Defining what is a “native” species and what is not is more controversial than many people think. An unusual New York Times op-doc called “Hi! I’m a Nutria” examines the question. A few choice lines: “When do we get to draw a line on who’s a native? 10 years? 100 years? 30,000 years?” And “I’m here now. You’re here now. Let’s just be friends!” The video cannot be imbedded, so follow the link above.
Archive for March, 2012
Posted in Cities, Design Practice, Landscape Planning, tagged architecture, cities, design competition, design thinking, housing, place-based knowledge, reflective practice, slums, urban design, urban planning on March 14, 2012| Leave a Comment »
My research on the potential for design to positively affect low income communities led me to an editorial in the New York Times from May of last year. The article’s title is Hands Off Our Houses, and it was a response to a competition to design a $300 house for the world’s poor. The authors, Matias Echanove and Rahul Srivastava, work in Dharavi, a neighborhood in Mumbia “that has become a one-stop shop for anyone interested in ‘slums’.” They give us a glimpse into a world that outsiders, especially Westerners, do not understand. Without an understanding rooted in the uniqueness of place, and of the lives of people living in that place, designers cannot offer solutions. The $300 house, an idea with good intent, will not help the poor of Dharavi for these reasons:
To start with, space is scarce. There is almost no room for new construction or ready-made houses. Most residents are renters, paying $20 to $100 a month for small apartments.
Those who own houses have far more equity in them than $300 — a typical home is worth at least $3,000. Many families have owned their houses for two or three generations, upgrading them as their incomes increase. With additions, these homes become what we call “tool houses,” acting as workshops, manufacturing units, warehouses and shops. They facilitate trade and production, and allow homeowners to improve their living standards over time.
None of this would be possible with a $300 house, which would have to be as standardized as possible to keep costs low. No number of add-ons would be able to match the flexibility of need-based construction.
In addition, construction is an important industry in neighborhoods like Dharavi. Much of the economy consists of hardware shops, carpenters, plumbers, concrete makers, masons, even real-estate agents. Importing pre-fabricated homes would put many people out of business, undercutting the very population the $300 house is intended to help.
TEDxHarlem, hosted by Majora Carter and two others, will be held on March 27th at the Apollo Theater, and one of the topic areas is built environment. I like this line from the event website (even though its construction needs work):
There is a unique, historical richness in communities steeped in culture, art and innovation and the human spirit’s capacity to hope and dream.
John Fetterman, the mayor of Braddock, Pennsylvania, is one of the speakers. You may have seen Fetterman profiled in Rolling Stone or featured in the New York Times (Mayor of Rust). At 6-foot-8 with a linebacker’s build, bald head, and arms tattooed with Braddock’s zip code and dates when murders occurred there, he’s … noticeable. His public policy degree from Harvard perhaps lends something to the elevated profile of Fetterman’s work in Braddock. But tapping into the “human spirit’s capacity to hope and dream” does seem to be what Fetterman’s goal is, not unlike many leaders in Rust Belt towns. You can get a sense of what John and his fellow urban pioneers are doing by checking out the 15104 website.
And from the Times:
In contrast to urban planners caught up in political wrangling, budget constraints and bureaucratic shambling, Fetterman embraces a do-it-yourself aesthetic and a tendency to put up his own money to move things along. He has turned a 13-block town into a sampling of urban renewal trends: land-banking (replacing vacant buildings with green space, as in Cleveland); urban agriculture (Detroit); championing the creative class to bring new energy to old places (an approach popularized by Richard Florida); “greening” the economy as a path out of poverty (as Majora Carter has worked to do in the South Bronx); embracing depopulation (like nearby Pittsburgh). Thrust into the national spotlight, Fetterman has become something of a folk hero, a Paul Bunyan of hipster urban revival, with his own Shepard Fairey block print — the Fetterman mien with the word “mayor” underneath. This, the poster suggests, is what a mayor should be.
The article is worth reading, as it describes both our hopes for a place like Braddock and the difficulties of turning it around. Ideas worth sharing, yes. And hard work and sacrifices worth making if ideas are to be transformed into reality.
Spending some time this morning reading about urban design in the Rust Belt. Articles and blog posts with titles like, “Rust Belt: The New Frontier”… In the course of this, I followed a link to the Heidelberg Project, the much-acclaimed public art installation, located in a Detroit ghetto, created by Tyree Guyton. I didn’t realize that Tyree has been at this for 25 years! I’m embedding the video below. I think the last 2 minutes are especially inspirational. The effect of this project on children is terrific. Power of the individual, power of imagination.
March 2 seems very early for the rash of deadly tornadoes that hit the Midwest and South yesterday. Having spent most of my life in the South, I know the fear inspired by the tornado sirens and feel the pain of those who lose everything in the blink of an eye. I used to comfort myself by saying that I did not know anyone who had experienced a tornado firsthand, thinking that meant that the probability of encountering one myself would be extremely low. That changed when I lived in Georgia and found myself comforting co-workers after their homes were damaged by a twister. Luckily, though, property damage was the extent of their difficulties. Still, too close for comfort.
When there are reports of tornadoes hitting several different states as there were yesterday, I find myself wanting to see a map. Where is Henryville, Indiana? And what parts of Alabama, Ohio, and Kentucky were hit? Having searched with no luck to find yesterday’s storm tracks mapped, I contacted a friend with the National Weather Service. I was told that such maps only become available after NWS survey teams complete the field verification of all potential tornado tracks, which can take several days, but that a preliminary map would be available on the Storm Prediction Center website. The site has interesting maps, like the ones below, and also a downloadable GIS shapefiles on the Severe Weather GIS page. As the nation responds to this new round of catastrophes and our sympathies turn to those in need, we can also appreciate the efforts to study and understand this destructive phenomena.