On Escape

I promised I'd blog more about our project for the Uneven Growth show, but it took longer than I expected to get around to it. In the meantime, I've refreshed the Web site a little, cleaning up a few links here and there and I discovered a great new event at the Van Alen, recently redesigned by Collective-LOK (which includes my good friend Michael Kubo).

"Ultimate Exit: the Architecture and Urbanism of Tech-Secessionism" is taking place next Thursday December 11. See more here. This promises to be a truly fascinating event with the brilliant architect and theorist who I am priviliged is one of my closest friends, Ed Keller, accelerationist theorist Nick Land, Bitnation CEO Susanne Tarkowski Tempelhof, Geoff Manaugh of Bldgblog, artist Andrea Crespo, and artist Martti Kalliala whose works, together with Daniel Keller's will be a backdrop for the discussion. I wish I was going, but instead I will be making my own escape, lecturing that evening on the tensile structures of Aleksandra Kasuba at the National Art Gallery of Lithuania. 

The organizers have put up the following text:

Can the titans of tech engineer an escape from government oversight? Initiatives like Seasteading and talk of Silicon Valley’s “ultimate exit” are part of a growing tech-secessionist movement in which a variety of actors from venture capitalists and companies like Google to cloud-based communities of individuals are imagining city-state-like sites escaping state jurisdiction.

What might these enclaves look like? How do the architecture, urbanism, politics and psychology of exit intermingle?

After Manfredo Tafuri and Karl Popper, responsible historians aren't supposed to predict the future, but I'm a bad historian, or at least an irresponsible one, so I do that all too often. The event that I'm going to miss brings to mind another section of our Uneven Growth proposal, our scenario entitled Hong Kong, 2047

Where our collaborators set out with a deligtfully poetic interpretation of the city's future, the Netlab has based our research on demographic and economic projections and we grounded our reading in a scenario based on three key drivers: peak population in Hong Kong and China (and the decline from that peak), the consequent collapse of a strong nationalist center on the mainland, and—most pertinent to the event at the Val Alen—the emergence of powerful city states on the Chinese coasts, led by the model of Hong Kong. 

Nor will this stop in Hong Kong. On the contrary, what we call global cities today will form an archipelago of cities across the world that will increasingly take steps to formalize their status. This will be easy in places like the European Union, where countries are ceding power upwards to the EU or downwards to the region. In places like the PRC or the US, it will be a little trickier, and may require the disappearance of the nation states into broader regional governments or alliances in order to assuage nationalist feelings (after all, the logic goes, if the country expands, maybe some devolution to the rising city-states would be ok…).   

This is only one aspect of escape. Another crucial aspect of escape—which we don't cover in the HK 2047 scenario—is escape from cities themselves, the construction of enclaves outside of cities for various purposes. I've written about enclave urbanism before at some length here, but for now, suffice it to say that that threats of terrorism, contagion, and economic collapse are all prompting the wealthy—and even not so wealthy—to ensure that they have holdouts in the countryside. But even more than that, enclaves of exclusivity are emerging, and are often defined by the difficulties of reaching them. More at that link above.

This is not, I now understand, opposed to city-state urbanism, but rather a constituent part of it. Even as finance pulls out of Manhattan for safer, more nimble and virtual venues, the city-state remains, a massive capital sink or spatial fix and a site of luxurious indulgence for archipelago urbanists.