Diary of Knowledge

interdisciplinary surgery by axe and blowtorch rather than scalpel and needle; reading, analysing, summarising and writing; trying to transform information to knowledge

Tag: planning

reanimation III: on bureaucracy, price-gauging, war and elastic cities

.1) James Kirkup argues that part of David Camerons recent problems are due to the inefficient political infrastructure he has set up (or is the critique of the infrastructure just a hidden way to criticise the PM himself?). Slowly many of the important positions in the HQ have been replaced by civic servants, more gray bureaucrats than (conservative) policy advisors.

Maybe there is a need to, conceptually, divide the political structure. Gray bureaucrats are just as important as policy advisors, but they have different key roles to fill. The first is an integral part of any consistent policy execution, the latter the ”think-tank” for creation of the guidelines.
Aseem Inam’s book ”Planning for the Unplanned: Recovering from Crises in Megacities” focuses on the importance of functioning (bureaucratic) routines, which would put emphazise on the need for rigid delegating/distributing political systems. The ”apolitical” civil servants might be good for the system as a whole, but bad for Cameron’s government. Is the conundrum mentioned by Kirkup the effect of a mix-up of the two aforementioned categories, or just political secrecy and back-stabbing.

.2) Tim Harford discusses the benefits of more dynamic pricing. Basically it means that prices would be more directly connected to supply/demand, when demand is high and supply is low prices would sky-rocket (and the opposite). While cheap discounts of over-supplied goods are often welcomed, the opposite is seen as unethical. Harford argues that prices increasing with high demand/low supply would increase efficiency.

Personally I have a couple of points of critiques, none of them really dealing with the question at hand (as a concept I have no problem with dynamic pricing/price-gauging) but rather with the concept of the market itself.

Harford argues that with flat-prices (and lottery/queue systems during shortages) ”the goods may not reach the people who want them most”. But capitalism does care about who wants something the most only who has the ability to pay (but this is a minor slip I’d say).

There is a problem in where to draw a line for ”basic rights/necessities” and ”luxury goods”. Dynamic pricing of concert tickets is reasonable, but what about health care? Dynamic pricing further needs ”free (or even perfect) markets” to be justifiable. Now, is there even such a thing as a (practically functioning) perfect market? Are not inherited power structures too big an influence/regulator not to be considered?
And with acceptance of price-gauging, one of the easiest way to increase revenue would be to decrease supply, hastening companies spiral towards monopoly/oligopoly/cartel structures.

.3) American violations continue in Afghanistan. The (media) backlash might however have increased American willingness to negotiate and hand over more power to the Afghan (puppet?) government.

The effects might be mostly symbolical, but that doesn’t mean they are any less important. Increasing Afghan command over matter of national security will, hopefully, create less friction with the Afghan people. With less power to the US forces local rebellions/warlords might have a harder time rallying troops against a foreign invasion.
And, hopefully, Afghan forces will be less likely to burn the Koran or massacre villages.

.4) Imagining an elastic city – Diana Limbach Lempel. Informal and flexible structures should be given more space/opportunity in cities. The idea is basically taken from the chaos of (Asian) mega-cities such as Mumbai. What could ”stable” cities in the West learn from this?

There is a fragrance of something quite disgusting in this rhetoric. Entropy and community is, in many places, strictly because of necessity. Stick together or starve. Take space or see it be taken from you. To apply this on (somewhat more fluently) functioning societies is mockery and romanticism. You can not talk about the entropic systems of Mumbai without talking about the poverty, injustice and problems as well.
There is another problem in this (green-movement romanticised) elastic city. There is a narrative of a city functioning as a dynamic organism, growing and shrinking; transforming. But buildings don’t want to move. A heavily shrinking city will mean that work, effort and resources used for construction will be spoiled. There is no escaping this.
Actually, every city to have existed is/was organic by definition (the inhabitants functioning as the mitochondria of a cell). But this makes the metaphor shallow; it needs to be better redefined.

However, this is where the elasticity becomes interesting; not as a substitute to traditional planning, but as the web knitting it together and filling in the gaps. I reject all symbolic connections to ”green organic cities” and their narratives. What is truly great about elasticity is the possibility to directly change and re-create your immediate surrounding and what affects your life.
Informal, bottom-up planning, as well as temporary flexible structures, has the potential to circumvent big scale economical failure. The informal working as a test-site for what should be sedimented and what should not.

(originally written 120415)

reanimation II: on illusions, individual and en masse

.1) Indian scientist showed that a ”weeping cross” could be explained by capilar power and a nearby leaky drain. For this statement he was charged with ”blasphemy”.

.2) Classical psychology experiment from 68’ shows that teachers who believe to have ”good” or promising students actually makes their students better. In 68’ this was shown by the (randomly chosen) student’s enhanced results at IQ-tests.
Main explanations are teacher becoming more enthusiastic about teaching and treating their students with more respect.

.3) UK publication showing most religious (christians?) have more ideals in common with left-wing/liberals than with the right-wing (e.g. acceptance of immigrants, progressive policies, equality, politically active, volunteering, charity work and donations).
Still, the right-wing has claimed the religious group (just as much as the left (due to Marx?) has forsaken it).

.4) Women drinking lightly during pregnancy have kids which less problems than ”absolutists”. The latter is definitely NOT a cause of the first, rather a corralation. I would argue that it has to do with the intelligence and mind of the parent. A woman who can critically analyze scientific/medical advice is probably more intelligent/has a better self-esteem/independant, something that is genetically passed on to the children.

.5) Living conditions in Sweden, with different (social) classes spatially divided, has been in practice since the early 1900’s. Even in some suburbs with mixed social classes, the different building typologies (rental apartment blocks, townhouses, villas) were spatilly segregated.
Christer Björk argues this is due to the ideological idea that identity and meaning most easily is created in homogenous groups.
This can be seen as classical modernism architecture/planning.
According to Jeremy Till (and his, in my opinion excellent, article ”Architecture and Contingency”) this goes even further back; (bluntly put) ordering, establishing and maintaining the hegemonic power structure is the foundation of Architecture.
I’m also interested in neo-liberal arguments.
My speculation: buildings associated with working class people would reduce value (selling price/profit) of upper-class villas; on the opposite, upper-class villas would NOT increase the value of working-class building blocks. If this is true, there is an economical incentive for spatial segregation.

.6) In the Occupied Times, page 12, Jeremy Till argues that scarcity (and by it austerity) is a constructed concept and not a natural one. We are not running out of food, we are simply not distributing it well (overconsumption in north, starvation in south).

Scarcity and Austerity are used as a scare-tactic to keep hegemonic power structures in place (i.e. the capitalist ideology), e.g. how shrinking national budgets are used as an argument for privatization (even though costs are not cut but increased) or food scarcity is used to argue for large scale industrialized farming and genetically modifed plants (even though crop yield is not increased). Till counterposes this with ”natural scarcity”, which (I guess) might be environmental and ecological effects and peak-oil.

I would prefer him to stay consistent. In my eyes, all scarcities are constructed concepts, even those of sustainability. Slavoj Zizek has a great piece on Ecology as Ideology, scarcity and austerity is used in exactly the same way Till mentions, but for the Eco-Ideology instead of a Capitalistic. All issues of scarcity are dependant on our relation and use of resources. If we believe 7 billion people should be able to eat meat, then yes we will have scarcity. If we believe 7 billion people to eat potatoes (and vegetables), not so much scarcity.

Maybe: instead of austerity, we need reformation and reorganization. Or are scare-tactics a necessary tool for transforming society?


Do not underestimate the power of self-deception. If we truly belive something it might turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. This also goes into social and political (critical) studies. It is far easier to change the illusions than reality, by making people believe in certain constructed concepts, the concepts themselves become reality. Scarcity, austerity, freedome infringements etc. All can be implemented with sufficient illusions.
And maybe that is the crime of the Indian scientist, the crime of destroying illusions.

(originally written 120415)