Cover : Transfer, New York (Mehak Sachdeva 2015) Inside Cover : Casimir Pulaski Bridge, New York (Christopher Daniel Giamarino 2015)
LETTER FROM THE EDITORS
Twenty years have passed since URBAN’s inaugural issue. In that time, we have enjoyed issues on topics broad and small, varied and yet somehow the same: dimensions of scale, identity, globalization; debates on ownership, the public interest, the academic/practice divide; and overviews of megaprojects, disaster planning, American car culture, and notions of the urban utopia. Ever a changing entity, the very amorphousness of URBAN has enabled the magazine to be at once a monograph on the contemporary city, a forum for today’s newest voices, a barometer of the matters most pressing in our age, and, at times, a provocation.
Internationalism and locality come to the forefront of Lori Kahale’s interview with planner Jonathan Manns, while Abdulla Al Shehhi examines the relationship between planning and the LGBT community, with some strong advice for both. Magda Maaoui, in describing France’s newest efforts at housing construction, offers a critique of long-standing French planning tools. Finally, Carsten Rodin and Jack Darcey offer reviews of two recent transgressive cultural artifacts: a thought-provoking exhibit at New York’s Museum of Chinese in America and a new book of memoir-essay-poetry by Wendy S. Walters.
This small offering you hold in your hand, trans., attempts to draw on this lineage and celebrate the diversity and distinctiveness that define urban planning. In putting forth this small word for you to consider, we deliberately leave it as a prefix with no succeeding designation that would more narrowly define an idea. The result is a collection of thoughts, arguments, conversations, and descriptions that each address dramatically different subject matter while maintaining an overall commitment to seeing beyond the single conception.
The content in this small volume seeks to draw together elements that so often exist in separate realms and, in so doing, tries to convey the importance of fostering some kind of opposition or of supporting the existence of difference. In a small magazine such as this one, this idea makes for enjoyable reading. In the real world, this idea translates into the essential seedling underpinning the city and growing its inhabitants into urban actors. The university, and particularly the urban university, may be the most natural seat for the nourishment of this seedling: here, people of different creeds, social classes, races, and beliefs can interact and share, together, a space of learning. The maintenance and, indeed, the fostering of different voices should be a core tenet of the university and, in particular, of the school of urban planning. To become the sensitive urban planners that the world demands, we need our schools to give us – through sight, sound, and, especially, the professors they hire – an understanding that we are but a small part of a much larger project, one that requires us to reach across tracks and beyond borders and through the many labyrinths we have ourselves created.
Laura Lieto provides us with an introduction to the idea of trans. and its manifestation in the political and material world, while Charles Stewart shows us what can happen when a traditionally exclusive activity is cultivated in the unlikeliest of gardens. Bringing us to the San Fernando Valley outside of Los Angeles, Vicente Arellano questions the importance of art and its provenance. In contrasting the “he did” with the “yes but he also,” Floyd Lapp incites to consider for ourselves the legacy of Robert Moses and the physical reminders we encounter everyday, while Chris Giamarino gives us a glimpse of some of those very reminders, often invisible to the daily New Yorker.
We humbly hope these pages communicate this. Love, URBAN
TA B L E O F C O N T E N T S
1 Essay Trans is Back in Town Laura Lieto
3 Harlem Lacrosse Levels the Playing Field: Transforming Lives Through Sport Essay
5 The Translocation of Critical Aesthetics Essay
7 Robert Moses: Visionary or Villain? Essay
Dr. Floyd Lapp, FAICP
10 Bridges of New York: Studies of (Un)Familiar Transience Photo Essay
Christopher Daniel Giamarino
Lacrosse in Harlem (Charles Stewart, 2015). More on page 3.
17 Rendezvous with Jonathan Manns Interview
19 (Trans)forming Planning: The Inclusion and Seclusion of LGBT Individuals in Contemporary Planning Theory and Practice
Abdulla Al Shehhi
21 Housing Transitions: The Tour de France of Construction Essay
23 Stephen Fan’s Suburbanisms: Casino Urbanization, Chinatowns, and the Contested American Landscape at the Museum of Chinese in America
25 Wendy S. Walters’s Multiply/Divide Review
TRANS IS BACK IN TOWN BY LAURA LIETO
Prefixes, both in common and specialist parlance, have their ups and downs. When these tiny, humble “characters” mark their presence on the overcrowded stage of language far beyond their “normal” use, it means they are having their moment, that they are working as signals of a consistent attention from the public toward the issues they make sense of. When attention starts waning, the moment of fame is soon going to be over. But sometimes they are back, refreshed after a long wait. Some years ago it was the moment of inter. Inter-discipline, inter-relation, inter-connection, inter-national, intergenerational. A brand new space “in between” – disciplines, nations, generations, social relations – was born out of the solid boundaries of the old order of discourse, be it the traditional division of knowledge into separate fields or the fragmentation of the European Economic Community into several nation states. Inter was a little beacon of hope for those in search of cooperation, collaboration, cohesion, seeking to open a common ground out of the walls of their homes, their political parties, their social circles, their fields of expertise. It became popular in the media, in academic writing, in everyday parlance, and even in textbooks for school children. Such a collaborative ground was the new scene to confront differences according to the idea that differences matter and that, despite the triumphant tone of globalization pundits, they were not drowning into copycat patterns of cultural apathy. A new sense of respect and confrontation seemed to be afoot on that common ground signaled by a little inter. And also, of course, a lot of misunderstandings. Even on that common ground, however, we have all stayed the same. We haven’t given up with our irreducible differences: we don’t have to agree about life, the universe and everything, but we can still hang out with and learn from each other. Urban planners, after a couple of decades of committed communicative efforts dealing with fair dialogue and unconditioned respect for differences and minorities, have realized that cooperating and still disagreeing is a possibility,
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that people can cut deals even in the face of harsh conflicts about politics, race, gender and religion. The example of scientists working in inter-disciplinary laboratories, each with her own language and skills, became a popular metaphor to envisage planning as a practical endeavor: for some scholars, planning became a true trading zone, where getting things done “despite differences” mattered more than agreeing about life, the universe and everything. Inter has not disappeared from the scene of language. It has merely taken a few steps back to allow another tiny prefix to step forward and finally enjoy its “fifteen minutes of fame.” My feeling is that now it is the moment of trans. Trans is avant-garde. It is about challenging limits. Like the passing of an Olympic torch, it took the flame carried by inter and is now trying to move ahead, to make a better and more difficult performance. Public life is being shaken, these days, by gender, ethical, political, and biological issues traced by this tiny pretext in the media, both in common parlance as well as in academic talk. Transgender people, genetically modified organisms, prosthetic bodies – even when these words (at least in English) do not require trans as a prefix, they all imply what this prefix, in its etymology, is all about: change. More precisely, it is about the process of change: “transitioning.” As its etymology suggests, trans makes a big difference compared to inter: trans implies that something or someone does not stay the same when exposed to otherness; transacting means that, even if we do not give up our differences, we actually deal with them more openly and – sometimes – radically. Trans is a matter of hybridizing, not just trading or making a compromise. It is about change in terms of putting some status quo at risk, of becoming a difference by acting, not talking, it out. Trans is about becoming “another.” Not just dealing with the Other.
Trans is back in town after a long absence from the scene of language. It became popular in the 1970’s, within the pressing debate about trans-sexuality (a taboo at the time), and then it migrated to art: trans-avant-garde, performance art, and postmodernism were all fields where this prefix made sense of new ways of dealing with the human body, living matter, and human emotions. Trans is back in common parlance and academic writings endowed with new energies. The city, naturally, is the scene where such a return is taking place. The city is populated with trans-entities. They become visible and meaningful alongside the rediscovery of the materiality of urban life. The new materialism is gaining currency among different disciplines, as pressing ethical and political concerns are rising in parallel with scientiﬁc and technological innovation on living matter. Complex issues, from climate change to the biotechnological engineering of genetically modiﬁed organisms, call for a different understanding of the relations we have with matter, with nonhuman things, and how they affect our lives as well as our moral vision. The boundaries between the organic and the inorganic, blurred by cybernetics and biotechnologies, seem less sharp. The human body is re-shaped by technology and is no longer an entity confined within its “purely human” form and boundaries, but rather a prosthetic assemblage – a cyborg – experiencing connections to material devices of all sorts – from digital technologies to physical infrastructures – which enable our bodies to expand, disseminate, and communicate on a variety of scales.
cartoneros – who commonly use shopping carts to store waste materials that can be redeemed through the formal channels and technologies provided by waste recycling policies. Canners and cartoneros provide themselves with an informal street-welfare and, to do so, use things in unexpected ways. Action is always networked action. Its very meaning – making a difference concretely, not just thinking or speaking about change – is often related to that tiny, humble prefix peeping out on the stage of language, creeping up anywhere a transactional space is available for those who act and become “another,” stepping into the messiness and heterogeneity of the material city. It this going to be just a “fifteen minutes of fame” business? I doubt it. I think that trans is back in town and is here to stay quite long.
----------------------------------------------------------------------Laura Lieto is adjunct visiting professor of urban planning at GSAPP at Columbia University. She teaches urban planning theories at “Federico II” University in Naples, Italy.
For urban planners, thinking of the city as a material assemblage, acknowledging how things enable people to do other things, is quite a breakthrough. They come to realize that things are far from being simply brute, passive matter: they have agency too. This does not mean that trees, pipelines, door openers, bridges or cell phones have a will of their own. This means that things and humans always act in concert, that action is not solely a human issue, that it occurs in a deeply relational mode in the material world. Things do unexpected things sometimes. Consider this example. A traffic light stands to regulate the vehicular flow at a street corner; an iron chain is wrapped around it, securing a shopping cart that somebody uses to collect plastic bottles or cardboard on the streets. This is not just an inappropriate use of an object, but, as many people living in big cities know, it is also an unexpected way to use an object out of the formal logic which has produced it (in this case, urban traffic regulations). The same traffic light, doing the job it was meant to do, is also a secure parking system for those – like New York canners, or Buenos Aires Trans | URBAN | 2
HARLEM LACROSSE LEVELS THE PLAYING FIELD Transforming Lives Through Sport BY CHARLES STEWART
I am a new resident of New York City. I don’t claim to understand the dynamics of this place just yet, I continue to get lost on the subway, and I am still adjusting to the pace of life. Strangers on the street remain just that. Purposeful walking and indifference ensure that we continue to exist as strangers sharing a sidewalk for just a moment in time. This began to change last month when I traveled from my apartment on 115th Street and Frederick Douglass to P.S. 76. I was on my way to coach lacrosse. Headphones in, determined gait driving me forward through blinking Don’t Walk signals and under overhead scaffolding, an old bag slung over my shoulder, I assumed the role of stranger on the street. There was one difference, however: I was carrying a lacrosse stick. After five blocks, I heard through the din of my earbuds a voice from behind yelling “Coach!” I turned to meet a young boy, breathless from running to catch my attention. Mame Diba introduced himself with a firm handshake and unwavering eye contact. Mame is an eighth grader at P.S. 76 and a student athlete with Harlem Lacrosse and Leadership. Over the course of our six block walk we discussed his love for lacrosse, his favorite book (a novel about the Native American interpretation of lacrosse as medicine), and future plans to attend prep school and college on a lacrosse scholarship. Mame’s ambitions might seem commonplace in the affluent communities that are the traditional hotbeds of the game. As it turns out, they are commonplace among his teammates at Harlem Lacrosse and Leadership (HLL), too. HLL was born in 2008 at Frederick Douglass Academy when Simon Cataldo, an overwhelmed young teacher, gave his most challenging students lacrosse sticks. On a concrete schoolyard amid the din of the city, the students bonded with a game created by Native Americans in the verdant wilderness of centuries past. Playing a physical game on a concrete surface made the students tough. Growing up in Harlem did, too. Cataldo incentivized his students with lacrosse in exchange for good behavior and regular studying. Unruly students focused. Test scores rose. They traveled to universities for campus tours, to prep schools for clinics, to the suburbs to test their
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mettle against teams with long-established programs and endless resources. They built momentum and began winning games against Fieldston, Allen Stevenson, and Collegiate from the elite Ivy Preparatory League. These were gritty wins, a result of discipline and hustle more than of strategy or genetics. In the classroom, previously uninterested students were arriving early, applying themselves to academics, and becoming leaders. Wins on the field of competition as well as in the classroom grew their confidence, and their young teacher’s belief in their potential created a link to opportunities beyond those which Harlem could offer. It is here that the nexus between sport and education became firmly established for these student athletes. Seven years later, Harlem Lacrosse and Leadership studentathletes have received over ten million dollars in academic scholarship offers. The first students are beginning to matriculate into institutions such as West Point, University of Virginia, Bates, Dickinson, Hobart, Haverford, and Colby Colleges, among others. Still more are attending prestigious prep schools in the northeast. Buzz Bissinger, the author of Friday Night Lights and advocate for the advancement of in-school sports programs, called HLL “the single best school-based co-curricular program I have ever seen.”1 The mentality among Mame and his teammates is that lacrosse and academics are intertwined: opportunity arises out of success in both. They now have a luxury that did not exist before they began playing lacrosse; they now have choice. Choice is the result of innumerable decisions made by parents and grandparents, hard work and consequence, and in some cases, sheer luck. Those born without the luxury of choice are subject to programs which determine their circumstances, told where they will attend school, what meals (if any) they will eat there, and what athletic and social outlets are made available. Sports can serve as a vehicle out of environments that lack the luxury of choice, especially those generally reserved for the white upper class. One such program in Philadelphia, Snider Hockey, couples ice hockey with academics and life skills for underprivileged youth. A proposal for a massive ice hockey complex at the Bronx Armory is currently making its way through the ULURP zoning approval process, interpreting the Snider model for
Bronx youth. Harlem Lacrosse and Leadership takes this model one step further by embedding a program director in schools to recruit, coach, tutor, and mentor students full time. Harlem Lacrosse and Leadership’s success is attributable to many factors. Lacrosse, after all, is an unconventional sport for an urban community like Harlem. Field time is expensive and a lacrosse field is nearly as large as a soccer pitch. Equipment is expensive. Lacrosse players wear up to six pieces of equipment and have to carry a stick. The game is not intuitive and technique is only learned through instruction and repetition, so coaching is a necessity. Basketball, on the other hand, requires only a ball and a pair of shoes. Hoops can be found in the majority of city parks and the community has produced hundreds of collegiate and professional players over the years. Rucker Park on 155th Street in Harlem is a basketball mecca. Playing basketball requires much less effort in Harlem than lacrosse, given that HLL has structured its program with heavy time commitments and high academic standards. Why, then, has lacrosse taken hold in this community? The answers may be transferable to other sports such as tennis, squash, fencing, or any other endeavors with relatively small participation in underserved communities and high barriers to entry. Harlem Lacrosse and Leadership adapts to its environment by using the urban context as an asset rather than a liability. Limited space heightens the awareness of the studentathletes and translates onto a traditional grass field. “Space and environment creates athletes,” states Joel Censer, Director of Advancement. He explained that the constraints of a small field of play mitigate sheer size and speed while encouraging skill. Comparing the model to Brazilian soccer players learning the game in favela courtyards and small indoor courts, he believes HLL’s method of practice (one grown out of necessity) will provide a competitive advantage for its student-athletes. HLL is a non-profit organization that relies on grants, corporate sponsorships, and individual contributions. The program has been successful in not only raising funds for operation, but also facilitating the donation of equipment from collegiate, high school and youth programs. Fitting athletes out in equipment from the top programs in the country has the effect of minimizing the distance between them and us. Coaches from top programs further serve to minimize this distance. Access to high quality coaching is a significant contributor to the program success, and HLL recruits program directors who are former All-Americans, team captains, and diligent students. More broadly, talented former athletes often coalesce in cities and can be leveraged for the benefit of student athletes in underserved areas. The uniqueness of the game also contributes to its success, which again could be applied to other specialized or “niche” sports. “The newness of [lacrosse] was extremely important,” Cataldo explains, “because some of these
children have never been told that they’re good at anything in their life, so when you walk into a room and teach them math, they automatically think that they’re bad at it because of everything that’s happened before. But when you teach them lacrosse, they could be the best player at school on the first day, and that’s pretty exciting.”2 Incentivizing the game is important, too. HLL requires students to attend mandatory study halls, show academic improvement, and demonstrate good behavior in exchange for the privilege of playing the game. This strategy solidifies the inextricable link between sports and academics: one cannot exist without the other. Timing has played a significant role. Lacrosse is considered the fastest growing team sport in the country, with a thirty-eight percent average growth rate among men and women’s lacrosse on the collegiate level between 2009 and 2014.3 High schools and universities are now recruiting non-traditional areas such as Harlem aggressively. Harlem Lacrosse and Leadership recently welcomed over four hundred guests to their annual fundraiser. The event concluded with a speech from Eniola Arogundade, a high school freshman who proclaimed to the crowd his love for the program as well as his aspiration of enrolling at Harvard Law School. This took some moxie: the event was held at the Yale Club. The speech was both humble and audacious, vulnerable and bursting with courage. I thought back to Mame. I remembered those same traits in him. Mame’s simple act of stopping me on the street facilitated my transformation from a stranger to an active participant in my community, however briefly. For him, I think, lacrosse will facilitate a much more significant and life altering level of transformation. Choices and opportunities are abstractions. The studentathlete must seize and harnesses them in order to bring them to life. Harlem Lacrosse and Leadership and similar programs that exist or have yet to be formed provide through sport the foundation for student-athletes to effect change for themselves and future generations. Their stories are worth telling in hope that they soon become the rule rather than the exception. Notes:
1. http://www.sportsmatter.org/article.html 2. http://news.virginia.edu/content/simon-cataldo-earning-lawdegree-while-growing-harlem-program-leadership-lacrosse 3. http://www.uslacrosse.org/Portals/1/documents/pdf/aboutthe-sport/2014-participation-survey.pdf
-----------------------------------------------------------------------Charles Stewart is a first year Urban Planning Student originally from Annapolis, MD. He has worked both in real estate and as a lacrosse coach both in the US and abroad.
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THE TRANSLOCATION OF CRITICAL AESTHETICS BY VICENTE ARELLANO
The Identity of Mediocrity and Mediocrity as Identity Art scenes, slick spaces, expensive coffee, trendy neighborhoods, and “starchitecture” have created an “incrowd” dynamic in which the purity of human creativity is torn asunder by its own invented parameters. At the metropolitan scale, this often produces regions and populations that are aesthetically marginalized. Residents of New York City, classify New Jersey as the second-class citizen. In Los Angeles, this role is filled by the place in which I was raised: the San Fernando Valley. The late French postmodernist Jean Baudrillard remarked that the emergence of societies at the periphery of the global economic and cultural order has the effect of depriving centralized historical societies of their mission. He cautioned against the mimicry of the European tendency to conceptualize reality. In his travels throughout the United States in the 1980s, he believed he found “America” when and where “Europe” disappeared from sight. It was from this perspective that criticism was directed at attempts to accumulate European art collections and design sensibilities in the US. In a related approach, art critic Hal Foster examined the ways in which the worlds of contemporary art, architecture and design have developed into “the inflated package that all but replaces the product.”1 It is vital that art be disentangled from Design, High Brow Directors, Museum Ivory Towers, Agents, Markets, and Marketing. A criticism of post-modernism is that it elucidates our critiques and problems while being nearly silent to solutions. (Indeed, what is a problem if there is no “solution,” anyway?) We can reclaim the labels of “mediocrity” against the New Jerseys and the San Fernando Valleys of the world if only we agree that the possession of art is compromised, that aesthetic judgement is wielded by and should be wrested from the “in” crowd. Pure creativity can be the check and balance to the economic manifestation that is the US City. If everything gets appropriated by Capitalism – including street art, resistance music, the aesthetics of protest – then one must continuously create and counter, even if this takes the form of an ownership of the “virtual waste space,” drosscapes, and throwaway places that the many of us live in or are born of.
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Transformation and Transcendence as Manifested in the San Fernando Valley The San Fernando Valley is separated from the iconic parts of Los Angeles by the Santa Monica Mountains. Following World War II it experienced rapid growth along suburban planning aesthetics. The gee-whiz of science (DDT and literal rocket science included), mass production, and rationally planned cityscapes with separation of use zones, single-occupancy automobile infrastructure and common-denominator consumption had reached its salient visibility in the Valley. Already a palimpsest of indigenous human ecological pre-industrial non-civilized society, Colonial Spanish Christian expansion, and early Anglo rustic lifestyle aspirations, the Valley came to be by the late 1950s and early 1960s the emblematic experience of the “culture lifestyle” and a tangential built environment. Beginning in the 1970s, however, it became less and less desirable as newer suburbs sprouted up further away. The purely functional design of housing tracts (small homes, strip malls, wide boulevards, simple apartments) became “mediocre” as functionality was compromised by wear and tear, disinvestment, and disinterest. Already seen to be too suburban, the Valley became despised when it did not meet its intended functionality. Today, the appropriation of subcultures, countercultures, anti-establishments, art, and creativity has reduced the self-
styled bohemian and ethnic enclaves of re-gentrified inner city core neighborhoods into pastiches of historicatl ideas.2 Such places existed in opposition to the markers of mediocrity such as the San Fernando Valley. But what happens to periphery places on the margins of cultural output in such an inversion? The 1960 US Census recorded a San Fernando Valley that was over 90% white/angloAmerican. The 2010 US Census showed a Valley that was profoundly different – over 40% foreign born and a resultant cityscape that had experienced its own White Flight, de-industrialization, and remaking by new groups of people. It’s an inversion that is hard to notice, since the packaging that is the cityscape is a potent maker of perception. Place is the intersection between space and time and the Valley is now understood through a new contextualization. The perception of the Valley as a culturally homogenous place has begun to dissolve. Quietly but unapologetically, artists like Robert Williams and C.R. Stecyk III – both of whom established Juxtapoz Magazine and the Pop Surrealist movement – are rising, along with Jeffrey Vallance, whose conceptual works often point out the absurdity of the contemporary art world. Filmmaker Tim Burton hails from Burbank; Terry Gilliam, the only USborn member of Monty Python, from Panorama City; Paul Thomas Anderson from Studio City. All were inspired by or succeeded in capturing the surreal quality of what is otherwise considered largely unremarkable apart from its mediocrity. The perception of creativity-inducing places is altered as one tries to describe such a designated place. The bypassing of traditional art venues and criticism of the homogeneity of the contemporary commodified art world is understood through regional iconography, the low brow celebration of the underside of pop culture, playful subversions, coy anger, vernacular materiality, ominous irony, introverted self-mocking despair, and the realization that there is “no longer a crucial place to participate in one’s moment, because the place to be is everywhere.”3 Counterpoint to Elitism: A Typology
Figure 1: San Fernando Valley Aerial c.1960; public domain; retrieved from CSUN library digital archives
Urban planning theorist Robert Beauregard argues against “Superlative Cities,” describing a sequence of reasoning beginning with the idea that spaces for encounter lead to the development of empathy, and a public that is tolerant, open to engagement, “storytelling”, and ultimately to discursive democracy.4 Beauregard uses the term “epiphenomenal”, describing how mental events are completely dependent on physical functions. With the term “Critical Middling” we can begin to understand middle spaces which make up the bulk of US Metropolitan areas. These spaces naturally accompany the great equilibrium of periphery and center in San Fernando Valley-like places. Such transformation, transcendence and translocation are the physical manifestations of the new structure of feeling known as metamodernism.5 Mediocrity establishes highlow contrast, and the ownership of it points out absurdities and locates the fulcrum. We become, in this process, the prisoners staging a theatrical criticism in the face of the
elite, the turning-over of culture about which the Marquis de Sade, in his iteration in the film Quills, utters, “I merely held up a mirror; perhaps he did not like what he saw!”
Figure 2: Multi-ethnic mini-mall on Sherman Way in San Fernando Valley, 2011; photo by the author
Typology as Assemblage of Creative Endeavors ●folk art ●non-monetary transactional spaces ●spontaneity, “Immediatism,” continuous co-creation, continuous culture reconstitution colored by values lens ●political situatedness, artistic autonomy, transgression, historical dialectic of critical disciplines, “running room” ●art modalities: speech, thought, and will; “social sculpture” Examples of American art themes: ●Buckminster Fuller’s World Game (Arthur Ross Architecture Gallery, Buell Hall, Columbia University): macro solutions to world problems; pragmatism; utopianism ●conceptual curation into physical exhibition ●dry ironic statement art ●weavings and remixes of pan-ethnic art ●outsider art, visionary art ●the experimental impulse
1. Foster, H. Design and crime (and other diatribes). (London: 2002). 2. Walters, D. The New California. (Sacramento: 1986). 3. Willick, D. Valley Vista: Art in the San Fernando Valley ca.19701990. (Los Angeles: 2014) 4. Beauregard, R.A. “City of superlatives.” City & Community, 2(3), (2003). pp. 183-199 and Beauregard, Robert A. “Democracy, storytelling, and the sustainable city.” in Eckstein, Barbara and James A. Thogmorton, eds. Story and sustainability, (Cambridge, MA: 2003). pp. 65-77. 5. Vermeulen, T and R. van den Akker. “Notes on Metamodernism.” Journal of Aesthetics & Culture, 2, (2010).
----------------------------------------------------------------------Vicente Arellano is a first year Urban Planning student from Los Angeles. His interests include the cultural life of cities and psychogeography.
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ROBERT MOSES: VISIONARY OR VILLAIN? BY DR. FLOYD LAPP, FAICP
Robert Moses shaped and influenced development in New York City and the surrounding metropolitan area more than any other individual during the 20th century. Using the public authority mechanism and its strategy for financial independence – run by boards of directors that were small in number and isolated from the people, issuing revenue bonds and charging the users with tolls rather than relying on legislative funding or voter approved bonds – became the conventional approach to building public works. Democracy was put “on hold” as the passion for greater efficiency led state officials and civic leaders, with some antipathy toward local political leaders, to drop their democratic guard and yield responsibility for an important part of their destiny to an agency insulated from direct popular control.1 This approach mercifully expedited and yet dangerously circumvented public review.
conspired to create a very different landscape for implementing large projects. Heightened caution, with long studies and comprehensive review processes, stood in the way of getting things built. Alan Altshuler and David Luberoff, in their book Mega-Projects, characterize this period from the mid 1970s to the present as an era of “do not harm” because it became essential to fully mitigate or altogether avoid any significant social disruption.2 In New York, the City Charter was revised in the mid-1970s to create 59 community planning boards which became part of a review process that also involves borough boards, the City Planning Commission, the City Council and even the Mayor in some instances. This process, New York City’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, still requires most major projects to undergo 180 days of review and many public hearings.3
Robert Moses’ career as a builder of major public works began in 1924 when New York Governor Al Smith appointed him Chairman of the State Council of Parks and President of the Long Island State Parks Commission, positions he held until 1963. In the process, he became chairman of numerous park and parkway authorities. These appointments enabled Moses to add approximately 40,000 acres of open space recreation through the creation of 14 Long Island state parks and eight parkways.
Moses’ proposals for expressways through Manhattan and another Long Island Sound bridge were all rejected. The autocratic approach inherent in Moses’ authorities was out style. He had built Le Corbusier’s City of Tomorrow, a city of highways and towers in superblocks with massive open spaces, but the city lamented the destruction of street life. Indeed, Jane Jacobs, in The Death and Life of Great American Cities, painted the street ballet as that most essential of urban, and perhaps human, phenomena and gave voice to the movement that railed against Moses’ perceived excesses. Robert Caro’s 1974 classic biography, The Power Broker, only fanned this fire, presenting a critical portrait of the man that has become almost canon.
Moses’ second major set of appointments were given by New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia. Moses became City Parks Commissioner in 1934, a post he held until 1963, and Chairman of the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority in 1936, which he held until 1968. His concurrent positions on Long Island and New York City enabled him to knit together a green carpet of open recreation space and a network of parkways, highways, bridges, and tunnels at a metropolitan, and thereby comprehensive, scale. The third era of Moses’ public works occurred during his appointment as New York City Construction Coordinator from 1946-1963. With this position, he was responsible for all federal money that was allocated to New York City. By the 1960s, however, there was increased attention and sensitivity to neighborhood planning, public participation, civil rights, and historic and landmark preservation. Community initiatives and environmental movements
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One can say in defense of Moses that he was held accountable for implementing many post-World War II federal programs and policies - related to housing, urban renewal, and highways, condemning “the old” in the interest of building “the new” - while ignoring the full impact of demolition and relocation. It was not Moses, certainly, who chose the automobile as the preferred mode of transportation in the 20th century, or passed the Federal Housing Act or the Federal Highway Construction Act that allocated billions of dollars for suburbanization, or who decided that highways should be placed along waterfronts, or who decreed that public housing should be sited according to neighborhood racial patterns, or who mandated millions for slum clearance.4 Yet while these
processes began independently of Moses, their impact was only felt when he used his authority to implement them on the ground, uprooting hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers and forever altering the face and the lifestyle of the city. Is there villainy in this type of complicity? While Caro’s tome has informed many opinions, a less wellknown revisionist book, Robert Moses and the Modern City: The Transformation of New York, edited by Hilary Ballon and Kenneth T. Jackson and published in 2007, should also inform his work. Consistent and committed political and administrative leadership has the potential to generate innovative financing approaches to overcome the public sector funding shortfall, navigate the time consuming regulatory review process, and interact with special interest groups. It may be that creativity and boldness has been lost, or that, in the words of Paul Goldberger, “If power was too centralized under Robert Moses, it is hard not to wonder if we have not paid a price for letting the pendulum swing so far the other way.”5 Since Moses lost power in 1968, New York City has not built any new bridges, tunnels, highways, public housing projects, performing arts centers or beaches.6 The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, created in 1967 to build more rail, has only constructed a few miles of track.7 Large transit projects are studied – and after the passage of time, re-studied – but, without fail, little gets built: there is no visionary to imagine how large projects may arise. Images of Moses as the “visionary” primarily relate to his work between the 1920s and 1940s as the man who built great parks and parkways. Property–taking in these projects primarily involved wealthy Long Islanders, and the fact that moderate and middle-income residents of New York City had access to these new beach and recreation areas was viewed as a huge benefit. It was only after World War II when new housing and highway projects in their backyards affected these same people in the City, when their rental properties were taken and they were relocated - that things turned negative. Another view is that the parkway-to-park concept was actually pioneered just north of New York Trans | URBAN | 8
City in Westchester County with the building of the Bronx River Parkway (1907-1925) and its related county parks years before Moses started his work on Long Island. The parkway-to-park concept can, in fact, be traced back to the 19th century and the work of landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. Furthermore, one could claim that the metropolitan open recreation space and vehicular transportation networks were originally illustrated in the Regional Plan Association’s Plan for New York and Environs in 1929 and that Moses simply implemented these ideas. Even so, it was Moses who turned these illustrations into realities. Most of the images of Moses as the “villain” relate to his use of federal housing and highway funds after World War II and the destruction of neighborhood fabrics that never quite got knitted together again cannot escape our urban consciousness even today. From 1949-1959, for example, the Title 1 Urban Renewal Program caused the relocation of approximately 100,000 low-income residents in New York City.8 There were, however, many other accomplices in this process long before Moses’ projects were being implemented. At the turn of the 20th century, the great East River bridges, new parks and construction of a great number of schools forced the relocation of 50,000 people. The building of the subway system and street improvements continued this trend. Moses, in this reading, was simply following the trajectory set by a long course of federally funded urban development. During a 44-year career as extensive and varied as his, Robert Moses was clearly at times both a visionary and a villain. Take all the hats Moses wore, put them on the many people who have tried them on since his demise, factor in an elaborate land use and environmental review process, neighborhood groups, union mentalities, and legal actions, and compare the record.
1. Doig, Jameson W. Empire on the Hudson: Entrepreneurial Vision and Political Power at the Port Authority. (New York: 2001) pp. 2-3. 2. Altshuler, Alan and David Luberoff. Mega-Projects. (Washington, DC: 2003), pp. 8, 27-44. 3. Garvin, Alexander. “The Second Coming of Moses.” Topic. (March 2003). The more cautious approach is discussed in Altschuler Luberoff. Mega-Projects. 4. “Rethinking Robert Moses: What If New York’s Notorious Master Builder Wasn’t Such A Bad Guy After All?” Metropolis. (August-September, 2002). 5. The New York Times, December 18, 1988, p. 45. 6. Jackson, Kenneth T. “Robert Moses and the Planned Environment: A Re-evaluation.” in Krieg, Joann P., ed. Robert Moses: Single Minded Genius (Interlaken: Heart of the Lakes, 1989). pp. 21-30. 7. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Capital Needs Assessment: 2000-2019. p. 5. 8. Schwartz, Joel. The New York Approach: Robert Moses, Urban Liberals and Redevelopment of the Inner City (Columbus: 1993). pp. xv, 1-24.
P H OTO E S S AY
BRIDGES OF NEW YORK
-----------------------------------------------------------------------Floyd Lapp, AICP, is an Adjunct Professor of Urban Planning at GSAPP. He has more than 50 years of urban planning, development, and transportation experience. His current research interests include congestion pricing, bus rapid transit, transit oriented development, sustainable development as an on call urban planning and transportation consultant.
How, then, should Robert Moses be remembered? On this, you be the jury: In a sea of unceasing change, is he a visionary to be celebrated, recalled fondly as we make use of the great public works he pursued? Or should we castigate him as the villain who left us to inherit the unrest and inequities he created?
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Studies of (Un)Familiar Transience BY C.D. GIAMARINO (words and photos)
This photographic series attempts to document, through the lens of an urban planner, the bridges that facilitate the daily, commensurate transience across the lines that divide our map but which remain unrecognized and unfamiliar to native and non-native New Yorkers alike. Eschewing the iconism of the Brooklyn, Manhattan, or Williamsburg Bridges, these traverses loom far above the urban – above where we live – and span New York’s serene and bustling waterways, spanning the geographical boundaries of what we conceive as five boroughs. Carrying transit, automobiles, people, and the material goods that define our everyday activities, these feats of infrastructure are vital for engendering and reflecting the capitalist modes of production in New York City. Reading Beauregard and working my way through Sandercock’s evocative, provocative Voices from the Borderlands: A Meditation on Metaphor, I journeyed through New York City’s complex, extensive subterranean transit system. Once above ground, I transplanted myself and reveled in the diverse, discourses of the neighborhood, the intriguing clashes of land uses, the experiential nature and knowledge I accrued. Various transgressions (hopping fences, timorously crossing ‘empty’ expressways, working my way around these industrial behemoths) allowed me to, hopefully, give the viewer the first person point of view I beheld over the course of several months. In presenting this study of (un) familiar transience, I hope that those perusing these photographs become, like me, mesmerized by the sheer enormity, breathtaking views, and immense complexity that accompany these often unrecognized spans of steel and stone in New York City’s sublime, convoluted, labyrinthine landscapes.
-----------------------------------------------------------------------C.D. Giamarino is a first-year Urban Planning student from Orange County, CA. His interests include social and environmental justice and equality for marginalized communities, particularly through the lenses of critical urban theory and (post)modern planning theories.
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RENDEZVOUS WITH JONATHAN MANNS BY LORI KAHALE
The media is awash with creative personalities who, from architects to celebrity chefs, provide us with easily-digestible forms of originality and innovation. Cities, however, like the ideas that shape them, are more amorphous. The result is that urban planners, too often the illusive puppet-masters of growth, blur into the background. One exception is Jonathan Manns, a British town planner whose influence is shifting debate with an impact both in Europe and beyond. Lori Kahale caught up with him in London.
His interests in planning developed fully in China where, in 2006, he began working with the British Council in Nanjing. “It was a fascinating time,” recalls Manns. “The Government was focused on making the emerging market system work more effectively and supporting growth. Sustainable development was high on the agenda and the Shanghai Industrial Investment Company was actively seeking to deliver the world’s first eco-city at Dongtan”.
Dongtan still hasn’t happened, but the publicity surrounding its genesis sparked an interest in sustainable development that has since come to define Manns’ work, centered in London since 2008. “My consultancy is here in Britain but I like to travel whenever possible. I’ve recently spoken with people from China to Chile. Everybody is grappling with similar issues. Changing perceptions means building bridges and sharing experiences.” Having already spent time in Paris, Lisbon, and Brussels, he’ll head later this year to Dublin, Sydney, and New York. While we’re speaking, he receives an e-mail from Deltametropolis Association, a think tank for metropolitan development in the Netherlands. “We’ve been discussing the relationship between landscape and economic competitiveness,” he says casually before returning the phone to his pocket.
It’s a bright summer morning when I meet Jonathan Manns, at once charming and charismatic, in a café close to his office in London’s affluent district of Marylebone. A confident handshake accompanies his well-cut navy blue suit: an unmistakably British appearance conveying a definitive commercial sensibility. Our discussion begins quickly, with Manns waxing articulately about everything from literature to politics to the state of our cities. Manns works as Director of Planning for the global real estate services firm Colliers International, advising public and private sector clients on development strategies and keeping an eye out for opportunities. Just thirty years old, he has already built an enviable track record, having led proposals across the United Kingdom, particularly in London, for everything from tall buildings and new town centers to regeneration programs for urban and rural estates. Sunday morning readers across the British Isles might know the name from bylines in the Guardian or the Sunday Times or a collection he recently edited, Kaleidoscope City: Reflections on Planning & London. Outside of Britain, however, Manns is best known for what business leaders typically refer to as thought leadership. In practice, this is about shaping professional and public debates. It’s seen him challenge global “best practice” assumptions on emotive and politically sensitive planning issues from park-and-ride to green belts. He seems perpetually busy. Last year, he chaired a Working Group reporting to the European Union, and he is currently coordinating a workshop for young planners from across the continent. His resume boasts impressive feats for somebody who comes across as characteristically and, some might say unnecessarily, modest.
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For a man whose life appears overfilled with planning, Manns appears comfortable and unperturbed. “When you cut back the jargon, it’s an activity which most people can engage with enthusiastically. It’s all about shaping the future.” Perhaps anticipating skepticism, he continues, “I see how that can raise some daunting questions but, as [the American] Wes Jackson often says, ‘if your life’s work can be accomplished in your lifetime, you’re not thinking big enough.’” He pauses. “I know this will sound clichéd, but I got into this job to change the world. That’s precisely what planning does and why I do it.” From an outsider’s perspective, the British system in which he works is more adversarial than that in America. They don’t zone land, for example, but expect applicants for building permission to make the case in support of their plans, whilst others can make a case to the contrary, with the decision often taken by local politicians. I wonder out loud whether this creates tension between stakeholders and the clients that consultants like Manns represent.
He chuckles. “You’re not the first person to suggest that,” he says, “but it just creates a need for greater emphasis on building shared consensus. The challenge is to agree on the objectives in light of what’s possible and the role of the planner is to facilitate those discussions.” “Planning is about helping bring about change. In practice, this means filtering national and international policy objectives to the local level, to the point at which they have a direct impact upon each of our lives. I think there are two important points which this needs us to recognize. Firstly, that planning is a fundamentally political activity, and secondly that this makes stakeholder engagement essential to securing changes that are both lasting and positive. I’m firmly of the opinion, therefore, that the key to good urban planning is twofold: evidence and empathy.” It’s a message which translates across countries and systems, and it’s easy to see why, when he speaks, people listen. Yet, while Manns’ influence is increasingly felt overseas, he recognizes that it’s easier to make a difference locally. For him, this means London. “The British really established urban planning as a discipline but have increasingly looked overseas for examples. There’s a generation who seem ready to grasp the mantle, and it’s great to be part of that, but it’s often helpful to remember the mantra that ‘change begins at home.’” It’s an interesting thought from someone who seems to have been everywhere. Despite his globetrotting, these aren’t mere words for Manns. His actions speak loudly about where he locates true change. Along with such luminaries as the architects Lord Richard Rogers and Sir Terry Farrell, he was part of a small group of globally resonant design professionals who helped save the London Society from disbandment following its centenary in 2012. “In an age of increasing civic identity, the Society emerged as a pioneer of urban planning in London. Its early ideas, such as the green belt and metropolitan regions, have since influenced the way cities around the world perceive themselves and their growth. It would have been disastrous to wind up an impartial forum for debate at a time like this.” He thinks for a moment, then suggests, “In many ways it’s never been more valuable.” “It took a huge commitment from everybody involved, but in many ways the real challenge began with after the Society’s re-launch in September 2014,” he says. Since that point the London Society has begun replicating a model similar to the Municipal Art Society in New York, growing its membership and wielding increasing political weight. It has already issued two white papers. Manns authored the first, provocatively entitled Green Sprawl: Our Current Affection for a Preservation Myth?, attracting significant media coverage and prompting an immediate update of the UK’s
Government guidance to Members of Parliament, set out in their Green Belt Standard Notes and Research Briefings. “Green Sprawl looks at the origins and intents of London’s green belt. It’s intended to provide a factual basis from which to open discussion. The green belt is an emotive and contentious issue, but so are the social and economic consequences of failing to confront the challenges of London’s continued growth and success. At the heart of the whole debate, ultimately, is a fairly simple question: what kind of city and environment do we want to create?” Manns’ varied preoccupations seem defined by such public and political questions. “Most of my free time at the moment is spent securing support for an All Party Parliamentary Group for London’s Planning and Built Environment. There isn’t currently a forum for impartial cross-party discussion amongst politicians about the key issues facing the Capitol. We’re close to a breakthrough though: there’s support from both Houses of Parliament and in addition to other civic groups. There’s a real opportunity for us to give representatives of our city a coherent voice.” His tone is relaxed but carries a sense of immediacy that’s hard to pin down. Flitting from the international to the local level, effortlessly linking the two, a sense of coordinated vision emerges from what might otherwise appear unconnected and disparate efforts. He laughs when I suggest his personal style and impact is like a surgeon for cities. “I love analogies,” he says. “Surgeons repair, doctors diagnose, teachers educate, politicians represent and academics study. The reality is that our citizenship gives us each the right and responsibility to be all of these when it comes to our cities and communities.” “Good planning is about unlocking the potential of both properties and the communities in which they’re located,” Manns continues. “Imagine what could be achieved if more people could find their voice.” His efforts, extensive and sustained, local and international, are helping achieve precisely this. What’s more, defined by an infectious enthusiasm and immediacy, they’re making a difference.
-----------------------------------------------------------------------Lori Kahale is an independent researcher and journalist, with a background in urban planning. Working and travelling globally, she has a particular interest in cities and innovation.
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The Inclusion and Seclusion of LGBT Individuals in Contemporary Planning Theory and Practice BY ABDULLA AL SHEHHI
The history of urban planning is riddled with instances in which lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals (LGBTs) were the subject of prejudice and marginalization, both individually and collectively. This came to striking light in the aftermath of the 1999 formation of the Gays and Lesbians in Planning Division (GALIP) of the American Planning Association (APA), when the APA’s Planning Magazine was riddled with letters to the editor objecting to the formation of the division. Objections ranged from accusing the APA of pandering, to sexual deviance, to claiming that planning is a technical field and that therefore the inclusion of GALIP – as well as other marginalized groups, such as African Americans and women – is illegitimate.1 The current literature does not suggest that LGBT communities in the United States face direct discrimination by planners. It has, instead, been generally a case of ignorance and neglect. LGBT people in urban settings have complicated needs that are often ignored or misunderstood by planners, with residents often seeking a tight-knit sense of community while simultaneously desiring some sense of differentiation and protection from surrounding neighborhoods. Prominently LGBT neighborhoods, such as gay villages, are often neglected altogether, left to battle variously gentrification or decay by themselves with little to no advocacy and help from planners. Rising property values in San Francisco’s Castro District, for example, have effectively displaced the LGBT community there.2 Large cities are often refuges for LGBT youth who feel unwelcome in less tolerant smaller cities. The measure of anonymity and the presence of communities that do not conform to sexual and gender norms has continually reinforced this notion, making these larger cities more attractive.3 Planners do not always acknowledge this role, let alone plan for it: shockingly, up to 40% of homeless youth in New York City are LGBT.4 This should be seen as an abject failure on the part of the urban planning profession to stand up for a particularly marginalized community. Planning also often fails to account for the gender, ethnic, and sexual variations within the LGBT community and the resulting patterns of spatial variation and discrimination. Queer places today frequently fail to accommodate members of sexual minorities within the LGBT community,
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such as bisexuals, transsexuals, and other non-conformists.5 In the West Village in New York City, for example, gay men of color reported being regularly often ostracized on Christopher Street – the site of the 1969 Stonewall Riots, interestingly ignited by minority members of the LGBT community – by rude glances from white gay men or the refusal of the bars in the area to sell specific kinds of liquor (such as Hennessey) or play specific genres of music (such as rap).6 This spatial variation is also seen in the neighborhoods where different members of the LGBT community choose to live: some lesbians, more likely than gay men to have custody of a child, are prone to live in neighborhoods with close proximity to schools and lower rents, reflecting their central focus on their families. On another note, many stereotypes about the LGBT community persist, including the belief that its members, especially gay men, live in affluent neighborhoods and have high disposable income. The case of the South of Market and Tenderloin areas of San Francisco are enough to disabuse us of this notion: many gay men were only able to afford to live in these areas due to their willingness to make financial sacrifices and share housing in order to continue living in a safe and secure neighborhood within the greater context of a gay community.7 Further challenging planners’ spatial conception of LGBT communities is the fact that there is no single LGBT identity: individuals of varying genders and sexual orientations may express a wish to have a sense of collective community and yet, in practice, prefer to live separately.8 It can be difficult for planners to understand and attend to the quickly evolving needs of the LGBT community: the fluidity of sexuality often translates into a shifting identity of space. Planners find it hard to account for the fast-paced, transient nature of many LGBT populations and their associated immediate needs, especially given how slowly bureaucracy-laden planning processes tend to move. The failure of planners to understand LGBTs and their fluid needs may cause well-intentioned urban policies to cause more harm than good to LGBT neighborhoods. Manchester’s gay village around Canal Street, for example, was promoted as a popular tourist destination in the 1990s. The sudden influx of heterosexual tourists caused an exodus of LGBT individuals who didn’t feel safe in the
area anymore. Increased popularity of the neighborhood may have also brought forth some aspects of gentrification including increased property prices. Such unintended consequences are not uncommon. In the late 1990s, the Giuliani administration in New York City used zoning laws to combat ‘adult’ themed businesses. In practice, the regulation was largely used to target gay establishments and, as such, can be construed as a direct attack by planning on the LGBT community. In other cases, the failure of preservationists and planners to account for buildings and spaces with historic or monumental value to the LGBT communities has lead some neighborhoods to disappear.9 The challenges facing planners today with regard to LGBT neighborhoods are somewhat ameliorated by the recent advances in United States federal law, especially the Supreme Court ruling in favor of equal marriage rights. We can expect this decision to have visible effects on the nature of LGBT neighborhoods and to begin to break down entrenched heteronormativity – the presumption of a uniformly heterosexual population – when planning for residential and mixed-use neighborhoods. Whether the court ruling will increase the likelihood of same-sex couples to live in single-family units is as yet unanswerable, but planners should account for this possibility.
1. Doan, Petra L., ed. Queerying Planning: Challenging heteronormative assumptions and reframing planning practice. (Burlington, VT: 2011). 2. Ibid. 3. Irazábal, Clara & Claudia Huerta. “Intersectionality and planning at the margins: LGBTQ youth of color in New York.” Gender, Place & Culture: A Journal of Feminist Geography. (2015) 4. Ibid. 5. Doan. Queerying planning. 6. Irazábal & Huerta. “Intersectionality and planning.” 7. Forsyth, Ann. “Queerying Planning Practice: Understanding Non-Conformist Populations.” in Doan, Petra L., ed. Queerying Planning: Challenging heteronormative assumptions and reframing planning practice. (Burlington, VT: 2011) 8. Forsyth. “Queerying Planning Practice.” 9. Doan. Queerying Planning.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Abdulla Al Shehhi is a second year urban planning student. His interests include urban and economic development, and the mobility of sexual minorities. He is currently writing a thesis on the identification of LGBT enclaves in New York City and assessing their segregation versus their assimilation.
The planning profession and the LGBT community have for too long turned away from one another, with a lack of understanding and discrimination on one side an dearth of participation, forced or otherwise, on the other. The education of planning students on LGBT issues and the development of literature discussing LGBT issues in planning are two ways in which some of the very present challenges in planning for LGBTs can be overcome. Projects designed to foster a higher sense of community and inclusion of LGBTs should be promoted by planners. This is achievable by deliberate outreach to LGBTs and advocacy groups, inviting them into the active planning process. Fast paced, quick-win projects can act as stepping stones to encourage LGBTs to get involved in the planning process and give planners the necessary experience to be able to plan for LGBT communities and neighborhoods and stand for those who need us. Finally, planners should understand that a person’s membership in the LGBT community does not negate marginalization on the basis of gender, ethnicity, or income. On the contrary, it only entrenches them more firmly within the viewfinder of urban planning.
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HOUSING TRANSITIONS The Tour de France of Construction BY MAGDA MAAOUI
Nearly 150 years after Haussmann and half a century beyond Le Corbusier, France may once again be at the vanguard of urban planning. Just as France’s master planner and its most infamous, if not illustrious, architect reimagined the visage and concept of housing structures in several cities across the territory in the 19th and 20th centuries, a recent housing construction initiative once again aims to encourage the country to implement a new trend in housing. Drawing inspiration from the world-renowned cycling race, the Tour de France of Construction is a public branding of national tools developed under the impulse of the Ministry of Housing to help curb France’s current housing crisis in eight regional hotspots. The attempt materializes by offering incentives to housing providers, be they developers of market-rate, social, or mixed-income accommodation.
is consistent with the scale of national rebuilding projects in post-Second World War Europe.2 Indeed, the post-crisis finance system has often been, to a large degree, structured by the national government.
Government-funded centralized incentives epitomize the French approach to facilitating new construction. In 2014, government deployed an abrupt methodological transition from a top-down approach to a bottom-up system coupled with public private partnerships at both the local and regional levels. These incentives function as an innovative approach in handling housing issues at the national level.1 The approach reveals a stark difference in how France has dealt with its housing sector following the Second World War, a period marked by legislation prescribing rigid restrictions and deterring participation by local municipalities. This brief reflection on current French housing construction landscapes and its transitions paves the path for an exploration of the actions housing decision makers are taking locally, recognizing simultaneously that there is still progress to be made.
While a few of the tools developed introduce innovations, the majority refer to a long familiar policy discourse. Therefore, tools can range from the social housing supply (classic) to the reuse of public land for construction to the revitalization of small downtowns. The innovations also include the Prêt à Taux Zéro Rural, the eco-district labeling, and lastly the imposition of the Loi sur la Solidarité et le Renouvellement Urbains, a policy equivalent to inclusionary zoning.3 This last law flags regions which usually coincide with “hot” – and, therefore, not inclusionary – real estate markets, such as Aquitaine, with 75 municipalities, or Languedoc-Roussillon with 89 municipalities. Both regions are located in the South of France, where it has traditionally been difficult to generate grassroots approval of anything inclusionary.
The sharp speculative rise of real estate prices, the increase in residential segregation, and the subprime mortgage crisis that emanated from the United States to Europe in 2008 reveal the shared vicissitudes that western markets have been facing since the 1990s. French tools for housing resilience – characterized best by a shift in the scope of tools – borrow more from tradition than previously thought, leading to questions on the appropriateness of the classic French housing model definition. A not so new initiative : A tradition à la française The rhetoric of this housing incentive tool is not revolutionary. Targeting a total of 1300 neighborhoods of the Politique de la Ville, the Ministry of Housing still refers to it as a “Grand Chantier” or Major Works, which
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The Tour de France of Construction focuses on five priorities, all of which are pulled from the classic portfolio of annual housing agendas: increasing homeownership, simplifying house construction rules, encouraging mixedincome units, softening land use standards, and renovating the old housing stock. As new expansions – such as large new construction projects and access to credit to increase homeownership – are welcomed, it is difficult not to invoke the classic French model of state intervention in planning, administration and finance systems.
The Loi strikes a familiar chord. It is not classified as an incentive, but rather calls for the classic leverages that the public sector has utilized since the end of the Second World War, namely punishment through policy. Within this mindset we find a striking paradox, an oscillation between repression and assistance evidenced by the delicate balance between policy that stimulates and policy that forbids.4 In addition, the policy approach recalls French interventionism in four distinct domains: localization, project management, physical construction and financing. An old saying, “Quand le bâtiment va, tout va” (“When the building goes, everything goes”) shows the strong belief that state intervention in housing supply is seen as particularly positive on investment in real estate construction. Thus far, opponents argue that some of the tools employed are too disconnected from reality. If a young household
wants to benefit from the Prêt à Taux Zéro, for instance, the fact that they can only do so in small rural municipalities hardly reflects current trends of settlement: as potential homeowners move increasingly to larger, burgeoning metropolitan markets, the Prêt’s focus on more peripheral markets may hinder its positive effects. From national political order to locally flexible interventions? This year, Minister of Housing Sylvia Pinel set off for a publicized tour of the regions affected by these housing goals in an effort to mobilize all stakeholders involved. From the constrained North to booming Côte d’Azur, where housing authorities are going beyond sectorized housing incentives by praising potential mixed-income buyers and renters, a total of eight regions have become solid stops in this Tour de France of Construction: Alsace, Aquitaine, Bretagne, Languedoc-Roussillon, Midi-Pyrénées, NordPas-de-Calais, Provence-Alps- Côte d’Azur, and Pays de la Loire. Pinel’s circuit was not only an official review of a state project: at the same time, the trip publically represented an engagement with the local unusual in historical French housing initiatives. The Tour de France can, in this light, potentially be viewed in terms of its transformative elements, as one housing approach making space for another. This may take on greater significance in France given recent and not-so-recent social problems in some of the older government-built housing projects, exemplified most prominently by the unrest in Paris’ northeastern banlieues. Such a transformation may best be described by a quote from geographer Kevin Cox’s seminar given at the École Normale Supérieure de Lyon regarding the neoliberal shift in the production of cities and its strong links with the economic crisis: [David Harvey] points to a shift in the policies of urban governments since the ‘sixties from what he calls urban managerialism to ones of urban entrepreneurialism. Urban managerialist policies were ones with redistributional intent like public housing and subsidized mass transit. This emphasis has now shifted towards policies aimed at stimulating the growth of urban economies. (...) The implication is that this change has occurred on both sides of the Atlantic.5
By reflecting on this shift towards entrepreneurialism, there is a lingering wonder whether the shift in the nature of housing transactions relates to the adoption of the Tour de France of Construction. How does a more bottom-up approach to housing, when achieved through the use of “very traditional” tools, alter the way housing is conceived and perceived? Is there not some amount of tension at play between two seemingly opposing approaches, one that authorizes the center to make all decisions and one that privileges, or at least respects, local ideas and practices? The Transatlantic Divide revisited? After the economic crisis in 2008, and historically low levels
of new housing units in 2014, legislators perceived the need for change.6 Not only did they call for the power of branding – the Tour de France belongs to a sporting event that does not need any elucidation – but they also tried to inject innovation in the methods applied. Therefore, the French model for housing construction needs to be redefined in the light of three trends: the economic crisis of 2008, the rise of new actors of urban governance, and, finally, the evermore complex local balance of public and private, top-down and bottom-up. The Ministry has clearly opted for a distancing from the top-down policies of the past, but the question remains of whether this new set of policies can embody a definitive shift from interventionism to voluntarism. At any rate, the contemporary approach represents some sort of blurring of classic categories and models in the French housing approach. It is too early, of course, to attempt a final analysis. This process is awaiting 2016’s new law on “Equality and Citizenship” which will work to embrace the government’s positioning on concentration and de-concentration of social housing. Once this geography is fully outlined, it will be possible to better understand - and critique - the social dimension of the Tour de France of Construction. Notes:
1. The two most important types of incentives are: (1) taxbreak for affordable housing developers in the construction or rehabilitation phase; (2) tax-break for households with modest income who wish to become homeowners. 2. The Politique de la Ville was voted in 1995 as a set of legislative and planning measures designed to enhance a specific set of neighborhoods defined as “constrained”, in order to reduce social and territorial inequality. 3. The Prêt à Taux Zéro, created in 1995, is a government-funded loan option without interests, that helps households in their first home acquisition. It used to target only new housing units, but since 2015 it also includes the old housing stock. 4. Roudil, Nadine, Florence Bouillon, Agnès Deboulet, Pascale Dietrich-Ragon, and Yankel Fijalkow. “Les vulnérabilités résidentielles en questions.” Métropolitiques. (June 17, 2015.) 5. Professor Emeritus at the Ohio State University (Department of Geography): Cox, Kevin R. “How and Why American and European Cities are Different.” Talk at the École Normale Supérieure de Lyon, Séminaire Villes Territoires Mondialisations. (November 26, 2010.) 6. Only 312,000 units were constructed annually.
-----------------------------------------------------------------------Magda is a Fellow (Normalienne) at the École Normale Supérieure de Lyon. Her research interests focus on debates related to spatial justice and the suburbanization of poverty. She studied Geography and Urban Planning at the École Normale Supérieure and completed her Masters at UC Berkeley. She has previously worked with SPUR San Francisco as well as France, Algeria, Senegal and Costa Rica. Trans | URBAN | 22
STEPHEN FAN Suburbanisms: Casino Urbanization, Chinatowns, and the Contested American Landscape at the Museum of Chinese in America BY CARSTEN RODIN
A quiet residential street in the quiet American enclosure called “suburbs.” Trees, lawns, driveways, garages. Ranch house after ranch house, out-of-place colonial. Peaceful, but also maybe a little too uniform. Lacking in life. Where is everyone? All at once, the driveways are torn up and planted with vegetable gardens. Drying racks for laundry and fish (fish!) are erected on front lawns. At all hours, the street rustles with a slow but steady flow of people, one or two at a time, coming and going on foot and bicycle. Every so often, small groups form around mailboxes at the roadside, speaking to each other not in English, but in Chinese. SubUrbanisms, a new exhibit at the Museum of Chinese in America curated by architect and educator Stephen Fan, tells this story: how Montville, Connecticut became home to a wave of immigrant Chinese casino workers, and the radical transformation they brought to the neighborhood. Fan outlines the scenario behind the migration, recounts the back-stories of individual migrants, details how singlefamily homes were converted for multiple occupancy, maps local walking paths and regional relationships, and acknowledges prejudices from neighbors and local governments. As a documentary project, it’s extremely successful. Indeed, the Montville presented highlights the division between the Sub and the Urban, standing as something decidedly out of the realm of “city” but which, nevertheless, departs significanlty from the single-family ideal, kitchen outfitted with a General Electric dishwasher, tail-finned Chrysler in the driveway. Here, we see practical meditations on the feasibility of American life (survival tactics?), an implantation of Asian urban norms in an otherwise carefully staged space. At the same time, this first part of the exhibit illustrates a conceptualization of the urban condition as a sociobehavioral phenomenon, something having to do less with physicality and more to do with the particular way people exercise agency in response to the people and things around them. A particular human heterogeneity defines here the flourishing urbanization of a thoroughly unexpected Connecticut suburb.
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As it moves toward interpretation and speculation, however, the exhibit loses some of its appeal. First, different parts of the exhibit appear to be based on contradictory and even competing visions of urbanization. In the case study research, urban change seems to be seen as something incremental, defined less by structural changes in the built environment than by the social and political dynamics between the lives of inhabitants. All it takes for the suburb to become more like the city is an injection of new attitudes about how space could be used. Oddly, the architectural proposals portray the opposite vision: urbanization defined as total physical transformation. Glossy renderings show a suburb rebuilt as megastructure, complete with high-rise housing, rapid transit and formal public space but without a trace of the user-initiated interventions that animate the case studies. If the first section suggested the “urban” as a human approach, as an attitude, the second seems to treat it as little more than a physically recognizable form. This is due, perhaps, to the tension between collective and individual authorship: while the Montville that exists and is depicted expresses the dynamic and contested growth of a group space, the speculative section falls somewhat flat because of its reliance upon one individual’s attempt to single-handedly replicate the collective experience. Without explicitly questioning the effect of the architectural intervention on an organically transgressive space, SubUrbanisms seems to neglect an important point of inquiry into the urban/ suburban question. Demographic change is presented as an all-or-nothing proposition, too. The exhibit creates a narrative of a formerly all-white suburb, emptied out and repopulated with Chinese immigrants. Of course, this isn’t exactly accurate. As a reporter covering an earlier version of the exhibit pointed out, Montville has approximately 20,000 residents; in the last decade, the number of Chinese residents has increased from around 100 to 1,000.1 The shift, therefore, is visible and meaningful, but far from comprehensive. In another review, Fan himself (who grew up in Montville) talks about tension with neighbors when his parents planted a vegetable garden in their own yard, years before the recent influx of immigrants.2 The presence of cross-
cultural tensions, then, is not new but only brought further into focus by the recent changes. It might be more productive, then, to frame the narrative of recent transformations in terms of the ongoing struggle of a suburban public to resolve internal tensions, rather than simply as the creation of one enclave within another. This possibility, for the creation of a diverse suburban public, is to me, the most exciting thing about this exhibit. It shows in concrete terms how American suburbs, infamous for their exclusivity, are increasingly becoming contested spaces and sites of real potential for the formation of inclusive and heterogeneous publics. For planners, it’s important to note that these transformations are occurring independently of efforts to either maintain a legislated exclusivity or to attract specific groups to their jurisdictions. A story like Montville’s casts legitimate doubt on the benefit and effectiveness of suburban planning as it’s been conceived in the past. At the same time, it’s clear that more quality first-hand research (exactly what Mr. Fan is doing) could go a long way toward the success of any future efforts. SubUrbanisms asks us to reconsider our conceptions of “urban” and “suburb.” In fact, through its depictions of both history and possibility, it forces this question upon us. It also ponders, at this crucial juncture in the idea of the legitimacy of belonging, a new vision of an American ideal. Notes:
1. “Making of Chinatown: exhibit focuses on shift following casino openings”. Hartford Courant. Susan Dunne 3/26/14 http://articles.courant.com/2014-03-25/entertainment/hcmontville-chinatown-0323-20140325_1_demographic-shiftmontville-norwich-bulletin 2. Nextcity.org “There’s an urban experiment happening in suburban Connecticut”. Oscar Perry Abello https://nextcity.org/daily/entry/chinese-immigrants-casinosfrom-cities-to-suburbs-museum-exhibit
SubUrbanisms: Casino Urbanization, Chinatowns, and the Contested American Landscape is on display until Mar. 27, 2016, at the Museum of Chinese in America, 215 Centre St., New York, NY. A book of the same name, edited by Stephen Fan, is now available for purchase.
-----------------------------------------------------------------------Carsten Rodin studies Urban Planning and Architecture at GSAPP. He is interested in demographic change in North American suburbs (particularly immigration and aging) and its implications for housing design, ranging from the adaptation to the creation of new models. Trans | URBAN | 24
WENDY S. WALTERS Multiply/Divide
BY JACK DARCEY
accounts of a simple discovery until they reveal just enough fragility to hint at a broken history. Others are tales bordering on or explicitly fiction, considering the ideas that made the American destiny manifest or positing a black settlement in post-American Norway. Walters extends also into a type of reporting, writing on the meaning of Obama’s presidency and searching for a future in the face of rising sea levels. Even with such a disparity of genres, it is often impossible to tell whether one is reading a piece of fiction or non-fiction: without her categorization of the essays in her introduction, the reader would have no way of knowing which was true, which was imagined, and which was some combination of the two. (Walters makes it clear, of course, that the notion of non-fiction as “truth” is a contestable one.)
“A few poets attempted to write about the city’s most important sites before they disappeared from memory, but so few people read poetry that those places vanished anyways.” After 107 pages of newspaper memoir, stinted retrospections, radio imaginings, and expansive notes of cultural awareness, Wendy S. Walters issues the reader this reckoning, a prophecy in the form of a history. It is, perhaps, an appeal to remember where she comes from, where we all come from; in the context of President Obama’s first presidential campaign and the increasing gentrification of historically black communities, it is also a particularly timely commentary on our future. Walters’ newest book, Multiply/Divide: On the American Real and Surreal, is a collection of biographical essays, thought lists, and musings on the past and present and future. Some, like the opening piece entitled “Lonely in America,” are simple and heartbreaking, appearing first as straightforward
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In the first story in Multiply/Divide, Walters gives us a little peek into her anxiety which informs the rest of the collection, with each story touching explicitly or not on the reality of black life in America. In one section, she links the march from Selma to the reaction to black women on dating websites to Michelle Obama to the police murder of Oscar Grant; in another, she details her fixation on her playwright idol, Adrienne Kennedy, following her down the street and into her hotel in Cleveland before ultimately feeling too awkward to do much of anything. It is also about the confusion that she, a light-skinned black woman married to a white Jewish man, causes and feels. She recounts how often she is mistaken for her own son’s nanny and intimating that “...once I was busy caring for my son, my preoccupation with race shifted away from legitimating my own identity to seeking out a community that would acknowledge his.” Sometimes, Walters stories are her own. These are the most meaningful and the most understandable. At their best, these are couched in an anthropological and historical view of her surrounding environment, particularly so in the companion pieces both entitled “Manhattanville.” These two particular stories are at once revelations on a forcedly changing neighborhood as well as confessions of a young mother in a not-quite-home place. The narrative weaves the straightforwardness of a short memoir with a critical commentary on an ongoing reshaping of the neighborhood,
chronicling rampant gang violence and massive police action with a history of Revolutionary America and the birth of 125th Street as an industrial anchor. The complexity is impressive, as is Walters’ clarity in intertwining all of these seemingly disparate elements. “Lonely in America,” the introductory essay is, if less multifarious, a similarly satisfying read, with its careful disclosures seen in part, halfburied, surrounded by other ideas (just like the eight slave coffins that frame the story). We, as readers, also benefit greatly from Walters’ reporting and perception of such things as black life after the election of Obama, the intellectual legacy of Frantz Fanon, and contemporary gun violence in the unstructured essay, “Post-Logical Notes on Self-Election.” Though she jumps from Patrick Henry to a list of the poorest American cities today, the many disparate pieces coalesce into something of an epic meditation on black existence. This essay, by itself, is one that should be required reading in high school or university civics and history classes, especially for its commentary on the perception of contemporary black existence. Indeed, she refers to all of us when she writes, “For many Americans who still did not comprehend how many innovations they had failed to take note of, [Michelle Obama’s] presence disrupted the tradition of ignorant black women,” forcing the reader to immediately confront our society’s, and quite possibly their own, subliminal biases. Other sections of Multiply/Divide do not come as easily, causing confusion and, at times, even discomfort. Much of the fiction takes the form of abbreviated, sometimes interrupted, exposition. The feeling is one of reading someone else’s “truth book,” of looking the half-formed thoughts that might some day become wisdom but which are, in their present state, seeming attempts at grandiosity: “I am not embarrassed admitting a preference for loose skin,” for example, tells us something, surely, though I cannot make out what it is. Presented almost completely in isolation, the phrase suggests something else frustrating about Walters’ voice: its penchant, in places, to speak almost entirely in generalizations, in statements which bear no relation to the surrounding words and which are difficult to interpret on their own.
that I, unfamiliar with the kinds of experiences with which Walters has grappled, should not be able to fully understand, should not be able to speak on the issues on which she speaks – and yet it was nevertheless frustrating. Despite such disappointments, however, Multiply/Divide remains an important piece for its honest rendition of a black woman’s thoughts and feelings. The nation burns with shootings and invective and the promise of a postracial narrative punctured by a very present, very violent reality. We continue to segregate, to incarcerate, and to misogynate. Though her words may confound at times, Walters may just be, for certain of her readers, the poet to help some sites and some lives from disappearing from memory.
Multiply/Divide: On the American Real and Surreal, by Wendy S. Walters. Sarabande Books, 204 pages. $15.95.
-----------------------------------------------------------------------Jack Darcey is in his second year of studying urban planning at GSAPP at Columbia University. He is particularly interested in international planning and development and the ways that infrastructure and design can be leveraged for positive social change.
The most challenging section, a poem entitled “In Search of the Face,” implores us to “Follow the bouncing ball.” In the same section, Walters tell us: “Something obvious is loneliness, how it always talks about itself in the third person. It says: Oh never mind, you know what it says.” (I, for one, do know know quite what it says.) Several other pieces, more narrative than “Face,” follow in a similar vein, perhaps trying to explore some urban reality but doing so in an arterial and consequently impersonal way that muffles their presumed intended message. This may be by design – Trans | URBAN | 26
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