Gandy’s last paragraph trails a terrific, dare I suggest, essential, paper in urban Geo-Anthropology. Gandy is a Geographer.
Under the twentieth-century discourses of scientific urbanism and technological modernism we find that the hydraulic conceptions of the modern city were extended and consolidated to produce a highly sophisticated model of urban space as an efficient machine. In reality, however, the evolving dynamics of urban space from the middle decades of the twentieth century onwards became increasingly difficult to subsume within the technocratic assumptions of the bacteriological city. A combination of political, economic and social developments, which gathered accelerated momentum in the wake of global economic turbulence of the 1970s, contributed towards the emergence of a set of new configurations between space, society and technology. The role of water within this process of urban restructuring reveals a series of tensions between the abstract commodification of space and the continuing centrality of material interactions between human societies and technological networks. By focusing on the flow of water through urban space we can begin to disentangle the nexus of social and technological structures that constitute everyday life in the modern city and the creation of a viable public realm. What is clear, however, is that the relationship between the development of urban infrastructure and a functional public realm is a fragile and historically specific phenomenon. The need to connect policy deliberation over water infrastructure with the establishment of effective and legitimate space promoted by political and economic elites.
CITY, VOL. 8, NO. 3, DECEMBER 2004 Rethinking urban metabolism: Water, space and the modern city
Some of his very thought provoking work is available here. I also recommend from this index, Cyborg Urbanization: Complexity and Monstrosity in the Contemporary City.
More, from: The Drowned World. J. G. Ballard and the Politics of Catastrophe;
The paradox for the contemporary city is that only incessant inputs of energy, materials, and human labor can sustain complex technological networks, yet these maintenance activities require far-reaching governmental interventions that conflict with the neoliberal impetus toward the corporate disavowal of the public realm. Under a postsecular urbanism, the public realm persists as a fragile anachronism and potential threat to the hubris of transcendental capitalism. Where no collective imaginary exists, the arguments for any kind of coordinating role for the state lose their political legitimacy, so that society is little more than an amalgam of individuals linked by fear and self-interest. In 21st-century America, we encounter a postrational political discourse that rejects evidence or reason: the Bush administration had forced deep cuts in the budget appropriation for the maintenance of the New Orleans flood defensesâ€”in part to fund the war in Iraqâ€”and had disregarded expert advice on the scale of the risk even to the extent of claiming that the event could not have been foreseen. More bizarre still, the now discredited director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Michael Brown, had claimed 4 days after the flood that he was unaware that thousands of people were trapped in the city’s convention center (despite images being broadcast throughout the world).
The case of New Orleans reveals the fragility of the postindustrial public realm: the city presents a starker illustration of this than many other U.S. cities because of its pervasive poverty, social segregation, and moribund municipal government. In the wake of the city’s inundation, New Orleans was effectively abandoned and then transformed into a militarized zone through the colonization of inner urban areas once inhabited by the poor, while wealthy suburbs were quickly cordoned off by a plethora of private security firms to produce social exclusion zones. These security firms present the first wave of a “disaster capitalism” to be followed by companies such as Kellogg Brown & Root (a subsidiary of Halliburton) and other specialists in posttrauma reconstruction who began winning “no bid” contracts within days of the flooding. Like a militarized gentrification process, the real estate developers have followed the civil engineering companies, so that “trauma capitalism” has become a tool of urban redevelopment not unlike the role of riots in Indian cities: what fire achieved in Ahmadabad, water performed in New Orleans.