Infracity NY

The problem with ideas you get in the shower is that real-world impracticalities and such scupper any chance of acting on so many of them before you’re even quite fully towelled off. Given the magnitude of the commitment involved in realizing this particular brainstorm, I’d sure like to get a sense of what people think before proceeding any further with it:

How interested would you be in a one-day event focused on the infrastructure of New York City, in every sense of that word?

We’d be exploring the hidden, the latent and undernoticed systems that undergird our experience of New York, from the geological and biological to the technical to the human. I’d want to get people from Con Ed, the MTA, and 311, of course, but also representatives from the New-York Historical Society, the American Museum of Natural History, the Lower East Side Tenement Museum. Maybe get graffiti artists, the Infiltration folks or Miru Kim to talk about their experiences down in the subway tunnels and switchyards.

I’m willing to bet this would be hella fun, not just because I know there are infra geeks galore in my extended friendship network – the Flickr group on Urban Markup Language is only one salient example – and not merely because it’d help me with important aspects of research for The City Is Here For You To Use. It’d also address, in part, some of the concerns Mike Migurski’s recently been raising about design conference burnout, and also some of my own boredom with same – I mean, this event would be about something, not more conference-circuit logrolling 2.0 wankery.

Actually, my interest is doing this is so completely overdetermined that it’s hard to suss out just what led to what. It’s also motivated by some of our Urban Computing students’ projects; by Mierle Laderman Ukeles’ work, specifically Touch Sanitation; by Cassidy Curtis’s Graffiti Archaeology. More recently, my reading of Richard Louv’s curious book Last Child in the Woods, and his diagnosis of contemporary society as suffering from “nature-deficit disorder,” have been especially influential: I’m determined to learn more about the ecological underpinnings of this place I call home, learn the names of the trees lining the streets and the species thriving in the river, the park and the sewer.

Perhaps less abstractly, my interest is also driven by infrastructure default events like last month’s steam-pipe explosion and last night’s bridge collapse in Minneapolis: as citizens and voters, we could all stand to learn more about the systems whose smooth functioning daily life of the city is utterly predicated on, and about the patterns of disinvestment that are manifestly putting us at risk.

Anyway, what do you think? Would you attend such a thing? What would you want to see discussed? And how much do you think it’d be reasonable to pay for such an event, assuming it had fairly tasty production values?

22 responses to “Infracity NY”

  1. Abe Burmeister says :


    bonus points if it includes an alleycat race.

    price point, man you need more info, how long is it? weekday or weekend? food? venue (or at least the style of venue)?

    Personally if it’s done right I’d drop a few hundred, but I’d rather it be cheaper and thus more open to a diverse crowd.

  2. Michal Migurski says :

    I’d go, screw production values. Aim for cheap & immediate.

  3. Cassidy Curtis says :

    Any chance this’ll be happening in the next ten days? I’ll be in NYC next week!

  4. speedbird says :

    The next ten *days*? Oh no. Think *next spring*.

  5. Vidiot says :

    Oh, hell yes, I’d be interested.

    Some other thoughts for presenters: Kevin Walsh of Forgotten NY, the area/code folks, mebbe Glowlab or the guy who wrote that book “The Works.” I’ve been fascinated by this stuff ever since reading, as a wee kidlet, David Macaulay’s “Underground.”

    I’d pay up to a couple hundred, I guess, but as other commenters noted I’d rather the production values be less slick and the tickets cheaper. If it succeeds — and I don’t know how it can’t — then you can ramp up on that stuff later.

  6. Michal Migurski says :

    See if Mike Frumin is willing to talk about his work on the TRX line –

  7. Enrique Ramirez says :

    Fantastic idea, Adam!

  8. speedbird says :

    Heh, Vidiot, the dude that wrote the works is a chick.

    Great suggestions, all. You know what I really want to try lining up, though? Tours of Tunnel 3. That would be proper.

  9. Abe Burmeister says :

    Hans Monderman
    Luc Sante
    Massimo Vignelli
    Masamichi Udagawa
    Black Label Bike Club and/or CHUNK 666
    Gabe Morford and Mike Martin
    Steven Johnson
    Robert Neuwirth
    Majora Carter
    Janette Sadik-Khan
    Some one from the NYCHA! (talk about crucial yet overlooked infrastructure)

  10. speedbird says :

    Right on – Luc Sante and the Antenna folks were already on my short list. NYCHA is a great call.

  11. nicolas says :

    seems quite compelling ;)

  12. Christopher Fahey says :

    What an amazing idea, and just look how much depth and interest came together almost instantly. This is far more than a 1-day event.

    Another idea, close to me geographically, is Bob Diamond, who restored the magnificent Atlantic Avenue subway tunnel (which should be a venue for this event) and who has dedicated his life to restoring the Brooklyn trolley system, rail by rail, car by car.

    Also, I’d love to see the legendary pneumatic tubes that run up and down Manhattan.

  13. sevensixfive says :

    I <3 Infrastructure

    (don’t forget Brian Hayes)

  14. Vidiot says :

    urp, my mistake. Serves me right for thinking of infrastructure as a typically guy topic.

    and if you’d like any help with this conference thing, let me know.

  15. speedbird says :

    Willdo. : . )

  16. paperpest says :

    I’ve been surprised at how indifferent the media have been about the steam pipe explosion. We still have no answers about what happened, the condition of the rest of the steam pipe. Our mayor seems to have retired. He expresses no indignation about a main Manhattan thoroughfare being closed. He cares nothing for the businesses and the jobs they provide being destroyed.

  17. speedbird says :

    Maybe we shouldn’t bother inviting him to our event, then, huh?

  18. peterme says :

    Sounds interesting. I’m trying to infuse NYC-ness in IDEA (311, The Taxi Project, work from Jake Barton and Sylvia Harris), but it’s pretty catch as catch-can. If you could make it such that by the end of the day, there’s a summation that leads to a heightened understanding, that could be quite powerful.

  19. Cassidy says :

    Just remembered another link that might be of interest to you: Pruned blog.

  20. Eric Rodenbeck says :

    try and keep me away, sucka

  21. Tanya says :

    Here’s a few people I’ve heard speak that you might be interested in:
    Patricia Culligan (gave a talk on The Future of New York City’s Water Infrastructure in a class I took at Columbia: Science &Technology in the Urban Environment )

    Amanda Sutphin, Director of Archaeology for The City of New York

    Kenneth T. Jackson (a prof. at Columbia) is, of course, a fantastic speaker on all things NYC

  22. Abe Burmeister says :

    the media still can amaze me sometimes. One bridge collapse and suddenly ‘aging infrastructure’ is the meme du jour:;_ylt=Ag9DFUs.qUe6ASqvbAXEynME1vAI

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