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Publication Detail
District heating as heterotopia: Tracing the social contract through domestic energy infrastructure in Pimlico, London
Abstract
The Pimlico District Heating Undertaking (PDHU) was London's first attempt at neighborhood heating. Built in the 1950s to supply landmark social housing project Churchill Gardens, the district heating system sent heat from nearby Battersea power station into the radiators of the housing estate. The network is a rare example in the United Kingdom, where, unlike other European states, district heating did not become widespread. Today the heating system supplies more than 3,000 homes in the London Borough of Westminster, having survived the closure of the power station and the privatization of the housing estate it supplies. Therefore, this article argues, the neighborhood can be understood as a heterotopia, a site of an alternative sociotechnical order. This concept is used to understand the layers of economic, political, and technological rationalities that have supported PDHU and to question how it has survived radical changes in housing and energy policy in the United Kingdom. This lens allows us to see the tension between the urban planning and engineering perspective, which celebrates this system as a future-oriented “experiment,” and the reality of managing and using the system on the estate. The article analyzes this technology-enabled standard of living as a social contract between state and citizen, suggesting this is a way to analyze contemporary questions of district energy.
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