Splintering urbanism is a term invented by geographers Simon Marvin and Steve Graham to refer to the fragmentation of one’s experience in the city using infrastructure (including communication and information technologies). The primary focus in this subject is infrastructure networks that span the globe with information drawn from professionals in Communications, Geography, Sociology and, most importantly, architecture. It is important to acknowledge that networked infrastructure systems have a direct impact on the urban environment through systematic changes in privatization and technological infrastructure. In the global circulation of vital resources, cities act as physical nodes facilitating the flow within it by using an intricate web of infrastructure (Gandelsonas, 1999, p. 23). Experts in architecture argue that there is a sense of cohesion created within the city itself through its networked infrastructure systems that forms complex machinery where inter-reliance exists between different levels to create a working urban environment. It is for this reason that networked infrastructure has been lauded for playing a key role in the social and physical formation of cities even with the ever-changing advances that play a major role in redesigning the management of infrastructure. In this essay, I will provide an in-depth elucidation of splinter urbanism, what it entails, and why it plays a major role in the architectural landscape of a city.
The 21st century marked the beginning of infrastructure systems that were now open to the elements of market forces which have acted as movers of global capital. In this new-fangled market form, the provision of infrastructure happened to favor specific groups. As a result, social distancing within the society increases within racial, economic and social spheres. Splintering urbanism thus entails the dismantling of these multifaceted systems, a problematic undertaking as the networks do not develop crop up in seclusion. Such is the case due to the pathways and physical synergies in the midst of diverse networks. Western urbanism (1920-60), in particular, was popular for its endeavor endeavors in trying to create coherence and a caste system using ubiquitous development and standardization of power, transport, communication, and water infrastructure in the topography of cities. It was the paradigm shift of nations from capitalist modernization (Keynesianism) and mass production (Fordism) that the splintering modernism largely draws from in delivering public goods through public or private monopolies (Stephen & McFarlane, 2015). In the formation of welfare states, these policies are prevalent and often utilized as instruments for reinventing urban centers as sanitized and highly functional areas. Even with this apparent normalization of the vast networked infrastructure, the normative aspirations aimed at reaching a “good city” status is placed in the hands of modernizers and planners hindering its universality.
With the decline of the aforementioned standardized integrated ideal, splintering urbanism offers a new planning logic with provisions for regional and urban spaces. One important feature of this recent trend is the surfacing of infrastructural projects that are geared towards the provision of high quality and reliable services to selected powerful spaces. Consequently, users in this area are able to gradually withdraw from standardized, communal monopolistic networks that were commonplace in before. These “premium network spaces” have taken place in cities across the globe. Technocrats and architects, therefore, come to terms with the importance of understanding this new reconfiguration within infrastructural networks together with its effect on urban restructuring and change. In order to gain a full grasp of splinter urbanism, one requires an analytical prism that allows individuals to view cities as evolving entities that have been entrenched in a transformative geometry of links with the storing, channeling redistributing connections.
In using infrastructure to investigate splintering urbanism, it is also important to bring the urban infrastructure and architecture to shed more light on the subject. Graham and Marvin (2001) are of the opinion that individuals need to acquire a more dynamic way of viewing urban areas and cities.
“When our analytical focus centers on how the wires, ducts, tunnels, conduits, streets, highways and technical networks that interlace and infuse cities are constructed and used, modern urbanism emerges as an extraordinarily complex and dynamic socio-technical process” (Graham & Marvin, 2001, p. 8)
A perspective such as the one quoted above refers to the infrastructure in the networks as an entity as opposed to viewing it as only having “impacts” on the architecture of the city. In this case, infrastructure is defined as the technologies and material objects that are woven into values, meanings and social practice that make up the fabric of modern-day urban cities. Furthermore, urban infrastructure is both social and technical, a perspective that leads splintering urbanism to conceive cities in as co-evolving, overlays that play a vital role in the organizing of complex articulation and the urban culture that is dynamic in their occurrence. The presence of national infrastructure privatization and progressive liberalization as the pivotal policies behind splinter urbanism has seen the rise in opening up of monopolies, international trade agreements and the materialization of new forms of competition. A consequence of this is that it draws global finance capital that is in search of high-profit, low-risk development schemes that involve fragments of the infrastructure networks (Coutard & Olivier, n.d., p. 12). Contrary to popular belief, these premium networked spaces that have been created do not always thrive in seceding and becoming autonomous. It is a progression that is highly contested by a myriad of players that include the social movements.
Splintering urbanism is an important phenomenon that is still extensively discussed in architectural circles presently. It acts as the first analytical geography of how the network society is formed and has inspired waves of ambitious researchers to undertake empirical studies on social mobility, inequality, and urban infrastructure. In the splintering urbanism thesis, lays great emphasis on the universal nature of a modern integral ideal and viewing it from a global perspective. It is this restructuring process that ultimately leads to the incorporation of territories such as the Caribbean Islands into various spatial dynamics of sophisticated metropolitan localities such as New York City. Inquiring the material culture in architecture using the available infrastructure, we become aware of its history, development and how various aspects that make it are still changing. Splintering urbanization also comes with “globalization”, the construction of innovative networks amongst privileged members of the society who now have an opportunity to use state-of-the-art infrastructure.
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