Steven Graham: It was a spec­tac­u­lar event in terms of media impact and mas­sive scale of urban ter­ror­ism. An event that was sym­bol­ic of a whole new sort of mode of polit­i­cal vio­lence against the cen­ters of the glob­al economy—the so-called world cities, the world cen­ters of finan­cial, eco­nom­ic, and mil­i­tary pow­er. And an attack orches­trat­ed through means of elec­tron­ic finance, through appro­pri­at­ing the infra­struc­tures of the city to tar­get the city. So I’m par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ed in how it’s an event that has been used to under­line the vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties of con­tem­po­rary urban life. Because of that fact, because the sys­tems and infra­struc­tures that allow the mod­ern city to exist, to func­tion, can at the same time be appro­pri­at­ed and used to project malign pow­er, malign vio­lence against it. 

So that’s one lev­el. At anoth­er lev­el it was clear­ly a short­hand for an entire geopo­lit­i­cal imag­i­na­tion. It’s been appro­pri­at­ed by the right, by the left, by the­o­rists, by social sci­en­tists, in a myr­i­ad of ways not nec­es­sar­i­ly all jus­ti­fied, not nec­es­sar­i­ly all unprob­lem­at­ic. But it’s become a short­hand for this rather stereo­typ­i­cal notion of the West against some sort of glob­al jihadist vio­lence which is bent on destroy­ing the sym­bols and archi­tec­tures of Western power. 


Urban ter­ror­ism is as old as the city, effec­tive­ly. Guerrilla war­fare tac­tics against civil­ians go back as long as there have been cities, as long as there have been walls. We have to con­tex­tu­al­ize September the 11th, 2001 with­in a very very long urban mil­i­tary and his­tor­i­cal context. 

So in terms of what was dif­fer­ent about the event, well I would say two things. First of all the way in which the oper­a­tions were clear­ly imag­ined and planned with a very strong empha­sis on the glob­al media impact. Whether or not every ele­ment of that was inten­tion­al we can’t say, you know. But the very fact the sec­ond plane, in terms of the attacks on the Twin Towers, arrived into the world glob­al media cap­i­tal fif­teen or so min­utes after the first one did mean that it was a real-time expe­ri­ence for the globe, for any­one fixed to a screen after that icon­ic moment of Where were you on 9‍/‍11?” was reg­is­tered, if you like. 

And that did project the imagery of 9‍/‍11 in a very very pow­er­ful way which is con­tin­u­al­ly per­co­lat­ing even now with a par­tic­u­lar inten­si­ty. That adds to the way in which the event can be used as this short­hand that I’m talk­ing about. So the media impact. I mean, Mike Davis famous­ly dis­cussed the sense that it was just like being in a movie, you know. It was a real set of events that rehearsed end­less tropes in Western pop­u­lar cul­ture, Western media cul­ture in particular—Hollywood—about the death of the city, about the apoc­a­lyp­tic attack on the city. And New York itself, Manhattan itself as the icon­ic mod­ern city along with sev­er­al oth­ers of the 20th cen­tu­ry, has been vio­lent­ly erased in com­ic books, in films, in nov­els, in sci­ence fic­tion dystopias thou­sands of times in the his­to­ry of Western pop­u­lar cul­ture. So there’s a very strong res­o­nance between the real events and the car­nage and destruc­tion and the pop­u­lar cul­tur­al imag­i­nar­ies that of so deeply root­ed in Western—particularly US—urban culture.

So that’s the first empha­sis of what was dif­fer­ent. The sec­ond one I think yes, there’s a very strong archi­tec­tur­al and infra­struc­tur­al ele­ment to the attacks. Some crit­ics have point­ed out the fact that a large num­ber of the attack­ers, and cer­tain Mohamed Atta, had back­grounds in urban plan­ning. They had been trained in Mohamed Atta’s case in Hamburg in pro­fes­sion­al plan­ning pro­grams. And their the­ses and research projects as stu­dents were very crit­i­cal of the sort of orthog­o­nal Western mod­ernism that was being import­ed into Middle Eastern and par­tic­u­lar­ly Egyptian cities. So you could argu­ments— I mean, this is a very extreme argu­ment in a sense but, there is an ele­ment of mas­sive archi­tec­tur­al cri­tique through death and destruc­tion here. And some of the writ­ings of Osama bin laden crit­i­cize the sort of god­like pow­er of ver­ti­cal archi­tec­ture as sym­bol­iz­ing a sort of deca­dence and deprav­i­ty of Western cos­mopoli­tan cities. 


It’s a real­ly inter­est­ing ques­tion to look at the sort of pol­i­tics of urban wound­ing, urban destruc­tion with­in a broad­er frame than just look­ing at these events. Because it’s dan­ger­ous to just fetishize the 9‍/‍11 attacks with­out look­ing at this broad­er context. 

When the Twin Towers were built—and they were an ele­ment of a much much big­ger urban mod­ern­iza­tion strat­e­gy orches­trat­ed by Robert Moses who was the leader of the Port Authority in New York, famous­ly argu­ing as described by Marshall Berman in his All That Is Solid Melts Into Air, the need to cut through the city with an axe. This was the mantra of moder­ni­ty accord­ing to Moses and many oth­er urban plan­ners with­in the 60s and 70s. So, the lega­cies of Moses were not just the Twin Towers but it was a whole range of mas­sive fly­over com­plex­es, mas­sive hous­ing projects eras­ing entire neigh­bor­hoods like Stuyvesant Town, a mas­sive park­way and air­port com­plex­es and so on. 

So, there was actu­al­ly a very big back­lash against the con­struc­tion—ini­tial con­struc­tion of the Twin Towers as the ulti­mate in arro­gant mod­ernism, the ulti­mate in bru­tal over­ra­tional­ized gigan­tism imprint­ing onto a very rich fine-scale streetscape, as defend­ed by the likes of Jane Jacobs famous­ly in her book The Death and Life of Great American Cities.

And what’s inter­est­ing is that one of the first uses of the word urbi­cide,” which is a word that’s rel­e­vant here, the term mean­ing a sort of inten­tion­al attack or anni­hi­la­tion of the city, was coined by a famous American archi­tec­tur­al crit­ic about the con­struc­tion of the Twin Towers. This was Louise Huxtable. She was an archi­tec­ture cor­re­spon­dent for The New York Times. And she actu­al­ly argued that this was an of urbi­cide. So there is a very strong destruc­tive ele­ment to urban plan­ning which is often neglect­ed, often obfus­cat­ed, in the writ­ings about urban plan­ning and urban change. The neces­si­ty of a huge­ly new, ratio­nal, com­pre­hen­sive approach to the city, as sym­bol­ized by Le Corbusier, Robert Moses, and so on, neces­si­tates huge lev­els of planned vio­lence. Violence against the city some­times, vio­lence against the peo­ple that get in the way of these imaginaries.

So it’s impor­tant to stress that you know, vio­lence against cities oper­ates in many ways. And there are the most sort of spec­tac­u­lar events of vio­lence against the city such as the trau­ma of the 9‍/‍11 attacks. 

But as you say, there are peo­ple who are were very glad to be rid of those build­ings, those real­ly dom­i­nat­ing, over­ra­tional­ized gigan­tic struc­tures in the city. The irony of course is that they’re like­ly to be replaced by some­thing just as pow­er­ful and just as big but per­haps a bit more glitzy in design terms. 


Well there was a call quite soon after the attacks on the Twin Towers—and we must­n’t for­get the attacks on the Pentagon as well—for an end to tall build­ings, quite inter­est­ing­ly. Certain peo­ple who were very very strong­ly against the his­to­ry of the sky­scraper, the sky­scraper as an archi­tec­tur­al form, were sug­gest­ing this was the moment to be rid of these struc­tures. That these struc­tures were icons of inse­cu­ri­ty as well as pow­er. Which is inter­est­ing giv­en the his­to­ry of the skyscraper. 

Obviously that has­n’t hap­pened, and ever since 2001 the sky­scraper has pro­lif­er­at­ed, bur­geoned, and grown even high­er in terms of the Asian megac­i­ty. And sky­scraper con­struc­tion is run­ning at an extraordinary—an unprece­dent­ed rate. So, in terms of the sort of demise of the sky­scraper that was a red her­ring, not surprisingly. 

The broad­er pol­i­tics of secu­ri­ty have been heav­i­ly influ­enced by the way more con­ser­v­a­tive crit­ics and police and secu­ri­ty agen­cies and indus­tries have react­ed to the September the 11th attacks. And that has led to an inten­si­fy­ing process of what polit­i­cal the­o­rists call secu­ri­ti­za­tion,” the argu­ment that there is an exis­ten­tial threat to the city, to the pub­lic spaces of the city, to the inhab­i­tants of the city that neces­si­tates increas­ing secu­ri­ty mea­sures, whether it be phys­i­cal such as the build­ing of secu­ri­ty zones and secu­ri­ty plazas with pas­sage points, with secu­ri­ty cor­dons, with entry con­trols, with chang­ing legal regimes which pro­hib­it assem­bly, protest, polit­i­cal activ­i­ty. And that’s been very very wide­spread. And some­times a pow­er­ful inten­si­fi­ca­tion of elec­tron­ic sur­veil­lance, whether it be closed-circuit TV sys­tems and so on. 

So this is most vis­i­ble in cer­tain glob­al cities, cities like Washington, New York, London, where large sways of cities are essen­tial­ly being cor­doned off through tech­niques of what I’m call­ing the new mil­i­tary urban­ism.” These are real­ly tech­niques that are very sim­i­lar to the sorts of instru­ments that’re used to build green zone com­plex­es in the cities of the colo­nial periph­ery where urban insur­rec­tion and coun­terin­sur­gency war­fare is oper­at­ing. It’s about build­ing safe zones with buffers around them to inhib­it the peo­ple and vehi­cles that are deemed to be poten­tial­ly threat­en­ing. So there’s an imag­i­nary of the city here as a source of threat, a source of cam­ou­flage, a source of den­si­ty, and a source of unpre­dictabil­i­ty which is pro­found­ly prob­lem­at­ic for the func­tion­ing of glob­al cap­i­tal­ism, essen­tial­ly. And the imag­i­nary here blends the cities of the Global North, the cap­i­tal­ist heart­lands, with the cities of the colo­nial periph­eries, if you like, in the Global South and sug­gests sim­i­lar tech­niques of sur­veil­lance, build­ing secu­ri­ty zones, increas­ing sort of bunker-like fortress complex. 

And even at the lev­el of cer­tain build­ings we see star­tling new archi­tec­tures of secu­ri­ty being intro­duced. One of the sky­scrap­ers that’s being built on the foot­print of the old World Trade Center in Manhattan has an enor­mous basi­cal­ly con­crete bunker cov­er­ing the bot­tom fif­teen to twen­ty storeys, which is this sur­round­ed by a sort of glitzy glass and light facade. So it’s sort of stealthy. But the effect is to cre­ate a sort of new blast-proof zone around the ground lev­els of build­ings, deal­ing with truck bomb threats and so on. 

The new US embassy is anoth­er star­tling exam­ple in London. The US is basi­cal­ly for­ti­fy­ing its embassies around the world, not sur­pris­ing­ly. There is a new pro­pos­al to build a $1 bil­lion embassy on the South Bank of London which basi­cal­ly resem­bles a Norman keep. It has a moat, it has a huge set­back from the street, it has a star­tling lev­el of secu­ri­ti­za­tion. And archi­tects and urban­ists are very con­cerned about the poten­tial and the real impact. Because it moves to a world where access and rights of assem­bly that have been longfought over, long strug­gled for through cen­turies of civ­il mobi­liza­tion are being removed at a stroke, are being removed because of the sup­posed emer­gen­cies of our time. And these are very clear when you see events like the G20 Summits, or the Olympic events, or the G7 polit­i­cal meet­ings, where entire swathes of cities basi­cal­ly become out of bounds, bound­ed off, for­ti­fied, and any­one, basi­cal­ly, being present in ways that’re deemed threat­en­ing is arrest­ed pre­emp­tive­ly. So there are huge issues at stake here in terms of the right to the city, in terms of the right to demo­c­ra­t­ic rights to mobi­liza­tion and dis­sent which are being under­mined very rad­i­cal­ly and very rapid­ly in many cities around the world on the back of these events.

What I would say, how­ev­er, is that we don’t want to nec­es­sar­i­ly sug­gest that all of this is due to the reac­tions to the September the 11th attacks. A lot of these process­es were under­way before those attacks, because of broad­er process­es of urban change and cul­tur­al change, social polar­iza­tion and so on. What the respons­es to the 9‍/‍11 attacks have done is basi­cal­ly ampli­fy and exag­ger­ate many process­es that were already star­tling in cities across the world.


The new mil­i­tary urban­ism is a con­cept that cov­ers a whole vari­ety of dif­fer­ent ways in which cities are being pro­ject­ed as secu­ri­ty threats, are being imag­ined as zones of uncer­tain­ty and insur­rec­tion. And this is being fueled by respons­es to the 9‍/‍11 attacks but also by a very big push by secu­ri­ty indus­tries, IT indus­tries, defense indus­tries, elec­tron­ic indus­tries, fueled by research in the uni­ver­si­ty sec­tor of course, to sell secu­ri­ty prod­ucts across the board to cov­er all aspects of urban life in terms of mon­i­tor­ing, sur­veilling, and track­ing the spaces, cir­cu­la­tions, and infra­struc­tures of the city to address these pur­port­ed secu­ri­ty threats. 

So this is a broad polit­i­cal econ­o­my of secu­ri­ty. It’s a new secu­ri­ty econ­o­my which is col­o­niz­ing every aspect of life. Walking through doors, going across bor­ders, tak­ing bus trips, walk­ing around pub­lic spaces, cred­it card trans­ac­tions, buy­ing air tick­ets, get­ting on a tube train, get­ting on a train. Every aspect of behav­ior with­in and between cities is now being col­o­nized by these sens­ing devices, these inte­grat­ing data­base sys­tems which are being pushed very heav­i­ly by this new secu­ri­ty econ­o­my. So, there’s a dri­ve here in the world of the post-Cold War, which is impor­tant to stress, where state ver­sus state vio­lence is reduc­ing, defense expen­di­tures in the tra­di­tion­al mil­i­tary sec­tor are reduc­ing. And what that means is that the tra­di­tion­al line sep­a­ra­tion what polic­ing might mean from war and mil­i­tary vio­lence might mean from what intel­li­gence func­tions of the state might mean are blur­ring very rapid­ly. The lines sep­a­rat­ing war from peace are blur­ring very rapid­ly. The lines sep­a­rat­ing the local from the glob­al are blur­ring very rapidly. 

And in the place of thought we have a much more flu­id world of per­ma­nent mobi­liza­tion. Permanent mobi­liza­tion through this world of a pri­ori data col­lec­tion, track­ing, sur­veil­lance, iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, and so on. Which is deemed to basi­cal­ly try and iso­late the threat. I select the indi­vid­ual, the mobil­i­ty, or the trans­ac­tion that is threat­en­ing from the back­ground of urban life, from the back­ground of mil­lions of peo­ple, bil­lions of trans­ac­tions. Remember, the threat is deemed to be com­ing from the city. It’s not wear­ing a uni­form, stand­ing in a desert and wait­ing for bombs to fall from space like in the Iraqi mil­i­tary anni­hi­la­tions of 1991. This is a threat which per­me­ates the city, which is already with­in the loop, so to speak, was already with­in the wire, so to speak, and the response of the security-industrial com­plex is to sell antic­i­pa­to­ry sur­veil­lance to every aspect of the city, on the back of these dis­cours­es of securitization. 

So this secu­ri­ti­za­tion against dis­ease, against the wrong bod­ies in terms of migra­tion and bor­der­ing, it’s secu­ri­ti­za­tion against ille­gal finance in terms of elec­tron­ic Internet trans­ac­tions, secu­ri­ti­za­tion against the wrong imagery in terms of bomb­ing Al Jazeera’s trans­mis­sion facil­i­ties when nec­es­sary. It’s what Alan Feldman, and anthro­pol­o­gist at NYU has called securo­crat­ic war,” per­ma­nent mobi­liza­tion against the wrong mobil­i­ty, cir­cu­la­tion, or body. And I think the new mil­i­tary urban­ism is a use­ful con­cept for under­stand­ing how those things come to rest in places, come to reshape places. 

I’m work­ing on the work of Michel Foucault… I mean, Foucault’s idea of the boomerang is very help­ful here in terms of the his­to­ry of colo­nial geog­ra­phy. Foucault did­n’t write too much about empire and the Western European colo­nial expe­ri­ence, but he did come up with this idea of the boomerang effect, where­by colo­nial projects used to far-off space of col­o­niza­tion as a zone of exper­i­men­ta­tion, as a zone of try­ing out new tech­niques, new weapon sys­tems, new instru­ments of pow­er and social con­trol, which are then mobi­lized and nor­mal­ized back into the heart of the metropol. And if you look at the his­to­ry of say the fin­ger­print, the panop­ti­con prison, Haussmannization in terms of build­ing boule­vards through the trou­ble­some neigh­bor­hoods of Paris, all those tech­niques and ideas were exper­i­ment­ed with first on the colo­nial fron­tiers of Western European empires and then mobi­lized back into the heart­land of the metropol. 

What I argue in the the­sis of the new mil­i­tary urban­ism is that this is con­sti­tut­ed too through lots of boomerangs, whether it be through drone sys­tems, bio­met­ric track­ing, dig­i­tal CCTV, GPS sys­tems and so on, which are then mobi­lized back into the sort of secu­ri­ty prac­tices of the metropol. 


Yeah I think Deleuze’s idea of the con­trol soci­ety is very help­ful. I mean, just to recap, Deleuze was sug­gest­ing that the tra­di­tion­al Foucauldian sense of dis­ci­pline orches­trat­ed through the archi­tec­tur­al spaces of the panop­ti­con, the work house, the hos­pi­tal, the clin­ic, the school, etc. was no longer ade­quate in describ­ing the way secu­ri­ty is mod­u­lat­ed these days through a myr­i­ad of sens­es that’re stretched out across geo­graph­ic space and tem­po­ral dis­tance as well. And absolute­ly now. I mean, one very very use­ful per­spec­tive on the con­trol soci­ety is to look at what we mean by bor­ders, you know. The tra­di­tion­al idea of the Westphalian state was very much to see the bor­der as a ter­ri­to­r­i­al line sep­a­rat­ing the domes­tic com­mu­ni­ty which is deemed broad­ly as a lib­er­al space for cit­i­zen­ships, for demo­c­ra­t­ic orga­ni­za­tion and so on, to be sep­a­rat­ed from an oth­er, from an out­side, from a space of for­eign­ness which is then sub­ject mil­i­tary pow­er, sub­ject to mil­i­tary expe­di­tionary pow­er. Whilst the inside of the state broad­ly speak­ing is to be policed. Obviously it’s not that sim­ple. You have mil­i­tary mobi­liza­tions as well. 

What you can see now in the sort of polit­i­cal geo­gra­phies of our world is as I was say­ing a much more blurred world of lib­er­al space, illib­er­al space, where bor­der­ing does­n’t nec­es­sar­i­ly go on just around the ter­ri­to­r­i­al lim­its of nations but goes on around strate­gic enclaves. Gated com­mu­ni­ties, shop­ping cen­ters, elite finan­cial dis­tricts like the city of London or the Docklands area. They have their own bor­der­ing sys­tems. They have their own sys­tems of track­ing and con­trol, check­points, and so on. So we see a more archipelago-like world. What has been called a sort of medieval moder­ni­ty” by Ananya Roy and Nezar Al Sayyad, of enclaves gov­erned by par­tic­u­lar arrange­ments, deem­ing their sur­round­ing wells to be illib­er­al and dan­ger­ous spaces. This is very much the way in which urban geog­ra­phy is being recast in many cities around the world. 

So bor­der­ing now becomes a much more flex­i­ble process of data gath­er­ing across transna­tion­al space. Think of the glob­al air­line sys­tem as a huge effort at, as you say, not stop­ping mobil­i­ty because of threat but of main­tain­ing mobil­i­ty whilst build­ing data that can assess risk. And every time you buy an air tick­et, for exam­ple, there’s a big process of data min­ing now that goes on. In the UK fifty-three bits of data are gath­ered every time an air tick­et is pur­chased. And spe­cial soft­ware is used. Computer algo­rithms to process a sense of risk. 

So we have new pol­i­tics of tem­po­ral­i­ty here. We have data from past activ­i­ties, con­tin­u­al­ly ana­lyzed with a view to mak­ing assump­tions about how cur­rent behav­ior will assess future risk. And this this is the new pol­i­tics of secu­ri­ty in a world where risks are cam­ou­flaged into the back­ground. Risky bod­ies are not vis­i­bly dis­tinct from non-risky bod­ies. Risky behav­iors oper­ate through the every­day cir­cu­la­tions of the city. Now the soft­ware of the city becomes a means of orches­trat­ing urban life, through Deleuze’s con­trol soci­ety, mod­u­lat­ing con­tain­ers mov­ing, bod­ies mov­ing, elec­tron­ic finance mov­ing, whether it be for tourism, elites, busi­ness mobil­i­ties, transna­tion­al neolib­er­al cap­i­tal­ism. And the only way to orches­trate a sense of secu­ri­ti­za­tion on those struc­tures is to think of them as big data col­lec­tion sys­tems and assem­blages, again to use the Deuleuzian idea of securitization. 

And that’s hap­pen­ing. We’re see­ing efforts to look at Internet traf­fic, air­line traf­fic, con­tain­er secu­ri­ty traf­fic. All of which are orches­trat­ed by the idea of antic­i­pa­to­ry sur­veil­lance. Software which auto­mat­i­cal­ly deems the threat to be here, here, and here. Obviously this can’t be done by peo­ple. The data that’s need­ed to be brought togeth­er, pro­filed, is so mas­sive that the only way to have a pos­si­ble clue is to do this auto­mat­i­cal­ly. So I would very much argue that the pol­i­tics of the city are very heav­i­ly over­lap­ping these days with the pol­i­tics of soft­ware. Who makes the soft­ware that deems this act to be abnor­mal or threat­en­ing? Where are those polit­i­cal assump­tions being made with­in this new secu­ri­ty econ­o­my? And I think this is real­ly dif­fi­cult ter­rain for urban activists to grap­ple with because this stuff is a transna­tion­al econ­o­my of soft­ware which is being invoked very pow­er­ful­ly across these new con­trol societies. 


The arch­i­pel­ago sep­a­rat­ing nodes of lib­er­al enclaves from the illib­er­al oth­er has a myr­i­ad of geo­gra­phies, it appears in a myr­i­ad of ways, all of which are com­plex in terms of how they con­nect with each oth­er. Clearly we have the off­shore finance enclaves. We have the elite res­i­den­tial enclaves. We have the glob­al finance enclaves. We have the mass pro­duc­tion and sort of for­eign trade zone enclaves. And increas­ing­ly those zones are gov­erned by their own par­tic­u­lar arrange­ments. They have their own gov­er­nance arrange­ments which have grow­ing pow­ers to secure them­selves. They have their own pri­vate mili­tia, pri­vate armies, pri­vate secu­ri­ty guards and so on. Often the very imme­di­ate bor­der­ing strate­gies which are lit­er­al­ly beyond the oth­er side of the street or beyond the oth­er side of the urban dis­trict becomes the space of the illib­er­al threat. 

So I would say we need to pay much more atten­tion to those geo­gra­phies and arch­i­pel­a­gos. Because they have enor­mous poten­tial impacts in terms of the future of nation-states, the future of ideas of uni­ver­sal cit­i­zen­ship. They blur into worlds where we have qua­si cit­i­zen­ship, vir­tu­al cit­i­zen­ship, and increas­ing­ly illib­er­al mobi­liza­tions against pop­u­la­tions which pre­vi­ous­ly were con­sid­ered to be nation­al. You know, you can think of the way the Italian gov­ern­ments and the French gov­ern­ment are now mobi­liz­ing against the Romani pop­u­la­tions. We can think of a lot of the far right mobi­liza­tions against the non-white pop­u­la­tions of European cities, which have full cit­i­zen­ship in many cas­es but are still deemed to be oth­er and for­eign and so on. 

So, I think this sense of a mobile arch­i­pel­ago of enclaves, of for­ti­fied enclaves, is very pow­er­ful. And yes there is evi­dence that this erupts and is built in ways that cross­es over with the build­ing of green zone enclaves and for­ti­fied sec­tar­i­an geo­gra­phies in places like Baghdad. There’s evi­dence for exam­ple in New York that the build­ing of the secu­ri­ty zones around the Wall Street area and around the city hall area in Manhattan are explic­it­ly using the same design prin­ci­ples as are being used in the greens zone. There’s research that has demon­strat­ed this boomerang effect in those terms. 

There’s evi­dence of course that the pro­lif­er­a­tion of drones around [mega?] event secu­ri­ty, G20 and polit­i­cal sum­mits and so on, is a nor­mal­iza­tion of tech­nolo­gies that have been used for quite a long time now in terms of the pros­e­cu­tion of colo­nial war on the fron­tiers. And in terms of things like bio­met­ric check­points and so on. There’s a par­al­lel evo­lu­tion there in terms of attempts to con­trol pop­u­la­tions in coun­terin­sur­gency war­fare and the grad­ual encroach­ments of bio­met­rics into the every­day worlds of cities of the Global North. 

But I would stress it too that the role of Israel/Palestine as a sort of par­a­dig­mat­ic zone of exper­i­men­ta­tion in sort of dark worlds of pop­u­la­tion con­trol, urban con­trol, archi­tec­tur­al con­trol, has to be stressed. Naomi Klein has writ­ten about this, for exam­ple. She calls it the stand­ing dis­as­ter.” So the stand­ing dis­as­ter state, apartheid dis­as­ter state. And there’s big evi­dence now, as I’ve researched in the Cities Under Siege book, that a lot of the Israeli com­pa­nies that have built their sur­veil­lance secu­ri­ty sys­tems on the back of the colo­nial dom­i­na­tion of Palestinians are now sell­ing them as combat-proven sys­tems” that will per­me­ate rapid­ly into these bur­geon­ing secu­ri­ty economies.

And giv­en the broad­er social polar­iza­tion that’s com­ing in on the back of aus­ter­i­ty, on the back of retrench­ment, I think it’s real­ly impor­tant to stress that the secu­ri­ty econ­o­my booms in these con­texts, you know. It’s one of the few sec­tors that does well and grows in the world of this broad­er retrench­ment of the sort of wel­farist notion of the state. Which is wor­ry­ing to say the least. 


The mod­ern project relies on these sys­tems of tech­nol­o­gy, you know. It’s par­tic­u­lar elec­tric­i­ty that facil­i­tates elec­tric light, com­put­er­i­za­tion, elec­tric pow­er and every­thing else. But also you know, water, sew­er­age, pub­lic trans­porta­tion, and elec­tron­ic com­mu­ni­ca­tion. And ener­gy of course, too. I mean, a myr­i­ad of those sys­tems are con­tin­u­al­ly present in oth­er moment in the mod­ern city, but are often invis­i­ble. They’re often black boxed, so to speak. They’re often in the back­ground. And they become banal and tak­en for grant­ed because of that very fact. They’re always on and they’re every­where, there­fore cul­tur­al­ly they become invis­i­ble. There’s a whole his­to­ry to how that process emerges which is very inter­est­ing, actually. 

But you’re right, the para­dox is that when they are removed there’s a sense of…the car­ni­va­lesque in cer­tain contexts—only in cer­tain con­texts, I would say. The con­texts which are not life threat­en­ing, gen­er­al­ly speak­ing. The con­texts where you know, all of the nor­mal behav­iors of the city sud­den­ly become rel­e­vant. You know, in Manhattan in 2003 and across the north­east seaboard, it became point­less to try and com­mute. It became point­less to try and take the sub­way. And all of a sud­den, the streets were emp­ty. As Michael Sorkin has said, a lot of the pro­gres­sive agen­das that left­ists have been argu­ing for in Manhattan for forty years sud­den­ly became man­i­fest almost at a stroke. We had mass pedes­tri­an­iza­tion of the dan­ger­ous­ly destruc­tive and life-threatening streetscapes of New York. And there was a car­ni­va­lesque atmos­phere. There was instant par­ty­ing. There was a sense of peo­ple get­ting to know their neigh­bors who had not nor­mal­ly encoun­tered each oth­er because they lived in these mod­ern bub­bles of fre­net­ic New York urbanism. 

Having said that I think we do need to tem­per that some­times quite roman­tic notion of you know, return­ing to some sort of pre-industrial com­mu­ni­ty and so on with a sense that very often turn­ing off these sys­tems is life-threatening. Very often it’s a means of under­min­ing the lives of bod­ies in the city. Because the only way those bod­ies can be sus­tained is through the con­tin­u­ous work of all of these infra­struc­tures. There no way when the water goes out we can all go and dig bore­holes. There’s no way when the pow­er goes out we can all go and gen­er­ate our own elec­tric­i­ty. We are reliant on big tech­nol­o­gy, big sys­tems, until there might be a huge cul­ture of off-the-grid liv­ing, which is being moot­ed by cer­tain green the­o­rists at the moment.

And we should remem­ber, too, that you know, these are very life-threatening agen­das, par­tic­u­lar­ly for the week, the old, the vul­ner­a­ble. You know, when heat gets too high, it’s the vul­ner­a­ble that suf­fer. Erik Klinenberg wrote an amaz­ing book about the heat­wave in Chicago and how it was large­ly African American peo­ple liv­ing at the tops of the project right under bitu­men roofs that basi­cal­ly fried. When the water goes it’s the peo­ple who…you know, the weak, the old, and the young. As was with the bomb­ing of elec­tric sys­tems in Israel by the Israeli mil­i­tary, and the US mil­i­tary in Iraq. You know, that leads to very large urban death rates. But they’re invis­i­ble, you know. They’re away from this. And jus­ti­fied as a sort of human­i­tar­i­an form of war­fare, ironically. 

So yes, there is a whole spec­trum of pol­i­tics of dis­rup­tion. Some of it is car­ni­va­lesque. Some of it is…pow­er­ful cul­tur­al­ly by bring­ing in this sense of oth­er, this sense of almost sub­lime. Of being in a dark city at night. It’s a rad­i­cal con­cept, espe­cial­ly when it’s Manhattan. Just to be in a dark Manhattan at night is an extra­or­di­nary moment. 


You know, cap­i­tal­ist urban­ism is always about cre­ative destruc­tion. This is the impor­tant point that David Harvey’s the­o­riza­tions of urban­iza­tion have been so impor­tant at estab­lish­ing, you know. The con­stant tur­moil of cap­i­tal is about cre­ative­ly destroy­ing land­scapes, back to the Schumpeterian idea. So there’s con­stant sense of planned destruc­tion as well as neglect that goes on, as uneven devel­op­ment leads to new hotspots, geoe­co­nom­i­cal­ly, geopo­lit­i­cal­ly, which move incred­i­bly rapid­ly in the con­tem­po­rary world econ­o­my. So the result of that is a pol­i­tics of ruina­tion which…you know, poten­tial­ly over­laps with the idea of urbi­cide. And cer­tain­ly Marshall Berman’s writ­ings, not nec­es­sar­i­ly in his All That Is Solid Melts Into Air but in oth­er work, was very much to invoke the Robert Moses high­way projects through the Bronx as a delib­er­ate act of urbi­ci­dal vio­lence. To tar­get those par­tic­u­lar parts of New York with these lev­els of extra­or­di­nary destruc­tion, which had spi­raled onwards through mas­sive arson prob­lems and some. 

So there are a myr­i­ad of types of urbi­cide, a myr­i­ad of his­to­ries and genealo­gies of urbi­cide, that over­lap in a com­plex way with these sorts of uneven devel­op­ment crises which leads to boom­ing cities, icon­ic cities, sud­den­ly being wilder­ness­es with­in incred­i­bly short paces of time. And nowhere faster than in the United States where the state is com­plic­it in those big shifts, com­plic­it in the mas­sive shift to the sub­urbs in the post-war peri­od, com­plic­it in the con­struc­tions of the high­way net­work which led to the exag­ger­a­tion of that, com­plic­it in the white flight away from the cen­tral cities, and com­plic­it in the off­shoring of man­u­fac­tur­ing in the big auto sec­tors that has led to the extra­or­di­nary col­lapse of cen­tral Detroit—remember, the icon­ic mod­ern city of the mid to ear­ly 20th century. 

And as you say, an amaz­ing pol­i­tics of ruina­tion, sur­round­ed by a thriv­ing high-tech econ­o­my. You know, you move to the periph­ery of Detroit—Ann Arbor, places like that—they are high-tech Silicon Valley-type places. But they are utter­ly sep­a­rat­ed from in imag­i­na­tive space, or vir­tu­al­ly phys­i­cal space, from the core, the old core, where there’s a huge cen­ter that was sup­pos­ed­ly sym­bol­ic of General Motors’ renaissance—it’s called the Renaissance Center—dumping out of the mid­dle of the ruins, with a people-moving mono­rail going around that car­ry­ing vir­tu­al­ly nobody. It’s a real­ly star­tling place. 

But the point about urban­ism is that it’s a process of trans­form­ing nature, okay. I mean, cities are about turn­ing nature into cul­ture, effec­tive­ly. And they involve very big inter­ven­tions in the ecol­o­gy of space, and the ecol­o­gy of our Earth. Which means that when­ev­er cities go through these process­es of rad­i­cal col­lapse the eco­log­i­cal pres­ence changes. And we’re see­ing as you say, deer roam­ing through the hearts of Detroit, we’re see­ing nat­ur­al veg­e­ta­tion­al suc­ces­sion, as hap­pened when the ice sheets retreat­ed after the end of the last Ice Age peri­od, hap­pen­ing in the old ruined spaces of Detroit, you know. It’s a real­ly pow­er­ful reminder that ruina­tion involves ecol­o­gy as well as build­ings, and social and insti­tu­tion­al forms as well.


We’ve seen this pro­lif­er­a­tion of ter­ror label­ing. Well, since the 9‍/‍11 attacks but much beyond that, where any­thing deemed prob­lem­at­ic to the lib­er­al mar­ket state is deemed to be ter­ror­is­tic. Whether it be eco-protesters, arms fair pro­tes­tor, green pro­tes­tors, you know. Anything that sense of inter­rupt­ing the good cir­cu­la­tions of tourism, of busi­ness, of the neolib­er­al world econ­o­my, is deemed to be ter­ror­is­tic. Whether it be a from a whole spec­trum of things. And when no vio­lence is involved, you know. This is where the eco­pro­tes­tor becomes the ecoter­ror­ist very eas­i­ly with­in this mantra. 

And as you said, I think it’s very impor­tant to con­nect these process­es demo­niza­tion with long-standing efforts in his­to­ry biopol­i­tics, real­ly, where the whole idea of the city has being about build­ing struc­tures of gov­ern­men­tal­i­ty, and infra­struc­ture, and archi­tec­ture that can sep­a­rate the benign, risk-free, and the healthy eco­nom­ic, social, and cul­tur­al cir­cu­la­tion from those deemed oth­er, from those deemed oth­er or threat­en­ing or what have you. 

So, the his­to­ry or urban plan­ning can be inter­pret­ed over thou­sands of years as a his­to­ry of efforts to real­ly project this sort of Manichean imag­i­nary into spaces. Whether it be the moun­tain hous­ing move­ments of the post-war. Whether it be the house mod­ern­iza­tion of Paris. Or whether it be the con­tem­po­rary peri­od of sort of bio­met­ric bor­der­ing to poten­tial­ly and per­ma­nent­ly antic­i­pate the threat­en­ing circulation. 

And I think a large swathe of the urban inter­ven­tions we see, whether it be num­ber plate recog­ni­tion cam­eras, installing pas­sage points into what were free urban spaces, the whole idea of face recog­ni­tion CCTV, data min­ing, are all about this idea of securo­crat­ic war, per­ma­nent mobi­liza­tion against a gen­er­al­ized, uniden­ti­fied, and preva­lent oth­er which is cam­ou­flaged with­in the every­day. And our pol­i­tics of urban­ism quick­ly mutate I think into the bor­der pol­i­tics of secu­ri­ti­za­tion in this world. As I said before, where the means to attempt that mobi­lize into this rather arcane world of soft­ware, you know. 

And I’ll give you one exam­ple of this. There’s a com­pa­ny in Boston called Video Analytics, I think is their name. And they are at the cusp of this world of build­ing cam­era sys­tems which are not actu­al­ly manned by bored cam­era oper­a­tors eat­ing sand­wich­es, gen­er­al­ly sort of look­ing at a street with a view to what might be deemed threat­en­ing. They actu­al­ly take the whole log­ic of sur­veil­lance, which is to antic­i­pate what might be deemed nor­mal from what might be deemed abnor­mal at any one space in time, into soft­ware. So they have to build sys­tems that auto­mat­i­cal­ly scan for the sig­na­tures of events in a par­tic­u­lar space that are war­rant­i­ng pro­tec­tion against those that are war­rant­i­ng inter­ven­tion because they are threatening. 

And this com­pa­ny has come up with this sys­tem, and one of their exper­i­ments was in a park­ing lot, carpark, in the periph­ery of Boston some­where. And they scanned a scene which had a guy get­ting into his car to dri­ve away from the office, and a cyclist. And the soft­ware defined auto­mat­i­cal­ly, based on who knows what prin­ci­ples, assump­tions, prej­u­dices, or what—what have you—that the guy get­ting into the car was war­rant­i­ng pro­tec­tion and was part of the good cir­cu­la­tion of the city. While the guy on the cycle, the guy on the bike, was not nor­mal, was deemed threat­en­ing and so on. So it’s at that parochial and mun­dane lev­el that the software-sorted city” as I call it becomes man­i­fest. And it’s obvi­ous­ly cru­cial to under­stand who makes those deci­sions, what legal basis do they have, do they trans­late into action, are they imple­mentable, how do they invoke and use sort of biopol­i­tics of the city in these twitchy times.


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