ìCreating infrastructure is a primary tool states have used to link space into territory.î –Professor Greg Hise
Globalization and electronic communication and the Internet have not yet dematerialized industry and its processes. We are still able to see and photograph the city as an archive and an artifact of bureaucratic management (high-rise buildings) and manufacture (often, low-rise large buildings), material networks of goods movement, labor, and marketing. In effect, we have localization. What makes localization possible are the systems and networks that enweb the city: transport, electricity, communication, water, natural gas. And what makes that network almost quaint is the not-very-bucolic agriculture that thrives in the corridors defined by this system.
So, when you fly over Los Angeles in a helicopter at several hundred to a thousand feet you actually see the nerveways and arterials of telephone wires and poles, rail lines and freeways, powerline corridors, and waterways (rivers, irrigation, and storm sewers). Such infrastructure seems to shape the environment of Los Angeles. It would appear that the Los Angeles Basin is insinuated by multi-lane paths or corridors, where on each path several of the infrastructures are co-located: cable- and telephone- and power-lines, roads, and waterways accompany each other, and under the powerlines or adjacent to them are farms or nurseries. As arterials there are flows of materials and energy; as nerveways there are flows of information.
Moreover, the Basin is quite variegated, a patchwork or harlequin of industry cheek-by-jowl to residential to infrastructure to agriculture to cemeteries to junkyards to military basesómuch like a Petri dish of different bacterial colonies growing to bump into and invade each other. (They may even need each other for mutual nourishment.) There are leftovers and mismatches: isolated extractive industries, such as gravel pits; or abandoned refineries; or dairies now surrounded by very different uses–separated from their surrounds by a street or wall or perhaps nothing much at all. And open space is in effect mostly inadvertent, surely sometimes planned as parks or watersheds, but as often yet-to-be-developed land, and sometimes a byproduct of school playgrounds and fields, agriculture, or cemeteries. Most of Los Angeles is not vast sprawl, but a coordinated system of systems, industry and housing hanging from a tree of infrastructure.
Often, these paths (arterials and nerveways) were developed well ahead of housing, industry, and sometimes even large-scale agriculture. Now, the paths are surrounded by homes, warehouses, and schools. It would appear that the interstices are innervated by infrastructure, although the historical sequence is most likely the reverse. By the way, if we are flying over the Basin in a commercial airliner, details are too small to be carefully studied, and if we are driving by we cannot see the system and pattern of innervation. If the infrastructure is in our backyards, we may be concerned with noise, or flooding, or electromagnetic fields. But, again, we do not see the system.
The crucial rights-of-way might be shared: above-ground high-voltage electrical transmission lines, buried natural gas pipelines, agriculture at ground level, adjacent waterways and rail lines and freeways, and copper and glass-fibre cable for communications. They need not interfere with each other. There is no congestion. These co-incidences are often planned. And they are taken advantage of by infrastructural latecomers such as telegraph or cable-TV. Moreover, the now surrounding residential and industrial areas are meant to grow up around such infrastructure, fruit hanging from that infrastructural tree. Rail and telegraph and paved road were surely precursors.
Rights-of-way are parts of long-term development plans, later to be ramified and articulated. Of course, the basic geomorphology of an area may have influenced the paths of rivers, the lands that prove arable, and even the location of important urban centers. So we might say that after the geomorphology does its work, there comes the infrastructure, and then the subsequently built environment modifies that geomorphology and the meaning of the infrastructure.
Aerial archaeology photographs sites, often urban, so that their overall patterns and hidden details are more readily discerned. In effect, the photographs in this exhibit show the archaeological artifacts of the Second Industrial Revolution and its making of Southern California.
View the exhibit’s listing on the USC Events Calendar.