Network Preservation in the Network Society
In addition to admiring the experimental history of Mt. Rushmore by artist Matthew Buckingham, I am also intrigued by a project from 2005— a proposed “historic preservation” of the Cross-Bronx Expressway (a roadway completed in 1955). This roadway, like much of the country’s transit infrastructure requires significant repairs — but a preservation?
In this proposed preservation — a master’s thesis from Columbia University by the historian and preservationist Michael Caratzas — the author suggests that infrastructural networks can now be viewed as historical constructs. It’s a more direct “historical” outcome of the possible pasts that might be staged within a network society or a network culture — ie a “socius” defined by networks.
A preservation of the Cross-Bronx Expressways is a fascinating idea because it takes the discursive apparatus of preservation, which is often used for buildings or built landscapes, and directs it into a vast infrastructural system. The Cross Bronx Expressway is a stretch of highway without clear boundaries; it is filled with both beauty and unpleasantries; and because it is a roadway, we tend to think of it as a site demanding constant upgrades. How does one simultaneously preserve and upgrade a roadway system?
Perhaps more to the point, Caratzas notes that the construction of infrastructural systems generally, highways more directly, and the Cross-Bronx expressway more particularly, often destroy historical neighborhoods and buildings. We tend to view these mid-century highways as so suspect that they are outside of that realm we call “culture”. But the notorious destruction and construction completed to create the Cross-Bronx Expressway is part of a particular historical activity that is now more feebly revived. This is the site where Robert Moses (shown below) decided to “swing the meat ax” — evicting thousands and destroying entire precincts of the Bronx for this stretch of highway.
Although I find Caratzas recent description of the Cross-Bronx Expressway as a “cultural landscape” a reduction of the power of his original thesis, it drives home the point that infrastructures are not just instruments but objects that ossify historical concepts. A preservation of the Cross-Bronx Expressway, or the New Jersey Turnpike for that matter, is a fascinating idea and a contribution to the possibilities of experimental architectural history. I was inspired by his thesis to produce the sign below; perhaps this will stand at the entrance of the Cross-Bronx Expressway, or perhaps some version will stand at another highway. Perhaps it will be the preservationist societies and not the engineers that salvage the United States’ infrastructure.