City as Lab Reflections

Power structures. I guess they’ve been coming up a lot in readings and class discussions. In my class on the field of International Development, I’ve been reading a lot about ideas of participatory development projects that try to get the subjects of development, who are often reduced to quantified numbers and charts, involved. But the the concept of development itself is laden with all kinds of power structure laden assumptions that make even participatory frameworks problematic. And then, my friend DJ Ripley, (Larisa Mann) posted an article about intellectual property and power structures on her blog today.

In City as Lab, we had a guest panel inspired by Carolyn Steel on food practices in the city. One of the big take away ideas from me was to conceptualize in daily life the commodity fetish of food, and how that reinforces the same power structures that create social inequality and structural oppression. Cook more real food, processed products aren’t real food, real food is made by people in your area, buy it from them. Slow Food, Slow Money, Slow Flyer.

After reading the Lebanon Yearbook States of Sustainability 2009-2010, I couldn’t help but notice the skepticism of the viability of international notions of sustainability in the Arabic speaking world. The Gulf States are obsessed with commercial building and large scale infrastructure projects that carry sustainability labels. It attracts investment, it’s good for business. Maybe its time for slow architecture?

It seems like Beirut contains both extremes.

But perhaps what’s resonated with me the most is the lecture by Jennifer Hudon on grassroots mapping. This is an idea that came out of the desire to, “to invert the traditional power structure of cartography.” Of course all maps carry with them political intent and contain within them inherent power structures. But radical geography and grassroots cartography make me think that within the system, there will be ways to cut down some of the hegemony of dominant forces through the tools that are used to suppress and control. Slow mappers.

We are the sloths.