CFP: The City after Freddie Gray
105th ACSA Annual Meeting, Detroit
The City after Freddie Gray: From Acquiescent to Heady Urbanism
Topic Chair: Erkin Özay, University At Buffalo, SUNY
A month before Freddie Gray’s arrest, in an op-ed piece about Baltimore’s Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood where Gray lived, an observer made note of the failed revitalization attempts that took place in the district, and stated, “It makes one think that some areas are too lost to be helped much.”* This incremental “reclamation” project in the West Side from the 1990s was followed by an all-out initiative in the East Side a decade later—an aggressive urban renewal project targeting the Middle East neighborhood, criticized for its heavy-handed demolition and relocation practices. While the projects followed two very different strategies, in both cases, the outcomes fell well short of the high-minded ideals they set out to fulfill, despite the strong political and institutional support. The observer’s statement echoed the economically deterministic suspicions that investing in highly impoverished cities is a losing bet, demonstrating the loss of public trust in the ability of mainstream urban spatial practices to positively impact the lives of citizens—perhaps the most damaging outcome of these initiatives.
Is it really possible to leverage market forces to urban communities’ benefit, when means of development often clash with their interests? American city-building practices failed to address this question. Empowered by ill-conceived policies, American urbanism could be read as a series of misguided development practices that left indelible imprints on the urban landscape: from the slum clearing projects of the 1950s to the housing bubble of the 2000s, our cities are chronicles of ostensibly scalable initiatives that failed to go beyond reductive paradigms. From apathetic tower-and-slab schemes to vain neo-traditionalist configurations, these hapless interventions have not only maintained, but also legitimized the prevailing modes of development.
Gray’s death, and later, the events in Ferguson and elsewhere, have spurred a crucial public debate on matters of urban justice. As the discipline seeks effective ways to participate in this dialogue, this session proposes to test architecture’s capacity for imagining potent socio-technical ensembles to address the challenges facing underserved urban communities. What are the openings for contemporary practices to effectively cultivate publics, in order to construct inclusive and supportive settings combining robust spatial and procedural strategies? What are some of the compelling provocations fostered by the non-traditional actors of space production, overlooked by the mainstream modes of development? The cases may include alternative development models, mediated environments, innovative public institutions, experimental habitational arrangements, platforms of economic cooperation, and grassroots organizations. Eschewing scale and scalability over intensity of experience and grounded specificity, we seek spatial and procedural constructs enabling improved social scenarios that resist maldistribution, offer spaces of reprieve, and surpass the limitations of paradigmatic urbanisms.
*Paul Marx, “Rouse’s Failure in Sandtown-Winchester,” The Baltimore Sun, March 13, 2015.
See the Call for Papers for details.