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The City Below: Infrastructural Landscapes and the Post-Industrial Imaginary

The City Below is a book I am currently working on which builds upon my doctoral dissertation "Beneath the Arches: Re-appropriating the Residual Spaces of Infrastructure in Manchester" while expanding its analysis to South London.

My doctoral dissertatation explores the post-industrial reinvention of Manchester, England since the late 1960s, focusing specifically on the spaces along and beneath the city’s brick railway viaducts. These supporting structures of elevated railways have defined the fringes of the city’s center since their construction in the Victorian era, and consistently reinforce its continued industrial image.  I examine the socio-spatial implications of these structures in the macro-scale—strategies through which city officials, property developers, and designers attempt to overcome their perceived “barrier effect”, as well as the local scale—in which remaining light industrial tenants are displaced from railway arches to stimulate commercial and residential gentrification on the fringes of the city center. The key contribution of this thesis has been to demonstrate how changing perceptions of infrastructural spaces can be understood in relation to strategies of entrepreneurial urban redevelopment. I have since expanded this research to a case study of South London and conducted fieldwork in Lambeth and Southwark, as well as additional fieldwork in Manchester. 

In cities across Britain, landscapes dominated by brick railway viaducts-long serving as symbols of dereliction, criminality, and transgression- are being systematically re-imaged as regenerated spaces of middle class leisure and consumption and aestheticized as monuments to industrial heritage.  This emergent re-imaging of infrastructural built environments has troubling implications for commercial and residential gentrification, and is increasingly being contested, most notably in Brixton, London.  

This book will make novel links between the disciplines of human geography, art and architectural history, sociology, critical heritage studies, and urban planning and policy.  Through the examination of historic railway infrastructure, the study open up political-economic critique to questions of cultural representation and symbolism in the shifting symbolic economy while giving a longer and more in-depth context to the impacts of urban transport infrastructure on cities.