Notes on NEOutopia, Aug 2012

First published: CITY journal, Issue 16 Volume 5, Aug 2012

Still from the film 'NEOutopia', city-bound collective, 2011
Still from the film ‘NEOutopia’, city-bound collective, 2011

This collaborative essay was written by the research group city-bound collective, and was published as part of the Special Feature ‘NEOutopia: Architecture and the Politics of ‘the New’.  It is available to download in full via Taylor & Francis’ website and is excerpted below.

In the contemporary urban lexicon, one word, perhaps more than any other, has characterised the last three decades of neoliberal expansion. Slippery, through its inference to nature, and problematic, through its ostensible benevolence, ‘regeneration’ purports that development is somehow natural; that progress is inherently good. The reality, however, is that this speculative and volatile process is loaded with contradiction and paradox: for one space to unfold, another must be changed or destroyed. In the process, buildings are demolished, people ‘decanted’, communities dispersed and the intangible sensation of place poignantly and irreversibly transformed.[1]

As a point of departure for a collaborative, academic project, the politics of regeneration in London was a minefield of traps and potentialities. [2] Tasked with an ambiguous brief—to create a collaborative, ‘counter-cartographic’ project—we were a motley collection of individuals who had met on a Masters programme at Goldsmiths College. United through a shared interest in visual culture and urban development, 15 of us joined a module entitled ‘Geographies’ where work began on the project NEOutopia in early 2011.

Hosted by the Department of Visual Cultures, as part of the MA in Contemporary Art Theory, ‘Geographies’ is a transdisciplinary course exploring issues such as urbanity, globalisation, mobility, conflict, migration and human rights. Through interaction with theoretical and philosophical texts, it asks ‘how, within the heterogeneous geographic discourses and practices in circulation today, not only knowledge and cultural production but […] identities and new forms of subjectivity, are spatialised’. [3]

With this proposition in mind, we created a project that revealed the problems and contradictions of space with particular reference to urban regeneration and notions of utopia. Heavily inspired by the writings of Henri Lefebvre, we produced a fictional archive: a collection of images and documents pertaining to an ersatz development plan for the area of Elephant and Castle in London.

As a project that continues to develop, NEOutopia is multi-faceted: it consists of myriad inter-related images and documents, and its theoretical reference points are many. As such, after providing a brief introduction, this text for City will proffer ‘notes’ on some of the salient aspects of NEOutopia whilst showcasing a selection of images from the project. Central to this process is an emphasis on visuality, creativity and experimentation—forces we believe to be crucial to the project of critically evaluating the complexities of contemporary urban space […]

[1] The term ‘decanting’ increasingly seems to have become common parlance in planning discourse. Simply put, it is a euphemism used to describe the eviction of residents from their homes to make way for demolition or regeneration.

[2] For more critical analysis on London, see the following contributions to a debate ‘How Should We Write about London?’ in City 10(2) (2006): M. Edwards, ‘Hamlet without the Prince: Whatever Happened to Capital in Working Capital?’, pp. 97–204; I. Gordon, ‘How Should We Write about London?: The Working Capital View’, pp. 185–196; and S. Sandhu, ‘Aborigines and Unfortunates: Life and Labour across Nocturnal London’, pp. 205–214. Also see B. Catterall, ‘Is it All Coming Together? Further Thoughts on Urban Studies and the Present Crisis: (9) The Play’s the Thing?’, City 10(3) (2006), pp. 393–407.

[3] ‘Visual Cultures’, Postgraduate Study, Goldsmiths College University of London (postgraduate prospectus), p. 15, http://www.gold.ac.uk/media/viscult-pg.pdf (accessed 21 April 2012).