Memories of Unknown Cities

by Vivien Park

Marc Yankus's sleepy-eyed portraits of the city "as it sinks into slumber, as it rouses itself to face a new day" are beautiful images of an indefinite time and place. Having originally studied to be a painter, Yankus took up photography as a way to generate collage materials for his compositions. As a photographer, his work has retained painterly qualities, with foregrounds and backgrounds often blending into one another.

While his use of muted tones and patinas are a common technique, they uniquely convey a sense of memory and the passage of time. The blurriness of the subjects gives the impression that they could be any urban scene. I found myself reflecting on places I've never been before as if they were a memory.

Credits: Photo from

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Ctrl+P: The ARCHIZINES Collection

by Ivan Valin

Source: David Garcia Studio's MAP

Zines were supposed to have been doomed by the Internet, with deathblows from blogs and a final thrashing from tweets and tumblrs. But despite all the digital competition, the zine is resurgent. Actually, to talk of self-publication as the antithesis of online expression is absurd. Today's zines speak to a maturity of alternative discourse that involves the full range of media types. Architects and related designers are especially comfortable at the overlap of the physical and the digital — and they are expert self-promoters. The ARCHIZINES exhibit, organized by Elias Redstone, is a curatorial success in the worlds of architecture and self-publishing.

Source: "What About It?" on ARCHIZINES

Most of the publications in the collection have been created through entirely digital means, with lush imagery and sophisticated graphic design. Some are "stapled," and the "Xerox" technique is used for style rather than utility. They are articulate visions that have been refined through a global platform of social and professional networks and within local communities through lectures, shows and gatherings. Almost all have an online presence.

Source: "Evil People in Modernist Homes in Popular Films" on purple DIARY

If you will be in Milan within the next month, you can see the ARCHIZINES LIVE exhibit at SpazioFMG. If not, check out the online exhibit, and get lost among the links to more than 60 journals, magazines and pamphlets from around the world. Find a large-format, foldout graphic essay on the architectural significance of quarantines or Antarctica in MAP (Manual of Architectural Possibilities) from Denmark. ANZA, from Tanzania, is focused on urbanism in the rapidly growing cities of East Africa. Some — like nu, PIDGIN, and KERB — extend the discourse from a particular university (The University of Coimbra, Princeton and RMIT, respectively). Some of the publications have caché (Volume is connected with Rem Koolhaas), purpose (to "set the agenda for architecture and design") and distribution that verges on mainstream. But the majority of the works speak on behalf of the marginalized, the invisible, the amateur and the individual. They simply challenge and entertain. The exhibit captures the legacy of the zine as it rapidly evolves in new directions.

Source: "Conditions" on purple DIARY

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Henri Lefebvre on Maps as ‘Instant Infinity’

Source: Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas

"How many maps, in the descriptive or geographical sense, might be needed to deal exhaustively with a given space, to code and decode all its meanings and contents? It is doubtful whether a finite number can ever be given to this sort of question. What we are most likely confronted with here is a sort of instant infinity, a situation reminiscent of a Mondrian painting. It is not only the codes — the map’s legend, the conventional signs of map-making and map-reading — that are liable to change, but also the objects represented, the lens through which they are viewed and the scale used. We are confronted not by one social space but by many indeed, by an unlimited multiplicity or unaccountable set of social spaces.”

Henri Lefebvre, from “The Production of Space,” 1991

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.

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Oscar Moment: A City in Dance

by Min Li Chan

In riveting scenes from Wim Wenders's 2012 Oscar-nominated 3-D dance film, "Pina," dancers for the Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch move to the themes of love, humor and longing. They are transported from the stage and into the midst of city life in the German city of Wuppertal. On the street median, underneath the tracks, in the park, or in the industrial outskirts of the city, the drama of life is expressed in the language of dance. These city scenes provide a stunning, often unlikely backdrop for dance theatrics, perhaps paying homage to the city that this illustrious dance company and its iconic choreographer call home.

"Pina" highlights Wuppertal's unconventional mix of land use. Many scenes are set in lush greenery — no surprise, given that green space occupies two-thirds of the municipal area. The city is known for its woods, parks and slopes, which are within a 10-minute trek from any part of the city. At the same time, the audience catches glimpses of Wuppertal's industrial lineage and bustling downtown, connected by the Wuppertal Schwebebahn, a suspension railway. The 3-D effects in the film bring a certain physicality to the space, but also provide an unprecedented view "inside" the dance — you can see within the choreography rather than watching a faraway stage.

Credits: Photos from the "Pina" website.

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Misusing the City Statute in São Paulo

by Patricia Rodrigues Samora

Mauá Street squat. Source: Julia Chequer / R7

Brazil has become known for innovative urban initiatives, including the noted 2001 Statute of the City, which aimed to affirm the social purpose of space and property and social control of land and development. São Paulo was a pioneer in using the powers granted by this groundbreaking law, becoming the first major city to integrate urban instruments from the statute into its master plan. Promulgated in 2002, the plan designated specific urban areas as “Zonas Especiais de Interesse Social” (ZEIS, or Zones of Special Social Interest), which included some of the city's poorest areas.

Source: Google Maps

Some of the ZEISs were located in São Paulo's 13 central districts. These well-located and transportation-rich neighborhoods suffered from abandonment during the past three decades, as de-industrialization impoverished the working classes, and the middle and upper classes abandoned the areas for newer parts of the city. Many buildings were squatted, as the poor struggled to hang on in one of the most expensive cities on the planet.

With pressure constantly mounting on environmentally sensitive areas at the edge of the metropolis, a core idea of the central ZEISs was to encourage public and private investment for financing quality social housing to attract new residents. ZEISs could be built up more densely than other areas in order to attract capital, but as part of the statute’s goals of improving social control over development, deep popular participation in the planning process was required. Over the past few years, real estate developers have become aware of the profit potential of these central districts, and investment is now pouring in beyond the borders of the ZEISs.

Source: Nova Luz Perimeter

One of the most famous and grandiose projects in São Paulo is the city-led redevelopment of “Nova Luz.” The Nova Luz area is well connected to metropolitan transport services, including a new subway line, which — along with cultural spots such as the São Paulo Concert Hall — is part of a wave of public investments designed to spur interest in the area. Under a public-private partnership, the city is looking to "renovate" 45 blocks in the Luz and Santa Ifigênia neighborhoods, also in the name of “compact city” development to alleviate sprawl. To do so, the government is using "urban concession" — a legal instrument that allows the municipality to tender projects to private companies granted they serve a public purpose — to evict residents, demolish old buildings and build new ones. Only a single entity (or pool of companies) will implement the entire Nova Luz project, worth 750 million Brazilian real ($450 million), in five phases. One third of the area will disappear in order to make room for new apartment and office buildings. The Mauá Street occupation, a squat building home 253 families, is one of the buildings that will be demolished.

Drug raid on January 13, 2012. Source: Apu Gomes / FSP

These blocks and its old buildings are places of popular business and have some of the highest population densities in central São Paulo. This is due mainly to the occupation of old, empty buildings by an organized housing movement, responsible for the squatting of 44 buildings to shelter more than nine thousand families since the 1990s. Some of the streets are occupied by hundreds of crack addicts, including many children, a fact that the media has exploited to label the neighborhood "crackland." This problem is used by the government to defend the Nova Luz intervention: In a recent joint operation named “Pain and Suffering,” state and municipal police forces pushed addicts out of the area. Many hostels and tenements are being closed for the same reason, without any solutions for housing affected families.

Urban Concession Area. Source: Nova Luz

Nestled inside the Nova Luz perimeter is a ZEIS. According to the project guidelines, the ZEIS will be used to shelter part of the population evicted from the rest of area. Old buildings and squats will be demolished to clear the area for other (profitable) uses, while the ZEIS — restricted by law to social housing — will help mitigate the impact evictions. However, this scheme doesn’t guarantee that current low-income residents can remain. Many will not be able to afford or qualify for the new housing in the ZEIS. Moreover, many residents dependent on affordable rents are already being displaced, as rents rise in anticipation of the project. Activists and residents have even had to fight for their right to participate in the planning process, even though this is guaranteed by law.

Recently, some residents, local businesses, social housing activists and homeless representatives have come together around housing policy, common heritage, built environment quality, and drug and health policy. They founded a neighborhood association that is catalyzing collaborative initiatives, such as a workshop to inform residents about the five phases of the Nova Luz project, using different colored stickers to mark buildings that will be demolished. There have been some achievements, like the establishment of a ZEIS management council that forces the municipality to negotiate with residents, enhancing a culture of collaborative planning in the city.

Rendering of the ZEIS proposal. Source: Nova Luz

Nevertheless, the fact remains that the ZEIS is being used as a reservoir for the poor, a small island where a few will be allowed to stay while thousands more are evicted and displaced. Even worse, the ZEIS is being used to mitigate the impacts of a massive public-private redevelopment project and thus legitimate mass evictions, an issue that is becoming critical in Brazil's economic boom and redevelopment spurred by the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics. The recent case of the Pinheirinho settlement is a strong example of this trend.

The City Statute and subsequent São Paolo Master Plan were seen as victories for the housing movement — a means to formulate projects that could change the face of exclusion by which Brazilian cities are known. But the city and state governments of São Paulo, and to a certain extent the federal government, seem to have chosen another way to build the future of our cities. This is a future in which evictions are increasingly part of “progress,” the social function of urban land is again made subservient to the demands of the wealthy, and the purpose of planning is to gentrify the core to the greatest extent possible.

This post is by Patricia Rodrigues Samora, a post-doctoral researcher at the Laboratory of Housing and Human Settlements in the Faculty of Architecture and Planning at the University of São Paulo, Brazil.

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David Chipperfield on the 2012 Venice Architecture Biennale

Source: Spontaneous Interventions, U.S. Pavilion website for the Venice Architecture Biennale

"I want projects in the Biennale to look seriously at the spaces made by buildings: the political, social, and public realms of which architecture is a part. I do not want to lose the subject of architecture in a morass of sociological, psychological or artistic speculation, but to try to develop the understanding of the distinct contribution that architecture can make in defining the common ground of the city. This theme is a deliberate act of resistance towards the image of architecture propagated in much of today's media of projects springing fully formed from the minds of individual talents. I wish to promote the fact that architecture is internally connected, intellectually and practically, sharing common concerns, influences and intentions."

David Chipperfield, from an interview on "Common Ground," the theme of the 13th International Architecture Exhibition at the Venice Architecture Biennale, 2012

This post is part of a collection of quotes related to cities. They don't necessarily reflect our views, just topics of interest. We invite you to add others.

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Visions of Quito by Oswaldo Guayasamín

by Jordi Sánchez-Cuenca

Source: Colección Pacar
Since my arrival in Quito two years ago, one of my most exciting discoveries has been Oswaldo Guayasamín. This iconic Latin American painter was born in Quito in 1919 and died there 80 years later.

Besides being Ecuador's most famous artist, he was also a politically active intellectual who supported the causes of the poor and victims of slavery, exploitation, wars, famine and other tragedies on the continent. He was a close friend of Pablo Neruda, Gabriel García Marquez, Fidel and Raúl Castro, François Mitterrand and Rigoberta Menchu, among other important progressive figures from the second half of the 20th century. Most of his pieces express a profound sense of sorrow, which can be interpreted as a condemnation of the suffering that millions bore because of social injustices and wars. Despite this, his art is strikingly beautiful.

"Quito en Rojo" (1968). Source: Christie's

Among the most important themes in Guayasamín's art is the city of Quito. In most paintings, the city appears under a dramatic mountainscape and rainy clouds, a scene that is common in Quito. Most of these works show the city climbing the volcano slopes; indeed, Guayasamín's house and workshop are situated on a high slope from which a large part of the city can be seen. It is also the best spot from which to see the sun set behind Quito and its major volcano, the Pichincha.

Two versions of "Quito de la Nube Negra" (1987). Sources: El Poder de la Palabra and Todo es Posible en Ecuador

Although Quito has multiplied in size since Guayasamín started to paint it, he managed to capture the city's essence, with informal neighborhoods settling on the climbing slopes and creating a sort of carpet covering the valley from one slope to the other.

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New Magazine on African Urbanism

by Tau Tavengwa

It has been nearly four months since we breathed a huge sigh of relief. After more than a year of meetings, informal conversations, exorbitant coffee bills and more meetings, we finally launched CityScapes at the Open Book literary festival in Cape Town. A brief introduction: CityScapes is a biannual print magazine focusing on cities in the Global South, an initiative of the African Centre for Cities at the University of Cape Town. Don’t judge us by our geographical location: The cover of the launch issue features a photograph taken on the opposite end of Africa — a portrait by Moroccan artist Yto Barrada.

CityScapes has a core team of four diverse individuals: urban theorist Edgar Pieterse, who is also director of the Centre for African Cities; Camaren Peter, a sustainability researcher and scientist; journalist and arts writer Sean O’Toole; and myself, Tau Tavengwa, a bookmaker, designer and accidental researcher. The four of us spent a lot of time grappling with the various dialogues about cities in Africa. At the same time, we tried to figure out how they connected to larger conversations about urbanization and development in the Global South. One of our main conclusions was that there was need for a publication — something disciplined and thoughtful but also rambunctious — that would adequately serve a range of practitioners (scholars, architects, urbanists, journalists, artists, photographers, essayists and all other sorts of cultural factotums) saying interesting things about the "the city."

We want to be a catalyst for a more inclusive and nuanced series of dialogues on the future of our continent. More Africans than ever before now live in cities. In the next 10 years the scales will tip irreversibly: More Africans will live in cities than rural areas. It is in these cities that the big developmental issues will be played out. This is the future of our continent, and we want to be a thoughtful contributor to the debate. Our aim is to expand the definition of what the city is and who is qualified to speak on its behalf.

We are interested in describing and critiquing the practices, ideas and visions of a wide variety of actors whose work is primarily urban. We aim to identify where these practices merge and intersect with similar practices in South Asia, Latin America and other parts of the world experiencing rapid urban transition and comparable challenges. In doing so, we do not wish to simply compare Dehli to Johannesburg, Cape Town to Rio, or Addis to Lagos. Our intention is to surface more complicated readings of cities, individually and in juxtaposition.

The magazine’s tone is serious, critical and engaged, but it also aims to be accessible and irreverent. It offers readers both discursive thinking and narrative storytelling. The launch issue includes a long conversation between urbanist AbdouMaliq Simone and philosopher Achille Mbembe. The piece not only speaks of Simone’s work but also reaches into his personal life and influences, revealing the origin of his unique and laudable redefinition of academic practice. Aromar Revi, director of the Indian Institute for Human Settlements, speaks at length to Edgar Pieterse about his organization’s ambitious plan to train 50,000 new urbanists to manage India’s growing and new cities. By 2030 India will have eight cities with more than nine million inhabitants, four of which will be classified as "mega-cities."

CityScapes recognises the value of non-verbal forms of knowledge production. The new magazine has photo-essays from Dehli, Johannesburg, Tangier and Cairo’s Tahrir Square. The launch issue includes an enquiring piece of reportage into a working class Cape Town neighbourhood at the center of an awkward process of gentrification. The article forms part of a larger enquiry into Cape Town’s status as a design capital and is timed to coincide with the recent conferral of World Design Capital status on the city for 2014. The magazine also includes a series of opinion editorials by leading thinkers and enquiring writers, a regular city report section and, because music from the continent is essential listening, an in-depth interview with musician Neo Muyanga and cultural activist Ntone Edjabe, founders of a unique urban music festival.

It’s a disparate collection, but this is what cities in the Global South are like — schizophrenic, unpredictable, not easily boxed. CityScapes is our attempt to celebrate what they are and who is involved in their making (or unmaking). Although aligned with an academic institution, we like to believe that our constituents are worldly people who simply, ultimately, enjoy a good read. We strongly believe in print, in good long-form journalism and writing. We also enjoy the Web and understand its power to leapfrog Old-World ways of reaching out. We purposefully held back on building a website so that we could refine the structure of our magazine, see what works in print and what would be better online. Web and print are complementary mediums, and we intend to use both effectively in our attempt to build a broad conversation that anyone in our fast-transforming cities can be a part of.

The second issue of CityScapes is due out on April 30, 2012. It will be as eccentric and enquiring as the first.

Tau Tavengwa is co-editor, creative director and co-publisher of CityScapes.

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Rebuilding After the 2010 Earthquake in Haiti

by Anna Fogel

A small business in Port-au-Prince surveyed as part of Architecture for Humanity's Economic Corridors Project. Source: Architecture for Humanity

Last week marked the second anniversary of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. The devastation — more than 315,000 people dead, 1.5 million people displaced, 10 million cubic meters of rubble — stunned the world and resulted in a messy, often uncoordinated, response. As a development finance professional, I have followed rehabilitation efforts there over the last two years: taking part in some, listening to stories from colleagues and friends in Haiti and watching building projects move from plans to reality in response to the crisis.

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), with the architectural firm HOK and a local non-profit partner, are designing Project Haiti, an orphanage and children’s center that will be a LEED Platinum structure. The designs were released on the earthquake's two-year anniversary and will replace a school building destroyed in 2010. The building's ecological aspects – including natural ventilation; solar, wind and biofuel power generation; and safe water supply – are intended to contribute to a sustainable future for Haiti. Rick Fedrizzi, CEO of USGBC, explained in his article published in the Huffington Post last week that this was an effort “to show the children of Haiti that their lives are valued, they deserve to breathe clean air and they are cared about.”

Design renderings of Project Haiti. Source: USGBC

Architecture for Humanity has been on the ground since days after the earthquake hit in 2010. Their approach focuses on community engagement and participation in design, building and planning for the future. While they have led the rebuilding of four schools and three clinics and worked to develop community rebuilding plans, they have also gathered information from communities through mass surveys and trained residents in construction and planning to ensure that there is a cadre of Haitian construction experts leading the efforts.

Community participation in the design of the Santo Community Development Plan. Source: Architecture for Humanity

The Haiti Rebuilding Center, which has grown to a team of 37 architects and local staff, focuses on coordinating rebuilding efforts, advocating for changes in building codes and planning laws and training local professionals and consumers. While Architecture for Humanity staff currently run the center, they plan to transfer ownership and management to an all-local team in the next five years. Their approach – which goes beyond constructing buildings or even training local leaders – works to increase access to finance for small businesses in the construction industry, change laws and develop entire communities.

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Architecture of Peace

by Rebecka Gordan

SAYA/Design for Change, an Israeli-based architecture firm, designed approaches for Palestinian re-use of evacuated Israeli settlements.

There is no question that architecture and planning have been crucial components of conflicts taking place in cities. But whether designs are used to solve or enhance frictions is another matter. Recently I came across SAYA/Design for Change, an Israeli-based architectural, planning and design office that has taken a proactive role in social change by devoting its practice to peacebuilding.

One recent project faces a scenario most city planners would want to avoid. In collaboration with Palestinian planners, the office has created a series of designs illustrating options for specialized border crossings in a potentially split Jerusalem. This is a case study of the challenges urban planners would face if a two-state solution ever came to pass.

The work of SAYA/Design for Change is oriented around "resolution planning," a set of architectural and urban design tools that they developed for conflict resolution processes. Starting in the Israel-Palestinian context. the method is now being extended to other territories. The aim is to create better scenarios, master plans and policy proposals for final-status solutions to aid policymakers in the region and abroad.

From the project "A City Border along Road 60, Jerusalem."

From the project "Ben Hinom Valley – Future Separation in an Open Urban Area."

From the project "A City Border along Road 60, Jerusalem."

Credits: All images from SAYA/Design for Change.

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NYU Expansion Threatens Green Space in Greenwich Village

by Georgia Silvera Seamans

Sasaki Garden at Washington Square Village in N.Y. Source: Georgia Silvera Seamans

There used to be direct physical and visual access to the Sasaki Garden in New York City’s Washington Square Village, but New York University blocked access when it built a postal services center on LaGuardia Place. The garden was designed by landscape architecture firm Sasaki, Walker and Associates and completed in 1959.

Sasaki Garden (facing southwest). Source: Georgia Silvera Seamans

Interior of North Block. Source: Georgia Silvera Seamans

The Sasaki Garden is in the center of the North Block, a Greenwich Village "superblock" that replaced smaller blocks of low-rise, 19th-century buildings during a 1950s urban redevelopment project based on Le Corbusier’s Radiant and Contemporary City models. Andrew Bernam of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation has observed that, "Extra-tall towers were allowed with the understanding that they would always be offset by generous amounts of open space." The Sasaki Garden, a large playground and two small lawn areas — one of which is used for urban agriculture education — make up the generous open space in the North Block. The garden is home to 110 trees and 12 species of birds.

A Northern Cardinal in the garden. Source: Hubert Steed

The garden and the North Block’s other green spaces are endangered. Over the next 20 years, NYU proposes to add an estimated 1.5 million square feet to the two superblocks. The Sasaki Garden would be destroyed. In a city that spends millions on sustainability projects and policies (see PlaNYC and NYC Green Infrastructure Plan), it is incomprehensible that the local university would propose to destroy green space and that the city would support it.

If you would like to learn more about efforts to preserve the Sasaki Garden and the NYU campus expansion plan, contact the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation and Community Alliance Against NYU 2031. The university’s perspective is available here.

Georgia Silvera Seamans is a denizen of Sasaki Garden and author of Local Ecologist.

This is part of a collection of featured places from around the world. If you’d like to share photos of a place you find interesting, please add them to the Flickr group or send them to and we’ll publish your feature. Video and sound recordings are also welcome.

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Matthew Gandy on Water and Urban Fragmentation

Source: Meena Kadri

"In a dusty office of the municipal buildings in K-West ward in northwest Mumbai there is a detailed map of the Paris water supply system placed under a sheet of thick glass on the desk of the chief engineer. This 'hydraulic decoration' acknowledges an attachment to a utopian vision of the perfect city: a striving towards a perfect synthesis of engineering science with urban modernity. The intricate arrangement of blue lines — varying in thickness and shading to depict the hierarchical structure of the city’s water mains — is counterposed with the familiar bridges, boulevards and radial sub- divisions of the Parisian arrondissements. This striking cartographic representation of Paris is suggestive of a tension between the idea of the modern city as a visible manifestation of conscious design and the complex array of unseen networks extending beneath the city streets. Mumbai, like any other modern city, bears the imprint of successive generations of civil engineers and urban planners yet its hydrological structure has never closely corresponded with a rationalized conception of urban space: time and again, ambitious plans and schemes have been only partially realized leaving the material reality of the city far short of any technical ideal."

Matthew Gandy, from "Landscapes of Disaster: Water, Modernity and Urban Fragmentation in Mumbai," 2008

This post is part of a collection of quotes related to cities. They don't necessarily reflect our views, just topics of interest. We invite you to add others any time.

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Google Earth Images as Abstract Art

by Vivien Park

Wandering through satellite images captured by Google Earth, artist Marco Cadioli uncovered manmade landscapes resembling geometric art. In his 2011 series "Abstract Journeys," Cadioli took these unintentional compositions and compiled them into screen shots and video vignettes through the lens of early 20th-century art history. The results are at once a romantic narrative of modern landscape and a critique of technology as a medium that can alter our perceptions.

Marco Cadioli's first solo exhibition, 'Abstract Journeys,' will be on view at the Gloria Maria Gallery in his hometown of Milan, Italy, from Jan. 26 to Feb. 22.

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Kenya’s ‘Little Italy’

by Natalia Echeverri

Source: Natalia Echeverri

On the red dirt roads of southern Kenya, a few hours from Malindi, kids chase and hail streams of Jeeps and Land Rovers hauling tourists to and from Tsavo, one of the country's largest safari parks. Most of the children gather along the road, so their shouts are clear. Surprisingly, they are often in Italian: "Ciao, ciao" or an occasional "aqua" or "dolce."

Source: My World Travel Guides

Approaching Malindi's city center, Italian becomes even more conspicuous. Signs on a supermarket storefront and a few restaurants are in Italian. Sambucca sits on a local bar's meager top shelf. A local man shouts Italian into his cellphone next to a group of Swahili women in black burqas who don't seem to notice.

Source: Sunday Nation

Malindi, it turns out, is Kenya's "Little Italy." Italians arrived in the historic coastal city more than 30 years ago, attracted by its climate and beaches. Since then, the Italian population has risen rapidly. Today around 4,000 Italians are permanent residents, while 30,000 tourists visit each year from the motherland. There are more than 2,500 Italian-owned properties in the city, including residences, hotels, restaurants, supermarkets, bakeries and small businesses. There is only one foreign consulate in Malindi — it represents Italy.

Although the Italian culture is strong at the moment, Malindi is a multicultural city of more than 150,000 inhabitants. A Swahili trading settlement since the 14th century, it has been variously visited by Arabs, Asians, Portuguese, English and Germans. Their influence is also embedded in the city and its culture. Because of these layers, the city has a depth and sophistication that peeks through despite the dilapidation. The next round of tourists and traders will only add to this patina, and the kids will surely be shouting "Ni hao" or "Zdravstvuyte!"

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Film Explores U.K. Media Coverage of Developing Countries

by Katia Savchuk

Last Wednesday, the Institute of Development Studies in the U.K. released a short film exploring how the British media depict poverty in developing countries. "Famine, War and Corruption: The British Media's Portrayal of the Global South" includes interviews with journalist and filmmakers, many of whom say that the press disproportionately focuses on war and disaster. This not only leads to an inaccurate view of life in developing countries among the British public, but also desensitization, hostility to aid and ignorance about the structural causes of poverty.

"News is about bad news," ITN presenter Jon Snow points out, which drives reporters to focus on worst-case scenarios. Ratings pressures, time constraints and staffing cuts are also limiting possibilities for in-depth reporting. But as some point out in the film, the main culprit is the failure of many reporters to transcend simplistic narratives and examine deeper causes or multiple views of a situation.

The journalists interviewed in the film see a need for more frequent in-depth stories, locally based media and depoliticized coverage. This means no longer treating the public as the "lowest common denominator," World Development Movement director Deborah Doane said.

Beyond the small slice of the world each of us sees first-hand, the media, broadly defined, entirely construct our understanding of the world "out there." This immense power makes it a moral imperative that mainstream media outlets evaluate the narratives they put in our minds and that the public support diverse and probing coverage.

You can see longer interviews with Jon Snow and Deborah Doane here:

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Berkeley Sociologists Debate the Present and Future of Occupy

by Hector Fernando Burga

UC Berkeley sociologists Claude Fischer and Michael Burawoy went tête-à-tête in an incisive debate at the peak of the Occupy fervor last November. The lessons of social history and the idealism of sociology clash as they explore the contemporary value and future development of this fluid movement.

The session starts with a summary of the events that led to Occupy Wall Street on Sept. 17, 2011, including links to anti-globalization movements of the late 1990s. Marcel Paret provides the context for the emergence of Occupy Oakland, including California’s current fiscal crisis and social and racial injustices and movements in the Bay Area.

Fischer makes his opening remark on the 18th minute. Pointing to American social history, he predicts that Occupy will not turn out well. Successful street action requires careful coordination with the tide of public opinion, powerful allies in high places, adherence to midterm concrete goals rather than long-term abstract aims, and the transformation of principle into policy. He concludes by offering the example of two movements that turned the tide of political fervor into political success: the civil rights movement and the recent Tea Party movement in the U.S. The key to longevity, he argues, is the transfer of political action from public space to votes that elect new leaders.

Burawoy counterpoints in the 30th minute, linking the spontaneity of Occupy to the emblematic 1968 student movement at UC Berkeley. We must look to history for reference, but what happens when something new appears? And how can sociology offer a lens to understand it? For Burawoy, Occupy is a new form of political mobilization, one that is central to the concerns of sociology: inequality, poverty and capital. The Occupy movement challenges the generalizations of historic social movements to expose the historical particularities of the present, he suggests. To understand this dimension, we must consider who the protestors are, why they are protesting and how they are doing so.

Burowoy builds upon Marxist analysis to explain that Occupy is about the “precariat” rather than the proletariat — those who are increasingly dispossessed from capital rather than the working class. Capital has turned into finance capital, with its fluid investments, rapid flows, local exclusions and global accumulations. The question at the core of this historical moment is: What role does finance capital play in creating the precariat? What can be done to challenge the power of finance capital and its web of dispossession over so much of the population?

Burawoy suggests, the only possible challenge can come from a movement that is as fluid as finance capital — one that turns away from electoral politics, because democracy is itself embedded with finance capital and bourgeois ideals. Given our current historical moment, one in which finance capital impregnates every type of social life, a new form of political action can only take place in the spontaneity of the assembly and the public spaces of the city.

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Housing Management as Design

by Peter Sigrist

The Starrett City housing development in East New York. Source: New York Magazine

Rosalie Genevro's article "Starrett City: A Home of One’s Own — With Party Walls" traces the history of a beloved modernist housing project in East New York. Cassim Shepard, editor of Urban Omnibus, explains its significance:
Looking a little deeper into the social story that inhabits the built environment — in this case, the story behind one of the last New York City developments built on the tower-in-the-park model — can only help illuminate new thinking about the relationship between people and buildings, and just might challenge us to question some of our basic assumptions about house, home and the American landscape.

Iconic demolition of the Pruitt-Igoe housing project in St. Louis, Mo. Source: Wikipedia

Genevro combines historical research with resident interviews to shed light on the factors that foster comfortable urban density. Her findings offer a more thorough understanding of the apartment blocks that Jane Jacobs and so many others have written off as isolating slums. She notes that:
Management is more important to creating successful places than architectural form. Form can be supportive, but it is not determinative. ... New York has plenty of examples of towers in the park that work, including Stuyvesant Town and Penn South and Fordham Hill in the Bronx.

Stuyvesant Town in Manhattan. Source: NY Daily News

The Starrett City case highlights management practices that contribute to attractive residential settings. Two that stand out are the employment of a local security firm and substantial investment in public green space. Troublingly, these measures were part of the developer's efforts to gain approval of the rental project by attracting a 70 percent "white" population. By 2007 that percentage had fallen to 32, and the development remains as successful as ever. Clearly, the determining factor isn't racial composition.

Khrushchev-era apartment buildings in Moscow, with balconies that open onto well-maintained courtyards full of mature trees. Source: Peter Sigrist

Based on archival work and interviews in Moscow, I've found that management is also the key to comfortable public green space in residential areas. When a housing development is well managed, people are more satisfied with their surroundings. The most valued management responsibilities include litter removal, maintenance of shared amenities (such as benches, greenery, playgrounds) and enforcement of rules for the use of public space. It's also essential for residents to have an attentive management body to approach when problems arise.

Central courtyard in the Moscow housing project where scenes from "Irony of Fate, or Enjoy Your Bath!" were filmed. Source: Peter Sigrist

In many ways, management is a design issue. Setting up an effective, affordable and flexible management structure should be part of the design process for new housing developments. Management also goes hand-in-hand with aesthetic appeal. Litter is a perfect example, because its removal creates a more aesthetically pleasing environment. Developers can also invest in architecture, landscaping and building materials that stay attractive over time. The study of residential developments offers insight into the elements that work best, helping us achieve what Genevro describes as "well-built, carefully managed, desirable and long-lasting housing" in cities.

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‘Avoid Ghetto App’ Takes Us the Wrong Way

by Alex Schafran


The American Internet is atwitter after Microsoft announced last week that it had patented a mobile application technology giving pedestrians directions that avoid high-crime areas. An early story from a Seattle TV station dubbed it the "avoid ghetto app," and the avalanche began. Twitter is exploding with links to tech blogs, witty 140-character opinions and links to online debates: Is it racist? Does it protect women?

MSNBC, which is owned by Microsoft, attempted to weigh in on the budding controversy by mentioning that they never used the term "ghetto." An AOL reporter actually did some reporting, talking to experts who compared the tool to redlining and found it "appalling" and others who said it was "creepy" but useful.

What makes this issue so complex is that Microsoft is using highly fallible technology to replicate an existing practice that is itself both problematic and practical. People are writing about the app not only because Microsoft is using crime data to mark communities "to be avoided," but also because this mimics something most city residents do already.

Whether we like to admit it or not, we avoid certain parts of the city — especially on foot, especially at night and especially if we are carrying something valuable. When friends visit, particularly women, we advise them on safer routes or offer to pick them up in a car if an area is dangerous. We keep an eye out when we move about the city, looking for signs of trouble. This is called "street smarts," and it is practiced not just by middle-class white folks but also by low-income residents, people of color and tough guys. Staying in one piece in many communities involves knowing which blocks to avoid.

Is Microsoft's app a problem even if it replicates a common practice? Yes. Here are a few of the many reasons why:
  • Codifying something matters. Banks always discriminated against people of color and poor neighborhoods, but it got much worse when redlining became official policy. Since the advent of the Internet, technologies that are widely used by major corporations have a form of codifying power. This app will further mark some communities as places to avoid, exacerbating abandonment and creating a self-fulfilling prophesy.
  • Folk knowledge is absent. "Street smarts" is often about relationships with people you know, specific incidents and particular places, not about raw data in GIS. As author Sarah Chinn wisely points out in the AOL article, most violent crime occurs between people who know each other. There is simply no way to create an exclusively "data-driven" application for street smarts in a way that actually makes people smarter. Note to IBM: The pathway to "smarter cities" involves smarter citizens, which goes beyond access to "data." This app would not teach us how to read, live in or navigate a city — it would simply chop the city up into "safe" and "unsafe" areas.
  • This is a practice we want to undo, not replicate. All of us, especially if we are white and not poor, have avoided places based on some "sign" or reputation. Sometimes this is probably quite wise — I've been mugged, and I now know why I should have avoided that place. But we have all likely avoided places based on unfounded fear, one that permeates our society and constantly helps reproduce spatial inequality. We should be looking for ways to reduce the "automatic avoidance" instinct, not build it into our cell phones.
Perhaps we should be thankful to Microsoft for raising a much-needed debate. Chinn made the not-quite-tongue-in-cheek suggestion that a better app would help young men of color identify areas to avoid getting profiled. Instead, how about an app that points out areas that you may avoid because you imagine them to be dangerous, but that are in fact relatively safe to explore?

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Mapping Architectural Controversies

by Andrew Wade

Aerial view of the 2012 Olympic stadium in London, one of the projects profiled by Mapping Architectural Controversies. Source: Flickr user Frans Zwart

While we've previously mused on the agency of mapping in reconfiguring information vital to the production of the urban realm, the Mapping Architectural Controversies research project at the Manchester School of Architecture provides a well-defined example of applying such analysis to the time-based development of specific buildings and projects. Attempting to embrace the complexity of unknowns, multiple stakeholders and shifting negotiations throughout the planning and design process, the project utilizes basic computer modelling techniques to decipher and display the relationships and priorities of those driving complex projects, as well as those affected by them.

As a visual tool, such models hold the potential not only to reveal points of difference and conflict, but also to hint at realms of consensus and negotiation that allow projects to address mutual interests. In building up an archive of various development scenarios, the animations can then be traced to inform future projects, as they typically document adaptations among different human and non-human actors to alter the course of a project over time. While such maps are always to some extent reductive and selective of the realities in any design scenario, they highlight new methods of re-embedding the social into the architectural, shedding new light on how the process of design affects the city and its constituent parts.

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Who is to Blame for Evictions in Spain?

by Jordi Sánchez-Cuenca

Announcements of solidary actions against evictions in Barcelona and Zaragoza, Spain. "Desahucio" means "eviction" in Spanish.

More than three years after the beginning of the global economic crisis, Spain continues to fall without a visible end. One of the most traumatic effects in this country has been evictions. Since 2008, there have been more than 150,000, according to official figures; some NGOs say there have been more than 300,000. Although many evictions counted are actually parking lots, industrial premises, beach houses or flats in empty real estate developments, that still leaves tens of thousands of families in tragic situations. Most of these families used to be middle class and are now below the poverty line.

Most local newspapers report on conflicts between poor families and banks, telling of families that bought a home with a long-term mortgage with low (but variable) interest rates. When one or more family members found themselves unemployed and unable make payments, banks could claim the property plus the difference between the amount owed on the property and its current value (often one-third lower than the original price). This has left families not only without jobs and homes, but also with massive debt to be repaid across decades. At the same time, national and local governments are making massive cuts to social welfare because of public debt.

A group protests an eviction. Source: Identidad Andaluza

In reality, the situation is more complex. Many cases involve real estate speculators and white collar thieves who told families that it did not matter if they couldn't afford a home — they could sell it later and supposedly make a profit. They praised the wonders of the Spanish economy and claimed real estate prices would never go down. Some bank employees and real estate agents hid costs or lied about the conditions of the business, while others omitted information that would have discouraged many from getting into the mortgage.

The common Spanish citizen became part of a widespread culture of speculation, with many families taking out a mortgage because it was a profitable business. It was an excellent business indeed — but only for those who sold before the crisis. In the end, most houses were bought and sold by individuals; banks and real estate agents were just intermediaries that facilitated transactions and anticipated payments. Those who sold overpriced properties cannot be blamed for it, although they are unquestionably part of the problem.

The law is clear, and many people signed their mortgages irresponsibly. However, there has been a gross lack of ethics, as many abused people's ignorance and innocent confidence. Self-professed experts in power who misled almost everyone on the real fate of the world's economy share in the responsibility. This is what the 15M movement in Spain and the Occupy movements across the world are protesting. They are also decrying the irresponsibility of public institutions that have the capacity to control dangerous economic bubbles, such as the one that provoked the global crisis, but did nothing for fear of affecting market confidence or investment flows. The crisis was predicted numerous times, but they did not listen. Now those who lost everything ask, "Why didn't they tell me this could happen?"

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