Blueprints for a Better 'Burb

The collaborative entry between the Network Architecture Lab and Park for the Build a Better Burb competition is featured in the New York Times today in an article by Alison Arieff titled "Blueprints for a Better 'Burb."

During the first four (!) years of work at the Netlab, I wanted to focus on analysis. This summer, I felt that we were finally ready to undertake design work.

We have the best team yet at the Netlab—Leigha Dennis, Kyle Hovenkotter, Momo Araki, and Alexis Burson were the members who worked on this—and Will Prince, principal of Park, was a great partner. 

Get ready for more. Soon. In the meantime, take a look at revised version of our proposal, either in PDF form here or in the video below. And please vote for us on the site (here).




On Fetishism and the City

After years of hearing that Marxism has nothing to say about the economy,  even that bastion of new economy neoliberalism, Fast Company, is turning to Marxism to make some sense of the mess. In "David Harvey's Urban Manifesto: Down With Suburbia; Down With Bloomberg's New York," Fast Company's Greg Lindsay recounts some of Harvey's recent thinking on the economy and the suburbanization of the city.

My only quibble is that Harvey doesn't give us enough credit when he says (in the admittedly out-of-context quote): "We're all suburbanites now, without knowing it," he said. "We're all neoliberals now, without knowing it."*

I think we know full well. As Octave Mannoni, French Lacanian psychoanalyst, said of fetishism, "I know very well but nevertheless…" And what else is the urban hipster, that contemporary flâneur, but a fetishist? 

*One more quibble: once again, the term suburbanite is not really serving us well anymore. But I'll admit that it is a convenient shorthand. 

The Dangers of Diffusion


I've previously written about the dangers facing cities in the upcoming economic collapse. Even as some "urbanists" are naïvely predicting that city cores will only strengthen during the coming decade as suburbs decline, cities face many hurdles. One is that second cities, both in the US and abroad are subject to a network effect, being left behind by a few more powerful brethren that get all the press. Been to Buffalo, Detroit, Utica, Syracuse, Albany, Newark or Paterson lately? Cities are a basket case.

But let's give equal opportunity to suburbs. Poverty has been dramatically increasing in suburbs during the last two decades. Take this piece on 18 Cities Whose Suburbs Are Rapidly Turning into Slums. Why is this happening? Certainly, in some cases, like New York, the poor are being priced out of cities. Instead of putting on our party hats and kazoos, as many urbanists seem to want, we should ask if this new form of out-of-sight/out-of-mind segregation isn't  evil. But that's not the only reason. 

Certainly part of it is the collapse of the US economy since the late 1960s, but there's more. Take a look at this article by Hanna Rosen from 2008 in the Atlantic Monthly in which she links the diffusion of poverty to government programs to get rid of the projects. As areas of concentrated poverty in cities are undone, poverty diffuses into a broader territory both within suburbs and within second cities (as in the case of Memphis, which is her focus).  

Network City is a complex place, a palimpsest of failed neoliberalist and Fordist policies. Unfortunately it is also not a very happy place, either, once you get past the shiny bits. 


Media for Historians of Architecture

I am delighted to announce that I will be succeeding Beatriz Colomina as the review editor of the media section of the Journal of Society of Architectural Historians.

It will be my charge to edit articles on Web sites, films, software, digital books, databases, and other media at a moment in which my field is undergoing a revolutionary transition. I am in debt to Beatriz for paving the way by creating a stellar review section, to David Brownlee, JSAH editor for inviting me to take part in his journal, and to Dean Wigley for his support in this new endeavor. 

If you are a historian of architecture and you read my blog, please do contact me using the form on the left. This is a most exciting appointment. 

Networked Publics: Publish

I have announced this over at the Netlab site, but I wanted to make sure that the readers of this blog had a chance to see it as well. I'll be blogging about the topic a bit throughout the summer and into next year, so stayed tuned for more. 


The Network Architecture Lab and Domus announce Networked Publics: Publish, an open call for submissions to a new collaborative publication. 

During the last fifteen years architecture and the media have been turned on their head as technologies of production and communication integrated into our daily lives. But instead of the delirious optimism of the last decade, we now also face panic and crisis. The media industry is in flux: as new media rise, old ones are victims of creative destruction. The tools of architectural production, meanwhile, have been thoroughly transformed; yet thanks to technological and legal innovations that made possible the securitization of buildings, architecture faces its greatest economic crisis since the Depression. If we can be certain of anything, it’s that as Karl Marx wrote, "all that is solid melts into air."
We invite brief submissions (under 1,500 words) addressing the consequences of these changes for the architectural community. What are the transformations taking place in the architectural profession, in architectural media, in criticism? How are these transformations interconnected? What do these mean to you? What do they mean to the future of architecture and cities?
We are keenly aware that it is the engagement with precisely these epochal transformations that will define the critical output of our generation, and that the legacy of the previous generation of critics and theorists is no longer able to deliver the kind of thinking necessary to help us address and catalyze these conditions. This publication is intended as forum for debate through which the accepted understanding of the word 'publication' itself can be challenged, redefined, dismantled and rebuilt.  It will polemically frame our context, but it will also constitute a toolbox of ideas that outlines an agenda for criticism in network culture.
Domus, one of the earliest and historically most influential architecture magazines, sets itself as a case study for debate around the role of printed magazines in the contemporary era. If the magazine is no longer spontaneously embraced as a locus for debate, should the permanence of printed matter induce it to serve as a historical register for ideas developed elsewhere, e.g. on the Web (the magazine understood as an archive-in-progress of excellence)? Or, conversely, should it pursue agility, hybridizing across platforms? Does the notion of architectural criticism, understood in conventional terms, bear any relevance today? What forces designate the formal and conceptual frameworks of contemporary built architecture?
There are three ways to submit.
The first way is to send in an abstract by 12 noon, EST June 24 pitching an article on the topic. This should be one brief paragraph on what you would like to write about although if you are inspired enough to submit your entry in full, you may also do so at this time.
An editorial team will meet to review submissions and send feedback to contributors on the 24th. At this meeting we will also discuss the gaps in the publication and post a call for submissions that specifically address such topics. A second way to submit an article is to respond to this call. Abstracts for projects responding to the call for submissions are due on July 2.
Final work for both submission tracks will be due on July 15. 
A third way to submit is to join a conversation over the Internet by tagging a blog or twitter post #netdomus. 
The publication will be available for free download at Domus's Web site. A launch event will be held at Columbia's Studio-X at the end of the summer but this conversation—and publication—will continue for some time to come.  
Contributors may find potential references in Networked Publics, a book published by MIT Press in 2008 and produced in collaboration with the University of Southern California's Annenberg Center for Communication to examine how the social and cultural shifts centering around new technologies have transformed our relationships to (and definitions of) place, culture, politics, and infrastructure. This spring, the Netlab hosted “Discussions on Networked Publics” at Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation's Studio-X Soho facility, exploring the ramifications of these changes to architecture and cities through a set of four panels—culture, place, politics, and infrastructure. Discussions were recorded and are available here.
Please submit your proposals here.   

On Hipster Urbanism

Over at Fantastic Journal, Charles Holland writes about hipster urbanism, comparing the High Line, which turns infrastructure into tourism with the reopening of a train line in east London as…get this: a train line.

Hipster urbanism is hardly rare anymore. A short while back, I enjoyed a stroll on the Walkway Over the Hudson, a former railroad bridge in upstate New York. Near where I live in New Jersey a project is underway for a train line that leads into Hoboken. The idea of building a bike path to the city is laudable. After all, I could get a Brompton and ride to the PATH train and head to Studio-X. But note that not only do trains still use the line, the train company that owns it expects that use will expand in the next few years. So is riding my bike to the city really the best use of the line? Maybe industry is old hat? 

[Walkway over the Hudson]

In the countries once known as the developed world, we've replaced productivity with tourism. This is a prime difference between modernism and its successors, postmodernism and network culture. Few modernists could have understood relinquishing production. Think of Tony Garnier's fabulous Une Cité Industrielle, for example. Today, however, industry plays little role in (formerly) developed economies like the United States or the United Kingdom. In the case of the former, where finance generated roughly 12% of the GDP in 1980 and industry generated around twice that, today the figures are reversed… and this has only been exacerbated by the economic crisis. 

Remember the Roger Rabbit conspiracy theories that General Motors paid to destroy the train system to favor the automobile? It's hardly so simple, but surely as we are heading into a new century, we wouldn't want to exacerbate those mistakes, would we?  


A Chapter on Atemporality

I've put a revised version of the introduction to my book on network culture together with the first chapter—on atemporality—on my site. I hope you'll be as excited to read this material as I am to post it.

I know that I owe my most readers a few words of explanation about why it took over a year to post a chapter that I had initially thought I'd have up within a couple of months.

First, I had the honor of writing a chapter in Networked: A (Networked) Book on (Networked) Art. As part of this project, I agreed that I wouldn't take the material for the chapter and immediately publish it on my own site. That material, like a lot of the research I  did last year requires substantial reworking to fit the book (little of it is in the first chapter…you'll see it later, in the chapter on poetics).

Second, I've thoroughly rethought the book during the intervening year not once but repeatedly. This is hardly a crisis, but rather the way that I—and many historians—write. Revise again and again as you nibble at unformed parts until everything comes together.

Some of you have asked how the revision process works, so I've left the record on the site, just go to the revisions tab for any section and compare the current version with earlier ones. Of all the revisions, the most significant is a new model of historical succession that I find simply works for network culture. Whereas last year I had some uncertainty about just how this book would be a history, the first chapter—which of course is on history—now makes my strategy of relying on Michel Foucault and Jeffrey Nealon's model of intensification emphatically clear.

Speaking of revisions, make no mistake, there are plenty of rough patches in these chapters. This is, after all, a draft. Don't  read it if you want a finished product. But also don't think you should hold back on your commentary. Whether at Networked or at the other ventures including this one, networked books have largely failed at generating comments. Don't let that stop you. If you see a problem in the text call me out on it wherever you feel appropriate. The more that I can draw on the massive collective intelligence of my readership, the better this project wil be.   

While I'm on the topic of collective intelligence… This first chapter owes much to a dialogue that Bruce Sterling and I have maintained between our blogs (take, for example, Bruce’s discussion of atemporality in his keynote address at Transmediale this year) and on Twitter with many of you. All of the kind attention that this dialogue brought during the first few months of the year makes me think that my attempt to write a history of atemporality is both timely and untimely (in Nietzsche’s sense).

Finally, a word about the book title. It's very much in flux now, but I'm thinking it might be "Life After Networks: A Critical History of Network Culture."   

Network City 2010

Today marks the start of the tenth year of Network City. This may be my favorite course.


Network City
Kazys Varnelis, Ph.D. []
Avery 115, Tuesdays 11-1
“Cities are communications systems.” – Ronald Abler
This course fulfills the Urban Society M.Arch distributional requirement.
Network City explores how urban areas have developed as ecosystems of competing networks since the late nineteenth century.
Networks of capital, transportation infrastructures, and telecommunications systems centralize cities while dispersing them into larger posturban fields such as the Northeastern seaboard or Southern California. Linked together through networks, today such cities form the core of global capital, producing the geography of flows that structures economies and societies today.
Networks, infrastructures, and property values are the products of historical development. To this end, the first half of the course surveys the development of urbanization since the emergence of the modern network city in the late nineteenth century while the second half focuses on conditions in contemporary urbanism.
A fundamental thesis of the course is that buildings too, function as networks. We will consider the demands of cities and economies together with technological and social networks on program, envelope, and plan, particularly in the office building, the site of consumption, and the individual dwelling unit. In addition we will look at the fraught relationship between signature architecture (the so-called Bilbao-effect) and the contemporary city.
Throughout the course, we will explore the growth of both city and suburbia (and more recently postsuburbia and exurbia) not as separate and opposed phenomena but rather as intrinsically related. Although the material in the course is applicable globally, our focus will be on the development of the American city, in particular, New York, Chicago, Boston, and Los Angeles.
Each class will juxtapose classic readings by sociologists, urban planners, and architects with more contemporary material. Readings will be available online.

The term project will be one chapter within a research book, exploring one architectural, infrastructural, or urbanistic component of the Network City.
Material should not be formulated into a traditional research paper, but rather assembled as a dossier of information that tells a story through the designed and composed sequence of images and texts lead by an analytical narrative you have written yourself.
Design is integral to the term project. All work is to be carefully proofread and fact checked.
Citations are required, using the Chicago humanities footnote method. Please ensure that all images are properly credited.
The book will be designed simultaneously as a printed, bound object and for the Netlab web site. A layout grid will be provided.
Plagiarism of any sort will result in immediate failure. Exemplary books are at
A Brief Bibliography of Books regarding Design and Presentation
Kimberley Elam, Grid Systems: Principles of Organizing Type (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2004).
Allen Hurlburt, The Grid: A Modular System for the Design and Production of Newspapers, Magazines, and Books (New York: Van Norstand Reinhold, 1978).
Al Gore, An Inconvenient Truth. The Planetary Emergence of Global Warming and What We Can Do About It (New York: Rodale, 2006).
Enric Jardí, Twenty-Tips on Typography (Barcelona: ACTAR, 2007).
Josef Muller-Brockmann, Grid Systems in Graphic Design (Zurich: Niggli, 2001)
Robert Sumrell, Superbrutalism: An Architecture for Muzak,
Timothy Samar, Making and Breaking the Grid. A Graphic Design Layout Workshop (Beverly, MA: Rockport, 2002).
Tomato, Bareback: A Tomato Project (Corte Madera, CA: Gingko Press,1999).
Discussions on Networked Publics
Students are asked to attend the Discussions on Networked Publics series, taking place this semester at Columbia’s Studio-X on February 9, March 25, April 13, and May 4.
These panels examine how the social and cultural shifts centering around new technologies have transformed our relationships to (and definitions of) place, culture, politics, and infrastructure. Our goal will be to come to an understanding of the changes in culture and society and how architects, designers, historians, and critics might work through this milieu.

* denotes classic reading that demands special attention.

Introduction: Towards Network City
The First Network Cities
* Ronald F. Abler “What Makes Cities Important,” Bell Telephone Magazine, March/April. (1970), 10-15.
Robert M. Fogelson, “The Business District: Downtown in the Late Nineteenth Century,” Downtown: Its Rise and Fall, 1880-1950, (New Haven: Yale, 2001), 9-42.
Anne Querrien, “The Metropolis and the Capital,” Zone 1/2 (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1986), 219-221
The Metropolitan Subject
* Georg Simmel, “The Metropolis and Mental Life,” On Individuality and Social Forms, ed. David Levine, ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971), 324-339.
* Ernest W. Burgess, “The Growth of the City: An Introduction to a Research Project,” The City: Suggestions for Investigation of Human Behavior in the Urban Environment, ed.Robert E. Park and Ernest W. Burgess (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1925), 47-62.
* Louis Wirth, “Urbanism as a Way of Life,” In American Journal of Sociology 44, July 1938, 1-24.
* Michel Foucault, “Docile Bodies,” Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. (New York: Vintage Books, 1995), 135-156.
Gilles Deleuze, “Postscript on Societies of Control,” October 59 (Winter 1992), 73-77.
Office Building as Corporate Machine
Special Presentation by Michael Kubo, MIT on the RAND Corporation
* William H. Whyte, “Introduction” and “A Generation of Bureaucrats,” The Organization Man, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1956), 3-13 and 63-78.
* Norbert Wiener, “What is Cybernetics?” The Human Use of Human Beings (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1950), 1-19.
* John D. Williams, “Comments on the RAND Building Program,” memorandum to RAND Staff, December 26, 1960 (RAND M-4251).
Abalos and Herreros, “The Evolution of Space Planning in the Workplace.”Tower and Office: From Modernist Theory to Contemporary Practice (Cambridge: Buell Center/Columbia Book of Architecture/The MIT Press, 2005),177-196. (first half of chapter)
Reinhold Martin, “The Physiognomy of the Office,” The Organizational Complex, (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2003), 80-105, 114-121.
The Return of the Center
* Jane Jacobs, “Introduction,” The Death and Life of Great American Cities (New York: Vintage Books, 1961), 2-25.
* Rem Koolhaas, “’Life in the Metropolis’ or ‘The Culture of Congestion,’” Architectural Design 47 (August 1977), 319-325.
* Sharon Zukin, “Living Lofts as Terrain and Market” and “The Creation of a ‘Loft Lifestyle” in Loft Living (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1982), 1-22, 58-81.
Richard Florida, “The Transformation of Everyday Life” and “The Creative Class,’ in The Rise of the Creative Class (New York: Basic Books, 2002), 1–17, 67–82.
David Harvey, “The Constructing of Consent,” A Brief History of Neo-Liberalism (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2005), 39-63.
Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron, “The Californian Ideology,”
Bert Mulder, “The Creative City or Redesigning Society,” and Justin O’Connor, “Popular Culture, Reflexivity and Urban Change in Jan Verwijnen and Panu Lehtovuori, eds, Creative Cities. Cultural Industries, Urban Development and the Information Society, (Helsinki: UIAH Publications, 1999), 60-75, 76-100.
Dan Graham, “Gordon Matta-Clark” in Gordon Matta-Clark (Marseilles: Musées de Marseilles, 1993), 378-380.
Spring Recess
The Global City and the New Centrality
* Saskia Sassen, “On Concentration and Centrality in the Global City,” Paul L. Knox and Peter J. Taylor, eds., World Cities in a World-System (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 63-78.
* Ignasi Sola-Morales, “Terrain Vague”, in Anyplace (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1995), 118-123.
* Castells “The Space of Flows,” The Rise of the Network Society, 407-459.
Sze Tsung Leong, “Readings of the Attenuated Landscape,” Michael Bell and Sze Tsung Leong, eds., Slow Space (New York: The Monacelli Press, 1998), 186-213.
Martin Pawley, “From Postmodernism to Terrorism,” Terminal Architecture, 132-154.
The Clustered Field: Postsuburbia to Edgeless Cities and Beyond
* Robert Fishman, “Beyond Suburbia: The Rise of the Technoburb,” Bourgeois Utopias: The Rise and Fall of Suburbia (New York: Basic Books, 1987), 182-208.
Rob Kling, Spencer Olin, and Mark Poster, “Beyond the Edge: The Dynamism of Postsuburban Regions,” and “The Emergence of Postsuburbia: An Introduction,” Rob Kling, Spencer Olin, and Mark Poster, eds. Postsuburban California: The Transformation of Orange County (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), vii-xx, 1-30.
Selections from Michael J. Weiss, The Clustered World: How We Live, What We Buy, and What it All Means About Who We Are (New York: Little, Brown, and Company, 1999).
Robert E. Lang and Jennifer LeFurgy, “Edgeless Cities: Examining the Noncentered Metropolis,” Housing Policy Debate 14 (2003): 427-460.
The Tourist City
* Robert D. Putnam, “Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital.” Journal of Democracy 6 (1995): 65-78
* Melvin M. Weber, “Order in Diversity: Community Without Propinquity,” Cities and Space: The Future of Urban Land, ed. Lowden Wingo, Jr. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1963), 23.
Wolfgang Scheppe, Migropolis :Venice / Atlas of a Global Situation (Berlin: Hatje Cantz, 2009), excerpts.
Paul Goldberger, “The Malling of Manhattan.” Metropolis (March 2001), [134]-139, 179.-
Bill Bishop, “The Power of Place,” The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2008), 19-80.
Kazys Varnelis, “The Centripetal City: Telecommunications, the Internet, and the Shaping of the Modern Urban Environment,” Cabinet Magazine 17.
Mitchell L. Moss and Anthony M. Townsend, “How Telecommunications Systems are Transforming Urban Spaces,” James O. Wheeler, Yuko Aoyama, and Barney Warf, eds., Cities in the Telecommunications Age: The Fracturing of Geographies (New York: Routledge, 2000), 31-41.


The Decade Ahead

It's time for my promised set of predictions for the coming decade. It has been a transgression of disciplinary norms for historians to predict the future, but its also quite common among bloggers. So let's treat this as a blogosphere game, nothing more. It'll be interesting to see just how wildly wrong I am a decade from now.

In many respects, the next decade is likely to seem like a hangover after the party of the 2000s (yes, I said party). The good times of the boom were little more than a lie perpetrated by finance, utterly ungrounded in any economy reality, and were not based on any sustainable economic thought. Honestly, it's unclear to me how much players like Alan Greenspan, Ben Bernanke, Hank Paulson, and Larry Summers were duplicitous and how much they were just duped. Perhaps they thought they would get out in time or drop dead before the bubbly stopped flowing. Or maybe they were just stupid. Either way, we start a decade with national and global economies in ruins. A generation that grew up believing that the world was their oyster is now faced with the same reality that my generation knew growing up: that we would likely be worse off than our parents. I see little to correct this condition and much to be worried about.

Gopal Balakshrishan predicts that the future global economy will be a stationary state, a long-term stagnation akin to that which we experienced in the 1970s and 1980s. China will start slowing. The United States, EU, the Mideast and East Asia will all make up a low growth block, a slowly decaying imperium. India, together with parts of Africa and South America, will be on the rise. To be clear: the very worst thing that could happen is that we would see otherwise. If another bubble forms—in carbon trading or infrastructure for example—watch out. Under network culture, capitalism and finance have parted ways. Hardt and Negri are right: our economy is immaterial now, but that immateriality is not the immateriality of Apple Computer, Google, or Facebook, it's the immateriality of Goldman Sachs and AIG. Whereas under traditional forms of capitalism the stock market was meant to produce returns on investment, a relationship summed up in Marx's equation M-C-M' (where M is money, C is a commodity produced with the money, and M' is money plus surplus value), the financial market now seems to operate under the scheme of M-M' (see Jeffrey Nealon's brilliant Foucault Beyond Foucault). Surplus value is the product of speculation.

There's every chance that I have little idea to what lengths the financial powers will go to continue this condition. After all, I would have said that we should have had a lengthy recession following the boom and we didn't. Still, the Dow Jones, NASDAQ, house prices (measured in real dollars), and salaries all went down over the course of the decade, so it's plausible to say that for the most part, the economy was a shambles.

Climate change will become more widely accepted as corporations realize that it can lead to consumption and profits when little else can. If we are unlucky, the green "movement" will become a boom. We will finally realize that peak oil has past, perhaps around 2006. Climate change will be very real. It will not be as apocalyptic as some have predicted, but major changes will be in the works. We should expect more major natural disasters, including a tragic toll on human life.   

Populations will be aging worldwide during the next decade and baby boomers will be pulling more money out of their retirement accounts to cover their expenses. At the same time, younger people will find it harder to get a job as the de facto retirement age rises well into the seventies, even the eighties. A greater divide will open up between three classes. At the top, the super-rich will continue controlling national policies and will have the luxury of living in late Roman splendor. A new "upper middle" class will emerge among those who were lucky enough to accumulate some serious cash during the glory days. Below that will come the masses, impossibly in debt from credit cards, college educations, medical bills and nursing home bills for their parents but unable to find jobs that can do anything to pull them out of the mire. The rifts between all three classes will grow, but it's the one between the upper middle class (notice there is no lower middle class anymore) and the new proles that will be the greatest. This is where social unrest will come from, but right now it seems more likely to be from the Right than the Left. Still, there's always hope.

Speaking of hope, if things go right, governments will turn away from get-rich-quick schemes like "creative cities" or speculative financial schemes and instead find ways to build long-term strategies for resurrecting manufacturing. It will be a painful period of restructuring for the creative industries. Old media, the arts, finance, law, advertising, and so on will suffer greatly. Digital media will continue to be a relatively smart choice for a career, even as it becomes more mainstreamed into other professions. For example, it will become as common in schools of architecture to study the design of media environments as it is now to study housing. We will see a rise of cottage industries in developing nations as individuals in their garages will realize that they can produce things with the means of production at hand. Think of eBay and Etsy, but on a greater scale. National health insurance in the US will help in this respect, as it will remove individuals from the need to work for large corporations. But all will not be roses in the world of desktop manufacture. Toxicity caused by garage operations will be a matter of contention in many communities.

Some cities are simply doomed, but if we're lucky, some leaders will turn to intelligent ways of dealing with this condition. To me, the idea of building the world's largest urban farm in Detroit sounds smart. Look for some of these cities—Buffalo maybe?—to follow Berlin's path and become some of the most interesting places to live in the country. If artists and bohemians are finding it impossible to live in places like New York, San Francisco or Los Angeles anymore, they may well turn elsewhere, to the boon of cities formerly in decline. The hippest places to live will no longer be New York or Los Angeles or San Francisco. The move toward smaller cities—remember Athens, Georgia, Austin, Texas and Seattle?—will explode in this decade as the over-capitalized major cities will face crises. But to be clear, this is an inversion from the model of the creative city. These cities will not see real estate values increase greatly. The new classes populating them will not be rich, but rather will turn to a of new DIY bohemianism, cultivating gardens, joining with neighbors communally and building vibrant cultural scenes.

With the death of creative cities, planners will also have to turn toward regions. As jobs continue to empty out, city cores will also see a decline in their fortunes. Eventually, this may resurrect places like New York and San Francisco as interesting places to live in again, but for now, it will cause a crisis. Smart city leaders will form alliances with heads of suburban communities to force greater regional planning than ever before. This will be the decade of the suburbs. We began the last decade with over 50% of the world's population living in urban areas. I predict that by the end of the next decade over 50% of the world's population will live in suburban areas. This isn't just Westchester and Rancho Palos Verdes but rather Garfield, New Jersey and East Los Angeles. Worldwide, it will include the banlieues and the shantytowns. Ending the anti-suburban rhetoric is critical for planners. Instead, we'll be asking how to make suburbs better while boosting the city core. Suburbs may become the models for cities as the focus turns toward devolving government toward local levels, even as tax revenue will be shared across broad regions.

Urban farming will come to the fore and community-supported agriculture will become widespread. This won't just be a movement among the hipster rich. It will spread to the immigrant poor who will realize that they can eat better, healthier, and cheaper by working with members of their immigrant community running farms inside and outside the city instead of shopping at the local supermarket. A few smart mayors will realize that cities in decline need community gardens and these will thrive. The rising cost of long-distance transportation due to the continued decline of infrastructure and peak oil will go a long way toward fostering this new localism.

The divisions in politics will grow. By the end of the decade, the polarization within countries will drive toward hyper-localism. Nonpartisan commissions will study the devolution of power to local governments in areas of education, individual rights (abortion will be illegal in many states, guns in many others), the environment, and so on. In many states gay rights will become accepted, in others, homosexuality may become illegal again. Slowly talk will start on both sides about the US moving toward the model of the EU. Conservatives may drive this initially and the Left will pick it up. In that case, I'm moving to Vermont, no question.

Architects will turn away from starchitecture. Thoughtful books, videos, and Web sites on the field will grow. Parametric modeling will go urban, looking toward GIS. Some of those results will be worth talking about. Responsive architecture will become accepted into the profession as will the idea of architects incorporating interfaces—and interface design—into their work.

In technology, the introduction of the Apple iSlate will make a huge difference in how we view tablets. It will not save media, but it will allow us to interface with it in a new way. eBooks will take hold, as will eBook piracy. Apple itself will suffer as its attempts to make the iSlate a closed platform like the iPhone will lead first to hacks and later to a successful challenge on the basis of unfair restraint of trade. A few years after the introduction of the iSlate, an interface between tablets and keyboards will essentially replace notebook computers. Wine will advance to such a point that the distinction between operating systems will begin to blur. In a move that will initially seem puzzling but will then be brilliant, Microsoft will embrace Wine and encourage its production. By the end of the decade, operating systems will be mere flavors.

The Internet of Things will take hold. An open-source based interface will be the default for televisions, refrigerators, cars and so on. Geolocative, augmented-reality games will become popular. Kevin Slavin will be the Time Web site's Man of the Year in 2018. As mobile network usage continues to grow, network neutrality will become more of an issue until a challenger (maybe Google, maybe not) comes to the scene with a huge amount of bandwidth at its disposal. Fears about Google will rise and by the end of the decade, antitrust hearings will be well-advanced.

We will see substantive steps toward artificial intelligence during the decade. HAL won't be talking to us yet, but the advances in computation will make the technology of 2019 seem far, far ahead of where it is now. The laws of physics will take a toll on Moore's Law, slowing the rate of advance but programmers will turn back toward more elegant, efficient code to get more out of existing hardware.

Manned spaceflight will end in the United States, but the EU, China, and Russia will continue to run the International Space Station, even after one or two life- and station-threatening crises onboard. Eventually there will be a world space consortium established, even as commercial suborbital flights go up a few dozen times a year and unmanned probes to Pluto, Mars, Venus and Europa deliver fantastic results. Earth-like planets will be found in other solar systems and there will be tantalizing hints of microscopic life elsewhere in the solar system even as the mystery of why we have found nobody else in the universe grows.

Toward the end of the decade, there will be signs of the end of network culture. It'll have had a good run of 30 years: the length of one generation. It's at that stage that everything solid will melt into air again, but just how, I have no idea.

As I stated at the outset, this is just a game on the blogosphere, something fun to do after a day of skiing with the family. Do pitch in and offer your own suggestions. I'm eager to hear them.

A Decade in Retrospect

Never mind that the decade really ends in a little over a year, it's time to take stock of it. Today's post looks back at the decade just past while tomorrow's will look at the decade to come.

As I observed before, this decade is marked by atemporality. The greatest symptom of this is our inability to name the decade and, although commentators have tried to dub it the naughties, the aughts, and the 00s (is that pronounced the ooze?), the decade remains, as Paul Krugman suggests, a Big Zero, and we are unable to periodize it. This is not just a matter of linguistic discomfort, its a reflection of the atemporality of network culture. Jean Baudrillard is proved right. History, it seems, came to an end with the millennium, which was a countdown not only to the end of a millennium but also to the end of meaning itself. Perhaps, the Daily Miltonian suggested, we didn't have a name for the decade because it was so bad.

Still, I suspect that we historians are to blame. After Karl Popper and Jean-François Lyotard's condemnation of master narratives, periodizing—or even making broad generalizations about culture—has become deeply suspect for us. Instead, we stick with microhistories on obscure topics while continuing our debates about past periods, damning ourselves into irrelevance. But as I argue in the book that I am currently writing, this has led critical history to a sort of theoretical impasse, reducing it to antiquarianism and removing it from a vital role in understanding contemporary culture. Or rather, history flatlined (as Lewis Lapham predicted), leaving even postmodern pastiche behind for a continuous field in which anything could co-exist with anything else.

Instead of seeing theory consolidate itself, we saw the rise of network theory (a loose amalgam of ideas from the theories of mathematicians like Duncan Watts to journalists like Adam Gopnik) and post-criticism. At times, I felt like I was a lone (or nearly lone) voice against the madding crowd in all this, but times are changing rapidly. Architects and others are finally realizing that the post-critical delirium was an empty delusion. The decade's economic boom, however, had something of the effect of a war on thought. The trend in the humanities is no longer to produce critical theory, it's to get a grant to produce marketable educational software. More than ever, universities are capitalized. The wars on culture are long gone as the Right turned away from this straw man and the university began serving the culture of networked-enduced cool that Alan Liu has written about. The alienated self gave way to what Brian Holmes called the flexible personality. If blogs sometimes questioned this, Geert Lovink pointed out that the questioning was more nihilism than anything else.

But back to the turn of the millennium. This wasn't so much marked by possibility as by delirium. The boom, the success of the partnership between Thomas Krens and Frank Gehry at the Guggenheim Bilbao, and the emergence of the creative cities movement established the themes for this decade. On March 12, 2000, the tech-heavy NASDAQ index peaked at 4069, twice its value the year before. In the six days following March 16, the index fell by nine percent and it was not through falling until it reached 1114 in August, 2003. If the delirium was revealed, the Bush administration and the Federal Reserve found a tactic to forestall the much-needed correction. Under pretext of striving to avoid full-scale collapse after 9/11, they set out to create artificially low interest rates, deliberately inflating a new bubble. Whether they deliberately understood the consequences of their actions or found themselves unable to stop it, the results were predictable: the second new economy in a decade turned out to be the second bubble in a decade. If, for the most part, tech was calmer, architecture had become infected, virtualized and sucked into the network not to build the corporate data arcologies predicted by William Gibson but as the justification for a highly complex set of financial instruments that seemed to be crafted so as to be impossible to understand by those crafting them. The Dow ended the decade lower than it started, even as national debt doubled. I highly recommend Kevin Phillips book Bad Money: Reckless Finance, Failed Politics, and the Global Crisis of American Capitalism to anyone interested in trying to understand this situation. It's invaluable.

This situation is unlikely to change soon. The crisis was one created by over-accumulation of capital and a long-term slowdown in the economies of developed nations. Here, Robert Brenner's the Economics of Global Turbulence can help my readers map the situation. To say that I'm pessimistic about the next decade is putting it lightly. The powers that be had a critical opportunity to rethink the economy, the environment, and architecture. We have not only failed on all these counts, we have failed egregiously.

It was hardly plausible that the Bush administration would set out to right any of these wrongs, but after the bad years of the Clinton administration, when welfare was dismantled and the Democrats veered to the Right, it seemed unlikely that a Republican presidency could be that much worse. If the Bush administration accomplished anything, they accomplished that, turning into the worst presidency in history. In his review of the decade, Wendell Barry writes "This was a decade during which a man with the equivalent of a sixth grade education appeared to run the Western World." If 9/11 was horrific, the administration's response—most notably the disastrous invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, alliances with shifty regimes such as Pakistan, and the turn to torture and extraordinary rendition—ensured that the US would be an enemy for many for years to come. By 2004, it was embarrassing for many of us to be American. While I actively thought of leaving, my concerns about the Irish real estate market—later revealed as well-founded—kept me from doing so. Sadly, the first year of the Obama administration, in which he kept in place some of the worst policies and personnel of the Bush administration's policy, received a Nobel peace prize for little more than inspiring hope, and surrounded himself with the very same sorts of financiers that caused the economic collapse in the first place proved the Democrats were hopeless. No Republican could have done as much damage to the Democratic party as their own bumbling leader and deluded strategists did. A historical opportunity has been lost to history. 

Time ended by calling it "the worst decade ever."

For its part, architecture blew it handily. Our field has been in crisis since modernism. More than ever before, architects abandoned ideology for the lottery world of starchitecture. The blame for this has to be laid with the collusive system between architects, critics, developers, museum directors and academics, many of whom were happy as long as they could sit at a table with Frank Gehry or Miuccia Prada. This system failed and failed spectacularly. Little of value was produced in architecture, writing, or history.

Architecture theory also fell victim to post-criticism, its advocates too busy being cool and smooth to offer anything of substance in return. Perhaps the most influential texts for me in this decade were three from the last one: Deleuze's Postscript on the Society of Control, Koolhaas's Junkspace, together with Hardt and Negri's Empire. If I once hoped that some kind of critical history would return, instead I participated in the rise of blog culture. If some of these blogs simply endorsed the world of starchitecture, by the end of the decade young, intelligent voices such as Owen Hatherley, David Gissen, Sam Jacob, Charles Holland, Mimi Zeiger, and Enrique Ramirez, to name only a few, defined a new terrain. My own blog, founded at the start of the decade has a wide readership, allowing me to engage in the role of public intellectual that I've always felt it crucial for academics to pursue.   

Indeed, it's reasonable to say that my blog led me into a new career. Already, a decade ago, I saw the handwriting on the wall for traditional forms of history-theory. Those jobs were and are disappearing, the course hours usurped by the demands of new software, as Stanley Tigerman predicted back in 1992. Instead, as I set out to understand the impact of telecommunications on urbanism, I found that thinkers in architecture were not so much marginal to the discussion as central, if absent. Spending a year at the University of Southern California's Annenberg Center for Communication led me deeper into technology and not only was Networked Publics the result, I was able to lay the groundwork for the sort of research that I am doing at Columbia with my Network Architecture Lab.

The changes in technology were huge. The relatively slow pace of technological developments from the 1950s to the 1980s was left long behind. If television acquired color in the 1960s and cable and the ability to play videotapes in the late 1980s, it was still fundamentally the same thing: a big box with a CRT mounted in it. That's gone forever now, with analog television a mere memory. Computers ceased being big objects, connected via slow telephone links (just sixteen years ago, in 1993, 28k baud modems were the standard) and became light and portable, capable of wireless communications fast enough to make downloading high definition video an everyday occurrence for many. Film photography all but went extinct during the decade as digital imaging technology changed the way we imaged the world. Images proliferated. There are 4 billion digital images on Flickr alone. The culture industry, which had triumphed so thoroughly in the postmodern era, experienced the tribulations that Detroit felt decades before as the music, film, and periodicals all were thrown into crisis by the new culture of free media trade. Through the iPod, the first consumer electronics device released after 9/11, it became possible for us to take with us more music than we would be able to listen to in a year. Media proliferated wildly and illicitly.

For the first time, most people in the world had some form of telecommunication available to them. The cell phone went from a tool of the rich in 1990 to the tool of the middle class in 2000. By 2010, more than 50% of the world's population owned a cell phone, arguably a more important statistic than the fact that at the start of this decade for the first time more people lived in cities than in the country. The cell phone was the first global technological tool. Its impact is only beginning to be felt. In the developed world, not only did most people own cell phones, cell phones themselves became miniature computers, delivering locative media applications such as turn-by-turn navigation, geotagged photos (taken with the built in cameras) together with e-mail, web browsing, and so on. Non-places became a thing of the past as it was impossible to conceive of being isolated anymore. Architects largely didn't have much of a response to this, and parametric design ruled the studios, a game of process that, I suppose, took minds off of what was really happening.

Connections proliferated as well, with social media making it possible for many of us to number our "friends" in the hundreds. Alienation was left behind, at least in its classical terms, as was subjectivity. Hardly individuals anymore, we are, as Deleuze suggested, today, dividuals. Consumer culture left behind the old world of mass media for networked publics (and with it, politics, left behind the mass, the people, and any lingering notion of the public) and the long tail reshaped consumer culture into a world of niches populated by dividuals. If there was some talk about the idea of the multitude or the commons among followers of Hardt and Negri (but also more broadly in terms of the bottom up and the open source movement), there was also a great danger in misunderstanding the role that networks play in consolidating power at the top, a role that those of us in architecture saw first-hand with starchitecture's effects on the discipline. If open source software and competition from the likes of Apple hobbled Microsoft, the rise of Google, iTunes, and Amazon marked a new era of giants, an era that Nicholas Carr covered in the Big Switch (required reading).   

The proliferation of our ability to observe everything and note it also made this the era an era in which the utterly unimportant was relentlessly noted (I said relentlessly constantly during this decade, simply because it was a decade of relentlessness). Nothing, it seemed, was the most important thing of all.

In Discipline and Punish, Foucault wrote, "visibility is a trap." In the old regime of discipline, panopticism made it possible to catch and hold the subject. Visibility was a trap in this decade too, as architects and designers focussed on appearances even as the real story was in the financialization of the field that undid it so thoroughly in 2008 (this was always the lesson of Bilbao… it wasn't finance, not form, that mattered). Realizing this at the start of the decade, Robert Sumrell and I set out to create a consulting firm along the lines of AMO. Within a month or two, we realized that this was a ludicrous idea and AUDC became the animal that it is today, an inheritor to the conceptual traditions of Archizoom, Robert Smithson, and the Center for Land Use Interpretation. Eight years later, we published Blue Monday, a critique of network culture. I don't see any reason why it won't be as valuable—if not more so—in a decade than it is now.   

I've only skimmed the surface of this decade in what is already one of the lengthiest blog posts ever, but over the course of the next year or two hope to do so to come to an understanding of the era we were just in (and continue to be part of) through the network culture book. Stay tuned.

Syndicate content