Berkeley: NO FISSION

As the semester is finally over, I’ve graded my last paper, and am working on packing up my belongings for a cross-country move, it seems an appropriate time for a professional announcement: I’ve recently accepted admission to the PhD program in City and Regional Planning at University of California, Berkeley. I’ll be starting the program this fall and very much look forward to exploring the intellectual (and physical) landscapes at Berkeley. It is a strong place, and I anticipate an incredibly rewarding time working with my advisors Ananya Roy and Teresa Caldeira, my cohort at DCRP, and the abundance of fantastic scholars across the university.

I’ll be spending the next two years taking courses and formulating my dissertation project, with an as-yet-to-be-decided topic. I plan on documenting some of that movement here alongside the usual landscape interpretation. For the past three years I’ve been thinking and writing about a host of different things (particulate matter, the anthropocene, urban land tenure, landscape politics, scale, materiality, inclusion); there is no shortage of directions. If there is any downside, Berkeley will render my nuclear infrastructure spotting cards from Smudge Studios utterly useless:

In the late 80’s the City of Berkeley passed an ordinance prohibiting any nuclear weapons or energy from locating within city limits. More cold-war ear political rhetoric than hard-hitting policy, the ordinance is still both a minor irritation and a point of pride (as evidenced by this sign that, perhaps unintentionally, stands in for a “Welcome to Berkeley” sign along College Ave).

According to an article in the Huffington Post, the ordinance still proves a hindrance to City officials, who are also prohibited from contracting with any corporation involved in the nuclear industry. If anything, it makes the ubiquity of nuclear technology starkly visible to the poor administrator filling out exemption paperwork to, say, buy new scanners for the library, police radars, or–should the City of Berkeley ever take to purchasing stable, long-term equity investments–United States Treasury Bonds.

Berkeley, circa 1986, defines itself as a noteworthy and still relevant enclave of leftist politics by developing municipal ordinances aimed at criticizing an international nuclear arms race. The place cements its identity by presenting a small obstacle in the development of the nuclear arms and energy industry.

Using this position as an already prominent node in leftist politics, the ordinance only matters because it is in such a well-known place. It won’t stop nuclear arms development alone, as Berkeley is not a hub for the production or transportation of nuclear arms/energy. The ordinance appropriates the rhetorical power of a small territory (the city) to disjoint relationships among larger ones (nation-states). The gesture only inserts itself into global politics by way of removal from it, creating a small yet poignant void in its circulation.

Urban research looks something like following the sign, forwards and backwards in every direction: angry meetings and ballot boxes that produce arcane ordinances; a change in colors made in the signage along municipal roadways; excel sheets counting nuclear contracts lost; frustrated bureaucrats filling out exemption forms; new planning students snapping photos of city limits…

“space is the series of simultaneities, all of that has to be taken into account at once” [1]


[1] Latour, B. (2005) From Realpolitik to Dingpolitik: or How to Make Things Public. In B. Latour and P. Weibel (Eds.), Making Things Public: Atmospheres of Democracy (40). Cambridge: MIT Press.



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