Népszinház utca (Budapest, Hungría)
Are you ready to move?
In order to grasp and analyse rhythms, it is necessary to get outside them, but not completely… A certain exteriority enables the analytic intellect to function… In order to grasp this fleeting object, which is not exactly an object, it is therefore necessary to situate oneself simultaneously inside and outside. A balcony does the job admirably.
In the absence of a balcony, I attempted to grasp the rhythms of Népszínház utca from the window of my flat. The notorious street – literally translated as People’s Theatre Street – cuts through the middle of Józsefváros, a district of Budapest with a notorious reputation amongst those who live outside it; a notorious street in a notorious district. As A., a young woman from Buda puts it “when I see the sign ‘Népszínház’ at the end of the street I get a tight feeling inside like something bad will happen.” Of course, she admits, nothing ever has. But the feeling persists amongst many that the district has a problem that needs to be remedied. The remedy comes in the shape of gentrification, a process mediated by the state at various scales.
A short walk through the district will allow a better understanding of why the district has a bad reputation and also outline some of the most important processes currently underway in Józsefváros. After providing this brief contextual background to the film, I will explain very briefly my understanding of gentrification and how the state is involved in the process as well as why the analysis of rhythms is useful in gaining an insight into it. Finally, I will provide some notes on what anthropological knowledge I attempted to produce in making Are You Ready to Move?
Leaving the flat and walking though the bustling Népszinház utca, with its cast of drunken men and array of mobile phone shops staffed almost exclusively with migrants from the Middle East, you start to understand why the district has a shifty reputation amongst those who live outside it. Moving down and through the street, the Magdolna Quarter creates an even starker picture, labelled a “ghetto” by the local government it boasts ‘notorious’ squares where, depending upon with whom you talk, you will be told that this where a) terrible crimes happen or b) where all the best Roma musicians learnt how to play. As with all reputations you cannot expect too much to be true and should not be upset if you leave without being mugged or hearing gypsy music, although you might meet a social worker from Rev8, the government owned company responsible for the regeneration of the quarter, as they goes about their task of social urban regeneration.
The great cranes from the nearby building site nearby can be seen from here too, swinging above the district in time to a different beat, crisscrossing each other in the sky. They loom above one future of the district, the Corvin Promenade Project, involving renovation, demolition and the rebuilding of 22 hectares of land for multipurpose use including living, working, shopping. But before visiting what will become the ‘new downtown’ you could witness the old, walking briskly in the direction of the Danube, crossing the Big Ring Road and into the inner part of the district, where renovation has long been on the cards. Here you can observe beautiful Eclectic-Secessionist buildings from the nineteenth century periodically greeting you before you arrive at the National Museum and the edge of the VIII. Walking past drunks, through ghettos and building sites is, of course, not everyone’s cup of tea so, if you can wait until 2011/12/13 (deepening upon how optimistic the forecaster is) you can ride the brand new Metro 4 line which not only saves the time and effort of walking but also gives “the internal part of Józsefváros… an unprecedented chance of integration” (metro4.hu). These different and concerted attempts at remoulding the district constitute part of the ongoing gentrification of Józsefváros.
What gentrification is and is not, is a complex debate so I will start from the position that gentrification is the class-based colonisation of a poorer neighbourhood and reinvestment in (including demolition and complete rebuilding of) housing stock. Gentrification is driven by the movement of capital into areas that were previously sites of disinvestment, with gentrification most likely to happen in areas where there is the biggest difference between current ground rent and potential future ground rent (Smith 1979, 1996). Historically, in western Europe and America the reinvestment has been concentrated in the old downtown areas. In Hungary the process followed strikingly similar patterns, though for very different reasons with the initial lull in residential construction in the ‘Stalinist’ period from 1948 to the early sixties, being followed by a boom in suburban construction in the 60’s and 70’s and a renewed interest in the downtown from the 1980’s onwards, which even resulted in some cases of ‘socialist gentrification’ (Bodnar, 2001).
The process is mediated and given its particularities by different actors including the middle classes, real estate developers and officials at different levels of the state. Deindustrialisation has led to demographic shifts including an increased middle class, providing a pool of potential gentrifiers (Ley 1986, 1996) as their consumption preferences help shape the peculiarities of the reinvestment in housing stock. The state meanwhile explicitly helps the gentrification process, as it develops urban rejuvenation projects and policies from ‘social mixing’ to the large-scale demolition and rebuilding of areas and in doing so has in many cases become the ‘consummate agent of the market’ (Smith, 2003).
Though large development projects administered by real estate developers and lubricated by state intervention are obvious examples of the state’s role in mediating urban change, there are also more low key and insidious acts that help to cleanse space; to displace unwanted elements. Under neoliberalism, space is mobilised to best facilitate economic growth and the consumption patterns of the elite (Brenner and Theodore, 2002). The state’s role in this process the continual re-regulation of the everyday (Keil, 2002). This includes diverse social-spatial cleansing practices (MacLeod, 2002) including the setting up CCTV systems that define the normal and abnormal (Coleman and Sim, 2000) and criminalize poverty (Coleman, 2004). It is the two different sides of the state – massive demolition and rebuilding and the ‘small scale’ regulation of the everyday – that I attempted to show in the film through the analysis of rhythms.
Lefebvre’s unfinished rhythmanalysis project (2004) is an interesting analytical tool for exploring the changing use of public space over time. Rhythms are produced when space is joined with time and driven by energy. Rhythms can be dived into two broad types: the mechanical and the organic – or the linear and the cyclical – or the quantitative and the qualitative. Through the clashes between the linear rhythms of capital accumulation in the built environment (including the increased speed and efficiency within which newcomers utilise space) and the cyclical rhythms of everyday life, we are given a window into how the body functions in space and time (Lefebvre, 2004). With the film I attempted to show how the meeting of different urban rhythms in Józsefváros.
Broadly agreeing with the argument that visual anthropology can give an expression or comment that goes beyond a particular representation of something (Edwards , 1997) and that certain processes such as like time and duration, uses of space and posture and gesture are best suited to filmic anthropology (MacDougal, 1998) I attempted to capture a certain element of the gentrification process: the effect on the everyday life of those displaced. It is worth reiterating the two sides of the state-mediated displacement focuses on in the film – the continual cleansing of public space along urban neoliberal conceptions of order and the large-scale demolition of working class housing to make way for new developments.
Why I Did What
To realise this purpose I split the film into three parts. The first and longest part is a series of shots from the window of my flat. All of the shots were taken in the morning of one spring day (from between 6 and 10 a.m.). Here I wanted to show the different rhythms of the characters on the street and their individual rhythms in contrast/harmony with the rhythms of other people, along with the rhythms of tram schedules, traffic etc. The shots here are slow and long. The second part of the film is all filmed from a moving tram travelling up and down the street. Life moves more quickly in this part of the film, but I also wanted to create the impression that the rhythms of the people on the street are different from the rhythm of the trams, yet at the same time partly defined by (and of course also defining) them. The final part of the film is shot mostly away from Népszínház utca and around the new Corvin Promenade development. Here I show the rhythms of the cranes building the “New Downtown of Europe”. The shots here are short and move between work on the buildings, graffiti scrawled onto the side of the different building sites’ hoardings and the CCTV cameras.
It was important to bring in video cameras at the end for a number of reasons. Firstly, I wanted to make the link clearer between the types of shots at the beginning of the film – the long voyeuristic shots from the window – with the number of CCTV cameras in the district (supposedly 96). I wanted to create the impression that people are being watched. Of course these are not the actual CCTV images, but rather I am attempting to ‘transcend the alleged limits of representation’ (Crawford, 1992); to attempt to represent how it might feel to be watched without knowing one is being watched. They are also part of the ‘ordering’ process discussed above.
I struggled for a while over the ethical dilemma of whether or not it was appropriate to film people without their prior consent in this manner. It is, of course, probably not ethical. I attempted to speak with one of the film’s main characters on a number of occasions but he was not very responsive. The main argument in my defence is that anthropology is much more reflexive, open and accountable that Budapest’s police force and it is they who are gathering film on the district’s residents on a daily basis. Although of course I could be told that stopping crime (even though I would question whether or not CCTV does stop crime) is more important than producing anthropological knowledge.
More to the point, did I even manage to create anthropological knowledge at all? I think I managed to show the meeting of the different rhythms in the district. The daily, organic rhythms of individuals were juxtaposed with the rhythms of investment and disinvestment of capital in the built environment that resulted in the Corvin Promenade. And the different daily rhythms of individuals were juxtaposed with one another and the public transport schedules, sometimes they appeared eurhythmic at others less so. Throughout I attempted to show how the different rhythms clash and one might result in the end of another. I struggled here with the issue of subtlety; how subtle could I be? I decided to be less subtle than I would in writing, as films are usually watched in a continuous manner – you cannot turn back a page in the book to check the details. Thus I left in the ‘ne’ at the end of the film, despite a feeling it was a bit over the top (the graffiti really does exist in the district after all).
Context is of course important in the creation of anthropological knowledge and with this in mind I attempted to show as many Hungarian flags as possible (I filmed soon after a national holiday) although I did feel tempted here to insert extra contextual information – to tell the audience that it was the shops belonging to migrants that made the effort to put out the Hungarian flag on this day. However, I decided that inserted contextual information puts up a barrier between the viewer and the images (MacDougal, 1998) and bearing in mind that I was attempting (some sort of) expressive mode of film making, I wanted to keep the viewer as immersed in the images as possible. This paper provides additional contextual information, but I believe the film can also exist independently of it; it is clearly about urban change in Hungary. Of course the level of prior knowledge amongst the audience is an important factor here.
The music was composed in collaboration with a local electronic composer and DJ Marton Kasynik. Some of the original sounds remain, but for the most part the music was completely new so as to create a certain atmosphere, with a focus on the different intensity of rhythms. The music in the third part of the film is taken directly from a promotional video for the Corvin Promenade. Marton struggled to make something as horrible and cheesy, but despite trawling through hours of ‘corporate music’ and attempting a ‘mash up’, nothing was as bad as the original.
I believe that any further comments on why I chose to show certain things in certain ways and in a certain order, would undermine the choice to make a film and not write a paper. This filmic ethnography hopefully shows the urban rhythms of Népszínház utca in a way that a text could not; I am attempting to show what can best be shown through the medium. Levels of understanding and the process of ‘reading’ the film are always contingent on the author, so I will explain no further and rather let the film speak for itself.
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