I am interested in the ideas about places written by a contemporary British social scientist and geographer Doreen Massey. At the beginning of my research, I problematize local informal places in the city, questioning how can they progress to be developed and still carry on the ‘local’ qualities that they possess. Then questions regarding what are their qualities, identities, and how can people experience these layers started to unravel. I have chosen street market in the city as a subject to be researched because it represents an informal social space that exists within the context of a modern and developing urban setting. My case studies are based on the street markets in Kuala Lumpur. The streetmarkets in KL posits to be at the right stage for intervention and proposal of new ideas as they are not yet fully tranformed in any drastic way.
I had positioned my research to experiment ways that ‘local’ places as such can be taken forward together with the development of the city, without blindly preserving ‘imposed traditions’, or ‘pastiche of selected cultural representations’. KL is a dynamic city and it’s multiculturalness have gone beyond just of three dominant races-cultures. Just like any other capital cities or metropolis, migrations, tourisms, and trades have added new layers to this city and its places. This is globalization.
Massey’s writings resonate with my current position. A position that starts with understanding that places change. Places go through processes, just like people accummulate experiences, stories and characters in their lives. Places have layers added to them and these layers have connection with places beyond. And it is because of these that we can start to see places as being unique - because of these layers that it has accummulate and because of the connections that it has with other places, other people, other cultures.
Massey (1993) writes, “Places are still unique assemblages of global and local processes, even under modern, globalizing conditions…. Because what gives a place its specificity is not its long internalized history, but the fact that it is constructed out of a particular constellation of relations articulated together at a particular locus.” Massey related places as points with trajectories. By imagining a place as having trajectories, we can see that places do relate with other places, and can be seen as open rather than enclosed and essential.
Designers and planners often discuss the search for the ‘real’ meaning of place. Massey argues how “the desire for ‘fixity’ and for security of identity in the middle of the movement and change” can be problematic because it would require places to have ‘boundaries’, and places to be distinguished between the inside and outside. Places would revert back to having single and essential identities, where its sense of place is constructed of its introverted history while dimissing its relation with its crossing trajectories. This idea brings me to the approach of mapping by Anuradha Mathur and Dilip da Cunha in their study of the Mississippi River and Bangalore’s Terrain. Mathur and da Cunha approached the sites to be open rather than restricted within its ‘boundaries’. In this way, the events and occurrences of the sites are allowed to be suspended outwards, creating connections and links to other places, rather that ‘contained’.
Massey proposes a ‘progressive sense of place’ to fit the current global-local times, or a ‘global sense of place’ to bring into play its history and cultural influences. Thinking about places as being progressive gives us an understanding that changes in a place is inevitable. This is a summary of the concept of ‘progressive sense of place’ that I had extracted from her paper:
1. Place is absolutely not static. Place is processes, that ties together various social interactions. It is not motionless, and not frozen in time.
2. Places do not have boundaries which frame simple enclosures. (On my other reading, Massey explains her views of how boundaries are socially constructed. Although places have boundaries around them to demarcate a country, state, administrative power, boundaries do not reflect places. (Ch. 2: Conceptualization of Place, in A Place in the World, 1996)
3. Places do not have single, unique identity. (Places have multiple layers)
4. The specificity of place is continually reproduced. (Because of the new layers and how the new layers change the older layers and what layers are then created)
5. Sources of uniqueness and specificity:
- Wide social relations
- Globalization which produces uneven development
- Distinct mixture of wider and more local social relations, producing effects that would not have happened otherwise.
- The accummulated history -> products of layer upon layer of different sets of linkages, both local and wider world.
From this readings, I can summarize that our notions of places need to be expanded. And once we regard place as being permeable to changes as part of its growth, we look forward to how to work with these changes rather than rejecting it. The street markets in Kuala Lumpur and the city of Melbourne are both susceptible to these changes and growth. It is just an inevitable process of growing the world. Eventually for the street markets in the future, it may need to be approached and designed differently because of hygienic, climatic, transportation and other concerns. But even with these changes, how do we ensure the qualities that it has is brought forward too, to progress with these other changes? This is at the moment the most challenging part of my research, which is extracting those ‘qualities’ and foreseeing the possible changes that a humble night market would have to negotiate in the future.