Trouble in the Infrastructural State


Remember Christopher Hawthorne’s bizarrely off-kilter review of the Infrastructural City in the LA Times? Hawthorne thought we missed the mark when we suggested that a rabidly self-centered politics— coupled with massive levels of complexity and skyrocketing costs—ended the era of big infrastructure in Los Angeles, leaving in its wake a dysfunctional ecosystem of jury-rigged, often-privatized infrastructures. Instead, Hawthorne took Obama at his word when he thought he would build a new WPA and pined for OMA-designed windmills of the coast of Catalina Island. But that’s the difference between many journalists and academic researchers: the former have to sell stories, the latter have to draw verifiable conclusions.
By now its clear that there will be no new WPA-style initiative under Obama. There will be no new Herzog and de Meuron nuclear plants rising in the Mojave, no new Zaha Hadid sewage plants in Malibu. So now its time to take stock of where Los Angeles and California are really heading and the future seems grim.  
Take a look at  "The Ungovernable State," a chilling account of California politics in the Economist. California is collapsing due to the very same sort of politics that we identified in the Infrastructural City. Los Angeles, and the infrastructural state of California are exacerbated conditions of neoliberal government, virtually incapacitated by the local interests, individualism, and extremism that rules politics today. 
It’s a different end-game from the one that Mike Davis identified in the City of Quartz: things aren’t ending with a racial bang bang but with a political stalemate, but its a bad end nonetheless. What should concern us is that if California is an exacerbated condition, its still a model for neoliberal government: New York, for example, is close behind. This was the real lesson of the Infrastructural City. Only facing up to that reality, not pining for windmills or a new WPA, is going to help.   

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