[Image: 32 Beijing/New York, Issue 7: Floating Populations, Edited by Steven Holl]
I haven't gotten my hands on this yet, but Issue 7 of 32: Beijing/New York is devoted to Floating Populations and the spaces cropping up as the result of global urban migration. I'm very curious to see what types of connections are made between African nomadic settlements and, say, American commuter transit villages, and other migration spaces reflected between the first and third worlds.
What I am most interested in, though, are those places which evidence an urbanism of forced migration: I'm talking refugee camps, prisons, homeless shelters, immigration stalls, detention facilities, national emergency centers, squatter cities, tent cities, border fences, subterranean worlds, slave trade enclaves, mobile homes, convalescent homes, security checkpoints, the baseworld archipelago, and so on, etc.. Altogether, they constitute this massive informal infrastructure of nomadic space expanding around the world, fragmented in different forms of socio-political captivity.
[Image: Dakhla camp for Sahrawi refugees in the Tindouf region of Algeria in 1998, UNHCR/A. Hollmann]
It is the architectural space of urban dislocation. Expelled space. A scattered no man's land buffering the first world from the rest of the world. Swollen fractions, a violent terrestrial palette, criss-crossing boundaries, impregnated landscapes and disease. It is a haunted edge space that laps at the periphery of earth's gated Eden.
[Of course, I really don't know what I am talking about, or exactly what it is even I am trying to say, but...]
These contexts of posturban mobility, sort of, stratify a geospatial complicity for a whole spectrum of forced migrations and evictions. In the examples given above, familiar notions of eviction and immigration are challenged and redefined. Homeless people can no longer be seen as waifs who simply refuse to work. Day laborers are no longer just some group of hard workers from across the border eager to make an extra buck. The riots that recently rocked Paris can't be reduced to mere temper flare, or senseless acts of violence. And the African immigrants dragging their feeble bodies over barbed wire fences in Spain aren't risking their lives just because the grass is greener on the other side. Disintegrated economic development, exclusionary housing policy, inacessible real estate markets, insufficient job creation, and a pervasive lack of economic development collaboration between the two worlds is now regarded as much a force of eviction as the worst environmental disasters, or brutal tribal wars.
[Image: WORLDPROCESSOR, Ingo Gunther]
In terms of a global immigration movement, I'm trying to understand how ambiguity in architecture plays out in these contexts, as both a strategy for maintaining strict economic control over certain demographics, while, also, offering a much needed place for protecting communities that have been uprooted by civil war, scattered by genocide, banished from their homeland, etc.. Such are the semantics of the 'refugee camp', f.e., which usually turns out to be as much a permanent prison in humanitarian disguise as a temporary transitional facility, (the detention center as stepping stone to asylum? I don't think so.). In all the ingenuity that goes into accomodating a culture of forced migration these constructs only reinforce it, and ultimately refugee camps just end up incapacitating communities more than helping them to rebuild. I guess I can't ignore the implications of such places essentially herding people around the globe like cattle.
The antithesis of global urbanism, "refugee urbanism" is a dispersed carceral landscape defined by an urbanism deprivation, a nomadic vertigo, and the uncertainty of judicial status in constant flux.
Until the richer nations truly invest in solving the root causes of the common refugee camp (because they're not going anywhere soon), or continues to find new ways of helping refugee communities turn them into catalysts for broader social change and infrastructural improvement, what will keep the regimes of indiscriminate eviction at bay?
[Image: WORLDPROCESSOR, Ingo Gunther]
These semi-porous detention centers are partly the mechanisms that manage the global flows of exploited labor, they are the product of the 'global factory boss' in cahoots with the 'global slumlord', coming together to flex their power along the fringes of a decentralized and disaster-plagued third world landscape, hovering in nomadic perpetuity.
For millions of people, it's a life of torture and neglect, starved wandering, the zombification of urban migration.
I can't help viewing all these places as some sort of autonomous transnational platform of networked walls and flexible urbanisms, secretly working together in frightening choreography of architecural unison. (almost like an animated gif of moving building parts: folding gates, collapsible walls, roving compounds, mobile bunkers, inflatable watchtowers, coils of barbed wire unraveling themselves, urban street armor ratcheting into place, solar fences sparking with electricity, the whole freakish thing flickering somewhere in between a power-drunken march, a mechanical ballet, or a stilted slow motion slither.). It is the empire's modular self-expanding fortress -- the nomadic fortress -- designed to round up and quarantine global poverty. An act of simultaneous landscape fortressization zipping up the modern world, making it impermeable to everywhere else. Altogether, this refugee urbanism is an epic architectural conceit that translates distant lines in the sand into a subtle systematic ghettoization of the world's floating populations.
[Image: Exodus by Sebastiao Salgado]
While China's migrant patterns over decades of hyperurbanization has led to the floating populations of instant labor armies and millions of people evicted from rural areas, the term "floating populations" can now be expanded to include an entire strata of globally dispossessed people, taxonomies of exodus movements, new classes of global non-citizens suspended in political limbomania, culturally uprooted, dying for juridical recognition. These floating populations are the strewn objects of dislocated space, pawns in a much larger geopolitical strategy of forced migration and tactical real estate wars. Soon, we may all be the subjects of one type of eminent domain or another.
(See Part II: The Saudi's Immigrant-hunting Border Fence, and Border Fences-R-Us.)