Why we need a theoretical approach to infrastructure and public space

Why we need a theoretical approach to infrastructure and public space—

Infrastructure dominates contemporary cities. So far so obvious: roads, energy transmission lines, railways, goods distribution sites, telecommunications exchanges, water reticulation, air-conditioning—we’re hemmed in by infrastructure. We can’t dig without hitting a pipe or a cable, and interrupting the flow of traffic is considered a serious breach of civic ettiquette, even an act of civil disobedience. This becomes even more evident when we look at the city from an aerial perspective, revealing how much of the city’s land-use is given to infrastructure. Vast tracts of land are devoted to these networks, and the hubs of these networks: sewage treatment plants, rail switching yards, data centres, power stations, cable landing stations are typically fenced-off operations comprising entire precincts. Without thinking any deeper, it’s surely clear that a concern for the public space of the city must necessarily take account of this infrastructural condition. But, in my view, a more rigorous theoretical view of infrastructure as a fundamental ordering principle of the urban would leave us deeply concerned about the nature of public space, and how our space, time, human and nonhuman relationships are being constructed.

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