Introducing Infrastructure Fiction

The Blood of the City

Paul Graham Raven introduces the idea of “infrastructure fiction,” a derivative of design fiction (itself somewhat related to science fiction):

No one would describe Douglas Adams as a “hard” science fiction writer, but I’ve long felt that he was better than many of his more serious contemporaries at communicating the paradoxical relationships we humans have with the world we inhabit. Near the start of the third Hitchhiker’s Guide novel, Life, the Universe and Everything (Adams, 2009), Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect observe the arrival of an unusual spacecraft (which, if I remember correctly, looks rather like a low-budget Italian bistro turned on its side) in the middle of Lords cricket ground during an important test match. This spacecraft remains unnoticed by the players, the crowd, or even the stolid BBC reporters covering the match; this is because it includes a device which generates a “Someone Else’s Problem” field, whose inventor realised that, while making something invisible is very tricky, making something look like someone else’s problem is much, much easier, as most people are predisposed to that position.

The challenge for infrastructure fiction is to dispel the Someone Else’s Problem field and reveal the elided centrality of infrastructure to pretty much everything we do. Its challenge is to explore what infrastructure means.

Full Story: Superflux: An Introduction To Infrastructure Fiction

Paul includes links to a few examples from a University of Sheffield project he was involved in, including the “City Blood” concept pictured above.

Crack the Surface: Free Documentary Series on Urban Exploration

Crack The Surface – Episode I from SilentUK on Vimeo.

Crack The Surface – Episode II from SilentUK on Vimeo.

Produced in association with:


Previously: Urban Exploration

Infrastructure Still Crumbling – So What Do We Do About It?

crumbling bridge

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has released its 2009 Report Card for American Infrastructure, and the results are grim. The association gave the most powerful nation in the world an overall grade of D, and stated that it would take a five-year investment of $2.2 trillion to bring the U.S. up to par with the rest of its class—the world’s major postindustrial nations.

The Architect’s Newspaper: State of Disrepair

(via Brainsturbator)

What exactly can be done about it, other than spending massive amounts of public funds and ratcheting up an already astronomical deficit?

The obvious libertarian answer I can think of is: sell off all private infrastructure and issue tax refunds for it. Let the private companies who purchase it deal with it. At this point it doesn’t seem like that’s any worse an option than letting it all rot. Certainly there’d be a lot of questions regarding access to essential infrastructure. And if, say, the entire interstate highway system were privatized I’m sure that would open things up to all sorts of highly entertaining anti-competitive actions on the part of its owners.

But I have to admit I sort of relish the idea of seeing how tea partiers feel about paying road tolls (and seeing how self-righteous non-motorists, the type who think it’s unfair that they’re taxed for roads they supposedly don’t use, react to increased food costs). And hell, it might actually cause megacorporations that currently avoid paying much in taxes actually have to shell out something for the roads they use.

But even if there was the political will, could that even happen? Are there companies out there that would be willing to buy up all our roads, bridges, and other public infrastructure? Would it be profitable to maintain?

And what about existing private infrastructure? According to The Architect’s Newspaper, over 85% of levees are privately owned and they still got a D from the ASCE. How much of the infrastructure ASCE evaluated is privately owned to start with?

What other other options are on the table? A government-backed scrip for infrastructure work? Even if we’re at 20-25% real unemployment, I’m not sure that’s bad enough to get modern Americans to work on infrastructure projects for scrip and for small businesses to honor it. But I could be wrong.

What about revolution? It’s always a possibility, but it also seems far from happening. I have been thinking though that if there were to be a revolution in the the States, it would have to start with seizing infrastructure, which is our real “means of production.”

What else can be done?

Flickr search for “crumbling infrastructure”

Photo by Michelle Soulier / CC

History of London suburbs

poster from suburbia

This article on the recent Suburbia exhibition at the London Transport Museum takes a brief look at the history of suburbia:

Rather than some authentic, uncomplicated, unplanned response to ordinary people’s desires, London’s suburbia was the product of both planning and speculation, heavily mediated, and marketed using an impressive degree of subterfuge. The garden suburb was the official face of suburbia. Developed in 1907 by Toynbee Hall’s chair, Henrietta Barnett, and carefully planned by the socialist and architectural traditionalist Raymond Unwin, it attempted to build William Morris’s socialist “nowhere” in a capitalist context. Unwin and his partner Barry Parker developed a style based on whitewash, pitched roofs and large gardens. This became the basis for its many successors. Yet it was also tightly planned and full of public spaces to encourage social interaction. In the same year, the London Underground opened Golders Green station, and promoted its rural joys in an advertisement campaign, as a means of selling season tickets. Golders Green was enveloped by new, unplanned housing, although the Underground’s posters invariably depicted Hampstead Garden Suburb.

The exhibition alludes to the fact that London’s private transport companies were the sponsors and often the creators of suburbia, extending their lines into open country, promoting the glories of the countryside, and then developing it out of existence.

Guardian: Suburbia explored

(via Tomorrow Museum)

Washington Fiddles as Infrastructure Crumbles

The Surface Transportation Authorization Act, draws both fanfare and trepidation and is widely considered a turning point in American transportation.

The bulk of the bill is dedicated to maintenance rather than highway expansion and construction. Fully $100 billion was set aside for building and expanding mass transit. Another $50 billion is allocated for high-speed rail, dwarfing the $8 billion included in the stimulus package. The bill gives local authorities greater say in how their federal transportation dollars are spent. And our transportation policy would be legally tied to climate protection. The total tab comes to at least $450 billion, twice that of Safetea.

Unfortunately, nobody has quite figured where that money will come from.

Wired: Washington Fiddles as Infrastructure Crumbles

Fiji squatters repair their own road after damage made it unpassable

A key road into a squatter settlement in Suva in Fiji has just been paid for and fixed entirely by the people living along it.

Patterson Drive, an old disused roadway, has just been re-opened, with certification from Fiji’s Ministry of Works, Transport and Public Utilities.

Radio New Zealand: Fiji squatters repair their own road after damage made it unpassable

(via Squattercity)

Knowledge as infrastructure

Applies equally well to Portland:

It’s not difficult to infer that this all happened when it did, where it did, because of the post-dotcom-crash emergence of a healthy cohort of talented (and relatively well-capitalized) folks hungry to make something with their lives just a little more tangible than some evanescent Web portal. I’m also willing to bet that the relatively low barriers to entry involved in successful push-button publishing of the early blog era convinced a whole lot of people in the Bay Area that it was safe to try their hand at other, more ambitious endeavors – that is, that blogging constituted a kind of gateway drug.

And yeah, sure, this can occasionally be a little insular and precious, a little twee: the kind of hipster-doofus affectation that makes a nice fat target for equally nitwit parody. But it’s also, hopefully, something that speaks to Russell’s more general point, and is therefore replicable elsewhere, in whatever ways are most true to those places and desires. The San Francisco resurgence would not – could not – have happened if there were not at this point literally several hundred years of insight into craft technique just lying on the ground, for just about any domain of productive activity you can imagine.

Speedbird: Installed infrastructure, latent knowledge and the small-batch aesthetic

Old American Dams Quietly Become a Multibillion-Dollar Threat

Last week, a Siberian hydroelectric dam failed when an explosion rocked the site’s turbine room, killing dozens and taking 6,000 megawatts of electricity offline.

While the tragedy’s ultimate causes are unclear, Russian media has been questioning the state of the aging Soviet-made infrastructure. Dams are getting older in the United States, too. The average age of America’s 80,000 dams is 51 years. More than 2,000 dams near population centers are in need of repair, according to statistics released this month by the Association of State Dam Safety Officials.

Last year, 140 dams were fixed, but inspectors discovered 368 more that need help. That’s why the American Society of Civil Engineers gave our dams a grade of “D” in its 2009 report on the nation’s infrastructure. There are just too many aging dams and too few safety inspectors.

Wired: Old American Dams Quietly Become a Multibillion-Dollar Threat

Sabotage suspected in widespread phone outage in Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties

Police are investigating whether sabotage to an underground fiber optic cable in south San Jose caused a widespread phone service outage in southern Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties this morning that included disruption to 911 emergency phone service, according to law enforcement officials.

John Britton, a spokesman for AT&T, said it appears somebody opened a manhole in South San Jose, climbed down 8 to 10 feet and cut four or five fiber-optic cables.

Britton also said there was a report of underground cables being cut in San Carlos.

The outage is affecting cell phones, land lines and Internet access for Verizon customers in Morgan Hill, Gilroy, San Martin and Santa Cruz County, according to Zachary DeVine, a Santa Clara County spokesman. A county fire dispatcher reported areas of San Benito may also be affected but DeVine had not confirmed that report.

ATM machines may also be affected.

“It’s kind of like an earthquake” said Jack Ahlin, a driver with T. Marx Towing who was standing outside the Gilroy police department.

Service is also affected in South San Jose around Monterey Road and Bailey Avenue.

Santa Cruz Sentinal: Sabotage suspected in widespread phone outage in Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties

(via Chris Arkenberg)

Report: Spies hacked into U.S. electricity grid

Spies from other countries have hacked into the United State’s electricity grid, leaving traces of their activity and raising concerns over the security of the U.S. energy infrastructure to cyberattacks.

The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday published a report saying that spies sought ways to navigate and control the power grid as well the water and sewage infrastructure. It’s part of a rising number of intrusions, the article said, quoting former and current national security officials.

The intruders don’t appear to have done any damage to date but did leave behind software that could disrupt the system.

“The Chinese have attempted to map our infrastructure, such as the electrical grid,” a senior intelligence official told the Journal. “So have the Russians.”

There have long been concerns over securing the power grid and other infrastructure. Those security issues are mounting as utilities use more Internet-based communications and software to control the grid through smart-grid technology.

CNET: Report: Spies hacked into U.S. electricity grid

© 2024 Technoccult

Theme by Anders NorénUp ↑