Sunday, September 24, 2006

Cities as Impostors

What would be the blast effect of a ground-level, shallow subsurface, or low-altitude nuclear weapon detonating on your city? Well, FAS has provided a nifty little tool just for you to see. Check out the Nuclear Weapon Effects Calculator. “Using High definition aerial maps of selected U.S. cities”, you can “select the size of the bomb according to the weapon's yield, as measured in kilotons (KT) or megatons (MT) of TNT equivalent.” You can also select “the option of having the bomb delivered using an automobile at ground level or using an aircraft flying at an altitude that produces the widest area of destruction.”
The color coded radial blast rings define the different damage states that would emanate, from widespread fires to homes that would be completely incinerated, from stronger commercial buildings that would sustain severe damage to an expanding atmosphere of flying debris smothering the region.
For something so simple, I have to admit it’s pretty freaky to actually see nuclear devastation in these terms, on this scale, especially on a little city like San Francisco, which would be utterly annihilated by a single blast, to say the least. Oh the power of visualization. For more technical data, refer to this report: "Nuclear Weapons in the 21st Century". Clive suggests sensationalizing the effect further by immersing us in a full-on game world of nuclear destruction, that would surely recalibrate our understandings of the sheer urban halocaust of a nuclear fallout.

On a slightly different transposed tip, Paula Levine at Banff asks, what if international gestures, such as acts of terrorism or war, were like boomerangs and returned to sites of origin with an impact equal to the one enacted? So, she put together a project which considers tracts of devastated landscapes juxtaposed over other "places untouched by such traumatic forces of changes." The objective, she writes, is to create a series of "hypothetical mappings" that "imagine the impact of political and cultural changes that take place in one location, upon another. These 'turns of force' templates allude to a hybrid space whereby an imaginary territorial cultural overlay allows us to ponder the historic and destructive legacies of impacted places compared to other places through a unique relationship of projected and superimposed equilateral devastation.
For example, Levine uses San Francisco, long referred to as the Baghdad by the Bay, as a template for remapping the initial bombing campaign of Baghdad, Iraq. In these nodes of destruction, a new sense of both spaces emerges...

Now, if you want to take that concept even a step further, say, to put it on a first-person level point-of-view, read Regine's dispatch from her walk through Brooklyn along the You Are Not Here trail: an urban tourism mash-up which invites participants to become meta-tourists on an excursion through the city of Baghdad while walking through the streets of New York. With maps, mobile devices, and a good pair of walkng shoes, she writes, "You Are Not Here tries to expose the contrasts and the similarities between two mashed cities. We are consuming global information on a daily basis: a tourist visit demands a higher level of commitment and identification with a place than a habitual commute. YANH provides participants with a fragmented tourist experience, which provokes a critical view of urban space and its subjection to media and politics."
It would be amazing one day to travel the world this way, exploring multiple cities at once, every where you went. Just punch in a city code into your mobile phone, and voila, a map appears of any city you wish to tour, coordinates and audio guides superimposed over a map of whatever city you are in. I realize this seems counter touristic in some sense, a weak attempt to visit cities without actually visiting them, but as a way of exploring cities that mimic each other, like-cities with scaled geographic and architectural similarities, or tours of cities that no longer stood, or proposed cities; destroyed cities, forbidden cities, liminal cities, secret cities.
For instance, I go visit Boston and take a tour of destroyed Beirut, or go to Burning Man and take a psuedo-tour of Area 51. An abandoned shopping mall in Colorado turns into a psychogeographic meander through NORAD, a remote Utah landscape becomes a template for a terrestrialized glimpse of a future lunar colony.
They could make a cheap version of Amazing Race out of it, instead of crawling around the world through real cities, contestants navigate a superimposed world of historic clues, transposed monuments, layered non-places, imaginary landmarks, navigating a hyper-urbanism of stacked cities and confused urban makeovers. Blah blah blah, I have no idea. But cities cloaked in invisible wardrobes, alleyways wearing ski masks, cities posing as other cities, cities as impostors, performance buildings and ventriloquist architecture, clues given and misgiven by street signs that existed and did not exist, multiple sets of simultaneous temporal data - to be in two or three cities at once - toggling back and forth from the Tiananmen Square to Trafalgar Square to the Champs D'Elysee, all without ever leaving downtown Manhattan. Some crazy reality show street game travelling the world all within in a single city.
Ok, whatever, obviously, there is still a lot that needs to be worked out - like the fun factor, I suppose - so I will drop this for now.


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