The militarization of urban construction sites

Paul Raven @ 25-03-2011

OK, so I’m going to do my poor-man’s-BLDGBLOG schtuck here. Thinking back over the period of my life in which I’ve been a city-dweller (1994 to the present), construction sites have become increasingly fortified and walled off from the city itself. This is not exactly surprising: construction sites are full of stealable stuff with high resale value, and urban buildings are far more tempting to squatters, guerrilla artists and other fringe-culture oddballs (like the late-nineties club-kids who used to climb scaffold-clad buildings for kicks in the early hours of a Sunday morning while the disco-biscuits wore off*).

What is surprising, however, is how solid and permanent they’re starting to look. Scaffold and tarpaulin is for amateurs; check out this emplacement that’s currently blocking Lena Street in Central Manchester.

Construction site fortifications, Lena Street, Manchester UK (click for embiggenation)

It looks more like a fortified guardpost you might find in Baghdad or Fallujah or somewhere like that; an armoured beachhead in hostile territory. Which is, I expect, exactly how its creators/owners think of it… but that mode of thinking, that desire to slice out and secure little sections of the city, kind of concretizes a corporate attitude to the increasingly interstitial flux of a large urban environment. It’s a bulwark against chaos and entropy… and the increasing hardness and permanence of these structures suggests that urban entropy is getting harder and harder to defend against. (I mean, there’s gotta be a clear cost-benefit to building something like this; otherwise why raise your overheads?)

I can’t get the image of this thing out of my head, ever since I first saw it a few weeks back; it has so many things to say about the state of this nation – and the world at large – in these troubled times, but the deeper meanings are still unformed and unclear to me. So I might just sit down with a collection of Situationist essays for an hour or two and see what they manage to stir up… or wait for some clever architectural philosopher to give me starting nudge.

[ * As a sensible and law-abiding citizen, I naturally know only of this dangerous and thoroughly illegal pastime from rumour and legend. SRSLY. ]


The summit of security: fortifying Toronto for the G8/G20 meetings

Paul Raven @ 18-06-2010

Regardless of your personal politics, it’s hard to look at the extensive preparations for summits like the G8 and G20 groups – both of which are meeting near Toronto in Canada at the end of the month – and not be dumbfounded by the huge amount of money that gets pissed away on “preparing” for them.

Tim “Quiet Babylon” Maly takes a look at the “media pavilion” that’s been constructed for the world’s journalists to lounge around in, complete with simulated lakefront ambience and local rural flavour, and there’s a bunch of links at MetaFilter talking about the extensive fortification of the town against the inevitable floods of protesters – up to and including the removal of street-side trees and saplings, lest they be used as weapons (yes, seriously).

Maly makes much of the parasitic nature of these conferences, beaming in and completely subsuming a location for the duration of the summit, and that’s certainly one weird aspect of the whole business. But weirder still, at least to my eye, is the sociopolitical nature of the thing: here’s a meeting of powerful people who are ostensibly discussing ways to make the world a better place, and they have to defend themselves from political dissent to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.

That’s the sort of budget that most dictatorships can only dream of, all spuffed away for a week or so of hermetically-sealed political secrecy and security for the allegedly democratic governers of the civilised world. There’s something deeply paradoxical – I might even go so far as to say “fucked up” – about that; defending oneself from external enemies is one thing, but any governmental organisation that spends that much money on protecting itself from the people it ostensibly looks after is doing something very, very wrong.