Taking into consideration that ‘difference is not the same as inequality’ (Blakeley et al., 2009, p. 24), this essay intends to look at KÖ and outline how the material things contribute towards differences with reference to City Road; deriving from the premise that the material assets of a street can generate either an inclusive or exclusive interaction, favouring some and not others.
Königsalle, known by its nickname, “Kö, is the most beloved upscale commercial street in Germany (Welt online, 2010). On one side of the street we have stores from the most expensive brands in the world and on the other, a mix of baroque buildings which host a different number of businesses. Being seen walking along or visiting its stores is denotative of a unique social status. Everything along the Kö is designed to be in accordance to and promote an upscale social lifestyle.
The material things on City Road, while performing a more literal function, also contribute to tangible objective differences when favouring, for example, pedestrians over drivers (e.g. the red tarmac offers pedestrians an extra safety measure when crossing, while taking away space from the drivers); parking is also a critical matter, generating therefore, economic consequences for the local shops (‘Material Lives’, 2009, scene 1). Another relevant point is the fact that, City Road social appearance, along with its material assets usage, changes considerably throughout the day, making it almost a different street by nightfall (e.g. from a busy commercial street during the day to a ‘party haven’ at night, when it is taken over by young adults) (‘Making social lives on City Road’, 2009, Scene 8). Such an absolute change does not occur on the Kö.
On the Kö, the very same material things, should not only perform the most frugal of the functions, but also be in accordance to what the street stands for, thus, being an active part of the process of creating objective tangible differences -like in City Road, as well as, subjective ones.
Kö supports its image by providing the necessary visible and invisible infrastructure to sustain a busy, high-octane upscale atmosphere: The street signage is visible; there are several crossing points; clearly marked sidewalks, tarmacs and lanes favour the mobility of handicapped individuals as well as bicycles and pedestrians without deterring traffic; it is well lit; the buildings and facades are well taken care of; litter bins are everywhere and one will, for example, find plenty of parking possibilities, which as a result, allows the individual to visit the stores and restaurants and feel safe. Altogether, the material things are in perfect apparent symbiosis with its users.
Separately, each material asset on the Kö objectively indicates them as being part of a regular commercial street just like City Road. When looking at them altogether, the ensemble creates a striking subjective difference.
To better illustrate how the material things on both streets subjectively enforces a certain type of behaviour and attitude, take the example of an individual walking down the street wearing shorts, tank-top and flip-flops. On City Road, this individual would most likely not even be noticed. The same individual walking down the Kö, would be regarded as conspicuous.
The same can be applied to the type of cars circulating on the Kö or City Road, a Ferrari on the Kö would be taken for granted while on City Road it would probably stand out. Another example to consider is parking. Though there are many parking slots and options, the prices around the Kö are up to 80% more expensive than other streets in Düsseldorf (RP Online, 2011), hence, favouring the visit of the more affluent layer of the community over the lesser one.
There is no sign on the Kö telling who is welcomed or not; objectively speaking everyone is welcomed, but its material things are invested with such a subjective meaning, that they set the pace and shape of the local social life, creating therefore, an alluring environment which itself dictates a whole gamut of social patterns that are absorbed and followed by the local community, consequently contributing towards differences. While City Road reveals a more inclusive image, Kö conversely manifests a more exclusive one.
As we can see, each street is similar in various aspects and are designed and structured to cater and favour a specific type of person, business or activity and its material things corroborate such a process by subjectively or objectively embedding certain social patterns which will then be adopted by their users.