Thinking about social infrastructures and the public life of cities

Authors: Alan Latham*, University College London, Jack Layton , University College London
Topics: Urban Geography
Keywords: infrastructure, public space, materiality, justice, cities, democracy
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Blue Room, Omni, East
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Cities are full of infrastructures. Full of infrastructures designed to deal with power and water, transport and communication, building and trading — all of which enable the activity of cities to take place (Amin and Thrift, 2017; Latham and Wood, 2015). It is important to account for the social dimensions of these infrastructures. In geography and urban studies this has often meant thinking about how infrastructures are in all sorts of ways sites of political and social action (Graham, 2010; Kooy and Bakker, 2008), or even how human activity can be thought of as a kind of infrastructure itself (Simone, 2004). However it also means thinking about the places, regulations, and institutions that give rise to and facilitate social activity (Jackson, 2018; Koch and Latham, 2013; Koch, 2015; Sendra, 2015). In other words, thinking about the social infrastructures that facilitate public life. As Eric Klinenberg (2018) has recently argued, the social infrastructures of cities — places like libraries, parks, and public transport — are essential for building community, cooperation, and common purpose. Given a political context of polarisation and financial constraint, understanding how social infrastructures work, the effect they have, and the pressures they are under, is an essential task for those interested in making cities around the world more convivial and more equitable places to live. This paper is designed to set out an approach to social infrastructures and public life that we find productive and animating. We hope to outline some themes and questions the sessions will answer!

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