Monday, April 30, 2007

Strange Bed Fellows Indeed

From Warfare to Welfare: Defense Intellectuals and Urban Problems in Cold War America by Jennifer S. Light, tells a history of how American cities were planned in part with military guidance post War World II. This book brings forth the role of dispersal techniques used as an argument to get people from inner-city dwelling to the suburbs and beyond, thus making Americans safe from attacks. Forget the people that couldn't afford to move out of the city or the business people making a living or the fact that it clearly was not a viable option for many of the cities, even after promises of funding from the federal government.

What was highly interesting about this theory is the fact that such a varied collection of people were finally talking about urban planning and it seemed to be a catalyst for planners throughout the nation. Having local and national leaders, atomic scientist, defense workers, military strategists and planners working together on this failed idea seemed remarkable. Though not a complete failure after viewing the powerful legacy this marriage of planning and military defense has had.

It is easy to see a direct line from using the military to fight wars on anything from poverty, the war on Vietnam and communism, to 'black terrorism' and all kinds of activists. Military planning is pervasive in this country. From failures of the Army Corps of Engineers to the Patriot Act.

The late sixties brought an interesting mix of people joining the military crew. The ideas of the counterculture bringing technology, media and mass communication to the people were apparently beliefs that the US government and the Rand Corporation shared to connect the disenfranchised. But with the Nixon era starting and the funding for cable and war on poverty this near utopia was all but dead. Later when the public access channels were up and running they were all but outdated. Though now mandated but eventually its ideal of civic technology was dead.

After reading this book I feel like most social theory is either wrong or never implemented.
I wonder how things like 'think tanks' and all of the military planning and social theory have and are effecting the war in Iraq and shaping that country's future.
What exactly is the RAND corporation and what else has this and other corporations influenced our cities?


natezilla said...

I didn't conceive the take-away from the book as a failure of military strategies within urban development. I would argue that the book offered reasons for some of the trajectory of urban development in the time period. Thinking back to Mosco last week, we would have to assume an end goal for urban development in order for their to be a failure. Yet Mosco argued that this type of thinking is myth. I would offer that we look at urban planning as influenced by military planning, not a failed side effect.

Also, I'm not sure what you mean by social theory 'being implemented.' I had never thought about it as a roadmap towards a goal but as a post-analytic tool for subjective understanding. Could you elaborate?

Electra said...

Why would social theory be only a post-analytic tool for subjective understanding? Why can't it be both?

natezilla said...

Fair enough. It can be both. But I'm interested in a further explanation of the following statement.

After reading this book I feel like most social theory is either wrong or never implemented.