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This chapter explores how digital technologies, processes and practices are constituting new ways of knowing urban natures and novel subjective engagements with the constant infrastructural remaking of cities. We analyse recent interventions in energy infrastructures in Bristol, a UK city where a variety of stakeholders have sought to advance greater sustainability by both increasing the city’s capacity for renewable electricity generation and improving the energy efficiency of the city’s housing stock. They have done so notably by mobilizing and managing digital and ecological flows and processes in tandem. We draw attention therefore to digital-physical material processes through which actors’ capacity to intervene in, and understanding of, the techno-ecological flows of energy systems appear to be shifting. The digital intervention enables non-human entities to be crucially entangled in these processes, forging infrastructural futures that emerge across an evolving plane of intelligibility between ecological and digital flows and human activities.
From the ordinary to the extraordinary, all of us experience infrastructure in its various forms over the course of the day, from when we wake to when we go to sleep - and much in between. In some cases, this is the presence of infrastructure. In others, it is the absence of infrastructure that shapes and structures the lives of some who live in cities, for example, blue infrastructure to ensure drinkable water, or libraries as social infrastructure to support the education and learning among a population. Infrastructure shapes lives, and in turn, these lives are shaped by it. This edited collection argues that an attention to the pasts, presents and futures of infrastructure allows for an understanding of the current relationally constituted and experienced urban condition in and across cities of the Global North and South. It asks the reader to think through the different ways in which infrastructure comes to be present in cities and the making of urban worlds.
This afterword begins from a fairly modest premise that asks, how does incompleteness reframe the way we think about and theorize urban infrastructural futures? In addressing this question, I examine urban infrastructure through its incomplete futures. Accordingly, I offer a conception that highlights partial, provisional and contingent processes and practices that go into making and shifting infrastructures, and one that foregrounds situated and temporal engagements, negotiations and relations. I demonstrate that rather than reproaching unfamiliar and strange infrastructural progressions or development processes, it is important to disentangle them and better understand them as reflective of infrastructure’s incomplete futures. In so doing, I call for the need to open up space for alternative theories that illuminate how cities produce novel forms of urbanism and infrastructure futures that exceed what might tend to be – at any given time – the most dominant and hegemonic forms and articulations.
For some groups the promise of infrastructural citizenship as an everyday claim upon the state is far more precarious than others: not only is access to infrastructure uncertain, but also the underlying promise of a functioning state and access to citizenship remains in question. The study of infrastructural citizenship remains incomplete if it does not grapple with the coloniality of citizenship, and the racialized populations relegated to second-class citizenship or non-citizenship. Those with no claims upon the state to provide the basics of life must go beyond repair or maintenance, to seek instead infrastructural reparations and reparative justice as material conditions for living in the wake of the racialized infrastructural colour line built upon histories of slavery, colonialism and climate disaster. This chapter reflects on some of the tactics of flexible, provisional, infrastructural reparations that have emerged in Haiti and Puerto Rico, where public infrastructure systems have drastically failed. In Haiti tactics of appropriation involved communities (and gangs) patching into fractured systems where there is little state provision. In Puerto Rico, disaster led to grassroots organizations calling for just recovery, but also blockchain entrepreneurs taking advantage of offshore opportunities to escape the state. Both cases demonstrate the precarity, power, opportunities and dangers hidden within decentralized systems in the face of splintered infrastructural systems.
This chapter explores the relationship between infrastructure and what the philosopher and social critic Marshall Berman once described as the ‘tragedy of development’. The chapter begins with the story of John Lindmark, a bookseller in the city of Poughkeepsie, NY whose store was razed in 1963 to make way for the city’s first arterial highway. The chapter places this tragedy in the context of Poughkeepsie’s broader post-war transformation as well as the noble ambitions of urban planners and city officials that supported the highway’s construction. Where the first half of the chapter discusses the history of the highway and the arguments mobilized behind it, the second half of the chapter jumps forward in time to discuss the legacy of the city’s post-war highway boom. As city planners confront that legacy and seek to overcome it, the ‘tragedy of development’ has taken on a set of new meanings.
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Focusing on material and social forms of infrastructure, this edited collection draws on rich empirical details from cities across the global North and South. The book asks the reader to think through the different ways in which infrastructure comes to be present in cities and its co-constitutive relationships with urban inhabitants and wider processes of urbanization.
Considering the climate emergency, economic transformation, public health crises and racialized inequality, the book argues that paying attention to infrastructures’ past, present and future allows us to understand and respond to the current urban condition.
Infrastructuring urban futures is a dynamic process involving complex relationships that are simultaneously reorganized and reconfigured through infrastructure. Understanding cities through their infrastructure offers a way of conceptualizing the common systems, networks, and flows that reproduce the diversity of historical legacies and contemporary realities facing cities across the Global South and Global North. This Introduction first presents a critical review of scholarly literature on urban infrastructure, then discusses the overarching themes that cut across the book, making three key points. First, that a grounded, material, and geographic analysis is necessary for infrastructure research. Second, that infrastructure always operates within the uneven and contradictory logics of contemporary capitalist accumulation. Third, infrastructure’s capacity to provide for some people, certain goods, and particular flows of information, while at the same time disenfranchising and/or disconnecting other residents and other elements of the urban condition, are a matter of everyday urban politics. Articulating a more-just urban future inherently necessitates understanding the role of and place of infrastructure within and between cities.
The sewage scandal in England that has been building since around 2018 has foregrounded the otherwise hidden functioning, and embedded logics, of the sewerage system, which normally receive little scrutiny. It has been revealed, through citizen monitoring and public mobilization, that private water companies have been illegally discharging sewage into waterways, via combined sewer overflows, to reduce treatment costs and maximize profits. Funding cuts under austerity have reduced the monitoring and enforcement capacity of regulators, leading to a stark decline in river conditions, likely to be exacerbated by post-Brexit deregulation. Consumers have mobilized in and through the water network itself as active citizens rather than passive customers, conceived here as an act of urban commoning. This chapter nevertheless complicates the prevailing narrative that sewage discharges are the result of a toxic industry alone, situating their overuse in the longer-term demise of the ‘modern infrastructural ideal’, and therefore makes the case for a renewed municipalism.
With their wide-ranging ecological, economic and sociocultural benefits, urban green spaces increasingly are positioned in planning policy as critical components in a broad network of green features across a city. This green infrastructure (GI) approach shifts the purpose of parks and green spaces from optional and ornamental to fundamental and functional. Yet, integrating conventional green spaces into an interconnected, multifunctional system of GI has proven challenging in practice. Using London as a case study, this chapter explores spatial, administrative and conceptual impediments to the implementation of ambitious GI policies. It concludes by suggesting that a fragmented governance, limitations of planning processes and deeply embedded cultural conceptualizations of landscape must be addressed to realize the myriad GI benefits that urban green spaces can deliver.
How does the infrastructuring of future worlds appear when we shift the scale of analysis from the urban to the regional? Drawing on the infrastructural regionalism framework, this afterword puts forward three ways that infrastructuring urban futures can be contextualized from a slightly different perspective: that of the region. We first consider the spatial fetish, and how the ‘local trap’ can create analytical blind spots. We then describe how the regional scale can position ‘knowledge fragments’ about infrastructure in different ways. Finally, we focus on the futures constructed by and through infrastructures, arguing that time and geography are overlooked parameters in how new infrastructures are justified. We end with a call for embracing a plurality of scalar perspectives when evaluating urban infrastructural futures.