1960s, 1970s, anonymous state apparatus, anti-city, atomised living, Blueprint for a Communal Environment, capitalism, capitalist, city, communal, community, consumption, counter culture, environment, environmental, People's Architecture, prevailing system, radicalism, social crisis, social ecology, society, values
Today’s article is taken from a publication called ‘consernus’ from 1973. I’m really interested to know what your thoughts are on this… Historically, radicalism found an almost exclusive locus in the factory and proletariat. The fact that the city and the workplace could have been integrated in a unified realm of critique and reconstruction occurred to only a few radical theorists of the last century, notably Kropotkin and Morris. Yet the worker does not exist merely in a factory milieu and her or his social experiences are not exhausted at the point of production. The proletarian is not only a class being but also an urban being. Capitalism generates a broad social crisis that often makes workers more accessible to revolutionary visions as urban dwellers – as victims of pollution, congestion, isolation, real estate extortion, neighbourhood decay, bad transportation, civic manipulation and the spiritually dehumanising effects of megapolitan life – than as exploited producers of surplus value. The 60s are unique in that the concept of community began to develop on a broad popular scale – indeed, a largely generational scale – when young people in considerable numbers re-oriented themselves towards reconstructive utopistic projects of their own. New values were formulated that often involved a total break with the commodity system and charted the way to new forms of sociation – values and forms that have since been grouped as the ‘counter culture’. The young people who began to formulate these values unquestionably comprised a privileged social stratum. Why didn’t these people like so many previous generations take up the basic values of their parents and expand the area of privilege they had inherited? The question reveals an historic change in the material premises for radical social movements in advanced capitalist countries. By the 60s, technology in the ‘First World’ had advanced to a point where the values spawned by material scarcity no longer seemed morally or culturally relevant. The work ethic, the moral authority imputed to material denial, parsimony and sensual renunciation, the high social value placed on competition and ‘free enterprise’, the emphasis on privatisation and individuation based on egotism, seemed obsolete in the light of technological achievements that afforded entirely social disposition oriented towards community and the full expression of individual human powers. Large numbers of this drop-out youth, exultant in their newly-discovered sense of liberation, lacked an awareness of the harsh fact that complete freedom is impossible in a prevailing system of unfreedom. Insofar as they hoped rapidly to replace the dominant culture by their own merely on the strength of example and moral suasion, they failed. But insofar as they began to see themselves as the most advanced sector of a larger movement to revolutionise society, their culture has a compelling relevance as part of an historic enlightenment that eventually may change every aspect of social life. Generally, for the counter-cultural planners, the point of departure for any design was not the extent to which the city expedites traffic, communication and economic activities. Rather, they were primarily occupied with the relationship of design to the fostering of personal intimacy, many-sided social relationships, non-hierarchical modes of organisation, communistic living arrangements and material independence from the market economy. Among the many plans of this kind developed in the late 60s and early 70s was one formulated in Berkeley by an ad hoc group from People’s Architecture, the local Tenants Union and members of the local food co-op. The thrust of their plan entitled ‘Blueprint for a Communal Environment’ is radically counter-cultural. ‘The revolutionary culture gives us new communal, eco-viable ways of organising our lives, while people’s politics gives us the means to resist the System.’ It’s goal is ‘communal ways of organising our lives (to) help to cut down on consumption, to provide for basic human needs more efficiently, to resist the system, to support ourselves and overcome the misery of atomised living.’ The planners see the realisation of these concepts as the first steps towards to re-orienting the individual self from a passive acceptance of isolation and dependence on bureaucratic institutions to popular initiatives that will recreate communal contacts and face-to-face networks of mutual aid.