Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Gate

The picture is of a gate in the Byzantine walls of Thessaloníki, Greece. Until the beginning of the industrial era, most cities around the world had gates. It was a clear demarcation between the city and the surrounding countryside. However seeing gates in these pre-industrial cities conjures up the metaphoric use of gates. The Bible has many references to them. The one that I remember is “Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name. (Psalm 100: 4).” The references to gates in the Bible are literal and also metaphoric as seen in this link: The "gate" metaphor is still in our vocabulary transferred from an era where gates were a significant part of the morphology of a city.

In the mercantilist and industral city, gates ceased to be a defense mechanism is as the city was protected through the nation-state. Most cities in Europe tore down their walls. They can stilll be perceived in the street patterns of many of the cities. In a few cases, they did survive and recall a different and less hostile city. The early American British colonial cities such as Boston and Charleston had walls and gates. (It should be noted that many North American and Middle American pre-European settlements had walls--either of stone or wood. Therefore, it may considered to be part of the human embeded mind .) However, once the threats of other coloninal powers (e.g., French, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese) were minimal due to the naval power of the British Empire and the entry of the early industiral era into the American colonies, walls ceased to be relavent. Walls were not necessary for defense against the attacks by Native Americans as they had been effectively subugated early in the history of the American colonies, either by disease, masacure or relocation. For this reason, there are no prominent city walls in US cities. In recent times, walls around upper middle and high income residential settlements (Gated Communities) have become commonplace around the world. It should be fairly clear that such segregation is an affront to urban living and grounded in manufactured consumer-oriented fear of the other.