About a week ago, the website of WNYC (a New York radio broadcast part of the National Public Radio) published a news according to which “The NYPD [New York Police Department] and a national laboratory will be studying how chemical weapons could spread in the air and throughout the subway system this summer in what is the first study of its kind in such a large urban environment.” The rest of the article is short enough for me to copy it here:
Researchers with the Brookhaven National Laboratory will release non-toxic, odorless gas in that mimics how chemical, biological and radiological weapons would disperse. About 200 sampling devices will be used to detect to the gas.
“We want to be able to determine how toxic material can flow through the transit system, it’s one of the concerns that we’ve had for a while and how it flows on the streets of our city,” Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said in a statement.
The tests will begin in July in all five boroughs in 21 subway stations. It is not expected to have an impact on commuting or other activity, police say.
Boston and Washington have conducted similar tests, but this will be the largest.
Living in New York (and having been part of Occupy Wall Street for that matter), I am always amazed to see the means (equipement and power) that the NYPD is able to use in its control of the city. In 2011, Mayor Michael Bloomberg was referring to the NYPD as his own army, going as far as calling it the 7th army in the world (nobody really understood how he came with that though). What is interesting in what M. Bloomberg then said was what it revealed in terms of governance and, in that matter, the feudal model of the relative or absolute autonomy of the cities towards the sovereign States is not an uninteresting one to look at.
In this specific case, the NYPD is using the city as a scale-1 laboratory allowing it to test the way a potential chemical attack would spread thanks to the subway airflow. We, as subway users, are involuntary guinea pigs of this experiment. Of course, it would be naive to be shocked by it, as this is part of nothing else than the processes of subjectivization that we cannot escape from as bodies – at least when living in a city. The idea of body is important here as it is the precise targeted object in a terrorist attack. There is no ideology, no propaganda nor symbol involved for the bodies concerned by it (of course there is a symbol for people who are “watching”), simply the material violence of an environment made suddenly improper to life. In the case of a chemical attack, the very components of the atmosphere are slowly carrying the poisonous particles that make the city an environment for which the bodies are not fit. Wind and atmosphere are weaponized and used for their essence of material carrier.
I apologize for the messiness of my argument here; what I should say to try to synthesize it is the following: In both cases of the subjectivization of our bodies to control mechanisms and experiments, as well as terrorist attacks (at a different degree of course), our bodies are being captured by their direct environment that has been built or modified to subjugate them in favor of a political agenda. If architecture is the discipline that organizes the bodies in space, the city can be seen as the field that uses architecture and the atmosphere it contains in a continuous material modification to affect the subjected bodies within a political agenda.