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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Historicizing the View from Below: Aerial Photography and the Emergence of a Social Conception of Space


This article seeks to reconnect the late-twentieth-century theoretical development of a social conception of space in the social sciences and urban planning with a technique that was developed in the early twentieth century, during World War I: aerial photography. As a tool of representation, aerial photography has often been linked, in the work of numerous late-twentieth-century scholars, to "top-down" urban planning programs that ignored the psychological needs of urban inhabitants on the ground. As we will see, however, the new ways of seeing offered by the airplane led, simultaneously, to the emergence of a "bottom-up" approach to urban planning that focused on the everyday experience of urban residents. The view from above, in fact, gave rise to the view from below.

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