Infrastructural Intelligence (2016)

In April 2016 I was invited to participate in the LaFargeHolcim Forum on “Infrastructure Space” in Detroit. The workshop to which I contributed focused on the city scale of analysis; my fellow presenters and I were asked to address the issue of infrastructural invisibility, the challenges of infrastructural representation, how our understanding of infrastructures impacts the ways we conceive of scale and the limits of the “urban,” and how infrastructure can foster the development of new communities, economies, and forms of collectivity. I chose to focus on “intellectual infrastructures.” You can find my talk and slides here.

Abstract: I begin this paper by describing the growth of interdisciplinary interest in infrastructure and the methodologies and pedagogies employed to cultivate infrastructural “literacy” and intelligence. The proposed consequences and benefits of this intelligence, I explain, include the engagement and emancipation of diverse urban publics, who, armed with new technical knowledge, are potentially empowered to advocate for more just and accessible services, or even construct their own alternative infrastructures. I then examine the urban institutions that both cultivate and collect this infrastructural intelligence; public libraries in particular play a critical role in establishing an urban infrastructural and intellectual commons. I close by proposing how libraries, as part of a larger urban network of knowledge infrastructures, can provide structures and communities of learning, and cultivate forms of intelligence – experiential, dynamic, practice-based – that are uniquely well suited to grappling with our complex, over-determined urban systems.