Re: [-empyre-] 3 posting from teddy cruz

Thanks to the people who responded.

Some thoughts in the context of some of your observations (I will try
to be as specific as possible even though I suffer from being a

Intro: Since when are we all not implicated in the power structure?
We all, in one way or another, circulate through the institutions of
power, from the classrooms of the university, the white walls of the
museum, to the collector's living room.  I am NOT interested in
EVADING power. I want to confront it head on. In fact, the first
task, I think, for artists and architects interested in public art
and space is to reveal power. The invisibility of the power inscribed
the first 'critical' act. Otherwise, we will continue perpetuating
public art as an afterthought, an instrument to decorate the mistakes
of bad planning.

Maybe I should be more specific:

These are some problems / conflicts that have re-defined my practice:

1. In San Diego, where I practice and teach, there is a crisis of
housing affordability. The reason private developers have not built
ONE affordable housing project in many depressed neighborhoods in
this city -even during a period of unprecedented construction boom in
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT. In other words, for a developer to make a 100%
affordable housing project profitable, he or she would have to be
competitive, against other developers, in terms of obtaining tax
credits and subsidies. In order to be competitive, to make it
feasible, this project would have to have an average of 50 units. 50
used is prohibited by zoning. Housing affordability is trapped in
this contradiction. Therefore there is no way out of this crisis?
it's a catch 22?
As an architect interested in re-defining what we mean by housing
affordability, density and mixed- uses, challenging the
discriminatory zoning policies in San Diego, I am convinced that the
project I need to engage is to brake into the 50 unit construction
loan, how to shatter it, how to re-define the tax credit system, how
to negotiate with the municipality in this city, how to produce a
more flexible zoning policy?

And this is what I have been doing in the last six years? working in
a particular neighborhood at the border. Understanding the logics of
these contradictions. Collaborating with a non-profit organization to
design a political and economic framework that can allow us to
produce alternative modes of housing affordability. Opening the
question: can a neighborhood be the developer of its own public
infrastructure and housing stock? Negotiating with the municipality
to modify density and mixed use by allowing the many illegal units
built in back of houses to be legitimate, and in so doing allowing
them to be considered affordable housing? and with the banking
industry to brake down the 50 unit construction loan into
micro-credits as long as the non profit takes liability and
facilitates these small loans to pay for those small units?. In other
words, before 'designing' the housing projects I was commissioned to
develop, we needed to design the process, political and economic,
that would make those housing projects sustainable. Also to design
the actual collaboration across agencies and institutions involved in
the development.

In the united states where the government, at this moment, does not
give a dam about investing in public infrastructure and housing? to
re-think these socio-political and economic processes is the point of
departure? This is what I meant by entering the institutions of
power? to mobilize their resources and their logics of organization.
Everything is out there? we cannot pretend to re-invent the wheel, we
need to find ways to re-think collaborations across institutions,
agencies, jurisdictions.

2. We need to challenge conventions of representation. We need to
redefine the way we construct information in order to expose such
contradictions, and to map the invisible forces that are ignored by
the institutions of planning and juxtapose them with the actual,
official maps produced by municipalities. In San Diego, for example,
I set up an effort to prove that the official land-use maps produced
by the city were essentially lying in the way that they represent
some of the neighborhoods impacted by immigrants. The municipal maps
typically use a yellow color to denote a residential area, red for
commercial. Usually in the land-use maps that you get of
neighborhoods with large numbers of immigrants, you find a lot of
yellow and very little red, maybe in some avenues where retail might
be allowed. But when you take these official maps and you actually
walk parcel by parcel, block by block, you realize that two types of
colors-and two strategies for organization-are not enough, and that
there should maybe be six more colors, or even ten more colors, and
that they are layered on top of each other. The cultural or economic
intensity of these informal densities begins to create a very
different picture of each neighborhood. You realize then that there
is a clash between the reality of everyday life in those
neighborhoods on one hand and their idealization by planners on the
other. Most important, though, was the fact that by mapping the
reality of those spaces, we forced the city to acknowledge them, to
accept that the new density regulation could take place in the
neighborhood. In many of these inner city neighborhoods in San Diego,
the official minimum parcel size is 5000 square feet per dwelling,
and this is a ridiculously grand suburban scale. Our mapping began to
expose the fact that in many of those parcels two or three more
illegal units were coexisting, sometimes even with small businesses.
The density and mixed use that was happening on an informal, organic
basis actually made sense. It makes sense that the minimum parcels
should be 2500 or even 1500 square feet for a single house, not 5000.
This is why our project began by mapping unconventional and even
illegal building trends, in order to pressure the city to revise
existing policy. So what I'm suggesting is that one task of critical
spatial practice is one of a re-appropriation or occupation of the
reality of these specific socio-political and economic forces at play
in the city, but ignored by the institutions. Otherwise, mapping
becomes a self-indulgent instrument only producing the metaphorical
or the poetic-which is, admittedly, also part of what we do. In the
context of architecture, there is a satisfaction in just drawing as a
way of reproducing or representing things as opposed to a way of
constructing the conditions that can open up new ways of
-critically-intervening in the territory. Who ever said this was
right: As architects we are obsessed with the conditions of design?
instead, we need to design the conditions?

3. In this case, and risking sounding incredibly naïve: true agency begins by changing the way we think. For me, the essential question is, how do we dismantle concepts that have become clichés? For instance, what do we mean by "community," "density," "affordability," even "housing"? Density is not just an amount of units or people per acre, as all our institutions have defined it. What if we were to redefine density based on the amount of social exchanges that take place per acre? There is a similar problem with defining "mixed use," which we conventionally think of as people living above retail spaces. But it can be more than that. What about imagining it as social support systems connected to housing? for example? From there, perhaps we can begin to imagine social services in exchange for rent. In essence, I am interested in a project of intervention into the rigidity of institutional thinking-how to rethink the established political and economic procedures that our institutions have predetermined as prerequisites to build a city.

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