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Unveiling Infrastructures: Alliances, Indicators, and the Relational Assemblage of Port City Waterfronts

Authors: Anne Taufen*, University of Washington Tacoma, Lisa Hoffman, University of Washington, Tacoma, Ken Yocom, University of Washington, Seattle
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Urban and Regional Planning, Regional Geography
Keywords: urban infrastructure, assemblage theory, interpretive methods, waterfront development
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Critical analysis of urban waterfront development and port city infrastructures attributes hegemonic, causal logic to political economy in the ordering and creation of these spaces. While the power of capital clearly has an enduring explanatory logic for the trajectory of port city development, in the experience and study of actual urban waterfronts, we find more complicated phenomena, where spaces are imagined, performed, and produced in multi-layered and sometimes-surprising ways. As sites of rapid change and investment, nevertheless bound by their spatial histories, local cultures, and the vagaries of changing global and regional conditions – economic, environmental and otherwise - waterfronts offer a generative, variegated, and deeply empirical perspective on the potential usefulness of assemblage thinking for urban theory and development. We use case data from Seattle, WA to surface and trace alliances between people, places, and things that have shaped the ongoing assemblage of waterfront spaces, to show the insufficiency of a political economy model to fully account for the complexity of these sites. Such alliances will not be replicable across global urban regions in the way that the totalizing logic of capital is and has been, however exploring and attending to their various indicators may be essential to resist the same. Unveiling the presence of these alliances in the assemblage of urban infrastructures (Roy and Ong 2011; Graham and McFarlane 2015; Steele and Legacy 2017) can be understood as a methodological and context-specific imperative, through which alternative means of producing the city can be conceived and pursued.

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