Fluid Uncertainty

Lots of brilliant ideas at the LSE Cities Fluid Uncertainty workshop last month.  These brief notes are mainly designed to point in the direction of further reading.  They’ll most likely be of use if you are interested in water, STS and urban design.  Risk and resilience also featured as key terms.

Flooded London? Squint Opera hosted at Matt Birkinshaw’s urban geography policy water blog

Matthew Gandy‘s talk raised the contrasting emotional effects of utopian and dystopian ideas.  Utopias being optimistic and empowering and dystopias as leading to fear and avoidance – an idea I found very powerful.  Fantastic images from Squint Opera for positive everyday / ordinary millenerian imagery.  (Who you might be interested to know have the winning bid for Rio’s World Cup masterplan and played a comms role for the Olympics…)

As much as I accept the value of positive and attractive stories and images to engage with, isn’t there a danger that this kind of imagery removes the urgency for change and submerges the highly differentiated and unequal effects of climate change?  I might be missing the point but most of the world doesn’t live in the North London suburbs and as climate scientists suggest extreme weather events are becoming more frequent, it requires a determined degree of optimism to project this kind of rosy future globally.

Images from 2004 Bangladesh floods where rising sea levels due to global warming are estimated to displace 20 million people.
Source: CoastalCare.org
Hydraulic sluicing in early 20th C Seattle. Karvonen 2010. Source: University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, Lee 20022.

I really enjoyed Rita Samiolo‘s discussion of her work on the techno-politics of hydroschemes engineering in the Venice lagoon – confirmed my suspicions that accounting harbours highly creative and innovative work…

Andrew Karvonen‘s work on earth-shifting in turn-of the century Seattle introduced me to the idea of an eco-fix as a variation on ‘spatial fix’.  The paper with many more interesting ideas and a rich narrative approach is here.

Sarah Bell‘s work on Water Sensitive Urban Design had some nice examples of integrated urban water landscapes (some of which you can read about here).  Practices of rainwater harvesting and waste-water recycling have been something I’ve been thinking about recently in my work on India.  Her presentation prompted the question: “Is ‘river ‘restoration’ the new gentrification?”, and also “what, and when, is it restoration to?”  Her response was: “restoration to function”.  In India, where river restoration projects seem to be taking place in many cities, it seems to be a bit of both….  

Martin Guggenheim from Goldsmiths had lots of sharp questions throughout and presented some very engaging work-in-progress on staging disasters.  This seemed to work  wonderfully well as a metaphor – although I’m not quite sure for what!

Alex Loftus from Kings rounded off the workshop.  A really inspiring combination of Gramsci, feminist standpoint theory, and political ecology used to illuminate his fieldwork in Durban… It was wonderful to hear such left positivity!  Alex raised concerns about ANT, which was quite a strong thread throughout the sessions, but I was left wondering whether there needs to be a conflict between ANT and more normative models or whether they could complement each other…