Recent Readings

While in San Francisco I had lots of time to read and think – on and between flights, sat looking out over the bay, and sat in many, many lovely cafes with my sketchbook, laptop, and kindle. Ideas fermented and concepts crystallized in my head, and in parallel, some of my reading helped frame my thoughts in ways that I could feel happy with.

The most influential of the things I read was probably Stephen Grapham’s Disrupted Cities: When Infrastructure Fails (on Amazon). It talks about infrastructure, which is one step less abstract than the more general ‘cities’ or ‘urbanism’ framing some of the earlier texts I’d been reading had used, but still at an abstract enough level to be making wide ranging points, and I found it to be an especially useful lens through which to think and be able to relate it to my thesis.

a description from an endorsement from Saskia Sassen on Amazon: Seeing cities through the lens of infrastructure opens up a world of processes, breakdowns, and inertias. Each of the chapters brings to light unexpected features of how infrastructures fit into city life, how malfunction makes them more visible in certain cities and a state of nature in slums, how political dynamics are unleashed by infrastructures.

I highlighted quite a lot of paragraphs from the book, particularily from the introduction, which I found especially insightful. As we find ourselves in The Future, I can here share them with you.

“Whilst sometimes taken for granted—at least when they work or amongst wealthier or more privileged users and spaces—energy, water, sewerage, transport, trade, finance, and communication infrastructures allow modern urban life to exist. Their pipes, ducts, servers, wires, conduits, electronic transmissions, and tunnels sustain the flows, connections, and metabolisms that are intrinsic to contemporary cities. Through their endless technological agency, these systems help transform the natural into the cultural, the social, and the urban.” – location 172

“with what happens when the infrastructural flows or metabolisms of the modern city, which so often come to be considered so normal that urbanites may even come to see them as culturally banal, invisible, even boring, are suddenly interrupted or disturbed.” – location 197

““Cities are the summation and densest expressions of infrastructure,” write Herman and Ausubel. “Or, more accurately, a set of infrastructures, working sometimes in harmony, sometimes with frustrating discord, to provide us with shelter, contact, energy, water and means to meet other human needs.”” – location 241

“linear notions of a series of societal “ages,” shaped deterministic by a march of successive infrastructural innovations, and the tendency to fetishize new pieces of gleaming infrastructure, work to obfuscate the continued importance of less glamorous and long-standing infrastructural circuits of the city. Such thinking thus works to deny the ways in which multiple infrastructure systems tend to intimately rely on each other in producing the wider circulations and metabolisms of the city.” – location 266

“Indeed, when infrastructure networks work best, and succeed in reaching mass adoption as the basis for styles of urban life, they tend to become progressively both more “ordinary” and less noticed.” – location 322

“the widespread tendency within popular discourse and social science alike to cast these systems as apolitical, “boring,” or merely “technical” domains that can be satisfactorily partitioned off within the worlds of specialist engineers.” – location 516

“that the construction of spaces of mobility and flow for some always involves the construction of barriers for others. […] The construction, maintenance, and operations of a transport, water, energy, or communications grid tends to privilege certain more powerful spaces and users over others.” – location 524

A few other things from my delicious:

San Francisco Spends $25 Million To Test ‘Goldilocks’ Parking : NPR and SFpark overview video : An interesting scheme showing infrastructure adapting to (semi) realtime data, and a lovely video explaining it. The video especially is really interesting regarding my thesis and how to communicate it.

Fixing the Bus System : Artsy Techie: “what’s the point of building connected, smart urban appliances when you can provide smart applications on mobile phones”. I may have been wrong – there is value in creating solutions for all, directly in the fabric of the city.

The Urbanophile » The Mark of a Great City Is in How It Treats Its Ordinary Spaces, Not Its Special Ones

New York City Aims to Improve Lives of the Elderly – a really interesting tiny intervention with interesting story around it. Truly “design dissolving in behavior” – it only becomes interesting from a design perspective when the intent is known/the story told.

Are Modern Cities for People or Cars?: Scientific American Podcast

Those are some of the more recent and more relevant things I’ve picked out, but there a bunch more things I’ve been reading at .

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