Welcome: Planetary Planning Department (PPD)
THE PLANETARY PLANNING DEPARTMENT: Philosophy and Context
The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise and has got caught in his wings; it is so strong that the angel can no longer close them. The storm drives him irresistibly into the future, to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows toward the sky. – Walter Benjamin, “On the Concept of History,” in Selected Writings, IV, Pg 292.
Intro: Defining Ephemerality and Territory
The two subjective concerns of man in the Anthropocene are; his inability to comprehend the timescale of systems that operate beyond his lifespan, and his general ignorance of things that do not present themselves in a conventional three-dimensional form. The complexity and four-dimensionality of the system to which we refer, climate change, disables man from comprehending both its physicality and its scale of operation in time. The criticality of climate change is neither about a frog or a pot but about the frog’s relationship to the pot and the forces that move within it. Given the correct intelligences in which to understand the fluid dynamics of water within the pot the frog may bring himself to move in such a way as to topple the pot from the burner completely.
“Critical Climate change is orientated, in this general manner, toward the epistemo-political mutations that correspond to the temporalities of terrestrial mutation.” (Turpin, Pg 1)
What Ettiene Turpin outlines here in less pretentious terms are that the key factors surrounding climate change are the language and political apparatus that reflect the way in which we address the world and the scales of timeframe on which the biospherical forces of the world (the terrare – the landscape of violence) play out. We think of things as under the umbrella of Nature, fleets of objects that we box up and label Natural on the shelf of objectified reality. By thinking of things as Nature we frame them within this abstract container of terminology. As always, the way in which we describe things is the language in which we perceive them. There is an assumption that nature is metastable, operating like an .exe program behind your computer screen, incorruptible and continually bounded by time and space. The classical view of the natural is the picturesque painting, glimmering against the starry firmament. Where in reality the landscape itself should be framed in the same manor as those stars, complex bodies of celestial activity that flow through time, guided by the continually evolving but forever invisible strings of gravity that push and pull these cumbersome rocks and gaseous balls. Until, serendipitously, some comet or object may collide with one, bringing chemicals and materials to that composition of elements that can produce new elements, and eventually, perhaps biological life. This is the terrestrial mutation to which Turpin so vaguely refers.
The way in which we negotiate climate change depends on the way in which we address the ephemeral and territorial conditions within it. The abyss in front of things we call interobjectivity. The space between objects, what Timophy Morton calls “interobjectivity” is something that is only filled with particles. This space is a territory – or if we follow its root verb terrare – a landscape of violence at its most distinct. It does not exhibit explicit boundaries or limitations; in fact it permeates and proliferates all other things. Thus, it evades our terminological distinction and ability to box it on our shelf of things. Although it does not ‘occupy’ space-time as a physical being, perceivable and distinct, it is space-time. Its ephemerality is continuous, it is neither static nor directly tangible and constantly changes as a reflection of its environment, acting as litmus, continually stained and altered by those it interacts with. Thus it is neither this thing we classify as abstract space that frames the objects nor the objects that frame the space. Both are in continued dialogue. When we cup water or box air neither is framing the other, but the molecules of each react constantly against one another to create a stable relationship. They offer no edges no edges and we cannot interfere with it or control it as easily – they are abstract. If we can touch something, pick it up, throw it – this is a thing. The difference is in our own perception and definition of the words territory and ephemerality. Both the terrare, the continuous ether of violent forces, and ephemerality, the abstract passing of time coalesce as the idea of the hyperobject and rapid climate change
Our concept of territory is an assemblage of interobjectivity, it continually evolves and changes, the very idea that there is an ideal nature is itself a hypocracy. Landscapes are composed of both objects and the abstract in-between-ness to which we refer. The biosphere is a continuously evolving series of systems in which we are entangled. Within the Anthropocene, we ourselves are implicated in the between-ness. Our societal actions are so widespread as to join these tectonic forces of climatology, hydrology and geology. However, the landscape does not restrain itself to straight lines and does not understand our political boundaries. It’s fragile webs of complexity react to the strains and ease we place on it. The increasing speed and severity in which we strain animal populations but increase rodent populations, for example makes it harder for the remaining strings of balance, interobjectivity, to bring it back to equilibrium.
“Clearly, the great cycles of air and water and heat energy that compose the living forms in the biosphere are no longer balancing. The dynamic equilibrium of all of these cycles is imbalanced because of accelerating expenditures of energy by human civilization.” (Bunn, (Sussman), pg 127)
The Anthropocene brings with it an idea that man’s presence is equivalent to other global strata of rock. It brings a sobering tangible reality that the idea archaeologist may one day examine all our existence questioningly by the omnipresence of plastics within the otherwise geological stratigraphy. We are deeply shocked and immobilised by this threat of annihilation. The planet will not die, in fact it will prosper, only we will die, there’s a fundamental difference that reflects poorly against the ego of man. We associate the terms humanity and the world as if we have some gaia-like right to the planet
The age of hyperobjects and ‘the end of the world’ has entered the everyday conversation. This brings a revelation that we are not the world as we had thought, but in fact, the world is not us. World, here as another abstract apparatus is the background to which climatic events occur. It, in itself is objectified. It is an objectification of hyperobjects; the biosphere, climate, evolution and even capitalism perhaps. (Morton, pg 100)
Part 1: Obstacles + Deterrents.
A prerequisite of the Anthropocene age was to discard the abstract apparatus of ‘Nature’ and ‘world’, in favour of new language for engaging with co-existents and non-human agents within the enclosing fabrics of space-time. However, this new language did not materialise, and our object-oriented ontology insists upon precise systems of bounding, classifying, inscribing relationships and even owners. Object-orientated modernism is no longer one of science but political and social. Where distinct boundaries are drawn half-hazardly across things and their intolerable thing-ness. I open Google Earth for my classmate to show me Oklahoma and his house. As we zoom in I ask why the pixels have left square lines across the screen when we zoom and later, I am informed that these are not computational scale lines, drawn by google but actually exist. My dismay at the brutality in which square road networks and lines create a mat of urbanisation across different landscapes is equal to it’s scale. Humanity and its politics of the world don’t want to be reminded of how many populations it renders extinct, how many of those roads gorged their way through habitats or separated bio-swales of ecosystems that once moved to and fro. Instead we allocate it the legislative apparatus of Nature to which we classify our actions.
The concept of “the Anthropocene affords contemporary scholars, activists, and designers a unique opportunity to re-evaluate the terms of theory and practice which have been inherited from modernity.” (Turpin, pg 3)
Although the Anthropocene demarcates a geological epoch, the anthropocene discourse revolves around a need to overhaul the way in which we frame and relate to organic material. The significance of this requirement was never represented fairly in world governance of affairs. The emerging climate talks in Paris and Bonn as I write this paper bare the ghosts of Copenhagen talks that fell apart as the bitter economic rivalry and inequality tore apart the already weak bonds of political trust. The way we politically manage ourselves in the world is a scaled up version of western America on Google Earth. The complexity and timescales of the environment outstrip our capacity for engagement. Instead we demarcate abstract lines across continents as political boundaries with infrastructure that has the intelligences of hammering a motherboard and wires into a river.
Part 2: Missed Opportunities for Productive Engagement: A Call for Hyper-Urbanism
Linda Pollock proposes a new method to conceptualise urbanity in the Anthropocene as constructed ground. The scale and proliferation of industrialised nature abolishes any distinction between urban and non-urban. “The challenge in design is to develop ways of working that can support and represent a multiplicity of spatial identity, to bring into focus as (constructed) ground that which is usually relegated to background. Such ways of working need to not only recognise the potential of these historically recessive environmental terms in the design of new environments, but also are aware of ways in which their historical marginalization has conditioned the construction of existing environments.” (Pollack (Waldheim), Pg 128)
Within the bitter stalemate of environmental treaties, where each country and city commits to a grand plan, there are some historic reneges that have been compelled to action. In the early 1960’s an idea was proposed at NASA’s environmental conference to fire phosphorous particles over the arctic to reflect heat. When scolded from the committee for the brutality of the endeavour the scientist proceeded to question the legal framework to stop such an action. Such characters epitomise a latent frustration with the bureaucracy embedded in climate in-action. The issue these pragmatists exploit for their actions is an upper limit to the ownership and politics of objects and interobjectivity in the world. The no mans land of the Anthropocene lies between the politics and infrastructure of the city, and the ephemeral, territorial and environmental operations at the scale of the continent and climatic regions. This hyper-scale urbanism offers agency for territorial scale operations that begin to address climate change, the Anthropocene and hyperobjectivity on a very systematic basis.
The task of any hyper-urban agenda is beyond that of political jurisdiction and bias afforded by political relation. I propose the creation of a Planetary Planning Department which seeks to engage the hyperobject, to project futures in which cities can aggregate resources to mitigate catastrophe and manage its own interobjectivity. Hyper-urbanism must find principles in which the projection of potential futures can create sites for pushing new ecological infrastructure geared toward the transition, or newly classified blurred edge between society and Nature. The need for inter-state dialogue and cross-boundary infrastructure to secure the management of not only the threatening environmental shift the Anthropocene era brings but also the management of cities themselves and their four-dimensional tentacles that spill chaotically into the world.
“Dichotomies between top-down and botton-up planning processes have been obliterated as the roles of infrastructure and ecology have been reconsidered and expanded.” (Reed (Waldheim), pg 270)
Arpanet, the predecessor for the current internet worked as a system of networked organisations with the intention for networked project development. The infrastructure and maintenance was run by institutions of different types; government, academic and private and the program itself was intended for project organization, management, research and development. Although capitalism had jacked the internet as way to further decentralise into new markets and proliferate the rapid exchange of investment, the built environment lags behind and is less adept to form coalition-like structures of governance and conversation, scaffold by the networked society such telecommunications offer. Design cannot just be the formation of buildings or forms but becomes the creation of systems that act as arbiter between financial and economic drivers and the needs of climate change and the city. Such a system creates a new ‘drawing board’ in which to create in space-time, at the hyper and territorial scale.
The formation of a networked and scalable system-orientated-ontological model can begin to supersede the way in which objects are classified by mapping and projecting their interaction through time. One can imagine systems at the scale of the city where accurately scaled-down territorial models are formed in warehouses and managed by arrays of machines that constantly test the projective future of the city and its region as it interacts with the landscape. The cataloguing of these types of tests could produce a spectrum of accuracy in which the city will move through time. These decentralised city-run enterprises would engage the development driven market economy and embed it within the conversation of time. The way in which these agents stake claim in the Anthropocene and our newly urbanising regions would be through this interface, where risk and consequential alterations to systems are exchanged between agents as they propose their projects into the system and are incentivised by that planning department accordingly for the mutual benefit of the city, at risk residents and any host of other systematic variables within the landscape that may be altered by such an intervention.
“There is a particular need to publish in timely fashion experimental monographs that redefine the … the interface of conceptual and scientific languages, and geomorphic and geopolitical interventions” (Turpin. Page 1)
As we consider the tangibility of system-oriented-ontology as a new paradigm for urban modelling and intervention we are reminded of Lefevbre’s nested scales as a recurring theme as we shift scale from the housing project, through the city to the territory. The potential for aggregated information offered by the accumulation of testing and iterative projective futures at the scale of cities, is for a larger nervous system of continental urban structuring. The requirement for some international monitoring mechanism for the advancement of urban infrastructures may move toward overcoming the political tensions recurring at climate summits. Although the formation of a Planetary Planning Department may strike deep rooted Orwellian panic alarms in the reader one must consider that if we cannot rely on the mobilisation of mass society to stir revolution toward climate clairvoyance while enamoured with their day-to-day superficialities within a hyper-capitalized society then such large scale organisation must be enacted, and act without limitation. We must recall that the threat faced by the turbulent rumblings of the hyperobject is not some theorised motion but has already begun. We simply lack the ability to see it, only when it enters our three-dimensional world does it display some tangible component – a hurricane, drought, storm surges.
The potential opportunities for widespread benefit such an organisation would offer drastically outweigh the doubts one might have on the morality or ethical implications of a global nervous system for urbanisation. The ability to bring not only developers but cities and regions into continued dialogue over the development of land and the shared resource of water and other assets can lay the foundations for a co-operative framework for risk distribution. Where the excess resource of one city might find its way to the need of another in exchange for inheritance of risk. Incentives are offered to developers and agents within the built environment as a way to alleviate contentious issues such as social housing and public space where increased developable area is traded for the construction of the latter. At the scale of the city such trade networks between the city and market economy may transfer to the distribution of risks as a commodity asset. Where the worth of one development is hedged against the risk of hydrological change by the co-opted inheritance and distribution of risk by another agent, willing to construct landscape infrastructures for the accommodation of water.
At the continental scale such transference of assets are illustrated by Rem Koolhaas’s provocative roadmap 2050 that reimagines Europe without borders, capable of transferring energy over the peaks and troughs of demand by constructing a grid for the exchange of energy from wind farms in the Brittish Isles to solar farms in southern Europe. This cooperative productivity distributes risk from specific regions so that, if one system should fail or not produce as much energy it is supported by a network of other actors in the grid. The aggregation of urban regions to plug into some global nervous system of projective futures can begin to limit the economic driven city building process for one that more closely resembles resilient infrastructure. Terratorial ecological infrastructure can also act as emergency permanent aid for coastlines such as Manilla or Mumbai where social inequality is exacerbated by sea level rise and storm increase.
“The point is not so much to contest or contradict tour tools of work but rather to understand how they have been misused, abused and manipulated in both the design and decision making process.” (Girot, (Waldheim) pg 91).
The goal is not to extend the abstract political forces that govern urbanisation but create some policy medium in which agents can enter into conversation with territorial mutations of landscapes and begin to conceptualise the hyperobjects that enclose them. Although intersubjectivity remains – the space in which man interferes with interobectivity – designers, planners and developers; political canons who, in the parameters of hyper-capitalism drive the urbanisation of regions (as capital surplus is re-invested in the built environment), can begin to fathom and re-frame longer timescales of cities, territories and continents. Thus the built environments occupied land will exist in space-time itself. Which begs the inclusionary design principles of not only how it is built but also how it is deconstructed and removed. If the city becomes some anthropocenrtric biome on which agents operate then we must not only consider how we play as a team on the field throughout the epoch but also how soiled the field might become after we finish, and whether it will be fit for next weeks under 18’s football game. After all, it is not the longevity of ourselves that we seek but the prosperity of an environment that society can adapt within and sustain productive dialogue with.
The scale of crisis we face and complex nature of hyperobjectivity in the Anthropocene must depoliticize works that are carried out to ensure the un-bias restructuring of networked landscape urbanisms toward a mutually beneficial re-distribution of risk. The scale at which these events occur supersedes political boundaries and mocks judicial and political quarrel between nations. The ascendancy of the environmental urbanist or territorial interventionist is a requisite for the formation of the Planetary Planning Department, a system of global infrastructural nervous systems can engage the exponential increase in speed of catastrophic climate events. The continually shifting conditions of the Anthropocene invoke an endlessly complex and four-dimensional environment that far outstrips the linguistic toolkit we deploy. The transference of quantitative data, en-mass, to be projected and tested over larger timescales creates a new model for flexible, adaptive, and aggregated public infrastructures capable of operating in the web of socio-political, economic and ecological forces of contemporary society. Only then can cities discard the concept of object formation, sitting in space, and enter space-time itself, where it’s spectrum of projective futures – constantly skewed by the conversations of agents within it – can lay foundations for the controlled territorial expansion and reformatting of urbanisation within rapid climate change.
Manaugh, G. 2011. Landscape Futures: Instruments, Devices and Architectural Inventions. Actar Publishers
Morton, T. 2013. Philosophy and Ecology After the End of the World. University of Minnosota Press
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Sussman, H. 2012. Impasses of the Post-Global: Theory in the Era of Climate Change. 1st ed. Open Humanities Press.
Turpin, E, 2013. Architecture in the Anthropocene: Encounters Among Design, Deep Time, Science and Philosophy, 1st ed. Open Humanities Press
Waldheim, C. 2006. Landscape Urbanism Reader. Princeton Press