a counterpoint to the New Urban Agenda

we have to think of housing as a verb—not as a commodity but as an activity.

Further we need to embrace structural change vs “trendy urbanist notions of placemaking and tactical urbanism and the importance of public space“.

via a 2016 interview between Sara Bissen and Robert Neuwirth discussing Habitat III.


Recently in Places

Back in January, Daniel Brock examined the “inside the system” propaganda side to the contemporary Chinese art boom.

Local and regional governments are spending lavishly to establish a new kind of public space in China, marked by a disorienting hybridization of Communist, nationalist, and capitalist symbols and functions that is, by turns, futuristic and nostalgic. Even the most pedestrian-hostile, neo-Corbusian developments include some officially-zoned walkable area, typically a shopping plaza, and here developers pay de facto in-kind kickbacks to officials in the form of sycophantic public monuments. Public spaces like parks are dotted with nationalistic art sponsored by flush municipal bureaus. The aim is to unify an ever-wealthier yet increasingly unequal society, as well as to exert the soft power of unelected authorities both Communist and capitalist.

Tang Yong, Wanyuan Defense Battle Monument, Wanyuan, 2012 [Manye Tian], and Feast — Still There, 2007 [Liu Yong].

Then in March, Frances Richard wrote about Gordon Matta-Clark and the Politics of Shared Space. As she explains

Taken in the aggregate, Matta-Clark’s verbal archive shows that his interest in and respect for oppositional politics never flagged. How, then, might the evidence for his questions and desires in the realm of SPACISM or SPACE IF/ICATION be laid out now? How might a conceptual politics of urban space be shown to link, in his art, with specific activist interests of his era? These questions can be addressed on two levels.

Gordon Matta-Clark, sketch for Arc de Triomphe for Workers, Sesto San Giovanni, 1975. [Estate of Gordon Matta-Clark]

Finally in April;

Garrett Dash Nelson re-published An Appalachian Trail: A Project in Regional Planning, as part of the ongoing series Future Archive. In this case, featuring a 1921 article published originally in the Journal of the American Institute of Architects, by Benton MacKaye. Nelson notes that MacKaye had a far more grand vision than simply the “Trail” itself. Which was in fact, just 1 of 4 elements in his “bolshevistic” plan.

thus conceived as one dimension of a wildly ambitious plan to redirect and reorganize the economic geography of the eastern United States. The trail might attract outdoor enthusiasts for an enjoyable hike in the woods, but the larger goal was to relocate large populations into cooperative, nucleated communities located along the length of the mountain range.

Proposed plan of the Appalachian Trail, presented by Benton MacKaye at the first Appalachian Trail Conference, in Washington, D.C., in 1925. [Appalachian Trail Conservancy]

Sam Bloch argues that Shade (the first article in a new series, Writing the City) is “an index of inequality, a requirement for public health“.

Further that the city needs to set goals, “focusing on the creation of shade itself. Real estate developers, who in a very practical sense drive the design of this city, have not been incentivized to experiment with more durably shady streetscapes, like sidewalk canopies or covered walkways on their side of the property line. And in the effort to cool down the overall temperature, nobody is really focused on shade disparities, and the need to provide shelter to those who need it most.”

Jim Enote and the A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center

Zuni maps draw deeply on shared experiences of place. They depict petroglyph carvings, images from prayers and songs, colorful stacks of pottery, arroyos and mesas. They are an opportunity for the Zuni to reclaim a deep understanding of a shared cultural tradition, rooted in ancestral lands, told again in a familiar language. These maps are critical to constructing a bridge between the traditional and modern worlds, connecting the old ways with the new.

Via Nat Geo

Late update: In 2019, Emergence Magazine published a deep-dive on Counter Mapping which profiled Jim Enote and his project. Feature has some amazing photos and videos accompanying it.

The Zuni maps have a memory, a particular truth. They convey a relationship to place grounded in ancestral knowledge and sustained presence on the land.

That such a relationship consistently fails to appear on modern maps has been the impetus for creating and sharing the Zuni maps

Meme-watch: AI Urbanism

Professor Benjamin Bratton examines the possibilities of Big Data urbanism and argues for a future wherein environments are not just data sources for programs of AI urbanism but cybernetic, synthetic users.

The garment being cut and sewn is not only for us to wear; the city also wears us…The lesson from the cuttlefish for how we should imagine a rich ecology of urban-scale AI is profound…I advocate that technologies that augment the capacities of exposed surfaces, whole organisms, or relations between them should extend deeply into the ecological cacophony…augmented reality for crows, and artificial intelligence for insects.

Via ‘The City Wear’s Us

September, 2018, in Places

Brent Sturlaugson onthe supply chains of architecture” and “networks of materials, energy, power, money“. To wit;

In describing some of the processes by which coal mined in Wyoming comes to supply a coal-fired power plant in Georgia, which in turn provides power to a nearby plywood manufacturer, I have sketched only the most basic components of the supply chains of a single resource and single commodity. And likewise, in tracing how the profits from energy generation and product manufacturing can then be deployed to influence electoral politics, which in turn affect our national policies and personal lives, I’ve offered but a glimpse

Shannon Mattern (as part of her self-described “urban data and mediated spaces” beat) examines “the hardening of American borders and the spread of new technologies of recognition and identification that are changing the way we appear to one another.” Particularly “In Trump’s America“.

Ultimately, laying out “a final object lesson, which proposes a new way of responding to the border, an embodied transnationalism“.

re: wijkwandelingen

Recently the local Denver YIMBY Facebook group was discussing a piece published over at Governing which explored ‘When Citizen Engagement Becomes Too Much‘. Specifically, the pros/cons of technocratic vs participatory forms governance through the example of Austin’s CodeNext process.

My response included the below;

Further, while I do believe in the value of technocratic expertise, I would disagree that we need less citizen participation/feedback in governing. If anything more. For instance things like participatory budgeting, which I have heard some council-members speak favorably of. I’ve also attended meetings where tabletop games or insta-polling were used and the consensus of the room was that these were very useful, rather than officials being able to merely check the box via monologue heavy community “listening sessions”.

Or how about even more fine-grained, neighborhood scale approaches like wijkwandelingen?