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The New City Reader, Uneven Growth, and Hong Kong

The Museum of Modern Art's "Uneven Growth: Tactical Urbanism in Emerging Megacities," curated by Pedro Gadanho opens this week and the Network Architecture Lab had the opportunity to do a project for the show and respond to the question Pedro posed to us: "how can architecture solve the problem of uneven growth?" I am going to explore the show in a few blog posts, beginning with this one, which addresses our overall conception for the show. Tune in tomorrow to find out why we developed the game SYMTACTICS as part of our contribution.   

 

Pedro assigned us the city of Hong Kong to investigate, pairing us with MAP Office (Laurent Gutierrez and Valerie Portefaix), a local office operating between the realms of art and architecture. Projects for the show were intended to be collaborative and both teams soon understood that the best way we could produce a collaboration was to respect the difference between our approaches and create a dialogue. MAP elaborated on a poetic project that they had already begun developing prior to the show, "Hong Kong Is Land" in which they created a series of imaginative drawings representing artificial islands, each of which, Calvino-like, corresponded to conditions that they identified within the landscape of greater Hong Kong.   

 

Our own approach was a bit different. In considering Pedro's question while touring Hong Kong, the Netlab team on site (Jochen Hartmann, Robert Sumrell, and I) wondered if it was really possible for architecture to solve the problem of uneven growth. And, no matter how much fun tactical urbanism can be, wasn't its DIY approach to urbanism just another neoliberal tactic deployed in support of the long war against governments providing services and solutions to problems, e. g. sending food trucks to Ferguson? Isn't tactical urbanism, as Oli Mould suggests, just the latest iteration of the "creative city"? "Yes, but…" was our answer. And that but is that tactical urbanism doesn't have to set out to solve minor problems, it can set out to solve big problems, by allowing architecture to engage with politics. Specifically, we realized that it was, yet again, time to revive the New City Reader and to understand that our own contribution would be to think of our role (two architects and an architectural historian) as public intellectuals, creating a tactical intervention in the museum to get ideas across. For as I constantly have to remind people, the Network Architecture Lab is not and has never been a mock-startup, rather it is a think-tank devoted to working with students, recent graduates, practitioners, and individuals in other fields on the problem of networks. In other words, if neoliberal politics worldwide have resulted in changes in taxation that have encouraged uneven growth, then our project set out to solve the problem of uneven growth politically, to reach out to the visitors at MoMA and to all of you to find ways to activate the public realm to bring the question of uneven growth to the table, both at MoMA and in our homes. As a newspaper of public space, the New City Reader claims to do precisely that, to tactically intervene in space in order not to produce a rant, but rather to provoke discussion, in this case discussion about uneven growth in Hong Kong and beyond.

 

Instead of writing a lengthy blog post on these matters, it seemed best to simply introduce the editorial that I already wrote for this edition of the New City Reader. You are most welcome to read the entire New City Reader here, or pick up your free copy at MoMA, should you be in the New York area (warning, we only printed 23,000 copies, which, over the course of the show means a hundred a day to give away; they will reputedly be refreshed in the morning).     

 

 

How can we solve the problem of uneven growth?

The Umbrella Revolution’s first goal is a directly representative democracy, but it also expresses deep concern about uneven growth and the doubts citizens have that Hong Kong’s government will adequately address that problem.

Hong Kong is a city of extremes. While the International Monetary Fund lists Hong Kong as having the seventh highest per capita income in the world, the city also has the highest income inequality of any developed city in the world, even before considering the habit of wealthy families in China to understate their income. Although immigration to Hong Kong has become virtually impossible, migrant workers come to Hong Kong on visas with specific expiry dates, severely limited rights, and no opportunity to settle. These workers form a permanent underclass of temporary non-citizens, whose lack of rights is underscored and exacerbated by income disparity. Hong Kong now has one of the world’s lowest birth rates. But the greying of Hong Kong doesn’t mean that the city is growing less unequal. On the contrary, the elderly face a precarious existence, and if they are lucky enough to have younger family members, the latter will be financially crushed by the burden of taking care of them. Add growing danger from climate events due to global warming and Hong Kong is a post-apocalypse in the making. But Hong Kong is only a model city, a few years ahead of the game due to extreme growth. All of us face this future, if we can make it that far.

Whether in Hong Kong, New York, or just about anywhere, every day we are reminded of the challenges posed by uneven growth and rising inequality. Real estate prices in global cities are rising stratospherically, even as other cities are shrinking and being economically gutted: this year Detroit has already shut off water to over 27,000 poor residents who have fallen behind on their bills. In the megacities that this show focuses on, wealth and poverty coexist. As apartments costing tens of millions become normal, the middle class finds itself rapidly joining the poor, working short term jobs with no benefits, trading savings for debt, hoping that not to get sick or disabled. When we are lucky enough to have jobs, we pretend that a lack of job security makes our lives more fun, that moonlighting keeps us fresh, that eighty-hour work weeks show how much we love what we do, that we love tiny spaces, that we are most at home in hotel rooms or jet planes, and that our bodies aren’t destroyed by this existence.      

How can we solve the problem of uneven growth? Not by neoliberalism, with handouts from NGOs or Kickstarter-style funding, but through politics. If political systems worldwide appear thoroughly broken, political change—as the Umbrella Revolution reminds us—is the one hope we have left, futile though it may be.

As a tactical intervention, the New City Reader begins with a simple premise: we observe that one of the challenges to political action today is the atomization of the public and our resultant inability to talk to each other about politics except by clicking a thumbs up or thumbs down button, political discourse becoming a matter of rants. If the Umbrella Revolution calls for change, we also call for dialogue between people in the streets, or the galleries, about change. What if we take a newspaper and, in the manner of the Chinese Dàzìbào, put it up on a wall to be read? We were asked to make something for museums in New York and Vienna, but why not take this idea and bring it elsewhere? Why not cover Hong Kong with Dàzìbào? The original Dàzìbào were made by hand and even large format plotter prints don’t cost a lot of money. Don’t just read the paper, make one of your own! What if we read it, what if we cover the archipelago of global cities in newsprint? 

Along with a set of articles looking at Hong Kong today and in the future, we’ve included SYMTACTICS, a free board game in which you fight uneven growth through tactical urbanism. Much as building a model of a building allow us to see it more clearly, a game can reveal the particulars of a situation. Just as the New CIty Reader is intended to provoke discussion, a board game to be played with family and friends inevitably provokes conversation. If we can start a discussion we have hope for change. 

Get your free copy of the #netlab’s #newcityreader and...

Get your free copy of the #netlab’s #newcityreader and #symtactics game at the #UnevenGrowth show at #MoMA, opens Saturday.

Playing the final version of Symtactics for the first time....

Playing the final version of Symtactics for the first time. #UnevenGrowth (at highland avenue montclair nj)

Thinking the Unthinkable

I will be speaking about RAND Corporation, war games, and scenario planning tonight, 7pm at New York's Museum of Art and Design.

The link is here although be aware that I am NOT talking about Corbusier (well not for more than a few minutes anyway). If you miss the talk, you can see some of the things I will be talking about here or here

  

Tonight "How's the Revolution Going?" @ the Van Alen

I'll be appearing in a discussion tonight, Tuesday, October 28 at the Van Alen titled '"How's the Revolution Going?" Rethinking Architectural Education from '68 to Today' with Peggy Deamer, Quilian Riano, and Ron Shiffman. The event lasts from 6:30 to 8pm and will be held at Grimshaw Architects, 637 W 27th St, New York, New York. The topic, part of the Van Alen's 120th anniversary celebration, will assess the fate of the calls for change in architectural education made in the 1960s. For more information and to register for the event visit the Van Alen's site

revolution of the present in limerick

As part of the fall lecture series at the University of Limerick, Ireland, I will be showing the film "Revolution of the Present," a feature-length documentary by writer/director Marc Lafia, executive producer Jose Fernandez-Richards, and producer Johanna Schiller on Tuesday, October 14th at 5.00pm. This is the European premiere of the film, so if you are in the area, we hope that you can make it. Course director Peter Carroll and I will discuss the film afterwards. I am honored to be part of this production and immensely proud of the work the team did. There is hardly any better introduction to my work or network culture than this film. Should you not be in Ireland at the time, you can check out Revolution of the Present here.    

Kiosk @ Columbia

I will be appearing alongside Leah Meisterlin (formerly of the Netlab) and authors Astra Taylor and Andrew Blum today at noon in Ware Lounge (on the 6th floor of Avery Hall) at Columbia University's Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation to discuss the impact that digital technology is posing on architecture, cities, and most of all our lives. Topics to be discussed will likely include data centers, debt, oversaturation, creative workspaces and the tyranny of fun, together with ways to make all this better. Hope to see you there if you are in the area!

Umbrellas in Hong Kong

Given the Netlab's work for the Uneven Growth show at MoMA, the unfolding events in Hong Kong demand comment. Although they events are dramatic and their immediate outcome is entirely unclear at the moment, they aren't anything we should be surprised about. Last spring I posted a scenario that we developed for the show titled Hong Kong, 2047. It's worth taking a look at if you haven't had a chance to do so yet. Essentially, our point is that the sort of crisis being played out in Hong Kong is evidence of a growing tension between the mainland and the coastal cities. The mainland has two routes it can follow: a humiliating capitulation along the route toward losing power and a crackdown that will make the eventual lose power exponentially greater.

Simply put, the demographic bubble in the PRC will collapse over the next couple of decades. As it does so, coastal cities like Shanghai, Guangdong, Hangzhou, and Nanjing will grow in both population and power. Such coastal cities will be closer to New York or Tokyo in outlook than to the declining inland of the PRC. If the CPC has any sense, they understand that this is coming their way and that the situation in Hong Kong is a precussor to broader tensions between the mainland and emerging coastal cities (or city-states) in the next forty years. The sort of controls that China places over the Internet today will be harder to exercise in the future as technology will allow ways to route around restrictions to proliferate: the new emphasis on unbreakable security protection in the iPhone 6 is an example of this new condition.    

Undoubtedly members of the CPC—and certainly the PLA—will want to crack down hard on the protestors in Hong Kong. If this will bring temporary relief, it will also make the inevitable process of dissociating the rising coastal city-states from the mainland more difficult. 

Now again, we're talking about a process that will take decades, not something with immediate and obvious consequences so don't look for independence flags to fly over Guangzhou anytime soon. More geriatric forces in the CPC will be tempted to go for the quick fix since they won't be around to see the consequences, but the tensions we outlined in our document seem to be ever more real today. What happens in the next few days may just decide the tenor of future negotiations when the PRC can no longer act with such impunity.     

Eyes That Do Not See: Tracking the Self in the Age of the Data Center

With the end of the summer, it's time to start updating the blog with various publications that I have made over the course of the last few months and there have been a number of them. To start off with, I published Eyes That Do Not See: Tracking the Self in the Age of the Data Center in Harvard Design Magazine number 38. Jennifer Sigler is now the editor and did fabulous work putting together this issue.

The title of my article, is self-explanatory enough, but if asked to elaborate, I'd say that my goal was threefold. First, to talk about the data center as it exists, second to talk about the architectural fantasy of the data center as an object of design when data center owners have little interest in such things (and why that may be), third to talk about how our relatinoship with the data center, surveillance, the Internet, and control society in terms of subjectivity.  

Below is a brief excerpt, but you can read my article at the HDM site

… more than just a matter of economics or security, the data center’s relationship to architecture embodies our cultural condition. Where the factory embodied processes of industrialization and modernization, data centers exemplify what Gilles Deleuze calls “control society.” In discussing the emergence of modern forms of discipline, surveillance, and control, Deleuze cites Michel Foucault’s observation that the industrial era gave birth to a disciplinary society, marked by discrete spaces of enclosure in which one endlessly was put in one’s place—from the school to the barracks to the factory to the hospital. These sites were devoted to ordering time and space, to distributing individuals into a productive force.5 Deleuze sees that system rupturing under its rigid constraints in the face of new systems that promise to be more adaptable, reformed, humane, and equitable. Rigidity is replaced by flexibility; obedience, by choice.
But the control society does not do away with power; on the contrary, power is now far more pervasive and efficacious. Instead of enclosures, control operates through modulations, in a continuously applied system that can make its demands on individuals at every moment, regardless of their whereabouts. Physical spaces are replaced by electronic access codes. Under the guise of greater freedom and flexible work arrangements, networked devices pervade everyday life, constantly issuing their demands, and ceaselessly reiterating them. Instead of resisting attempts at facilitating work taking over our lives, we respond by turning to “life hacking,” a tool to optimize our productivity.
 
The data center is the purest site of modulation in control society. Its function is not to maximize storage but to optimize flow, making possible the barrage of status updates pushed at us—be they from social networking sites, news feeds, or e-mails—that we condition ourselves to respond to instantly. Even capital is subject to this logic. If the factory was the site where wealth was created during the Industrial Revolution, today’s most advanced levels of finance—which operate in specialized data centers such as NYSE Euronext’s Global Liquidity Centers—extract wealth from algorithmic trades that invest in and produce nothing, profiting instead from momentary discrepancies in security prices. Designed to generate profits regardless of the direction the economy is heading—and having removed the need for raw materials, labor, or commodities—algorithmic trading marks the transformation of capitalism into a series of pure modulations, a mathematical game.
 
Modern surveillance was developed hand in hand with the rise of disciplinary society in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Individuals had directions to follow, rules of behavior to abide by, and quotas to meet, all ensured by the ever-present eyes of managers and whatever mechanical means (such as time cards) could be garnered in support of efficiency. Managers sought both to see and to be seen, to gaze upon the factory or office floor and to impose their power by their own presence. The end of enclosures, however, also means the end of visibility as a means of control. The workplace is diffuse, spread across the totality of our existence, across continents, in the spaces formerly known as the office and the home, as well as the subway, the car, the airplane, and the hotel. We demonstrate our productivity through the data we generate, along with our ability to be in touch at all times. Those who run the data center aspire to Oz-like invisibility. It’s enough to know that the NSA monitors our communications to ensure we behave, and that Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion monitor our financial transactions to determine our credit score. We might imagine then a very different meaning for the phrase “eyes that do not see.” The data center has eyes that do not need to see, in the visual sense. Here, surveillance is algorithmic—it is a matter of mining for suspicious patterns of words; unusual purchasing behaviors; visits to websites harboring terrorists, child pornographers, and extremists; as well as other triggers. The same kinds of algorithms that monitor the market to determine the opportune moment to initiate financial transactions also read our e-mails and track our purchases to decide when to strike against us. “Total informational awareness” shapes the modulations of control society.

Post-Planetary Capital Symposium

I'm delighted to be speaking at Ed Keller and Ben Woodard's symposium "Post-Planetary Capital" at the New School's Center for Transformative Media today. My own talk is titled "A Mote in God’s Eye: 
Eternal Recurrence and 
the Post-Capitalist Post-Planetary." So what in the heavens is that about (sorry!)? I'll be using a discussion of asteroid mining, private space colonization, and Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle's "A Mote in God's Eye" to develop my arguments about the relationship between capital and complexity.