Miles argues that cities are temporal. There are many different speeds of life, such as historical time, differential time, cyclical time and personal time (Miles p.2). It exists in past, present and future, resonating with all three at once.
Historical time is felt in the echoes of buildings and memories that were, are, or will be. The history of a city is felt not only in the physical objects, but with it’s inhabitants. They are the ones who remember what a city once was, and are able to compare it to the city it has become. They remember the city according to how they lived in it. “There are eight million naked cities in this naked city – they dispute and disagree” (Whitehead p.6). Every person will tell you a different, and correct, version of what their city is to them. Depending on where they lived in the city, who they acquainted themselves with, what their “hot spots” were, and which landmarks they knew, the cityscape and atmosphere changes dramatically. The stories of their lives are mapped out on the sidewalk; Well-worn paths remembering their footfalls and whispering the tales of these creatures of habit. “[Their] streets are calendars containing who [they] were and who [they] will be next” (Whitehead p.9), the city perpetually growing and changing with them. Though the city may seem to morph overnight into foreign landscape, it remains as they first glimpsed it, “still here because [they] are here” (Whitehead p.7). Cities are etched with traces of “buildings, memories, ideas and traditions” (Miles p.2).
The patterns of city living are diverse, though the essential patterns may stay the same; Circumstances change the rhythm. Traffic, weather, human folly, fickle alarm clocks, dogs eating homework – one never knows where the differential times may affect their day. Entire sequences of timed events can go wrong by the first step being a little sloppy. City people can have “timed [their] route down to the second and today they are whole minutes off and everything is awry” (Whitehead p.29). City life is continually trying to pace the days before it, regulating the modulations of life to meet status quo.
The city is full of cycles; Cycles of life, of time, of seasons, of machines. “Keep this machine up and running. Deliver and pick up” (Whitehead p.34). People dance to the rhythms of stop and go, work and home, sell and buy. The cycles are essentially the same every year everywhere – it would be chaos without these set sequences to keep people in check, grounded. Without the patterns, the machine that is the city would crumble in a heap of unannounced packages, flattened pedestrians, traffic violations, over and underdressed inhabitants, and people late to work. A cog in the machine, gone missing. Of course, being late – or not going at all – may be preferable to going to work depending on their sense of personal time (Miles p.2).
Time is perceived differently in different situations. The sense of time is quickened as surrounding events move faster and slower as the individual gets bored (Miles p.2). “She thinks she has slept a long time but it has only been ten minutes. Hardly closer” (Whitehead p.18). The sense of time is very different for a busy restaurant hostess versus and empty parking lot attendant; Time flies for the hostess, while for the attendant time creeps so slowly that the minute hand looks suspiciously like it is inching backward. Their style of living makes an impact on the way they perceive time, as well. Non-city folk may gape at the rapid movement of big cities, everyone hurrying this way and that, late to every appointment and rushing through life. Small town life is much more relaxed, easy going and sometimes boring. “The city also puts a lot of effort into making [their] hometown look really drab and tiny” (Whitehead p.3), and therefore, slower. The quickened pulse of city living attracts them like flies to honey.
Time in cities is warped by these frameworks of perception. Besides, what is time but a manmade concept? Time serves the need of man to apply a firm grasp on exact moments in time when they were somewhere, are somewhere, or need to be somewhere. But to each their own. The city “is a palimpsest” (Miles p.2), but each etching – when viewed through the lens of an individuals’ perception, is bent, angled to their own biases. The city is very much a living, moving, temporal being, created and destroyed by the very people who inhabit it. It is remembered by the people who live there, and reminds us that we all have a story to tell, if there is the time.
© Michelle Ferris 2006