Meet St Barbara. Until Rome demoted her a few years ago she was the patron saint of architecture …and also those who work with explosives. Kind of an exciting job description. We hope she’s looking out for us in these precarious times. Given the built environment and economic uncertainty many are stuck with we are gonna need all the wisdom with architecture and explosives we can get our hands on.
Who doesn’t idealize the artist, the architect, the engineer, the designer their ability to go from nothing to something, that is to create, to bring a thing into existence? It makes sense then that in attempting to comprehened suburbia we turn to the creative class? Almost since they were invented suburbia has provoked a diversity of critique and brought forth those with a desire in their hearts for something better. Is it possible that even the growing social difficulty facing suburbia is a design problem?
Allison Arieff thinks so. She has been professionally involved in design and architecture in America and last year gathered some of her thoughts in the opinion piece linked in this posting, making it dynamite to read. Ms. Arieff sees people with very low expectations of houses. People willing to accept boring, unimaginative, sometimes downright shoddy, drywall boxes cranked out and marketed by an innovation-resisting industry that produces something like half of all solid waste in the country. Acording to Ms. Arieff the commercial building industry is capable of producing a better product than the residential construction industry. This all seems like a disservice to American consumers and their communities.
Unfortunately the American suburban paradigm is not going to be changed any time soon because it will be too busy being dead. A couple of postings back we learned that the number of unwanted monster homes in America is in the tens of millions. Kinda tough to think the industry that produced that is going to set aside its hucksterism and conservatism for a design-ey new approach to everything. Still, just as the dinosaurs were replaced so too will the homebuilders of America be replaced. Ms Arieff provides a survey of several builders going in the right direction in terms of energy efficiency, construction methods and cultural value in homes. Hers is a call for change and action, that of a new Saint Barbara?
Shifting the Suburban Paradigm NYT Opinionator
This article has nearly 170 comments at the time of this posting, including some very thoughtful ones.
That’s a picture of Solar House 1, an MIT project built in, wait for it …1939! As it happens, knowledge of how to optimize a building to make use of solar energy is downright ancient. Among the ideas we need to get reacquainted with in a hurry has to do not with digital or analogue technology but simply with the way houses, entire neighbourhoods, are sited within a “solar envelope.” We’ve come across the idea that cycling, walking and public transit can affect one’s quality of life positively. After getting to a built structure you want it to be heated, cooled, and illuminated in ways that are equally cheap and sensible so that resources (especially money!) are not wasted, are kept available for other things. Again, we find the actual physical mechanism of the suburbs a huge potential influence on the poverty found there!
The solar envelope: how to heat and cool cities without fossil fuels
Low Tech Magazine
A person earning twenty-five grand a year who can walk to work is richer than the person making thirty-five a year who drives to work? Yes? No? Maybe? Would the money saved in this proposition be enough to help someone avoid or reduce social exclusion?
Going forward, communities really need to be doing all they can to support walking. Even here in wintery Canada walking already makes a difference to those with lower incomes. Supporting walking only makes sense, really. Here is an item on walking from Slate.
The crisis in American walking
photo: Eadweard Muybridge (via Wikimedia Commons)
The pleasure is all suburban-poverty.com’s to make mention of Copenhagen’s new dedicated bicycle super-highway. The route from a suburb called Albertslund into Copenhagen is 11 miles/18 kilometers in length and the first component of a serious national network of routes. What a fantastic real world precedent for just about any fossil fuel-using community looking for alternatives!
Cycling is healthy and cheap and empowering. Bikes are sensible tools for fighting suburban poverty. Here in North America, compulsory automobile ownership enslaves working people, drawing their resources into a matrix of requirements for gasoline, insurance, repairs, tire replacement, maintenance, tickets, parking fees, interest payments, depreciation, accidents and injuries, noise and pollution. Something has to change.
The New York Times item covering the cycling superhighway has been picked up in blogs, by the Toronto Star, and in many other places. It’s hard not to envy infrastructure like this and we hope to see more everywhere.
Copenhagen Journal: Commuters Pedal to Work on Their Very Own Superhighway NYT
photo: Copenhagen via Wikimedia Commons
Retrofitting seems to be the suburban-poverty theme of late. Here is a link to an article describing the benefit of changes to Plessis-Robinson. An outer suburb in southwest Paris, France. What is referred to as “smart growth” or “new urbanism” in North America was put in place there beginning in the 1990s. The article, like much discussion of suburban futures, is mainly about built form and resource usage. Again, who would argue with attractive buildings that conserve energy, greenspaces, walkability, public safety, advanced recycling, water saving efforts and so forth? Well, only an idiot. What is it then that retards such development in one place but not in another? See the results for yourself in the six minute video available at the link below.
It would seem to us that improvements to sustainability and general aesthetics might make a suburb more expensive and harder on those with less income. On the other hand, denser, more economically diverse places with better public transit and a variety of types of housing would make life easier for working people and those in social difficulty. How late is it to be putting in place a process of working out such issues in North America?
Can US communities learn from this European suburban retrofit? NRDC website
At the Museum of Modern Art in New York CIty there is an exhibit featuring conceptual retrofitting schemes for seven US communities battered by the recession. The exhibit is called Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream. Wonder what Mr. Lloyd would make of the proposals on display in his building?
Retrofitting Suburbia: Urban Design Solutions for Redesigning Suburbs
Ellen Dunham-Jones & June Williamson
John Wiley & Sons
We’ve been wanting to mention this book for a while and now that there is an updated edition available, here it is. Retrofitting Suburbia: Urban Design Solutions for Redesigning Suburbs is a big, detailed, serious take on just what can be done with aging, unattractive suburban sprawl. With the text you get maps and colour ilustrations of real world improvement projects aimed at making suburbs more walkable and connected, more transit friendly, more aesthetically pleasing, more economically varied and more attached to the realities of the environment. Who wouldn’t want these things? And surely retrofitting suburbia would ameliorate poverty there, enhance employment, prevent the suburbs from sliding into deeper obsolesence if not full on ghettohood. The approach here is rational and advocates a technical, investment-orientated approach to improving suburbia. Absolutely these ideas should be on the table, many are already in existence and working well. On getting acquainted with this book you will look at suburban communities as opportunities, not just as a set of mistakes or doomed to a Mad Max kind of future.
Ellen Dunham-Jones TED Talk 19:24
Murmurs of Marxism, of maximum socialist gains, are faintly heard from the fringes as our brains fry in the heat of summer and both Europe and America go nowhere. It would be far beyond irony and deep into the realm of something crazy if it turned out that thirty years of neo-con horseshit triggered a serious revival of Marxism and that revival were expressed politically. It’d be hard to decide who the joke would truly be on but few of us at any level of society below the 1% are laughing these days.
Why Marxism is on the rise again Guardian
It’s quite heartening to see Ed Broadbent reemerging into Canada’s public realm through the creation of an institute with a major focus on economic inequality. Even those adhering to neo-conservative thought must surely find it refreshing to come across perspectives other than their own. Of course, that may be asking too much but Mr. Broadbent appears intent on backing up his take on inequality, and the harm it does, with strong arguments, research and statistical evidence. Not just the right has a tradition of vehemence, argumentativeness and truthfulness don’t you know!
At suburban-poverty.com we have high hopes that Mr. Broadbent will be successful getting the word out. A reversal of the brain-washing, the opinions-disguised-as-the-truth, the elistist contmept and laissez-faire social policy that have been so much a part of the national life for the last three decades is long overdue. Indeed, we remember in our teens some three decades ago, that in Canada Scandinavia-style social democracy was viewed as a perfectly rational option for the nation by a great many people. Things turned out rather differently it would seem. The inequality we have here now and, above all, the way it is viewed as inevitable by so many tells us that.
But efforts like that of economicinequality.ca and now Mr. Broadbent, however, show us that perhaps Canada is not a complete write off yet? “Ready, aye ready …already!”
Economic Inequality held another public forum yesterday at Metropolitan United Church. Three speakers weighed in on the matter, Jim Stanford, an economist with the Canadian Auto Workers was first with an early highlight in which he referred to FOX-style business “journalist” Kevin O’Leary as an asshole. John Ralston Saul, president of PEN International and author made being a serious, history-minded public intellectual look so easy that even we are thinking of applying for such a position.
Tanya Zakrison, a surgeon from Doctors for Fair Taxation also weighed in on the realities of inequality. Her phrase, “trauma is a political disease” will remain with us among our impressions of the two hour event. John Sewell and Liz Rykoff were there to act as hosts and are from the organzation’s steering committee. Mike Ford handled the music.
Suburban-poverty.com attended the last forum, in Etobicoke. Monday’s forum involved a larger crowd and there was less audience participation. We found it educational and were heartened by the brain power on display and by the calibre of the arguments made against the aging bromides of neo-conservatism. John Ralston Saul’s sense of Canadian history and the value he places on the relationship between democracy and the intelligence of the people is so nice to hear.
Metropolitan United Church was a good choice of venue. Its community services efforts in the basement include a drop-in and meal program. Open that day, it fed the homeless, provided referrals and other services to those in deep social difficulty, facing low income, personal problems, social exclusion …the very effects of inequality.
Doctors for Fair Taxation
nb: expired links 🙁
image: Metropolitan Methodist Church, (United), Toronto, 1896