Monthly Archives: October 2011
The Pruitt-Igoe housing project consisted of 33 eleven-story buildings in inner St. Louis. Its residents were exclusively black and low-income, the remnants of a major slum-clearance effort after World War II. The project was built quickly, with a relatively small budget, and included some architectural innovations like elevators that only stopped every three floors and ‘galleries’ where residents could hang out and get to know each other.
The rest of the story is familiar to anyone who has even a passing familiarity with American urban policy in the last four decades. As inner-city residents increasingly moved out to the suburbs, demand for project-housing plummeted, and the tower blocks steadily emptied until only the poorest, least mobile and unemployed-est residents remained.
Since its demolition in 1972, Pruitt-Igoe has become shorthand for socially pioneering architects building public housing totally out of sync with the needs of residents. Pruitt-Igoe’s long corridors and forced-hangout spaces became mugging spots. The ‘open plan’ lobbies allowed people to enter the buildings who didn’t live there, which lessened residents’ feeling of ownership over the buildings.
That’s the conventional wisdom, anyway. This article is a fascinating unpacking of this myth, and shos that the architects, far from being social crusaders or blind to residents’ needs, were simply so constrained by the site, necessities and budget of the project that they had no ability to construct decent living spaces.
It was the city’s decision to concentrate its poorest residents in tower blocks, the city’s decision to underfund construction materials and consultation, the city’s decision to neglect maintenance, the city’s decision to fail to implement education or jobs programs for Pruitt-Igoe residents.
In other words, the Pruitt-Igoe projects didn’t fail because they were poorly designed, they failed because they were poorly conceived.
Pruitt-Igoe was shaped by the strategies of ghetto containment and inner-city revitalization—strategies that did not emanate from the architects, but rather from the system in which they practice. The Pruitt-Igoe myth therefore not only inflates the power of the architect to effect social change, but it masks the extent to which the profession is implicated, inextricably, in structures and practices that it is powerless to change.
Simultaneously with its function of promoting the power of the architect, the myth serves to disguise the actual purpose and implication of public housing by diverting the debate to the question of design. By continuing to promote architectural solutions to what are fundamentally problems of class and race, the myth conceals the complete inadequacy of contemporary public housing policy. It has quite usefully shifted the blame from the sources of housing policy and placed it on the design professions.
By furthering this misconception, the myth disguises the causes of the failure of public housing, and also ensures the continued participation of the architecture profession in token and palliative efforts to address the problem of poverty inAmerica. The myth is a mystification that benefits everyone involved, except those to whom public housing programs are supposedly directed.
There’s a movie coming out about it!
Last night during All The President’s Men, I found this out:
Woodward wrote that he first met Felt by chance in 1970, when Woodward was a Navy lieutenant in his mid-twenties who was dispatched to deliver a package to the White House’s West Wing. Felt arrived soon after, for a separate appointment, and sat next to Woodward in the waiting room. Woodward struck up a conversation, eventually learning of Felt’s position in the upper echelon of the FBI. Woodward, who was about to get out of the Navy at the time and was unsure about his future direction in life, became determined to use Felt as a mentor and career advisor, and so he got Felt’s phone number and kept in touch with him.
This is the best argument in favor of chitchat I’ve ever heard.
“My mother told me that the positions they do are all just for show,” he says. Rückert explained to her son that he shouldn’t worry if his first girlfriend didn’t moan loudly during sex and that the actors in porn movies use lots of lubrication.
I went to the doctor as soon as I got back from Albania.
Me: I think I need a cast of some kind.
Doctor: What’s the problem?
Me: I have pretty bad foot pain. I’m pretty sure I have a metatarsal stress fracture. I can barely walk.
Doctor: Who diagnosed you with the metatarsal stress fracture?
Me: I’ve just been looking around on the internet, and that’s what it most sounds like.
Doctor: Well, I don’t think you have a stress fracture. So, who are you going to trust? Me, or Doctor Internet?
Me: What do you think I have?
Doctor: Foot pain.
Me: … Wait, is that the diagnosis? That’s my symptom. Are you allowed to do that?
I’m getting orthopedic shoe inserts today. And buying the URL for doctor-internet.com.
‘He was the only man I have ever known incapable of a political thought or of a humanitarian purpose.’
Yeats’s Nobel Lecture is hella boring, but I did like that one line.
‘The brilliant dark governing insight of social media is that most people prefer socializing alone.’
The throughly ornamental frigidity of the Kardashians represents the sterile terminus of contemporary commercialized femininity.
I’m amazed this isn’t known and discussed more broadly:
[In Australia] the poorest 20 per cent of the population receives nearly 42 per cent of all the money spent on social security; the richest 20 per cent receives only around 3 per cent. As a result, the poorest fifth receives twelve times as much in social benefits as the richest fifth, while in the United States the poorest get about one and a half times as much as the richest. At the furthest extreme are countries like Greece, where the rich are paid twice as much in benefits as the poorest 20 per cent, and Mexico and Turkey, where the rich receive five to ten times as much as the poor.
You can have arguments about whether the welfare state should exist, but if it does, it should be geared toward helping the poorest first (right?!).
‘A village where the people had not eaten for three days, but they were still talking about books and how to get them’
Damn, Doris Lessing’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech is devastating.
In the documentary Casino Jack, they tell the story of Saipan, a US protectorate where a bunch of clothing companies set up sweatshops so they could keep the ‘Made in USA’ label. Terrible working conditions, long hours, third-world pay, blah blah blah.
According to the documentary, the primary strategy for keeping all of this legal was to fly senators out to the island itself for ‘fact-finding’ missions. The government of Saipan would stage-manage ‘impromptu’ tours of factories and meetings with fake workers’ representatives. When the senators got back to the US and were confronted with NGO reports about the terrible working conditions, their response was ‘that’s not true. I’ve been there and it’s not like that.’
Visiting Saipan didn’t give them any new information. It simply increased their confidence in their own expertise.
Sometimes I feel like this when I travel.
I was in Albania this week, and spent five days basically spectating it. I walked around the capital. I biked to some smaller cities. I bussed across the border to Macedonia. I trained to the Aegean coast.
Fine. I had a blast. But what I always struggle with on these trips is the urge to turn my incredibly limited experience into a generalization.
I walk around Tirana and I see hundreds of bustling cafes, filled with Ray Banned young people. The cars are new-looking. Construction workers are construction-working to fix potholes and repave sidewalks.
All of this means that Albania is not only a middle-income country, but firmly on its way to high-income status and EU membership, right? There’s a Gucci store, for Christ’s sake.
Albania’s per capita GDP is $6,000, one of the lowest in Europe. The unemployment rate is upwards of 15 percent, and the only reliable money coming into the country is from Albanians who have emigrated to Greece and Italy for low-skilled labour.
Aside from that specific splash of water, there’s the broader point that aimlessly walking around a country ‘s capital is a fucking terrible way to determine its level of development. I don’t speak Albanian. I can’t read Albanian newspapers or speak to people who know the country intimately. Basically, I have no ability to gather factual information. Experiencing the ‘feel’ of a foreign country is just another way of saying that you’re filtering your stereotypes through your observations.
This is obvious, of course, but it’s a hard impulse to resist. Just being someplace isn’t a remotely reliable way to gather systematic information about it. But it’s a great way to make you think you know what you’re talking about.
This is a nice post summarizing the arguments for and against Britain joining the Euro in 2001:
The arguments in favour, at least the economic ones, were that we might benefit from being fully integrated in a bigger trading bloc, that we would benefit from currency stability, that lower interest rates would be nice to have, and that the Eurozone restrictions would be a force that would require industry to be more competitive (or did they just mean lower wages?). The arguments against, at least the economic ones, were that the Stability & Growth Pact would be an anti-Keynesian force for deflation and that the option of devaluation would be removed. […]
But the economic argument that was very rarely discussed was the one that is now fascinating everybody – exactly how the Eurosystem, rather than the Euro, would function in a financial crisis. Apparently this was discussed in specialist circles, but it didn’t make even the best of the national press.
Maybe this is just me and my fetish for obsolete political debates, but I wish the media would engage in this exercise more often. If there’s anything history teaches us, its that the arguments for and against making a particular political move are often utterly irrelevant once the action is taken.
People opposed to giving women the vote in Britain in 1918, for example,made the argument that, once you had universal suffrage, there would be no impartial observers to serve as referees in political debates. It may be true that women’s suffrage slightly reduced the number of female-brokered political compromises, but if you were listing all the positive and negative impacts of universal suffrage 90 years after the fact, that would come in about 107th. Similarly, the arguments for and against the creation of the Euro from 2000 seem completely out of touch with its actual impact in 2011.
One of the roles of new media, I think, will be to run more postgame analysis like this. With all of our political arguments cached in full, we can’t escape the reasons we talked ourselves into tacking in a particular direction, and how those reasons relate to what has happened since. Things like, say, the Bush tax cuts and healthcare reform were designed to foster specific economic and societal impacts. If those impacts haven’t taken effect in the years since, the people designing them were either lying, grandstanding, shortsighted or just wrong. For each reason behind their decision, we need to ask them which one they were.
We need a media that not only holds politicians to account for what they do, but why they do it. Knowing what we were promised and what we got won’t just make us better debaters, but better citizens.