Tagcities

Gentrification and urban decay aren’t the only choices for neighborhoods

David Madden writes:

The leading myth is that the only possibilities for neighborhoods are gentrification or urban decay. Well-meaning liberals sometimes think cities face a choice between the bad days of the past and a gentrified future. Urban theorists invoke this same theme with the idea of the city as a ceaselessly changing organism that can either gentrify or stagnate. But these are all deeply misleading arguments, because they offer a false choice. No serious critic of gentrification wants to maintain the status quo. Instead of either gentrification or decay, cities could push for more equal distribution of resources and more democratic decision-making.

Full Story: The Guardian: Gentrification doesn’t trickle down to help everyone

I like this perspective for obvious reasons, but some examples of communities that have successfully staved off both decay and gentrification would have been helpful.

Mutation Vectors: East Bound But Not Yet Down Edition

Portland-Map

Portland neighborhood map from Home Team Portland

Status Update

We’ve been house hunting. As in, to buy a house.

Nothing quite lays class warfare bare like house hunting. It makes you aware of both your own privilege and knee-jerk prejudices, but also your place in the hierarchy of things as you find out just house much houses in certain parts of town cost — and how much money you actually need to make to live there. (Houses in the Alberta district are going for half a million dollars — who has that kind of money?)

It also makes more clear the less obvious, to me anyway, reasons that certain housing trends perpetuate themselves. For example: in general, buyers of single family homes don’t want to live near renters, or multi-family housing units. Affordable housing buildings are right out. You might not mind living next to an apartment building, but if you lose your job and have to sell your house, will you be able to sell it? Even if you find someone who doesn’t mind living next to an apartment either, that person has to also consider selling it further down the line. Even if you don’t mind living next to an apartment building, and you have a dozen people interested in the house interested in buying your house and also don’t mind, they might still pass on it, worried that if they have to sell it down the line, they won’t be able to find someone who doesn’t mind living next to an apartment building.

So other people’s prejudices and preferences end up influencing your own behavior, reinforcing development patterns in place for decades. Weird stuff.

Anyway, we’re probably gonna land in East Portland (the area east of 82nd ave). I’ve been obsessed with this part of town for a while now, even before I thought we’d end up buying a house there.

I could read stuff about East Portland all day, but here are a few starters:

If you really want to go deep, The Oregonian has an ongoing series on the area. And a couple years ago they did a series on how the Portland area’s subsidized housing has been clustered mostly in East Portland, instead of being distributed throughout the city — even though such clustering is against state law.

The place we’re likely to end up living is quite nice. It has paved roads and sidewalks and grocery stores and access to public transit. But I get worked up thinking about how badly other parts of East Portland got shafted.

Browsing

Listening

The Urban Explorers of Instagram

humzadeas looking over the city

Adrian Chen writes:

There has long been a subculture of so-called “urban explorers” who have made a game of accessing off-limits places. But Deas and the other Instagrammers distinguish themselves from these mostly older, more cerebral trespassers. “They’ll go to the top of the bridge and touch it and be like, Wow, this architecture!,” Deas says, a little dismissively. Urban explorers take photos mainly to document that they’ve been there, while for Deas the image is the whole point. The outlaw Instagrammers have more in common with graffiti artists, another subculture of underground creatives who make their work in the cracks of the urban landscape. Many Instagrammers go by enigmatic handles that would look good scrawled on the side of a subway car, like Novess, Black_soap, Heavy Minds, and 13thwitness, aka Tim McGurr, an unofficial godfather of the scene. But the outlaw Instagrammers are better-positioned to thrive in post-Giuliani, post-Facebook New York than old-school graffiti writers: transgressive enough to be cool, but innocuous enough to amass a huge following without getting hunted down by the NYPD.

Full Story: New York Magazine: The Outlaw Instagrammers of New York City

In a follow-up, New York magazine reports that Deas has been arrested.

(Thanks Skry)

China Miéville Lays the Smack Down on Psychogeography

From a 2011 BLDGBLOG interview with China Miéville:

. Novelists have an endless drive to aestheticize and to complicate. I know there’s a very strong tradition—a tradition in which I write, myself—about the decoding of the city. Thomas de Quincey, Michael Moorcock, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Iain Sinclair—that type-thing. The idea that, if you draw the right lines across the city, you’ll find its Kabbalistic heart and so on.

The thing about that is that it’s intoxicating—but it’s also bullshit. It’s bullshit and it’s paranoia—and it’s paranoia in a kind of literal sense, in that it’s a totalizing project. As long as you’re constantly aware of that, at an aesthetic level, then it’s not necessarily a problem; you’re part of a process of urban mythologization, just like James Joyce was, I suppose. But the sense that this notion of uncovering—of taking a scalpel to the city and uncovering the dark truth—is actually real, or that it actually solves anything, and is anything other than an aesthetic sleight of hand, can be quite misleading, and possibly even worse than that. To the extent that those texts do solve anything, they only solve mysteries that they created in the first place, which they scrawled over the map of a mucky contingent mess of history called the city. They scrawled a big question mark over it and then they solved it.

Arthur Machen does this as well. All the great weird fiction city writers do it. Machen explicitly talks about the strength of London, as opposed to Paris, in that London is more chaotic. Although he doesn’t put it in these words, I think what partly draws him to London is this notion that, in the absence of a kind of unifying vision, like Haussmann’s Boulevards, and in a city that’s become much more syncretic and messy over time, you have more room to insert your own aestheticizing vision.

As I say, it’s not in and of itself a sin, but to think of this as a real thing—that it’s a lived political reality or a new historical understanding of the city—is, I think, a misprision.

BLDGBLOG: You can see this, as well, in the rise of psychogeography—or, at least, some popular version of it—as a tool of urban analysis in architecture today. This popularity often fails to recognize that, no matter how fun or poetic an experience it genuinely might be, randomly wandering around Boston with an iPhone, for instance, is not guaranteed to produce useful urban insights.

Miéville: Some really interesting stuff has been done with psychogeography—I’m not going to say it’s without uses other than for making pretty maps. I mean, re-experiencing lived urban reality in ways other than how one is more conventionally supposed to do so can shine a new light on things—but that’s an act of political assertion and will. If you like, it’s a kind of deliberate—and, in certain contexts, radical—misunderstanding. Great, you know—good on you! You’ve productively misunderstood the city. But I think that the bombast of these particular—what are we in now? fourth or fifth generation?—psychogeographers is problematic.

Full Story: BLDGBLOG: Unsolving the City: An Interview with China Miéville

Graffiti: 40 Years of Hacking New York City

Futura 2000

Sci-fi writer Tim Maughan on graffiti:

My own interest in graffiti dates back to my first teenage introduction to hip-hop culture in the mid-1980s, when the first images of New York subway art started to make their way over the pond in magazines and, much rarer, snippets of TV alongside those first rare glimpses of block parties, scratch DJs, rappers, and breakdancers. Apart from their raw visceral energy, both hip hop music and graffiti struck me as intensely science-fictional. Both are about the appropriation of technology to create something new?—?hip-hop taking samplers and turntables to generate new sounds they weren’t designed to make, and graf taking car repair paint and the very architecture of cities to create new visual spaces and canvases. They are, perhaps, the most literal expression of William Gibson’s famous cyberpunk-defining phrase ‘the street finds its own use for things’.

Gibson’s early works, and those of his many lesser imitators, would herald the hacker as the rebellious hero of the future; a trope that would immeasurably shape everything from political activism to venture capitalism in the decades to follow. Perhaps the stereotypical image of the hacker as lone digital warrior, skulking over keyboards in screen-glare lit rooms seems very far removed from the image of the spray can welding, shadow dwelling, trespassing graffiti writer, but the two subcultures share a startlingly similar set of goals, values, and approaches: both look to subvert existing infrastructures and systems, both value one-upmanship and bragging rights, and neither can resist the illegal thrill of breaking-and-entering?—?whether physical or virtual?—?even when the risk of being caught may well lead to ruthless, draconian punishment. Both also share, perhaps most importantly, an aesthetic obsession with the future?—?something apparent in the work of artist Leonard McGurr, better known as FUTURA 2000.

Full Story: Futures Exchange: Graffiti: 40 Years of Hacking New York City

Maughan’s short story on graf “Paint Work”

More by Maughan

Watch These Artists Build a City, Page By Page

think-of-a-city

think-of-a-city2

“Think of a City is a new storytelling project, where a number of artists from around the world build a city, page by page.” It’s like an exquisite corpse — each artist draws a page then hands it off to the next. The project was created by Alison Sampson and Ian MacEwan.

Contributors will include: Brandon Graham, Sarah Horrocks, Morgan Jeske, Ales Kot, Jamie McKelvie and many more.

Watch it unfold on Tumblr.

Suburban Decay

dead-bath-and-beyond

Photo: cogdogblog

One could argue that the resurgence of our cities does not necessarily portend the fall of the suburbs. But while many cities have been benefiting from an influx of wealth, the suburbs have been suffering a rise in poverty. From 2000 to 2010, the number of poor in the suburbs or the nation’s largest metro areas grew by 53 percent to a record 15.3 million. And while poverty has increased in cities as well, the growth rate in the number of poor living in the suburbs was more than twice that in cities during the decade—and the suburbs are now home to the largest and fastest-growing poor population in the country. This isn’t just the Great Recession at work; as early as 2005, the suburban poor outnumbered their city counterparts by almost a million. “We think of poverty as a really urban phenomenon or an ultra-rural phenomenon. It’s increasingly a suburban issue,” says Elizabeth Kneebone, Brookings fellow and coauthor of a recent Brookings book on the topic, “Confronting Suburban Poverty in America.”

Belmar

But as with most things, decay isn’t evenly distributed. More affluent suburbs are “revitalizing”:

Some developers have actually turned their focus on these dead or dying malls. Ellen Dunham-Jones, architecture professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and June Williamson, associate professor of architecture at the City College of New York, have documented this phenomenon in their book, “Retrofitting Suburbia: Urban Design Solutions for Redesigning Suburbs,” a comprehensive look at efforts to retool, reinhabit, or return to nature abandoned suburban forms. In some cases, this means turning gargantuan forgotten malls into hip, urbanized residential villages. One such experiment is under way in Lakewood, Colorado, an affluent suburb west of Denver. The former Villa Italia shopping mall, a 1.2-million-square-foot indoor mall built in 1966 that had fallen on hard times, has been turned into Belmar, 104-acre pedestrian-friendly community that has apartments, condos, town houses, office space, artists studios, and a shopping and entertainment promenade on twenty-two walkable, urbanized blocks. Now, instead of turning into the mall’s giant parking lot, you end up cruising along a downtown main drag, Alaska Street, which is lined with old-fashioned streetlights, coffee shops, boutiques, and restaurants. There are more than a thousand housing units, which range from town houses to loft condominiums to small-lot single-family homes, as well as a row of ground-floor artist studio and business incubator spaces. A public art project called “Urban Anatomy” has installed small works of art and fragments of poetry on manhole covers, sidewalk joints, and grates throughout the development, highlighting overlooked details of the urban environment.

The whole setup is definitely still suburban—the new urbanized village includes a Zales, Yankee Candle, and Sur La Table—but these suburbanites can leave their loft apartments on foot, pick up an espresso, and go hear a poetry reading, all on a site where Foley’s, Dillard’s, Montgomery Ward, and JCPenney once sat. There are dozens of these projects at other malls around the country. “It’s time to let the suburbs grow up,” Dunham-Jones says.

Full Story: Salon: The suburbs are dead — and that’s not a good thing

(via Meredith Yayanos)

See also: Abandoned Walmart is Now America’s Largest Library

P.S.: Suburban decay is an interesting search term for Flickr.

Abandoned Walmart is Now America’s Largest Library

walmart-library-5

walmart-library-1

From Web Urbanist:

There are thousands of abandoned big box stores sitting empty all over America, including hundreds of former Walmart stores. With each store taking up enough space for 2.5 football fields, Walmart’s use of more than 698 million square feet of land in the U.S. is one of its biggest environmental impacts. But at least one of those buildings has been transformed into something arguably much more useful: the nation’s largest library.

Meyer, Scherer & Rockcastle transformed an abandoned Walmart in McAllen, Texas, into a 124,500-square-foot public library, the largest single-floor public library in the United States.

Full Story: Web Urbanist: Abandoned Walmart is Now America’s Largest Library

I think this might be the Walmart that my family shopped at when I was a kid.

(via Ales Kot)

Even The Upper Middle Class Are Being Priced Out Of Global Cities

Simon Kuper on how even the upper middle class are being priced out of New York City, Paris, London, Tokyo and Hong Kong:

Corporate mergers and takeovers meant global headquarters got concentrated in fewer places. Crime declined, making cities less scary. And so great cities grew richer. Fancy architects put up lovely buildings. House prices rose.

First, the working classes and bohemians were priced out. Nowadays the only ribald proletarian banter you hear inside Paris is from the market sellers, who don’t live there anymore.

That was gentrification. Now comes plutocratisation: the middle classes and small companies are falling victim to class-cleansing. Global cities are becoming patrician ghettos. In 2009, says Sassen, the top 1 per cent of New York City’s earners got 44 per cent of the compensation paid to its workers. The “super-prime housing market” keeps rising even when the national economy collapses. After Manhattan, New York’s upper-middle classes are being priced out of Brooklyn. Sassen diagnoses “gradual destruction”.

Full Story: Financial Times: Priced out of Paris

San Francisco is well on its way in this regard as well.

See also: Mocking hipsters in the service of capital

Mocking Hipsters In The Service Of Capital

Anthony Galluzzo writes:

Even as the New York Times and its ilk now use hipster-bashing to delegitimize the new political awareness among the same un- and underemployed twenty- and thirty-somethings — previously taken to task for their avoidance of politics — the same bashers employ this all-purpose dummy to ventriloquize their own refined and slightly ridiculous consumption habits.

And while Rupert Murdoch’s reactionary gazetteers at least acknowledge the ongoing, and (in the case of 13 Thames Street) partly political character of the evictions in which they delight, the enlightened New York Times will always opt for the “fucking hipster” show — the 21st century bourgeois liberal’s preferred flavor of minstrelsy — over any ‘hard times’ depiction of downward mobility among artists, anarchists and other riffraff.

That, after all, could depress today’s gentrifiers or tomorrow’s property values.

Full Story: Jacobin: Mocking hipsters in the service of capital

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