Invisible Cities: Toward a Networked Urbanism

Presentation by Marina Peterson (Ohio University).

In Southeast Ohio, small cities haunt the rural present. At the turn of the twentieth century, the region was dotted with dozens of towns. These cities are crucial hubs in a networked urbanism structured by coal. This paper develops a notion of a networked urbanism that takes as seriously the matter that comes from under the ground as the increasing heights of the modern cities it helped build and that looks to a now invisible past for an understanding of urban form. Traces in the landscape of Appalachian Ohio are read as transductions of this networked urbanism, one form of energy turned into another across space and time. Rail tracks disappear into hillsides. Benjamin explains, rail was “the first prefabricated iron component, the precursor of the girder.” And at the heart of rail was coal: rail carried coal out of mines and from mining towns to major metropolises, coal that made it possible to forge steel for both the rail track and the girder and to power the steam for the engine. Mine maps show networks of room and pillar mines. Products of modern planning, their grids are intentional and ordered, an underground version of modern city planning. Water that runs out of these mines is now tinged the bright blue of acid loving algae. A 117 year-old coal fire started during a labor strike persists as a still vital sign of the work inherent to that moment. Yet, as it circulates through the material that was the source of the struggle that caused it, it eludes place even as it sustains the interconnectedness of a region whose past resides in relations between what is on the surface and what is underground.

Marina Peterson (PhD, University of Chicago, Anthropology) is Assistant Professor of Performance Studies in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts at Ohio University.  Her book Sound, Space, and the City: Civic Performance in Downtown Los Angeles examines the nature of contemporary urban public life through an ethnography of free public concerts in downtown Los Angeles. She is co-editor of Global Downtowns, a collection of ethnographic studies that provide critical perspectives on ideals, implementation, and outcomes of city center planning and development in Asia, the Middle East, Africa, the U.S. and Latin America.

Marina Peterson presents at "Network Archaeology."

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