When I traveled to New York last year, I took many photos -as millions of other tourists- of the typical places of the most wonderful city of the world -in my opinion, of course-. All the pictures and all the places that I walked, for my surprise, I have seen it at movies, millions of kilometers away in my home country: Chile. I felt that city was very familiar for me. The obvious question was: Why I felt more at home in New York than in own home town?
The answer came many months later when I walked at center of Santiago and I saw an old fashioned yellow cab. Then, I took the conscience of the power of a symbol.in urban landscape.
Symbols used for the representation of objects are based on the association from reality and constitute one of the singularities of the representation system. They can be either evocative from reality or communicative due to the use of conventional representation.
The symbols of the cities could be made by governments, corporations, brands, movies, books or the citizens itself. In this case, as the researcher Kalle Toiskallio says: “the taxis are the metonymic symbol of any great city. For example, the black tall and regular Hackney cabs of London or the yellow cabs of New York City.”
The article of William J. Sadler y Ekaterina V. Haskinsargues tells us more about why I felt that I knew New York, when I never visited before: “that contemporary portrayals of cityscapes on television create a postcard effect, a way of seeing that affords the viewer the pleasureofa tourist gaze. This disposition both reflects and legitimizes a fragmented experience of visiting a location without immersing oneself in the intricacies of its politics and geography.”
Television shows and movies had built their own imaginary vision of New York, before I traveled to the city. I exactly knew how the color, shape and noises of taxis was, before I took one. The urban landscape doesn’t need a scientific analysis any more: all the urban elements and images that people remember of the city were preconceived by the movie directors and advertising agencies. They shows us the city as they want.
The local authorities are competing from one city to another to promote icons that stress the desirability of their own place in order to attract investors, foreign aid, and high-income populations. The result is that urban icons whose raison d’être is to highlight the individuality of each city by underscoring the specificity of certain symbolic objects, in fact end up becoming homogenous (taxis, statues, skyscrapers)