Moving Infrastructure: Imagining London through the Crossrail

Authors: Theresa Enright*, University of Toronto
Topics: Cultural Geography, Urban Geography, Transportation Geography
Keywords: infrastructure, cultural politics, mass transit, public art, London, Crossrail
Session Type: Lightning Paper
Day: 4/3/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Forum Room, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The provision of mass urban transit has become a key aspect of economic and social planning in large urban regions around the world based on the widespread consensus that transit—and especially rapid urban rail—is a vehicle of development and prosperity. Frequently, investments in mass transit have been accompanied by high-profile initiatives of integrated art, design, architecture, and cultural programming. Yet it is not well understood how and why municipalities and transit authorities are prioritizing the arts, or what function this cultural production plays in broader dynamics of urban development. This paper considers the inextricability of art and mobility infrastructure and the symbolic power of transit projects.

This paper critically analyzes the close association between art and infrastructure investment with a focus on London’s Crossrail. It asks: What accounts for the proliferation of transit art today? Where, how, and why is this occurring? And with what effects? In line with existing research on public art, the paper finds that art and design are being used to ‘clean up’ struggling and defunded public utilities, and to brand the global city through culture-led placemaking. However, it also finds that art and design have less obvious functions—turning transit networks into valuable cultural assets in their own right, promoting speculative financial investment, building communities, generating metropolitan imaginaries, and placing people and neighbourhoods in a hypermobile world.

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