The Production of Space

“[Agree To All] offers an immersive but unsettling glimpse of how the future urban experience might look like for some, with smooth, frictionless landscapes, smart technologies in control and elite access to differentiated services. […] Whether a city will look like this or not, it will invariably be a part of a very unequal ‘winner-takes-all’ societies, which ‘thrive on debt and cheap money and the quick and massive burning of fossil fuels’. It’s in this kind of society that half of our cities will still have to be built […] We wonder however – what if these ‘alternative urban configurations’ don’t materialize? What if the dystopian imagination in the opening installation becomes reality? Let’s imagine what that city would look like.”

“Hajer writes that ‘real estate has given rise to an ever more speculative economy, especially during the last couple of decades. Instead of social need, it focused on the opportunity to make money on offices, shopping malls and housing for the upper class’. It did indeed, and cities of the future will see an even more powerful real estate sector and the increasing influence of the corporate sector on the production of space in general. This also means that decisions made democratically will gradually be replaced by decisions taken in corporate board rooms. Likewise urban interventions with a social or cultural dimension will increasingly be replaced by projects that produce the highest possible financial return.

“Money made in the real estate sector, but also elsewhere in the city, will quickly leave and end up in the hands of a few, and most likely in some tax havens as well. The urban economy will rapidly become an ‘extractive economy’, as Hajer calls them. Cities will increasingly open themselves up for extraction, competing for global flows of money through city-marketing campaigns aimed at foreign investors and visitors. This will result in a race to the bottom, and erode social and cultural capital at the local level. A crucial development allowing this extractive economy to expand is the continuing flexibilisation of the housing market. State-owned or rent-controlled housing is being rapidly sold off, providing investors with a host of new opportunities. The simultaneous elimination of housing rights allows for a quicker succession of rent hikes and will further consolidate the position of large real estate owners.”

Text: What the city of the future looks like if we don’t change course, Failed Architecture.

Pic: Eliel Saarinen’s Munkkiniemi–Haaga town plan. Aerial view from the north.

Prodomax Flex-N-Gate FANUC Nacho

“In July 2015, Wanda Holbrook, a maintenance technician performing routine duties on an assembly line at Ventra Ionia Main, an auto-parts maker in Ionia, Michigan, was “trapped by robotic machinery” and crushed to death. On March 7, her husband, William Holbrook, filed a wrongful death complaint  in Michigan federal court, naming five North American robotics companies involved in engineering and integrating the machines and parts used at the plant: Prodomax, Flex-N-Gate, FANUC, Nachi, and Lincoln Electric.”

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“Holbrook’s job involved keeping robots in working order. She routinely inspected and adjusted processes on the assembly line at Ventra, which makes bumpers and trailer hitches. One day, Holbrook was performing her regular duties when a machine acted very irregularly, according to the lawsuit reported in Courthouse News.

 “Holbrook was in the plant’s six-cell “100 section” when a robot unexpectedly activated, taking her by surprise. The cells are separated by safety doors and the robot should not have been able to move. But it somehow reached Holbrook, and was intent on loading a trailer-hitch assembly part right where she stood over a similar part in another cell.

The machine loaded the hardware onto Holbrook’s head. She was unable to escape, and her skull was crushed. Co-workers who eventually noticed that something seemed amiss found Holbrook dead.

“The robot from section 130 should have never entered section 140, and should have never attempted to load a hitch assembly within a fixture that was already loaded with a hitch assembly. A failure of one or more of defendants’ safety systems or devices had taken place…”

Text: A rogue robot is blamed for a human colleague’s gruesome death, Quartz.

Pic: Chris Foss, cover painting for the Panther Edition of John Sladek’s The Reproductive System, 1968.

A Community in the Parking Lot

Long Term Parking from The New York Times – Video on Vimeo.

 

“Taking a back-road shortcut to catch a flight from Los Angeles two years ago, I passed an obscure airline employee parking lot — and was surprised to see over 70 motor homes. It looked like there was an entire community planted right there in the parking lot of the airport. I wondered, who lived there — and why? I learned that this community was an employee parking lot turned motor-home park made up of pilots, flight attendants and mechanics. And I became fascinated by why and how the residents — people who may have flown us across the country, or walked us through emergency landing procedures — came to inhabit such an unusual place…”

Video & text: Lance Oppenheim, The New York Times.

An Eerie Stillness Settles

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“You should know the script by now. A previously overlooked inner-city area becomes newly fashionable, and its housing prices start to edge up. At first, the ensuing transformation creates some buzz—a new paint job here, a new luxury shop there—but soon the population who would previously have called the neighborhood home realizes it can no longer afford the area’s rising costs. They scatter to cheaper lodgings elsewhere and the area becomes the shell of its former self. That this process is happening in London right now is no surprise. What’s more unusual is the social group that is being displaced: the rich.

“According to a new conference paper presented last week by Dr. Luna Glucksberg of the International Inequalities Institute at the London School of Economics, London’s wealthiest families feel they are being pushed out of the city’s most exclusive neighborhoods. Families that raised their children in areas such as Mayfair or Knightsbridge (at least during the periods said children weren’t away at boarding school) are now finding prime London property so expensive that they are stooping as low as buying their offspring homes in farther flung neighborhoods, including Fulham, Battersea or the Georgian parts of Islington.

“This plutocrat displacement […] displays London’s top-end globalization. Areas such as Belgravia were once synonymous with the British ruling class—Oscar Wilde fans will remember that in The Importance of Being Earnest, Jack Worthing is castigated by Lady Bracknell for having a house on “the unfashionable side” of Belgrave Square. And the area is still the ruling classes’ home, it’s just that this class is now international.

“Today, 60% of properties for sale in this part of London go to international buyers. The general tenor of the place has changed nonetheless. In the evenings an eerie stillness settles on it. That’s because these new owners are so rich in both money and global property that their London addresses frequently sit empty, functioning more as dust-sheeted deposit boxes rather than actual homes.

Text: The Guardian, No One Feels Sorry for the Latest Victims of London ‘Gentrification’

Pic: Empty London, Nick Dolding.

An Enclave Within an Enclave

“What is different today […] is that companies have become much more adept at identifying their top customers and knowing which psychological buttons to push. The goal is to create extravagance and exclusivity for the select few, even if it stirs up resentment elsewhere. In fact, research has shown, a little envy can be good for the bottom line.

“When top-dollar travelers switch planes in Atlanta, New York and other cities, Delta ferries them between terminals in a Porsche, what the airline calls a “surprise-and-delight service.” Last month, Walt Disney World began offering after-hours access to visitors who want to avoid the crowds. In other words, you basically get the Magic Kingdom to yourself.

“When Royal Caribbean ships call at Labadee, the cruise line’s private resort in Haiti, elite guests get their own special beach club away from fellow travelers — an enclave within an enclave.

“We are living much more cloistered lives in terms of class,” said Thomas Sander, who directs a project on civic engagement at the Kennedy School at Harvard. “We are doing a much worse job of living out the egalitarian dream that has been our hallmark.”

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“For companies trying to entice moneyed customers, that means identifying and anticipating what they want. “The premium customer doesn’t want to be asked questions,” said Mr. Clarke of PricewaterhouseCoopers. “They don’t want friction. They want things to happen through osmosis.”

“But for people at the lower end of the market, as well as in the middle, plenty of friction remains. The trade-off is that the amount of hassle is precisely calibrated to just how much you are willing to pay.

“At the low end, people’s expectations have fundamentally changed,” Mr. Clarke said. “Because it’s a fraction of the cost, people say, ‘I’m willing to take some discomfort because my wallet is staying full.’”

Text: In an Age of Privilege, Not Everyone Is in the Same Boat, New York Times

Image: Jan Tichy, Things To Come, 1936-2012. Three-channel digital video projection
Edition of 5. Richard Gray Gallery