This paper looks at the rhetorical uses of the concept of density in two contrasting ideological contexts of Warsaw: the postwar vision of the socialist capital city and today’s hyper-capitalist mode of urban development, each practicing similar contempt for the locality (and its urban condition) while concentrating on gaining control over the uses of public space.
The ideologues of the first postwar urban plan for Warsaw evoked the spectre of high density to justify removal of the remnants of the capitalist city (its building morphology, street patterns and commercial infrastructure) and construction of a bright and spacious Socialist capital. While the norms for new housing often merely displaced/replicated crowded conditions, an overabundance of parade spaces and long vistas was generated. The new socialist space was an ideological showcase that relied on new kind of density – that of slogans, symbols, messages and public displays. Constructing public spaces for ideological displays effectively prepped the city for the contemporary non-places.
Today, the old rhetoric of density is still employed for creating or maintaining this space of ideological display, though it is the new market message that saturates the contemporary public space. While the old arguments against the XIX century city are still evoked by architects and planners and the remaining historical infrastructure disappears after years of neglect and vilification, older developments are now targeted for “densification” and the already fragmented public space is further annexed for display infrastructure. As the city remains immersed in the urban discourse that privileges a long view, urban axes and vistas, correct styles and uniform elevations, and a coherent cosmopolitan image, the rhetoric of density continues to provide regulatory justification of ideological positions and the post-socialist non-places become re-populated with new generic images, messages and signs with the density of display intensified by demands of technology and the market.