In the last few decades, there’s been a real interest in urban design, yet its ugly cousin, regulation, remains largely unmentioned. To this end, Richard Florida’s Creative City is a best seller, yet the Building Code of Australia is now being given away for free. It’s odd what we value.
This isn’t new; people remember the Coliseum far more than Marcus Vitruvius Pollio’s handbooks on building design because one is obvious and interesting and the other obscure and boring. Regulation is, almost by its nature, dull, but it’s also incredibly powerful; more so because of the limited degree to which it is understood and, subsequently, controlled.
A while back I was at a forum on artist run spaces in which regulation was described as a ‘many headed hydra’; you cut off the head of planning approval and liquor licensing pops up, and by the time you’ve cut that off, there’s building certification, and once that’s cut off there’s a re-zoning which has turned your shitty little gallery into a development hotspot. Each conflict is draining, depressing and seemingly illogical.
Yet, the problem isn’t that regulation is illogical, but that it has a logic that extends beyond anyone negotiating or enforcing it.
Much like the cities it governs, regulation is accumulative; formed across generations, outlasting the people who made it and the contexts from which it arose. Rather than a clear set of rules and laws, it works like the subconscious of a city; retaining the memory of past policy trends and traumas, to subtly control our behaviour at a level so deep we’re not even aware of it.
I read a fair few books about regulation, town planning and cities; some directly so, and some not so much. I thought I’d continue my theme of book reviews by picking a ‘top ten’ books about regulation as the subconscious of our cities.
I thought I’d start with that Freudian ode to town planning, L Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz – which I’ll post in the next couple of days.