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“This Fluid Situation”: Sequencing the Cybernetic Highway at Ciudad Guayana, Venezuela, 1961–1966

Authors: Peter Ekman*,
Topics: Urban Geography, Historical Geography, Urban and Regional Planning
Keywords: planning, urbanism, urban design, mobility, automobility, temporality, cybernetics
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Between 1961 and 1966, in consultation with a regional authority modeled on the TVA, a group of planners and social scientists from the Harvard–MIT Joint Center for Urban Studies built an industrial city from scratch, along with a steel mill and hydroelectric dam, on a putative “resource frontier” in oil-rich Venezuela. Rather than settle for an old-style “model town” — a relatively static object, defined geometrically and publicized by photograph or view — the Joint Center sought to document the planning process itself, necessarily elapsing over time, and abstract its lessons for application to American cities and their futures. They also fundamentally reconceived urban fabric in terms of mobility, rhythm, and flow: the centerpiece of the new Ciudad Guayana, and the focus of this paper, was a high-speed road, the Avenida Guayana, a piece of region-making infrastructure and an experiment in choreographing the “visual sequence” of automobility as an information-rich chain of approaches and arrivals. (Among the collaborators were MIT’s Kevin Lynch and Donald Appleyard, who in 1964 would devise a notation system to chart the sensory dimensions of travel on a proposed ring road around Boston.) On perpetual display, the Avenida Guayana helped introduce cybernetic understandings of environmental signal and response into urban infrastructural planning. Moreover, along transnational circuits of the Center’s own making, it offered Cold War urbanists, in Venezuela and elsewhere, a way to link the felt temporality of everyday life — “arrival” at a sequence of destinations — with the presumed temporality of “modernization” itself.

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