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J.K. Branner Travelling Fellowship

PROPOSAL: THE NEOLIBERAL FRAGMENTS

A destroyed city calls forth a space of competition. The question of what will be reconstructed by whom, for whom and for what purposes gives rise to socially and politically competitive relationships. Land where a now vanished building once stood is not a pristine empty lot.  Whose place is it? What is to be constructed there? What will the new construction contribute?
-Yosuke Hirayama, 2003
 
Here is Urban Renewalwith a sinister twist, an architecture of deception which is its happy-face familiarity, constantly distances itself from the most fundamental realities.  The architecture of these city is almost purely semiotic, playing the game of grafted signification, theme-park building.
-Michael Sorkin, 1992
 
Urbanistic processes today have become a kind of dictatorial fiat, the principal operators of which come from the private sector. The space of the global city is first and foremost, a strictly economic space, with the city itself being transformed into a space on the scale of international market.
-Beth Gali, 2006
 
The Context

The view of the city as a collage of fragments and a city of layers were paradigms introduced by Colin Rowe and Aldo Rossi. Changes wrought  on the city in the last forty years by the automobile, population declines, and the wane of industrialism have given urgency to urban thought on the fragment and the void. The Urban Project is the unassuming name given to the task of refilling these voids and reconnecting these fragments[i]. Sola Morales, declares that the urban project has five main tasks: territorial effects outside the area, mixed use, intermediate scale, a relationship to the city, and a significant public component.[ii]

But, alas, responsible urban theory has not kept up with the economic and political reality.  The same forces that brought on the industrial decline, described as globalism, have accumulated a considerable force and coherence Neo-Liberalism that is responsible for the future of the Urban Project.

The Issue

In the context of a neoliberal world, the “space of competition” in the above quote takes on a new significance. Contested spaces have increasingly become claimed as private investments. Whilecontrol of a site by private interests is not a new phenomenon, the outright domination of large areas within cities whose claim is protected with political force is novel[i]. The ‘collages of fragmented spaces’ that make up many cities are in turn becoming subjected to widening arrays of urban governance agencies, special economic development and enterprise zones, ‘partnership organizations and single-purpose economic development bodies.”[ii] Areas formerly regulated by the state are increasingly turned over to the private sphere which frees them from any state interference.[iii]

The Example

Examples of this global phenomenon can be seen as an extreme example in Beirut, where the post war reconstruction and rehabilitation of the city center has been completely privatized. More frequently neoliberal urban projects have been taking over unused ports and industrial sites in cities like Cape Town and Barcelona and San Francisco.

The Proposal

The neoliberal fragment allows us to reexamine the urban development theories of Rowe (1984), Rossi (1984) and Sola (1987) through a different lense.  They have been defied, in particular, by three inter-related trends within the neoliberal model of urban renewal:

  1. Exaggerated edge conditions.
  2. Disappearing coherence between the fragment and the city and between the everyday lives of the citizens.
  3. Privatizations of the public space.

I propose to use this fellowship to pursue a comparative analysis of five neoliberal fragments by analyzing specifically the three trends. My goal is to understand the spatial consequences of the struggle and negotiation between regional/local context and global forces that became the main determining conditions of development of these sites.[iv]

Why this

The task of planning for new, integrated urban projects begins with the study of how to reconnect existing isolated urban fragments.  My joint thesis between the Departments of Architecture and City and Regional Planning will deal with the relationship of the fragments and the surrounding fabric, specifically in the ways to connect them to the city.

This complex problem is typical of global/entrepreneurial cities- particularly in the developing countries- and is one of the greatest challenges of contemporary urbanism. [v] This global phenomenon is inevitable. Land speculation, construction booms will continuously happen, therefore it is important to analyze them.

See full proposal


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