Eastern Europe’s cities are an education in different regimes of public space. Within the spatialisation Lefebvre describes as modernist, rationalized ‘Abstract Space’ public areas of cities are reduced to their function, utility and managed in terms of maximizing value within an overarching vision of land as a commodity to be bought and sold. Although utility is included in calculating its exchange value, this monetary abstraction – the price of land — ultimately over-rides even the use value of land and a necessary platform for economic activity. This tends to reduce city spaces to infrastructure which is understood in terms of needs such as transportation, costs of land and maintenance. Urban public space is a lost money-making opportunity if only because it is withdrawn from the real estate market. Elements such as sidewalks are thus reduced to the minimum required by social uses and safety standards.
In the late 20th century, under what Lefebvre understood as a statist mode of production and accumulation, urban space is not just infrastructure but managed more consciously as a means of social control and as a way of facilitating commerce and trade. This implies policing the minutiae of uses of these areas, moving on loiterers and banning unproductive uses of space. Legitimated, tax-paying businesses are favoured by banning or limiting street traders and peddlers. Traveling between Ukraine and Austria highlighted this for me on a recent trip.
Like many Western cities, the touristic ancient squares of Salzburg provide a good example of such management – a widespread approach, not something unique to Salzburg. Impeccably swept by street-cleaning equipment, stalls vending (usually gourmet) food simulate historical uses of the Platz and Markt and long-established cafes have the right to put out tables for patrons within carefully bounded,, but unmarked, areas. The invisibility of these boundaries of areas of entitlement undergird the simulacrum. The squares are thus vastly empty apart from specifically placed activities such as taxis queued for customers, tourists and tour groups headed one way or another, clustered around a fountain or jockeying for the ‘Kodak spot’ from which to take cliched snapshots as personal souvenirs of Salzburg. Missing in this sketch, and perhaps detectable only via tourists’ weary feet, is the genera absence of public seating and benches in these squares. The only available seating is in cafes for paying customers. Needless to say, itinerant peddlers and beggars have been systematically moved on by police.
These squares are amongst the most visited tourist sites, globally. The tourist experience is impeccably organized and planned in time and space in ways which reduce pilgrimage to historical and popular cultural sites to a series of commodity transactions. Alas, there is no outdoor music in this city of Mozart and The Sound of Music. Buskers are absent in favour of performances in the formal concert halls of the Salzburg Festivals where seats generally cost USD200 or more, marking it as an exclusive event for the global rich.
As Lefebvre noted, Abstract Space favours the visual at the expense of other senses. This is one reason why it is difficult to work out or back from Lefebvre’s separate ‘Spaces’. These are correctly cut off as analytical objects — but as he also argues contain previous spatialities within them. He divides each historical regime of space according to a corresponding historical dialectical mode of production. While he goes to great lengths to construct an ‘open text’ and avoid closure in his narrative subsequent deployment of his ideas tends to reify each ‘Space’ and hypostatize his argument. ‘Space’ becomes a thing, rather than a social process of spacing and ‘spatializing’. Spatialisation is thus my preferred term and represents a step beyond Lefebvre.
It is true that benches appear to be a nineteenth century addition to cities (and one wonders at the history of public seating). If there is one site where benches do appear in Salzburg, it is in parks and gardens. But in the vast majority of its urban public space, the human body is accommodated only in erect posture as a mobile pedestrian. These prevent non-residents from temporarily inhabiting a space unless paying for a seat. A specific form of exhausted meandering results, what Tiessen calls a ‘Meanderthal’ tourist mobility, which is unpredictable, distracted and slow paced. This distinct mobility is one of the more annoying aspects of tourism for more intent and directed locals whether on foot or in cars. It is directed from sight to sight in gross form but aimless from moment to moment until attracted by the allure and affect of visual objects – commodities, bargains, souvenirs in so-called ‘tourist traps’ or images of appetizing dishes or the site of food. The best haunts of locals are often more hidden and sometimes identified through the odour of cooking, rather than by visual cues.
By contrast, L’viv, Ukraine (Lvov) is a historical city unfrequented by mass tourism. The birthplace of Sacher-Masoch, significant site of both the Holocaust and Holodimir, home of a famous Opera, and one of the few baroque cities untouched by the Second World War, like Salzburg the entire city-centre of L’viv is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Some of its squares have been developed for tourists in preparation for the 2012 European Football Championship. For example, the Toller Place is partly occupied by outdoor cafes (more expensive than the surrounding restaurants that also spill out onto the cobbled square). An ongoing effort moves unlicensed peddlers selling pastries off the square at least into alleys and entrance hallways of buildings. However an outdoor stage and seating hosts free entertainment and benches with bronze plaques discreetly advertising the local Lvivski beer are provided. Buskers offer competing renditions of Western and world music. There is thus a more complex visual and auditory touristic experience and clues to a fundamentally different regime of public space in contrast with the Abstract Space of Salzburg. Again, Lefebvre had a term for these environments whcih are the dialectical alter thesis of Abstract Space: ‘Differential Space’, a space characterized more by the rich co-presence of different uses rather than planned homogeneity and the result of myriad additions and subtractions. This square in the throes of revitalization in L’viv demonstrates how the two – Abstract and ‘Differential’ — are performatively interlaced and can be rebalanced in a more inclusive manner.
What really distinguishes L’viv from the cities of Western Europe is its extensive greenery, parks and promenades. Like Salzburg there are distinct seasons with less clement weather yet, lined with benches, L’viv’s public spaces support an active and inclusive public life which seems to include all ages, abilities, genders and social groups. Families with children occupy benches or stroll by elderly men playing chess in impromptu games on the benches. Strollers practice a now rare, genuine flaneurie – strolling in the heart of the city ‘to see and perhaps be seen’ — of the sort hosted by promenades such as Barcelona’s Ramblas. This is a way of participating in the life of the city and bringing these places alive. Nor is it simply a scene of pedestrian mobility. Rather than seeking what Perniola calls the ‘tranject’ — a simulated cinematic tracking shot as the visual synthesis of what a city is, people stroll and meander (perhaps more energetically than tourists), children trace complex racing zigzags, toy electric cars are available for rent for a few minutes, photographers pose tourists with life-sized plush animal, hawkers display Ukrainian memorabilia on some benches. Monuments to local personages and nationalist heros such as Taras Shevchenko overshadow the space. They underscore the importance of past events such as the historical tragedy of the Ukrainian famine and the pre-capitalist spatialisation of peasant serfdom which lasted into the twentieth century in Ukraine.
In L’viv’s public spaces, at times such as the early evening, ‘the city’ is much more obviously its occupants than its buildings and infrastructure. If Lefebvre refers to this as ‘lived spatiality’, let’s dub this ‘L’viv-ed space’. All-comers participate and are subject to the regulatory gaze of not only the police but the crowd, which provides a normative critical mass. While this public space is abstractly designed, it departs from the Abstract Space of the modernist city in a way which is dialectical on multiple levels – not just spatially but temporally in the way history is injected into the present.
A critical memory is unavoidable (even if it is as selective as Salzburg’s, for pogroms, genocides and the memory of the L’viv ghetto are generally repressed — the historical presence of a East European Hassidic Jewish population is difficult to imagine given the scant remaining population that has not emigrated). Before and before this successive waves of invasion and violence have swept through the region. As ‘Differential Space’, this is a spatialisation in which absence and presence intermix while abstract rationality and state nationalism are well alive. Given the violence of the past, it is thus a historical irony that, if Salzburg provides a model for organized mass urban tourism, present-day L’viv provides an object demonstration in how to make lively, ‘L’vivly’, self-organizing public spaces in cities. I don’t think either city boasts a ‘clean’ past – that is why they are such sites of historical significance – yet they boast different presents in the way they relate to the past temporally and spatially as tourist destinations.