Ellen Dunham-Jones @ TEDxAtlanta

The author of Retrofitting Suburbia: Urban Design Solutions for Redesigning Suburbs (Wiley, 2009) talks about

Underperforming asphalt

A term from real estate development which refers to unused sq ft or acreage of parking lots that could be built up, that exists because the original suburbs have been leap frogged by multiple iterations. The solution is densification. Also, of note is that the term could just as interestingly refer to the non-performance with regards to porosity or water management of these large asphalt lots.

The logic of the Third Place

The desire of even citizens of the suburbs for non home non work spaces where they can recreate and socialize. Restaurants, bars, coffee shops or even parks. The sociological need of humans for places of ritual or congregation.

Transit as the big driver

The need to retrofit corridors for systemic effect. The cost of gas, time spent in commuting etc all which eventually leads to the development of county or regional mass transit networks.

Here she notes that all the above items retrofit the suburbs with an eye towards Densification.

The other approach is one of re-greening. This can include suburban gardening or a more scaled up rebooting or ecological restoration. This approach can actually serve as real estate driver, providing green space and also functioning as ecological infrastructures dealing with storm water or other urban infrastructural challenges.

Two easy examples of this are de-paving or daylighting, of either parking lots or previously channelized creeks and waterways.

All of the are typical of the first generation of approaches to suburban retrofitting though she argues.

The real potential lies in the second generation approaches that must be developed. These would focus on more systemic metropolitan scale retrofitting.

Finally, she cautions that while critics of these spaces raise concerns over astroturfed public squares or the fact that public space is in fact owned by private entities, one must note such retrofits nevertheless do serve to urbanize the community. She then ended with a picture of a citizens protest happening in one such astroturfed public/private square.

Raoul Vaneigem on Urbanism

His definition of urbanism;

Urbanism is the ideological gridding and control of individuals and society by an economic system that exploits man and Earth and transforms life into a commodity. The danger in the self-built housing movement that is growing today would be to pay more attention to saving money than to the poetry of a new style of life.

On how urban agriculture can contribute to a future  ecological urbanism;

By drawing inspiration from Alphonse Allais, by encouraging the countryside to infiltrate the city. By creating zones of organic farming, gardens, vegetable plots, and farms inside urban space. After all, there are so many bureaucratic and parasitical buildings that can’t wait to give way to fertile, pleasant land that is useful to all. Architects and squatters, build us some hanging gardens where we can go for walks, eat, and live!

And finally on the potential for resiliency and self-sufficient communities;

Natural resources belong to us, they are free, they must be made to serve the freedom of life. It will be up to the communities to secure their own energy and food independence so as to free themselves from the control of the multinationals and their state vassals everywhere. Claiming natural power for our use means reclaiming our own existence first. Only creativity will rid us of work.

From Hans Ulrich Obrist: In Conversation with Raoul Vaneigem in E-Flux (here)

H/T Arthur Magazine (here)

Rethinking urban policy and the “urban conference”

Two recent articles by Airoots. The first one The Urban Conference examines the interesting nexus of financiers, buildiers, politicos and academics that is the contemporary “urban conference”. Such meetings of the minds are where the contemporary city is often defined or at least imagined.

In the grand ‘Urban Conference’ intellectuals rub shoulders with builders who rub shoulders with financers who rub shoulders with politicians who rub shoulders – or are supposed to – with citizens at large. The attempt is to sell an idea and get everybody to buy it in the surest possible way, through intellectual argument, monitored by money.

The other piece Rethinking Urban Policy in India suggests that the key conceptual rethink is based in scale(s);

“we need to accept that mega-cities as self-sustaining universes are only one example of urbanization. Networks of cities, towns and villages can together also count as a form of urbanization.

Recent in New Left Review

Hung Ho-fung; “America’s Head Servant? The PRC’s Dilemma in the Global Crisis” Read (here)

Despite all the talk of China’s capacity to destroy the dollar’s reserve-currency status and construct a new global financial order, the PRC and its neighbours have few choices in the short term other than to sustain American economic dominance by extending more credit.

In what follows, I will trace the historical and social origins of the deepening dependence of China and East Asia on the consumer markets of the global North as the source of their growth, and on us financial vehicles as the store of value for their savings. I then assess the longer-term possibilities for ending this dependence, arguing that, to create a more autonomous economic order in Asia, China would have to transform an export-oriented growth model…into one driven by domestic consumption, through a large-scale redistribution of income to the rural-agricultural sector. This will not be possible, however, without breaking the coastal urban elite’s grip on power.

Tom Reifer; “Capital’s Cartographer: Giovanni Arrighi: 1937–2009” Read (here)

On Arrighi contributions to the study political geography Reifer writes;

Along with Immanuel Wallerstein and the late Terence Hopkins, Arrighi was one of the originators and foremost proponents of the world-systems analysis of European domination, global capitalism, world income inequalities and ‘development’. [2] The world-systems perspective itself—challenging the dominance of post-war modernization theory—came out of the movements of the 1960s and brought together a fruitful synthesis of Marxism, Third World radicalism and critical currents in social science, from the work of the French Annales geohistorians to that of the German historical school.

Reifer also suggests some obvious areas of further scholarship based on Arrighi’s work.

Though it has not been done to date, one can imagine teasing out a series of geohistorical linkages between Marx’s, Wallerstein’s, Braudel’s and Arrighi’s work on the ‘top level of world-trade’ with the work of Barrington Moore, Brenner and others on agricultural capitalism, relating these developments in an original synthesis. The idea here would be to demonstrate more fully—including through building on Wallerstein’s classic treatment of these issues in The Modern World-System and through a re-reading of both the ‘Brenner debate’ and the ‘non-debates’ of the 1970s—how capitalist agriculture, urbanization and what Arrighi calls a ‘capitalist system of statemaking and warmaking’ are all intimately entwined in the world-historical origins of capitalist development. [22]