29 December 2011

the networked city and geographic blogging projects

An AT&T cellular antenna bordering the Hawthorne Cultural Center's playground on one side and a residential neighborhood on the other at South 13th St. and Carpenter St. in South Philadelphia.

Everyday Structures was recently mentioned on Mammoth, an architecture/landscape/infrastructure blog that I would consider a a key contributor to the emerging dialogue that seeks to examine anew our networked, crowded, polluted, amazing and always-changing landscape. I wanted to acknowledge how rewarding it is to receive mention from a blog I have followed for the last few years, and to address some of the points raised in Mammoth's post about this blog.

Rob Holmes writes at Mammoth:
In a recent conversation with a couple other landscape architects, I noted that I think geographers are, in many ways, doing a better job of conceptualizing landscape than landscape architects, particularly with relation to infrastructural conditions in the networked city — Wiig’s blog is an excellent example of that.
This is an on point observation because one of the reasons I started this blog was to address these issues. The sphere of architecture blogging that has become prominent, such as Bldgblog, City of Sound, Mammoth itself, Kazys Varnelis's blog, Pruned, Infranet Lab and even newer additions such as Urban Omnibus and Polis come more from an architecture and design focus. This is in no way a bad way to approach the contemporary landscape, but there are other ways to do so. My interest has been in the relationships that emerge when you mix together old and new spaces, and more-so, in the spaces of the infrastructural systems that support our contemporary, networked landscape. There are some people doing similar work that I really enjoy, such as Friends of the Pleistocene and Necessity for Ruins, and even a Geography professor blogging at Cosmopolis, Matthew Gandy, whose work has been instrumental to my scholarship (I also need to mention the Center for Land Use Interpretation as a key contributor to my way of seeing infrastructure and the networked city). But there is always room for new voices as well as the need for geographic investigations to step away from the traditional means of publishing in academic journals. I see the geography of the networked city as one where proximity and distance are mediated through wireless, ubiquitous technological devices such as mobile phones, where space is interspersed with hertzian flows of communicative information that may be invisible to the human eye, but are still locatable in the infrastructural components that produce and maintain these flows.

The geography of the networked city is at base its infrastructure--the systems that maintain the flows of people, goods, and information across a constantly shifting landscape, what Kazys Varnelis termed the 'networked ecologies' of our cities. Varnelis defines 'networked ecologies as:
a series of codependent systems of environmental mitigation, land-use organization, communication and service delivery…[These infrastructures] are networked, hypercomplex systems produced by technology, laws, political pressures, disciplinary desires, environmental constraints and a myriad other pressures, tied together with feedback mechanisms. Networked ecologies embody the dominant form of organization today, the network, but these networks can be telematic, physical, or even social. (from the introduction to The Infrastructural City, page 15)   
Mammoth organized and contributed to a bloggers' reading group based around the most complete guide to the networked city thus far: The Infrastructural City: Networked Ecologies in Los Angeles, which Varnelis edited. As Rob Holmes points out above, Everyday Structures is an attempt to continue this investigation into the landscape of the networked city, into the mix of natural and cultural, infrastructural backgrounds and the foregrounded built environment of cities today.

The Infrastructural City is an overview that leaves open the need to continue these discussions, as well to add to the subjects covered. There are many new geographies emerging out of (or into?) the networked city, relationships layered among industrial technologies of the modern city, the suburban and rural spaces scattered about, and the natural environment that still underlies everything else, even in the networked city. With the holiday lull between semesters in effect right now, I will get back on track with this blog. I have the time to devote to putting together more writing and photography, to continue tracing the spaces and places that make up the networked city today.

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