It is devastating to witness the death throes of so many cities. Splendid, opulent, hectic, for centuries, sometimes millennia, they had survived the vicissitudes of history: war, pestilence, earthquakes. But now, one after another, they are withering, emptying, becoming reduced to theatrical backdrops against which a bloodless pantomime is staged. Where once life throbbed, and cantankerous humanity elbowed its way, pushing and shoving, now you will find only snack bars and stalls—all of them the same—selling ‘local specialities’: muslins, batiks, cottons, beach wraps, bracelets. What was once a living torrent, full of shouts and fury, is now safely enclosed in a travel brochure. The death sentence is delivered from an elegant building in Paris—Place Fontenoy, Seventh Arrondissement—after a long drawn-out bureaucratic process. The verdict is a label that cannot be removed—a brand, stamped on forever.  A shorter version of this article appears in the July–August edition of Domus, the Italian architectural magazine. Thanks to Enrico Alleva, Daniella Ambrosino, Alessandro Fallavollita, Andrea Forti, Anna Nadotti, and Ambros Waibel for their criticisms and suggestions.
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