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Publication Detail
Place-situated historic photographs in European cities: negotiating the temporal boundaries of urban community
Abstract
Drawing on examples from London, Berlin and Antwerp this paper interrogates the recent phenomenon of European municipal authorities situating physical and digital historic photographs of public spaces in their equivalent contemporary locations. It develops the concept of the ‘virtual community’ from space syntax theory to discuss the important questions place-situated photographs raise for the historical understanding of urban communities in relation to changes and continuities in the built environment of cities. The ‘virtual’ community is so named because it refers to the anticipation of social activity (for example, movement and encounter) in a given urban space as a consequence of its relative accessibility in an urban street network, rather than to actual social activity. It thereby assigns a material agency to urban space that sustains the ‘imagined’ urban community by ensuring high pedestrian accessibility to symbolically potent sites. It also suggests how such spaces possess a dual role in negotiating the imagined boundaries of an urban community – lending it both material definition through the corporeality of quotidian encounters, and semantic definition in relation to socio-economic processes and cultural identities that transcend space. The virtual community, however, is a strongly synchronic concept. A consequence is that the ‘imagined’ urban community is easily deprived of its historical and material dimensions. Yet the anticipation of spatial co-presence, it is argued, cannot be separated from a sense of temporal co-presence through which the urban past is projected into the urban future. While place-situated photographs serve the political agenda of municipal agencies by representing the city as a site of collective experience they also suggest the need for an improved conceptualization of change and continuity in the urban built environment if the complex temporalities of cities and urban life are to be addressed through historical narratives.
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