Cities within a city: Urban fractures and fragments
In a significant number of cities of the Global South, access to centralized infrastructural systems of water, sewerage, and energy is tied to the formal or “legal” occupancy of land. Settlers and residents of informal settlements, who constitute a significant portion of the global urban population, often do not qualify for networked extensions or must jump through a complex series of hoops to prove their land residency by particular cut-off dates in order to connect to large-scale municipal networks (Bjorkman, 2015; Anand, 2017; Truelove, 2019). Congruently, austerity measures, privatization, and decaying, intermittent, and/or contaminated infrastructure (i.e., lead within water pipes) also result in a growing number of urbanites needing to go outside the network to procure vital services (Silver, 2019). Beyond-the-network urbanism or the everyday practices and socio-material processes that constitute access to key urban services in spaces in which the network either fails to reach or is inadequate is often a dominant mode by which a growing number of city dwellers experience the city’s vital infrastructures.
Analyses of beyond-the-network urbanism bring attention to the scales and domains by which infrastructure is governed, accessed, claimed, altered, and mediated in highly heterogeneous ways. This first includes examining infrastructural fragmentation, consisting of both the ways infrastructural services are fractured, partial and unequal, as well as the accompanied fragmentation of “political and legal rights or economic opportunity” (McFarlane, 2018: 1008). Attention to infrastructural fragmentation provides an important vantage point to analyze differing ways of “seeing” and experiencing the city that emerge from the everyday relationship between people and the material environment.
Analyzing infrastructural fragments and fractures requires upsetting some of the dominant modes and scales by which theoreticians, practitioners, and even policy makers tend to approach the city. For example, there is a tendency to “see” and represent the city as bounded at the meso- scale within urban and development studies, bringing particular meta-narratives and urban-wide processes to the forefront while occluding others from view. Southern cities, for example, have been historically analyzed through the lens of underdevelopment and as “problem-ridden cities” (see Robinson, 2002; Roy, 2011) that lack basic infrastructures. However, problematizing southern cities through the “metonym of underdevelopment” (Roy 2011, p. 224) makes it more difficult to examine how southern cities (like their northern counterparts) experience a “splintering” (Graham and Marvin, 2002) of infrastructure that is tied to the production of both high-end and more impoverished spaces and infrastructures in the same city.The difference here is not reductive to one between the north (characterized as a place of more elite spaces and infrastructures) and the south (characterized as impoverished and underdeveloped) but rather between the differing logics and flows at work within both northern and southern cities that produce fractured space and fragmented infrastructural access. While Graham and Marvin (2002) argue that northern cities that once proclaimed universal access to infrastructures like water and sewerage in the twentieth century have later experienced a neoliberal splintering of space that produces fractured and unequal infrastructural access, postcolonial cities inherited a colonial legacy of fragmented and unequal infrastructural access that has persisted, and mutated, in contemporary times.
For example, Simone’s (2004,2014) work on the neighborhood scale within Johannesburg and Jakarta demonstrates how districts that often look the same on paper experience widely varying neighborhood networks, trajectories, and outcomes. These “cities within cities” emerge partially based on residents’ differing social infrastructures that include networks of cooperation and knowledge sharing. In relation to fragmented water infrastructures, my own research within Delhi’s informal settlements at the intra-neighborhood and intra-household scales shows how provisional infrastructures shape, and are coproduced through, gender/class/etlmo-religious power relations. For example, struggles over restarting, accessing, and controlling a neighborhood tube well leveled gendered infrastructural burdens within households, empowering some groups (dominant caste residents) while marginalizing others (nondominant caste women and Muslim residents) (Truelove, 2019). Such studies reveal how differentiated infrastructural citizenship (Lemanski,
2019) comes into being not only through unequal rights from the state but also in tandem with complex material, gender, and ethno-religious power relations within neighborhoods and households. Thus attention to residents’ diverse relations to the city’s fractured materiality within neighborhood lanes and households provides an important pathway for formulating what McFarlane et al. (2017:1394) call a “detailed analysis of the multiple forms of urbanism that emerge from the different spaces, contexts and presents that constitute a city.”
Engaging with beyond-the-network urbanism, including the uncertainty and ongoing sociomaterial transformations that characterize provisional infrastructural modalities thus requires thinking through how the fractured materiality of the urban fabric is tied to new understandings, experiences, and articulations of the urban condition. For example, Lawhon et al. (2018) analyze how fragmented infrastructural configurations of the wastescape in Kampala can help mitigate configurations of risk and precarity, particularly for vulnerable populations of the urban poor. On the other hand, McFarlane and Silver (2017) show how fractured access to sanitation in Cape Town produces both alternative modes of“seeing” the city for marginalized populations, as well as new strategies and claims for linking unequal sanitation to the advancement of citizenship and rights. Understanding how changing and fragmented configurations of infrastructure unevenly affect differing social groups is thus intimately linked to our understanding of the politics of urban transformation and the competing logics by which differing groups and stakeholders imagine and structure city futures.