2017-02-09

The Rampant Wave playground.

I've started using the phrase "infrastructural moments" to label certain human experiences in the landscape. Infrastructure is all around us but is designed to go unnoticed; infrastructure shouldn't have "moments" as much as it enables timelines. But

There are specific instances of friction in systems which cause "moments" and reveal the infrastructure underneath. Is most often a negative friction—an annoyance, or something that doesn't happen as expected—but can range towards neutral or joyful too.

We expect our roads to be smooth, our streetlamps to function, our water to come out of the faucet. When we encounter an unanticipated road hazard, a dark street, and a gap in our water service, these are infrastructural moments that can trigger deep engagement with our infrastructure space.

I have collected some instantiations of "guerilla urbanism," which are very much examples of infrastructural moments. When individuals take the agency to seed-bomb an otherwise untended highway divider, it is a moment of recognition of the structures that are designed to maintain that space. Graffiti artists quickly learn the processes by which graffiti is erased or left.

Skateboarders are constantly mining urban infrastructure towards repurposing. Can this ADA-compliant ramp become my launching point? Can I get a ride in between police beat cycles? Skateboarding becomes a continuum of infrastructural moments, which informs an overhaul in outlook. Walk around a city with a skateboarder, and you won't see curbs as just curbs any more. Skateboarding is an entire approach to the built environment.

I walk West on Beverly Boulevard to work downtown. After a bridge over Glendale, Beverly becomes 1st St. On the Eastern side of the bridge, there's an on-ramp squeezed between some low-lying office buildings and the road. You can only access the ramp from an awkward turn at the intersection underneath the bridge. It's a very high-visibility place, but hard to access. In my 2+ months of doing this walk, there's been an old corvette with a flat tire on this ramp. Despite the parking spots along this ramp are labeled as 2-hour parking, the corvette has never had a ticket. Whether intentional or not, the owner seems to have found a gap in parking enforcement patterns. This is an infrastructural moment.

Another example: the ramp between the 110 South and 105 going West has a rate-limiting light. I approached the light one evening and saw it on at a distance, but no cars in the queue. As I neared, the light turned off completely; the flow was sparse enough that the light was no longer necessary. Did the power go out? Did I trigger something? What conditions turn the light off (it can't be manual, I would think)? I was present at the moment of an infrastructural adjustment—this is an infrastructural moment.

What other forms do infrastructural moments take? In what other contexts to they inform dispositions (ala the skateboarder)? Are there fundamental differences in moments of sublimity, frustration, and utility? How beneficial is it for these moments to be more common, more reflective?



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