Sturdy, reliable, efficient. These words describe infrastructure: the invisible center of our society to most members of the general public. Yet, as a part of the Visualizing Cities Lab workshop called “Controlled Visibility: infrastructure, race, and digital tools,” I examined how visualizing infrastructure can better explain race, politics, and infrastructural production and realized the importance of dialogue surrounding conflicts of interest in infrastructure. I learned that something as mundane as cell towers can reflect values of aesthetics, public health, and property as “Not In My Backyard” citizen groups and national parks complained enough for them to be concealed to look like “real” trees with silly plastic ornamentation. My team also examined the literal meaning of “the other side of the tracks” with physically constructed barriers like railroads and highways dividing schools, parks, and affluent communities.
Our background research guided visualizations for our workshop where we studied the cholera breakout in Havana in the nineteenth century. After reading several articles, I learned that the economic and social marginalization of urban residents of color exacerbated the creation of segregated spaces to “avoid contagion.” I was particularly interested by the fact that although the neighborhood where cholera was first reported wasn’t the poorest or the most racially marginalized, the affluent cubans and the white elite condemned immigrants from the countryside and their poor and dirty lifestyles as causing the disease. Thus, I wanted to explore whether there were disparities in care for the different ethnicities of Havana and whether different hospitals were able to meet the demand of the different neighborhoods they served or whether they turned away some.
I used Tableau and two different datasets about cholera victims from the Rubenstein library to produce a visualization of ethnicities served within each hospital. I noted that there was a disproportionately high lack of hospital information for the black population in the dataset as compared to the other ethnic populations. This omission in health records prompts further questions about why this information is missing and emphasizes the need for further research into whether there was discrimination within the hospital based on race or socioeconomic status or whether the hospitals within different areas were at capacity. As I researched some of the names of the churches on record, I found that there may be personal doctors and churches providing services as well, making it hard for the data to accurately represent different socioeconomic statuses. In addition, I mapped out the different neighborhoods of patients and the hospitals they went to, however the amount of null data made this graph inconclusive. In the future, it would be interesting to map out the radiuses of patients these hospitals serve and understand how they intersect different neighborhoods using more data.
As an engineer interested in sustainable development and the future of cities, I hope to design technical solutions informed by context from the humanities. Analyzing space, resource allocation, and perspectives of race has helped me reflect upon the intersection of infrastructure and public interest throughout history and in the modern day.
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