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Chapter Summary

Graham, Stephen and Simon Marvin. 2001. Splintering Urbanism: Networked Infrastructures, Technological Mobilities, and the Urban Condition. London, UK and New York, NY: Routledge. (Chapter 1)

For Graham and Marvin, infrastructure plays an important role in the development in the physical and social form of the city. In particular, networked infrastructure:

1) Facilitates cultural, economic, and environmental change;

2) Creates dynamic relationships between heterogeneous urban elements (i.e. spaces and people) that would not otherwise be possible;

3) Comprises sizeable portions of the physical and economic fabric of cities;

4) Helps to structure of the city experience of urban culture for residents and visitors.

Modern advances in information technology have allowed infrastructure systems traditionally provided the public sector - to be subject to provision and management by private market forces. This new market model often favors the provision of infrastructure to select users, leading to increased social distancing of disparate groups within a city, even if they remain physically proximate. As privatization increases, and these complex networked systems are increasingly splintered, and the traditional cohesion of a city erodes. Our authors assert that this is especially problematic because these networks are inherently bound together; they do not develop in isolation. Further, there are physical synergies between differing networks and the pathways they share. More importantly, networked systems and the mobility they offer influence a broad array of physical urban developments.

Despite these dynamic changes, the study of urban policy frequently overlooks networked infrastructure because: (i) much of the existing infrastructure literature is technically-focused, (ii) these systems often serve as forgotten background and are not viewed as catalysts of the urban experience, (iii) many systems are buried, making it hard to visualize flows, and (iv) infrastructure has become functionally normalized it is only noticed when it breaks down. Further, much of the analysis that does exist focuses on historical development of these networks, rather than contemporary trends.

Given this situation, the book attempts to examine the unbundling of infrastructure networks, attempting to break down the existing barriers between the separate debates about cities. Our authors approach the analysis of networked infrastructure as a complete, complex machine.