Skip to main content

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 6)

Chapter 6 is focused on the discussion of two concepts: i) the impact of splintering urbanism on social change and ii) the reconfiguration of social landscapes in tandem with the unbundling network.

The first half of the chapter serves to delineate three trends that support splintering urbanism:

1) A broader shift towards social/geophysical polarization: Graham and Marvin assert that we live in an age of extremes. Despite increasingly polarized labor markets and the fear of mixing with diverse groups, our connections are improving and distances are shrinking due to technological forces. As a result, the physical spaces of many cities have become re-bundled to cater to a select few (eg. BIDs), creating disjointed urban landscapes.

2) Withdrawal of network cross-subsidy: Technological progress has also given cities the ability to target certain markets and accommodate privatization. This allows more affluent groups to insert their own form of taxation within their customized spaces to provide services used exclusively by them. Increasingly, infrastructure firms are following this market model.

3) Cyberspace as support for urban splintering: Our authors illustrate that information technology is strongly tied to the affluent in society (though this has changed somewhat since the books publication). This elite form of communication and control further reinforces an increasingly segregated, private society. For example, information technology plays a crucial role in the financial services sector, which depends on cyber, rather than physical, location.

Graham and Marvin devote the remainder of the chapter to showing global examples of these three trends. Seven specific categories emerge:

1) Electronically-tolled highway systems control and segregate urban space.

2) Splintered internet services selectively provide broadband services to preferred, affluent customers and locations.

3) Private sidewalks, plazas, and atria are securely separated from the alternate public street system by private security forces.

4) Business Improvement Districts act as cities in cities, complete with un-elected boards that hold the power of taxation and security.

5) Private malls combine mixed uses within a single complex housing, retail, office, entertainment creating an isolated, self-sufficient neighborhood.

6) Gated-communities serve to enclose landscape through private infrastructure systems.

7) Domesticated spaces are increasingly equipped with sophisticated network technology, allowing residents to be disconnected with their immediate surroundings but still connected to the wider world.

These examples indirectly create intermediate spaces between the premium zones that are bypassed by sufficient services. The residents of these intermediate spaces are disenfranchised because they are provided insufficient access to transit, water/sewer, and energy.