Panel "Spatiality"

Chair: Sybille Frank (Technische Universität Darmstadt)

The conceptualisation and material design of urban infrastructures has always relied on (mostly tacit) knowledge about space. If we look at infrastructures, their design allows us insights into the underlying spatial thinking. Space imagined as a territory allows us to conceive of infrastructures as fixed and bounded territorial units that adjoin each other and that may create an incompatible ‘outside’. A relational way of thinking urban infrastructures allows us to grasp alignment processes as constituents of spaces themselves. With the concept of a relational space, infrastructures come into the focus as complex arrangements of material needs, scientific possibilities and social aspects: they influence actions by constantly relating past decisions and future opportunities to each other. Last but not least, space in urban infrastructure may be thought of as a potentially (de)centralized network in which mobile subjects, objects, ideas, data, images, etc. circulate, thereby linking the material and immaterial facets of cities. This Panel incudes theoretical and empirical contributions which investigate the implications and consequences of how space is conceptualized in infrastructure research.

Ivonne Elsner and Marcel Müller (Technische Universität Darmstadt):

The Impact of Infrastructure Disruptions on Our Everyday Perception of Space

Disruptions of critical infrastructures illustrate the decisive role these networked systems play in our perception of space. The reliable provision of infrastructure services, habituation, and embeddedness in our daily activities may obscure the spatial characteristics of these socio-technical systems. Yet, disruptions unveil the impact large technological structures have on our perception of territorial cohesion, relational space, and socio-technical interconnection. In case of infrastructure disruptions, geographical distances are highlighted which we otherwise overcome every day – either physically via traffic and transit or virtually via information and communication technologies. Depending on the level of infrastructure development, disruptions can be seen as exceptions from normal operation. Therefore, failures of critical infrastructure systems allow us to question our naturalized spatial conditions. Drawing on insights from empirical as well as theoretical research on socio-technical systems we show the intricacies of critical infrastructures and spatial perception.

Pranjali Deshpande (Urban Works Institute, Pune):

Towards a Sustainable City: Case of Pune

Pune is an Indian city which is trying to implement India’s National Urban Transport Policy to achieve its sustainable transport goal of reducing dependency on private motorised vehicles from 50% to 10% by 2031. Once a ‘bicycle city’ Pune became a ‘two wheeler city’ disturbing the social fabric of the city which had interesting walkable streets and public spaces. Today, the city is creating transport policies and investing approximately 50% of transport budget for sustainable projects like redesigning of 100 km of streets, bicycle plan, bus rapid transit system and doubling fleet size. The goal of the street design project is to create walkable infrastructure by maximising the efficiency of available road space and not by road widening with land acquisition which in return affects social issues. Newly designed streets create beautiful pedestrian plazas and public spaces. To ensure success and buy-in, the municipal corporation conducts public participation drives from local citizens. The Transition period between ‘motor vehicle dependent city’ to ‘non-motorised friendly city’ is not peaceful. It induces discomfort to motor vehicle users demanding for additional road infrastructure for motor vehicles. It’s tough to handle such situations for municipal corporation but the city is committed to its goal.

Timothy Moss (Humboldt University Berlin):

Vulnerable City, Resilient Infrastructures? Contested Spatialities of Sociotechnical Networks in Berlin’s Turbulent Modern History

The infrastructure systems which provide cities with energy, water and wastewater services have long become symbols of stability and durability. Designed for decades in advance, embedded physically in the urban substrata and sustained by complex institutional arrangements and routinized practices, these sociotechnical systems conjure up notions of immobility, obduracy and resilience. Berlin’s twentieth century history, in sharp contrast, was indisputably turbulent, pitted by economic volatility, geopolitical interventions and, above all, radical regime change: from Weimar democracy, the Nazi dictatorship, state-socialist East Berlin and capitalist West Berlin to the reunified city post-1990. This paper explores the relationship between urban politics and urban infrastructure across this turbulent period, from the creation of Greater Berlin in 1920 to the present day, focussing on the ways in which energy and water infrastructures proved resilient, vulnerable or – even – conducive – to shifts in political rule.

My talk will use the case of Berlin to challenge common conceptualizations of sociotechnical obduracy and change in the literatures on sociotechnical transitions and the history of technology. I will disentangle the ‘seamless web’ of the city’s piped infrastructures to reveal what changed (and what did not change) to the way these were envisioned, appropriated and governed in response to radical shifts in their political and socio-economic environment. On the basis of this empirical case I will set out a more nuanced and relational way of theorizing the temporalities and spatialities of urban infrastructures that is sensitive to the interaction of both long-term trends and short-term shocks, both continuity and change, and both sociotechnical and socio-spatial developments.

Das Graduiertenkolleg KRITIS wird gefördert durch die Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft.