Infrastructural adaptation

  by things on shelves.
, a photo by things on shelves. on Flickr.

as Fred said in his comment “Infrastructure! Adaptation! Courtesy! Amazing! *dies*

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from post-to-pre (industrial landscapes)

So as I have already pointed out (here) I recently wrote What is a Park – Landscape or Infrastructure, for Archinect. One of Gerdo Aquino’s points was regarding the importance of-the use of-right of way. Specifically, his examples and most examples of rails-to-trails, green ways, the High Line have typically involved the re-appropriation/re-invention of post-industrial landscapes.

Reading Arteries of Power: How Solar Energy Could Reshape the West, by Jon Christensen, made me think about another model. Essentially Christensen argues that just as with trains before them, new landscapes of energy extraction within the American West could have large spatial implications. Of course one could question the entire premise of centralized versus distributed energy generation, particularly from a resiliency perspective. However, if the Southwest is going to be developed as a “Mecca for alternative energy” than mitigation will be a necessity. If as Christensen writes, “Trade-offs will have to be made. Some landscapes will be sacrificed. ..Deals will be struck to mitigate immediate impacts — as they must…In that sense, the process is working. Sufficient attention is being paid to the immediate trade-offs. The lasting, wider effects of these trade-offs are another matter“, it is interesting to think who might be best equipped to deal with such long-term challenges.

Or at least to see a proposal tackling such long-term and large-scale, regional, infrastructural and ecological concerns. Landscape architecture, with it’s focus on ecologies, process and time could offer some interesting possibilities. The idea of a stacking or layering of infrastructural program isn’t new. Yet, what if instead of a simply post-industrial maximization of the right of way, this idea was injected into the initial design phase? Seems like it could generate some jobs and more importantly result in a more effective and desirable spatial condition.

Finally, when considering the stacking, or Coupling of infrastructural projects(s) one is naturally lead to the idea of soft systems. I would argue this is because there are only so many physical layers possible. A park, under a power line, a park over a freeway, a park as storm-water infrastructure.  You can only design so many objects or scapes. However, once you start talking about systems, processes and responsive, flexibility your designable sq footage, as it were expands.

Urban-personality differences and hacking urban development

The following articles illustrate different effects/reactions to two very contemporary, models of urban action: namely alternative transportation and hacking the city (aka re-development).

In Boris Bikes Roll in London, Tim Adams suggests velophilia is the urban philosophy of Boris Johnson’s, post-austerity, London.

A key quote: “If you asked any Londoner to describe the sum total of visible changes made to the city in the nearly three years of Johnson’s tenure, a single phrase would dominate: Boris Bikes.” The piece is more a critique of Johnson’s tenure than a real exploration of: a bicycle urbanism.

It will be interesting to see the long term sustainability of the London model though. I think as NYC fabled DOT head has shown, following in the footsteps of Jamie Lerner, a key factor must be the removal (if only partial) of the automobile from the top of the transportation hierarchy. However, Adams rightly points out that Londons velophilia is facilitated primarily by Barclays subsidization as a branding campaign. Although, one wonders whether the implementation of congestion pricing over the last few years has has any effect on bicycling adoption rates. To be a real transportation model though London will have to go further. Adams notes, “Sponsoring 5,000 bikes is one thing; building mythical “bike superhighways” on streets in which every square inch of asphalt is already fiercely competed for, moment by moment, is another.

I found the above an interesting contrast to this next article in NY Magazine about NYC being Not Quite Copenhagen. The article asks Is New York too New York for bike lanes? Despite the work of Sadik-Khan’s DOT or perhaps in spite of it, Matthew Shaer writes “And so it has come to this: Bike lanes, not so long ago a symbol of a boldly progressive New York City, have sparked a bitter row on the hushed and leafy streets of brownstone Brooklyn—just one part of a biking backlash rippling across the five boroughs.” It seems though that the real takeaway from the article may have more to do with a critique of the process behind DOT’s implementation and consultation rather than a innate NYer hatred towards a progressive pro-bicyclist agenda. Is the uproar perhaps similar to the current populist, anti-European Tea Party conservative current more visible in American politics today? This passage seems to summarize the situation best: ““Mayoral agencies could do a better job with speaking with community boards, earlier and at more depth,” says Community Board 2’s Robert Perris. “Community boards could be more open-minded and less prone to nimby responses. And bike riders need to understand that as the New York transportation paradigm gets changed, they need to find a graciousness about this, if only for their own self-interest.”

Finally, two separate essays in the Sunday Magazine explore the range of methodologies available to the urban actor who wants to hack or interface with/affect the urban fabric. In The Supersizing Architect of Brooklyn, Andrew Rice uncovers the means by which architect Robert Scarano was able to “interpret” or one could say “hack”, zoning codes in order to gain extra marketable square feet. His efforts resulted in hidden rooms and storage space that transformed into bedrooms. Scarano was able to turn code into an aesthetic. As the author explains, ““The population of factory buildings was unfortunately being used up,” Scarano said. “So what did we do? We created the factory aesthetic in new construction.” And he didn’t just take the aesthetic — he also adapted the zoning rules that applied to warehouse conversions. Under certain circumstances, the code classified loft mezzanines as storage space, not floor area, and Scarano assured developers their new building plans could slip through this loophole. Effectively, he said, he could fashion double-decker apartments, in buildings that were four stories for legal purposes and eight stories for marketing.” Although in many cases this creative, design thinking was not legal, Scarano was able to hack the code to create the desired spatial conditions, a turn of phrase that is especially applicable because of the ambiguous legality of what he did.

Finally, Scarano’s example can be favorably compared to a piece on retired N.Y.P.D. officer Greg O’Connell’s who is a fan of Jane Jacob’s and was influential in the recent rehabilitation of Brooklyn’s post-industrial Red Hook. In The Last Townie, Dwight Garner looks at how O’Connell has now focused his efforts on remaking Mount Morris, a small town in upstate NY. O’Connell it seems focuses on systemic and soft change. Ronald Shiffman, co-founder of the Pratt Center for Community Development, the nation’s largest public-interest architectural and community-planning organization is quoted as saying ““Greg builds relationships with low-income populations, and he doesn’t take quick profits,” As O’Connell himself notes “I invest in people not businesses.” His model is obviously successful, as today he is the largest landowner in RedHook. In comparing Scarano to O’Connell one also contrasts two differing modes of development. One is fundamentally about people, relationships and building communities (soft infrastructures) the other is about maximizing ROI and pushing the boundaries of legal and ethical practices… So hacking code vs hacking systems/relationships?

structured data, object models and zero-configuration networking as the tools of urban design

What would it mean to think of a city as a dense mesh of active, communicating objects — each one able to gather information from the environment around it, routinely share that information with other objects as well as human users, even act upon it where appropriate? And if we can treat the things we encounter in urban environments as system resources, rather than a mute collection of disarticulated buildings, vehicles, sewers and sidewalks, what might we do with them?

Greenfield goes on to call for the need for the city to be open in terms of data, ownership and usage (w)rites. In this vein he makes a call for something that came up often in last years Infrastructural City blog-discussion, lead by Mammoth, “Just as the novice programmer is invited to learn from, understand, and improve upon — to “hack” — open-source software, the city itself should invite its users to demystify and reengineer the places in which they live and the processes which generate meaning, at the most intimate and immediate level.

Via Adam Greenfield over at Urbanscale (here)

Charles Holland on the port of Dover

RT @fatcharlesh First and Last, on port of#Dover http://bit.ly/hsRjHc #nationalised #industry#landscapes #logistical via @owenhatherley

I posted this already to twitter but wanted to highlight this passage in particular because I think it gets to the issues of scale. In that the human made infrastructures dwarf in scale and realism the natural “cliff side”

The cliffs have a slightly un-real quality to them at ground level where they come into sharp contact with the port infrastructure. They look as if they’ve been hand-made from chicken wire and papier mache by a slightly incompetent giant. He keeps his modelling equipment in the caves.”

Networked, ad hoc, urban agriculture?

I first saw this commercial about a month ago. However, I kept forgetting to jot down the specific company information and couldn’t find the video, via Google. Finally, did though. The commercial seems particularly noteworthy.

I wonder if this commercial is a good example of the sort of hacktivism, networked market oriented, interventions we were talking about during our mammoth book club discussion of The Infrastructural City.

The whole episode is also citizen lead and network facilitated.

It is also interesting to see a company use community gardening as as sort of greenwash and marketing for their apps.

And note that one of the commentators on Youtube rightly point out the issue of class and if this is the future of civic and urban intervention than you have a question about access and perhaps a right to the “digital city”???

LG Mobile Phones Commercial – Optimus S – “Empty Lot”

On “strategic infrastructures” …

Via BBC News here and here, I read that a long list of key facilities around the world that the US describes as vital to its national security has been released by Wikileaks. Interestingly the list is a) not limited to sites within the continental USA or b) sites of explicitly military nature. Rather it is a global directory of facilities that are seen as being of vital importance to Washington.

On perusing the cables more closely over at Wikileaks it is clear the concern is more for what could be considered soft targets or even soft infrastructures. The goal as stated is to identify “Critical Foreign Dependencies” that are connected and vital to systems. The word system is key here, because it doesn’t refer simply to traditional infrastructure such as ports (although those are included) but also larger networked systems of the globalized economy and telecommunications. Specifically referencing the USA Patriot Act of 2001 (42 U.S.C. 5195(e)) critical infrastructures are defined as “systems and assets, whether physical or virtual, so vital to the United States the incapacitation or destruction of such systems and assets would have a debilitating impact on security, national economic security, national public health or safety, or any combination of those matters.

Additionally, note that although they (at the time) did not seek information on the less tangible effects of any crisis disrupting such infrastructures the State Department acknowledges the soft (or second order effects) that could result from such disruption. Whether it be loss public confidence or economic chaos.

Consider then the recent call for submissions for Bracket [goes soft], which notes “In an era of declared crises—economic, ecological and climatic amongst others– the notion of soft systems has gained increasing traction as a counterpoint to permanent, static and hard systems.” Are the above two ideas complementary? Could the sorts of projective and critical approaches to soft systems that Bracket seeks to provide a platform for, serve as a counterpoint to the list of CFDs? I think it is important to note here that designers aren’t the only one’s interested in systems. What could soft mean in such a context? Is a soft system a soft target? Could one harden a soft target by introducing soft systems? Thus injecting resiliency, by grafting soft onto soft?

Finally, I will note this BBC News article which further expands on the idea of soft infrastructures. Although the notion of ecosystem service(s) isn’t new, it has traditionally focused on quantifying the more literal and ecological ways in which ecosystems provide services (cleansing watersheds, producing oxygen, impacting local climates). However, the author of the BBC piece discusses some examples of other less tangible benefits: such as a US study that is regularly cited which suggests, patients that have a view of nature through hospital windows recover better after surgery. Or quotes a Ms Lipscombe whom argues the calming influence of trees has even been known to slow down driving speeds as drivers tend to go more slowly when something is in their peripheral vision.

Are these sorts of factors a soft infrastructure? Or perhaps the soft product of an infrastructure? If so then maybe one key, is to explicitly discuss or list all these sorts of infrastructural affects and typologies. Thus helping to expand our understanding of critical connections and systems, or strategic infrastructures.