“Stadtstaat” by Metahaven

Here comes another project overview, this time a take on a fictional merging between the real cities of Stuttgart (in Germany) and Utrecht (in the Netherlands). While Superstudio’s Mindscapes, was like a Modernist fever dream, Metahavens’ Stadtstaat is technocrat’s fever dream, a town which has done away with traditional bureaucracy and government and has replaced it with a social network called “Trust,” which governs people by having them govern each other.

A socio-political Facebook, Trust is a networking platform that governs through public participation—an ‘open system’ presenting a shift from central decision making to managing social dynamics. The progress and partial victory of network architecture over built form is one of the core attributes of Stadtstaat’s new equilibrium. The transformation of urban space into an arena for networked sociability brings about a new understanding of what makes a place public. Not a public guaranteed by policing, but one negotiated by groups within the territory. Endure the politically correct jargon in the city-state of the oxymoron: ‘Managing diversity.’

The idea calls back to other, real projects designed to disperse what is traditionally the responsibility of one or few to many. It’s hard not to think about the popular use of GoFundMe to cover medical expenses which are neglected by the state.

I recently attended a lecture on art and work by Jasper Bernes titled “The End of Participation: Art, Labor, Revolution” in which he touched upon similar ideas in the middle section of his reading (on “labor” part). These practices have come to be implemented in corporations through the flattening of organization charts and a push for employees to no longer report to a single manager but to each other, to keep each other responsible and accountable.

What this does, of course, is not remove the watchful eye of the corporation (the company doesn’t all of a sudden care less about the labor). Instead what happens is employees take on the role that was previously occupied by a manager. The labor of management doesn’t stop getting done, it just gets redistributed.

In Stadtstaat, the same thing happens. In fact, one of the posters created for the project includes the phrases “Extreme Democracy” and “Management. By the People.” It’s an outcome which seems both jarringly speculative and bizarrely familiar. After all, we already use the internet to find and communicate with communities of people similar to us. We, knowing our audiences and the norms of the platforms on which we exist, behave in certain ways online. Moderation has been around for as long as people developed online communities (with varying degrees of success). We already exist online as much as we do off. It seems the only thing left is to answer: would you rather be surveilled by one person you don’t know, or by everyone you do?