You may have encountered Sabado Gigante while flipping channels on a Saturday night. For beginners: Sabado Gigante is the longest running show in TV history. It is broadcast live by Univision from its studios in Miami, with a signal reaching every television set in the US and across 42 countries in the Americas. The show originally began in Chile in 1962 under the direction of Don Francisco - a pseudonym for the show’s famous host, Mario Kruetzberger. Since then, its broadcast has appeared non-stop every Saturday. Today, it reaches an estimated 100 million people across the western hemisphere.
Unidos Por Haiti, started with a blast from the past: Gloria Estefan was joined by a chorus composed of members from local Haitian-American churches in song. She was followed by performances from the Latin American Farandula - Celebrities: Enrique Iglesias, Juanes, Shakira, and Daddy Yankee among many others. Besides the entertainment talent, the five-hour broadcast included interviews with survivors, Spanish-speaking Haitians in the audience and live broadcasts from Los Angeles and New York.
At several points during the broadcast, political figures reached out to Tele-videntes - TV watchers - for support and to report on rescue operations. Such was the case of Mexican president Felipe Calderon, who in an international presidential address, pleaded to Mexican residents in the US for donations, reminding them of the 1985 Mexico City earthquake. He was followed by US Senator Bob Menendez, who spoke about the recently adopted Temporary Protected Status for Haitians living in the US. And later on, Jose Miguel Insulza, Secretary General of the Organization of American States, provided information on aid and rescue operations under USAID.
Sabado Gigante has been criticized for its mixture of cheese, cliché and political incorrectness. The subordinate portrayal of Haitians and the Haitian-american community during the telecast raises valid questions. But the value of this Telethon may be lost in translation. For viewers in cities throughout the western hemisphere, Sabado Gigante is a weekend family ritual and this effort consisted on winning hearts and pockets. Unlike the demure and solemn English-speaking telethons aired in several mainstream stations last week, Don Francisco kept the mood light, fast, entertaining, but very serious. He mixed the sacred and the profane; the contingency of emergency with the swiftness of laughter. How did he do this through television?
As it turns out, in Sabado Gigante we may be watching an "authentic" Latin American hybrid characterized by some of the contradictions that make up this complex identity. The show has elements of the melodrama in Tele-novelas and semblances to performances in Carnival. In the Telenovela emotional excess and drama shape narrative caricatures of everyday life. In the Carnaval, sorrow and celebration, mockery and oppression become mass rituals in public space.
While both Republicans and Democrats speak about America's dysfunctional immigration policies and the desperate need for immigration reform, the primary consensus between both political parties focuses on the need for tougher enforcement. The focus here is to criminalize undocumented immigrants, deporting them and preventing future low-wage immigrants from entering this country.
Where's the humane discourse in this political debate? Are we not talking about human beings with ambitions and dreams to better themselves and their families? Are we not talking about vulnerable individuals who sacrifice so much with their bodies and labor power so that Americans can live more comfortable lives?
Instead of having a civil conversation based on justice, dignity and respect, too many elected officials and Americans talk about immigrants like extraterrestrial invaders who come to this country to threaten the so-called American way of life.
This anti-immigrant hysteria usually escalates in times of economic and political crisis, when some Americans seek out scapegoats.
During the Great Depression, the U.S. government engaged in a vicious campaign to deport Mexican immigrants. In 1954, the anti-immigrant agenda reached a climax with "Operation Wetback," when the government deported hundreds of thousands of Mexican immigrants, including U.S. citizens of Mexican descent.
For those of us whose blood-brain barrier is incapable of weeding out the urban, there are two intertwined stories about the largest lake in California which are worth considering. The first is about real estate speculation, about money and land and water, about classic Southern California boosterism and the creation of a second-home and retirement version of California City. In the 1950's, a half-century following it's "accidental" creation by a 1905 canal explosion which sent the entire flow of the Colorado River into the Salton Sink for a year and a half - dykes which themselves were party of the effort to make the Imperial Valley desert "bloom" - real estate developers imagined places like Salton City were destined to be the next great tourist destination, a hybrid of Palm Spring and the French Riviera. An entire city of 25,000 plus was platted, subdivided, sewered and (partially) sold.
Some bought, some didn't. Some built, others waited. Some dreamt, others doubted. But the reality of a lake that should never been caught up with the sea, as a sink that drained agricultural waste while simultaneously becoming one of the richest fish and fowl sites on the continent began to see massive die-off's, including more 7 million fish at one time in 1999. The result is the a landscape what never was, interspersed with the occasional testimony to the human desire for a castle of one's own. These days, the real estate of Salton Sea has largely been reduced in pecuniary value to naught.
Yet amidst the abandonment and devaluation that we Californians are learning about in full frontal fashion comes another story, one more ironic but perhaps equally as sad. As the fish die-offs and bird deaths began to take their toll not only on real estate values but on the environmental future of this accidental lake, some began clamoring to save the lake from extinction. This outcry came not only from the areas small population or from local developers, but from state agencies and environmentalists. but why would environmentalists want to save a lake that never should have been, a product of dams and diversions and agribusiness ambition?
As it turns out, this grand folly in the desert had filled a void created by an even greater folly on the coast. Over the past century, development had slowly paved over 90% of the natural wetlands of coastal California, forcing bird migration inland to this strange new lake that was full of tilapia and other tasty morsels. In an urbanization two-step not too different from that faced by many poor communities around the world, we must now fight to save a place that never should have been because their original homeland is now fully occupied by someone else.
The project is particularly noteworthy for its successful integration of various building technologies that often stand in isolation. The glass curtain wall is blended with photovoltaic cells, which is also designed in concert with the LED display screen. The heightened complexity of this construction leads to a responsiveness in the building fabric that seeks to engage the wider community.
This leads to questioning the messages that such responsive facades might send. Who is the programmer and what will they communicate if actual urban surfaces become both receivers and senders of energy? As the MIT SENSEable City Lab and the decode exhibit at the V&A Museum also explore, such technology has the potential to position the reader as the momentary author, and to make the informed the proactive informer. Such possible transformations move beyond communicating building/urban data or displaying art installations to a fleeting audience, instead hinting at the reality of a responsive city that has the potential for self-correcting measures.
Imagine if the technologies that enable mass-scale digital art became as commonplace as the paint brush or wads of papier-mache - instead of art mimicking life, it could well be the case of the concrete and tangible aspiring to the liberties and improbabilities of the virtual world. In one example, the folks at urbanscreen provide a glimpse of what digital art can do to transform buildings on the fly through projection technologies:
To take the idea train a little further, imagine what mass-scale digital art could do transform difficult, bleak, poorly designed, urban spaces. Not too long ago, la crise des banlieues, a meme resurfacing as a result of the French riots in 1995, compelled us to ponder over the role of architecture and design in contributing to unhappiness and dissent in urban/suburban life. Could mass-scale digital art such as these projections play a larger role to retroactively alter and fix where the concrete world failed? (Or is this purely naivete, without the completeness of systemic changes that address deep-seated sociopolitical and economic issues that often lie at the heart of the matter?)
Credits: Videos embedded from Current TV and urbanscreen.com, respectively.
This is the fourth post in a series of visual studies on public parks in Moscow. The current focus is urban development under Stalin, between 1928 and 1953. As with the previous posts, this will keep evolving as I gather more information.
Portrait of Stalin by M. S. Napplebaum, 1924. Stalin's house in Moscow, 1932.
Stalin maneuvered his way into power after the death of Lenin, bringing an end to state-sanctioned debate among modernists on the future of the socialist city. A series of Five Year Plans accelerated urbanization and industrialization throughout the country. Between 1926 and 1955, the urban population of the Soviet Union grew from 26.3 million to 86.3 million (or from 18 to nearly 50 percent of the total population), creating an urgent need for investment in housing and infrastructure.
In 1987 Quito was also hit by an earthquake. It was not as bloody, but it is interesting to see that it mobilized forces to make the city better than it was before. A good example is the restoration of the city centre after the earthquake. Some years before, in 1978, Quito had been chosen by the UNESCO first urban site to become World Heritage (together with Krakow). Quito was not only chosen because it is the largest, best preserved historical centre in South America. It was due to the efforts made by the local government in preserving its heritage through special regulations and urban planning, sensitizing the citizens and allocating budget for its improvement. After the earthquake, with support from international development agencies, Quito made an extraordinary effort in reconstructing itself to become a stronger, better ruled city centre.
Today it is a show of magnificent art and architecture, attracting tourists from all over Ecuador and the world, and keeping its original local character. While old churches and government buildings remain in its domination on the urban and social landscape, those heritage buildings that had gone derelict have been transformed into museums and education and cultural centres.
It is the time for Haitians and the international community to transform the country into a better, stronger place than it was before the earthquake.
Credits: Images of Quito's historical centre from www.quito.com.ec and www.elcomercio.com.
Approved in 1859, the concept and subsequent implementation of l’Eixample, the characteristic design pattern to expand the city from its compact historic centre, shifted Barcelona into the most significant urbanistic period in the city in the past two centuries. The layout uses a basic grid of streets and a territorial system of avenues, creating octagonal blocks with inner courtyards under which lay a complex transport and service network, creating in essence a structure that has unified Barcelona’s urban territory and development. The exhibition looks at the evolution of this urban transformation through the decades into a detailed examination of present-day reality, a place where 300,000 currently live and 260,000 work.
This extensive exhibit has over 200 plans, models, statistics, audiovisuals and installations that aim to give a multi-dimensional understanding of how l’Eixample functions, including a tour through similar urbanistic models around the world. If you can’t make it to Barcelona to see the exhibit, it is definitely worthwhile to check out the on-line photo exhibit or the virtual tour.
Credits: Images from the author.
As is the tradition in all towns and cities across Spain, this week it is Palma de Mallorca’s turn to celebrate its patron saint, Saint Sebastian. While these festivals traditionally had religious origins – and indeed patron saints are chosen based on their strong Christian faith in belief and action as protectors of places or people – today they are a time when Town Halls or City Councils organise a week of activities, from art exhibitions, sports and youth activities and parades to outdoor music and dance festivals lasting late into the night.
The latter, known as a revetla in Catalan, took place last night in Palma. Wandering around the city’s historic centre, it was amazing to see the complete transformation of public space and street life, absolutely teaming with people, including extended families with small children running about, when usually most nights of the week the streets are empty. As all the streets were closed to cars, taken over by people, the city pulsated with music, smells, life and laughter.
The Sant Sebastià tradition in Palma for this evening's festivities includes getting together with groups of friends or family and enjoying a torrada (barbeque) in the street, bringing your own sausages or meats to grill, eaten with bread and washed down wine, beer or mixed drinks. There are also bonfires, harking back to pagan traditions, and stages in ten of the cities plaza’s with live music playing until 3.30 in the morning.
What struck me as most important about this festival was the sense of being in the city and sharing the streets with others, the sense of life, energy and movement and especially civic life and participation. The question that comes to mind is how this sort of engagement and involvement other aspects of creating and living in the city can be mobilised outside of the festivals.
Credits: All images from the author.
Recent headlines have captivated governments and northern communities around the Arctic Ocean as word of ongoing military surveillance missions has rekindled images from a Cold War pastime. Increasingly, it seems as though the world’s northern nations have re-entered into an era of resounding tension, exercising tools of soft power in order to stake their respective claim to the north. This comes at a time when an ever-growing interest in arctic resources has emerged as a focal point for politicians, oil-barons, and development financiers. The Arctic itself has become the latest victim in the growing dialogue on ‘contested space’.
Amidst a relatively uncertain era of Canadian politics, the national response has been to increase the emphasis on northern development, both economic and ‘social’. But what exactly does this type of development entail? What are the repercussions?
Canada has struggled with northern communities (and cities) throughout its history. Although fur-trading posts in the north formed the backbone of the early Hudson’s Bay Company, North America’s oldest commercial corporation, this later fell to greater economic development and prosperity in the south. As progressive urban development devoured the fertile fringe along the southern part of the country, deep economic and cultural bonds began to transverse the non-militarized border with America. Development was concentrated throughout this more livable region of Canada, and the “true north” remained largely empty, yet arguably “strong and free”.
Canada’s North has been neglected for several reasons, perhaps the most obvious being its relatively hostile climate. For many Canadians, a trip to the far north would be nothing short of an unenviable task. I for one have only arrived in the north for the first time after visiting nearly every other continent on the planet. As I write this piece from Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, the average January low in Canada’s largest northern city sits at a balmy -24°F, with the record low of -60°F. At 62°N however, Yellowknife is still some 250mi (400km) south of the Arctic Circle – a far cry from a truly northern urban centre.
Yet Canada’s sore spot on the environmentalist’s checklist has provided incentives for a great deal of investment above the current northerly urban boundary. With some of the world’s largest reserves of oil and natural gas, the region has emerged as a lucrative opportunity for both domestic and foreign investment. However, this same resource-based prospect that has been embraced by Canada’s Conservative Government has landed the country in a violent storm of controversy elsewhere.
Amidst this discussion of sovereignty, development and growth northward sit some of Canada’s most historic and perhaps neglected ethnic communities. The First Nations and Inuit populations of Canada have long been a part of conversations in ‘contested space’. Initially consulted for their knowledge and know-how of northern living, the First Peoples of Canada were bribed out of their property with western vices and driven nearly to self-destruction. Hundreds of years and several generations later, these communities continue to struggle with alcoholism, drug abuse and domestic violence. Many communities, often consisting of a few houses, a general store and a local ice hockey rink, are situated in isolated regions where surface travel is available only during the winter, as rivers and lakes freeze to make way for ice roads. To this day, access in and out of these communities during the summer months is limited to privately chartered light aircraft.
But this is now beginning to change. As the concerns of sovereignty begin to loom over Canada's North, so do the challenges of trying to populate and urbanize the existing remote villages. In 2010, many of these communities will taste ‘western food’ for the first time, as traditional hunting and fishing looses ground to flown-in frozen TV dinners and processed cheese from the south. But is this truly the idea of protecting Canada’s sovereignty? Does a flown-in Bucket of KFC at a cost of $44.00 translate into a sustainable sovereign future? Surely the associated costs with the loss of environmental integrity and national heritage must be given some weight in this equation.
It seems as though the prospect of populating, urbanizing and developing the north is an uphill battle, as is protecting Canada’s sovereignty. One might think, however, that subsidizing Aboriginal and Inuit communities into an unforgiving and relentless cycle of misery is not the greatest step forward, but rather a form of cold and heartless urbanism.
How might Canada effectively exercise its soft power in the race for control of the north? Does the answer truly lie in developing and urbanizing one of the most unforgiving climates on the planet? Perhaps the answer is buried far beneath in the ice.
Credits: Image of Fort Smith airport, water tower, High Level arena by George Carothers. Image of Yellowknife from Agent Magenta. Image of Inuit (1854) is Public Domain.
Over the couple of years that I worked with the Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centres (SPARC), an Indian NGO supporting urban poor communities to access shelter and sanitation, I took dozens of journalists on visits to informal settlements. Although Mumbai has enough slums to go around, virtually all of them wanted to go to Dharavi — in the spotlight because it is enormous, the subject of a controversial redevelopment plan and the site of scenes from Slumdog Millionaire.
One afternoon, I took a Swiss journalist to interview a small business owner and migrant laborers who manufacture belts and shoes for export to Great Britain, Sweden and other countries in Europe. She ended up contacting the European retailers, who in turn threatened to cut off business because they were worried about unfavorable publicity on working conditions. Her action endangered not only the livelihoods of dozens of people, but also the reputation of SPARC and its grassroots partners, who work in communities for years and even decades in part to build up trust for collective action.
Some journalism is overtly harmful to marginal populations, like these clearly biased Hindustan Times pieces on infrastructural improvements and Dharavi’s redevelopment. In the case above, the journalist may have seen herself as a neutral reporter doing due diligence or reporting all sides of the story. Maybe she even thought she was doing a service by bringing attention to the work of urban poor citizens. Despite her benign or perhaps laudable intentions, her faux pas reveals a disconnect between her reality and the interests of her interview subjects and the extent to which the media participates in events rather than reports on them neutrally.
Even if journalists steer clear of flagrant editorializing, they craft perceptions by determining what constitutes news, which angle to adopt and who is a legitimate source. As summarized in Shanto Iyengar and Donald R. Kinder’s authoritative 1987 study, media coverage has powerful agenda-setting and priming effects. By selecting which stories to cover and drawing attention to some aspects of the story over others, press outlets have tremendous freedom in deciding which issues receive attention and how we think about them. Usually, journalists are looking for sound bites, write with an upper class and/or Western audience in mind and consider official or “expert” viewpoints as most noteworthy. In the case of stories on the urban poor, journalists are virtually always “outsiders,” a distance compounded in the case of foreign media.
Journalists also influence events on the ground. Although this may be sometimes be detrimental, as in the case I described, it can also be profoundly positive. SPARC, for example, has worked with perceptive, dedicated reporters willing to look beneath the surface as a way to generate global attention to the pitfalls of the Dharavi Redevelopment Project. In a case where the NGO was dealing with vastly more people, territory and powerful political and economic interests, this was a critical advocacy tool.
However, out-of-touch reporters endanger the potential of information as an instrument for change by alienating poor populations, who feel they are the subject of voyeurism, are endangering themselves or that reports never benefit them.
A promising new project may help ensure that poor or otherwise disadvantaged urban populations have more control over the media spotlight. CIVICUS and the Inter Press Service (IPS) are developing a database of contacts at civil society organizations in a wide variety of fields and regions to facilitate the relationship between these groups and the media.
The Inter Press Service’s mission of “giving a voice to the voiceless” may seem too loaded for palates tied to journalists’ sacrosanct objectivity. But journalism is never a neutral affair. By acknowledging its power and their role in it, journalists can more responsibly and effectively wield the tools at their disposal.
Credits: Images of Dharavi by Katia Savchuk.
Credits: Image by Art Shanty Projects.
The natural disaster that befell Haiti lead me to take another look at Jared Diamond What’s Your Consumption Factor?, in the New York Times:
People in the third world are aware of this difference in per capita consumption, although most of them couldn’t specify that it’s by a factor of 32. When they believe their chances of catching up to be hopeless, they sometimes get frustrated and angry, and some become terrorists, or tolerate or support terrorists. Since Sept. 11, 2001, it has become clear that the oceans that once protected the United States no longer do so. There will be more terrorist attacks against us and Europe, and perhaps against Japan and Australia, as long as that factorial difference of 32 in consumption rates persists.While the the above can hardly be ascribed to the same chthonic rage that hit Haiti, and may not be deemed natural — if we take heed to Goethe, The unnatural, that too is natural.
Credits: Image by Oliver Munday from New York Times.
Credits: Images from the Huffington Post.
"Residents interviewed through the city said that the cries that they heard emanating from many collapsed buildings in the initial hours after the quake had begun to soften, if not quiet completely." New York Times (Jan 15, 2010)
Earthquake response teams in Port-au-Prince explain that there is a 72-hour period in which people trapped under collapsed buildings can be rescued alive. We're now at 67 hours. While there are still people under the rubble and homeless children searching for their families in the streets, it may be too soon to reflect upon the horrible aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti. However, after donating as much as we can and still feeling helpless at the sight of the images in the news, this may be the best time.
Credits: Architecture for Humanity