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Art and urban regeneration

  • Malcolm Miles (a1)


The case for art in urban regeneration is widely promoted. Some local authorities and development corporations see it as a means of access to an international cultural map; others see it as enabling the construction of identities for communities. The case remains speculative. The model of post-Enlightenment cities is one of exclusion and confinement, whereby ‘awkward’ aspects of the city, such as the insane or vagrant, are excluded from view and confined in institutions. This compartmentalization of the city extends into policies for single use zoning and a general retreat from public space. If there is a role for art in urban renewal, it is in reclaiming the decorative as an aspect of public space, not in replicating monuments which affirm the dominant, divisive culture.



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1 The case for ‘public art’ is set out in Arts Council, Percent for Art: A Review (London, 1991), 1620.

2 A report by Sara Selwood on public art in London, Yorkshire and the West Midlands will be published by the Policy Studies Institute in 1995. It will be the first attempt, using focus groups, to explore responses to major commissions for public art.

3 For a survey of the importance of cultural factors in the economic profile of a town, see Myserscough, J., The Economic Importance of the Arts (London, 1988).

4 This is cited in at least two works on urbanism: Girardet, H., The Gaia Atlas of Cities (London, 1992), 118; and Sennett, R., The Conscience of the Eye (New York, 1990). Sennett writes: ‘The medieval city was conceived by its burghers as a place in which people could write their own secular laws … To express this freedom to will their own secular lives, the medieval burghers carved over the gates of several Hanseatic cities the motto Stadt Luft macht frei, city air makes men and women free (1992 ed.), 135.

5 See Sennett, , The Conscience of the Eye (1992 ed.), 177–80. Sennett argues that public clocks ‘created a different order of discipline’ from the regulation of hours in monastic life, and a ‘grid’ leading to payment of labour by the hour. He cites Goff, J. Le, Time, Work and Culture in the Middle Ages, trans. Goldhammer, A. (Chicago, 1980).

6 ‘To the island valley of Avilion; / Where falls not hail, or rain, or any snow, / Nor ever wind blows loudly …’, Alfred, Tennyson, Morte d'Arthur (1842), lines 259–61. Much Victorian verse and prose on the theme of ideal landscapes was written in a context of spreading industrialization and urbanization.

7 A supposed unity of art and architecture has been proposed, for example by Charles Jencks, and is Utopian in as much as neither term has a reality before the Renaissance. See Jencks, C., ‘A modest proposal: on the collaboration between artist and architect’, in Townsend, P. (ed.), Art Within Reach (London, 1984), 1519. A psychoanalytic approach to the mental projection of unity on to past or future might begin at the relation of infants to mothers before and shortly after birth, a unity which is always lost in the process of individuation.

8 For example: ‘Industrial societies are inherently unsustainable and no attempt should be made at temporarily repairing them.’ Naess, A., ‘Seven point ecology’, Resurgence, 168 (1994), 26.

9 Girardet, H., The Gaia Atlas of Cities, 118.

10 ‘In a study of how people see the city of Boston, the urbanist Kevin Lynch has asserted how important it is to “concentrate especially on one particular visual quality” … He invoked the idea of “imageability” as a guide to what planners should strive for …’ Sennett, , The Conscience of The Eye, 33.

11 ‘… at the gates of cities, there stretched wastelands which sickness had ceased to haunt but had left sterile and long uninhabitable …’ Foucault, M., Madness and Civilisation, trans. Howard, R. (London, 1971), 3.

12 ‘Clearly, the norm of American aspiration is now in suburbia.… Many of the people who are redesigning the city seem to have much the same frame of mind.’ Whyte, W. H., The Exploding Metropolis (Berkeley, 1993; 1st ed. 1957), 910.

13 Lynch, K., What Time is This Place? (Cambridge, Mass., 1990; 1st ed. 1972), 171.

14 ‘It is suggested that a collage approach … is … the only way of dealing with the ultimate problems of … Utopia and tradition …’ Rowe, C. and Koetter, F., Collage City (Cambridge, Mass., 1983), 144.

15 Lefebvre, H., The Production of Space, trans. Nicholson-Smith, D. (Oxford, 1991), 79.

16 It could be argued that privacy is a precondition for the abstraction of the god's-eye view, the product of thinking by oneself in one's chamber. For a discussion of the idea of privacy related to subjectivity and subjection, see Barker, F., The Tremulous Private Body (London, 1984).

17 Sennett, , The Conscience of the Eye, 44.

18 ‘The cultural problems of the city are conventionally taken to be its impersonality, its alienating scale, its coldness; There is more in these charges than is first apparent. Impersonality, coldness and emptiness are essential words in the Protestant language of environment; they express a desire to see the outside as null, lacking value.’ Sennett, , The Conscience of the Eye, 46.

19 See Foucault, , Madness and Civilisation, 3946.

20 ‘Baudelaire saw in the modern city the possibility for transcending the cultural forces we have depicted. The modern city can turn people outward, not inward; rather than wholeness, the city can give them experiences of otherness.’ Sennett, , The Conscience of the Eye, 123.

21 See Bohm, D., Wholeness and the Implicate Order (London, 1980).

22 One exception would be Millet, but his contemporary Realist, Courbet, is identified with Paris, and played an active role in the Commune. Whilst Gauguin and van Gogh spent periods working in rural or exotic locations, they, too, depended on the urban art world for support. All the movements of Modernism – Fauvism, Cubism, Futurism and Dada – took place in cities. Post-war American painting is often called the New York school.

23 Deutsche, R., ‘Alternative space’, in Wallis, B. (ed.), If You Lived Here (Seattle, 1991) 47.

24 The phrase site-general, as a contrast to the often used site-specific, was first used in McAvera, B., Art, Politics and Ireland (Dublin, n.d.), 113, in relation to Gormley's work in Deny.

25 See Sorkin, M. (ed.), Variations on a Theme Park (New York, 1992) for several contributions on the subject.

26 Jacobs, J., The Death and Life of Great American Cities (New York, 1961), ch. 5.

27 Ibid., 152.

28 Paley Park was used by about 35, and Greenacre by about 25, people per 1,000 sq. ft of open space. In contrast, most corporate plazas scored about 5: Whyte, W. H., The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces (Washington, 1980), 73. See also Carr, S., Francis, M., Rivlin, L. and Stone, A., Public Space (Cambridge, Mass., 1992), 100–1.

29 For an interview with Cesar Peli on this project, see Harris, S. P. (ed.), Insight/On Sites (Washington, 1984), 34–8.

30 Battery Park City was initially planned for mixed income living and working, but its transfer to the private sector reduced it to less confident parameters. For a critical view, see Deutsche, R., ‘Uneven development: public art in New York City’, in Ghirardo, D. (ed.), Out of Site (Seattle, 1991), 157218.

31 See Dormer, P., ‘A bridge too far-sighted to be built’, The Independent, 23 03 1994.

32 Both public and private sector developers are encouraged to set aside 1 per cent of capital costs for the commissioning of art; Percent for Art policy is promoted in the UK by the Arts Council and has been adopted in the USA by many cities following the lead of Philadelphia in 1959. See Arts Council, Percent for Art.

33 See Myerscough, , The Economic Importance of the Arts

34 It was refused planning permission; a model is currently in the Leeds City Art Gallery.

35 The remark was made by Gormley at a conference at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, 1988.

36 Funded by Television South West and South West Arts.

37 Gormley uses his own body.

38 Garden festivals were held at Liverpool, Stoke, Glasgow, Gateshead and Ebbw Vale. Each used redundant land for a temporary display of horticulture and visual culture. Most of the sites retain elements of disuse.

39 See Wenzel, M., House Decoration in Nubia (London, 1972).

40 See Courtney-Clarke, M., Ndebele (New York, 1986).

41 See Rupp, J., Art in Seattle's Public Places (Seattle, 1992).

42 Bird, J., ‘The spectacle of memory’, in Whitechapel Art Gallery catalogue, Michael Sandle (London, 1988), 31.

44 For an extended version of the argument, see Gablik, S., The Reenchantment of Art (London, 1993).


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