We as people in the world today
Should come together
And help one another
We should build our nation Free from inner city decay
Thus begins the first song of house pioneers Inner City’s first album - wishful of an inner city, or a downtown, without decay and rotting social prospects. The derelict American downtown as a general concept ironically enough served as a catalyst not only for house music but also for socially progressive movements.
More so, the American downtown as a collective idea retains qualities of urban darkness, dystopia and a weird combination of a lack of agency and such an all-encompassing agency that it is applicable only to a general blank canvas of itself. Or rather, the image of it becomes so non-descript that it doesn’t make sense to apply it to one city only. It becomes so void of content that it becomes full of content in various depictions of itself.
Whereas the European city centres first of all never could contain that sort of urban dystopia due to its historical roots, it also never attained that level of non-descript visuality. London was always inextricably London; Paris will always remain Paris; etc. It’s hard to take a token representation of Paris and extract it of the idea of Paris. However, it is possible to take a portion of New York City and extract it of the idea of New York City.
It would be easy just to claim that this is due to the conformity of North American urbanity and architecture - a style and way of building that most clearly is visible downtown, however other factors remain that can explain this dichotomy between North America and Europe. Grittiness is one; whereas les crottes des chiens in Paris only serve the purpose of annoying Parisians and the occasional tourist, the dirty New York City serves as a canvas for a city full of integrity in a more urban, sassy, and limitless way.
A good example in point could be Gotham City. The idea of that city, that urban entity, could never function in a token European city just because it is not void enough, not sterile enough, but also not gritty enough. Just because the American city is a hyper-reality version of the built environment, it is so suitable to become a dystopia - or any futuristic version of itself for that matter. In this view of the future, it would be built on a derelict version of its modernistic self, not on a medieval-based.
The juxtaposition vis-à-vis the modern city is important - a city landscape of lost hopes and dreams, of a way of living that never worked as well as its creators thought (were sure) that it would. It is in this relation to modernity that the potency of the downtown as a cultural and visual marker emanates from - in the very emptiness of its promises, in its former demise and current revitalisation, and in its generic-ness. Potency and voidness, can, apparently, coexist.