Thursday, August 30, 2007

Constructing Equality?

For our final writing assignment, I have chosen to discuss the "Impact of the Architectural Profession on the Black Community". At first glance, it appears there is none. Historically, the architectural profession was governed by wealth - rich clients hiring rich, or pseudo rich architects. While these relationships still exist and are a vital part of the profession, there has been more of a demand for architecture for the masses. I plan to discuss the impact this social shift has had on the Black community and how the Black community can become more involved and contribute to the quality of the communities they live in.
I am currently conducting my research from The Image of the City by Kevin Lynch, Urban Diaries by Walter Hood and Architecture of Fear edited by Nan Ellin. At the very least, I will bring to the forefront information that should generate interesting discussion.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Thoughts For Today.....

After completing the readings for first two weeks and being caught up in the Intensive whirlwind since Saturday things are still a blur, because there has been so much information coming in. One thing I have definitely absorbed from the Bickford reading, "Constructing Inequality: City Space and the Architecture of Citizenship" is when I've thought of architecture in the past I think of us as designing to meet the client's needs, or a specific use. These readings have changed my perspective about our profession to include our society as a whole. What impact do we have on our society? How are we able to shape the future of our society? What can our profession to break through some of the racial and gender barriers that tend to handicap groups of our society? I've asked myself these and similar questions in the past few weeks. And it I'm convinced there is much that the design professions can do to move all of society forward to being more exciting for everyone. We have an advantage that many other professions don't. We have the ability to manipulate spaces, public and private, outdoor and indoor, to provide more interesting, rewarding and safe living conditions and experiences for all of society, not just a select few.

While I am excited about what we have the capability of achieving I'm also aware of the reality that our profession continues to be a closely guarded "club" that most reluctantly accepts women and minorities. Ahrentzen wrote in her article entitled, "The Space Between the Studs: Feminism and Architecture" that, despite the contributions to architecture and other design disciplines, "all annual Pritzker Architecture Prize winners are men, as are all winners of the American Institute of Architects Gold Medal."

Therefore, I'm certain the task is monumental. But I once heard someone say, "The will to win is nothing without the will to prepare to win." Hopefully, our experience and training at BAC will prepare us to win.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

"Landscape Taste as a Symbol of Group Identity . . . ."

Duncan brings to the forefront a very interesting analogy and backs up this analogy with very persuasive statistics. I have witnessed many of the characteristics of the different groups that Duncan referred to in my own hometown. The alpha group, which can be identified as the wealthy group, in my town also, had homes constructed on very deep lots with significant front setbacks, and well-manicured lawns. The beta group, typically, lived in nice homes. However, the front yards were not nearly as deep and they did not take as much care in styling their lawns. Secondly, the beta group would apply features and elements to their homes that imitated a higher style that may or may not be original to the house. The alpha group would have authentic features detailed, in many cases, specifically for that home, and in most cases, these features were original to the home. Therefore, I support Duncan in his analogy that our taste in landscapes can symbolize our group identity.

There were some striking similarities between Duncan’s analogies and Susan Bickfords’ reading. The first similarity is the fact that the affluent group advocates separatism. In Bickford’s reading by forming gated communities that physically separate the wealthy, but in Duncan’s reading by using rigidly structured social doctrines to separate the wealthy. One interesting point that Duncan added was that these practices are taught to us at an early age, stating “The separation of social networks through the club is a dynamic process, for members’ children use the club and develop social networks that exclude outsiders to a large degree.” In Bickford’s reading it had to be assumed that because the children were separated that they would grow up to identify with their specific group. One reason that these two readings may have been assigned in succession is to point out that, social segregation can be blatant, as is the case with “Constructing Inequality”, or it can be subtle, as it is in Duncan’s reading. If social segregation is blatant, then statistics confirming the findings are not required. However, if the segregation is subtle then simply stating that social segregation exists in this case is not enough. A fair analogy is that gated communities include physical barriers, fences, walls, gates, guardhouses, etc. The boundaries of the socioeconomic group are clearly marked. Whereas, with landscapes that symbolize social groups there are no glaring barriers that identify the boundary of the group.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Constructing Inequality - A Response

As stated in my profile, I am originally from a small town in Missouri. My early experiences in diversity consisted of "black and white". There weren't many Asian and no Latinos in our community during my childhood. During my early adult years, I lived in an urban environment in Texas. This was a great learning experience for me. Learning more about the Latino culture, more exposure to Asian Americans, and new attributes about the black and white communities. Going from a community with only two ethnic groups, with tensions and friction being bi-polar, it was quite different to be thrown into a melting pot of ethnicity. One striking observation that I made was when there are only two “groups” within a community it always appears that one is pitted against the other, which on the surface appears to have racial overtones. Nevertheless, when living within a melting pot of different ethnic groups it becomes evident that community decisions aren’t made along racial lines but more along economical lines. Bickford sited Jane Jacobs observation that, “To any one person, strangers are far more common in big cities than acquaintances. More common not just in places of public assembly, but more common at a man’s own doorstep.” Part of the reason that this is true is because in big cities economic alliances are stronger than ethnic alliances, and therefore trust is lost within ones own ethnic group. This is why we have evolved into a society where many public places are “places of risk, uncertainty, incompleteness.” In addition, “the outside, as Sennett points out, is a realm of exposure.” I think CIDs and PUDs are attempts to gain control of the amount and type of exposure we all receive from each other. Utilizing CIDs, the wealthy can control where, when and who they’re exposed to; while also controlling the “low resource choice takers” by economically corralling them into ghettoes. Thus, also controlling where, when and who that group is exposed to. Actually, the lower income man or woman living in the ghetto isn’t that much different from the wealthy man or woman living in a gated community. They each strive to love, protect and provide for their families the best way they know how. Bickford states that, “gates construct and manifest social relations-in this case, segregation… In older cities, condominiums are a common form of gentrification, the “conversion of economically marginal and working class areas to middle class residential use.” I see this on a daily basis in St. Louis, Missouri, and work with many developers that are actively rehabilitating these areas. My question to them is always, why are you displacing the families that, once rehabilitated, will not be able to afford your elevated purchase prices or rents? I must say that after working with many of them on several projects some have actually began to offer affordable housing for existing residents. Moreover, one group has actually included the existing residents in the decision making process of their neighborhood redevelopment plans. Therefore, by forming alliances with the existing neighborhood the developer is making an existing neighborhood stronger in lieu of attempting to create a neighborhood from the ground up.

In the reading Bickford states, “When citizens are daily and thoroughly separated from those who are “different” from them, it requires an inhuman amount of imagination to have a genuinely democratic public.” Therefore, the longer we have ‘social segregation’ the wider and deeper the gorge between the different economic groups becomes. However, if we begin to bridge those gaps now there is a chance that socially we can tear down the walls and remove the gates. If the gates are removed there will naturally be some ‘cross pollination’, meaning cross-cultural exchange. Does this imply that because one group is wealthy that other groups should adapt and be like the wealthy group? I suggest there would have to be positive attributes pulled from all groups therefore creating a stronger bond within the community.

One key element to increase the odds of success of institutional conscious raising to allow for policies such as democratized regional planning would have to be education. Bickford mentioned that CIDs and PUDs utilizing CC&R’s are implemented by developers. To be successful ideas such as democratic regional planning must involve educating developers of the overall advantages of this approach. Emphasizing the economical rewards would be vital in getting the development community’s attention. I am by no means suggesting that the Black community, or any other ethnic group, be ‘let off the hook’. All ethnic stakeholders would have an equal responsibility in this effort. All involved would have to have open minds, open hearts and positive attitudes towards being educated of the benefits of this drastic social realignment.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Hello, Everyone

Looking forward to working with and meeting everyone.