Graham, Stephen. Cities Under Siege: The New Military Urbanism. New York: Verso Books, 2010. xxx + 402 pages. Cloth, $34.95.
Occasionally a book appears that is so lightly edited and heavily footnoted that a reader is forgiven for not pushing too deeply into the text. Here, though, Stephen Graham, a professor of human geography at Durham University, makes the effort worthwhile despite those weaknesses by tracing the transformation of the modern city as an oppressed environment for citizens, a haven for vice, and a target for new forms of military operations. Most troubling is Graham's description of urban centers made ironically less secure by greater investments in surveillance infrastructure and the gradual convergence of paramilitary and law enforcement. Graham successfully documents how the new urban terrain has yielded zones of endless conflict, too often thought to be inhabited by hidden predators and city residents who require constant tracking and targeting. Even more disturbing, he describes a transformation of the military into high-tech urban guerilla forces, the persistent surveillance of international borders, the temptation to suspend civil law, and the restraint of domestic dissent too often described as itself "terroristic." With these, one comes to suspect an aggressive physical restructuring of the city that develops to simultaneously secure and control an urban population. Graham regards this as the destruction of "place," and argues that a subtle architectural design change can serve the goals of an aggressive military.
One aspect of this book likely to interest readers is the growth of civil surveillance and a "homeland security market" that takes unique advantage of major urban events. The Olympics, large conferences, political conventions, and a variety of other events provide unique opportunities for the installation and testing of new security technologies that are then left in place after the event, and the city gradually becomes a space dominated by military-grade control technologies. A central argument here is that military ideologies are intensifying the militarization of everyday city life in a way that risks, if nothing else, the normalization of war itself. This process includes the acceptance of military thought, action, and policy, as well as the deployment of propaganda that romanticizes or sanitizes violence to be held in reserve for some later "God-given" purpose.
Equally disturbing is the extent to...