Cities of the Apocalypse

The term ‘post‐traumatic’ refers to the evidence of the aftermath – the remains of an event that are missing. The spaces around this blind spot record the impression of the event like a scar.
How does a system make sense of an experience that exceeds its capacity for integration? Since recognition is only ever retroactive, the process of reintegrating the event, of sense making, begins when we start to sift through the evidence, to build a plausible story, to construct a narrative and develop the coordinates of a new experiential landscape. Slowly repetition returns to weave its supportive tissue, and new futures come to replace old ones.
Trauma is the drama in which both history and the future are at stake, held in a suspended crisis; the cards have been thrown up in the air but they have not yet landed. Trauma stages the point at which the system must re‐imagine itself or perish.
Another term can be introduced to account for the possibility of action in this context: ‘resilience’. If the twin poles of continuity/repetition and discontinuity/trauma form two asymptotic tendencies, resilience describes the ability to move between them. Resilience is the ability of a system to recover after it has absorbed some shock. Recovery, however, is never a simple return to its previous state of periodic repetition. After absorbing a shock, the resilient system creatively explores and trials new forms of stability. Some form of continuity is central here (we must reiterate our distance from the idea of a tabula rasa). Resilience is never a return, but it is never quite a full break either; though it leaps over interruption, it carries with it the continuity of a historical charge that lends it adaptive strength.
We are now in a position to give a provisional answer to the question that was asked earlier; what new demands would be made of urbanism by raising it alongside the term trauma? To begin with it would mean augmenting design discourse focused on optimisation with ideas that are calibrated to crisis, such as adaptation and resilience. A resilient city is one that has evolved in an unstable environment and developed adaptations to deal with uncertainty. Typically these adaptations take the form of slack and redundancy in its networks. Diversity and distribution be they spatial, economic, social or infrastructural will be valued more highly than centralised efficiency.
The post‐traumatic city challenges all cybernetic theories of information flow and computation since it argues that these apparatuses of knowledge and calculation always imply the coexistence of blind spots, especially for the hubristic application of quantitative methods to qualitative domains. Further, the pre‐emptive, the pre‐traumatic and the post‐traumatic are nothing less than the invention of new and highly complex scales and temporalities, where past and future durations intermingle and where short instantaneous traumas (violence, conflict) nest within glacial ones (climate change, environmental degradation).
Finally, post‐traumatic urbanism suggests that we know most about something when it breaks down, when it withdraws its invisible support and enters into the domain of all those things that can be interrupted, threatened and destroyed.