A few months ago when I was in Yerevan, a friend and I found ourselves leisurely strolling down Abovyan Street whilst talking about our immediate experiences of the last few weeks. She turned around to me and said, “This city is kind of like a never-ending carousel, you get on at one place and you get off at another but during the whole time you are just going around and around the city.” Yerevan was a carousel and we were traversing its circuitous path as it presented us our life’s surroundings by what history had built.
Every city is mirror for and reflection of society. The city creates a backdrop to a theatrical performance, which is the life of the people interacting in it. We build the city to reflect what we would like to have as the backdrop to the story of our lives, and after the city ages she reminds us of our thoughts at the time and what scenes from our life’s play we were performing then. Even if we might forget the details, the city—in all that it is and isn’t in that moment—will forever remind us. Through its buildings, parks, streets, and movements, the city becomes the physical execution of all of our intellectual and physical expressions, as we build our ideals into our cities. We build our dreams into our city, we build our souls into the city, and then the city reflects back to us the spirit with which we created all that we did during that particular moment in time.
When we look at some of the streets and buildings in Yerevan they take us back to the 1940’s era of Yerevan and we start imagining how people lived then, and what clothing they wore and what books they read, how they greeted each other. When we look at the taller buildings built around the 60’s – 70’s we think about why the shift took place, we notice the change in the building design. If we look carefully enough, we can see the details in the quality of construction, we can understand why a shift happened in the material quality, why buildings went from 4 stories to 16. We start to think about why these changes took place, if the quality of construction went up that means the city was prospering if it went down, then the economy was not doing well, or maybe there was corruption, or a shift in construction material, or ideology. The city starts becoming a record of the people that built her and why they built her the way they did, as the backdrop to the theatrical performance of their lives at the time.
Then the fun begins because you are the main actor of a theatrical performance of your life story, and the backdrop is Yerevan. The year is 2012 for example. The season, summer. The scene starts with you waking up and walking down the street. Where do you get a cup of coffee? At a café in the corner of a small street? At a café that surrounds Opera that is covering what used to be a large park? Or at a friend’s house? The decision you make in the theatrical performance of your life will, over time, mirror in the urban landscape of Yerevan, because if you want that park to reappear from below that café, then you should have your coffee on the corner of a street or at a friend’s house and not deprive nature of her natural greenery by increasing the need for more cafes.
Then the question becomes, do we favor Cafés over Parks, do we favor street vendors over Super Markets, do we favor public transportation or the dream of each having a Range Rover? What do we want the backdrop of life to look like? The city will reflect in physical form, each and every choice we make in how we choose to live. When we choose the Range Rover, the streets will get wider over time and the public transportation suffers as congestion increases. By choosing to shop at commercialized supermarkets, street vending will become obsolete, barring access to more natural, non-synthetic food, and yet goods will be conveniently and easily accessible in wholesale at these markets, ready to be purchased and placed inside those very Range Rovers we drive.
We are the architects of our surroundings. Architecture is a democratic process that we all engage in everyday. If we want to live in a pedestrian-friendly Yerevan then we have to incorporate walking into our everyday lives. If we want to have street vendors, then we need to support them with that extra effort of walking to where they are. Walking twenty more minutes to get our groceries would in turn be great exercise as well.
Next time you wake up in Yerevan think to yourself, “I am in a unique city with a great backdrop that was created by a very unique people over the last hundreds of years as the backdrop for the theatrical performance of my life that is going to take place today. What is my performance going to be as an actor walking through that set and how might my actions and decisions impact the city?” Imagine yourself as an actor putting on a performance as you walk through this great city, read her history with your senses, and write her present and future with your actions.