zaterdag 31 december 2011

Doug Saunders' Arrival City

The immigrant population plays a significant role in East Brooklyn. The foreign born population is estimated over 77.000 people or 29% of the total population of East Brooklyn. The predominant foreign born population came from the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago.
This 30-minute Dutch TV documentary, filmed in Istanbul, London and Amsterdam, is a superb introduction to the ideas in Arrival City.

vrijdag 14 oktober 2011

Presentation at GSAPP Columbia University on Wed. 9/28.

Our sub theme is Living models. First of all, I shall explain what Living Models mean for us. Having a home is a social right. And for us Living Models is about the position of the housed individual in the global tendencies inherent to New York. It’s about the individual subjected to these large scale trends. We started our research by investigating and mapping these tendencies.

In the last decade Brooklyn’s population has grown with 39.000 people, which means right now Brooklyn has to provide housing for just over 2.5 million people.
To fulfill this demand 69.000 extra housing units have been built over the last ten years. This is more than new units in Manhattan and Queens together. Apart from a few exceptions, we can see a pretty homogeneous growth in housing units in the area of Brooklyn.

A third widely known trend is the persistent growth of rental prices. Throughout the history the city developed a wide range of tools to control rents. However it seems that some tools miss effect, as the PH rent for example almost doubled in 6 years. Today, in times of economic crisis  affordable housing is more important than ever.

The last trend we noticed was the ever decreasing footprint of housing projects. This offcourse has many reasons but one of them is that Brooklyn is running out of space.

Basically we can recapitulate the problem as follows: On one hand there’s a great need for more affordable housing, on the other hand there’s less and less buildable space. Combined with a real estate driven housing market, we quickly saw the complexity in the present housing problem.

Next up, we researched some typical Brooklyn typologies. As you can see, there’s a clear relationship between typology and morphology. The tenement for example, designed to maximize the unit density, is much deeper than the brownstone. The word typology implies a multiplication of the same  configuration.
As a result the morphology has an influence on the block. This is clear when we study the negative space of a building block. Each typology implies different qualities and different uses of that unbuild space.

So taking the present tendencies in account, we can ask ourselves the question which typologies are the most suitable today.

Another theme that we have studied is Brooklyn’s public housing. By gathering different distinguishing characteristics we tried to systematize the public housing projects. For example the distance to the nearest subway station, the median income and the unemployment rate. But very soon the data became very impersonal, so we came up with the idea to create the Brooklyn Public Housing Cardgame.Its the same cardgame you typically find with cars, boats and so on. We replaced the amount of horse power with median household income.  So for example project A with a higher median income will beat project B. We also added some cards with non public housing projects, color coded by typology.  It gives a really strange feeling to literally play with these emotionally charged buildings.. We also think it’s an interesting way to continue the debate over a drink.
By creating this game we got some new insights on typologies. A typology is an answer to the needs for a specific group of people. Therefore a typology will continue to attract that same group. So basically typologies make a city static. If so, should we continue to think in terms of typology?

Next map shows all the public housing projects in relation to the poverty rate. The results are striking. Even while the city has historically strived to achieve a mix of incomes in public housing, almost two third of PH residents live in concentrated poverty. Possible explanations are the past of racial discrimination, the persistent building on the economical least desirable locations, the modernist urban design ideas and the political failure to created mixed income. Concentration of poverty has a serious impact on unemployment, education, crime, etc. Off course throughout time deconcentration of poverty created a challenge for urban planners. But why do these ideas miss implementation? Can we develop a radical new system of public housing to deconcentrate poverty?

by Camiel Van Noten, Pieter Van den Poel and Koen Moesen.

donderdag 8 september 2011

Authenticity as a social right

Sharon Zukin's view on authenticity is a real eye-opener.

Origins” refers not to which group settled in a neighborhood earliest. Instead, it suggests a moral right to inhabit a space, not just to consume it as an experience. Authenticity in this sense in not a stage set of historical buildings as in SoHo or a performance of bright lights as at Times Square; it’s a continuous process of living and working, a gradual buildup of everyday experience, the expectation that neighbors and buildings that are here today will be here tomorrow.
A city loses its soul when this continuity is broken.

The major difference between Moses’ time and ours lies in a shift from the ideal of the modern city to that of the authentic city. To the extent that the city planning commissioners honor Jane Jacobs’s vision, they say, “if you allow the character of a neighborhood to be eroded, the people who live in a neighborhood will leave the city.” Whose character, though, is most authentic? If authenticity is a state of mind, it’s historic, local, and cool. But if authenticity is a social right, it’s also poor, ethnic, and democratic. Authenticity speaks for the right of the city, and a neighborhood, to offer residents, workers, store owners, and street vendors the opportunity to put down roots – to represent, paradoxically, both origins and new beginnings.

 source: Naked City, the death and life of authentic urban places - S. Zukin 

beautiful collection of vintage photos of Brooklyn taken in the summer of 1974


first notes on gentrification

The desire for an authentic urban experience began as a reaction to the urban crisis of the 1960s, when American cities were described as hopeless victims of a fatal disease. … In truth, cities were losing their competitive advantage (efflux to the suburbs). … Cities would target investors and visitors by rebuilding the center and making themselves look as attractive as suburbs. Beginning in the 1970’s, developers of downtown shopping centers turned derelict industrial and waterfront land in profitable attractions to compete with suburban malls. In the 1980s cultural districts, ethnic tourists zones, and artists’ lofts presented a clean image of diversity for mass consumption. … But city officials forgot about the cities origins.

As a result Brooklyn Heights was the birthplace of a new romantic urban ideal. Sitting on the edge of the modern Civic Center, the Heights was an imagined “neighborhood” located in the aging Victorian industrial districts surrounding the central business district. As they restored townhouses, the so-called brownstoners recast Brooklyn’s townhouses, waterfront piers, and industrial lofts as sources of anti-bureaucratic authenticity. In doing so, Heights residents formed a template for Brownstone Brooklyn’s future neighborhoods. They also forged an alternative to the dominant modernist ideology of the 1950s and developed a distinctly urban identity for a new middle class.
We can describe 1960s Brooklyn as the place of the via media, the middle course. Many residents of Brooklyn view themselves as a kind of Third Force between the city and the suburbs. Theirs is the vitality of the city without the penalties of big-city life, the grace of suburban living without its invasion of privacy. They dismiss the Great City as ‘phony’ and the suburbs as ‘conformist’. Brooklyn, they insist, has the best of both worlds. Lodged between the modernist landscape of the Civic Center and the slum periphery, the Heights represented a middle cityscape.

blighted Brooklyn

impersonal Manhattan

artificial suburbia

This middle landscape sat surrounded by three non-places: impersonal and modern high-rise Manhattan, artificial and conformist suburbia, and bleak and blighted working-class Brooklyn. In critiquing these three spaces – Manhattan, suburbia, and the ghetto – Brooklyn Heights residents invented Brownstone Brooklyn’s first “neighborhood” and developed a cohesive identity as a new urban middle class.

Bed-Stuy do or Buy?

An interesting view on gentrification. What does it mean to be gentrified?

zondag 4 september 2011


On april 1, Concord Village officially opened its doors to the public. Steps away from the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge, the new apartment complex presented a striking contrast to Brownstone Brooklyn’s aging landscape. Most residents saw in the complex only the frightening specter of Manhattanization. But manhattanization as both a fact and symbol is crucial to the history of gentrification. Concord Village represented what Brownstone Brooklyn was not. The neo-romantic impulse that inspired new middle-class gentrifiers formed as a reaction to a imagined modern city of towers, highways, and public housing emerging after World War II. Concord Village and Brownstone Brooklyn were twin products of the same economic restructuring. Rather than threatening to destroy Brownstone Brooklyn’s authenticity, Manhattanization gave birth to it.

Concord Village - Manhattanizations' first but not last 'clash' with Brooklyn
Incoming residents of brownstones enclaves such as Brooklyn Heights and Cobble hill would describe a modern city that was “impersonal,” “abstract,” “alienating” or “inauthentic.” In contrast, they would describe Brownstone Brooklyn as “local”, “decentralized”, “grassroots” and “historical diverse”. If Brownstone Brooklyn offered a sense of place, Concord Village, the Civic Centre, and urban renewal superblocks represented a landscape of sameness, or simply a non-place.

present-day aerial view on Concord Village

source:  S. Osman, The invention of Brownstone Brooklyn, 2011, Harvard University press