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USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

Detours & Stagnancy

Currently, the infrastructure of Los Angeles does not compare to that of Asian cities.  Public transportation is hardly utilized in Los Angeles, while it is the main form of transportation in virtually all Asian cities.  While Shanghai’s entire metro system was constructed in five years, Los Angeles’s Expo Line is taking years to complete the single line.  The debate over the high speed rail from San Francisco to Los Angeles has gone on longer than it took to build Shanghai’s entire metro system.  Why does America refuse to take the steps to match other country’s infrastructural systems?  The social debate may be what is causing the lack of progress.  With the lack of the social aspect, Shanghai is able to push ahead.

Michel de Certeau’s Walking in the City explains that “the walking of passers-by offers a series of turns…and detours that can be compared to ‘turns of phrase’ or ‘stylistic figures.’  There is a rhetoric of walking.  The art of ‘turning’ phrases finds an equivalent in an art of composing a path… Like ordinary language, this art implies and combines styles and uses.  Style specifies ‘a linguistic structure that manifests on the symbolic level…an individual’s fundamental way of being in the world’; it connotes a singular.  Use defines the social phenomenon through which a system of communication manifests itself in actual fact; it refers to a norm.  Style and use both have to do with a ‘way of operating’ (of speaking, walking, etc.), but style involves a peculiar processing of the symbolic, while use refers to elements of a code.  They intersect to form a style of use, a way of being and a way of operating.”

de Certeau’s walking rhetorics are formed by the creation of a pathway defined by certain turns and detours.  In terms of infrastructure, it could be said that Los Angeles is moving forward in a straight line, without turning.  This creates a stagnant sense movement.  Where Los Angeles is stagnantly moving, cities like Shanghai are taking detours in order to progress.

Socially, on the other hand, the relationships of city to pathway is reversed.  Shanghai has little forward movement socially, while Los Angeles is detouring from a straight path.  Shanghai’s social stagnancy may be helping at the time being.  With a strong social draw, much of the current and rapid progress apparent in Shanghai may have not been attainable, much like Los Angeles today.

In each city, these two pathways merge in order to create the city’s essence.  Infrastructure and social.  The city’s infrastructure could be considered the “style,” while the social aspect is how the style is “used.”  One cannot exist without the other.  At the time being, for both Shanghai and Los Angeles the two pathways merge to create almost identical pathways because of the strong detours for one pathway and the stagnancy of the other for each city.  What will happen when one of the stagnant pathways dramatically takes a turn?

Thanks to Mao’s Cultural De-Revolution, China is struggling to catch up to other cities socially and societally.  What will happen when Shanghai’s social aspects match their infrastructure?  Cities like Los Angeles will slowly become forgotten and overlooked, unless they change the way that they are currently operating.

Sara Tenanes

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Filed under: China, Infrastructure, Los Angeles, Shanghai, social

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AAU FALL 2013:

University of Southern California
School of Architecture
Asia Architecture and Urbanism
Study Abroad Program

Director:
Andrew Liang
Instructors:
Bu Bing
Steven Chen
Yo-Ichiro Hakomori
Andrew Liang
Yuyang Liu
Neville Mars
Academic Contributors:
Thomas Chow, SURV
Bert de Muynck, Movingcities.org
Manying Hu, SZGDADRI, ITDP, Guangzhou
Clare Jacobson, Design Writer, Editor, Curator
Laurence Liauw, SPADA, Hong Kong
Mary Ann O'Donnell, Shenzhen Noted, Fat Bird, Shenzhen
Paul Tang, Verse, Shanghai
Li Xiangning, Tongji University, Shanghai
Students:
Daniel Aguilar
Hong Au
Michael den Hartog
Caroline Duncan
Nefer Fernandez
Christian Gomez
Isabelle Hong
Jin Hong Kim
Ashley Louie
Javier Meier
Paula Narvaez
Ashlyn Okimoto
Tamar Partamian
Samuel Rampy
Luis Villanueva
Krista Won
Tiffany Wu