Over the course of the next several months, mammoth will be coordinating an online discussion of The Infrastructural City: Networked Ecologies in Los Angeles (edited by Kazys Varnelis and published last year by Actar), as an experiment in the cooperative reading and discussion of a text.
As Varnelis explains in the introduction to The Infrastructural City, Los Angeles is perhaps the American city most fully indebted to infrastructure for its existence and survival:
“If the West was dominated by the theology of infrastructure, Los Angeles was its Rome. Cobbled together out of swamp, floodplain, desert, and mountains, short of water and painfully dependent on far-away resources to survive, Los Angeles is sited on inhospitable terrain, located where the continent runs out of land. No city should be here. Its ecological footprint greater than the expansive state it resides in, Los Angeles exists by the grace of infrastructure, a life-support system that has transformed this wasteland into the second largest metropolis in the country. Nor was this lost on Angelenos. They understood that their city’s growth depended on infrastructure and celebrated that fact. After all, what other city would name its most romantic road after a water-services engineer?”
Yet despite that history and the continued role of infrastructures such as the Alameda Trench and the Pacific Intertie in shaping the physical, social, and economic form of Los Angeles, the city has also developed an extraordinary resistance to the planning of new infrastructures. A myriad of factors, including ferocious NIMBYism and empty state coffers, make it increasingly difficult to implement new infrastructures or expand existing systems. Furthermore, the city’s infrastructures are increasingly inter-related and co-dependent, interwoven into what Varnelis terms networked ecologies — “hypercomplex systems produced by technology, laws, political pressures, disciplinary desires, environmental constraints and a myriad other pressures, tied together with feedback mechanisms.”
Agglomerations – Paul Krugman has to give a talk in a couple weeks, and he found inspiration in northern New Jersey’s claim to be the embroidery capital of the world.
It’s an interesting history of individual initiative and cumulative causation — the same kind of story now being played out all across the world, especially in China. I still love economic geography.
Never Stop the Line - last weekend’s edition of This American Life featured the fascinating tale of NUMMI – a join GM-Toyota auto plant in Fremont, CA. Toyota showed GM all their secrets to making high quality cars – lessons that GM couldn’t easily translate to other plants.
A car plant in Fremont California that might have saved the U.S. car industry. In 1984, General Motors and Toyota opened NUMMI as a joint venture. Toyota showed GM the secrets of its production system: how it made cars of much higher quality and much lower cost than GM achieved. Frank Langfitt explains why GM didn’t learn the lessons – until it was too late.
Given GM’s current status and Toyota’s recent recall issues (many of which are attributed to growing too fast to control quality), it’s a fascinating tale for anyone interested in American industry and manufacturing.