Centers Adrift | summer 2012
To beyond or not to be
V32_omslag_FINAL.indd 1 Diagram: Architecture Workroom
New Order catalogue inside
Brendan Cormier Pier Paolo Tamburelli Christian von Wissel Luuk Boelens Arjen Oosterman RVTR Anne Filson Gary Rohrbacher Joachim Declerck Matias Echanove Rahul Srivastava Agata Jaworska Rory Hyde Katja Novitskova Vincent Schipper Pau Faus Smári McCarthy Metahaven Madeeha Merchant Nele Vos Michael Brenner Matthew Tiessen Supersudaca Hedwig Fijen Diego Barajas Camillo García Jeroen Toirkens Giedre Nainyte Vincent van Velsen David Dunnett Lorenzo Casali Micol Roubini Christian Ernsten Dirk-Jan Visser
cen ters a drift
Archis 2012 #2 Per issue € 19.50 (nl, b, d, e, p) Volume is a project by Archis + AMO + C-Lab + …
Centers Adrift Volume 32
Centers are on the move – and so too peripheries. As the world grows more complex different systems are claiming different territories. The world can be painted as a field of competing spatial interests: Data centers, wind farms, food belts, industrial zones, creative hubs. Our traditionally conceived centers, (downtown, the Western world, global cities) are slipping away. When assessing these claims, the question is forced: Are you in or are you out? And is one necessarily better than the other?
98 Iceland: A Radical Periphery in Action Smári McCarthy Interview 102 The X-Territory Madeeha Merchant 106 Search and Supply: The Impact of Uninterrupted Access Nele Vos and Michael Brenner Finance
108 High-Frequency Trading and the New Nodes of Profit Matthew Tiessen 112 At Any Rate Supersudaca Culture
Table of Contents
2 Editorial Arjen Oosterman Cities
4 The Cult of the Center Brendan Cormier 8 The 900 Kilometer Nile City Pier Paolo Tamburelli 16 So Far So Close: Compact Periphery as a Way of Life Christian von Wissel 24 The Power of You Arjen Oosterman 28 Planning as Historical Mistake Luuk Boelens Interview 30 Re-Centering the Periphery Geoffrey Thün, Kathy Velikov, Colin Ripley | RVTR
116 A Biennial on the Edge Hedwig Fijen Interview 118 Dispersed Urban Geographies and the Quest for Common Atmospheres Diego Barajas and Camilo García 126 Nomad’s Life Jeroen Toirkens 132 Schooling Public Spaces in Vilnius Giedre Nainyte 136 Cycling the City Vincent Van Velsen Resource
140 144 150
Balance of Power David Dunnett Green Gold Lorenzo Casali and Micol Roubini The Story of a Dutch Farm Christian Ernsten and Dirk-Jan Visser
160 Colophon 160 Corrections / Additions
38 44 50
Post-Cold War Entropy Anne Filson and Gary Rohrbacher Producing the Metropolitan Joachim Declerck Interview An Economic Zone Against All Odds Matias Echanove and Rahul Srivastava Interview
New Order catalogue
Rory Hyde, Katja Novitskova (eds)
The Labor Periphery Vincent Schipper New Terms for the Retired City Pau Faus
Adrift Arjen Oosterman
In the professional realm of urban planners and related professions this also has been recognized. New notions like urban field and urban network have been introduced to more adequately describe the actual city as an urban phenomenon. From within the field of architecture, ‘tapestry metropolis’, as introduced by Willem Jan Neutelings in 1989, was a new idea about how design could relate to the urban condition. The ambition (and belief) that urban planning and design would be in control of the future, would reign over the city, that the city could be designed, had to be abandoned. Instead, piecemeal operations could be performed. The idea was received as nihilistic and dangerous, but proved to predict present day realities. In the tapestry metropolis the relation between sectors is not predetermined. Any part can be a center of sorts and any place can be peripheral. It is not so much about place as about functioning and relations. Historic development is but one dimension among many not necessarily overlapping centralities. And then we learned that even this new, non-hierarchical notion of space is not enough to guide action and intervention. The material of the urban and spatial planner is no longer ‘just’ space and the plan but people, not primarily infrastructure but ‘actors’. That must be the true meaning of ‘the network society’ then. We are drifting slightly away from the spatial and functional notion of center here, discussing the centrality of a profession in creating and operating on centers, on the city at large. But that detour cannot be avoided in a magazine that wants to face realities and relate them to ways to operate. To do so, we need words, notions, concepts, and center may be one of them.
‘Where is the center?’ must be the most commonly asked question when tourists enter a city. The center is where the action is supposed to be, where life is vibrant and interesting, where there’s lots to see, where you simply want to go. It is a matter of gravity and (functional) density that attracts visitors to ‘the center’. This tourist gaze is defining for our understanding of the city, any city. The European ‘old core with later extensions’ model, mostly concentric in shape, is what the archetypal house form is for living: people’s mental model when thinking where one is. But it is history nowadays. The symbol for ‘city center’ – three concentric circles – needs updating. In new urban areas (Shenzhen for instance), the notion of centrality, of core, and of growth, is missing. And in metropolises with an old core, the former spatial hierarchy is drowned by later development. There is a collage of unrelated chunks of urbanity, denser and less dense areas, commercial zones, industrial zones, residential zones, leisure zones, and various combinations of these as well. Our psychology hasn’t kept pace with the physical development of ‘city’ as spatial phenomenon. Or maybe it has. Sociological research among Dutch suburbanites in the Randstad showed that these happy homeowners didn’t feel themselves buried in the periphery, removed from the center. On the contrary, they experienced their residential location as central: easy access to various infrastructures and close to several (city) centers for their theater outing or drink. This is another way to say that the notion of center has become subjective: it is different for each person. And to complicate things, an individual will define center differently depending on his or her social role and need at that moment in time.
There is a theory of the brain that sees older and newer evolutionary parts. The newer parts may be more advanced in their performance, but the older parts are also active and keep influencing the system as a whole. We cannot do away with our ‘reptile brain’ for instance. The same holds for our conception of space. Once the notion of mathematical perspective was introduced, it was no longer possible to think without that literally structuring idea. Although we may have invented axonometry, fluid space and what not, these will not replace but only add to our older perspective conception. It could be the same with this notion of center. Despite our experience that all sorts of nodal networks are surrounding us – each with its own inner logic and often spatially unrelated – this longing for structuring the world in simple concepts will not disappear, we expect.
This issue of Volume started by asking what the present day relation between center and periphery might be. Our understanding of history is that centers produce peripheries, like capitalism produces poverty. So the question really was: has anything changed? Can we think periphery independently from center? Can we think periphery on its own? That proved a hard one, too hard for the preparation time of this issue. The center kept pulling, even in its multiplied state. So what you’re holding in your hand is half the story at best. We’ll return to this subject to (hopefully) deal with the other half, after we’ve dived into our exploration of invisible borders in Mexico City, at the end of this year (see the announcement in this issue). This ‘being in or out’, more specifically the mechanisms of spatial inclusion or exclusion, may shed new light on this ‘center-periphery’ theme.
The Cult of the C Brendan Cormier
As our cities have evolved so to have our models and theories for understanding them. Gone are the days of simple oppositions such as ‘city and countryside’, ‘center and periphery’. Yet in the North American planning profession, theories have been ignored as a cultish obsession with downtowns has come to dominant the scene. This ‘cult of the center’ doesn’t bode well for the future city; are we focusing too much on one issue, and ignoring the problems and opportunities contained within whole metropolitan regions? versus suburb, center versus periphery. How did we arrive at this Cult of the Center? And what problems does it hold for cities and urban planning in the future?
Esteemed urban planner Ken Greenberg recently pub lished a book in which he documents a trend he sees happening all over North America: a great return to the city and a new affirmation for the center. His account reads like many urbanists of his generation, replete with mythological grandeur and biblical allusions: first exodus in the form of suburban flight; next sin as our downtowns were left to rot, and finally salvation, as ‘we’ – who are ‘we’? – triumphantly saw the light and returned to the city. Even the title of his book Walking Home has reli gious undertones of return, homeland, and pilgrimage. Other recent titles in the canon of urbanism are similarly celebratory for the center: Triumph of the City, Cities Back from the Edge, Comeback Cities, Who’s Your City?, etc. This affirmation seems at once obvious and facile – the economic, social, and cultural importance of cities has been generally understood since we first started living in cities – and also smug, as a group of selfproclaimed miracle-workers (re: planning consultants) tour the world touting their Lazarus-like achievements of reviving the city. If we understand the word ‘cult’ as referring to any obsessive, especially faddish, devotion to or veneration for a person, principle, or thing, than we can equally con sider this center-obsession in planning as having reached a cult-like status. This is especially troubling as it marks a gap opening up between theory and practice – at least in North America. Center fanaticism extolled in the pro fessional world represents an enormous dulling of our rich body of urban thought and theory. The nuanced view of the city as a complex ecology of multiple functions, actors, interrelationships, and feedback loops today is reduced to a black-and-white, binary opposition of city
Shifting world views
In a more general sense the idea of ‘the center’ – of what is central and what is peripheral – is a critical tool in forming our worldview. It is so much so that the history of human thought can be written in terms of our shifting notion what constitutes center. In Richard Tarnas’ writings, he identifies three major worldviews in human history, each with a shifting notion of what constitutes the center. In the first, the primal worldview, there is little division between the self and the forces around us. Intelligence and soul pervade all of nature and cosmos and “the permeable self directly participates in that larger matrix of meaning and purpose within which it is embedded”.1 In this conception there is little distinguishing between center and periphery, here and there, me and you. Everything is connected to everything else – a viewing of the world that has domi nated human history. The so-called modern worldview first established in early Greek philosophy became a radical break between subject and object. “All qualities associated with purpose ful intelligence and soul are exclusively characteristic of the human subjects, which is radically distinct from the objective nonhuman world.” Human beings and the self are now positioned at the center with the objective world around us. Finally in the late Modern World View “the human self exists as an infinitesimal island of meaning and spiritual aspiration in a vast purposeless universe.” This is triggered by the scientific revolution and an increasing understanding of the complexity of how the world works. Sure enough this development of the notion of center has undergone a similar trajectory in most sciences. At the cosmic scale for instance, we’ve seen a shifting of our positioning of the center from that being the earth, to the sun, to a network of galaxies, to an unknowable origin point in an ever-expanding universe. The notion of center has expanded away from us, and has become intangible, and imperceptible. As a result cosmology has become less concerned about situating the center, to more understanding the constituent parts of the universe and their dynamics. A center might exist, but locating it is not important. A similar progression has occurred in particle theory with a consistent breaking down of what lies at the center of matter, and its relation to the whole, from a fairly straightforward model (a nucleus of protons and neutrons around which electrons orbit), to an almost impossible-to-fathom relationship between sub-atomic particles of quarks and leptons that behave in increasingly abstract notions of waves, spins, and decays.
Evolving planning models
In the evolution of our cities and our understanding of cities, we can see a similar refinement in our concepts of center and periphery. Unlike cosmology and particle theory though, which seek mainly to describe what al ready exists, urbanism has both a descriptive and a nor mative side – meaning our theories of how a city ought to exist often become inscribed in the future city, and thus affect anew our descriptive theory. Regardless, some kind of basic history of the center can be attempted. Before the industrial revolution, we can see a relatively stable urban form of strong cen ters and well-defined edges. The symbolism of the center was reinforced architecturally by representing whatever aspect of society was most dominant. If it were religion, than a church was the focus, if it were empire than a palace would be the focus, and if were trade, than a market hall. Cities however remained relatively small and simple, and thus a coherent and strong sense of center was easy to maintain. However with the rapid urbanization that came with industrialization, came a rapid blurring of the notion of center. The constituent parts of the city, the machin ery let’s say, became more complex, with large ports, manufacturing zones, transportation and services infra structure, and housing developments. Symbolic centers and geographic centers still remained, but it became increasingly difficult to conceive of a city in such a neat terms as center and periphery. The city became a patchwork. Some normative models sought to correct this by reasserting a strong center with clear relationships to its constituent parts. Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City model is most notable for this, with a park at its core (a nod to the importance of public health at the time) and different transportation lines and zoned uses radiating outward. He also sought to re-establish a relationship with the periphery, by making the countryside accessible through the drastic reduction in settlement size and clear divisions between uses. Other models however sought to refine the machinery of the city without care, or perhaps in spite of the center. Le Corbusier’s Plan Voisin literally wipes out a portion of central Paris for a kind of systematic production of tower blocks. Here he tries to refine the machinery of living without regard to some larger sense of hierarchy or symbolic order. Under his framework of the Functional City, the priority becomes making the machinery (working, living, and recreation) work as best as possible, putting architecture before urban design. Hilberseimer’s decentralized Großstadt, and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Broadacre City similarly sacrifice a strong symbolic center for priorities of making the city function. Descriptive theory in the twentieth century also made a leap from a focus on centers and a radial form of urbanism to a decentralized patchwork model. The first strong body of urban theory to come out of America came from Chicago. The Chicago School, as it was called, was quick to establish many important urban models that relied on a radial pattern consisting of a strong center and concentric zones. Describing Chicago at the time, it placed the Central Business District at the core, as finance in the twentieth century had replaced other uses as the symbolic center, with zones of ‘transition’, industry, and housing, all expanding outwards into the hinterland. In many ways the diagrams that came out of the school resemble Howard’s tidy circles for his Garden
City. Although this relatively simplistic body of theory remained the standard for describing the form of North American cities for decades, it was also a period of rapid morphological change in cities, as automobiles became ubiquitous, opening up vast tracts of land for suburbani zation. This meant that almost as soon as Chicago School theory was put to paper it became redundant, and theorists would struggle for decades for a more adequate body of theory. One significant attempt to comprehend scale at this time, and thus shift our conception of the center, especially concurrent with scientific discoveries at the atomic and cosmological level, was the Charles and Ray Eames video Powers of Ten. Commissioned by IBM in 1977, the video is dubbed ‘a film dealing with the relative size of things’, and focuses on an areal shot of a pair of picnickers in downtown Chicago. The video proceeds to zoom out at an exponential rate. It first reveals Chicago in its entirety – resembling far more a sprawling patch work, then the neat Chicago School diagrams from the thirties – continuing to zoom out to reveal the whole earth, our solar system, the galaxy, and then several gal axies. The video pauses, and we’re brought back to the picnickers, only to zoom in to the hand of the man, revealing cellular structure, DNA structure, and finally the structure of a singular carbon atom. In establishing the inter-relationship between different scaled systems, the video is important in establishing an expanded view of urbanism; the city itself is part of a larger system, but also comprises several smaller systems. Concurrent with the Eames video were expanding schools of systems theory, ecological theory and actornetwork theory, all of which could be applied to the city, to paint it as a vast complex interrelated network of systems, forces, centers, and peripheries. In the eighties the LA School of Urban Geography became the first coherent body of urban theory to challenge the outmoded Chicago school. Using Los Angeles as its base for obser vation – a city which far more reflects the decentralized urbanism of suburban America than the Chicago of the thirties – the LA School was able to combine modern thinking in ecology, economy, and sociology, often with flares of postmodernism and post-fordism, to describe the dynamics of the city in terms such as ethnic enclaves, heterotopic spaces, flexible accumulation, and symbolic capital. Rather than condemn this vast spread of hardto-read urbanism, as was popular at the time, LA School geographers were insistent on legitimizing it, not as necessarily good or bad, but a very real form of urbanism that should be acknowledged, assessed, and worked on, rather than denied. Recently landscape urbanism and ecological urbanism, both championed at Harvard Graduate School of Design, have emerged as the newest urban theories to challenge our notion of centrality. They posit landscape and ecology, respectively, as more capable than architec ture, for organizing the city and enhancing the urban ex perience. In many ways, these schools shift our thinking away from centers to peripheries, to the vast infrastruc tures that maintain our cities, from landfills, to sewage facilities, to water viaducts, and contemplate ways of better integrating them with our urban environments. Birthing the cult of the center Urbanism is by no means bereft of a rich body of theory describing our increasingly complex urban world. Along the way, our theoretical concept of center has been
needed to convince people about a certain direction. To do so, planners fell back on the tricks of advertising agencies, arousing nostalgic images, and latent desires within individuals to sell a product. Planning presentations, once full of abstract graphs and people-less axono metrics, now were full of photography of playing children, watercolors of quaint architecture, and motivational sayings and platitudes. With the need to aggressively create a company brand, and to communicate a snappy message, the Cult of the Center was birthed. Taking the very real problem of downtown decay as the uniting battle cry, planners created a mythology of the center that could be taken from city to city and sold to win more contracts. Today the mythology goes a bit like this. It starts with the description of an urban ideal: Often a Normal Rockwell Main Street is invoked or Jane Jacob’s Greenwich Village of the 1960s. A nostalgia for ‘chance encounters’, the ‘daily ballet of the street’, conversations with your neighbors and local storeowners, and vibrant public spaces is juxtaposed with the vilified modernism of single-use zoning, housing projects, highways, and the anti-septic car-dependent suburbia that we all find our selves living in. Planners than rouse public and political support through keynote speeches, town hall meetings, three-day visioning charrettes, and the like, where the line between evangelist and bureaucrat is blurred. Density Is declared the only cure to the problem and so they then work fastidiously to change zoning by-laws, density restrictions, and official plans to facilitate high-density mixed use development downtown, and work hand-inhand with developers to realize those projects. When a project is realized, then the planners involved can suc cessfully invoke that we have ‘returned to the city’ and the mythology is complete. Damages
One might ask at this point, is this necessarily bad? Should development in the center be shunned? Should we criticize planners for taking credit for their work? No not necessarily. But by becoming singularly obsessed with this ‘back to the center’ mission, planners and their Cult of the Center could be inflicting damage in a number of ways. Here are four concerns to pay attention to: Redundancy: The first problem here is that planners might actually have nothing to do with this process. Although they claim that they are advocating for a return to downtown living, high oil prices and the limits of suburban sprawl might have more to do with it than anything else. Building high-density developments downtown is starting to make sense for developers who have no more suburban land to build on and consumers who want to live close to work. The planner is then simply a cheerleader standing on the sidelines, devoting their time and resources to a project that is already hap pening without them, rather than focusing their talents elsewhere. More insidiously, there is becoming an evermore entwined relationship between developers and plan ning consultants, with development firms sponsoring the keynote speeches and visioning sessions run by planners advocating for high-density centers, as they stand to profit from any changes in zoning codes that such advo cacy might lead to. When Larry Beasley, former chief planner of Vancouver, landed a gig as the chief planner of the Abu Dhabi Planning Council, for instance, his asso ciation with Vancouver developers helped them land con tracts in the Emirates building high-rise developments.
expanded, spliced, shifted, de-centered and multiplied, adding to the sense of our city as a diverse ecology. So why is it that practicing planners in North America, for the most part engage in a completely different view of the city, one that seems Ptolemaic in comparison? How has the Cult of the Center thrived when we know that there’s no such thing as a singular center nor are centers necessarily the most important part to the functioning of a city? We can see the origins of the Cult of the Center in one of the greatest books of the twentieth century, Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities. It was one of the first to pinpoint the rot and decay taking place in America’s downtowns. The wholesale demolition of neighborhoods for housing projects and highways that would act as escape valves to the bourgeoning sub urbs, was rightly lambasted as disastrous. In her criticism she was able to paint a convincing portrait of the quali ties of a city that made it vital and diverse. Despite her warnings, the process of suburbanization and inner city disinvestment raged for the next forty years. However in her arguments Jacobs’ flirted with architectural deter minism, that certain forms are inherently better than others, and will make society function better. It was a popular practice at the time and was present in several other important books: (A Pattern Language, The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces). It would also become a basic tenet for the Cult of the Center; that center form is better than periphery form: High density vs. low density. During this time two important shifts started taking place in the North American planning profession. The first was the shrinking of public planning bodies and the growth in private planning consultants. As cities increasingly emptied out, municipal coffers dried up and entire planning staffs were sacked. Planners then started their own private offices, taking up temporary contracts with cities, which ironically would end up cost ing cities more in the long run. This shift deeply affected the way planners practice. No longer were there budgets for ten-year studies, deep institutional knowledge, and understanding of a city. The ambitions of systems planning – methodical computerized monitoring of the city, which could inform development decisions – was immediately jettisoned. Instead consultants had to be nimble, quick-footed, jumping from contract to contract, city to city. Because of this new tempo, formulas had to be crafted, that could be deployed from place to place that would please clients with a minimum effort on the part of the consultants. Timeless urban codes as espoused by Jacobs, Christopher Alexander and William Whyte became consultant gold – irrefutable steps to mak ing a city a better place. During this era, notable offices such as the New Urbanist stalwarts Duany Plater-Zyberk and Peter Katz’ Strategic Consulting Practice thrived. The second shift was a shift from technical advisor to communicator and facilitator. The days of the tech nocrat quietly drafting master plans in a backroom were over. In the sixties planners like Paul Davidoff rightly showed how planning without broader community buy-in was doomed to fail – pointing to the public housing projects that proliferated in American cities in the early post-war era. Instead planners were required to wear a new hat, that of a communicator, a listener, to a broader group of stakeholders. This meant that not only did plan ners need to communicate the complexities and urgencies of urbanism to a broader public, largely through the con struction of easy-to-digest narratives, but also, planners
Concessions: In framing this problem as a kind of ‘reversing the tides’, as a battle between suburb and city, planners are inadvertently giving developers the upper hand at the negotiating table. Developers can position downtown building as an extra burden to their pro forma, and then can lobby for density bonuses, and shortcuts concerning building design and quality. A similar mentality is used with regards to the consumers. Larry Beasley, when asked about the anti-septic, overly clean environ ment of Vancouver’s downtown condo development, conceded that to convince suburbanites to move down town they had to provide the feeling of cleanliness and safety that suburbanites were accustomed to.2 The result in Vancouver today is a much criticized forest of anony mous and isolated glass and steel towers; hardly the ‘street ballet’ that Jane Jacobs had once described. Jobs: In some of the cities where the Cult of the Center has taken particular hold, in Toronto for instance, residential development has boomed, while commercial development has stagnated. Through inherent differences in commercial and residential tax rates, the climate for building workplaces in many cities has not improved, while planners focus solely on making the important legislative changes to stimulate residential growth. This is signaling an important shift in commuting patterns as downtown residents are increasingly commuting to the suburbs for their jobs. The criticism of suburbs as being dormitory communities has completely turned on its head as we are seeing the rise in dormitory downtowns. Inequalities: By ignoring the suburbs in broad strokes for a fanaticism for the center, we are potentially ignoring the exacerbation of huge socio-spatial inequal ities. An influential report was published in 2010 called ‘The Three Cities Within Toronto’, which outlined increas ing divisions between a wealthy core, an impoverished ring of inner suburbs, and a middle-class exurbia. Older suburbs are becoming increasingly impoverished, while the center lifestyle adamantly advertised by planners is becoming only affordable to the increasingly wealthy. Similarly cities like New York City and Chicago, which once contained affordable downtown options, are now exclusively the domain of the rich.
Prince lies simply in bringing back a mythical middle class, who want lattes and free parking? Is this not a modernday ‘let them eat cake’ moment? Cities today face many challenges, empty down towns being one of many. One can only hope that the next generation of urban planners can break from this center obsession, taking on a more nuanced and compre hensive view of the city, to tackle its myriad problems.
1 Peter Buchanan, ‘The Big Re-Think: Integral Theory’ in
The Architectural Review, February 29th 2012. (At: http://www. architectural-review.com/the-big-rethink/the-big-rethinkintegral-theory/8626996.article) 2 Vancouverism in Vancouver directed by Robin Anderson and Julie Bogdanowicz (Vancouver 2007) 3 Greg Lindsay ‘Port-au-Prince 2.0: A City of Urban Villages?’ Fast Company, Jan 26th 2011. (At: http://www.fastcompany.com/ 1720799/port-au-prince-20-a-city-of-urban-villages)
A cult too far
Every cult has a breaking point, a shoot-out in Waco, a murder of a Hollywood celebrity, or a mass-suicide in South America, where even cult members can no longer stay faithful to the cause. For the Cult of the Center, this breaking point could be Haiti. In 2011, after the rav ages of a devastating earthquake, and the social unrest, disease, and disenfranchisement that ensued, urban planning consultant Andres Duany revealed his office’s plans for a new rebuilt central district of Port-Au-Prince. The results were boilerplate Duany: water-colored axo nometrics, a consistent grid of similar but varied vernac ular architecture, and a shopping list of amenities for a middle class lifestyle, including copious underground parking. Concerning the excessive amount of parking offered in his vision, Duany invoked a familiar dictum, “If Port-au-Prince is to be rebuilt, it can only be amortized by the middle class and above. The question is: how do we bring them back? Because you cannot reconstruct the city without them.”3 But in applying his ‘back-to-thecity’ mythology to Haiti, the suspension of our disbelief is broken. In a politically fractured, IMF-ravaged, infra structurally devasted situation like Haiti, are we really expected to believe that the key to rebuilding Port-Au-
An Economic Zon Against All Odds Matias Echanove and Rahul Srivastava interviewed by Agata Jaworska
Agata Jaworska Dharavi is one of the rare situa tions in which a slum presents an opportunity. How did this unique situation come to be? Matias Echanove & Rahul Srivastava Actually, what is
or is not a slum is not so clear-cut. The reality this word is supposed to describe shifts from context to context. In Mumbai, people living in areas identified as slums by the government or referred as such by the media, city builders, and politicians, often take great pains to point out that their neighborhoods are not slums at all. Some times they are old urban villages that had sublet pieces of land to poor migrants; their low-rise high-density form made urban authorities refer to them as slums. In other cases migrant communities were patronized by politicians who allowed them to settle on government land. The settlers were promised a place in the city in exchange for votes. They did not see themselves as encroachers or squatters since their move was sanctioned by official authorities. The history of these neighborhoods is often forgotten. Many of them have grown into busy zones of economic activity and livelihood. Their residents con tribute to the city’s life in major ways. Their presence has turned Mumbai into the best-serviced city in India, perhaps in the world. They are an affordable workforce and need affordable housing. Dharavi emerged along with other such settlements. It is not a city within a city, nor is it the exception that it is often portrayed as being. It grew around mangrove creeks on the outer edges of the colonial city. Its histor ical epicenter is Dharavee Koliwada, a four century-old tribal fishing village. Dharavi is particularly well known since the city grew around it. Once at the periphery of the colonial city, it attracted leather workers and others
who had no other place to go. It is now at the center of Greater Mumbai, strategically located along two major railway tracks, minutes away from one of India’s major corporate hubs, the Bandra-Kurla Complex. Dharavi has become famous for its activities that are plugged into the city’s trading, manufacturing, and service sectors. We see this situation as one it actually shares with many other settlements. It is connected to its spatial organization that happens to combine work and living conditions characterized by the form we refer to as the ‘tool-house’. This allows for a whole lot of manufacturing, retailing, and trading activities to function from this mixed-use condition. A combination of greed, prejudice, and ideological bias prevents the authorities from supporting the incre mental, locally-driven development of Dharavi. The label ing of it as a ‘slum’ has the perverse effect of delegiti mizing a neighborhood altogether and thus justifying the lack of provision of public services. This is because slum dwellers are perceived as squatters who have no rights to the city. Thus, the label of ‘slum’ is itself the biggest obstacle in the improvement of the quality of life in Dharavi and other such settlements. This is why through actual and conceptual intervention we aim at normalizing a neighborhood that doesn’t have much to gain from being described as an exception. What we should recog nize is that Dharavi is a natural urban formation, unique and banal at once. It is the tip of the iceberg. Dharavi is urban India at its best, because it is a testimony to the capacity of people to lift themselves up against all odds; and at its worst because it also has the messed-up aspect of a creature that was beaten up, marginalized, and op pressed by powerful forces over too many years. The category ‘slum’ is considered to be the antonym of what is supposed to be the formal city. The formal city itself is a notion suspended somewhere in our collec tive imaginary. A fantasy that only the most developed East Asian and North European nations succeed in up holding in the urbanism of their cities. In Mumbai the formal city evokes high-rise blocks in segregated zones, connected by motorways, flyovers, sea links, and (per haps someday) monorails, and a neat division of functions between residential, recreational (i.e. shopping), and working quarters. This image is so twentieth century! Especially when we know that at the heart of what we consider to be the formal world’s economy is the web – that incredibly free and user-driven system – and global finance, which rides on deregulation, borderlessness, risk-taking, and cocaine. In fact binary categories like the formal and the informal become rigid formulations that don’t do justice to the urban dynamics that exist in a city as diverse as Mumbai. Dharavi and many other settlements like it are fully plugged into the economic dynamics of the city. Their mixed-use spatial logic and cheap labor supply support
Dharavi, located in Mumbai, India, has the dubious honor of being one of the most econom ically productive informal settlements in the world. Playing a pivotal role in the local and national economy while being critically underserviced and politically marginalized paradoxically makes it both central and peripheral at the same time. It is in this milieu that Matias Echanove and Rahul Srivastava have carved out their urban action-research platform URBZ, which they founded together with Geeta Mehta. Agata Jaworska got in touch with them to discuss Dharavi’s role as a productive force and urban phenomenon.
Photo: Ishan Khosla
the activity of large-scale corporate groups through manufacturing and retail or by providing services at cheap rates. Seventy percent of the total workforce is said to belong to the ‘informal’ sector. And matching this figure is the overwhelming population that is supposedly living in ‘slums’. If this is the dominant condition how can the economy and the settlements be referred to as informal, marginal, or peripheral?
AJ Dharavi came to exist because of the lack of infrastructure – any area that was serviced would have been unsuitable, as affordability was the key determining factor. If Dharavi gets serviced, will it still exist? How would retrofitting infrastructure change its dynamics? ME&RS Actually a close observation of Dharavi’s
history reveals an incremental growth of infrastructure over a long period of time. Schools, roads, and community toilets have been built over decades. Sometimes with state support, sometimes entirely by the state, sometimes privately, and sometimes through community initiatives. Compared to other neighborhoods identified as slums, many parts of Dharavi are decently serviced, though the scope for improvement is tremendous. Municipal author ities often have to be bribed to fix a pipe. Electricity is legally provided by private companies, metered and paid for. The proportion of toilets per capita is low. Only the few who can afford to have them built, have them at home. Some just don’t have enough space or resources and have to use community toilets or the streets themselves. This state of affairs is something that is connected to civic clout and varies street by street, or neighborhood by neighborhood. If Dharavi gets improved
services, it will still exist, and better than ever before, but only if such improvements are not clubbed with whole sale changes in the built-form of the neighborhood. AJ While governments are busy setting up special economic zones, Dharavi has self-established itself as one. Could this economic hub have come to exist with government involvement? How do you think the government can now plug in? ME&RS If the government had appreciated how the
artisanal energy found in the communities here provided highly-skilled but cheap labor to the city, they would have connected these efficiently to the emerging indus trial and service sector. Then the story of Mumbai would have been different. Right now the efficiency of Dharavi is connected to its spatial logic, the autonomy and independence that its small-scale economic units enjoy and the presence of community histories embedded in the neighborhood. Dharavi residents refer to the area as a special economic zone in an ironic manner, often with sarcasm. After all, most special economic zones are pampered with facilities. The opposite is true of Dharavi. For this one can attribute prejudice and ignorance, or a combination of the two as the main reasons. Privi leged classes in India are used to a high level of subsidized labor and a cheap service economy, shaped by older modes of social stratification. To have entire neighbor hoods living in poorly serviced conditions, where the service providers are badly paid is completely acceptable to them. Such neighborhoods can exist cheek by jowl with privileged ones. Since they often emerge on govern ment land, or by paying cheap rent to small-time land lords, their presence is seen to be the result of charity
Photo: Ishan Khosla
Photo: Ishan Khosla
or disrepute. When market forces start eyeing that land, for real-estate development, the ‘slum-dwellers’ are seen as encroachers and squatters, with their continued pres ence there being constantly under threat of demolition. The state or municipal authorities, which had been complicit in the development of such neighborhoods in the first place, then start to work hand-in-glove with developers and try to clear them out. Neighborhoods with stronger political clout manage to survive these maneuvers to a certain degree. Dharavi, through its den sity, demographics, and political clout has managed to push forth its own agenda fairly successfully, but is under threat now by the weight of its inaccurate reputation as a ‘slum’.
AJ Almost all companies in Mumbai have some sort of contact with Dharavi – whether through products or with waste. Can you tell us more about some of these connections with Mumbai, India, and the rest of the world? How does informal Dharavi interact with the formal world? ME&RS It would be best not to look at Mumbai as
framed by formal and informal channels, but as a web of activities located in different neighborhoods, each with their own advantages and strengths. There are people working for multi-national companies as secretaries, drivers, security guards in so-called formal spaces, but they themselves live in neighborhoods qualified as ‘infor mal’. In their homes, other family members are making small components that are then sent off to assembling units that produce taxed goods. Many shopping malls may have products, in their restaurants or in shops, made in settlements like Dharavi. Export of goods, especially leather and clothes, from Dharavi to countries around the world is fairly well known. Within Dharavi, residents are provided with goods and services by local agents all the time. The neighborhood is a hub for exchange of goods and services from throughout the city. Its central location, connected to all three railway lines – western, central and harbor – as well as by bus-networks, makes it a very convenient transaction point. Recycling of waste is a major chunk of its economic activity and is networked all through the city through agents, collectors, and sup pliers. Material comes by hand carts, taxis, trucks, and trains. Local construction activities are another substan tial economic activity. Dharavi is a market for cement, bricks, pipes, and other construction material, and is constantly building and rebuilding structures all over the neighborhood. Dharavi interacts with the city, country, and world pretty much using all existing resources – mainly through agents, business networks, the city’s trans port systems, and mobile and communication devices. It would be interesting to turn this question on its head and ask how ‘formal’ middle-class residential build ings in Mumbai are connected to the city around them. A typical high-rise apartment block is serviced by dozens of unregistered workers on every floor: guards, cleaners, maids, cooks, nannies, drivers, and an army of delivery men. Its residents often work from home (without com mercial license), download all kinds of files from the net, hide gold from the surveyor, transfer cash to foreign accounts, pay bribes to officials, buy real estate in cash and so on. What we need is a new way to think about produc tion and services in the city. In a study we are currently conducting in Dharavi, we are looking at mobility from the point of view of home-based economic activities. What we are observing is that the house is connected
to the city through a constant flux of goods and people moving in and out. Our cities are not organized in formal and informal zones. The division between the center and the periphery are blurred. The city’s activities are organized in webs and hubs that span across places and classes. On one level Dharavi is one such hub. On another, it is a collection of small producers themselves clustered in different parts of the neighborhoods, working in a net worked fashion, each according to their own traditions and specializations. AJ For Dharavi to have a leading position within economic chains, it possibly needs to shift from executing orders to also initiating them. Can we expect that to happen in Dharavi? How would you describe the role that Dharavi fulfills within national and international chains? ME&RS Dharavi’s strengths are in recycling, manu
facturing, construction, and services. Its location at the center of the city, its spatial logic, its deep social net works, its cultural diversity, its extreme density and clustering of activities, are strategic advantages in the domestic and global market. We are not sure if we can simply project the wisdom of the day in terms of planning and development onto Dharavi’s future. Not everyone aspires to be a designer. Optimizing the production process is itself a creative activity, which can be valued for its own sake. Of course, Dharavi is not one homog enous space or system. It is perfectly feasible for some industries and activities to establish leadership in the larger market and start initiating more orders. In fact, this has been happening for a long time in some industries. For instance, the potters sell products that they have designed themselves. Lots of leatherwork is designed
Photo: Ishan Khosla
locally as well. However, to mark that out as a joint aspiration for the whole neighborhood does not really make sense. Nothing can be pushed onto the neigh borhood. Its strength is its ability to reinvent itself con stantly. To appreciate its logic we need to accept its existing specializations as well as its multi-zonal mind set. Dharavi is deeply connected to the wider economic systems at large, not as one consolidated neighborhood, but through its own very diverse and adaptable systems. To visualize it as a distinct, holistic sub-system and then imagine its transformation through taking a position of leadership, falls back in the trap of thinking of neighborhoods as planned, zoned spaces in their most ideal form. AJ The likes of Harvard, Droog, The Economist, Domus and many others study Dharavi. It is a gold mine for case studies in business, urban planning, architecture, design, recycling, (etc.), becoming a central point of reference for research across disciplines. Why is the world looking at Dharavi and what does it hope to learn? ME&RS Actually if we come here looking for case
AJ Has all the attention and admiration from the formal world changed the way Dalits – a marginalized group of people in India traditionally regarded as ‘untouchable’ – are perceived and their role in society? Does the economic success story translate into a social success story? ME&RS The fact that Dharavi has the largest pres
ence of Dalit communities in the city is hardly ever fore grounded in discussions about the neighborhood, at least in the mainstream media. As it is, positive discrimi nation and affirmative action are touchy topics for dom inant classes in the city. In fact, the temporary subsidies or rights of use of government land by poor migrant communities is resented much in the same way as reser vation for jobs and educational opportunities for Dalit and other marginal communities.
studies that are framed in conventional practices then we will be disappointed. What is commendable about Dharavi is certainly linked to its ability of creating a functioning vibrant economic environment from very little support and capital. It managed to do this by relying on community networks that are deeply connected to native homes. At the same time native histories for most communities were connected to feudal oppressive rela tions and caste prejudice. Migrating to the city meant freeing oneself from those older histories. The despera tion, freedom, and liberation, along with making the most of very little in a new environment – often by accepting very poorly serviced conditions – are all aspects of Dharavi’s ‘success’ story, but cannot be put in a business case-study. One can hardly turn those histories into eco nomic models! However, what one can do is look care fully at what aspects of its functioning can inform con temporary urban environments, so we respect it when we see it elsewhere. Our studies indicate that its spatial logic; its collapse of live-work functions; the low-rise high-density structures that incrementally grow over time; and the presence of community-based support struc tures are parts of a larger functioning system, that may help us understand how urban neighborhoods in different parts of the world can stimulate a similar local economic dynamism. This is definitely worth a study. These con ditions allow for a collective upward social and urban mobility of neighborhoods in a manner that builds on internal resources of the residing communities and allows them to respond to economic needs in an efficient manner and with lower risks involved. Having multiple sources of incomes; creating value through spatial development; renting and sub-letting; manufacturing and trading; creating creative co-dependencies between individuals, groups and families; keeping alive connec tions with native histories; and also investing in new opportunities through education, are all factors that have helped Dharavi and neighborhoods like Dharavi transform themselves in a manner that is worth under standing and then emulating. Besides this, its ability of providing highly skilled labor services relying on community skills connected to artisanal histories, but which now adapt to industrial and post-industrial activities, is another special feature that needs to be documented and understood.
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However, it is also true that the Dalit identity is not something that many residents actively use in their daily lives. In many ways, neighborhoods like Dharavi allow for reinvention of identities that tries to erase marginality connected to older names and histories. Yet, this is a complex game. Political parties use caste as an active principle at times and as subordinate at others. The role of caste in Dharavi’s economic and social success is not often understood or appreciated enough, except by some enthusiastic scholars and activists. It is true though that today the global attention to the special economic history of Dharavi has made the media more aware. But this does not often translate into a deeper appreciation that transforms into productive policies. For most of the time the fact that economic success is not reflected in civic infrastructure only reinforces the idea that the ‘slum’ needs to be erased. When this happens,
off goes its economic dynamism. What it needs really is better provision of services and improvement of its environment without destroying its existing builtenvironment, allowing for a gradual incremental logic to unfold in a manner that foregrounds its economic functions. For this some deep-rooted prejudice against some of the communities that make the human fabric of Dharavi must be overcome. AJ Dharavi attracts people from across India, attaining a certain kind of density and diversity. When people converge in one place, they usually reinvent their identity. Is that happening in Dharavi? ME&RS Yes, certainly. We have documented hundreds
of religious shrines in the locality. These reveal the regional affiliations and traditional background of diff er ent residents and communities of Dharavi residents.
Each shrine is a story of reinvention and transformation, a play of remembering and forgetting caste and ethnic identities and celebrating new freedoms. India’s most definitive leaders, Gandhi and Ambedkar, did not see eye to eye as far as stories of caste histories went. Gandhi glorified an imagined Indian village and its functional division of labor as the fulcrum for Indian society. Ambedkar was firm that erasing the past, leaving the village and moving to the city was a more reliable means to genuine liberation from caste. In a paradoxical way, Gandhi’s imagined, hardworking, productive, artisanal village was actualized in urban settlements like Dharavi, which also became a site for Ambedkar’s dreams to be actualized in terms of tran scending caste and achieving freedoms. At a symbolic level, a nod of acknowledgment towards each other, by Gandhi and Ambedkar, can only be visualized in a place like Dharavi. It would never have happened in reality during their lifetimes. However even at a symbolic level, such an acknowledgment can only happen if Dharavi is respected and transformed in a manner that can continue to host and provide opportunities for waves of new migrant communities of different backgrounds to keep creating opportunities. Unfortunately the present urban imagi nation in terms of policies everywhere in the world is not in a position to facilitate this. AJ Is Dharavi sustainable? What is the future of Dharavi? ME&RS In many ways, Dharavi is a manifestation
Photo: Ishan Khosla
of a set of urban processes that we believe belong to the trajectory of a ‘natural’ city. This oxymoron is our way of saying that positing the city as a hard-wired counter point to ‘nature’ and thus seeing it solely as a variable of human intervention and control is ultimately what makes them become totalized, over-controlled, sterilized spaces. That only encourages landscapes that are speculatively financed, producing miles of built form and real estate development, neatly segregated into zones of recreation, residences, and livelihood. In the process of constructing
ideal cities, so much investment is made that no one sees how economic vitality is often leeched out of human lives and put into buildings and boulevards, creating brittle and vulnerable cities in the long run. As a natural city, the historical development of Dharavi has been a testimony to the ability of residents to create dynamic environments. However physically impoverished, they are nevertheless indicative of possi bilities of a better urban future for all. In our minds, the future of Dharavi can be a better one, reflected in the concrete reality of some Tokyo neighborhoods, which often share a template of urban development with Dharavi, but in a much more developed way. Or even in the con fidently transforming streets of ‘favela’ neighborhoods in Sao Paulo. Of course, the hard reality is that urban visions for all are now trapped in rather limited designs and projections. It is highly unlikely that Dharavi will be able to challenge those easily, and be allowed to follow its own trajectory. The ongoing process of urbanization in Mumbai and the world at large is one that erases as much as it builds. Guy Debord said that urbanization negates the city because it deprives neighborhoods of the chance of reproducing and reinventing themselves. The idea that development must follow a linear tra jectory from the slum to the formal city is plainly wrong. Particularly if by formal we mean a certain form of urban ization characterized by high-rise buildings and large motorways. This formal city is a false kind of urbanization. What makes a city a city is the people that inhabit it and the way they interact with each other and their environ ment, making it their own, constantly balancing between their history, present needs, and aspirations, individually and collectively. The city is reproduced everyday through the million social or commercial interactions that knit people together. The city should therefore not be understood as a counterpoint to the slum or the village. These are enmeshed in the city’s economy, fabric, and ethos.
High-Frequency T and the Nodes of Matthew Tiessen
In the world of finance – that is, in our increasingly ‘financialized’ world – any distinctions that may have once existed between (financial) centers and (financial) peripheries are being dissolved at, quite literally, the speed of light. This dissolution is being led by the effec tively non-human demands of algorithmically-driven high-frequency trading (HFT). HFT is currently the most contentious and voluminous form of trading in the world. Indeed, these days over eighty percent of market volume is traded at microsecond and nanosecond-speeds by ultrafast computers across a globally interconnected meshwork of privately owned deep-sea fiber-optic cables according to the machinic – and unfeeling – logics and requirements of mathematics and (credit-) money. This high-frequency trading apparatus is driven by speed and feeds upon information. We can think of it as a sort of global video game that combines econometrics, psychol ogy, game theory, risk theory, power asymmetries, and competing temporalities and spatialities into a sort of trans-national – or post-national – ‘poker-bot’ designed to siphon maximum micro-profits from exchanges in the name of injecting ‘liquidity’ into increasingly volatile financial markets. (Recall, however, that market vola tility is a boon to high-frequency traders for whom the greater the ‘spread’ between prices the greater the potential profits). In light of HFT’s appetite for unlimited speeds and unlimited financial-arbitrage opportunities, the central nodes of the global finance network – London, New York, Chicago, Tokyo, etc. – are becoming its peripheries insofar as these days it’s the spaces in between the ex changes where the real action occurs – or has the potential to occur. In other words, in today’s bot-driven
world it’s not the prices of securities on the exchanges that matter, so much as the prices in between the ex changes or across different exchanges that create the conditions according to which HFT works its magic and data-mines the markets. The dissolution of the role of financial centers and the rise of the zones in between – whether those zones are literally desert, ocean, tundra, forest, or farmland – is resulting, as I will describe, in the emergence of a potentially more geographically distributed network of (financial) centers that derive their potency not so much from their being at the intersection of trade routes or from their being located where capital and com merce is concentrated, but by being geospatially located according to a sort of mathematics-of-in-between-ness – that is, by being optimally located in geographical space in a way that minimizes the impediments of time. More over, this emerging financial network will – as it evolves – become so profoundly integrated that no part of the network will be able to act or exist in isolation or outside of a relationship of absolute (arbitrage-gaming) inter dependence. In other words, in the near future financial markets will only exist – and financial prices will only be able to be ‘discovered’ – relative to their relationship to other markets, and these relationships will only be able to be ‘gamed’ by its nonhuman agents having access to geo-spatially and geo-strategically distributed sites that are optimally positioned to minimize info-lag between formerly central and increasingly peripheral financial ex changes. According to these emerging financial realities financial markets of the future will find numbers and algorithms jousting with other numbers and algorithms in a decentralized virtual info-war, the objective of which is to produce bigger numbers (with us or without us). In this essay, then, I want to describe this acceler ating dissolution of (financial) centers and peripheries by: 1) describing how today’s HFT works and the ways it’s taking advantage of price gaps across exchanges, not to mention speed- and power-asymmetries across market participants and 2) speculating on the HFT of the future, one that – I argue – even has the potential to precipitate geo-spatial conflict insofar as powerful market actors (governments, ‘too-big-to-fail’ banks, hedge funds, etc.) will seek to occupy or colonize increasingly strate gic and financially-significant sites while they all, at the same time, attempt to crowd their trades into ever smaller slivers of time. Such a financial future will neces sitate that the earth itself become, as authors WissnerGross and Freer have recently speculated, an “econophysical mechanism,”1 or an enabler of globalized financial connections, communication, and processes. This financialization of the planet’s peripheries, in turn, has the potential to lead to a heightened awareness of newly strategic geographical, political, and financial sites. In such a scenario global conflict, like financial trading, risks moving from the centers of power to power’s peripheries.
The financial world was once dominated by gossip, speculation, research and strategicallytimed trades – by people, for people. With the introduction of computers and high-speed fiber optic cables however, the human grasp on trading is becoming evermore tenuous. Algorithms and bots are the new players on the stock market, engaging in high-frequency trading at nearly the speed of light, turning microscopic gains across a vast field into major profits. Matthew Tiessen explains how a new logic and geography is emerging from this unfathomably fast and complex practice.
y Trading of Profit
High-frequency trading's hyper-fast present
“And what about the effects of money that grows, money that produces more money? […] For it is a matter of flows, of stocks, of breaks in and fluctuations of flows; desire is present wherever something flows and runs, carrying along with it interested subjects – but also drunken or slumber ing subjects – toward lethal destinations.”2 – Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari
On May 6, 2010, the Dow Jones Industrial Average sus tained its biggest intraday point decline in history. This now notorious so-called ‘Flash Crash’ revealed what can happen when automated digital decision-making exceeds human capacities to intervene. Although all the causes of the Flash Crash have not been identified conclusively, HFT was identified as the primary contributor. What was also made clear that day was that interconnected and automated computerized algorithms communicating and interacting at near light-speed on an effectively virtual battle field carry very real economic, not to mention social, risks. This unprecedented socio-economic episode, as Executive Director of the Bank of England Andrew Haldane observed at the time, exposed the precarious frontiers of algorithmically- and digitally-driven financial ‘innovation’: “Trading in securities [stocks, bonds, deriv atives] generated trading insecurities,” he remarked, adding that “the impatient world was found, under stress, to be an uncertain and fragile one.”3 HFT, just one instantiation of what Michel Serres has called the “algorithmic revolution”4 is a cultural and financial phenomenon brought to the public’s attention in 2009 by the New York Times in an article entitled “Stock Traders Find Speed Pays, in Milliseconds.” The continual growth of HFT has resulted in human traders, human communication, and human decision-making being rend ered effectively obsolete by digital tools that assess risk and crunch economic data at near-instantaneous speeds. This outsourcing of investing and ‘value’-assessment to high-speed computers risks purely financial logics taking precedence over, or entirely ignoring, other more humanfocused or ecologically motivated priorities. Indeed, it is the non-human or post-human dimension of these trading strategies that is perhaps most challenging to those of us who inhabit the ‘flesh-scape’, not only because of the financial risks and asymmetrical distribu tion of (technological and financial) power, but also because of the way HFT positions humans in relation to technology – i.e. as too slow to act relative to the technologies and tools we’ve devised. HFT, then, is a relatively recent addition to the financial trading landscape made possible by an arguably post-capitalist, post-nationalist, and fiber-optically connected world of online digital media and communi cation. It is a financial strategy whereby powerful financial actors and firms (hedge funds, ‘too-big-to-fail’ banks, private equity firms, etc.) attempt to extract incremental profits at near lightning speed by ‘frontrunning’ other traders and by taking advantage of price gaps and arbitrage opportunities across globallyinterconnected financial markets. Indeed, these days high-frequency traders are leveraging not only proprie tary automated digital algorithms, high-speed com puters, and privately owned networks of fiber optic cables, but also news-analyzing and headline-reading algorithms provided, for example, by news agency
Thomson Reuters, whose subsidiary Thomson Reuters News Analytics sifts through fifty thousand news websites and over four million social media sites – owned, no doubt, by themselves as well as others – in order to sell bespoke market-making information to today’s high-speed traders. Perfect HFT algorithms would, of course, not only operate at the speed of light, but would also preemptively be able to modulate future market events.5 These objec tives are well on their way to being achieved. Indeed, today major stock exchanges cater to traders’ need to gain incremental speed and knowledge advantages by selling ‘co-location’ and ‘direct market access’ (DRM) arrangements that allow traders’ servers to reside as physically close to exchanges’ computers as possible (i.e. attached to the wall of the exchange’s data center).6 These co-location agreements, result in those who can pay to play – the ‘haves’ – gaining access to incoming and outgoing market information ahead of those without the fiscal resources to do so. The speed gains achieved by server locations designed to optimize high-frequency traders’ ability to game the system will only further dis empower those unable to take advantage of tomorrow’s trading technologies. But as speed theorist Paul Virilio notes: “Speed and wealth go hand in hand.”7 The lengths (both spatial and financial) that highfrequency traders will go to optimize their micro-temporal advantage is demonstrated by the recent announcement that a 300 million dollars of fiber optic cable destined purely for financial transactions is being laid across the floor of the Atlantic ocean from New York to London. By 2013 the 6,021 kilometer cable – known as the Hibernian Express – will plot the shortest possible route between two of the world’s most potent financial centers in order to shave five or six milliseconds off of transaction times (Williams 2011).8 In fact, the privately-owned cables be ing installed between exchanges by these market actors are so speed-centric that they will never carry audio, video, or internet media, or data at all. In other words, the world’s fastest and most powerful digital media net works and data-distribution backbones are not catering to the tweeting, googling, poking, app-using, or you tubing practices of the internet-using public, but rather, to the demands of private equity to be able to ‘front run’ the market activities of less well-heeled – and less speedy – competitors (i.e. the rest of us). HFT, in so far as it is an attempt to breach both spatial and temporal limitations, can be understood as a ‘limit case’ of digital media itself. Indeed, the technoenhanced profit-making strategies of HFT are so new and fluid that government legislation is struggling to keep up. On Dec. 13, 2011, for example, the Commodity Futures Trading Association’s Technology Advisory Group in the US held a year-end hearing, the objective of which was to begin to develop merely a working definition of what exactly HFT is in order to begin to develop legisla tion to deal with it. This, we can presume, is the limit of financial literacy, legality, and – perhaps – lunacy (con sidering that HFT already makes up the majority of trades on today’s markets). High-frequency trading's de-centered future
“A path is always between two points, but the in-between has taken on all the consistency and enjoys both an autonomy and a direction of its own.”9 – Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari
“ Program trading […] is the image of the general accident, no longer the particular accident like the derailment or the shipwreck. In old technologies, the accident is “local”; with information technologies it is “global.” […] We are faced [here] with a new type of accident for which the only reference is the anal ogy to the stock market crash, but this is not suf ficient. […] I think that the infosphere – the sphere of information – is going to impose itself on the geosphere. … The capacity of interactivity is going to reduce the world, real space to nearly nothing.”10 The compression of space and time described by Virilio is nowhere more palpably manifested than in the machi nations of the HFT of the fast-approaching future which, having reduced temporal impediments to a technological minimum – insofar as market information now travels at ninety percent the speed of light – is left seeking to smooth physical space in the never-ending quest for eversmaller trading advantages. One of the ways this smoothing of trade-space is being accomplished is by the smoothing of geographical space. Looking into the future, some researchers have suggested that this will be accomplished through the optimization of the geo-spatial localizations of the highfrequency trader’s computer servers by actually opti mizing the location of their servers across the surface of the globe – whether that surface is on land or on water. After all, once your data is moving through space at the speed of light, you need to optimize light’s speed by adjusting the paths it travels through space. In a recent article entitled “Relativistic Statistical Arbitrage” Alex Wissner-Gross of the MIT Media Labo ratory, and Cameron Freer of the University of Hawaii suggest that in HFT’s inevitable future the earth itself will be tasked with becoming what they term an “econo physical mechanism” charged with smoothing interexchange communication and transaction times to traders’ advantage. According to their work, the speed with which contemporary financial transactions are being carried out – and the increasingly important role being played by the peripheral spaces in between exchanges – necessitates that “optimal intermediate locations between trading centers” be located so that “coordination of arbitrage trading from those intermediate points [is able to maxi
mize] profit potential”. In other words, in order to maxi mize trading efficiencies by reducing latencies between exchanges, intermediate locations must be mathe matically and geo-spatially determined so that trading servers can be positioned to minimize the distance trades must travel. They describe how what they call “relativistic statistical arbitrage trading nodes” can be optimally distributed “across the Earth’s surface” to minimize distances between globally significant stock markets. As they explain: “ Recent advances in high-frequency financial trading have made light propagation delays between geographically separated exchanges relevant. [We] show that there exist optimal locations [on our planet] from which to coordinate the statistical arbitrage of pairs of space-like separated secu rities, and calculate a representative map of such locations on Earth.” More often than not, these “optimal locations” are located in the world’s peripheries: in, for example, the middle of oceans and deserts – spaces Deleuze and Guattari identified as ‘smooth spaces’, that will – in our algorithmically-driven future – be driven or striated by fiber optic striations designed to maximize the move ment and smoothed flows of money-data to achieve maximum arbitrage-seeking advantage. These optimal locations, of course, would far outnumber the world’s financial exchanges since each exchange (New York, for example) would require as many intermediate nodes as there are other exchanges in order to maximally take advantage of the arbitrage opportunities. The speed imperatives inherent to HFT, then, can be understood to have made the earth itself a decentral ized form of digital media, a communication technology, a tool for digital mediation. As Wissner-Gross explains it: “ Eventually, this may lead to the development of a truly global computing infrastructure, covering even the most remote locales. I see this work” he adds, “as one possible justification for making the entire surface of the planet more computa tionally capable… and in effect, making the whole planet smarter.”11 Wissner-Gross and Freer’s proposal for geo-optimization in service of achieving maximum speed demonstrates that finance’s demand for speed and today’s algorithm’s capacity to parse data in this ‘new knowledge economy’ exceed all spatial and temporal limits and disrupt the conventional role once played by (financial) centers and peripheries. We can imagine, then, that the location of ideal server space will become increasingly contested information-rich terrain, as large numbers of financial and state actors seek spatial and speed advantages in their efforts to game global markets within smaller and smaller units of time. We can imagine too that as transmission times are technologically and spatially shrunk, risk will become increasingly concentrated and communication information highways increasingly congested according to the dictates, quite literally, of a zero sum game. In such potential spatial and temporal conflict scenarios, perhaps communication between real, live, individuals – rather than just between competing algorithms – might, in fact, stage a comeback. We are left, then, to imagine a future where financial geo-
In this final section I’d like to shift away from interrogat ing the HFT of today, to imagine that of tomorrow. We might assume that HFT, in its present state, would already have ‘smoothed’ financial space enough to appease the demands of contemporary capital. But its practitioners are not ones to be caught standing still. HFT might continue to evolve in the future, a future where, as I mentioned at the beginning, even the smoothest spaces can never be smooth enough for facilitating the demands of capital flows and where the curvature of the earth itself comes to be regarded as a speed bump – an information-inhibiting impediment to the ability of financial data to flow at high speed and in straight lines. Virilio reminds us that speed – whether in the world of communication, commerce, or war – is power and that with great speed and power come potentially cata strophic risks. Virilio’s analysis of the risks of speed leads him, in a prescient reflection in an interview in 1998, to comment on the use of computers on financial markets. Virilio describes the increasingly concentrated dangers of ever-faster flows of financial risk-taking as follows:
engineering and the immaterial- and even inhuman-labor performed by HFT machines leads increasingly to geo political conflict as a result of optimized trading nodeterritory colonization with the pursuit of smoothness by technologically-driven financial actors leading, in turn, to a concentration of both financial and military conflict. As these new sites of financial warfare12 emerge it will again become clear that today – and in the future – state space will continue being subsumed by financial space and that profit-led smoothing remains the way striations will continue to gain ground in the twenty-first century. The last word, then, will go to Deleuze and Guattari who – following the demise of the Bretton Woods financial system thanks to President Nixon in the 1970s and the de-linking of money from its material restraints (gold) – could not have envisioned our financialized, de-centered, deterritorialized, post-capitalist, post-humanist, and post-national future more clearly:
10 Paul Virilio and James Der Derian, eds.The Virilio Reader, trans.
Michael Degener, James Der Derian, and Lauren Osephchuk (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers. 1998). 11 Thomas McCabe ‘When The Speed Of Light Is Too Slow: Trading at the Edge’ (2010). Retrieved from http://www.kurzweilai.net/ when-the-speed-of-light-is-too-slow 12 James Rickards. Currency Wars: The Making of the Next Global Crisis. Portfolio hardcover. (2011). 13 Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987).
“ When the flows reach this capitalist threshold of decoding and deterritorialization […], it seems that there is no longer a need for a State, for distinct juridical and political domination, in order to ensure appropriation, which has become directly economic. The economy constitutes a worldwide axiomatic, a “universal cosmopolitan energy which overflows every restriction and bond” [….] Today we can depict an enormous, so-called stateless, monetary mass that circulates through foreign exchange and across borders, eluding control by the States, forming a multinational […] organization, consti tuting a de facto supranational power untouched by governmental decisions. But whatever dimensions or quantities this may have assumed today, capi talism has from the beginning mobilized a force of deterritorialization infinitely surpassing the deter ritorialization proper to the State.”13
1 A. D. Wissner-Gross and C. E. Freer. ‘Relativistic Statistical
Arbitrage’ in Physical Review 82, 2010 pp. 056104-1-056104-7.
2 Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and
Schizophrenia, trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, and Helen R. Lane (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983). 3 Andrew G. Haldane ‘Patience and Finance’ Speech by Mr Andrew Haldane, Executive Director, Financial Stability, Bank of England, at the Oxford China Business Forum, Beijing, September 9 2010. Bank for International Settlements. Retrieved from http://www. bis.org/review/r100909e.pdf 4 Michel Serres ‘The Science of Relations: An Interview’ in Angelaki, 8:2, 2003. pp. 227 – 238. 5 Greg Elmer and Andy Opel ‘Surviving the Inevitable Future’ in Cultural Studies, 20:4, 2006 pp. 477–92. & Brian Massumi “Potential Politics and the Primacy of Preemption” in Theory & Event, 10:2, 2007. 6 Ryan Garvey and Fei Wu ‘Speed, Distance, and Electronic Trading: New evidence on why location matters’ in Journal of Financial Markets, 13:4, 2010 pp. 367 – 96. 7 Paul Virilio and Sylvère Lotringer, ed. Politics of the Very Worst, trans. Michael Cavaliere, (New York: Semiotext(e)1999). 8 Christopher Williams ‘The $300m Cable that will save Traders Milliseconds’ in The Telegraph. 2001 Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/news/8753784/ The-300m-cable-that-will-save-traders-milliseconds.html 9 Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press 1998).
A Biennial on the Hedwig Fijen interviewed by Lilet Breddels and Arjen Oosterman
Lilet Breddels Manifesta started raising awareness about Eastern European artists to the rest of the international art world, to put them in the spotlight. Later when that task was done it focused on more peripheral regions and locations instead of the usual art capitals. Since more and more curators and biennials are following this model do you feel there is still a need for this? In other words, according to you, what is the future of Manifesta? Hedwig Fijen Manifesta is a European biennial,
which asks the question: how can we, every two years, research the cultural DNA of Europe? And how can we attract and reach audiences for whom it is not obvious to encounter contemporary art? In that sense we are looking for peripheral locations for Manifesta – if those still exist in Europe. We are different from other biennials because every two years we are able to create a different momentum. We look for curators who are able to formulate a vision of what a biennial for contemporary European art can mean, and who can come up with different models for what a biennial is. It is my task to find a curator that can do just that and who can formulate also the necessity for organizing Manifesta. It cannot be the same formula every two years; then we become redundant. Whether or not we can keep on pulling this off depends also on money and practicalities. Arjen Oosterman The ambition in the beginning was to create a platform to present lesser-known artists. Is that still an ambition for Manifesta? HF The situation from 1989 to now has completely changed. Not only has the landscape of biennials changed (there were about 14 then and 144 now), but also the
total institutional infrastructure has changed. We no longer feel the need to separate the generations and be only a platform for young emerging artists. The history of Manifesta proved you also have to limit the quantity of artists. This year for instance we only have 40 artists, all from different generations, and we look more for the dialogue between artists and art movements. We also do not focus solely on European artists anymore. Europe is the place where we are but the mobility of the art world creates a global perspective. We’ve also discussed whether Manifesta should always have a representational format or if it can be a book, conference, or school as well – as we did with Manifesta 6 when we worked in Cyprus where there were no art schools on the level that we thought was needed; so we decided to create a school. So Manifesta is very contextual: Where are we in terms of geopolitical location? And what is the momentum in the art discourse? The locations always come first, and then the curators are selected. Sometimes we fail to work in a desired location. We tried for instance to address ecological issues in Iceland and Greenland; not to make an exhibition but an extensive research program with experts. The banking crisis and specifically the collapse of the Icelandic banks put an end to that plan. Another idea was to address the islamophobia in Europe. This issue inspired the selection of Cartagena and Murcia in Southern Spain as the host of Manifesta 8 and the Manifesta 8 subtitle of ‘in dialogue with Northern Africa’. That Manifesta closed just as the spring revolts in the Arabic world first sparked. AO Up to what point is Manifesta politically engaged? HF We are neither an NGO nor a political party but
all the choices we make are somehow politically inclined including the host selection and choice of venues. We could go to Brussels or another mainstream location, but we chose to be here because it is at the core of the industrial revolution. This area forms the center of a belt of mining industries from the UK to Germany. The wealth and also social structure had its origins right here, with immense consequences in terms of culture, landscape, pollution, immigration, etc. And later the transportation of the industry to other parts of the world again had enormous consequences for the region (and of course for the countries it went to). So it relates to many issues: capitalism, post-Fordism, the history of labor and so forth. We gave a brief incorporating all these issues to some curators and asked them to study the region of Limburg for one month and to produce a curatorial pro posal. From these proposals we selected the Manifesta 9 curator. Cuauhtémoc Medina was very specific in the fact that he did not want to make a biennial without addressing the cultural heritage of the mines and the art
Photo: Arjen Oosterman
Manifesta is an international art biennial established in 1989 with the specific goal of creating a platform for Eastern European artists. It came into being at a time when their production was blooming, but their financial means, cultural infrastructure, and visibility were limited. After five installments, Manifesta’s original goal had been reached, with the Eastern European art world having achieved a sufficient connectedness to the rest of the scene, and so the focus shifted to other peripheral regions in Europe. Volume interviewed the founder and director, Hedwig Fijen, on the occasion of the opening of Manifesta 9 in the former coal-mining town of Genk, Belgium.
historical dimensions of coal. Without that he couldn’t communicate with and involve the inhabitants of the region. He then chose Katerina Gregos and Dawn Ades as co-curators. When there is no need, no poignant location, then Manifesta should stop. Maybe it has had its momentum. In 2006 we conducted research on what Manifesta did in the ten years following 1989, during the reconciliation of East and West: the ‘Manifesta Decade’ published with MIT Press. Now we’re planning another critical analysis of the period after that, not to affirm or celebrate what we did; we might even come to the conclusion that there is no longer a need for Manifesta. At this moment I can imagine that if Manifesta cannot prove that it is still nec essary and relevant the tenth edition might be the last. Also because Manifesta deals with an enormous amount of money and it’s getting more and more difficult to acquire those amounts.
to help the actors dealing with the mining history to be better heard by the politicians and create a viable plat form to discuss ways in how to present that (immaterial) mining history we already achieved a lot. There are a lot of biennials worldwide now, for instance in Africa and Asia that aim to give a global over view of the present state of the arts. But that is not needed here in Europe. Museums and other arts institu tions have taken over this role. AO In what way is European or maybe Western European art still a dominant factor in global art production? HF The mobility within Europe and from and to Europe has dramatically increased since the 1990s when we started Manifesta. At that time the cultural dominance of the West was still very much a reality. The influences from other places and cultures can be a catalyzing factor to research Europe. In this Manifesta the European artists are certainly not the majority. Maybe in general you can see a shift to other parts of the world, not only in terms of the artists but also the curators. Maybe the whole of Europe is becoming peripheral.
LB You mentioned that you want to reveal the DNA of Europe; what do you mean by that? HF We look for issues that determine the agenda of Europe. They can be cultural, political, or social, and form an inspiration for Manifesta. We won’t present those in a white cube in a capital city and we try to keep the huge marketing strategies out. But also that is becoming harder; yearly the demand from the sponsoring organizations in terms of (city)marketing is becoming stronger and stricter. To keep our independence and only strive for longer-term benefits for the region instead of shortterm gain or visibility is a daily struggle. Maybe the times for these kinds of initiatives with such an amount of freedom are over.
LB But that is an interesting thought also for Manifesta itself. First it was about artists that were – at that time – working on the periphery of the art world (the former East) and giving them a platform; then the attention shifted to peripheral locations; so maybe now to a peripheral continent? HF Definitely that could be interesting and maybe nec essary. Today a curator from the Reunion Islands proposed a Manifesta edition that would consider the position of Europe in regard to post-colonialism, not from the center, but from the periphery looking at a city like Paris. For now I think we just have to focus on surviving. I cannot say what the future will hold in this time of crisis in Europe. It could very well be that after two decades and a tenth edition of Manifesta, we would consider transforming Manifesta into an academic project, focusing on knowl edge instead of an exhibition.
AO You chose the city of Genk in Belgium, but you could have just as well been in Holland, Germany, or Wallonia. So why here? HF We couldn’t find an intact building in good condition
AO How do you prevent Manifesta from falling into that typical curatorial problem: that by starting from a theme, the artists in the presentation can only illustrate the curator’s intention. The work as such loses its independence.
HF More then ten people asked that question to Cuauhtémoc today. It irritated him as he saw this line of questioning being a typical Western reflection. In my opinion we can only circumvent that by doing something radically different now and then; for instance by leaving behind the exhibition format and creating a deeply research-based Manifesta. The ways in which biennials can focus more on research is what I am investigating now. I think that is a way of preventing Manifesta and biennials in general from becoming merely gimmicks. We are also looking to non-European locations. We went to investigate in Russia, Georgia, Africa, so far without success mostly for financial or logistical reasons. But I also think we should not be too pretentious in what we can achieve. If for instance we manage here in Genk
Photo: Arjen Oosterman
and in such a wonderful Art Deco stye like this anywhere in Holland or Germany. We did consider going to Liège, but we did not want to create another multi-venue exhi bition, and create what we call the ‘truffles and swine syndrome’, that you would have to sift through a large area to seek out the art. So we liked the idea of one build ing, one city, one statement with a very precise narra tive. This is also in contrast to Manifesta 8 which was a more fragmented exhibition and based on an internal art discourse. So we were looking for a building that could compete with the art architecturally.