Belonging in cities?

It is a great conceit that only one kind of people can lay claim to any urban space. Yet that conceit is central to urban life and how cities change.

I have just seen a documentary on the life of legendary dancer, singer, spy, civil rights activist Josephine Baker. On my bedroom wall I have a print of her that was originally made by Paul Colin in her Paris heyday. When she returned as a star to New York from Paris, she was refused a room at every fancy New York hotel she visited. None would allow a black woman a room. I don’t suppose they would have refused her a position as a chambermaid.

I heard that sentiment in London. That ‘They don’t belong here’ sneer. Is there meant to be a representation in the built environment of the local population? History, and many high streets, show that has never been a consideration. Why else would cinemas of the 1920s copy what was considered Imperial Chinese? Especially in a typically suburban Southall of the time. So is it that citizens associate an urban space with a sentiment, an attachment, if they have lived in the area for long enough?

This is a subject I may come back to in my urbanist ramblings.


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