Tuesday, March 13, 2012

london tubes

I am going to London in April. After four months now of living in England I am itching to visit the nation's capital, my mouth watering already for London restaurant meals and the coffee I hear some Melbourne baristas are brewing in Antipodean cafes, as well as the galleries, the museums etc etc. Oh yes, and the excellent conference I am attending on genetics!

Think London and you think underground. Or 'the tube'. The iconically represented networked system of transportation is now synonymous with the city. In Flesh and Stone, Richard Sennett describes the London Underground as both an artery and a vein, transforming the social condition of Londoners by allowing them to live further outside the city centre, facilitating mass consumption, and supposedly creating a more "mixed" city.

It is because of the human blood like flows of people however that Sennett proposes that the city was not mixed but rather that human contact between the classes was limited. During the day, the arteries took people below ground into the heart of the city, creating density by daylight, while at night the subterranean channels emptied the masses from the centre, leaving a sparsely populated city.

Tubes and vessels, pipes and lungs: the circulatory system and respiratory system are often used to describe urban flows of transportation, communication and other forms of movement. What does it mean to use these medical metaphors? Particularly in contexts such as hospitals, if we want to describe pneumatic tube systems in this way, where vessles, arterioles, air sacs and tracheas take on a particular clinical relevance? The metaphors we use tell us something about norms, attitudes, values and so forth, and this is something I have previously explored, and will continue to explore, when thinking about pneumatic tubes.

Image from Roger Wollstadt's Flikr photostream.


  1. Hi Anna. This post reminded me of your blog - wasn't sure if you'd covered it before as I seem to have missed quite a few posts! http://www.urbanghostsmedia.com/2013/12/subterranean-forgotten-london-pneumatic-dispatch-railway/