

Now, lets take this to another level...imagine that the entire population of the United States woke up tomorrow and found the same scenario. I feel like I'm creating the makings for a killer Twilight Zone episode, but work with me for a minute. Which cities do you think would be the most successful at still functioning?

This is an important factor in our research in finding the influence of the Interstate on city development. Most likely, the cities that would be the least detrimental to the human psyche and the personal sense of orientation would be those whose infrastructure developed based on the necessity of walkable neighborhoods and mass transportation. Cities designed around plazas and iconic landmarks. New York, Washington D.C., and Boston just to name a few.

The reasoning is simple: how easy would it be to find your unlabeled de
stination while driving 60 mph down the freeway?


Stacy said...

If billboards were removed, would this not push for an architecture of "ducks" over "decorated sheds" -- of figural buildings over contextual buildings? While I like the idea of cities with the character of a Washington D.C. you could end up with something more like Las Vegas -- turn right at the pyramid and go until you get to the gold shimmery high-rise, then tun left after the red barn-shaped house. I'm sure everyone can describe the movie theater in Pearl without street signs or billboards, but I wouldn't want a city of buildings like that.

Anonymous said...

Clearly, you wouldn't be able to find your way. But your post states you are removing advertising. Are you also removing directional signage? If so, your communication is not clear.

Since we have language, we use language. Why would you remove that very effective communication device from society? Otherwise, you have communities develop those horrid design books so that stores look like this and houses look like that, etc. and we become a place of architecture of rigid rules in order for the architecture to be the communication devices. Is that really a good idea when we have other means at our disposal?

Bryan said...

Whitney is not suggesting that we actually remove signage around the city. It is a theoretical exercise to ask ourselves what parts of the city hold integrity. The sign is certainly connected to interstate culture: signage becomes more necessary the faster we are moving.

Certainly language is a vital part of our culture, but the ubiquity of the same signage in many (or most) American cities may not be a good thing (i.e. every Taco Bell sign looks just about the same). Stacy is right that if we were to remove all signage we would probably switch to ducks to communicate information the decorated shed once did.

The main question here is not what an attempt to eliminate written language in favor of formal language would look like, but rather what exists beyond the language, what many authors refer to as poetics (Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Alberto Perez-Gomez).

Maybe we should say "imagine Jackson without architectural language, what areas still have character?" I for one, think the spatial moment that exists sitting on the west side of State St. just north of the intersection with Capitol St. (in front of Wired Cafe) looking across at the War Memorial has strong spatial characteristics that provoke my imagination.