Wycombe TCR as Spectacle

octagon

We are stopped from filming with a handi-cam in the Octagon Shopping Centre. We put the case that we may be tourists just capturing memories. We are marched through back corridors to a stern-looking woman sat behind a desk acting for the centre manager. She tells us in no uncertain terms that filming and photography are not permitted in the Octagon regardless of the purpose. This is private property, and the owners, Stannifer, do not allow filming and photography. Is this a vision of what awaits us in the new development?

The redevelopment of Wycombe Town Centre, and shopping centres per se, can be seen as perfect models of the Situationist idea of the Spectacle; an unreal world in which we are not active participants but spectators.

What was once merely open public space becomes a private commodity.

In the dark days after September 11th, Americans were urged to demonstrate their patriotism not by rallying around the flag, but their president went on TV to order them out to the mall to spend, spend, spend. Consume for the sake of the nation. In less pressing circumstances the people of Wycombe are urged to support the scheme because it will supposedly bring legions of wealthy shoppers to town. We are seduced with visions of a utopia where all our needs will be met on one site.

The TCR site as it stands may be seen as a deadzone; rows of cars and semi-derelict buildings. But it is a public space that is the location for many diverse activities be it prostitution, parking, drug dealing, meeting friends, mustering for a demonstration for pensioners rights. It is the users of this space who define its meaning and purpose.

“Only in transgressing the rules of planned space can we really find our own meaning and space.” (Ian McKay, Southampton Institute) This is something that we must continue to do to avoid our environment being stripped of its spirit and re-branded a mono-cultural non-place.

November 2004.

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