Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Urban (D)evils

The grid system America is so famous for is not just a way to organise streets and houses efficiently. New York’s former alleyways and cobblestoned winding ways were described by Charles Dickens as ‘all that is loathsome … narrow ways diverging to the right and left, and reeking everywhere with dirt and filth’ as Michelle Legro writes on Brain Pickings. She summarises: ‘Where streets converged, so did humanity, proof positive that right angles could mean the difference between utopia and bedlam.’ So organised streets and houses at right angles, neighbourhoods as clearly defined angular forms, reflect civility, progress, a raised humanity. Winding alleyways and dark narrow streets are still symbolic of danger and evil and make us think of Jack the Ripper and other urban devils.

But similarly, in apocalyptic/zombie/dystopic movies, the grid system features as a barren, abandoned wasteground. There’s nowhere to hide, the wide open spaces and open access provided by the predictable pattern of the grid is a labyrinth but not one that might work in your favour. In the dark and unpredictable streets there just might be something hiding in the dark, but on the expanse of the wasted grid, the evil to fear is free to come from all directions and free to appear en masse. It’s an interesting split that illustrates some pop culture fears and how those change to suit the built environment, the set.