Featured Artist: JR





"My work relates strongly to architecture, but in a paradoxical way, because I go to places with interesting architecture, but I’m there to highlight people. I use architecture as my canvas, while setting up a dialogue with the city in areas where walls are not covered with advertisements. This allows me to get closer to the people. I get into people’s lives in fact, not by way of politics or advertising, but by way of art and activism.”

The quote above of the photographer, artist and activist JR is from the February/March issue of Mark Magazine. JR has been pasting his large-scale black and white portraits on the walls of the cities around the world for five years now. Recently he was awarded with the prestigious TED Prize. But it was in Mark that I first came across his work, and I became truly fascinated by this 27-year old Frenchman’s vision.

His full name is a well-kept secret, albeit his images are widely acknowledged. He began his work in Paris, where he happened to stumble upon a discarded camera in the subway. Interested in taking art out of the traditional museum setting, he posted portraits of the suburban "thugs" on buildings in the bourgeois districts of Paris. The illegal project ended with the Paris City Hall wrapping its building with JR’s photos.

In 2007, he did “Face 2 Face”–posting huge portraits of Israelis and Palestinians, on city walls, and on the two sides of the separation wall. The year after he continued with “Women”, a project with the aim of underlining the dignity of women who are often the targets of conflict. The images are posted on the facades, roofs and bridges in Africa, Brazil, India and Cambodia. Currently, he’s working on two new projects: “Wrinkles of the City,” that deals with the memory of the city and “Unframed” which reinterprets famous photos from the archives of museums.

His aim is to raise questions, and he certainly does well in achieving this goal. In the rapidly growing cities of today, there are plenty of development projects that seem to be designed without inhabitants in mind. In this context JR’s images become an important reminder that it is the people that makes the city, they are its heart.

This is part of a collection of featured artists who relate in different ways to cities.

Credits: Image of
Wrinkles of the City Project, Shanghai 2010; Image of Inside Out in Tunisia, Pasting on the ex house of the Ben Ali party; Image of 28 Millimeters : Women Are Heroes. Paris, Louis-Philippe Bridge 2009; Image of roofs in Kibera, Kenya, all from JR.

Debating the Future of Redevelopment Agencies

When California Governor Jerry Brown proposed in January to eliminate all of the state's 425 redevelopment agencies, he set off vigorous debates about the value of these entities, originally created to direct property tax revenues toward fighting urban blight. Earlier this month, Fred Blackwell of the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency and Karen Chapple, associate professor in UC Berkeley's planning department, participated in a public debate on "The Future of Redevelopment," part of a series of debates sponsored by the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) and The Bay Citizen.


Credits: Video of debate from SPUR.

On View: Project Cabrini Green


The last building of the infamous Cabrini Green complex is set to be demolished this coming Wednesday. Starting tomorrow, between 7pm to 1am, all 134 units of the 1230 N. Burling building will be lit up with blinking LED lights timed to the beats of slam poetry written by community youths and SAIC students. The project is conceived and developed by artist Jan Tichy and his partner Efrat Appel, a social worker. Together they held workshops that generated the 134 pieces of poetry that were translated into lights. These poetry gave a forum for youth of the community to express themselves on their experience with the issues surrounding the projects itself and how the eviction was being handled. As the 4-week demolition progressed, each light will be erased together with the rest of the building.

Audio of the poetry performances, live web feed of the public art can be views on the project's website. Additional live footage and printed text can be viewed at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

Credits: Image of 1230 N. Burling St. from cabrinigreen.com.

Urban Bees



















Urban beekeeper at Paris Opera House

With the world decline of honeybee population, an unexpected habitat is booming: the urban bee. Cities around the world --like London, Paris, Tokyo, New York City, and San Francisco--are becoming the home of urban beekeepers. Ironically, by some measures, urban apiaries are doing better than their rural couterparts. In many urban areas pesticides have been banned, making it easier for bees to survive. The diversity of flowers found in city gardens, parks, roof terraces, and balconies, offer a more varied and constant (albeit smaller) nectar source that than the monoculture flower crops typically found in rural areas.

In Europe, the practice of urban beekeeping has a longer history. In Paris, which is becoming "the queen of the urban apiary world", beekeeping goes back more than a century. Now apiaries are spread across the city in rooftop gardens of apartment buildings, balconies, and important institutions such as the Paris Opera House and the Grand Palais.

In North America, urban beekeping is rapidly growing in cities like Toronto, Vancouver, San Francisco and Chicago. New York City legalized beekeeping last year (although people were practicing it clandestinely for several years). As the fear of honey bees gives way to sustainable ecological ideas, more cities are legalizing the practice.





















Urban beekeeper at Brooklyn rooftop

In the worlds most densly populated cities, it is difficult to imagine urban beekeeping is even possible. In concrete jungles like Hong Kong, where parks and gardens are limited and the roof tops are mostly underused a nascent beekeeping society is found. Last year HK Honey, an organization of beekeepers and designers started to extend the practice throughout the city. Besides promoting the use of local honey, HK Honey designs honey and wax related products and teaches the practice of urban beekeeping with the goal of extending it throughout the city.

HK HONEY INTRO from Sean Mattison on Vimeo.



Credits: Image of Paris Opera House bees from www.thehoneygatherers.com. Image of Brooklyn rooftop bees from www.zimbio.com. Video of HK Honey Intro from vimeo.

Thinkers of Space in Their Working Spaces


Walter Benjamin, perhaps searching fragments in archives for “Some Motifs on Beadelaire
at the Bibliotheque National de France, Paris.

This post was inspired by an image of Walter Benjamin absorbed in his work at the Bibliotheque Nationale de France in Paris. I thought, wouldn’t it be fun to collect images from the web and make a gallery showing thinkers of space in their working spaces.

Martin Heidegger, perhaps doing a final review of Building Dwelling Thinking in his office.

As it turned out, the search wasn’t easy. While images pertaining to old and new authors whose writings on cities influence contemporary urban debates clutter virtual space, they mostly comprise face shots, conference photos, or simply the front cover of their emblematic publications.

Francois Baudrillard, perhaps taking break after writing The Beaubourg Effect.

Benjamin’s photograph is a peculiar case in comparison to the others I found. The selection I came up with, as any type of selection, leaves questions in regards to what it shows and what it doesn’t. They lead me to consider the staging of such photographs, the perspectives from which they are taken and the control the writers may impose on their compositions.

Richard Sennett, perhaps pondering identity in his working space.

Do these representations still mean anything in today’s diversified paperless digital age? Against the prognostication of the end of the library, the writer and her/his books may become an obsolete form of portrait in this century. With it, the aura of authority, power, access to information and knowledge that these images represent may turn to different types of profiles or content on the web. What are today’s portraits of thinkers of space in their thinking spaces?

Michel Foucault in his office, perhaps submerged in Panopticism.

Credits: Image of Benjamin, by Gisele Freund, Heiddeger by Pillippe Lacou-Labarthe, Image of Sennet by the NYT, Image of Baudrillard by J. Lane, Image of Foucault from Portail Michel Foucault.

The Diversity Paradox

New Orleans is one of my favorite cities, one of the few places in America wise enough to realize that the ability to stroll down the street with a cold beer on a steamy hot day while music pours out of every nook and cranny is deeply civilized. Its beauty and brutality have been well chronicled - a cultural icon where you can witness amazing hospitality and vicious inequality on the same block. Perhaps it is fitting that a recent trip to the Crescent City spurred a post that has been long in the making.


Visitors to downtown and the French Quarter have two major options for evening entertainment, neighborhood style - the mayhem of Bourbon street, a constant blare of karaoke, top 40, hurricane-soaked revelers and strip clubs, or the smorgasbord of world class music that is Frenchmen Street, just a half-mile away in the neighboring Marigny. Bourbon Street is trashy, loud, and cheesy, and for all that it is an icon, it is fairly generic. One can find the same music and same booze and same idea in Cabo or Daytona, although perhaps without the beads. Frenchmen on the other hand has brass bands in the street, Marsalises and a steady supply of other local talent in the clubs, homemade jerk chicken and bbq in the food carts, and even fire dancers (the neo-punk burner culture is alive and well in NOLA).


If it is not obvious, I am partial to Frenchmen, and all of the Frenchmen Streets everywhere - I am more Mission than North Beach, East Village than Times Square, Hampden than Inner Harbor. But if you want to see true diversity, black and white, working class and business class, young and old, you have to go to Bourbon Street. In five minutes one can see the stark difference in who hangs out in each place.


This is one of the many paradoxes of the gentrification generation - the "coolest" places in our cities, the most "authentic", tend to be white and middle class, while the "cheesiest" and most touristy are far more diverse. This line extends indoors - malls and corporate eateries like TGI Fridays and Applebees are far more racially integrated than the funky bourgeois spaces which hipsters like me love. As hipsters, the most self-aware generation ever, with generally pro-integrationist politics, we are acutely aware of this fact, and I would argue it is at the root of some of our collective ennui.


This is not always the case - many big dance clubs fly in the face of the paradox, and there are pockets of integrated coolness everywhere. In New Orleans, there are also the second lines, the most incredible social event I know, a parade of music and revelry and city living both hip and hypercolorful in the human sense. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that they are by and for the mostly black communities in New Orleans, and the rest of us are welcome to participate. Meanwhile, folks like me struggle to figure out how to make the places we love both reflective of the cities we live in and of the lives we want to live.

Credits: Images of NOLA by Alex Schafran.

Reading the Spectrum of the Global Highrise




The new interactive, web documentary by Canadian filmmaker Katerina Cizek takes the typology of the concrete highrise residential building along the urban periphery, and pursues it in 13 cities around the world.  While the similarities and mirrored monotony of this typology are immediately evident, this is contrasted with the vibrant and delicately personal stories of those that dwell within the buildings, carving out their unique spaces of existence despite their isolation.  Initiated with the idea that "documentary itself can drive or participate in social change rather than just documenting it", the web-based nature of the film works as a collage of perspectives, allowing anyone to become the editor of their own experience in sifting through the project.  In addition to allowing widespread, free access to the film, the web documentary encourages participation in the form of submitted photographs and stories from your own highrise unit, which continuously render new tones of complexity to the project.

As cities continue to expand and urban migration picks up pace, vertical density has become a paramount issue of consideration and critique for architects and planners in the twenty-first century.  With housing shortages pushing the urgent need for highrise residential buildings, they are often designed without sufficient consideration for the nuanced livelihoods and aspirations of their inhabitants.  Katerina Cizek's documentary is a timely reminder that we separate the spatial from the social at our peril. The project wisely ignores a potential division of Global North and Global South, instead sampling stories from residents of diverse cities united by the highrise typology that continues to function as housing for urbanites across the socioeconomic spectrum, encapsulating their individual stories and experiences and offering a chance to take this new blueprint of information as a designer's brief for the next concrete highrise.  As we're lifted from street level to the Nth floor, is it possible that we are less engaged in our cities and becoming mere witnesses of the growing urban spectacle, or does this typology nurture a constructive global kinship of urban living? 



Credits: Image of 'Out My Window' from the film's website. Videos of 'Highrise: Out My Window' and 'Highrise' trailers by Katerina Cizek via the National Film Board of Canada.

Making Development Planning and Management Effective

National and local governments, NGO's and international development actors most often apply high doses of good intentions and highly sophisticated theoretical discourses to their development initiatives. It is true that much of their leaders and staff might not be exemplarily committed to the cause they are working for. We know that many concentrate their efforts in their personal interests and use their positions for that purpose. Those are not the people I will dedicate this post to. Today I will write about those who are truly commited, or at least about those who are willing to give priority to the quality of their work (I'm excluding those who just do it for the sake of their personal career, who will hardly do any good to anyone else but themselves). This post is thus mainly about effectiveness, in other words, about the capacity of well intended actions to achieve their objectives. This also applies to urban researchers, planners and managers.


Since the early 1970's, the work of national and local governments, NGO's and international development actors accross the World have been gradually adopting a methodology for project planning and management based on goals or results. The most used name for this methodology is the Logical Framework Approach (LFA). This goals-oriented approach might seem obvious, but once inside large and complex programmes and organizations, it is very easy to lose sight of expected results and objectives and end up dispersing activities without a clear purpose. This is still today very common, and in many organizations it is cultural, despite that almost every one of them plan their projects using the LFA or similar tools. Isolated activities might have praiseworthy intentions and profound theories underneath, but they rarely solve complex developemental problems alone, specially if what we want is to help people come out of poverty in the long run. There is one simple reason behind: poverty is a multidimensional reality closely linked to governance issues and addressing it requires a set of articulated actions related to different disciplines that depend on each other to generate the desired effect. Acting separately without considering how they relate to eachother in their contribution to the expected results and objectives is a path to failure. And that is what has been happening in many development projects and programmes around the world.


In large and complex programmes and organizations, goals-oriented planning and management is a difficult and demanding task that requires propper training and/or experience. That is particularly so where it requires changes in the organization's culture, which is the case for most government structures in the developing world, specially in small and medium size cities. Part of the change in management culture required in complex development projects/programmes lies in that LFA implies multidisciplinary and interorganizational work, it implies discipline in regards to regular planning and monitoring exercises that require critical reflection and horizontal team management (as opposed to hierarchical). Another important consideration about LFA and similar tools is that it consists of an aid to thinking rather than a rigid procedure. LFA helps unite and structure every team member's capacities, critical views and creativity towards the predefined goals and objectives.
The European Commission published in 2004 a very useful project planning and management guide book in which LFA is very well explained (see chapter 5).

Credits: Image from www.t2achieve.com. Image of a typical LogFrame matrix from the European Commission.

Featured Quote: Jeremy Németh and Stephan Schmidt on Private Management of Public Space



"... reliance on the private sector to supply publicly accessible spaces often results in the creation of vibrant but frenetic and highly programmed 'festival' spaces in which designers employ an array of techniques, tools, and activities to manipulate and program the use of such spaces. ... They often fail to serve some of the other important goals we ask public spaces to fulfill, such as respite from the hustle and bustle of life in a dense, urban environment. This increased emphasis on programming threatens the ability to create and maintain simple spaces that serve as welcoming, inclusive retreats."

Jeremy Németh and Stephan Schmidt, from "The Privatization of Public Space: Modeling and Measuring Publicness," in Environment and Planning B, 2011.

See also "Space, Place and the City: Emerging Research on Public Space Design and Planning," introduction to a themed issue on "The Production of Public Space" in the Journal of Urban Design, 2010.

This is part of a collection of quotes related to cities. They don't necessarily reflect our views, just topics of interest. Please feel welcome to add others.

Credits: Photo of inflatable arches from made-in-china.com.

The Narrative of Engagement

Just as other professionals and organizations, architects, design firms and NGOs retell their own stories again and again. I find these narratives interesting as they reveal the nature and aims of these actors. In recent years, the past has become more important in their descriptions. Commitments and visions are probably predicted to appear more trustworthy if presented as parts of a long process.

Writing an article for the Swedish Review of Architecture I lately had the chance to study the narrative of the contemporary movement of socially engaged architects. What surprised me was that no real emphasis was put on the past. After presenting some praised examples of recent projects I wrote that ”well composed buildings, designed in dialog with clients in need is nothing new.” Then, I looked for historical examples in the the two new books I was reviewing: MoMa’s Small Scale, Big Change and The Power of Pro Bono from Public Architecture.

To my surprise, it turned out that only Hassan Fathy's village of New Gourna (1945-47) was mentioned. In Fathy's ideas of a low-cost architecture, sustainable building techniques, participatory processes and respect for the Egyptian local building traditions I could trace the ambitions of the engaged architectural community of today, even though this particular project in many ways became a failure.

I know other parts of the movement have been trying harder to map its history. One example is Kate Stohr’s chapter ”100 Years of Humanitarian Design” in Design Like You Give a Damn from Architecture for Humanity. Still I cannot help wondering why the most recent publications don't pay more attention to historical traces. Are there really too few good examples from the past? Or are the authors simply trying to brand the movement as something new? In any case, the absence of history is also a narrative to ponder.

Credits: Image of New Gourna from publishing.cdlib.org.

Sources: Small Scale, Big Change: New Architectures of Social Engagement, Andres Lepik (ed.) and Moma, New York 2010; The Power of Pro Bono: 40 Stories about Design for the Public Good by Architects and Their Clients, John Cary (ed.) and Public Architecture, New York 2010; Design Like You Give a Damn. Architectural Responses to Humanitarian Crises, Architecture for Humanity (ed.), New York 2006.

Gurgaon: India’s ‘Millennium City’

The pedestrian-unfriendly streets of Gurgaon
Gurgaon, located 30 km southwest of Delhi in the state of Haryana, is viewed by many as the model for India’s global cities of the future. Identified in 1962 as a satellite city in Delhi’s Master Plan, Gurgaon began to be urbanised in earnest when the Maruti Suzuki car factory opened shop in the early 1980s. Land speculation began during this period as the Land Acquisition Act was amended to allow this resource to be purchased by private builders/companies for ‘any public purpose’, with Delhi Land and Finance (DLF) – a powerful developer in Gurgaon and across India – buying up a large amount of land.

Yet it was with the liberalisation of the Indian economy in 1991 that Gurgaon’s growth really took off, as the Haryana Urban Development Authority (HUDA), in pure urban entrepreneurial management style, loosened all controls on the area’s development. Dozens upon dozens of foreign companies began opening offices or locating their outsourcing operations – especially BPOs – in Gurgaon with a vengeance from the late 1990s onwards; indeed the city is now one of India’s biggest outsourcing hubs.

DLF's Cyber City
Under rapid transformation from a small-scale agriculture-based settlement to an exclusive hyper urban one, this ‘millennium city’ is characterised by unbridled urbanisation driven by the growth of commerce and industry. Uncontrolled developer driven construction abounds, of exclusive residential areas and flashy business venues ‘worthy’ of any global city. Furthermore, there are over fifty (yes, 50) malls in Gurgaon, concentrated largely in an area known as the ‘Mall Mile’, where people regularly come from Delhi and even as far as Chandigarh on the weekends to go ‘malling’.

Welcome to the Creative Class: Class is Now in Session


There are few moments when one can truly disconnect the city from the human element of creativity. We are constantly imagining different ways to design, shape, build and transform our urban environments, all the while experimenting with new ways of inhabiting these dynamic places. In Mumbai, the URBZ team has been working hand in hand with a local community to enable children from one of the most misunderstood nieghbourhoods in the city to gain access to education in the creative arts.

The Shelter at Dharavi has gone through many stages of development, starting out as a locally based initiative to provide local youth with “a space to congregate, exchange ideas, create art, play, and learn”. The space was not only successful in attracting local children, but also in harvesting the interests of artists around the city, and beyond.

Through the hard work of the Dharavi Shelter Trust and the URBZ team, many different projects have been launched since the Shelter’s inception, with local children participating in various arts programs, from performance to painting, all of which have been provided by volunteers. One of the most popular programs for the children has been the provision of photography classes.



The classes, which have been provided through the generous support of donated cameras, have enabled children to learn the fundamentals of photography. Recent workshops have been led by photographer Lasse Bak Mejlvang and renowned Bombay artist Himanshu S, and the results of these sessions have been uploaded onto the URBZ Flickr Account.

Examining the outputs of these sessions exposes the bare bones of the Shelter’s vision, where we are reminded of the value of art, expression, and individuality in the making and understanding of the city. Images of places, family and friends showcase the core elements of every community, regardless of class, caste, religion, or orientation. True to the core vision of the URBZ concept, creative cities are those that champion the creative visions of the those who make the most of the built environment: the ‘user’.

To get in touch with the URBZ team, or to find out more about the Shelter at Dharavi (and how you can support it), stop by their website here and send warm regards from The Polis Blog.

Credits: Image of Photography Class from Lasse Bak and URBZ. Images of New Transit Camp, Dharavi from Children attending the Shelter at Dharavi, hosted by the Dharavi Shelter Trust and URBZ.

Who Said Architects Can't Wear Pink?

Last month, Mattel revealed that Barbie will finally be an architect. The latest in a series of more than 120 professional personas, she will appear in stores later this year.

In a field where women are still vastly under-represented (they make up only 17 percent of The American Institute of Architects’ members), this is a step forward in putting “architect” in the vocabulary of little girls. For better or worse, Barbie remains very popular – her sales saw their biggest increase in a decade in 2010. In our consumer culture, there may be no better way to make a mark on the collective consciousness.

Architect Barbie almost never was. In 2002, the first time she appeared on Mattel’s poll to pick Barbie’s next career, she won the public vote, but the company never produced the doll.

Since then, Despina Stratigakos, now an architecture professor at the University of Buffalo, and a former professor of mine, has been trying to get Mattel to make the doll. In 2007, she organized an exhibition at the University of Michigan in which students and professors designed their vision of Architect Barbie.

When Architect Barbie reappeared on the ballot in 2010, Stratigakos, along with Kelly Hayes-McAlonie, president-elect of AIA New York State and a biographer of one of the first female architects, wrote a letter to Mattel advocating for the doll and campaigned for votes. Although she lost out to Computer Engineer Barbie, Mattel contacted Stratigakos and Hayes-McAlonie last July, announcing it would move forward with the doll and requesting their advice on designing her clothing and accessories.

“We wanted Architect Barbie to be both recognizable as an architect, which meant drawing on popular conceptions, and yet also challenge those conventions,” Stratigakos said. “Who said architects can’t wear pink?”

Stratigakos believes that the doll can stimulate a healthy examination of women’s roles, whether in the toy store or among professionals.

“Barbie is a cultural icon with the power to provoke conversations. We could image a conversation at the toy store between a girl and her parents about the roles of women in society today. But we also hope the doll will prompt those in the profession to reflect on issues of identity and image, particularly with regard to exclusions.”

Some have taken issue with Barbie’s pink-fringed skirt and impractical high heels. But her outfit can be seen as a political statement.

“A hundred years ago, when women first entered the field, their detractors argued that architects couldn’t wear skirts,” Stratigakos pointed out. “How far have we come since then?”

Credits: Image of Architect Barbie from Mattel.

What Do You Want to Do Before You Die?

I have been preoccupied with this idea in the past few days. Reading a constant influx of bad news from the tragedies in Japan, life behind the glowing screen seemed to have lost its saturation. In all honesty I know how life could end at any given notice. At various times of my life I have made different lists of things I would want to do before I die: art to see in person, books to read, places to visit. Slowly things always seemed to work their way back to the routine and the familiar. Perhaps what is needed is a promise to a stranger. A statement made while being photographed and the artifacts published. And the photographers returning in a number of years to see if I have accomplished my goal.



Credits: Video of Before I Die from Workbook Project.

A Moment of Reflection: Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami

Those of us on Pacific Time yesterday morning woke to the news of an 8.9-magnitude earthquake in Japan, followed by a tsunami that struck the eastern coast of the country. The scale of devastation meted out across cities and villages in affected areas is absolutely staggering, as conveyed by videos and images from the air and ground.




New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof writes movingly about the resilience of the Japanese people, or gaman -- "a courage, unity, and common purpose" that he had first witnessed after the Kobe quake. I'm reminded of Shigeru Ban's pioneering work with paper emergency architecture, used after the Kobe quake to build a church and subsequently donated to Taiwan to respond to a 1999 quake there.

Thinking back on past trips to Tokyo, I had noticed that every taxi was outfitted with GPS devices that guided drivers through the city. If this GPS data were layered with real-time information such as expected building occupancy given the time of a quake and an index for severity of impact, these fleets of taxis could conceivably be turned into crisis response vehicles, navigating through rubble and a significantly transformed urban landscape via GPS, and equipped with logistical data to aid rescue operations.


From the Polis team, our hearts and thoughts go out to Japan and her people as they weather the coming days. For readers looking for resources and more information, one online tool available is Google.org's Crisis Response page

Credits: Video from Reuters.com, infographic from Nytimes.com, photo by Min Li Chan.

Remembering Hong Kong



Hong Kong 68, a short video by Impactist gives us a quick trip into Hong Kong during 1968. Through the sequence we see the city from the air, the harbor and the streets - a constantly changing landscape and yet it maintains the same feel as it does today.

The airplane shots are different since the plane departs and lands from Kai Tak, an airport famous for its proximity to the city and its acrobatic approach. (The airport was moved 30 km west to Chek Lap Kok in 1998 and now the Kai Tak site is becoming a park and cruise terminal.) The skyline of the city has changed as the city expands through land reclamation and new iconic buildings have pushed further into the harbor. Same streets, though. Same buses, same taxis, same noodles, same density of signage and people.

Food Lecture: Nature’s Matrix

This talk touches upon Nature’s Matrix, a recent publication that offers a lucid argument for a new link between science, agricultural practice and progressive politics in order to reconsider how and what we eat.

The Revolution in Patterson Will Have to Wait

"All politics is local." - Tip O'Neill

Planners in California are fond of adding a line to Tip O'Neill's famous maxim about the local nature of American politics. "All politics is local, and all local politics is about development." In the former boom towns of the Bay Area's eastern edge, at times it seems you need to alter that to "and all local politicians have development interests."


Monday night in my favorite little farm town turned far flung suburb, where the almond orchards are blossoming and the bees have gone to work, the Patterson City Council had an opportunity to take a profound new direction in how it does local development politics. The tragic and untimely death of longtime Chicano activist turned councilmember Sam Cuellar left a vacant seat on the city council, and the four remaining councilmembers were left to appoint someone to fill the remaining three plus years of his term. They had a chance to add a fresh voice to the mix, a young former Planning Commissioner named Elias Funez, a planning savant with a keen eye for the both the natural and human challenges and opportunities which face Patterson. Born and raised in Patterson, the child and grandchild of migrants who moved from Mexico up and down California, Funez has watched his hometown gorge itself on growth, transforming apricot orchards into subdivisions and doubling its population in a decade, almost quadrupling it in two.For his willingness to question the growth machine during his two years on the Planning Commission, Funez was kicked off. As an active participant in the city's recent multi-year process of updating its general plan, his comments questioning the astronomical growth numbers - for a city with little water, astronomical foreclosure rates, no real transit system and a minimum 50 mile drive to the closest Bay Area job centers - were routinely ignored.
Funez is certainly not anti-growth, he merely wants to restore some sanity to a process that has pushed Patterson to the brink even as its leaders push for more of the same. The city has a jewel in the Del Puerto Canyon, yet it does little or nothing to push for public access and a park with massive potential as a regional recreation center. It has a hidden urban planning gem in its L'Enfant style radial access downtown, yet for all its lip service about being unique and preserving downtown it does little to implement these plans, instead focusing on putting SuperWalmart in the center of the new part of the city. Like so many cities across California, it talks about uniqueness ad nauseum in its planning documents yet continues to act just like every other place, building the same things in the same ways and pretending that it is different. Worse yet, in the face of the worst economic crisis in two generation, a crisis which is intrinsically linked to the type of development done in Patterson, the leaders like to imagine that everything will soon return to normal.


To make matters worse, the man chosen in Funez's place - and in place of eight other candidates - was a landowner, Larry Beuhner, who owes the city hundreds of thousands of dollars in general plan fees for the recent annexation of his land, and whose family has owned migrant labor camps on the outskirts of town for decades. These camps, whose conditions have alternated between borderline and abominable over the years, have housed innumerable Latino migrants over the years, including Funez's grandparents. Beuhner claims that housing Latino's in poor conditions makes him a friend to the Latino community and a suitable replacement for Cuellar. It is really just a slap in the face, and a sign from the powers that be that the Central Valley's longstanding hierarchies remain entrenched.


Patterson is just one story in a series of ongoing battles on the edge of the metropolis, in small towns and small cities across the globe. Political scientists continue to ignore local and county government in the United States, despite Tip O'Neill, cranking out dissertation after dissertation about Congress while the real business of America gets hammered out in council chambers and city halls. Urbanists continue to fetishize the urban core, the bourgeois spaces of the center, the big cities and the big places, failing to recognize that much of the future in America will be determined in the anonymous suburbs and far flung exurbs which dominate the political and territorial geography of this country. Patterson is a stunningly beautiful place with an amazing heart and some brilliant homegrown leaders, and hopefully Patterson's residents and the rest of us will learn to listen to them, before it is too late.

Credits: Images of Patterson by Alex Schafran. Map of Patterson from the GooglePlex.

Urban Space for Creative Industries






















This morning in Bishopsgate, in the seam between London's financial centre and creative heart, the public preparation for the fourth annual CREATE11 festival began.  It will be the fourth annual summer festival celebrating Europe's largest cultural quarter, spanning 5 Boroughs in East London that nurture 12,000 artists.  CREATE has effectively brought the public, private, and cultural sectors of the city together to organise and fund a festival that serves as a platform for the existing creative industries of East and South East London to gain deserved recognition and reach a wider spectrum of citizens.  A positive byproduct of the 2012 Olympics, CREATE11 nurtures the expression of the vibrant cultural economy.

Held in the Skidmore, Owings & Merrill designed Broadgate Tower, CREATE11 and their main sponsor Deutsche Bank released some details of this year's festival, which will span from 24 June - 25 July 2011.    This included the Portavillion, a floating cinema that will navigate the canals of London, stopping to project films on the buildings that line them.





















The not-for-profit collective 'Assemble' (pictured below) was given the creative art award for their continuing investigation into revealing and reconsidering the uses of neglected and interstitial urban spaces.  Through their previous work on the cineroleum, they base their operations on collaboration and the dissolution of traditional professional boundaries, incorporating design, construction, social concerns and participation within each project. This summer they will undertake their 'Folly for a Flyover' project, re-imagining a disused motorway undercroft in Hackney as a space for workshops, performance and film screenings. 





Credits: Photographs by Andrew Wade.