Monday, March 29, 2010

“Housing has to be rethought as a social resource, not simply a series of opportunity for profit. ‘Livability’, of course, means rational planning of city flows, from transportation to waste systems, but also requires attention to the fatal ills of human poverty and neighborhood blight.”
- Martha Rosler, If You Lived Here

I left our meeting with the People’s Homesteading Group with a sour resentment for city government. While touring through PHG’s developments, I as well as the rest of our group was struck by the quality and luxury of the renovated town homes. The difference between the market-rate and low-income housing was slight, with the former being more spacious and manicured. Logically one would assume that the better quality, higher resnt housing would require more time and financial investment. In a voice of marked exhaustion, our PHG representative pointed out that the low-income home took an additional 4 ½ years and tens of thousands of dollars to develop. This is due to the endless paperwork, stringent regulations, and stop-and-go building process characteristic of state involvement. Needless to say the low-income development was a major blow for PHG’s limited resources. The organization was recently forced to lay off all but two employees, both of whom are receiving limited incomes. This could have been avoided had had the PHG chosen to pursue market-rate housing alone. However this is contrary to the goal of the homesteaders, which focuses on aiding the existing community rather than profiting from incoming residents. I question a city policy that forces affordable housing developers into financial suicide. I would like to believe that the city values healthy, mixed-income urban development. However it is circumstances such as this that lead me to believe government policy supports high-income domination, ultimately leading to gentrification and displacement. Were this not the case, People’s Homesteading Group would be receiving ample support, as hope of a healthy city lies in organizations that favor social resources over profit.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Detroit, everyone is talking about it...

Some talk has been going on about the advantages of a corrupt/absentee city government in Detroit (but the discussion is reminiscent to others about Baltimore) The "advantages" are described in a recent NYT post//book:

Detroit, The New Frontier

“In Detroit, the incapacity of the government is actually an advantage … There’s not much chance a strong city government could really turn the place around, but it could stop the grass roots revival in its tracks … In many cities where strong city government still functions effectively, citizens are tied down by an array of regulations and permits that are actually enforced in most cases. Much of the South Side of Chicago has Detroit like characteristics, but the techniques of renewal in Detroit won’t work because they are likely against code and would be shut down the minute someone complained … In most cities, municipal government can’t stop drug dealing and violence, but it can keep people with creative ideas out. Not in Detroit … The people in Detroit know that they are on their own, and if they want something done they have to do it themselves. Nobody from the city is coming to help them.”

— Aaron M. Renn, “Detroit: Urban Laboratory and the New American Frontier”


Even the term "The New Frontier" (consciously?) references the issues from our recent readings on gentrification, particularly Rosalyn Deutsche's assertion that the frontier that was the west is now at home in our cities and that the language of natural forces and of colonialism reflects a scary reality of how we mythologize such processes.

Anyway, the blog post was most likely prompted by the Green Alley Project, a project to satisfy those urban agriculturalists out there by using alley ways for urban farming in Detroit. The project is not apparently ground breaking, as there have been many similar projects, but not on such a large scale. (Other examples provided here.)

There are several websites on the plan for Detroit. This informal wiki has a comprehensive youtube video embedded in it describing the project fairly well, enjoy.

Another site that goes over the project.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

AIA Lecture Series

If anyone missed, (like myself) Antero Pietela talk tonight, he will be speaking again on his book, Not in My Neighborhood, during the AIA lunch lecture series on April 28 from noon-1pm. There are also some other interesting lectures in the series as well. The lectures are located in the Johns Hopkins Downtown Center, 10 N. Charles Street. If you don't have class, I suggest checking these out-I'll be there.

March 31, 2010
Monuments and Monumentality

Jeremy Kargon, an architect on staff at Morgan State University, presents an illustrated discussion of statuary in the Monumental City, traces the history of these monuments, and relates the monuments to the city’s recognition of American history.

April 7, 2010
Westside-the 10th Anniversary and Beyond

Kathy Robertson, Westside Coordinator of the Baltimore Development Corporation, knows every building and alley on the Westside. She will discuss 10 years of redevelopment progress, upcoming projects, and answer questions about future plans.

April 14, 2010
The Design Challenge of Columbia’s Downtown

Roger Lewis, professor at the University of Maryland’s School of Architecture, practicing architect, author of a standard textbook on the practice of architecture, and Washington Post columnist, discusses the myriad design challenges faced by the aging town center of Columbia, Maryland.

April 21, 2010
Transform Baltimore

Laurie Feinberg, chief of Comprehensive Planning for the Baltimore City Planning Department, discusses the mammoth and long-awaited rewrite of the City’s zoning code, and the timetable for release of the draft of the new form-based code.

April 28, 2010
Not in My Neighborhood

Antero Pietila, retired Baltimore Sun editorial writer, discusses what he learned from his long career writing for the Baltimore Sun and how he saw a need to address and create rhetoric focusing on this historically problematic American city. Not in My Neighborhood explains why Baltimore is still suffering the aftereffects of long-term racial segregation and bigotry on both a city and federal level.

Sprout Fund Pittsburgh

check out the pittsburgh-based mural foundation here

they are always involved in the community with their decisions, and provide a stipend to the artists involved with the murals. submissions take place at a certain period of the year.

here is their mural map (a bit outdated, more has been done since). more is available on their website.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Where are your solutions?

Authors Rosalyn Deutsche and Cara Gendel Ryan offer such fierce and extreme views on the subject of gentrification that I must step back and examine their logic. They make their opposition to the process apparent, and encourage the reader to avoid personal involvement. To do this one must first understand what gentrification is, which is only possible if we “isolate the economic forces that are destroying … the traditional labor classes.” Who are these classes in particular? The blue collar, pre-Reagonomics, industrial workers. Following the automization of labor power in the 1950s, these work forces became obsolete. With the need for manpower dwindling and capitalism on a limitless rise, they could no longer contribute to society. This, combined with the Reagan administration’s cuts on welfare and human resource programs, developed a new “underclass”. The rising Post-industrialist society was exceptionally market-driven instead of people-driven. Cities developed housing specifically geared toward white-collar workers, using tactics such as urban neglect and the 421-a tax abatement program. Instead of providing funds for low-income housing, cities preferred to fund middle-class artist housing that will contribute to urban “renewal”. According to Deutsche and Ryan, where profit is favored over the urban poor, Gentrification is present. This is not just exemplified in city policy, but within private companies and individuals as well. Specifically, galleries and artists who locate themselves in low-income areas are complicit in the displacement of poor residents. To quote Deutsche and Ryan directly, “Artists have placed their housing needs above those of residents who cannot choose where to live.”
This being said, I am curious as to what the authors are imploring the readers to do- what solutions they are posing. Their critiques of gentrification are obvious: the displacement, the lack of low-income housing, the limited supply blue-collar jobs. I fail to see how these problems can be solved without first addressing the system of capitalism. At the heart of our economy lies the desire to make profit. This is true for blue-collar and white-collar workers, big businesses and small businesses, and even our city governments. Of course, gentrification is not caused by a capitalistic society, but by a capitalistic society that sees to it’s own needs before those of others. The solution lies in valuing people over profits, even people who can make little to no contribution to post-industrial society. At the same time, it is impossible to value “people”, in this case traditional labor forces, without reverting to pre-WWII employment opportunities. Even if human resource and welfare programs were increased and low-income housing developed, that still would change the fact that the “underclass” are blue-collar workers in a white-collar world. To reverse this would be to flip our American society on its head, an action I do not foresee in the near future. Perhaps the call to action now is to simply know one’s context, to deem gentrification a “proper cultural concern” in and out of the art world. I do not know the solution to the problems posed by our authors, nor do I know if there is one, but awareness is the first step to any process of improvement.
When I first moved to Baltimore, I noticed everything that seemed more northern about it than Memphis: trains, row houses, skinny jeans,...  Then I went home for the summer, and when I came back, I started to notice everything that it had in common with Memphis.  While Memphis is located in the South, and was never known to be particularly industrial, there is a surprising number of parallels. Baltimore has the Station-North arts district where Memphis has Cooper-Young.  Both areas have a reputation for revitalizing culture in the city.  Both cities have large populations of black people compared to other U.S. cities.  When Baltimore is listed as a top-crime city, Memphis is always right under it.  Baltimore even has a significant southern flavor, at least in some neighborhoods.  When I walk to and from my house on St. Paul, I can say "hi" or "how's it goin?" to strangers on the street, and they'll respond, often warmly (unless they're white...).  It's characteristic of most northern cities for people to just keep their blinders on and avoid interaction with strangers.  When I think about it, Baltimore really has more in common with Memphis than it does with northern cities.  However, despite the fact that Baltimore's Station-North play's a similar role to Memphis' Cooper-Young, the Station-North arts district seems to lack a certain authenticity that Cooper-Young has.  Station-North feels like a "scene," while Cooper-Young is more of a community.  This might be attributed to the fact that Memphis is always going to have more "southern hospitality."  In class, we've talked some about how Baltimore is a very "indoors scene," and doesn't have much street presence.  In Memphis, there's enough room between buildings and streets to have outdoor seating, and buildings have grass around them.  Memphis has shotgun houses to Baltimore's row houses, so residents of Cooper-Young have front porches and yards where Station-North residents have stoops and sidewalks.  While Baltimore has Station-North, Waverly, Mt. Vernon, and Hampden, Cooper-Young sort of serves the role of all of these in Memphis, and there is therefore a much wider range of ages represented, rather than the majority 20s-range in Station-North.  Cooper-Young is really the only cultural district Memphis has, so it is lasting and protected, rather than moving and transient like the neighborhood focus in Baltimore seems to be.  While Station-North seems to wish it had the long-standing landmark grundgy coffee shop or neighborhood pizza place, Cooper-Young has the real deal.  
I don't really understand why southern art districts get so little attention, but It's probably for the best that they remain under the radar so that they don't suffer the same brutal speculation and development that northern art districts endure.  Although it's difficult to find articles and sources about southern art districts, I'm interested in continuing to make my own comparisons.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Le Corbusier, super blocks, and photography

I wanted to share the photography of Michael Wolf, who I first discovered in the magazine, Volume, the issue about superblocks (i'll share with class on Thursday). His photography projects almost all center around architecture in some way, but his series Architecture of Density is what really strikes me.
You can find more of his work here. Check out Transparent City as well. (His site needs a good update though)

Something worth checking out.

Even with my withdrawal from the class, I still can help but be drawn to it all the readings and content you are generating. So ere is a link from the wonderful BLDBLOG- about California City and planned city that was only partially built and is now mostly a "ghost" town. Can you even call it a ghost town seeing as how it never really came to life?

Hope you all enjoy check out the rest of the blog there are other interesting and wonderful posts, not allot that has to do with Central Baltimore but is good stuff non the less.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Abstract City- Christoph Niemann

A little bit of abstract map humor:

really good.

Sarah Dougherty

I'm really glad Sarah Dougherty came to the class to speak about the axis alley project.  I had seen some of the pieces and Sarah's fighting rats fence while walking around my neighborhood, but I didn't know the story behind them.  I'd also heard a little about the axis alley project, but didn't know what the grand scope of it was.  I was amazed to hear Sarah's vision for reclaiming the alley in order to make a path from the BMA to the station north arts district.  Although this project is still pretty heavily focused on artist culture in Baltimore, it is also intended to benefit the rest of the community in station north by creating an environment friendly to traffic other than cars.  I think this is one of the few projects that actually benefits the community and culture in station north outside of the artist culture.  Most of the projects we've heard about so far have seemed completely focused on improving the area for commercial purposes by bringing in outside culture.  Sarah, on the other hand, seemed to be genuinely intent on having a project that improved safety and provided resources for people in the neighborhood other than those in the "creative class."
           I also appreciate her speaking so much about the process of getting permission to use spaces.  I'm personally really interested in public and community art, but not necessarily in the kind of places public art is usually displayed.  Before Sarah gave her talk, I didn't know it was possible to get permission to use alleys.  The long list of people and phone calls she went through seems like a perfect example of the itineraries we've discussed in class.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Sarah & Sloan

In his chapter Modernist Aesthetics and Urban Politics, author Thomas Bender works to illuminate the movement of urban modernism in New York City. In doing so, he distinguishes two forms of art-making that depict 20th Century New York. Rather than dichotomize modernism, these two forms create differing “structures of perception”. The first of these forms he associates with the art promoter Alfred Stiegltiz and his 291 Gallery circle. This body is characterized by a sort of elevation above New York’s bustling streets, to the viewpoint of a spectator and not a participant. The formal qualities of the city are emphasized, found within its geometric angles and grand space. These create a “vital but cool energy”, dead to human activity but alive to captivating forms. History and narrative, from this perspective, are abandoned in pursuit of a romanticized “aesthetic of distance”.
The second structure of perception is associated with painter and photographer John Sloan. Like Steiglitiz, Sloan values the energy and physical qualities of the city. His emphasis, however, is not placed on structural forms but rather “the human activities and connections for which they provide a stage”. Instead of elevating themselves above the city, the Sloan group plants their feet amidst the human experience. Average, working people populate their subject matter, creating a gritty and real vitality. Instead of history being frozen in place, it becomes an unmistakable component of urban life.
There is something of the Sloan aesthetic that resonates with the work of Sarah Doherty. This is not to say that Doherty and her project, Axis Alley, are an emblem of modernism. They do, however, continue with some of the political themes valued by Sloan and his group. For one, Doherty has not located herself within the metropolitan epicenter, as Steiglitiz did in New York’s Midtown. She instead operates in Station North, what can be argued is an “extended” Village of Baltimore. Like Sloan, she lives amongst working-class urban residents. Perhaps the strongest correlation between Doherty and Sloan is found within their emphasis on ground-level human narratives. The inspiration for Axis Alley springs from a knowledge of people’s interaction the alleyway, both past and present. Doherty portrays the vitality of active public life, perhaps with less realism than Sloan and his compatriots. There is, however, one vital difference found between Doherty’s work and that of modernism: where modernist work aggravates the barriers between downtown and periphery, work and home, and inevitably between people, Doherty succeeds in somewhat breaking these barriers to allow for a more unified urban environment.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

D:Center meeting, cool upcoming lecture and related topics

About to go to the D:center meeting and found this wonderful upcoming lecture next week after our class. Maybe this was announced but I thought I'd post it here:

Here is a cool post by Emily Pilloton did on D:center's blog about changing Baltimore by developing it one (artist) person at a time, by becoming the developer - a bit like what the former director of the BOPA and Dan was saying two weeks back.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Endless Skywalk

I headed over to the Penn State student presentations on redevelopment ideas for Greenmount West and areas of Charles North. There were sparks of good ideas here and there, but overall many of the ideas were extremely hypothetical, and involved leveling the entire area, which came as quite a surprise to me, and most of the community members in attendance as well. Let me just say, I have never seen so many skywalks in people's design plans in my life. There were skywalks ranging from over the roads to over homes to over businesses, and even extending out of huge skywalk towers. I think someone's class is quite the fan of Robert Moses (some even mentioned him as a source of inspiration, maybe one group). However, overall there were definitely some good ideas here and there, and some people realized that there is more to do than just bring tourists up from the harbor. One of the main problems for these groups and their assignment was they only visited the area for a day, and none of them had heard of the Charles North Vision Plan, which caused a lot of overlap in development ideas for Greenmount West. I think my favorite plan was to cut out two lanes of traffic on Guilford (there are what? two lanes to begin with?), and also cut out a lane on North. (slight sarcasm). There were some great ideas for bike paths and points of interest spread out within the area. One groups plan looked like a replica of a college campus with large buildings, and huge blocks of just green area.

Visually the projects were well done and easy to read.

I think I became the annoying person that asks too many questions and comments too much in the room, but oh well. Annette and Charlie both agreed with what I had to say in regards to the students visions.

Overall an interesting day.

Mall World

Here's some inspiration for your "Game Board" assignment: it's a game called "Mall World" that I found in the Mondawmin Mall Dollar Store:

The object? That's really hard to say, but check out the crazy description!