Hubbub

hub, n.1 

transf. and fig. That which occupies a position analogous to the hub of a wheel; a central point of revolution, activity, life, interest, etc.

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Head over to google and enter the name of any UK town or city, then type in ‘hub’ and hit search.

Mansfield has a ‘business hub’. Saffron Walden has Hub Magazine. Preston’s hub left it for the bright lights of Manchester, where it will nestle nicely alongside the RIBA Hub and TechHub – perhaps joining uber-hub Manchester Business Growth Hub. Across Lancashire, Blackpool has a substance misabuse hub. But my hometown Nottingham really excels itself. The University thereof has endless hubs – hubs for learning (globalised too – there’s one on the Malaysia campus!), a hub for the Students’ Union, a hub for archives, another Hub Magazine – and not forgetting the hub for ‘Career Development’ (a phrase for scare quotes if ever there was one). Then the city’s railway station is being redeveloped into Nottingham Hub – meaning you will soon be faced with the exciting possibility of popping to the hub to get a copy of The Hub before you head to the hub to get your train to somewhere where things are slightly less confusingly named. Godmanchester perhaps, which doesn’t have a hub (mind you, it doesn’t have a railway station either).

[A marxist Victor Meldrew, anyone?]

What we have with the preponderance of hubs, then, is yet another post-fordist co-optation of the language of change, flux, dynamism and revolution. Can’t call anything a ‘centre’ – that implies hierarchy. ‘Station’ is too, well, stationary. And library sounds dangerously like something social democracy might quite like. Hubs is a funky term – splash it on your identikit business park and suddenly it’s all flows and becomings (though fuck knows quite what becomings this hub is supposed to generate). Yeah! Interconnected! Exciting! Centre of the revolution! Homelessness!

This is bollocks, of course. At every level other than the ideological, the term ‘hub’ is little more than an empty signifier telling us nothing about what these places actually do. (If, indeed, they actually do anything. Check out HUB – “where change goes to work” – and look at the endless stream of nothingingness that they claim to stand for: “a global community of entrepreneurial people….more sustainable future…working together, locally and globally, to create the best world we can collectively imagine….spaces that inspire, connect and enable…authentic connections…pioneer new solutions…go beyond established ways of thinking…deliver on our ambitions….engineered serendipity…”). The only revolutions these hubs are the centre of are those of the hamster wheel; they are the hopeless core of what David Noble long ago identified as a ‘remarkably dynamic society that goes nowhere’.

Addendum:

  • Eleven years ago, Naomi Klein spoke of ‘hubs and spokes’ in the alter-globalization movement. This is exemplary of the inter-connectedness of post-fordist (and military) rhetoric and autonomist/anarchist left rhetoric (which Klein’s article acknowledges). But it’s wrong, I think, to conflate them. It is not good enough just to say ‘yeah, but capitalism speaks the language of non-hierarchy therefore non-hierarchy is capitalist’, and proceed from this to claim that ‘hierarchy is good’: that’s no more than the politics of ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ (that’s not to say that there aren’t strong arguments for what I’d call ‘strategic and temporary hierarchy’ at times), and whilst many on the horizontally inclined left are undoubtedly guilty of not thinking carefully enough about how their ideas might be complicit with contemporary forms of capitalism (and I don’t buy the argument that they are the result of contemporary forms of capitalism), there is – at least potentially – a substance to match the rhetoric; a signified to go with the signifier. Capitalism, by definition, cannot create true becomings – all flows return to capital and inequality widens ever further (a hierarchy if ever there was one).
  • Nottingham’s not just a hub hub, it’s also – wait for it – developing an ‘incubator without walls’ as part of its ‘Creative Quarter’ (this is partly being driven by Antenna – another of our hubs). I intend to write on this Eric Pickles meets Richard Florida shitefest over at Wasteland Twinning soon (one can only imagine the look on Pickles’ face when he was told he had to announce this, and can only conclude that the Conservative party really have employed The Thick of It‘s Stewart Pearson), but for a fascinating peek behind the ideological curtain read this interview with BioCity’s director at Left Lion: I’m pretty certain the agents of regeneration/gentrification aren’t supposed to say things like “The downside is – if all of this is successful – is that in the long term rents might go up and the creatives will be forced out to cheaper areas. But if that means that somewhere like Sneinton suddenly has a creative community that does interesting things that attracts attention, surely that’s better than what we have at the moment” (what Sneinton has at the moment, by the way, is a large Asian community).

Photo addendum:

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3 thoughts on “Hubbub

  1. Reblogged this on anomie//géographie and commented:
    David Bell on the rise of the Hub. Its not too difficult to see how the rise of the ‘hub’ in marketing language is (especially local councils), to a large extent a response to the rise of a well documents poly-centric cityscape where public space and points of common meeting are undermined and privatized. Naturally it draws on the casual language of IT. Hubtopia as response to subtopia.

    • Absolutely right on the undermining of the common/public space. Ironically, the places which perhaps best fit the definition of ‘hub’ for most *are* these spaces: the railway station seems to me the most genuinely ‘hub’ like of all of these examples.

  2. Pingback: Creativity, Capital and Commons in the Contemporary City: The Eastside Island, Pt. 1 | the shape of utopia to come

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