Quick-Build Fences

Several years ago while in Genoa for the now notorious G8 summit, I shared the outrage of many of my fellow protestors about the decision by the Italian authorities to seal off significant parts of the city with a large fence. The areas inside the fence were designated the “red zone” into which you could only pass with appropriate security credentials, those near to its perimeter were the “yellow zone” in which group gatherings were banned and the police presence was heavy, and then the outlying areas were the “green zone” which meant that people could get on with their lives relatively undisturbed.

The irony of the same world leaders who had recently bemoaned poor electoral turnout at home now fencing themselves away from their politically engaged citizens was palpable, but it also didn’t take much observation time to realise that the existence of the fence set up obvious flash points for violent confrontations. Confrontations that many of us felt could have been minimised by a less aggressive security policy.

It’s been with a mixture of that experience and our recent visit to Australia in mind that I’ve read coverage of the security around the recent APEC summit in Sydney. It’s strange to see pictures of the same Circular Quay where we enjoyed the sun and the crowds, now with the Opera House sealed off by a security fence, and of the usually bustling streets in the city centre deserted but for police officers and a few curious onlookers.

There’s been good coverage at Super Colossal and on City of Sound, and there’s been much of interest in this somewhat rambling post on subtopia.

Looking at the photos is naturally a far less visceral experience than experiencing the reality of such a fence, but I find myself very much in agreement with Bryan Finoki when he comments on subtopia that:

It’s more than a little ominous, actually. These types of scaled moments seem more like rehearsals for something much bigger on the horizon, a sequel around the corner. I don’t know what exactly that would entail, but they just create this atmosphere of some future event to come that you may not want to be there to experience, exactly. In other words, this flexing of state power is a kind of indirect terror, or something.

The reports conjure images of gated communities taken to extremes; of governments using technology not to become more responsive and participatory but more defensive; and offer still more evidence that while we dance on the precipice between unprecedented global wealth and an increasingly likely financial crash, the power divide between haves and have-nots can rapidly become very tangible, and that—while many of us may be wealthier than we sometimes recognise—the former group can quickly turn out to be very small.

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