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Urban Design

The Absence Of Presence

I have been thinking about the things we never get back in Cities and Life. This is what I wrote about it.

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The great critic Roger Ebert is dead.
With him, have gone my Thursday nights; or at least what I used to do with them.
 For the last six years;  my greedy reading of his essays on new films and great films were a  routine that signalled the beginning of the death of a week. I would read his views not just on movies I was about to see, but on those that i had seen earlier –  just to get a second opinion. His Great Movie essays were evocative exercises in prose describing a number of beautiful movies I would probably never see.  As always with me; the point is not his slow, agonising (to his readers at least…) death; but the hole that he has left in my days and weeks. For the first time in a long time, I did not know how to spend my Thursday evening. Other blogs and television programmes float around the air, begging to be visited and claim me or anyone else; peddling their art, their opinions and their nonsense. They hang at the periphery of our consciousness;  waiting to consume us as we look to consume them. But there is a sanctity to habit and repetition that is denied to the most sublime experiences; which stops us from freely embracing Newness and the unforgiving  mutability of an immense Universe. 
A few years ago, a fifty year old drive-in restaurant in the heart of my city was torn down by the government after the expiry of a lease. It was replaced by a park. This would ordinarily be a good thing. Except for the fact that I loved the restaurant. My sister and I spent substantial parts of our childhood swinging swings, riding ponies and see-sawing, with many other children while our parents ate and talked. Famous singers and actors would drop by; sit in tables close to us and ignore our gleeful whispers. Wives would wait for their husbands, lovers for their partners and old people for relevance; among the trees, the food, the coffee and the carelessly parked cars. It was dirty, filled with our garbage and wonder. It is different now . The park that replaced it is reputed to be clean and well maintained, with some interesting landscaping. People buy a ticket to enter, are hurried along well designed paths and told to keep off lawns by paternalistic guards. Many visit to see what has happened to the old drive-in grounds; many seek the New for its own sake and many are just happy to spend some time away from home in a park that is close by.
I am not one of them.
I have driven past the new park dozens of times. It looks inviting enough to intrigue me and I would also like to see that which lies beyond that grand entry where a rusty sign and gate once stood as if they needed no introduction. There are always too many cars parked outside and I am always on the way to somewhere else. I slow down each time,  look in and then decide against going.  The reasons are vague, half-understood and possibly non-existent. The simplest explanation I have is Einstein’s – that I, much like nature; abhor a vacuum. The absence of something that once was important disorients a person or a city equally. The voids in the Universe ask to be filled; and will be. The replacement for the things we once considered  absolute, may be better or worse; but they will never be the same.  Our memories and our inertia so envelope all our acts that they become the patterns by which we identify our lives. As life and time move forward, we are often asked to change with them. 
It is not easy. 
We have no right to expect that it should be.
Cities are constantly creating and destroying themselves. One day, the buildings, spaces and even the cities I know; will no longer exist. The Park will go on for a while – until someone comes up with something else to do there. The same will hold true for every person who has read this blog or ever will. All things familiar will fade. Pieces of us will find their way into the air, the water and even other animals; as we join a food chain at the bottom. There will be images and impressions left among those who remember us; as we dissolve into memories then forgetfulness and eventually oblivion. We all create gaps in the Cosmos; some wider than others. In the interest of the Universe; we can only hope that whatever fills the holes we leave behind will be better than the originals. So it goes…

P.S. – If you want last words from a pro; read this – http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2013/04/a_leave_of_presense.html


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