November 27, 2019

Blog All Dog-eared Pages: Radical Cities by Justin McGuirk

Radical Cities by Justin McGuirk was an interesting exploration of a collection of South American cities, looking at a very different set of approaches and cultural perspectives to how cities could/should/might evolve, when compared to the typical US/European-centric view.

Here are the passages I marked while I was reading it.

Page 7
[Housing estates] sins were catalogues and generalised: treating people like ants, making cities ugly, replacing variety with standardisation, repetition, repetition, repetition. Citing 'failure', governments used these sins as an excuse to stop building social housing, relying on the private sector to fill the gap and allowing their neoliberal policies to make cities more unequal places.

Page 15
Indeed, the very process of branding-based cultural regeneration was complicit in the neoliberal attitude to the city,
where the ultimate motive is always rising land values and profit.

Page 26
As Urban Think-Tank puts it: 'The totally planned city is ... a myth. Therein lies the historic error of urban planners
and designers and of architects: they fail to see, let alone analyse or capitalise upon, the informal aspects of urban life, because they lack a professional vocabulary for describing them.'

Page 50
This organisation is building more houses than the volume housing industry in the region — whole communities built around giant swimming pools. A cooperative founded on people power, and consisting of tens of thousands of equal members, it sounds like a socialist revolution made manifest. It builds its own schools and hospitals and has its own factories and security force. In fact, it sounds almost autonomous, like a state within a state. The movement is called Túpac Amaru.

Page 58
Needy families were marshalled into working parties to build their own homes. This recourse to collective action was followed by another brilliant move that doubled Túpac Amaru's efficiency: it built its own factories for producing bricks and steel, obviating the need to buy building materials.

Page 59
'[...] We don't want to be in competition with the government. Because it is the state that has the obligation of guaranteeing health, education and work to the citizens. So the organisation works with the state but we focus on the people with most needs, people who don't have easy access to a school or a hospital or a house. Túpac Amaru is wherever there is a need.'

Page 75
That was the genius of PREVI: it was designed as a platform for change. The houses were not the end but the beginning. As frameworks for expansion, they evinced one of the key principles of the barriadas, which is that a house is a process and not a static object. Of course there was a tradition of the working class modifying their modernist offerings, as Le Corbusier discovered to his chagrin in Pessac, but it was never intended. Here, even though some of the architects tried to stipulate how the houses could grow, growth was the whole idea. It was potentially revolutionary.

Page 90
Does Aravena see himself as an idealist or a pragmatist? 'I'm not changing the conditions, I'm accepting the conditions. So you might use words like "pragmatic," he says, 'But it's also arrogant to an extent, because we're so confident in what we're doing that we don't need to change the conditions and we'll still prove to everybody that things can be better. And if we succeed in that there will be no reason for not changing things right here and right now.'

Page 127
The notion of conveniently located, self-built, adaptable housing has been rejected in favour of the construction industry's profits.

Page 140
The city fabric is badly run down. Driving across town, you're likely to take one of the sunken expressways built by Robert Moses, New York's own master builder, in the 1950s. The underpasses and overpasses that carve up the city are the legacy of Venezuela's heyday as the richest country in Latin America. In addition to being choked with traffic, they are also prone to flooding.

Page 146
In 2003, Brillembourg and Klumpner tested the idea of bringing what are known as dry toilets or compost toilets into the slums, where there are most often no sewerage systems. They designed the toilet as what they called a House Core Unit, the starting point for a self-built house. It was a pragmatic proposal but one that, implemented across the barrio, had the potential to dramatically improve the living conditions of its residents. The more idealistic position to take would have been to lobby for the installation of proper infrastructure, but, given how unlikely the chances of success, U-TT considered that almost an abnegation of responsibility. 'Considering ideal conditions is a waste of time,' they wrote in their 2005 book Informal City; 'the point is to avoid catastrophe.'

Page 166
The right to the city is not just a question of housing — as it stands, most of the residents of Caracas have already met their own needs in that regard. The right to the city is also a right to mobility, a question of how long it takes to get an invalid to a hospital. [...] The answer to a divided city is integration, and there is no integration without transport connections.

Page 170
Are they grateful to Chavez for the cable car? 'It's not a present', says one man. 'We elected him to do things like the Metrocable. He should have done a hundred of them.'

Page 209
By the end of [Antanas Mockus Sivickas's] two terms the homicide rate fell by 70 per cent, traffic fatalities dropped by 50 per cent, water usage was down 40 per cent, tax revenues had tripled and the city's finances were coming back into the black. A much-loved figure with approval ratings in his first term of sometimes 80 per cent, his greatest single achievement was to make Bogota feel like a city with a future.

Page 210
But the thing about Mockus is that his policies rarely left a trace, not a visible one anyway. Mayors normally measure their legacy in infrastructure and other tangible works. They like to cut ribbons. But Mockus's legacy was inscribed in the minds of Bogota's citizens. It was internalised. His was an intervention in the moral DNA of the city.

Page 224
As Penalosa was fond of saying, 'An advanced city is not a place where the poor move about in cars, rather it's where even the rich use public transportation.'

Page 226
What was unique about Mockus was that he redefined the role of a public administration, so that it moved beyond matters of law or the urban fabric and charged itself with resetting the belief systems of the citizenry. Mockus understood intuitively that the common good is achieved not through fear of authority but through a sense of ownership and that a sense of belonging to a city emerges through sharing the same rules and developing the same good habits.

Page 239
Fajardo described the process of running for election as 'getting the city in our skin.' What he meant by this was that he and the other members of Compromiso Ciudadano familiarised themselves with the real conditions of the city by walking from neighbourhood to neighbourhood. 'I don't know how many times I went around Medellin — on foot,' he says. 'There were parts of the city that I didn't know, or hadn't been to for years. This was a divided city, where hardly anybody on this side would dare go to the northern side of the city.'

Page 244
For him, social urbanism is partly about a participative way of working and partly about the message your interventions send. The building blocks of social urbanism are what Echeverri called 'integral urban projects' (PUIs). These are not buildings, but projects that incorporate multiple programmes simultaneously, from transport to landscaping, from street lighting to a cultural centre. 'So the definition of an integral urban project is one where many things are happening at the same time,' says Echeverri.

Page 254
At the end of his successor Salazar's term, which continued some of Farjardo's policies, the [High-school] dropout rate was down to 20 per cent. And the reason for that? 'We built hope,' says Fajardo. 'If you looked in 2004 at what kids wanted to study, they wanted to be policemen or in the army or studying criminology. Today they want to be medical doctors, economists, engineers and so on. So we showed people there could be alternatives. We still have a long way to go in Medellin, but that's a very powerful message for young people in this town.'

Page 266
For [Teddy Cruz], architectural design is far less important than the bureaucratic systems that determine whether communities are empowered or disempowered. And this is precisely one of those cases, where informal communities have the resourcefulness to build homes out of garage doors but not the bureaucratic tools — a legal address, for instance — to find employment outside of the informal sector.

Page 280
This, really, is the crux of Cruz's project. It is also the reason why I believe he is one of the most astute architects working today. He recognises that social change and the creation of a more equitable city are not a question of good buildings. They are a question of civic imagination.

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November 18, 2019

Interesting Things on the Internet: November 18th 2019

  • Before there was recycling, there was the rag trade. Interesting article about the literal rag trade.
  • Sweet Moderation, Heart of this Nation. "Will this matter, when it comes to the Mayoral election? Not a jot. Rory Stewart’s actual record as a politician will be a minor talking point for a media culture that draws its commentators from such a limited group of people. For them, what will matter is not policy but tone. His public image is part adventurer, part intellectual, all-round nice chap." Not just about Rory Stewart, but a great analysis of class, politics and the media here in the UK. Sadly.
  • Against Economics. A fantastic article, reviewing the book Money and Government: The Past and Future of Economics, and running through how the intersection of economists and politics has failed us.

And an interesting talk on trust, (not) scaling, and decentralized tech from Darius Kazemi:

Eyeo 2019 - Darius Kazemi from Eyeo Festival on Vimeo.

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November 11, 2019

Interesting Things on the Internet: November 11th 2019

  • "Very few white-collar workers at P&G really do anything..." There is so much of this around. It's one of the reasons that Julian refers to DoES Liverpool as a home for corporate refugees, because we are (mostly) "set free to tinker and explore."
  • Clare, Kelman, and Working-Class Art with Professor Simon Kövesi. "The UK establishment seems to accept poverty as the British respond to rain: with a shrug and a closing of the door."
  • Politics is for Power, Not Consumption "If you feel unfulfilled, melancholy, paralyzed by the sadness of the news and depth of our political problems, there is an alternative: actually doing politics." A good reminder that retweeting and getting annoyed with social media and the news isn't being political
  • Maintainers III: Infrastructure and climate. Great write up of the Maintainers conference from Laura, particularly for the section on Chuck Marohn's keynote: "Chuck moved on to an example of two adjacent blocks which were jumped over by post-war growth. One block was still basically small shacks; another tore down what were considered slums, and built a taco drive-through. This looks like growth, a positive thing. However, over time the small businesses change, but there's still a range of small operations. The taco joint is now neglected, and on a journey to become - as this is America - probably a used car lot, and then eventually a derelict site (which a developer will request a tax subsidy to build on). And yet the taco block is worth only $600k now, despite all the public infrastructure which enables it; the 'blighted' block of run-down businesses has a total value of $1.1m. The old stuff, after a century of neglect, is outperforming the recent shiny new building. "
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