Metabolic Urbanization And Cyborg Cities

A cyborg is a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction.

(Haraway 1991:149)

In the introductory chapter we argued that cities are constituted through dense networks of interwoven socio-ecological processes that are simultaneously human, physical, discursive, cultural, material, and organic. Circulatory conduits of water, foodstuffs, cars, fumes, money, labour, etc., move in and out of the city, transform the city, and produce the urban as a continuously changing socio-ecological landscape. Imagine, for example, standing on the corner of Piccadilly Circus in London, and consider the socio-environmental metabolic relations that come together in this global-local place: smells, tastes, and bodies from all nooks and crannies of the world are floating by, consumed, displayed, narrated, visualized and transformed. The "Rainforest" shop and restaurant play to the tune of eco-sensitive shopping and the multi-billion pound eco-industry while competing with McDonalds' burgers and Dunkin' Donuts, whose products—like burgers, coffee, orange juice, or cream cheese—are equally the result of processes that fuse together and interconnect social and biochemical relations from many places, near and far away. Consider how human bodies—of migrants, prostitutes, workers, capitalists— spices, clothes, foodstuffs, and materials from all over the world whirl by. The neon lights are fed by energy coming from nuclear power plants and from coal-, oil-, or gas-burning electricity generators. Cars, taxis, and buses move on fuels from oil-deposits (now again from Iraq) and pump CO2 into the air, affecting peoples, forests and climates in places around the globe. All these flows complete the global geographic mappings and traces that flow through the urban and "produce" London (or any other city) as a palimpsest of densely layered bodily, local, national and global—but depressingly geographically uneven—metabolic socio-ecological processes. This intermingling of material and symbolic things produces the vortexes of modern life, combines to produce a particular socio-environmental milieu that welds nature, society, and the city together in a deeply heterogeneous, conflicting and often disturbing whole (Swyngedouw 1996).

The view that a city is a particular process of environmental production, sustained by particular sets of socio-metabolic processes that shape the urban in distinct, historically contingent ways, a socio-environmental process that is deeply caught up with socio-metabolic processes operating elsewhere, rarely grabs the headlines. Of course, the "Hygienic City" of the nineteenth century (Gandy 2004; this volume) already celebrated the making of the city as a system of circulatory conduits that would render the metabolism of the city rhyme in concert with the bio-chemical metabolisms associated with a sanitized urban life. Haussmann's opening up of Paris, King Leopold's sanitation of Brussels, the visionary construction of Vienna's Ringstrasse, and London's slum clearance also point to these combined processes of political-ecological transformation and socio-cultural reconstruction. The ecological anarchism of radical thinkers like Kropotkin or Elisee Reclus, and the various attempts at creating socially or ecologically harmonious "utopian" cities pursued with equal fervour by anarchists, socialists, liberals, and fascists, also illustrate nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century concerns with producing socially just and sustainable urban environments.

Urbanization can indeed be viewed as a process of contiguous de-territorialization and re-territorialization through metabolic circulatory flows, organized through social and physical conduits or networks of "metabolic vehicles". In this chapter, we consider how nature becomes urbanized through proliferating socio-metabolic processes. "Metabolism" and "circulation" will be the central metaphors that will guide us in this endeavour. They are not randomly selected. Both concepts have a long conceptual, cultural, social, material, and arte-factual history. They emerged as coherent concepts and materially mobilized principles in the mid-nineteenth century and both were deeply connected with projects, visions, and practices of modernization, and with the associated "modern" transformation of the city. Most importantly, in contrast to other fashionable metaphors that attempt to fuse together heterogeneous entities—like networks, assemblages, rhizomes, imbroglios, collectives—the former convey a sense of flow, process, change, transformation, and dynamism in addition to the "inner-connectedness" suggested by the other tropes. They embody what modernity has been, and will always be about: change, transformation, flux, movement, creative destruction. With its emphasis on movement, change, and process and its insistence on the socially mobilized "materiality" of life, historical materialism has been among the first social theories to embrace and mobilize "metabolism" and "circulation" as entry-points in undertaking "ontologies of the present that demand archaeologies of the future" (Jameson 2002:215). These ontologies and archaeologies are what we shall turn to next.

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