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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 2)

Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, there was a major out-pouring of public funds to link fragmented localities in a comprehensive fashion. In particular, this movement followed the emerging mass production philosophy, which was taking hold of industry.

At the time, infrastructure was seen as a powerful force; one that could exert human dominance over time and space, mechanizing the modern city. In doing so, our authors suggest that the emergence of infrastructure became closely wedded to the ideals of both urban planning and the concept of human progress. Our authors suggest that this dual modern ideal was constructed on four broad concepts:

1) The transformative power of modern science: With the advent of the industrial revolution, the city came to be viewed as the ultimate machine. Critical to this view was the emerging concept of the city as an abstract concept not a spatial arrangement. Infrastructure systems became rational tools to cleanse chaotic urban spaces. Ever wider infrastructure networks (especially electricity) began to act as a status symbol for urban areas.

2) The emergence of urban planning theories and practices: Planning became the practice of applying a progressive force to an unruly spatial environment. In the search for widespread urban cohesion, planning became the means to realize progress. As illustrated by the rise of Haussmann, planners often had the vision and the power to regularize these disordered urban environments.

3) The rise of mass production/consumption: The emerging era of mass-production made steep demands on infrastructure systems, especially communication and transportation. Moreover, beginning in the 1920s, much of the developed world began to experience a new era of (suburban) domestic consumption. New networked infrastructure systems allowed for personal access of various infrastructure networks, helping to reinforce a strict distinction between public/private life and stereotypical gender roles (i.e. men at work, women on the home front).

4) The belief in public infrastructure monopolies: Infrastructure promulgated a holistic approach to city-making. Cities developed not only the comprehensive infrastructure networks required by their citizenry, but also the zoning ordinances and development laws in conjunction with them. This required a massive government investment and monopolistic provision of services.

Each of these influences came together to focus developed society on providing a coordinated, unitary city; normative ideas as to the appropriate uses of urban space became manifest in networks and their resultant urban spaces. Government provision and control of these systems was widely considered appropriate because the immense investment required a monopolistic market situation and these systems were considered public goods. More practically, infrastructure networks have the tendency to impose high externalities on the surrounding members of society and are best managed and mitigated by public forces.