There is no silver bullet

Drew Tucker:  Our investigations into the current state of urbanity revealed a long term strategy by the state, public and private actors towards urban solutions. We conducted intensive, urban forensic investigations into these social, policy based, and economic projects only to uncover that they more often compounded seemingly intractable problems in their wake. Modern urban ‘solutions’ in the U.S (our primary site of investigation), slum clearance and urban renewal, displacement as housing policy, and gentrification, have by and large sought to solve problems of urban form, in lieu of function, through social exclusion, creative destruction, and out of scale development. While their intentions were often, in the beginning, well meaning, divisive politics, moralism, and economic competition more often than not, led them astray.

We can now clearly identify a new set of urban solutions on the horizon: smart cities, New Urbanism, Place Making, tactical urbanism, Market Urbanism, Sustainable/Resilient Urbanism, etc. These emerging practices are not for the most part problematic in and of themselves, it is simply that they are overburdened in their task: to provide a concise, complete, and ultimate solution to urban problems. Urbanists are asking too much of these methodologies. Each of them are only a part of the puzzle, and as such, each can only address its particular paradigm of interest. More importantly, urbanity is a process of expanding, intense spatial change. A process that acts upon both the social and physical environment through “a historically situated and geographically unevenly distributed condition, characterized by interdependencies, unpredictability, mobility, differences, speed and intense affects.”  How could any theory or set of theories control for the fluidity of urban change? How could any set of methodologies purport to be the solution to the true wicked problem of urbanization? Rather, shouldn’t we instead develop a similarly fluid set of strategies and tactics to address the mercurial nature of urbanity? Shouldn’t we accept a certain level of shared social precarity and abandon market based solutions whose success is inherently dependent on a level of transference of precarity onto a marginalized group in exchange for an increased economic security for another?

This lesson is especially important for us as we begin to leave (or decide to stay) in New York City and to seek out the physical spaces where we will practice. Personally, I have learned to take a good hard look at how my city, Louisville, is courting new urban trends as solutions to entrenched, historical urban frictions. In some ways, for Louisville, any urbanism is good urbanism, but in many other ways, these urban trends will further complicate (or ignore) entrenched issues of racial segregation, infrastructural deterioration, and economic disparity. What I know now is that my practice, as it impacts Louisville, must add a level of depth to these well meaning ideals; my work must engage a broader element of research, a deeper level of commitment mediation between marginalized and privileged communities, and offer reflexive, embedded, and pragmatic interventions that speak to both of these communities.  DT.

Multiple intersecting urbanities:  Love @ The Garage Bar in Louisville, Kentucky.  Source:  LuAnn Snawder Photography via  Flickr and Creative Commons 

Multiple intersecting urbanities:  Love @ The Garage Bar in Louisville, Kentucky.  Source:  LuAnn Snawder Photography via Flickr and Creative Commons