The xurban_collective project at La Friche, Marseille constitutes a branch of ongoing research about seas as defined by various manifestations of the global trade and economy, and by the flow of bodies as a possibility for retributive justice. We believe that any statements made within the new global order should adequately represent the “negligibly small” actors in the creation of wealth, including the earth, the sea and all living things.
In La Ville Blanc, we regard the sea as the transmitter of a history (i.e. Mediterranean) and of wealth and culture as well as the source of biological richness. It is also the bearer of scourge, of oil spills and chemicals and of invading jellyfish and the disappearing reef. On it, the oil tankers and container ships sail to the effect of millions of tons, accumulating and transferring immense wealth at all costs. Refugee boats also sail across it sometimes to catastrophic ends either while at sea or at their destination. On all the charted and monitored waters of the world, these boats are the most invisible. The sea’s horizon metaphorically represents freedom, hope, and a decent life.
Port cities such as Marseille, Athens, Istanbul, New York, Shanghai, Buenos Aires, and Bangkok are the main hubs within their national territories, connected via highways and railway tracks to other smaller cities on their periphery. In addition to people from different localities and cultures, the constant flow of ships, trucks, cars and goods represent a heterogeneous set of activities. Ports offer a sea of opportunities for newcomers and a healthy flow of foreigners keeps their cities culturally and economically alive, relevant and interesting creating a direct anti-thesis of provincialism(s).
The technical viability of these ports within the global economy is ensured via the standardization of shipping operations and through their carefully planned infrastructures but more importantly through a legislative framework, qualified human resources and support industries. In appearance, ports depict a rational cut in the landscape. The terrain where the land and sea meet is transformed into a free zone of commercial activity. It is a temporary transitional district where various flows are merged, organized and distributed. In between, thousands of containers are waiting for their turns to be filled, lifted, carried and shipped. The constant beeping sound of the surrounding machinery is an indicator of a high alert zone and immanent danger.
When we look to the contemporary condition of these port cities, we may recognize an urban pattern characterized by large-scale commercial and residential developments currently under construction. Old and new commercial ports, city centers, shopping areas and old buildings are being rebuilt and packaged to cope with the transformation of the global economy. On the one hand, these cities -- all situated next to the sea -- try to establish their unique and important position within the global marketplace, and on the other, their governing bodies together with investors/developers tend to ignore the livelihood of their residents by specifically excluding the poor, immigrants and everyone else who cannot afford to be the part of the new panorama. Corporate managers, lawyers, city officials, architects, designers and the police collaborate in meticulous gentrification projects and announce these plans with architectural renderings.