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    The Geography of War and Peace: From Death Camps to Diplomats
    Oxford University Press, USA

    by Colin Flint


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    Born of War: Protecting Children of Sexual Violence Survivors in Conflict Zones
    by R. Charli Carpenter

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    The Mask of Anarchy Updated Edition: The Destruction of Liberia and the Religious Dimension of an African Civil War
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    Spaces of Hate: Geographies of Discrimination and Intolerance in the U.S.A.
    Routledge

    by Colin Flint

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    Terrorism and Counterterrorism (2nd Edition) (Penguin Academics)
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Saturday
30Aug

Death of the City, Death of Cyberspace I

Death of the City

Kazys Varnelis is depressed. Inexplicably stuck in a subway below New York, he reflects:

Whether its trying to get to my Soho office, struggling to get work done there (thank you to the building owner for !), fighting to get these books out the door, expecting to get paid in a timely manner (only four months late and only half my salary!) by the university system in Ireland, or keeping my server running it’s always the same story: everything that can go wrong will. Routing around damage isn’t just something the Internet does, it’s something I do, seemingly every minute of the day.

This morning I sit in a tunnel, watching a completely empty train pass our completely full train. We can discern no good reason for this even though we are so close to the tunnel’s end that we can see daylight out the window. At least we have a fighting chance to run if fire breaks out. One day it will, just give it time.


His recent edited volume, The Infrastructural City, focusing on Los Angeles, suggested that

the infrastructure is now out of control, hybrid, perverted, and wild, a second nature. But if the first, original nature, could be tamed by constructing infrastructure to harness it, we can no longer do that. Building more just won’t do.

Sweating underground, Kazys is sure of this. Feral infrastructure, the skeleton supporting Manuel de Landa's mineralised city, is mutating and oustripping the ability of man to control it. The SNAFUs and FUBARs he sees every day, in his external environment, and within the pressurised circumference of his own small life, are 'daily operating procedures', they are the software bugs and glitches, the spanners in the existential works.


Recent research at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich by Dirk Helbing and colleagues finds that complex infrastructure like traffic control systems would work a lot better without humans. Let automated onboard navigation devices connected to urban sensor networks actually drive the vehicles and traffic flow will improve, pollution would drop, and we'd all save a lot of time and money.

Even if we did that, Kazys' thesis suggests that a complex system like a computer-mediated road network would develop emergent behaviour beyond our ability to understand and to intervene effectively. And we may all end up sitting in our cars above ground as well as below, or even spun off into the wild hinterlands. SNAFU indeed.

Complex systems do not scale within predictable bounds. This is one reason why Steve Corman and colleagues at the Consortium for Strategic Communication at Arizona State University have established one likely reason why Western attempts at effective public diplomacy have failed. Instead of trying to force a simple 'message-influence model' derived from the dawn of communications theory onto a global media environment built on different terms, strategic communicators should embrace the complexity of evolving media systems, and accept that its emergent behaviour means they no longer have control over what happens to a message once it leaves its source.

Depressing news for some perhaps, but complex systems afford opportunities as well as limitations, as Corman & Co. outline in their theory of 'pragmatic complexity' [PDF]. In the "rugged landscape" - the complex terrain, if you will - of international communication, trial-and-error may produce more effective results than keeping the message consistent, the mantra of most recent attempts to co-ordinate public diplomacy [PDF].

This terrain is one of a complex system at the macro-scale: the internet and the whole skin of digital transmission that mediates our communicative urges and necessities. Kazys has another macro-scale idea, stemming from his reading of 'starchitect' Rem Koolhaas' Project on the City at Harvard Graduate School of Design:

Countries across the West are in a perpetual state of infrastructural collapse. Koolhaas came to understand this during [Project on the City]. By the time he was working on Lagos, Koolhaas observed: “Lagos is not catching up with us. Rather, we may be catching up with Lagos . . .”
 

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Jean Baudrillard wrote that the event was marked not by the end of evil, but rather by its diffusion everywhere, West to East and East to West. So it is with globalization. It is not only the developed world that has spread everywhere, it is the developing world as well. Lagos is in New York just as New York is in Lagos. This is not to say that there isn’t difference in the world anymore, but rather that instead of having such strong divisions, we have a common field condition with local inflections.

This is why Michael Kubo, the editor of the book at ACTAR, suggested to me that this might be the last book to draw architectural lessons from a particular city. Future books may be about networks of cities instead of individual cities. I very much doubt (famous last words!) that I will be doing research on another city like this again.  And if the era of the individual has closed behind us, then why not the same of the individual city? We may well think of cities in very different ways in the future, and not only for analytic projects. [my emphasis]


Conurbations, Megalopolis, market-states, city-states, a Planet of Slums, feral cities, who's to say Kazys isn't onto something here?

Next:  Part II: Death of Cyberspace



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