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St Peter’s Tower View  /

“Not to find one's way around a city does not mean much. But to lose one's way in a city, as one loses one's way in a forest, requires some schooling. Street names must speak to the urban wanderer like the snapping of dry twigs, and little streets in the heart of the city must reflect the times of day, for him, as clearly as a mountain valley”
Walter Benjamin, Berlin Childhood around 1900

A city with three names takes some understanding. Not least one about to enter its difficult adolescence. When the municipal boundaries were shifted in 2001 to amalgamate the municipalities of Sittard, Geleen and Born the ambition was to create a new city with “a clear single identity”1. Identity, however, has a stubbornness about it that defies top-down readjustment.

The church tower over Sittard-Geleen provides a view that reads like the synopsis on the back of a novel. A condensed history of the area from a position detached enough not to divulge the whole story yet close enough to day to day life to read the traces and scars that created the modern city. Looking down over the edge of the church the concentric circles of the medieval town still exist, bound by the ancient city walls that hint at an even deeper history. Beyond the glow from the signs affixed to the twin towers of the DSM building above the street level lighting are only outshone by Sabic’s prow-like crystalline offices sailing in as inheritor to the chemical fortunes developed in the city.

On the horizon the sulphorus glow of Chemelot provides a backdrop to the whole scene, a hive of industry on the edge of town silhouetting the many church towers built in every village and hamlet in the region that now stand as a reminder of the other great power that shaped the region. But up above in the parapet of the church tower there are reminders that there have always been people willing to step outside of the shaping forces of the town to explore other ways of life.  The carved signatures of century’s old urban explorers marking each individual’s moment contemplating the three sister towns from that perfect height where orientation and experience mix.

Once you scratch the surface of a place it becomes clear that the lines drawn, catalogued and defended often don’t ally to the situation on the ground - roads close, neighbourhoods are built, rivers move.  If you scrutinize a map closely enough it soon becomes clear that their static nature isn’t well suited to a dynamic world. It’s much better to get within an environment to understand it, to get under its skin you have to get dirty.

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Secret Cities Sittard Geleen St Peterís Tower View