polis: a collective blog about cities worldwide

Bernward Joerges on Controlled Infrastructure

"Built spaces always represent control rights. They belong to someone and not to others, they can legitimately be used by some and not by others. Variable control rights over built spaces constrain what can pass in and around these spaces. Only rarely and in the most trivial senses can one show that such constraints are coupled to building form. In this view, it is the processes by which authorizations are built, maintained, contested and changed which are at issue in any social study of built spaces and technology"

Bernward Joerges, from "Do Politics Have Artefacts?" 1999

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: Photo of elevated highways in Shanghai from Remko Tanis.

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Urban Typography in New York and San Francisco

by Min Li Chan

In part three of a series on urban typefaces, character sets and signage, I thought I'd share a few more encountered in recent jaunts around New York and San Francisco.

In New York we begin with an exhortation through the simple but provocative use of dualism in font size and color.

Below is another form of dualism, an experiment in combining a serious declaration of elegance with more accessible flourishes.

Crossing over to the West Coast, serifs and italics abound in a painstakingly hand-painted sign with an assemblage of typefaces in the lamp-lit dusk of Mission Street in San Francisco. 

Further along Mission Street, an unmistakable 99-cent proclamation, framed in the foreground by a back-lit sign for Gracias Madre, a vegan Mexican restaurant, sporting a typeface that is simultaneously old and recognizable yet distinctly contemporary.

Credits: Photos by Min Li Chan.

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Is Underground Transport Worth the Cost?

by Jordi Sánchez-Cuenca

Most cities around the world are growing at a hardly manageable speed. One of the most challenging issues is urban mobility, which becomes a nightmare when growth has taken place without adequate planning or public transport. The main aggravating factor is that most urbanites get a car as soon as the family budget allows it. Then they have to choose between slow, cramped public transport or driving in routine traffic jams. The increasingly individualistic character of mainstream urban societies favors the private car in spite of the psychological, social and environmental damage that derives from traffic jams. Driving one's own car also contributes to social status for many people.

In Quito, Ecuador, as in many Latin American cities, the number of cars increases by 15 percent annually, which means 50,000 more cars every year in the same streets. The fast-growing middle class does not see the current public transport system as an honorable option. Quito's mayor has opted for the underground train as the long-term solution to this problem. This project will cost $1.4 billion, and construction will bgin next year. Considering that the minimum wage in Ecuador is $264 per month, many have considered this project an excessive investment. Moreover, many argue that the problem could be solved at a reasonable cost with an integrated, fast and good-quality bus and bicycle system. This would require changing current cultural patterns, including the relationship between private cars and social status.

One positive aspect of the underground train project is the cost of the ticket ($0.40), which will be subsidized in order to make the new service affordable for most citizens. This subsidy will add to the annual payment of the credit given for its construction, but it can be considered a wealth redistribution measure rather than an additional project cost. This is not the case in some other Latin American underground transport systems, such as Rio de Janeiro's, where the cheapest one-way ticket costs $1.64, a largely unaffordable price considering that the minimum wage in Brazil is $275 per month.

Credits: Photos linked to source.

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Cameron Sinclair Shares His Secrets

by Rebecka Gordan

Cameron Sinclair is the co-founder and CEO of Architecture for Humanity, a nonprofit organization that seeks architectural solutions to humanitarian crises and brings professional design services to communities in need.

Sinclair founded Architecture for Humanity in 1999 with his partner, journalist Kate Stohr. Today the organization includes 73 chapters in 25 countries with more than 4,650 volunteer design professionals. Projects range from schools, health clinics, affordable housing to long-term sustainable reconstruction. Work has also included rebuilding after the 2010 earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, Hurricane Katrina and the 2004 South Asia tsunami.

With his 2006 TED Prize, Sinclair and Stohr launched the Open Architecture Network, a site offering open source architectural plans, drawings and CAD files and the ability to collaborate, manage projects remotely and share design knowledge.

Polis met with Cameron Sinclair in Stockholm earlier this month, at a conference organized by Akademiska Hus, to discuss some of his solutions, projects and challenges.

In comparison to similar organizations, Architecture for Humanity has been very successful in implementing projects. What has been the key to achieving this?

Mahatma Gandhi said, "Be the change you want to see in the world.” I think he got that a little bit wrong. The secret is, "Be the bank." Have some developers on your board. Have some people thinking very differently about financing.

We are not just architects, and that is what developed us. When you control the financing, you can control the quality of the construction and the way in which projects get implemented. This has been vital for us. Since we started to control the finacing and be the bank for the communities, our projects have been easy.

Do you see any problems in taking the role of the "bank"?

No, I don’t. There is a reason why communities don’t have a school, and that is not that they weren’t smart enough to think of that need, but that they never had the resources to build it. If you are coming in as an architect with this great expertise, but without the resources, it doesn’t really matter for them. It is almost like a gift that the community allows you to come in and work with them. So you have an obligation to help them raise funds, whether through government financing or private financing.

Architecure for Humanity doesn’t have any government funding, so we bring in corporations and individuals. I would say that, in the last 10 years, we probably brought about $20 million just through our organization to communities in need.

Recently, Architecture for Humanity announced a
design competition that will envision a re-use of military sites as civic spaces. How come?

In the U.S., we spend billions of dollars on environmental remediation of these sites, but we have no transformations of these buildings into civic use. The people living around them essentially get a well-built abandoned building. So we say: Let’s try to engage the community into getting something that they need. We have asked people to actually work in their local communities affected by closure of a military installation.

What are you thoughts on the architect’s responsibility when working with communities: prescribe or respond?

I think we have to do a little bit of both. I would like to be a little more preventative in disaster areas. My problem is that we get asked to rush into a disaster, and we could have done a lot more development work and thoughtful work prior, thinking about flood resistance and earthquake-resistant housing. But nobody wants to fund that. There is no research — there is no NASA for this.

In America, architecture is seen as a design art. The only funding scheme from the government is the National Endowment for the Arts. Basically taking money from painters and sculptors – I don’t want to do that. So we have to find someone that is willing to fund preventative work.

What knowledge can we bring from the humanitarian field into the everyday architecture practice?

Almost all of our schools are multi-use, 24-hour buildings. It is not just a school; it is a community center and has a health component to it. I think that making sure that buildings have multiple functions and that they are used correctly and efficiently is something that can add value in the developed world.

It is funny — everyone talks about us working in the developing world like it is a bad thing. My biggest problem is that they don’t have an economic meltdown in the developing world. They’re having a constant six percent return on their growth, while the dollar and the euro are crashing so hard that I am actually losing money working in these countries.

What is on your mind today?

I had a video conference with Japan at lunch, so I was thinking about the work we are doing there. The hardest friction is between the government bureaucracy and the implementation. We have taken a very radical approach to our rebuilding strategy, which is that we essentially are a social entrepreneurship business. We are paying our architects for their work, we are paying our taxes; we are acting like a non-profit construction company. And we seem to be getting stuff done. So we may actually be scaling up and trying figure out how to do more work in the field.

It seems like you are taking steps forward right now?

Yes, we are constantly growing. And I am constantly hiring. I am looking for five more people this week: a decent director of operations and some project managers. I am reading resumes like crazy. In an economy where no architects can find work, I am busy trying to hire. That is the other thing on my mind today!

Credits: Photo of Cameron Sinclair by Rebecka Gordan.

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Manuel Castells Speaks at Occupy London

by Katia Savchuk

Manuel Castells, the Spanish sociologist known for his work on urban social movements and information networks, visited the Occupy London encampment yesterday. Addressing a crowd seated on the steps of St. Paul's Church, he spoke on the nature of the current economic and social crisis, the importance of nonviolence and the potential of online communication and urban occupation as complementary political tactics.

I recorded his talk from the steps of St. Paul's (with apologies for not having a tripod along).

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Phillip Lopate on Urban Cannibalization

“A city that had once pioneered so many technological and urban planning solutions, that had dazzled the world with its public works, its skyscrapers, bridges, subways, water-delivery system, its Central Park, palatial train stations, libraries and museums, appears unable to undertake any innovative construction on a grand scale, and is now consigned to cannibalizing its past and retrofitting it to function as an image, a consumable spectacle. Productivity has given way to narcissism; or, to put it more charitably, work has yielded to leisure.”

Phillip Lopate, from “Above Grade: On the Highline” at Places: Design Observer, 2011

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: Photos by Min Li Chan.

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Doors in/to Cities: Cyprus

by Seraphima

I took these photos on Agiou Andreou Street — the longest street in Limassol, Cyprus. It runs through the old town from what was once the Turkish district to the tourist district. The old town of Limassol has been extensively renewed, and a lively cafe and bar scene crowds medieval castles and Byzantine arches. Beautiful, old olive buildings are renovated into galleries, boutiques, bars and restaurants.

Dotted among the renovated buildings sit dilapidating ones like the one pictured. Up the street is the medieval castle in which Richard Coeur De Lion married Berengaria of Navarre in 1191, and directly opposite is the Columbus Centre, a shiny new restaurant and bar complex. This building, like many others in the district, remains conspicuously unrenovated because it may belong to Turkish Cypriots stuck on the other side of the Green Line since the 1970s. Property ownership disputes between Turkish and Greek Cypriots are common and may even extend internationally, as in the many reported cases of British investors buying holiday homes in Turkish Cyprus only to discover that their investment is actually owned by a Greek Cypriot on the other side of the Green Line.

Greek Cypriot owners are unwilling to commit to renovating buildings, even in prime locations, in case the "original" owners return to claim them. Instead, they cover holes where doors and windows once were with very convincing plastic facades. I almost didn't notice that these were not real timber and steel shutters and doors. Before the plastic facades were put up, the buildings may have been a more conspicuous and painful reminder of the long-reaching consequences of the Cyprus conflict. I thought these facades were a neat symbol both of the patchy, superficial progress made so far in solving the "Cyprus Problem" and the Cypriots' desire to make the most of a bad situation and move on.

Seraphima is a researcher for New Salon.

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Wynwood Walls: A Street Art Museum in Miami

by Vivien Park

Once a complex of abandoned factory buildings and parking lots, the Wynwood Walls in Miami is now the world's largest concentration of commissioned murals. Since it opened in 2009 for Art Basel Miami, the collection has expanded to include over 30 artists from around the world. It will be featured in the pilot season of "Here Comes the Neighborhood," a documentary series exploring the transformative power of public art. In the months leading up to Art Basel Miami, episodes of the series will premiere for free at hctn.tv.

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Richard Sennett on Quality of Life in Cities

"I want to explore the concept of 'quality of life' in cities. My own view can be stated simply: the quality of life in a city is good when its inhabitants are capable of dealing with complexity. Conversely, the quality of life in cities is bad when its inhabitants are capable only of dealing with people like themselves. Put another way, a healthy city can embrace and make productive use of the differences of class, ethnicity, and lifestyles it contains, while a sick city cannot; the sick city isolates and segregates difference, drawing no collective strength from its mixture of different people."

Richard Sennett, from "Why Complexity Improves Quality of City Life" in "Hong Kong: Cities, Health and Well-Being," a publication of the Urban Age Conference, 2011

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 "Boulevard de los Capucines" by Claude Monet from www.awesome-art.biz.

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Developer Pushes Modernist Vision for Mumbai’s Largest Slum

by Andrew Wade

Shops along a commercial lane in Dharavi.

As part of a happenstance season in which the main players in support of, and opposed to, the looming redevelopment of Dharavi, Mumbai's vast informal township, are lecturing in various venues around London, private developer Mukesh Mehta of M.M. Project Consultants recently spoke to an audience of designers, students and academics at the Architectural Association.

Over the past several years, interest surrounding Dharavi’s redevelopment has transcended the boundaries of the directly invested actors, expanding into the public consciousness through national and international news. This is partly because Dharavi embodies "headline" challenges, such as a lack of public services and sanitation infrastructure, informal housing, unpaved roads and a high population density typical of slums. However, it has emerged as a meticulously studied case primarily due to the traits that set it apart, such as the immensely valuable land on which it has developed, high levels of community organization and vast economic output of its workforce and networks of production.

While Mehta is no longer the technical consultant to the Government of Maharashtra on the Dharavi Redevelopment Project (DRP), after his plan was scorchingly critiqued by Dharavi residents, local grassroots groups, NGOs, academics and activists, he continues to pursue and develop his proposals for the future of Dharavi.

Slide from Mehta's Presentations at the 2008 Urban Age conference in Mumbai and again at the AA, outlining his "HIKES" vision.

Hinging on his construction of the idea of "HIKES" — which stands for health, income, knowledge, environment and socio-cultural capital — Mehta led his argument at AA by describing how much money the government is set to reap from his proposal without significant new expenditures, as private developers would make the bulk of investment. He then toed the line of modernist urban planning through images of an unrecognizable tabula rasa development segregating uses and typologies and housing qualifying slum dwellers into rigid, linear blocks. The degree of freedom that appointed developers and designers would have to sculpt the lived spaces of Dharavi within the logic of Mehta’s proposal remained a contentious issue.

A history of roadblocks to the DRP, from the Hindustan Times (January 22, 2011).

In presentations like this, Mehta knows that he must sell his scheme to a skeptical audience. Often prioritizing fiscal feasibility (profit-generation) over socio-cultural sensitivity and inclusive design, he did himself no favors by recycling what appeared to be a presentation aimed at government officials to students at an architecture school known for its well-established record of innovation at the forefront of the global-design scene.

At presentations like this, it is difficult for many to articulate specific critiques of the DRP due to the purposefully limited scope of information presented. However, the audience was well-versed in the more contentious issues of the project, such as the number of residents that the plan excludes altogether and its lack of contextual sensitivity. Contrary to aligning with the mantra of "slum free cities" in India, the DRP and its neoliberal model of global city development would create new slums by evicting several hundred thousand people from Dharavi. It would only selectively provide upgraded housing while traumatizing the livelihoods of not only those evicted, but also those re-housed in buildings that emphasize product over process and prescriptive form over participatory design.

It remains to be seen how the redevelopment will progress on the ground. The stakes are higher than ever, as Dharavi becomes a precedent setting the tone for slum redevelopment elsewhere in India.

Credits: Photo of Dharavi lane by Katia Savchuk. Image of "HIKES" slide from Urban Age presentation. Image of newspaper clipping from dharavi.org.

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Water and Sanitation as Human Rights

by Jordi Sánchez-Cuenca

On July 26, 2010, the United Nations General Assembly declared water and sanitation to be human rights. Since then, most official development aid in this sector has been called upon to adopt human rights as the main conceptual framework for projects and programs. In spite of being a claim long before it was officially declared, the human rights approach has rarely been applied.

Achieving the right to safe water and sanitation means that every citizen in a given society has equal access to safe water and sanitation in terms of human and domestic use, quality, cultural acceptability, accessibility and affordability. In wealthy neighborhoods around the world, water and sanitation services are taken for granted. However, as the U.N. General Assembly asserted in the declaration, around 884 million people lack access to safe drinking water and more than 2.6 billion do not have access to basic sanitation. Approximately 1.5 million children under five die and 443 million school days are lost each year due to water- and sanitation-related diseases.

Last July, an independent expert presented an annual report to the General Assembly charting progress since the declaration. The report, which targets national and local governments, is centered on planning and emphasizes future vision and political will as the most important conditions for achieving the right to water and sanitation for all. The report points to the importance of human resources at all stages: diagnosis, setting objectives, formulation and implementation of adequate measures, monitoring and evaluation. The report also defines the main required conditions, such as solid legal framework and institutions, access to justice and a clear division of responsibilities. All these are meant to be accompanied by adequate funding, transparency, participation and the elimination of all sorts of discrimination.

The challenge of applying the human rights approach starts with identifying which factors are lagging in a particular context. Each project location has its own particularities and actors, including national, local, private, civil society, third sector and academic actors. In this sense, the initial diagnosis has to be done hand-in-hand with these actors to have a common understanding of the factors being addressed and how one intervention complements others. In short, the report can be a highly valuable development planning tool as long as it is applied collaboratively with those actors in the context of intervention.

Credits: Photos linked to source.

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Podcast: Social Justice in Amsterdam

by Alex Schafran

Together with our partners at CoLab Radio, Polis is happy to present our newest project, the Polis Podcast on CoLab Radio. Our goal is to bring you a stimulating series of discussions, debates and interviews on a wide range of subjects from as many different cities as we can manage.

This inaugural Beta version features a conversation on social justice and Amsterdam between Polis's Alex Schafran and two Dutch urban scholars, Jan Willem Duyvendak and Justus Uitermark. The discussion ranges from Amsterdam's legendary status as a "just city" — which Uitermark contests may be transformed into "just a nice city" — to feelings of home and belonging, the need to "hack" the metrics cities use to measure justice and happiness, questions of "hard" versus "soft gentrification," and the role of science in urban studies.

We welcome comments, feedback and ideas for future shows. Stay tuned for two December podcasts on the connection between building energy efficiency and social equity and the relationship of the Occupy protests to urban activism writ large. In the first, Massachusetts community organizers and home performance contractors  will discuss their efforts to not just make homes more energy efficient, but to hire local labor and create career pathways for underemployed adults. The second features a conversation with longtime urban organizers from both coasts as they consider what the Occupy protests mean for longtime demands for affordable housing, environmental justice and local employment.

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Jeffrey Hou on Insurgent Public Space

"The making of insurgent public space suggests a mode of city making that is different from the institutionalized notion of urbanism and its association with master-planning and policy making. Unlike the conventional practice of urban planning, which tends to be dominated by professionals and experts, the instances of insurgent public space suggests the ability of citizen groups and individuals to play a distinctive role in shaping the contemporary urban environment in defiance of the official rules and regulations. Rather than being subjected to planning regulations or the often limited participatory opportunities, citizens and citizen groups can undertake initiatives on their own to effect changes. The instances of self-help and defiance are best characterized as a practice of guerrilla urbanism that recognizes both the ability of citizens and opportunities in the existing urban condition for radical everyday changes against the dominant forces of the city."

Jeoffrey Hou, from "Insurgent Public Space: Guerrilla Urbanism and the Remaking of Contemporary Cities," 2010

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: Photo of Occupy Cal and Occupy Oakland rally at Berkeley's Sproul Hall by Hector Fernando Burga.

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Imagining an Elastic City

by Diana Limbach Lempel

Planters and urban gardening tools at Kennedy Greenway in central Boston, the site of the Occupy Boston encampment.

Last spring, after attending a panel about urbanism in Mumbai, I wrote a blog post about what I called the “entropic city” — one that is constantly changing and re-imagining itself. “Entropy,” I argued, “is a cultural and an economic necessity. Restricting and channeling change imposes a dominant idea of what change should be, and what existing conditions are undesirable. But it also stifles innovation and creates monocultural economic environments that are vulnerable to dramatic changes. And, let’s be honest, it’s a lot less fun.”

This post got a lot of attention, which got my attention. I had already been interested in temporary uses in cities, primarily those developed by socially engaged artists who use temporary installations to destabilize power and question existing cultural norms about, among other things, right to education and public space. “Tactical urbanism,” while not taught in many planning classes, is growing in power and appeal even to city governments, who are realizing that markets, festivals, mobile vending and pedestrian pathways are “lighter, quicker, cheaper” (to quote Project for Public Spaces) ways to generate investment and excitement in their cities.

But there is a lot more potential to tactical urbanism than placemaking. What if American cities embraced the unplanned in order to create “elastic” physical and social structures? Environments could grow and shrink dynamically, with reversible structures and social systems that are managed but unplanned. Is it possible to formalize flexibility, or would it lose its character and its promise? And why would it be beneficial to introduce what is essentially a product of scarcity, insufficient government and insufficient markets into the American context?

Layers of history have accumulated in Rome (although it’s questionable whether Rome’s status as a tourist destination and heritage site truly allows flexibility).

Urbanism, and national strength, are cyclical. Cities that have existed for centuries, such as Rome, have grown in fits and starts, through plagues, fires and the fall of an empire. In a city where traces of previous generations physically persist on both neighborhood and city-wide scales, it is impossible to imagine that the city will grow continually. Rather, the city grows and declines, through shocks and slow transformations.

This idea challenges the growth-oriented mentality that has grounded the American project from the beginning. If uses and structures are flexible and reversible, then we have to think of land in ways other than property ownership and economics. Cultural forces (demographic shifts, changing social norms) and external shocks (environmental, economic) make it impossible to predict a single, normative teleology for cities. Building expectations and structures for flexibility into cities – structures that are themselves flexible – is a counter-cyclical measure, one that today’s circumstances show is profoundly necessary.

One need not look further than the foreclosed, overbuilt sprawl in America’s sunbelt, or the massive disinvestment of rustbelt cities that banked on the future of a single industry, to understand the profound implications of a single, totalizing, growth-oriented narrative. We could imagine what it may mean for shrinking and growing to be dynamic components of the same process of change. Many current urban practices, such as urban agriculture or greenway reclamation, can be seen as a new narrative that embraces economic cycles as a productive tool for sustainability and livability. (A note of caution: sometimes these practices are really single-narrative practices cast as flexibility. I call this the nostalgia machine.)

Multiple structures and uses pile on top of each other at Paris’s Marche aux Puces antiques market.

Incorporating elasticity into cities also has important implications for historic preservation and innovation. Rather than a strict focus on preservation (this must not change for the sake of memory and continuity) or growth (for the sake of progress we must go out with the old and in with the new) an elastic city is reinvented and reimagined. Reversible structures and temporary uses rest lightly on the land, allowing the existing fabric to remain without becoming static. Policies that enable reuse and transformation of existing buildings allow meanings to change but traces to remain. Flexibility becomes a new way to understand the management of change in cities.

Real flexibility also has implications for democracy. Flexible change is by nature incremental and small-scale. The agency implied in true flexibility incorporates multiple narratives into the urban fabric, just as critical history has brought them into our cultural storytelling. If an immigrant group, a group of friends or a family can transform their physical environment in order to suit their needs, then they have the tools to shape their future. This is something that they already do – as is well-documented in the “everyday urbanism” literature – but when this active making of the city is supported by the government, it changes the balance of power and acknowledges the agency of citizens.

This is not to say that informality is necessarily good, and formality necessarily bad — infrastructure, due process, and other protections of law and planning are essential for producing equity and prosperity. Similarly, informality often means a profoundly unpredictable, marginal existence. Flexibility should not be in a binary relationship with planning, but rather in productive tension. Informality is not a threat to the rational plan, so it may be beneficial to find ways to let it take the reins more frequently. In the context of sufficient wealth, infrastructure and protections for citizens’ rights, a little imagination might not be half bad.

Diana Limbach Lempel studies planning at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. Her master’s thesis focuses on the need for flexible imagination and the technical tools required to develop multiple city-narratives. Her advisor is Rahul Mehrotra, Professor of Urban Design and Planning and Chair of the Department of Urban Planning and Design, by whose work and advice this project is greatly inspired. She blogs at flaneuserie.wordpress.com and @publiccurator.

Credits: Photos by Diana Limbach Lempel.

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Phasing Out Cars in Cities

by Peter Sigrist

I tend to see cars as inevitable, but when it comes to cities my thoughts have changed. Here are a few reasons why.

Drivers have to deal with accidents, traffic jams, parking (time-consuming searches, dents, remembering to move from one side of the street to the other on certain days), emissions, breakdowns, maintenance, gas, tickets, road rage, de-icing, insurance, and limited options for multitasking in transit.

Those who aren't driving are even more vulnerable to accidents and emissions, and have to deal with noise (horns, alarms, engines), space-consuming parking lots, spray from puddles, streets lined with bulky metal oil-leaking structures, and the difficulty of moving through cities where these structures dominate.

Cars detract from public health and public space. I understand their value in suburbs and rural areas, but in dense urban settings the private benefits don't outweigh the public costs. Thus we stand to gain by reducing the dominance of cars in cities. In "Questioning the Car" on Urban Omnibus, Mark Gorton of OpenPlans shares practical ideas for making this happen.

Eventually there could be all kinds of efficient systems for transporting people into, out of and throughout urban areas. We could pay for this in part by charging for the use of cars, while simultaneously reducing the need for them. The space that opens up could be used for housing, employment and recreation.

Some form of large-scale private transport will probably always be necessary in cities. But if we can find ways of making cars less problematic and pervasive, urban living will be much better for it.

Credits: Poster by Pavel Pakhomov of Moscow State University of Printing Arts.

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Witold Rybczynski on Lessons of Urban History

"The urban lessons from the last hundred years should not go unheeded. Small is not always beautiful, but piecemeal urbanism has a long and proven track record. Effective planning should recognize that while the market is not always right, an aggregation of individual decisions is generally closer to the mark than the plans appear on paper. Nor is striving to replicate the Bilbao Effect the solution to urban revitalization. History does not always have all the answers — new problems do sometimes require new solutions — but it behooves us to keep one eye on the past as we venture into the future. This is not about nostalgia or summoning an imagined past, but freedom from history is not freedom at all. The next city will include much that is new, but to succeed it cannot ignore what came before. Linking the past with the present, and seeing the old anew, has always been part of our improvised urban condition."

Witold Rybczynski, from "Makeshift Metropolis: Ideas About Cities," 2010

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: Photo of Oslo's city center by Rebecka Gordan.

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Buildings in Motion

by Peter Sigrist

Give Me a Gun and I Will Make All Buildings Move: An ANT’s View of Architecture” is a brief article by Bruno Latour and Albena Yaneva for the Swiss Pavilion at the 2008 Venice Biennale of Architecture. Latour is closely associated with Actor-Network Theory (ANT), which he developed in the early 1980s with Michel Callon and John Law, among others, at the Centre de Sociologie de l’Innovation (CSI) in Paris. Yaneva was one of Latour’s doctoral students at CSI, and is now a professor at the University of Manchester.

ANT is a “material-semiotic” method for mapping entities. It holds that human and nonhuman actors comprise networks that form, disperse and interact with other networks of various scales. For example, a human acts as a network of constituent parts (heart, lungs, bones, etc.), just as the heart is both an actor within this network and a network in its own right. Likewise, a human can act as part of a more extensive network such as an airplane, corporation or building. According to ANT, networks communicate through their actions. This communication can be verbal, nonverbal, intentional and unintentional.

The article begins with an introduction to Étienne-Jules Marey’s “photographic gun,” a camera designed to show multiple frames of motion in a single picture. With this as a point of departure, Latour and Yaneva make the case that buildings should be understood in terms of process, movement and transformation — continuous flows with diverse influences that can not be fully represented in Euclidian space. Instead, they imply that ANT offers a way of understanding how buildings are “lived” through dynamic relationships with their inhabitants and surroundings.

The coauthors explain how even building materials “transform themselves” over time. This borders on one of ANT’s more controversial claims: that nonliving things are able to act. Thus, building materials unconsciously resist or succumb to climatic conditions, unforeseen events, patterns of use. They act through constantly evolving networks and respond to the actions of other networks. According to this line of thinking, buildings are nonhuman actor-networks that can associate with humans through a continuous process of adaptation.

Latour and Yaneva artfully communicate the idea that buildings change through networks deeply integrated with social, cultural, economic, political and ecological processes. However, they don’t clearly explain how this works or what they mean by ANT in the title. Perhaps they included the acronym without explanation as a kind of reference for those interested in finding out more. Whatever the case, they introduce a valuable multidimensional approach to the study of cities.

Credits: Images linked to source.

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Alexander Cuthbert on Urban Design Methodology

"We have also seen that urban design methodologies remain seriously connected to rationalism as the favoured methodology, one where linearity, hierarchy and modeling dominate (Figure 1.8). Hence, the suggestion that urban design should adopt a context derived from the social sciences, particularly spatial political economy, stands in contradiction to the continuing rationalist position in urban design methodologies.

How then do we supplant a navel-worshiping rationalist process with contextual and encompassing urban design methodologies that are qualitative, feminist and sustainable? To retain our design skills and meaningfully inform their use, we are therefore forced to look much deeper into the human condition if we wish to develop an urban design knowledge that is courageous, humane and relevant."

Alexander R. Cuthbert, from "Understanding Cities: Method in Urban Design," 2011

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 the Kartal Pendik Masterplan from Zaha Hadid Architects.

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Community-Driven Visions of Modernity in Mumbai

by Carrie Baptist

Residents of Bhendi Bazaar (above) in Mumbai are planning to replace their neighborhood with mixed-use towers.

The largest cluster redevelopment project in Mumbai is about to begin – a precedent-setting "upliftment" of 16.5 acres in the heart of the city's southern tip, to be completed in 2017. Southern Mumbai is dense and vibrant, defined by decaying, charming colonial architecture. But it is an area that continues to challenge planners interested in transforming Mumbai into a "world-class city." On the surface, the Bhendi Bazaar redevelopment may seem to be another example of top-down planning run amok, insensitive to local context and transplanting a vision of modernity. In fact, it is the fruit of a participatory, community-driven project to reshape the neighborhood.

Bhendi Bazaar is home to the Dawoodi Bohras, a tight-knit community of Ismaili Muslims led by the 52nd Dai His Holiness Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin, who auspiciously just celebrated his 100th birthday. The Bohras have lived in Bhendi Bazaar for around a century and own most buildings in the area, many of which are overcrowded chawls without modern conveniences. While these buildings have charm and character for visitors, it seems that for inhabitants the charm has worn off.

Residents plan to build mixed-use towers, with large public spaces and parking lots for cars. Overseen by the Saifee Burhani Upliftment Trust, the plan will re-house 25,000 people and 1,200 commercial establishments at no cost to the current inhabitants, giving each household full ownership of a 350 square-foot flat. It is a "no profit, no loss" project, as construction costs will be offset by profits from the construction of four towers — with parking, a mall and market-sale apartments — on 20 percent of the plot. Not only will this development be the first of its kind in Mumbai, but it will also change the face of the main city, as the area borders a main highway in southern Mumbai.

Renderings of the proposed "upliftment" of Bhendi Bazaar.

The Dawoodi Bohras can undertake such a project because they are an unusually homogeneous, tight-knit, spatially concentrated, affluent and politically organized community, and they have thrown their considerable weight behind the redevelopment.

While the project lays out a starkly modern vision, it also relates to the context and needs of Bhendi Bazaar. It keeps intact existing religious structures and expands public spaces around them to allow more people to gather during holidays. Mutton Street, the home of Chor Bazaar — an old antiques market frequented by locals and tourists — will be kept intact; the businessmen there realize that the old architecture and character of the street directly supports their business of selling antiques.

Certainly, there is recognition in the neighborhood that the feel of the place will change radically. In my conversations with locals, I sensed some apprehension about what the new neighborhood will be like. However, the project has the consent of more than 70 percent of the residential and commercial population and is the subject of outright enthusiasm by many.

A view of the roofs around Bhendi Bazaar, interspersed with previous attempts at redevelopment.

In Western cities, we are often nostalgic for old architecture — a hallmark of gentrification is the reclaiming of old warehouses and factories as housing. But this is a product of our own urbanizing trajectory. In Bhendi Bazaar, residents see old buildings as decaying, dirty antiquities. There is a history of violence in the neighborhood, once a stronghold of gangsters like Dawood Ibrahim. Violence is still present today, and confusing, narrow passages around buildings aid quick getaways. The community's term for the project, "upliftment," says it all. We may call this a borrowed vision of modernity, but it is their vision – modernity with Bohra characteristics — which blurs the line between cultural conceptions of what is "ours" and "theirs."

When assessing development, it can be easy to assume that, in cities of the South, skyscrapers are the product of a top-down, government-driven development — an imposition of Western ideals without sufficient contextualization. But skyscrapers, cars and grand plazas are sometimes chosen by communities themselves, according to their needs and preferences. This isn’t to say that one vision of development is better or worse. Rather, visions of development will vary from place to place, and local inhabitants know best what they need.

A video about the project, which includes an interview with the architect, can be found here.

Carrie Baptist is currently working on an MSc in Urbanisation and Development at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Previously, she lived in Mumbai, where she wandered the city and worked for SPARC.

Credits: Images of Jubilee Street and Bhendi Bazaar from Spencer Wilton.

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The Missing Link in London’s Tech City

by Katia Savchuk

Proposed design for an office block in "Silicon Roundabout" in East London, where policymakers hope to create a technology hub.

Can you engineer an innovative neighborhood? London officials are banking on it. Last November, Prime Minister David Cameron announced plans to turn East London into “Tech City,” a global technology hub to rival Silicon Valley. The designated area stretches from (not-so-catchy) “Silicon Roundabout” near Old Street, across trendy Shoreditch, to the Olympic Park that will host the 2012 Games.

The plan was debated last month at “Liquid City,” an evening salon in the heart of Tech City. Fittingly seated under a carpet of lightbulbs, a panel – including Tech City CEO Eric Van der Kleij – and (mostly young) audience discussed how to create an environment that yields bright ideas.

In the late 1970s, California’s Santa Clara Valley favored collisions between creative people, allowing ideas to build on each other, explained Jack Roberts of Future Human, which organized the event. Buoyed by ideological spillover from Bay Area counterculture movements, this meant an ideal climate for innovation.

These are the happy accidents that Tech City hopes to spur, according to Van der Kleij. Building on a spurt of start-ups and neighborhood vibrancy, the government hopes to attract high-tech businesses and drive investment through tax credits, networking opportunities and marketing. It boasts that Google, Facebook and Cisco have promised to move in, and 15 high-tech companies have grown to 300 in three years.

The Liquid City discussion, and public discourse on Tech City generally, have glossed over two related topics: migration and gentrification. People – as contributors and beneficiaries – are missing in the innovation equation.

The Tech City plan privileges capital and corporations over people as engines of innovation. While trying to attract companies and pounds to East London, the U.K. government is shooting itself in the foot by restricting visas for skilled professionals. In a recent lecture in London, Oxford professor and former World Bank vice president Ian Goldin argued that migration has always been key to innovation, engendering dynamism and creativity. Migrants produced half of startups and investment in Silicon Valley, he said.

Van der Kleij said he was pushing a visa for entrepreneurs who secure £50,000 in investment, but these are unlikely to retain the skilled, creative people needed for innovative collisions to occur.

The discussion also takes for granted that the government’s job is to promote gentrification. Three government bodies – UK Trade & Investment, the Mayor of London and the Hackney Council – are behind Tech City, which actively capitalizes on neighborhood vibrancy to create a “world-class business environment.” The Hackney Council, a local government body, is reduced to “a key stakeholder in the delivery of the Tech City initiative” that is to “assist the companies which make up the digital economy access support they need for growth, by maintaining the conditions for Tech City to thrive.”

A salon participant from a local media company, among the organic start-ups lauded by Tech City boosters, asked what would happen to his business once the project drove up property rates. “If you can’t pay the rent you will be displaced,” responded panelist Andrew Carter of the Centre for Cities. “It’s what happens.”

The government is not asked to do much justification for a project that will price out the residents and companies that made the area attractive, or for privileging capital investment and large corporations over affordable housing and local employment. The assumption is that economic growth will be good for everyone in the end, but gentrification rarely works that way.

One salon participant suggested that Tech City invest in local libraries to incubate innovation while bolstering an ailing public resource. Van der Kleij promised to bring the suggestion to official ears. This was the inkling of a conversation needed to ensure that the government bears its responsibility to balance benefits to business with benefits to people.

Credits: Photo of Silicon Roundabout from Londonist. Photo of "Liquid City" by Katia Savchuk.

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Byron Kim Paints Brooklyn’s Night Sky

by Vivien Park

For his latest solo exhibition, Byron Kim painted the night sky from memory in his Brooklyn studio. “Dark” is a series of large-scale minimal paintings that are somewhere between abstraction and realism. Layers of dark hues cover entire canvases, with only the occasional hint of interior architecture to pull viewers back to the intended context. The paint feels heavy, like the city’s night sky, positioning itself as a barrier between the personal and the universal.

“Byron Kim: Dark” is on view at the James Cohan Gallery until December 17.

Credits: Photo of “Untitled (for J.B.)” from the James Cohan Gallery.

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Hong Kong MTR: A Sustainable Model for Mass Transit

by Natalia Echeverri

Map of the Hong Kong metro system.

Hong Kong Mass Transit Rail (MTR) is one of the most efficient, safe, reliable and affordable systems in the world. Its extensive network carries over 4 million passengers per day, connecting Hong Kong Island to Kowloon and the New Territories.

Rush Hour at Admiralty Station, Hong Kong.

The MTR is unique in another way: it is a profitable transit system. While most of the world's urban rails are largely subsidized by government funds, Hong Kong's MTR Corporation (MTRC) runs a significant surplus. Despite the ridership, this profit is not driven by passenger tickets or advertisement but by its strategy of integrating railway infrastructure with urban development. Surprisingly, since it's inception in the 1970's, the MTRC is also a real estate developer. Planned always in conjunction with the stations, it's portfolio of properties includes shopping malls, residential and office towers, hotels, serviced apartments and even parking lots. The value of the properties is assuredly high given the colocation to stations in this dense public transit-oriented city. The MTRC benefits on both ends of this strategy: more riders = more shoppers = higher rent = growing network = more riders. Despite this market savviness (complete with a highly-paid CEO head-hunted from New York's MTA) the MTRC is still largely a government-owned enterprise.

Very few rail systems around the world are not supported by government subsidies. Lessons can be learned from Hong Kong's MTR; it seems that economic growth, high real estate prices and urban density are important parts of the equation.

Credits: Map of the Hong Kong metro system from mtr.com. Photo of Admiralty Station by Natalia Echeverri.

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‘Koyaanisqatsi’ and ‘Brief History of Civilization’

by Ali Madad

I recently attended "Koyaanisqatsi Live!" at the New York Philharmonic and was as profoundly moved during this viewing and performance as when I first saw the film during my formative years in high school. It remains a film of startling force and impact, retaining its poetic and spiritual dimension. In short: sublime.
ko.yaa.nis.katsi (from the Hopi language), n. 1. crazy life. 2. life in turmoil. 3. life disintegrating. 4. life out of balance. 5. a state of life that calls for another way of living.
Below is a simple pairing of the text from Eduardo Galeano's parable "Brief History of Civilization," from his Mirrors: Stories of Almost Everyone, with animated images from the film. "Koyaanisqatsi" can be streamed on Hulu.

"And we tired of wandering through the forest and along the banks of rivers."

"And we began settling. We invented villages and community life, turned bone into needle and thorn into spike. Tools elongated our hands, and the handle multiplied the strength of the ax, the hoe, and the knife."

"We grew rice, barley, wheat, and corn, we put sheep and goats into corrals, we learned to store grain to keep from starving in bad times."

"And in the fields of our labor we worshiped goddess of fertility, women of vast hips and generous beasts. But with the passage of time they were displaced by the harsh gods of war. And we sang hymns of praise to the glory of kings, warrior chiefs, and high priests."

"We discovered the words 'yours' and 'mine,' land became owned, and women became the property of men and fathers the owners of children."

"Left far behind were the times when we drifted without home or destination. The results of civilization were surprising: our lives became more secure but less free, we worked a lot harder."

Credits: Animated GIFs by Klaas Leussink, from "Koyaanisqatsi" (1982).

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Occupy: The Sky’s the Limit

In the United States, the mainstream media seeks to place protest out of sight and out of mind, often reducing serious social movements to nothing more than tentative uprisings. But now, more than 1500 cities and towns worldwide have been "occupied" by a revolutionary urban movement of young people, an “army of love” that cannot be ignored.

They protest financial inequality and corruption in a steady stream of social media communications and public demonstrations. It is an educated movement of many students and workers, held together by the Internet and “tent city” occupations in urban city centers. It is already making its own world through iPhones, iPads and independent media.

Aerial map of Occupy Wall Street (from the interactive map on MapKnitter).

As in the notorious encampment in Tompkins Square, the park in Manhattan's Lower East Side, activists, homeless citizens, residents and city officials will be seen clashing over greivances in the numerous videos recording the events for years to come. Like Tompkins Square, the Occupy movement, touches upon the most sensitive issues of today’s urban space and has its own media. But a historic difference between these two struggles is the presence today of numerous kinds of networked portable devices, from the cell phone to the laptop, most enabled with GPS and HD video.

Aerial image of Occupy Oakland, taken on Nov. 3, 2011.

What’s spatial about the movement is very clear. Across the world, the Internet, GPS, mobile telephones, Facebook, Twitter, Wordpress and more are holding it together as a “network.” Not only do they form the foundations of its interconnected global electronic space, but also the day-to-day communications of its local activities. The movement is mapped as an “occupation” of public squares, commons, plazas and parks across cities. Despite laws and media created against the interests of the public, pervasive handheld media tools and networks give us the capability to document, map and track our “occupations” and cities — making them our own.

Molly Hakwitz is an artist, designer, writer and editor with a Ph.D. in Media Studies. She writes on mobile cultures and pervasive networks. She is editor at Other Cinema’s Otherzine and a contributing editor at New Media Fix, a global net artist blog.

Credits: New York aerial map from grassrootsmapping.com. Aerial image of Occupy Oakland from publiclaboratory.org.

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Street Artists of Salvador: Dimak

by Carly Fox, Eder Muniz and Sosseh Valentine Taimoorian

“We don’t live off graffiti. We live for graffiti. Graffiti doesn’t sustain us. We sustain graffiti. We have to keep graffiti alive. It’s the essence that we can’t let die.”

— Dimak
Dimak is one of Salvador's “old school” graffiti artists. He has been doing pichacão (tagging) and murals for the past 15 years. His passion and imagination have helped him reach his life goals, and he has recently experimented with other forms of visual expression, including painting on canvas, illustration and tattooing.

As a child, Dimak would accompany his mother from the periphery into the heart of the city, where he could gaze upon the pichação in streets and alleyways. Among the many talented graffiti artists in Salvador, Asa and Cegonha especially captured his attention. Dimak began tagging in 1994 and met Grude, Rato, Soneca (from the PLB crew); Tom, Thor, Siri (PPL); and Marcelinho (GPCF). Dimak acknowledges that pichação is an “expression of the streets,” but he found it limiting and wanted to do more. “I already drew, so as time went by I started to get to know graffiti.”

Dimak decided to pursue a career as an artist while spending two years in Itabuna, a Bahian city south of Salvador. Working a mundane job that had nothing to do with art, he was unable to live the life he had envisioned for himself. He returned to Salvador in 2000 and decided to dedicate himself to art. “Whoever is going to be by my side is going to have to understand my situation, because I want to live by my art. Whoever doesn’t want to live like this won’t be a part of my life.”

When he returned from Itabuna he began to study in the fine arts department of the Federal University of Bahia, only to quit after one semester. “Hey, college is awesome; you learn art, cool, the support you get is essential. But the people who are controlling the university today don’t value the artist. They don’t give you freedom to create. You’re always after the grade. The university is good for certain people, and I respect those who like it and finish, but it wasn’t my thing.”

Dimak creates characters with intricate and deformed facial expressions. He describes his style as “aggressive" and "tense,” forcing the public to wonder what the character is thinking or feeling. “There are things you see everyday that make you feel anguish, emotionally torn apart, beat up," he said. "Without being obvious, I want to put out the things that are causing me anguish.”

Experience with intense migraines has fueled Dimak's work. “For me, the migraine crisis is the same thing as social inequality. Migraines are the same thing as violence. Migraines are the same thing as if you lose everything in your life; if a flood takes everything, you’re robbed of everything. Using red shows your indignation with society.”

Dimak communicates non-verbally through his characters' expressions. “I like the expression of hands. The gesture of hands, for me, is communication without words.” This is especially important for graffiti artists, as it is always a challenge to attract the attention of people passing by.

According to Dimak, there isn’t enough appreciation, value or space for art in Salvador. “The city is big; the work we should be doing should be big. People don’t understand that graffiti is contemporary art. It’s still not in people’s conscience.”

He criticizes graffiti artists who only paint for high-profile events, preferring those who go out on their own to the corners of Salvador and find “a wall that’s dirty, where you’ll appreciate the work and you’re not going to paint for everyone. You’re going to paint because you want to, for pleasure.”

Demak encourages graffiti artists in Salvador to push each other to grow and raise the bar. “As long as we don’t stop, we’ll continue to be a reference for the up-and-coming artists."

Portuguese Version
“A gente não vive do graffiti, a gente vive por graffiti. O graffiti não sustenta nós é que sustentamos graffiti. Nós temos que manter ele vivo. É a essência que a gente não pode deixar apagar.”

— Dimak

Dimak é um dos mais experientes grafiteiros de Salvador – tem mais que 15 anos pichando, bombardeando e grafitando as ruas. Sua personalidade é forte, suas idéias são muito claras e tem conseguido alcançar suas metas. Além do graffiti, tem se aventurado recentemente em outras formas de expressão visual, como pintura em tela, ilustração (manual e digital) e tatuagem.

Quando era menino, saía com a mãe da periferia rumo à cidade só para poder ver as pichações. Não havia muitas nessa época, porém Asa e Cegonha, em particular, chamaram sua atenção. Em 1994, começou a pichar e conheceu Grude, Rato, Soneca (PLB), Tom, Thor, Siri (PPL) e Marcelinho (GPCF). Ele descreve a pichação como “uma expressão da rua”, mas, “como eu já desenhava, eu comecei sentir limitações de expressividade na pichação. O tempo foi passando e eu conheci o graffiti.”

O momento crucial para a decisão de Dimak de viver da arte foi ao retornar de uma estadia de dois anos em Itabuna. “Fui la só para trabalhar, nada a ver com arte. Bater cartão, não poder ter uma vida que eu quero, não ter que dar satisfação a ninguém.” Quando voltou para Salvador, em 2000, decidiu se dedicar exclusivamente à arte. “Eu não vou trabalhar mais para ninguém. Dê o que der, eu vou pagar um preço. Quem quiser ficar a meu lado tem que entender minha situação, porque eu quero viver de arte. Quem não quer ter essas condições, não vou levar em minha vida.”

De volta a Salvador, Dimak entrou para a Faculdade de Belas Artes da UFBA, mas viu que a faculdade não era para ele. “A faculdade é bala, velho. A base, a essência é de foder, mas as pessoas que estão tomando conta da faculdade hoje em dia desmerecem o artista. Não dão liberdade para você se criar. Você corre atrás de uma nota, você não pode desenvolver um trabalho autoral. E é muito pouco tempo para você. Tem ótimos professores, eu gostei. Dou o maior apoio aos que se enquadram no perfil da faculdade e conseguem terminar, mas não foi a minha onda.”

Dimak tem o desejo de criar e recriar seus personagens, agregando expressividade e deformidade. Gosta de inserir uma carga emocional em suas criações, e descreve seu estilo como “agressivo, tensionado”, forçando o público a se questionar sobre o que o personagem está pensando ou sentindo. “Porque tem coisas que você vê no cotidiano, a gente fica angustiado, fica emocionalmente abatido, nos abala. Eu não quero ser óbvio. Quero botar o que me está fazendo sentir angustiado.” No passado, Dimak sofria de enxaqueca, uma condição que ele emprega em sua arte para ilustrar suas emoções. “ Para mim, a crise de enxaqueca é a mesma coisa que a crise de desigualdade social. A crise de enxaqueca é a mesma coisa que a violência. A crise de enxaqueca é a mesma coisa de você perder tudo na sua vida, te roubarem tudo. Então, aquele avermelhado aqui é a indignação com a sociedade. As personagens tensionadas, angustiadas.” Dimak também gosta exagerar os lábios, o nariz, os traços mais negroides, africanos. “Não pela cor, mais pela expressão. A mão, gosto muito a expressão das mãos, também. São coisas que transmitem. O gesto da mão é uma forma de comunicação sem a palavra.”

Na opinião de Dimak, não há apreço, valorização ou espaço suficientes para a arte em Salvador. “A cidade é grande, então tem que fazer trabalhos grandes. Mas não tem espaço nem mercado para a arte. As pessoas não estão entendendo que o graffiti é arte contemporânea. Ainda não está na consciência das pessoas.”

Ele critica um padrão atual em que “a maioria dos grafiteiros só pintam em evento, não um muro manjado, um muro mais escondido, uma coisa que você vai agregar ao seu trabalho, não vai pintar para todo mundo, vai pintar porque é sua onda. São poucos que pintam assim.”

Seu desejo é que os grafiteiros em Salvador se inspirem para pintar e para crescer juntos. “Se a gente vai continuar trabalhando de forma séria (poucas pessoas estão procurando trabalhar de uma forma séria), não parar, vamos acabar sendo referência para os que estão chegando. Só se a gente não parar.”

This is the third chapter of a series on street artists in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil, a collaboration between Salvadoran graffiti artist Eder Muniz and independent researcher Carly Fox, with assistance from Sosseh Valentine Taimoorian of Polis. Each chapter offers a brief introduction to an artist from Salvador based on an extensive collection of interviews, testimonials and photos. Carly and Eder are compiling this material into a book in English and Portuguese.

Credits: Photos from Dimak.

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