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Modernization as Mobilization of the City

European cities are, as a rule, historic cities. Their modernization raised the issue of the specific problem of the place (literally and symbolically) that its patrimony was to be accorded. 'Place' is and was scarce. It was under pressure from traffic, from the rational network. Between the monument as ultimate, immobile real estate and the mobility of modernization lies an essential contradiction. There would be no traffic were the monument not there to not attract it. The monument contradicted the future-orientated dynamic, yet was at the same time its cause. The redefined monument became part of the modernization. This incompatibility, consequently, did not hinder the alliance - indeed, it enhanced it.

The tourist preferred to visit a comfortable city, but of course did so because of its old monuments. Heritage is highly valued, because it allows the traveller to experience historic density differently in each city. Patrimony has a recognition function recognition and serves as a mnemo-technical medium, for it is uniquely associated with a single given city and is not interchangeable. It belongs, is at home in the shaping of the identity of the city - for its inhabitants as well as visitors. At the same time, this patrimony is both a physical and a symbolic barrier, a troublesome reminder, a perspective into a past from which people want to escape.

In virtually all European cities at this time, some of these contradictions were disputed and decided on at the expense of their patrimony. Many cities demolished their city walls and filled in their waterways. The city dried out and hardened (it is no coincidence that this was compensated by the imaginary watering-down of the cities in fin the siècle novels and paintings!). But other contradictions were resolved to the benefit of restoration and renovation, with nonetheless repeated crucial and disastrous 'freeing' of the monuments from all their appendages, side buildings and extensions, to create open spaces around them. Cities thus sharpened their contours - again, a new hardening. The complexity of the 'site' was cleared away to make way for a systematically-shaped public square around each monument. Now it was free-standing, devoid of the protective varnish of attached structures. The newly liberated monument was now accessible to the eye of the pedestrian. His mobile eye was the target for the monument clean-up. Cities incorporated this optical issue into their urban development. The city of Bruges fought a successful battle against the modern promenade.

To get a grip on the tension between immovable property and mobility, the city needed to be continually, progressively objectivized. One needed, literally and figuratively, to chart the urban fabric. In addition and in contrast to this, in the nineteenth century, a broadly-branched process of subjectification of the city was set in motion. The city became an organism and a personality. By way of a self-aware sense of 'city beautiful', it became a visual, aesthetic phenomenon. Finally. this subjectification also took place in the development of emphatic vantage points and the sights associated with them. The view showed the city, but did not anchor its standpoint. Lithography and photography increasingly made the vantage point facing a monument a constitutive part of the image, until both pictorialism (take, for example, the image of the Belfort, by H. Berssenbrugge) and interbellum modernism turned that vantage point into a real theme for the image.

The subjectified image therefore stood opposite the objectifying map - painted, etched, lithographed, photographed, finally even filmed. These images fed the imagination, the imaginary quality of the city. In them, one wanted to recognize something, while the city map was about reconnaissance, about knowing. The cityscape places us in the city, while its map places us outside it. The mobility of the tourist generated subjectification of a vantage point, while on the other hand, it made objectification in the mapping of the city unavoidable. The two are in fact closely linked.

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