Manhattan Moves to Mars

by Rebecka Gordan

What if we had to move away from Earth? When conflicts and climate change grow unmanageable perhaps we can go to Mars? But could we then bring our friends, our band, our favorite buildings? In his brilliant short film, "Plan of the City," New York-based filmmaker and artist Joshua Frankel gives this dream a try. The film will soon screen at Sweden’s architecture film festival, ArchFilmLund.

A dedicated team of architects, writers and cinephiles are organizing the festival, which will take place Oct. 5 to 2 in the southern city of Lund. The event will screen 22 new films — short, long, documentary and animated — over eight days. New York is the theme of the drama selections, including "Woody Allen: A Documentary," "Manhattan, Movies and Me," "My Brooklyn" and "How Much Does Your Building Weigh, Mr Foster?"

The documentaries and short films focus on architecture, and this year’s main theme is cycling in the city. There will also be panel discussions about architecture and dance, along with a screening of the drama "Pina" and the short film "Mao's Last Dancer." The program includes architecture-related poetry readings and talks with architects, journalists and filmmakers exploring the contemporary and historical connections between architecture and film.

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In Memory of Neil Smith

by Peter Sigrist

If we were to gather the people throughout history who have changed the way cities are perceived today, Neil Smith would be there without question. His insights on urban nature, the production of space, development, gentrification, neoliberalism, globalization, public space, “unnatural disaster” and so much more helped give rise to current movements for socio-environmental justice.

Born in Scotland (as were Patrick Geddes and Ian McHarg, comparable urban luminaries from previous generations), Smith studied at St. Andrews and spent a year abroad at Penn. He then returned to the United States for doctoral studies with David Harvey at Johns Hopkins, where the ebbs and flows of capital in Baltimore informed his theory of uneven development. In Uneven Development: Nature, Capital, and the Production of Space, a classic text based on his dissertation research, he explains:
Capital is continually invested in the built environment in order to produce surplus value and expand the basis of capital itself. But equally, capital is continually withdrawn from the built environment so that it can move elsewhere and take advantage of higher profit rates. The spatial immobilization of productive capital in its material form is no more or less a necessity than the perpetual circulation of capital as value. ... The pattern which results in the landscape is well known: development at one pole and underdevelopment at the other. ... In its constant drive to accumulate larger and larger quantities of social wealth under its control, capital transforms the shape of the entire world. No God-given stone is left unturned, no original relation with nature unaltered, no living thing unaffected. To this extent the problems of nature, of space, and of uneven development are tied together by capital itself. Uneven development is the concrete process and pattern of the production of nature under capitalism.
Finishing his Ph.D. in 1982, while Ronald Reagan was in the White House just an hour to the south, he chose a path of reasoned critique and action, challenging foregone conclusions about the nature of development.

I first encountered Smith’s work through environmental studies. With remarkable vision he united nature and space with politics and social justice, changing the way I viewed the world and my place in it. Years later I saw him speak, and was amazed at his calm intensity — utterly lucid and engaging without notes or slides, never pretentious, impractical or dogmatic.

Neil Smith’s accomplishments are many, and his influence broad. His students — from Don Mitchell to Richard Florida — have built upon his legacy and influenced cities in their own rights. More about his life and work can be found at, where a number of his publications are available free of charge.

News of his passing brought deep sadness, but his presence remains strong. The way he combined theory with practice in exposing injustice and working toward a better future will always be an invaluable source of inspiration.

Credits: Photo of Neil Smith from CUNY Anthropology.

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The Changing Landscape of England’s Community Forests

by Melissa García Lamarca

Nutsford Vale community woodland. Source: Melissa García Lamarca

Nutsford Vale is a 33-acre community woodland in Gorton, a densely populated low-income area located three miles from the center of Manchester, England. On a remarkably sunny day last weekend I visited a nature fair there. Children had their faces painted. People made bird feeders. Some made sculptures of woven willow branches and coppiced wood. The site was abuzz with local families and kids running wild. Nutsford Vale is one of the only accessible places nearby where they can do so.

Making flowers from coppiced wood. Source: Melissa García Lamarca

Nutsford Vale looks like a wild woodland space, but this hasn’t long been the case. Once agricultural land, Gorton joined Manchester in becoming a thriving industrial district a century ago. What is now Nutsford Vale was Jackson’s Clay Pit, a clay quarry for a brickworks factory located next door. But the brickworks closed as deindustrialization and economic restructuring hit post-war England. In the 1980s, the pit became a landfill called Matthew's Lane Tip.

Jackson's Clay Pit. Source: Levenshume History Then & Now

Matthew's Lane Tip. Source: This is East

In the 1990s, shortly after the landfill was covered, a regional organization called Red Rose Forest turned the site into a community woodland with the help of local government funding. This was one of nine former landfills that the organization transformed through its Green Tips project, in partnership with Greater Manchester Waste Disposal Authority. In the past three years, Nutsford Vale has benefited from substantial funding raised by Red Rose Forest and matched by the City Council, adding 2,000 meters of new paths and holding community workshops and other events. They hired a part-time officer to engage Gorton’s residents in using and caring for the area.

Panoramic view of Nutsford Vale today. Source: This is East

Yet such woodlands, part of a network of larger community forests in urban settings across England, are increasingly under threat from budget cuts. The Conservative government’s "Big Society" policy aims to decentralize power and engage local communities in governance, yet in practice this often means reduced funding and replacement of support staff with volunteers.

England risks the decline of a web of attractive green space that is fundamental to quality of life in cities. Will volunteers step up to maintain these community woodlands, or will they experience the blight of disinvestment?

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Embracing In-Between Landscapes

by Melanie Friedrichs

Last week, I attended a gallery opening for an exhibit tracing the history of American landscape photography at the Rhode Island School of Design Museum in Providence. As expected, the exhibit featured gorgeous photographs of trees, rocks and river vistas, as well as a number of antique-looking, industrial urban prints.

One section stood out. This was a group of about 20 photos depicting not natural charm or urban magnetism, but vacant lots, bent fences, half-built houses — neither city nor countryside, nor even suburbia, but somewhere in between.

Lewis Baltz, Night Construction, Reno (1977). Source: Volunteers in Art

When I went home I learned that photographers Lewis Baltz, Stephen Shore and Frank Gohlke had all contributed to "New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape," a famous exhibit curated by William Jenkins in 1975. This was an exhibition that has been described as "a turning point in the history of photography," one that "rewrote the rules of landscape" and "pretty much flew in the face of Ansel Adams."

Lewis Baltz, Southeast Corner, Semicoa, 333 McCormick, Costa Mesa (1974). Source: George Eastman House

"New Topographics" was unusual because its subject matter was ugly. Gholke, Baltz and Shore are exceptionally talented photographers. Their careful composition, attention to light, and in the case of the former two, choice of black and white, make untended backyards, unfrequented streets, trailer parks and construction sites look almost beautiful. But not even that talented trio could overcome what to me seems like a universal human aversion to the aesthetics of the in-between.

Source: "Causes of Sprawl: A Portrait From Space"

The "New Topographics" photographs made me question for the first time why I hate sprawl so much. Within an eight-by-10 frame, the lines and colors of these photographs were not so different than the standard urban landscapes that hung on the other gallery walls. There is no rational reason why I should like a photo of a street in the city center better than a photo of a street at the city's edge, but I do — the first is dynamic, the second is depressing.

Dynamic. Source: Wolfcub Chronicles

Depressing. Stephen Shore, Alley in Presidio, Texas (1975). Source: Masters of Photography

Given the nature of cities, I don’t think sprawl will ever go away. Can we as observers somehow come to peace with it and see the beauty that the new topographers sought and almost achieved? Or is there something hard-wired about places in between that will make us continue to hate them, even as we create them?

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КООП: Cooperative Urbanism in Moscow

by Shriya Malhotra and Anton Polsky

The sudden change of ambiance in a street within the space of a few meters; the evident division of a city into zones of distinct psychic atmospheres; the path of least resistance which is automatically followed in aimless strolls (and which has no relation to the physical contour of the ground); the appealing or repelling character of certain places — these phenomena all seem to be neglected. People are quite aware that some neighborhoods are gloomy and others pleasant. But they generally simply assume that elegant streets cause a feeling of satisfaction and that poor streets are depressing, and let it go at that.
— Guy Debord, “Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography,” 1956

Over the past two months, Partizaningan art-based urban activist groupcollaborated on 8 public workshops with experts from diverse professions, academic disciplines and countries around the world. The project, КООП: Cooperative Urbanism, focused on creative research-based approaches to addressing livability concerns in neighborhoods around Moscow’s periphery.

As active members of Partizaning, we were approached by the Strelka Institute to help organize and implement the workshops. We focused on research, community engagement and urban interventions. Our goal was to successfully integrate theory with practice, international experts with local communities, and activists with municipal authorities.

Turning a tram stop into a checkerboard. Source: Maria Semenenko

The workshops were based in Moscow’s “sleeping districts” — planned communities of mass housing blocks outside the city center. For all the negative attention these neighborhoods receive, they offer many useful lessons on the placement of green space, public transportation, clinics and schools within densely populated areas. Using basic methods drawn from ethnography and mapping, we tried to understand the social fabric of these districts.

Collaborative Engagement

Moscow is in the midst of a new era of young leaders working to change the city, so the workshops were well timed. Partizaning had just finished a neighborhood research project in St. Petersburg and started promoting cycling culture in Moscow. We were using postcard surveys and mailboxes to help people share thoughts about their neighborhoods. The Cooperative Urbanism project was an opportunity for us to build upon these initiatives.

A mailbox installed in Yuzhnoe Medvedkovo Park to collect the thoughts and ideas of local residents. Source: Shriya Malhotra

The workshops were experimental in content and format. We wanted to be sensitive, circumspect and practical, analyzing our actions at every stage. How much could we hope to understand and address in the span of a few weeks? Whose voices were being heard and whose were not? And what were we hearing? How could we mediate conflicting priorities within communities? What happens when the desires of some outweigh those of others? Whose idea of improvement were we putting forward?

We started out by exploring and mapping the neighborhoods, and decided to blur the boundary between research and artistic practices through process-oriented interventions. We believe in the importance of interacting with people to understand their challenges, demonstrating the value of small, often transitory changes that inspire new possibilities.

Aurash Khawarzad leading a balloon mapping workshop. Source: Ann Nayshul

Engaging residents and activists helped increase the likelihood of continuity. Our interventions were less about altering physical objects than about sparking engagement and collaborative problem solving. We wanted to represent the needs of local residents and amplify their voices.

Given time limitations, everything was touch and go. Still, we wanted to leave space for things to go wrong. Collaboration and participation are logistical challenges, and mistakes and failures sometimes offer the most valuable lessons.

Citizens as Experts

We found that the best way of learning about neighborhoods was to ask residents about their daily lives. Their understanding of local problems was our touchstone. We could bring fresh perspectives, but we needed to listen carefully and encourage participation.

One of the letters from a mailbox in Mitino. Source: Partizaning

Ultimately, if residents think everything is fine and there is no need to change, it isn’t our place to tell them to do so. And we couldn’t expect to identify and solve problems in a community right away. But, at the very least, we could start a conversation and raise awareness.

Part of Partizaning’s goal is to promote a spirit of D.I.Y. action, encouraging people to speak up and act on the changes they want to see in their communities. So we needed to demonstrate how direct action can affect change.

A D.I.Y. toolkit. Source: Shriya Malhotra

People-Centered Research

Given our limited timeframe, research had to be rapid but effective. Rather than presenting residents with solutions to what we thought were problems in their communities, we sought to learn from them in planning interventions. Our primary methods were observation, questioning and dialogue. We started to become familiar with the neighborhoods through surveys, postcards, maps, conversations and simply walking or cycling around.

A postcard survey on means of transportation. Source: Shriya Malhotra

We wanted to make sure people considered their responses to our surveys, and we gave them to individuals as well as groups. Whenever possible we would just have a conversation. Discussions added context, deeper explanations and ideas that couldn’t be expressed in surveys.

Mailbox letters and D.I.Y. mapping provided valuable insights. For instance, we now know that a pond is neglected in Medvedkovo because it falls beyond the line of municipal responsibility. Sometimes reasons are so simple that they seem obvious — but we would not have known this without connecting maps with experience at ground level.

Reality Check

Many workshop leaders were from abroad, including Finland, France, Israel, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States. Everyone had to adjust to difficulties of fitting in and understanding different practices. Apart from language challenges, there were cultural, educational, social, economic and generational boundaries to overcome, which made for a remarkable experiment in collaboration.

Ted Ullrich assembling a D.I.Y. traffic counter. Source: Ann Nayshul

In each workshop we tried to be careful about using the word “improve,” because it seemed an indication of our biases. How could we measure improvement? Whose improvements were being implemented? What impact would our ideas and interventions have over time? We had to consider these questions and ensure that solutions were defined by residents. It was essential for them to guide the process.

The Cooperative Urbanism workshops were an experiment in research, collaboration and engagement in the human dynamics of urban neighborhoods. The experiment was an important one. Cities rarely thrive in isolation, and we value the insight and experience that visiting experts bring to Moscow. At the same time, solutions must be conceived and nurtured by local residents if they are to be of lasting value.

Whether or not we were successful can be debated, but we are sure the workshops challenged current norms. Our hope now is that the process might not only activate local citizenship, but offer new insights for research and intervention in other cities.

Shriya Malhotra and MAKE (Anton Polsky) are map-loving urban researchers, artists and interventionists from Partizaning in Moscow. You can find more information on the daily activities of the Cooperative Urbanism workshops at, as well as summary articles at

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Exposing the Specters of Google Street View

by Vivien Park

An ethereal image of a man appeared on a wall on the corner of the street, face blurred and floating off the ground. Like a spectral phenomenon, the man was a glitch in time — a frozen moment captured by a Google Street View camera. Media artist Paolo Cirio takes such ghostly figures and repurposes them as life-size cutouts in the locations where they were found. He poses a possibility to the viewer that their own image may also be turned into this "biopolitical surplus," as commercial value is generated through the social labor of simply being there.

Crio's "Street Ghosts" can be found in New York City, London and Berlin.

Credits: Photo from

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Rumors of a Women-Only City

by Cristiana Strava

About a month ago, there was a flurry of articles about plans for a women-only city in Saudi Arabia. The Guardian was among the first to run the story, followed by two blog posts whose authors predicted the city would become "exceedingly productive" due to the lack of impediments, such as men and children. The Daily Mail, the Huffington Post and Forbes closely followed suit. CNN picked up the news briefly, and The Atlantic speculated about the long-term implications of such a plan.

The city of Riyadh, capital of Saudi Arabia. Source: Majalla

Naturally intrigued, I tried to track down the official source for this story. An Aug. 6 press release by the Saudi Industrial Property Authority (MODON) seemed to be the root of the news. Although the piece is ambiguously titled "'MODON' begins Planning and Development for the First Industrial City being Readied for Women in the Kingdom," the subheading claims that the city will create job opportunities for "both men and women." The new city is to be built near the eastern city of Hofuf, and has been provisionally named Al-Ahsa 2. The second paragraph of the statement goes on to say that "special sections and production halls will be reserved for women within the factory, i.e., the city is not closed or not intended for women only."

Aerial view of the Al-Ahsa industrial city. Source: MODON

Clearly, none of the Western media outlets seem to have read the statement beyond its title, instead launching into a heated debate about the pros and cons of a gender-segregated city. In a response to this journalistic debacle, MODON released a statement to Al Arabiya stressing that Al-Ahsa would be a "city like any other city, where men and women work. But special sections and production halls will be reserved for women within the factories.” In a country where women, although highly educated and trained, are not allowed to drive or vote, the news that efforts are being made to create jobs for them was still significant.

Saudi women at a trade fair in Jeddah. Source: Al-Arabiya News

Nevertheless, this misreading of the situation brings up serious questions about Western media and its blind spots when it comes to relating news on the Middle East. Although the error was soon revealed by Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya, few news outlets published corrections, while some newspapers continued to pick up the original erroneous story.

Certainly Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich Middle Eastern countries are famous both for launching gigantic urban development schemes and for largely gender-segregated societies. With projects such as King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC) and the Haramain High Speed Rail Project under way, it would come as no surprise if the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was indeed planning to build from scratch a technopolis for its highly educated women.

Saudi women attending an economic forum in Jordan in 2007. Source: Hassan Ammar/AFP/Getty Images

In fact, throughout history many have played with the idea of women-only societies. Herodotus gave birth to the myth of the Amazons, the notorious male-hating warrior women with partial mastectomies, living in isolation from men. Hollywood gave us "Queen of Outer Space," a delightfully dreadful 1958 science fiction film in which Zsa Zsa Gabor, as head of an all-female planet, holds a group of American male astronauts captive — until the men prevail against their mini-skirted oppressors.

Aside feminist ecovillages, which are meant to temporarily house women-only communities, an all-women city is a good idea inasmuch as apartheid was a good idea. Cities thrive when they are inclusive communities and their inhabitants participate in a mutual exchange of ideas and dialogue. The Saudi government seems to be slowly making steps in this direction by committing to remove existing social barriers so that women may fully participate in their society.
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Conversation with the Sketches of Léon Krier

by Hector Fernando Burga

Peeking at the work of Léon Krier is like jumping into a rabbit hole that leads to a surreal city of magical proportions, strange juxtapositions and off-scale perspectives. Buildings acquire deformed identities, the human body becomes a source of urban morphology, and urbanism plays the role of a heroine in the classic fable of good versus evil.

I often return to Krier’s sketches to reconnect with a particular kind of prowess in graphic argumentation that I have yet to see in other urbanists and architects of his generation. Krier cultivates an inventory of images to mobilize polemical positions. These diagrams, caricatures and renderings have inspired an alternative canon of city form and architectural design over the past 30 years. He fences with our visual imagination, design sensibilities and common sense to reveal a parallel voice that informs the future of cities. The brevity of lines and choice of subjects in his sketches point to a clear mission: forging an alterative path away from the dogma of "starchitecture," the fetish of the avant-garde and the acrobatics of form.

In the world of Krier’s sketches, the city’s inhabitants, consumers and users are narcotized subjects dazed by contemporary design fashions. Krier challenges our perspective on what defines meaningful design and urban form by pointing us toward the language of classicism: historical stability based on precedent, and design values based on a respect for tradition.

Krier’s fundamentalism is evident in his drawings. The sketches are un-apologetic and uncompromising in their rhetorical force. He selects his targets with care and directs his graphic essays like an embedded sniper hidden deep in the enemy territory of modernist design discourse. Howard Kunstler in the opening portion of a monograph on his sketches explains:
Krier’s polemical books were always accompanied by drawings, diagrams and cartoons, which illustrated his points with tremendous economy and wit. This was a good tactic for a crusader attempting to penetrate the mental defenses of opponents who hid behind the sandbags of ideology and artistic creativity. In these drawings, the verbally adept could be engaged by direct appeal to the brain higher’s cognitive courts, where their metaphysical torts would be dismissed by more persuasive graphic evidence: the artistic creatives could be hoisted easily on the petards of their own pretension by straightforward depictions of the self evident. The potency of his drawings derives from our recognition that a persistent reality still exists. And that it endures despite the intellectual legerdemain of those who create their own reality.

There are no gray areas in Krier’s sketches, no shades of interrogation or fudges that may signal a white flag. One only finds the stark paleness of white voids interacting with the fierce direction of black lines pointing at the enemy: the modern city, its buildings and its architects.

Beyond their graphic qualities, Krier’s sketches are also dominated by contradictions. His war for rhetorical supremacy is engineered around reductive dichotomies and essentialisms. His disavowal of modernism is based on the totality of representation, and his process of interrogating contemporary design values is supported by an equally normative set of cultural, social and political determinisms. Krier’s drawings invite you to debate in the forum of the page, but they close the opportunity for conversation at the same time.

I find such inherent tensions rewarding for their pedagogical value. Krier’s visions provide useful lessons on how to forge lucid graphic representations that capture the imagination and feeling of the viewer. They allow designers to re-think their work as an act of engagement with a non-design oriented public through the craft of drawing. At the same time, his sketches portray an utterly idiosyncratic and unrelenting spirit. They serve as a warning for how rhetorical devices can foreclose an opposing point of view in a conversation about cities that must be inclusive and open.

Perhaps what is fascinating about Krier’s sketches is their capacity to capture this paradox in a compelling opus that extends into texts, a few buildings and a wide influence on architects of our generation. This is what makes Krier’s sketches modern in spirit and simultaneously classic frames of reference.

How will Léon Krier’s sketches stand the test of time? Will they become hieroglyphs of archeological polemics or clues for design innovation in a not-so-distant future?

Credits: Illustrations from "Drawing for Architecture (Writing Architecture)" by Léon Krier.

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Two Forms of Urban Precarity in Saint-Denis

by Alex Schafran

Wedged between the River Seine and the Canal Saint-Denis is a spit of land where different visions of contemporary Paris come together in the most precarious of ways. This is not the Seine of romantic lore or philosophical musings. Rather, it’s a post-industrial mix of working waterfront, aging office buildings and a variety of homes and apartment complexes.

Nor is it actually Paris. A stone’s throw from the eponymous station of the RER commuter train, this is Saint-Denis, a major banlieue city that can boast of being both an ancient burial site for French kings and a key node in the birth of French hip-hop.

Virtually all of Saint-Denis has been part of one urban development plan after another over the past 40 years. Once the epitome of a Parisian red-belt industrial city, the southern half of Saint-Denis was transformed, starting from the late 1980s, into a complex of office buildings, housing developments, shopping centers and the country’s citadel du sport, the Stade de France. It is now an important center of the Grand Paris project, which will add major transportation extensions.

It’s hard to find a place in any old industrialized city where change is coming so fast and from so many directions. To paraphrase Ed Soja, it all comes together in Saint-Denis.

Just shy of the northern terminus of this human-made peninsula is a 1960s office building. Over the past three years, Le 6b, named after its address on the Quai de Seine, has transformed into a “new site of creation and diffusion.” It hosts more than 200 artists, architects, small businesses and artisans in roughly 150 spaces. People don’t live there — it is entirely a work building, a fusion of the shared office trend, with a post-squat vibe.

There is a strong emphasis on collaboration and cross-pollination. The entire second floor is shared space, with a restaurant, cinema, gallery and ample room to interact. There is also a politics to the 6b. It was specifically founded to intervene in a changing Saint-Denis. Its internal goals are combined with an attempt to engage with the surrounding neighborhood and the complex racial and class politics of its transformation. It’s also completely legal — 6b leases the building from Bremond, the developer of the vast Néaucité complex going up next door. Local politicians regularly meet at 6b, and it often appears in public- and private-sector promotional material.

Yet 6b’s lease ends in December, and it has no long-term guarantee as to its future. The Néaucité development, which is already underway, will contain 1,600 new residents in 700 units and over 25,000 square meters of office and commercial space. Like many hip developers, Néaucité’s owners tout 6b as a sign of their sensitivity to their surroundings. Along with pictures of breakdancers on their website, 6b is integral to the selling of Néaucité, both to potential residents and local officials. But when you click on the 6b building on the development’s interactive site, the precarity is clear: the site says that the building “today shelters the 6b association” and that future renovations will “permit it to house offices and ‘creative premises.’” But it already does this, based on an internal economic model which keeps costs down and rents low — living, breathing proof of the wisdom of Jane Jacobs’s oft-forgotten maxim about the use of old buildings.

The controversial and complex relationship between creative types and property developers in gentrifying and changing communities is now etched into the firmament of post-industrial urban change. At the very least, 6b appears to have friends in high places, and its disappearance or destruction would not go unnoticed. The same cannot necessarily be said about their neighbors across the canal. Visible from every point on the canal side of the future Néaucité is one of many Roma settlements throughout Saint-Denis, including one almost underneath the Stade de France. The administration of the new Socialist President François Hollande appears to be continuing his predecessor’s policy of removing Roma camps. Two camps in neighboring Stains were removed in August, part of a wave of removals throughout France.

Like the issue of artists and gentrification, the question of Roma camps is not clear cut. Informal housing is no stranger to the north of Paris, which was home to many bidonvilles in the era before the grands ensembles were built. Some Roma have been migrated to Villages d’Insertion or other legal, if temporary, spaces throughout the region. There are efforts to expand education and employment opportunities for the Roma population in France, which is estimated at 15,000 people, mostly from Bulgaria and Romania. The Roma are conspicuously, if unsurprisingly, absent from Néaucité's imagery. They remain in a state of precarity with which they are all too familiar.

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Credits: Photos by Alex Schafran.

Can We Afford to Live Alone?

by Anja Wolf

The Vår Frälsares church tower (above) stretches up, surrounded only by sky, creating a sense of calmness in a residential neighborhood in Malmö, Sweden. Similarly, a nearby tree in the middle of the road (below) gives the area that magic feeling that occurs when a void becomes an interesting part of the city. It is unfortunate when these "empty" places are seen as perfect sites for new development.

At the same time, young people in Sweden's big cities are facing a housing shortage. This has recently received more attention thanks to Sweden's first exhibition on housing for young people, organized by the City Planning Office and several partners, now taking place in Malmö. The UngBo 12 exhibition shows winning contributions from competitions in which young people came up with creative ideas about how and where new dwellings should be developed for their age group.

I am currently working at the exhibition, and when I give guided tours, many visitors are positive about the idea of sharing a flat with friends. This surprised me, because in Sweden we are used to having lots of physical space. In comparison to students in U.K. cities like Edinburgh, where almost all students share a flat, many young adults in Sweden still want and assume they will find a place of their own. Sweden has the highest rate of one-person households in the world — 46 percent.

But this trend exists elsewhere. In July, a press release from the Department of City Planning in New York announced "a new competition to develop innovative apartment model for small households." Today New York City has one million studios and one-bedroom apartments, although the city has 1.8 million households with one or two members. The competition asks people to come up with ideas for a rental buildings mostly composed of micro-units, apartments that are smaller than what is allowed today.

One contribution to the UngBo 12 exhibition proposes transforming unused garages into flats for young people.

It seems paradoxical that as the population in large cities increases, many people prefer to have their own flats. Would most people actually prefer a tiny flat to themselves rather than sharing a bigger one with flatmates? The Danish architect Jan Gehl often emphasize the importance of the human scale in a city for our wellbeing, a scale that is not easily achieved in a city where everyone wants to have his or her own home.

Cost is a factor that often comes up in discussions at the housing exhibition. It is expensive to build apartments with a high standard in the central areas of a city. Students and young people are always richer in loans than capital. Maybe we should realize that it won't be possible to live by ourselves if we want to live in a bigger city. Alternatively, we can find new ways to add density so that we don't lose the small parks and other spaces that make a city worth living in.

Anja Wolf is a Swedish student of landscape architecture at the College of Art in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Credits: Photos by Anja Wolf.

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Mumbai’s Extremes Come Shaken, Not Stirred

by Jordi Sánchez-Cuenca

The Lokhandwala Complex in Oshiwara in Mumbai is the richest neighborhood in India.

Low-income settlements in central Oshiwara, one kilometer west of Lokhandwala Complex.

Of the 20 wealthiest neighborhoods in India, as many as 18 are in Mumbai. On the other hand, according to the 2010 census, 62 percent (around 12 million) of Mumbai's inhabitants live in slums. Rich and poor areas in these photographs have strong differences, but they are not as sharply segregated as is Quito, Madrid, Nairobi and São Paulo. Moreover, middle and upper-class neighborhoods host an immensely diverse population in terms of class and culture. This stems from a complex mix of factors, including centuries-old cultural roots that make Indian society's daily coexistence possible, without electrified walls or armed private guards.

Mumbai's high-end Bandra neighborhood.

Dharavi, with more than 600,000 inhabitants, is one of the largest slums in Asia. It is located near Bandra in Mumbai.

Mumbai is well known as the main economic hub in India, but the immense contribution of slum residents to this is rarely recognized. Sad as it sounds, it is still very common to hear that slums are a problem in the city and should simply be demolished to give space to formal developments. Polis has published a number of posts about Dharavi, the most notorious of Indian slums, about the hidden wealth that its people and businesses produce and residents' struggle against government plans to give this valuable piece of land to real estate companies.

A low-income fishing settlement borders the wealthy Seven Bungalows neighborhood.

The low-income Galli neighborhood lies next to wealthy Varsova.

Credits: Images from Google Earth.

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Occupy Spinoff Tries to Build a Debt Resistance Movement

by Katia Savchuk

Sarah McDaniel Dyer touched a lighter's flame to a piece of paper, a referral to a specialist who could treat the rare genetic disorder that afflicts her nervous system.

The specialist didn't accept her insurance, and she couldn't afford the fee. This is one reason McDaniel Dyer, 27, came with a dozen or so others to cremate credit card bills, mortgage statements and other debt notices during the inaugural event of Strike Debt, a new Occupy Wall Street spinoff. Occupy affiliates have organized around student debt since last winter, but Strike Debt is the first to target debt writ large – from households to municipalities.

Strike Debt timed its "Life After Debt" burn to fall one week before yesterday's Occupy anniversary protests.

"I can be kind of healthy and broke, or I can be financially secure and really sick," McDaniel Dyer told the crowd at Brooklyn's East River State Park. "It's hard because I don't really see a sustainable future in this, and this is my life."

Sarah McDaniel Dyer burned a referral notice from her doctor at Strike Debt's "Life After Debt" event.

Like most who attended, McDaniel Dyer is an Occupy veteran who has helped get Strike Debt off the ground since May. When she was 24, she fell inexplicably ill and starting seeing doctors up to three times a week. It took more than a year to diagnose her with acute intermittent porphyria.

McDaniel Dyer had medical insurance but racked up $7,000 in credit card debt for co-pays and other medical bills. She also owed $256 each month for student loans. McDaniel Dyer and her husband sometimes skipped lunch to make ends meet. She tried working three jobs to pay her bills but had to cut back when her health declined.

Strike Debt activists say McDaniel Dyer is not an outlier.

"Debt is the tie that binds the 99 percent," Strike Debt member Yates McKee, 32, said.

McKee, an art critic, doesn't answer his phone for fear a creditor is calling. He built up credit card debt years ago when he was broke. He also has student loans. "I live in perpetual anxiety about it," he said.

McKee says Strike Debt's goal is to turn individual debtors into a debt resistance movement. “How do you make debt into a political issue, bring debtors out of their isolation, shame, silence?" he asked. "How do they become a collective political identity?"

The debt burn was a first step in spreading the word. Standing in a corner of the Williamsburg park, against the backdrop of the East River and Manhattan's skyscrapers, speakers shared stories of out-of-pocket medical costs, devalued homes and skyrocketing student loans. Alluding to draft card burnings of the 1960s, they singed debt effigies and dropped the charred remains into a silver coffee can. Onlookers cheered and media cameras clicked, as a trumpet whined an elegy. Most wore red felt squares as pins, a nod to student protests in Montréal last spring. Organizers held a banner proclaiming, "You are not a loan." Besides a spurt of chanting ("Hell no, we won't pay"), the event felt more like group therapy than radical activism.

Nicholas Mirzoeff, a middle-aged New York University professor who has been part of Strike Debt since May, said the group made him more comfortable discussing his own debt. Mirzoeff, who teaches media culture, has been involved in Occupy since last fall. He burned his mortgage statement at the event.

"Debt makes you feel ashamed. It makes you feel like it's your personal fault," he said. "When we add up the numbers of people in debt in this country, it actually comes out to everybody."

Mirzoeff said that American society requires people to go into debt for basic social needs like housing and education.

Like Mirzoeff, most people at the event were educated and employed. Many were white. Those who spoke were mainly graduate students, university professors or nonprofit workers.

Nicole H., an adjunct professor at the City University of New York, who burned her credit card statements, shared stories of medical bills and underemployment.

"Winter," 28, a member of Strike Debt who declined to give his real name because he is considering defaulting on loans, said that the group plans a long-term organizing effort to expand the movement to medical debtors, unemployed people and those affected by city budget cuts.

Strike Debt released a manual on debt resistance on Saturday and took part in Occupy actions on Wall Street yesterday. Eventually, members say they hope to organize a "Rolling Jubilee," where debt is bought up and cancelled, and a collective debt strike.

But on Sunday, just a few passersby stopped to watch in East River State Park, where sunbathers and picnickers dotted the grass. Some were sympathetic, others ambivalent.

Karen Wile was at the park for her grandson's birthday party. "It is important to realize that some people really were victims, but not everybody," she said. "I don't think it's one-size-fits-all."

Many Americans won't agree with debt forgiveness on a large scale, said Todd Gitlin, a Columbia University professor who recently published a book chronicling Occupy Wall Street.

"You can count me as skeptical that this will mushroom," he said. "But I've been wrong before."

Gitlin, who teaches journalism and sociology and was active in protest movements in the 1960s, said Strike Debt is a partial answer to "What do you people want?" — a question Occupy has faced since the beginning. So far, he said, the core of the movement focused more on establishing a presence than specific reforms.

"There's considerable desire for a program that can be put on a bumper sticker — something that can be compressed into a concrete goal," Gitlin said."'Resist debt' – I mean there it is."

Sarah Quinter, 26, one of the "Life After Debt" organizers prepares to dump the ashes of debt notices into the East River.

If Strike Debt wants concrete reforms, it will have to work in coalitions with other groups, he said.

Students should think twice before defaulting on loans, according to Megan McClean, who manages policy and federal relations at a national association of college financial aid officers. She pointed out that default can lead to penalties, bad credit and garnished social security benefits, and it disqualifies students from future federal aid.

"It really can be kind of a messy situation," she said.

McClean said that students with trouble repaying federal loans should explore income-based repayment plans and loan forgiveness programs rather than default.

Broader debt resistance can have negative repercussions across the economy. Craig Silvers, a Chartered Financial Analyst in Los Angeles, said that if people stopped paying bills en masse, they would hurt lower and middle classes by driving up prices and interest rates. This would also trigger massive job cuts. "It's not a trickle down, it's a gusher," he said.

Many Strike Debt members view the debt burn as symbolic, even as they aim to build a movement around debt resistance.

"I'll pay off my debt until there's a moment when there's a coordinated national debt refusal movement," Mirzoeff, the NYU professor, said. "I wouldn't advise anyone not to pay their debt as an individual right now, because the law will come after you."

Credits: Photos by Katia Savchuk

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