Featured Quote: Bauhaus Center Tel Aviv

"In 2004 UNESCO declared the city, as the world's largest concentration of International Style or "Bauhaus" buildings, a world heritage site. The International Style dominated the huge wave of construction in the 1930's and '40's and represented prevailing values of the era, such as a clean and unadorned aspect and a basic formal vocabulary attentive to the climate and residents' needs. The development of industry and technology made it possible to create innovative compositions, unique to the era, around the world. In Tel Aviv it enabled a local urban style which was open and inclusive. Over the years many "Bauhaus" buildings were transformed by the addition of stories and the closing off of balconies; their original look was warped. Although the Municipality has resolved to preserve (many) buildings, it has no way to force houseowners to preserve homes and return them to their original condition. The initiative must be private and thus the renewal of Tel Aviv Bauhaus is a slow process."    

Bauhaus Center Tel Aviv in "Tel Aviv-Yafo. Preservation Map and Guide," 2010. More information can be found at the Bauhaus Renovation Foundation site.

This is part of a collection of quotes related to cities. They don't necessarily reflect our views, just topics of interest. We welcome you to add others
Credits: Image of a Bauhaus building in decay on the Tel Aviv promenade, April 2011, by Rebecka Gordan. Image of Cafe Mana, Tel Aviv's promenade, 1938, by Rudi Weissenstein & The Photo House.

Photo Interlude: Cities that Own Their Iconography

"B for Barcelona": wearing it with pride, be it garbage truck or museum.

A familiar symbol of the London underground, turned into a progress meter

Christiania, Copenhagen

Credits: Photos by Min Li Chan.

Leon Reid IV: A Decade Of Public Art

Leon Reid IV, also known as Verbs and Darius Jones, creates street art that communicates directly with its surrounding community. Reid's body of work is currently on display at Pandemic Gallery, including his many sketches and models. Reid has been exhibited worldwide and has recently co-authored a novel, The Adventures of Darius and Downey, based on his experience with graffiti and street art.

Leon Reid IV: A Decade Of Public Art is on view until May 8, 2011.

Credits: Image of True Yank from Pandemic Gallery blog.

Madrid's Pharaoh

After eight years of delays, traffic jams, noise and dust the last section of Madrid Rio — a combined infrastructure and public space project — was finally opened to the public on April 15. In the 1970's Madrid was cut off from the (already forgotten) Manzanares river by the construction of the M30 ring motorway. Although this separation of city and waterfront was a common phenomenon in many cities around the world in the mid-20th century, Madrid's "waterfront" went through the middle of the city, not at the edge; Madrid lost not only its river — it was cut in two. Neighborhoods once just over the river were instantly relegated to the periphery.
The Madrid Rio project, a six-kilometer linear park spanning the a sunken motorway is the finalization of a plan hatched a decade ago to reconnect the city center and adjacent neighborhoods to the river.

Designed jointly by landscape architects West8 and MRIO Arquitectos (a collection of architects including Burgos y Garido, Porras & La Casta and Rudio & Alvarez-Sola), the design also links to existing historic parks, sports and cultural sites, and includes kilometers of bicycle paths, playgrounds, 32 foot bridges, 33,000 new planted trees, and an urban beach.

This large infrastructure project is one of many initiated by Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon, Madrid's ambitious mayor. Gallardon came to power with a vision of reinventing Madrid by turning it into a global city. Following the Barcelona example, he became obsessed with winning the 2012 Olympics bid. When he lost to London, he tried again for the 2016 games. The river project, along with an airport expansion, new sports arenas, and underground parking lots, were part of this strategy. Many people — locally and abroad — simply began referring to the mayor as "The Pharaoh". He seems to have deserved his nickname — since he came into power 2003 Gallardon started more than 70 major construction projects. Poorly managed (the Madrid Rio was delayed and for twice what it was supposed to cost), overly ambitious, and spanning Spain's recent boom/bust, the projects helped contribute to Madrid's debt — the largest in Spain — and leading the city into bankruptcy. After enduring living in the largest construction site in Europe, Madrid resident will now have to pay for all the projects with increasing taxes for the next few decades.

In times of economic hardship, large infrastructural projects are usually welcomed for creating jobs and building public assets. The works of the WPA in the USA during the great depression are often referenced in this way. Certainly the Madrid Rio, seen alone, is a valuable addition to the city that has done much to correct decades of neglect and bad planning. But in Madrid, these projects were undertaken not in a crisis, but in the heat of a speculative boom. In all this excitement, and with seemingly overflowing municipal coffers, urban renewal was not undertaken in an incremental way — it was an attempt at instant transformation. What's more, the rush seemed too political, a kind of legacy-making that was more pharaonic than benevolent.

Credits: Image of landscape and section of Manzanares River and M30 from Landezine.com. Map of Manzanares Rio from Landezine.com. Image of construction at the Manzanares and birdseye from El Pais.

Scenes of A Double Citizenship: The Peruvian Presidential Election in Miami Beach

On April 10th, Peru held its very contested presidential national elections. The city of Miami is home to an ex-pat community of over 70,000 — the third largest community of Peruvian ex-pats after Spain and Argentina.

Paradoxically, the Peruvian national elections were held at the Miami Beach Convention Center, where I, and many other nationals from countries all over the world swore allegiance to the flag of the United States of America.

The same space in iconographic Miami Beach pays homage to multiple national identities and their intertwined civic capacities. A place of personal memory and political affiliation is unveiled through scenes of a double citizenship.

Peruvian Nationals make a line to vote at the Miami Beach Convention Center.

Kids play among barriers dividing voting urns.

A man wears the Brazilian Flag in the Peruvian presidential election.

A voting station awaits voters.

A neat line of before a voting station.

A woman decides to skip the lines and enter the voting floor.

Voters rest and congregate with their loved ones.

Facing the choice of the next president.

The do-it-yourself portable voting kit.

Voting among the multitude.

Credits: All photographs by Hector F. Burga.

Urban Contemporary

Luther Vandross would have been 60 years old today. His songs bring back memories of summer, when they would sizzle from the windows of cars stopped at intersections. It seemed like everyone listened to WDKX, the station dedicated to urban contemporary. Luther was a fixture among a lively mix of post-1960 R&B, soul, hip hop, funk, reggae, jazz, gospel, and other music with African-American roots.

Now the term urban contemporary seems dated. Is urban still a substitute for African American? According to a study of 2010 census data by the Brookings Institution (State of Metropolitan America), those who identify as "black" are leaving cities in large numbers. The percentage of African Americans living in suburbs became a majority in 2008, having risen seven points since 2000. Other ethnic groups, including recent immigrants, are choosing to live in suburbs as well (Wei Li, via Timothy Egan). At the same time, many who identify as "white" are moving to cities. Increases were found in the District of Columbia, Atlanta, New York, San Francisco, Boston, and seven other large metropolitan areas. This trend is prevalent among highly educated young people from a range of ethnic backgrounds, including African Americans. Brookings demographer William H. Frey calls it "'bright flight' to cities that have become magnets for aspiring young adults who see access to knowledge-based jobs, public transportation and a new city ambiance as an attraction" (MSNBC). It will be interesting to see whether they stay to raise families.

It sounds very promising that cities and suburbs are becoming more ethnically diverse. However, the Brookings study also reveals a 25% growth in suburban poverty — five times the rate for cities. This raises the question of whether urban areas that attract capital are becoming sites of increasing economic exclusion, as suburbs have so often been. If so, urban amenities will likely improve as outlying areas are marginalized. Is it possible that someday only the wealthy will be able to live in cities?

There must be a way to attract and maintain the kind of diversity that's evident in the video for "Never Too Much," by Luther Vandross.

Credits: Images captured from the video for "Never Too Much" (see link above).

Paris est une grosse pomme. New York is a city of light.

I have now lived in Paris for a grand total of 10 days — perhaps 40 days if you count my sojourn in the winter — so I have no business writing this post. But perhaps that is why the gods created the blogosphere in the first place.

From the day I arrived in the shadow of the Montmartre for the pregame show in December, I have had the unshakable feeling that I am back in New York. December's urbangeist can easily be chalked up to that strange homogenizing force us Californians call winter, whose grey skies, black overcoats, blue hands and extra helping of spleen render all places as either cute mountain village with log cabin or frozen urban tundra.

Now that the weather is obscenely nice and it is light out until 9pm, les terrasses are filled to the brim with coffee drinkers and the day-long aperitif, and all the world has emerged onto the surprisingly (mostly) dogshit free streets of Paris for some post-modern flaneurie or a trip to visit the (again almost inconceivably) nice people at La Poste, one would think that this feeling would have subsided.

It has not.

Yes, Paris has better bread, worse pizza, and a drinking fountain that dispenses sparkling water. Being that I am 14 months shy of my black belt in urbanism, I can probably list its differences until I am blue in the face and you are bored to tears. Yet that is not the point. The point is convergence.

Architecturally, they are radically different, but the way they do sameness — the Upper West Side's mass or Brooklyn's brownstones give New York a consistency that is not too different from Paris' famed 6/7, much like how the grid of Manhattan and the ungrid of Paris actually feel similar to me. The metro and the constant pedestrianism are such powerful unifying forces that they are impossible to duplicate, providing a similar underbelly of mobility and energy.

But it is in the cultural and social world which I am noticing the true similarities. They are the epitome of bourgeois cities, having essentially invented and perfected the concept between the two of them. They have bankers and financiers, MBA's and ENARC's in droves, with so much money it is absurd, the only difference is that Parisian bankers are far better dressed and even more likely to be born rich. The other half of the bourgeois economy is in culture — art, fashion, museums, music, books, food — or in support services like PR and web design, producing a set of hipsters so eerily identical that everyone in my neighborhood who looks like me also dresses like me and actually might be me. Strong renters rights and varying types and degrees of affordable/public/social housing mean that old people and poor people actually still live in the city, even as the slow and steady creep of gentrication/embourgeoisement presses onward and outward.

There is even a subtle but potent race/class correlation, with Paris's Moroccan, Algerian and Tunisians standing in for Puerto Ricans and Dominicans, multiple generations of African and Afro-Caribbean immigration creating a black French culture not completely different from New York's (not the US's) complex racial story. Connections between black and brown are forged both through immigrant and hiphop culture and through the simultaneous desire to fit in and stand out in a society that won't completely accept them. Black women push white babies in strollers, and little old ladies from every corner of the world push carts laden with discounts.

Perhaps this is very much an ephemeral feeling, perhaps it is shallow, perhaps it is structural. We shall see. But let me offer two thoughts as to why I find it hard to ignore:

1. It is phenomenal how much history these cities have shared, sending ideas back and forth, about parks and urbanism and social housing and street life and urban economics. They have walked the same path of transformation from industrial giant to knowledge and finance giant, are global centers of intellectualism and intellectual production, of romantic stories and romantic ideas. They have housed each others revolutionaries when times were not right, and read and watched and gazed at each others greatest artists for more than 150 years. The globalized linkage between the two cities are some of the earliest forms of modern globalization that we know.

2. During the heydey of globalization hype a decade or so ago, the punditry first said everything was becoming the same. Then the post-pundits said no, it is all different, and it depends on your perspective. Yet what we miss at times in the difference discussions is how similar things can be for people of a certain class in a certain type of city at a certain time. To be a little old lady on a pension hanging on in a gentrifying neighborhood or a hipster digging in in a gentrifying neighborhood or a banker getting rich on a gentrifying neighborhood or a working class young man of color traveling from public housing through a gentrifying neighborhood, life in certain global cities seems to have taken on a series of different tranches, to use an awful but fitting finance term we all know too well these days.

Credits: Images of Paris by Alex Schafran.

Featured Quote: Arjun Appadurai

"The production of locality is a reminder that even the most apparently mechanical forms of social order that seem to function without design, contingency, or intentionality but simply by the force of routine - what we used to call habit - involve large amounts of deliberate attention, effort and labor.  Part of that attention, effort, and labor is involved in collective ideas of what is possible.  Therefore, for the local to have some spatialized embodiment takes an effort which transcends that very spatiality.  So the idea is not to, as it were, de-spatialize the local, or evacuate the spatial from the local, but to add something to it.  That is to say, for mere spatiality to take its form, there has to be an effort, a 'production of locality,' which is much more complex.  Once that effort to produce the local is fully observed, we will also, among other things, get a deeper sense of what it means to produce, inhabit, and sustain spatial relations. We won't have substituted something else for the spatial part of the local but will have enriched the logic of the spatial in the local."

Arjun Appadurai in "Illusion of Permanence",  Perspecta, Vol. 34, pp. 44-52, 2003.

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: Image of skater in public square in Reykjavík, Iceland by Andrew Wade.

Featured Author: Ramón Fernandez Durán

This post is a tribute to a prolific Spanish author and eco-social activist, Ramón Fernández Durán (RFD), perhaps the most important author behind Spain's current social and environmentalist movements. His carrer as a byword started with his book "the explosion of disorder" (1993), which had a large impact in the academic and environmentalists' circles and marked the way in a new leftist movement, different from orthodox traditional socialism. He introduced the Bretton Woods issue in Spain (origin of the World Bank, Internacional Monetary Fund and GATT) through his analysis of the modern economic regime in Spain and Europe and its spatial logic reflected in the metropolises.
He then published "against capital's Europe", which helped integrate the analysis of the dynamics of capital and power structures in the environmental movements. In 2001 he co-authored "capitalist globalization: struggles and resistance", analyzing the social movements around the anti-globalization demostrations that took place around the World preceeding the Bush's catastrophic management of US's economic empire.

In 2003 RFD was already foreseeing the real estate bubble that would lead to the crisis in Spain in his contribution to the book about urban agriculture "don't play with food". RFD continued his critical analysis of the World's urbanizing madness with "Spain's and the World's urbanizing tsunami", further structuring his prediction of the crisis through the links between the globalized financial capital and real estate production.

From then on, RFD focused in the evolution of energy use in humanity and the current environmental crises, which would culminate with his books "anthropocene", in wihch he analyses the roots and prospects of today's multidimensional crisis that has energy as its backbone, and "breakdown of global capitalism", in which he suggests us to be ready for the beginning collapse of the industrial civilization.

References: "the explosion of disorder": La explosión del desorden. La metrópolis como espacio de la crisis global (Ed. Fundamentos, 1993); Contra la Europa del Capital y la Globalización Económica (Talasa 1996); "capitalist globalization": Globalización Capitalista: Luchas y Resistencia (Virus Ed. 2001); "don't play with food": Con la comida no se juega: alternativas autogestionarias a la globalización capitalista desde la agroecología y el consumo (Traficantes de Sueños 2003); "Spain's and the World's urbanizing tsunami": El tsunami urbanizador español y mundial. Sobre sus causas y repercusiones devastadoras, y la necesidad de prepararse para el previsible estallido de la burbuja (Virus Ed. 2006); "anthropocene": El Antropoceno: la Crisis Ecológica se Hace Mundial. La expansión del capitalismo choca con la biosfera (Virus Ed. 2011); La Quiebra del Capitalismo Global: 2000-2030. Preparándonos para el comienzo del colapso de la Civilización Industrial
(Virus Ed. 2011).
Credits: Image of some of RFD's books. I based this post on a tribute text by Iván Murray from the UIB.

New Urban Topologies: The Chişinău and Minsk Experience

Illegal parking on public squares, city parks threatened by flashy constructions, squatted landmarks and anonymous module suburbs emerging at breakneck speed. These are some of the challenges and opportunities facing Chişinău and Minsk, the capital cities of Moldova and Belarus, which were the first sites for Färgfabriken’s new project New Urban Topologies (NUT).

Färgfabriken is a Swedish center for contemporary art and architecture with an international scope. In October 2010, Färgfabriken, in conjunction with its Moldovan and Belarusian partners Oberliht and Ў Gallery, conducted extensive programs on urban development on site in the two cities.

Yesterday, the publication summarizing this project was released. New Urban Topologies: The Chişinău and Minsk Experience was edited by me, Rebecka Gordan, and can be downloaded for free. The book chronicles the thoughts, dreams and demands of a diverse group of participants, from squatters to municipal administrators, in Chişinău, Stockholm and Minsk.

The aim of the project is to create an open and free platform where groups and individuals that rarely meet can discuss and come up with new concepts for the future of their cities and compare the challenges and prospects of those. The initial implementation of NUT is a first step in a larger context, in which Färgfabriken will deepen the partnerships and processes already started. What lies ahead are also collaborations with the Balkans and the Middle East—regions now undergoing rapid and tumultuous development.

The road is not paved yet, but new contacts have already begun to sprout among students, professionals, and teachers in Stockholm, Chişinău, and Minsk. Jointly with the Swedish Institute (the government agency that funds the project), Färgfabriken aims for a process that will grow organically with people, projects, countries, cities, and ideas.

Credits: Cover of publication by Lina Lindqvist. Cover image (Minsk residential housing) from Rebecka Gordan. Image of New Urban Topologies participants and
Coliseum Palace , both in Chisinau, from Rebecka Gordan.