February 28: Other Spatial Intelligences

Roy Perry, Feeding Pigeons, Third Avenue, 1940, via the Museum of the City of New York

Lab: Developing a catalogue of spatial intelligences based on the typology we constructed last week. As each of you produces and shares your catalogue entry/entries, we’ll start to get a sense of what topics and themes will be animating each of your final projects.

Yes, this is a long list, but they’re (mostly) short pieces. Our goal is to explore a wide variety of “other” intelligences:

Kumbh Mela: Mapping the Ephemeral Mega City (Hatje Cantz, 2013)

Supplemental Resources:

  • Other Logics:
    • Brad Hargreaves, “We’re Already Building New Cities,” Medium Hothouse (January 16, 2017).
    • Harvey Molotch, “The City as Growth Machine: Toward a Political Economy of Place,” American Journal of Sociology 82:2 (September 1976): 309-32.
  • Civic Intelligence:
  • Media/Data Literacies and Civic Media as Counterbalances to Smart Technologies:
    • Shannon Mattern, “Public In/formation,” Places Journal (November 2016).
    • Paul Mihailidis and Roman Gerodimos, “Connecting Pedagogies of Civic Media: The Literacies, Connected Civics, and Engagement in Daily Life” in Eric Gordon and Eric Gordon and Paul Mihailidis, eds., Civic Media: Technology | Design | Practice (Cambridge, MIT Press, 2016): 371-91.
  • Actor-Networked/Cyborgian/Ecological Intelligences:
    • Ashley Dawson, Extreme Cities: The Peril and Promise of Urban Life in the Age of Climate Change (Verso, 2017).
    • Matthew Gandy, “Cyborg Urbanization: Complexity ad Monstrosity in the Contemporary City,” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 29:1 (March 2005): 26-49.
    • Owain Jones, “After Nature: Entangled Worlds,” in Noel Castree, David Demerritt, Diana Liverman, and Bruce Rhoads, eds., A Companion to Environmental Humanities (Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009): 294-312.
    • Adhijnan Rej, “Jugaad: Frugal Innovation or [Indian] Hacking…?Wired Innovation Insights (October 23, 2013).
    • Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities.*
    • Erik Swyngedouw, “The City as a Hybrid – On Nature, Society and Cyborg Urbanization,” Capitalism, Nature, Socialism 7:25 (March 1996): 65-80.
    • Stephanie Wakefield, “Inhabiting the Anthropocene Back Loop,” Resilience: International Policies, Practices and Discourses (2017) [18pp].

Image: Mother Pigeon, via Untapped Cities | Kumbh Mela, via Vineet Diwadkar

Here you’ll find examples of our Catalogue of Urban Intelligences:

10 Replies

  • Notions of resiliency and fluidity seem to me to be somewhat of a fiction: does the “ephemeral city” actually exist? Are flows spatially apparent, or rather, does the notion of flows threaten to swamp rigorous ordinals of spatial identification? It seems to me that the only thing truly ephemeral is capital itself — even Vera and Mehotra’s notion of the city of pilgrimage, festival or of refugees is an expansion of the notion of the city by elevating special-use cases to the status of full-fledged urban areas.
    I want to challenge the attribution of resiliency, ambience (w/r/t the digital), and sensorial (or crypto-sentient) capacities to urban space, which is fundamentally material in nature. Furthering this notion, I want to suggest that the material is fundamentally not resilient in the way we want it to be: it erodes, it disintegrates, it gets reapportioned in ways that violate human control and intention. Plugging in enough sensory capacity to the city will not enable it to defend itself or go to ground; all the same, the entire notion of the digital is in the first instance contingent on material networks and rent-seeking behavior in the revanchist onslaught of neoliberalism.
    Where the neoliberal weltanschauung dovetails into the future is in the conception of the Anthropocene, of which Stephanie Wakefield places us on the “back loop”, that which society in consistently attempting to claw itself out of. It is therefore possible to read resilience in its global and urban manifestations as representing one possible orientation to the back loop: you don’t want to stand here! “You are not even allowed to stand here, at the foaming, slippery waters at the threshold,” as she poses it. At the occulted heart of this phrase is the self-completing organization that fails to recognize planetary boundaries, which we should just call what it is: capitalism. The eschatological, dis-astrous end of capital immediately forecloses on the notion of resilience as a possibility in any sense.
    Ephemerality is a fiction. The digital will not save us, but at least we’ll be capable of tracking exactly how high the water rises, the air carbonizes, the temperature heats up. If nothing else.

  • After we had our mock town hall three weeks ago, I remember Kevin commenting afterwards on how easy it was (as a Smoogle executive) to reject the protests from the activist group. He mentioned how easily criticism of new smart city technology can sound like a call to revert back to the ways of the past, to halt innovation in its track; a critique often lobbed at leftist activists and critics. Gautam Bahn ends his piece, Metrocalypse Now, by urging us to slow down, to be more patient with our efforts to transform, redesign, and consolidate our cities. He highlights all of the desperate needs better suited for the capital being thrown at smart city infrastructure. But is it us, the people who inhabit the cities, that need to slow down? What will my patience do? And still, what good will slowing down do when uneven development is not only rampant, but required of capitalist expansion?

    Calls for more democratic, more citizen-centric design were also echoed in Gordon and Walter’s piece on Meaningful Inefficiencies, in which they outlined the ways in which design inefficiencies present users with opportunities for play and, potentially, for the performance of more democratic citizenship. They acknowledge that most if not all technical efficiency projects like CompStat or CitiStat increase measurable efficiencies while also making their creators very wealthy. If this is true, why would their designers consider implementing this theoretical design framework into their projects? Who is to advocate for these democratic ideals when their measurable outcomes are vague potentialities? When new technology can so easily market itself as inherently good, as efficient and apolitical and clean and sexy, cries for democratic design and “withness” can sound like faint whispers. As Jennifer Gabrys asks, “How are we ‘with’ the smart city?”

    • Excellent, Kathryn. You’re posing some important, fundamental questions about values — and how we can value things whose worth does not lend itself readily to measurement. I think your comments will spark a great discussion about the power (or impotence) of resistance.

  • I found valuable the distinction Gordon and Walker made between efficiencies that help users of a technological system and those that help citizens of a democracy (245). I found this dichotomy present in several of the readings – a difference between design that values the human pace and scale and design that seems more to value the glamour of design itself. In “Metrocalypse Now,”
    Gautam Bhan describes a situation in which “imaginations of control from 1000 feet” have ignored or run up against the messiness of human action, as well as that of preexisting, aging infrastructure. “In all that time we talked about smartness,” he asks “what all did we not talk about? What is it that we could have been talking about?”

    Several of the pieces we read seem to suggest that there should be more talk between the time scale of the smart city (long-term, set in the future, unchanging) and the time scale of lived experience (more immediate, shifting, grounded in a history). The technologies poured into smart cities can be incredibly useful, but unless they are grounded in an approach that takes into consideration the messy realities of preexisting urban life, they will often remain glossy and distant, used for initiatives like metros in cities where people mostly walk and use para-transit (a situation described by Bhan in Lucknow, Kochi, and Jaipur).

    Vera and Mehrotra recommend more ‘open’ forms of design and planning, ones that are reversible, flexible, and circular – able to shift in the face of extreme weather, able to be disassembled, able to meaningfully take part in a conversation with citizens and environment. This type of approach to urban space, one would hope, would be more able to engage with irrepressibly shifting urban forms that will always be present in cities – extreme weather that tears down the urban environment, developments of autoconstructed housing that slowly shift it, and protests and other forms of ‘meaningful inefficiencies.’

    • Thanks, Julia. You’ve echoed some of your classmates’ comments regarding clashing value systems and timescales of development. I think our challenge in today’s discussion will be to examine the efficacy of such calls to design for messiness and inefficiency. And how much can we learn from more “open” forms of urbanity? Can we “scale up,” or institutionalize, something like Kumbh Mela?

  • Gautam Bhan calls on the limitation of words that have been increasingly relevant in urban discourse. “smartness” or “smart” in particular, as touched on the article has given people expectations that limits the way we think of transformative interventions in urban space. In conjunction to implementing ‘smart technologies’, Bhan has rightfully acknowledged interventions people have created out of need. For example, squatting. Squatting as a form of smartness. Felipe Vera and Rahul Mehrotra in the same light critiques Ephemeral Cities as an opportunity to transform the way we build cities. Ephemeral Cities are interesting when posed as response to conflicts caused by the environmental, economical, political climate. By analyzing squatting, ephemeral cities, informal cities and systems, transformative interventions can be duplicated to solve problems like the housing crises. As we have conversations around smart cities, it is important to ask questions Jane Jacobs poses when reading public spaces. Overall, acknowledging informal solutions with the same value as ‘smart’ interventions Urbanist would be one step closer to maintaining sustainable cities.

    • Thanks, Christine! You’ve traced some helpful connections between the readings! Because this is arriving a bit late, I’ll keep my response brief, and we’ll address your comments in class.

  • The evolution of cities over the past decades has decreased the value of land-established communities. If we compare what Jane Jacobs describes as a neighborhood to how we relate each other to our neighbors it works in a complete different way. It is like if Jacobs description came out from a movie. I believe our culture has changed in so many ways that now communities are build up online, without even realizing that someone from your online community can be sitting next to you on the subway or living right next door. “Togetherness” as she describes it, consists now on a constant sharing over social media. The thing with social media is that you can share as much as you want without anyone trespassing your privacy. It is probably a reason why online communities work better than the physical ones.
    It is inevitable to believe that the idea that ephemeral cities create a form of urbanism that becomes more unified. Cities shouldn’t change, what changes is people. Baby Boomers and Gen X had an idea of creating communities based on urbanized areas, their main goal was to buy a house and settle for the rest of their lives. While that worked for them, our generation believes in a more nomad lifestyle, where people don’t settle for anything, they continue to level up constantly. The residential life is not a priority anymore. People change of neighborhoods, cities, even from countries, without hesitating or thinking the urban community left behind. Cities are transitioning, since their people is also constantly changing and there is no doubt that the next generation will be more connected in an online community rather than becoming part of the city.
    The real question is, how are online communities engaging with us and how can we merge them with a real urban city? cities are transitioning, since their people is also constantly changing and

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