Working the same side of the street
If you’re interesting in catching a strong flavor of The City Is Here For You To Use – and I understand from the feedback I’ve received after last Friday’s New Museum talk that there are a lot of you of whom this could fairly be said – you couldn’t do much better than to check out Dan Hill’s megapost “The Street As Platform.”
It’s an almost uncanny prefiguration of the book’s themes, from new forms of interdictory space, to the importance of read/write APIs in public objects, to the pivotal (and not always salutary) role of the Californian ideology in shaping informatics-mediated experiences. You’ll also find, in addition, considerations of one or two things that I won’t be dealing with – Dan’s much stronger on transmedia and new media-consumption patterns than I am, and I don’t share his interest in issues of sustainability (long story), so he’s really to go-to guy on these issues as they play out in the urban-informatic context.
If you’ve been reading Speedbird for awhile, of course, none of this is likely to come as a 2×4 to the head, but if you’re newly considering this domain, Dan’s piece is an excellent place to start.
Thanks AG. Much appreciated. Good to see your recent piece up too.
As for sustainability, I just think that’s an unavoidable concern if you deal with buildings. But how it’s articulated is another matter, and I hope we’re beyond seeing it as a separate facet of any kind of process or structure, and just consider that it should be covered as – in the words of architect Andrew Maynard – it’s just doing things in the right way. So I wouldn’t want to call it out as a unique feature of the work, or anything. Just an intrinsic quality to any project, which can be tackled in numerous ways, moreover.
I guess it might also be to do with living on the necklace of coastal cities in south-east Australia, where the effects of climate change are far more evident, even visceral, than in the northern hemisphere (Arctic excepted).
Actually, Dan, my reservations about sustainability run a lot deeper. My feelings on the matter are – I don’t know quite how to say this – external to the emerging consensus?
Like, if we were having this conversation in 1976, I’d fully, but-fully, endorse Maynard’s viewpoint. In 1976 there was still time to do something meaningful, and maybe even decisive.
But we here in the US chose to mock Jimmy Carter for his corny-ass cardigans and solar panels on the roof instead of attending to what he was trying to tell us – Jimmy Carter and everyone else who already understood what was bearing down on us. (I scared myself crapless as a nine-year-old reading Arthur Herzog’s global-warming potboiler Heat, and that was 1977. If even a pulp novelist saw the writing on the wall…) And China took the path that it did, and India, and Brazil. You know the story.
I actually think we’re irreversibly past the threshold of Big Bad now, and global warming is only a part of the reason why. What’s happening with the oceanic food chain, in particular, strikes this non-scientist as if it’s only partially down to warming; certainly the environmental estrogens and the soil fertility issues have nothing directly to do with carbon emissions.
In fact, I don’t even think we’ll be in a position to do much to mitigate the damage. In this light, “sustainability” feels a little foolish and beside the point to me. (This is obviously a purely personal opinion and does not in the slightest reflect the point of view of my partners, collaborators, potential future employers, etc.)
Because I’d obviously rather this turned out not to be the case, I’ll still act as if I thought there’ll be some human civilization on the planet above the level of hunter-gatherer packs in a hundred years’ time. (Nurri and I are committed to printing The City in an ecologically-sensitive manner, for example.) But I won’t truly, way down deep where it counts, believe it. I just can’t lie to myself like that.
Sure. And agreed it’s wider than climate change, of course, folding in ‘mining’ as portrayed in ‘Collapse’, amongst many other things (again my choice of Australia covers many such bases, not just warming, sadly).
And I also wouldn’t rule out us needing the kind of bold and slightly insane moves suggested by the likes of David Keith, and the ‘injecting huge cloud of ash into the atmosphere to deflect the sun’ school of self-preservation. But I also don’t think things are irreversible, as you say. That may be just my naive optimism – yet I don’t think so. (Either way, as you well know, it’s essentially impossible to argue with a pessimistic viewpoint as just espoused. I can’t *prove* it wrong, and I wouldn’t take any great delight in doing so even if I could!)
I think the point is actually to behave in the right way now, irrespective of whether there’ll be some human civilisation on the planet in a hundred years’ time. They shouldn’t have to be related.
I say this as I’m more interested in building The City and reinforcing the civil or civic above all i.e. reinforce density rather than sprawl, mass transit rather than private, urban rather than rural, and so on. Because they all play to a more fundamental civic value. If that happens to be sustainable as a side-effect – which it should – then good. And if that works, alongside bold scientific, financial and political experimentation, in building, industry and other things, then good too. I’m certainly not advocating the sustainability that involves eating mung beans and wearing the same jumper all year. Equally, I know that advocating little glowing boxes that tell you your real-time energy consumption is really not the battle to be fighting in the long run, believe me. I’m interested in what we can really work out in terms of that meaningful civic relationship between an individual and their environment, their environment being the city.
Well, and in that we agree 1000%.
I’ll confess that my motivation, in the end, is mostly selfish: density rather than sprawl, mass transit rather than private, urban rather than rural and participation rather than spectation, because these choices lead to a far more vivid life. More glamorous, in the perverse way that I construct glamor, “greater” somehow. Simply more fun.