ArcadesPromenades

The Promenade in Action

In Promenades on June 8, 2009 at 2:05 pm

Here we have a few snap shots of Brighton Promenade in action from 7 June 09.

The promenade as public space.

The promenade as public space.

The promenade as social space concerns itself with movement, surveillance and observation, display and distinction, and the integration of urban space with the sea (the ocean with civilisation).

The purpose of the Promenade is to allow and require movement

The purpose of the Promenade is to allow and require movement

Through movement we make the Promenade make sense and legitimise our presence in the social space.

Through movement we make the Promenade make sense and legitimise our presence in the social space.

As suggested by its name stillness is not permitted; only in specified locations can one opt out of movement and more often than not one must leave the promenade in order to be at rest.

Deck chairs are a stereotypical site of rest found to one side of the promenade.

Deck chairs are a stereotypical site of rest found to one side of the promenade. As they also need to be hired they are one mark of the public/private syncreticism that Benjamin found in the Parisian Arcades.

The reason for the prohibition on stillness lies in the surveillance and observation which is such a key part of the use of this social space.  We use the promenade to watch and be watched and the prohibition on stillness prevents this watching developing into voyeurism.  The beach, a temporary space governed by the sea, is the proper site of the voyeuristic on the public shore.  The promenade marks the limit of civilisation (i.e. the urban space) and beyond it one enters the realm of nature where the rules of civilisation need not apply.

The pier is the extension of the Promenade, and thus of the limit of civilisation, into the 'natural' space of the sea.

The pier is the extension of the Promenade, and thus of the limit of civilisation, into the 'natural' space of the sea.

In this sense the pier and the groins are the ‘strategic embellishment’ of the public shore.  It is just that this is a symbolic defence of the space of civilisation rather than a concrete defence of the  elite of society.

This gateway to the pier has the quality of the bastion as well as those of the turnstile.

This gateway to the pier has the quality of the bastion as well as those of the turnstile.

The main use of the promenade is for leisure and it is this activity that most marks this social space.  The various needs of those engaging in leisure are to be met here.

One of the roles of the promenade is to allow leisure.  It is a source of leisure and it permits access to other facilities for leisure.

One of the roles of the promenade is to allow leisure. It is a source of leisure and it permits access to other facilities for leisure.

One of the paradoxes of the promenade is its nostalgia and entanglement in its own past.  The promenade is a nineteenth century, Victorian, social construct and we know that to be its origin.  The promenade thus has the odd quality of being of the past and of now and so it is a key locus of that strangest use of the past, Heritage.

Leisure as Heritage

Leisure as Heritage

The heritage of the public shore becomes part of our leisure.

The heritage of the public shore becomes part of our leisure.

We allow the past to be still as we move by it.

We allow the past to be still as we move by it.

Heritage becomes a part of the whole experience and meaning of the promenade because of the promenades connexion to the Victorian age.  The entire social space has the quality of Heritage and so we can expect the Heritage Industry to be found here.

The Heritage Industry organises our understanding of the past and as such is a problematic institution.

The Heritage Industry organises our understanding of the past and as such is a problematic institution.

The Heritage Industry privileges certain elements of the past over others in order to simplify the tale being told.  Here we have reduction of the shore to space of industry.  The leisure and pseudo-medical side of the promenade's past are suppressed.

The Heritage Industry privileges certain elements of the past over others in order to simplify the tale being told. Here we have reduction of the shore to space of industry. The leisure and pseudo-medical side of the promenade's past are suppressed.

The Heritage Industry is the mask of capitalism; it is the past as Culture Industry.

The Heritage Industry is the mask of capitalism; it is the past as Culture Industry. Shell Fish are one of the 'fetish commodities' of the promenade.

The Culture Industry is disguised within the Heritage Industry.

The Culture Industry is disguised within the Heritage Industry.

The Victorian origins of the promenade and the presence of the Heritage and Culture Industries in this social space force us to recognise the fundamentally capitalist nature of the promenade.  This is to be expected; just as the Arcade was an expression of 19th Century French Capitalist Society so the Promenade was and is an expression of British Capitalist (or one might argue ‘european’ capitalist) society.

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  1. I really enjoyed this post. It throws up lots of possible future directions….

    The culture industries – seaside towns were at the forefront of cultural development and entrepreneurship. Current vogues for cultural tourism and cultural regeneration really have their roots in the explosions of seaside leisure that took place during industrialisation and again after the First World War.

    The emodiment of capitalist relations in the promenade – in 1921 the Health and Pleasure Resorts Act was passed which granted councils powers for the first time to do things like rent deckchairs and run their own cultural attractions to support the local economy; it would be interesting to look at the development of the promenade space alongside this development.

    Managed liminality: Before the promenade was formalised, the beach itself was the great liminal space. Only in the 17th century did the fear of the sea beome replaced by the benefits of bathing and leisure. Prior to this, the beach was a dangerous place, home of creator-gods, scarily-elemental fisherman, invading armies and destructive power. The beach itself was always the property of the crown, unexploitable. The promenade replicates this liminality but makes it safe, productive and manageable.

  2. The legal framework of the public shore ought to be something we study – such as the Public Health Acts Amendment Act 1907.

    I like this idea of managed liminality and the ‘taming’ of the shore. The promenade is a built – often rectilinear – space constructed with the specific intent of marking the boundary of ‘the wild’.

  3. […] In Promenades on March 8, 2010 at 4:02 pm The starting point for this post was a thought about one of Wesley’s earlier posts on this blog in which he said: “The promenade thus has the odd quality of being of the past and of now and […]

  4. I wonder if that concrete back garden is a conduited river or sewer? We have similar ‘between-place’ places scattered all over London and I have tracked some of them at:

    http://middlesexcountycouncil.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&task=category&sectionid=9&id=17&Itemid=35

    I once visited Hunstanton on a ferocious dyhydrocodeine withdrawl. Remeber, the town is linked to places as far off as Luton, Dunstable and Sharpenhoe Clappers via the chalk ridges of the chilterns running through Baldock and Fleam Ditch.

    Good Day!

  5. Hi Nick, I’ve only just seen your response, sorry. Gosh you seem to know so much about these places. Was it the 80s when you went to Hunstanton. I used to go in the late 70s and early 80s, it was suffering economically then. They’ve also had their fair share of fires in the town too…

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