Monthly Archives: October 2011
The Pruitt-Igoe housing project consisted of 33 eleven-story buildings in inner St. Louis. Its residents were exclusively black and low-income, the remnants of a major slum-clearance effort after World War II. The project was built quickly, with a relatively small budget, and included some architectural innovations like elevators that only stopped every three floors and ‘galleries’ where residents could hang out and get to know each other.
The rest of the story is familiar to anyone who has even a passing familiarity with American urban policy in the last four decades. As inner-city residents increasingly moved out to the suburbs, demand for project-housing plummeted, and the tower blocks steadily emptied until only the poorest, least mobile and unemployed-est residents remained.
Since its demolition in 1972, Pruitt-Igoe has become shorthand for socially pioneering architects building public housing totally out of sync with the needs of residents. Pruitt-Igoe’s long corridors and forced-hangout spaces became mugging spots. The ‘open plan’ lobbies allowed people to enter the buildings who didn’t live there, which lessened residents’ feeling of ownership over the buildings.
That’s the conventional wisdom, anyway. This article is a fascinating unpacking of this myth, and shos that the architects, far from being social crusaders or blind to residents’ needs, were simply so constrained by the site, necessities and budget of the project that they had no ability to construct decent living spaces.
It was the city’s decision to concentrate its poorest residents in tower blocks, the city’s decision to underfund construction materials and consultation, the city’s decision to neglect maintenance, the city’s decision to fail to implement education or jobs programs for Pruitt-Igoe residents.
In other words, the Pruitt-Igoe projects didn’t fail because they were poorly designed, they failed because they were poorly conceived.
Pruitt-Igoe was shaped by the strategies of ghetto containment and inner-city revitalization—strategies that did not emanate from the architects, but rather from the system in which they practice. The Pruitt-Igoe myth therefore not only inflates the power of the architect to effect social change, but it masks the extent to which the profession is implicated, inextricably, in structures and practices that it is powerless to change.
Simultaneously with its function of promoting the power of the architect, the myth serves to disguise the actual purpose and implication of public housing by diverting the debate to the question of design. By continuing to promote architectural solutions to what are fundamentally problems of class and race, the myth conceals the complete inadequacy of contemporary public housing policy. It has quite usefully shifted the blame from the sources of housing policy and placed it on the design professions.
By furthering this misconception, the myth disguises the causes of the failure of public housing, and also ensures the continued participation of the architecture profession in token and palliative efforts to address the problem of poverty inAmerica. The myth is a mystification that benefits everyone involved, except those to whom public housing programs are supposedly directed.
There’s a movie coming out about it!
Last night during All The President’s Men, I found this out:
Woodward wrote that he first met Felt by chance in 1970, when Woodward was a Navy lieutenant in his mid-twenties who was dispatched to deliver a package to the White House’s West Wing. Felt arrived soon after, for a separate appointment, and sat next to Woodward in the waiting room. Woodward struck up a conversation, eventually learning of Felt’s position in the upper echelon of the FBI. Woodward, who was about to get out of the Navy at the time and was unsure about his future direction in life, became determined to use Felt as a mentor and career advisor, and so he got Felt’s phone number and kept in touch with him.
This is the best argument in favor of chitchat I’ve ever heard.
“My mother told me that the positions they do are all just for show,” he says. Rückert explained to her son that he shouldn’t worry if his first girlfriend didn’t moan loudly during sex and that the actors in porn movies use lots of lubrication.
I went to the doctor as soon as I got back from Albania.
Me: I think I need a cast of some kind.
Doctor: What’s the problem?
Me: I have pretty bad foot pain. I’m pretty sure I have a metatarsal stress fracture. I can barely walk.
Doctor: Who diagnosed you with the metatarsal stress fracture?
Me: I’ve just been looking around on the internet, and that’s what it most sounds like.
Doctor: Well, I don’t think you have a stress fracture. So, who are you going to trust? Me, or Doctor Internet?
Me: What do you think I have?
Doctor: Foot pain.
Me: … Wait, is that the diagnosis? That’s my symptom. Are you allowed to do that?
I’m getting orthopedic shoe inserts today. And buying the URL for doctor-internet.com.
‘He was the only man I have ever known incapable of a political thought or of a humanitarian purpose.’
Yeats’s Nobel Lecture is hella boring, but I did like that one line.
The “fact” that junk food is cheaper than real food has become a reflexive part of how we explain why so many Americans are overweight, particularly those with lower incomes. […]
This is just plain wrong. In fact it isn’t cheaper to eat highly processed food: a typical order for a family of four — for example, two Big Macs, a cheeseburger, six chicken McNuggets, two medium and two small fries, and two medium and two small sodas — costs, at the McDonald’s a hundred steps from where I write, about $28. […]
You can serve a roasted chicken with vegetables along with a simple salad and milk for about $14, and feed four or even six people.
I’ve been thinking about that the past few days as I’ve been trying to recreate the food I ate in Albania. It’s heavy as a red dwarf, but pleasingly simple and surprisingly cheap.
This recipe, for example, (which I unrepentantly stole from a great restaurant in Tirana) cost about $2. And there’s even leftovers!
I’m amazed there isn’t more emphasis from the foodies that healthy food doesn’t have to be difficult to make or expensive. For this, all I did was chop some peppers and onions into little strips, drizzle them with olive oil and put them in my oven at the highest temperature it has. Half an hour later, I cracked eggs overtop and they were ready in five minutes.
In Albania they do this in a clay pot, on a bed of shredded cheese (oh my god it’s Alpine Eggs!), which makes it less healthy, but still cheap, and still significantly better than a Big Mac or a kebab, which would have cost the same thing.
I think the ‘junk food is cheaper!’ argument for the West’s growing obesity problem is a bit of an excuse. Sure, calorie-for-calorie an Extra Value Meal is cheaper than my Albanian food, but the goal isn’t to keep people eating the same number of calories at a lower cost. It’s to steady the costs, but lower the calories.
Eating cheaply and healthily isn’t all that difficult if you have a kitchen and don’t mind doing some chopping. Publicizing recipes for people as lazy as I am is a step in the right direction.
I think the thing that most struck me about Albania is the sheer degree to which it’s forgotten by the rest of the world.
This is a country that is next door to Greece. It’s a two-hour flight from Berlin. The only way its remote is in the popular consciousness.
I’m reading a history of communism at the moment. In an 800-page biography of an ideology, there are literally four mentions of Albania. Albania was hardcore communist from 1941 to 1990. Four mentions! Even the former Yugoslavian countries must be like ‘damn, Albania is invisible.’
It’s even more surprising when you consider that Albania has all the features that make a country interesting:
Until 1990, Albania was ruled by one of the world’s purest, weirdest communist-dictator footnotes. Enver Hoxha was such a diehard Stalinist that be broke off relations with the Soviet Union and then China because they weren’t communist enough.
As they were Albania’s only source of foreign investment or aid, the country then languished in complete isolation for 30 years. Foreign emigration, immigration and investment were banned until 1990. To this day, Albania is one of the most ethnically homogenous countries in Europe.
Albania has a population of 3.5 million—about the same as Berlin. The tricky part is that its national borders were drawn such that there are another 3.5 million Albanians living in bordering countries. Kosovo, Montenegro, Macedonia and Greece all have significant Albanian minorities.
To add to the complexity, Albania is majority-Muslim (it took me a few days to figure out why many of the taxi drivers have Malcolm X car fresheners hanging from the rearview mirror). But there’s also a sizable Christian population, and the neighboring countries with big Albanian minorities are Orthodox. As you can imagine, Albania’s foreign relations have been nonstop tense since independence in 1912.
Half of Albania’s labor force at any given time lives and works in other countries, mostly Italy and Greece. These people send home enough money to account for 15% of Albania’s GDP, but have denuded the country of its educated, healthy working males. The fact that most of these emigrants are illegal adds yet another challenge to Albania’s foreign relations.
Basically all of the consumer goods in Albania are imported. Even stuff like tomatoes and squash, which you could easily grow in Albania’s climate, are boated in from Italy. According to Oxfam, Albania has the lowest agricultural productivity in Europe. All it would take is an injection of EU money to bring Albanian farming up to Italian (ok, maybe just Greek) levels. Albania’s the only country in Europe that had a rise in GDP in 2009.
Albania also has rampant organized crime, a thriving women’s civil rights movement and significant internal migration. It had a major financial crash in 1997 when the entire country got involved in a giant pyramid scheme.
Seriously, everywhere you look, you find something fascinating about this country. Why isn’t anyone paying attention?
That said, I have no right to talk shit. I decided to go to Albania by literally opening Google Maps and following a warm-looking latitude. What’s that country there next to Greece? Oooo, it’s on the water! It has mountains!
That was all I knew about Albania before I went there. Next time I go, I feel like I should bring an EU delegation with me.
‘The brilliant dark governing insight of social media is that most people prefer socializing alone.’
The throughly ornamental frigidity of the Kardashians represents the sterile terminus of contemporary commercialized femininity.
I’m amazed this isn’t known and discussed more broadly:
[In Australia] the poorest 20 per cent of the population receives nearly 42 per cent of all the money spent on social security; the richest 20 per cent receives only around 3 per cent. As a result, the poorest fifth receives twelve times as much in social benefits as the richest fifth, while in the United States the poorest get about one and a half times as much as the richest. At the furthest extreme are countries like Greece, where the rich are paid twice as much in benefits as the poorest 20 per cent, and Mexico and Turkey, where the rich receive five to ten times as much as the poor.
You can have arguments about whether the welfare state should exist, but if it does, it should be geared toward helping the poorest first (right?!).
‘A village where the people had not eaten for three days, but they were still talking about books and how to get them’
Damn, Doris Lessing’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech is devastating.
In the documentary Casino Jack, they tell the story of Saipan, a US protectorate where a bunch of clothing companies set up sweatshops so they could keep the ‘Made in USA’ label. Terrible working conditions, long hours, third-world pay, blah blah blah.
According to the documentary, the primary strategy for keeping all of this legal was to fly senators out to the island itself for ‘fact-finding’ missions. The government of Saipan would stage-manage ‘impromptu’ tours of factories and meetings with fake workers’ representatives. When the senators got back to the US and were confronted with NGO reports about the terrible working conditions, their response was ‘that’s not true. I’ve been there and it’s not like that.’
Visiting Saipan didn’t give them any new information. It simply increased their confidence in their own expertise.
Sometimes I feel like this when I travel.
I was in Albania this week, and spent five days basically spectating it. I walked around the capital. I biked to some smaller cities. I bussed across the border to Macedonia. I trained to the Aegean coast.
Fine. I had a blast. But what I always struggle with on these trips is the urge to turn my incredibly limited experience into a generalization.
I walk around Tirana and I see hundreds of bustling cafes, filled with Ray Banned young people. The cars are new-looking. Construction workers are construction-working to fix potholes and repave sidewalks.
All of this means that Albania is not only a middle-income country, but firmly on its way to high-income status and EU membership, right? There’s a Gucci store, for Christ’s sake.
Albania’s per capita GDP is $6,000, one of the lowest in Europe. The unemployment rate is upwards of 15 percent, and the only reliable money coming into the country is from Albanians who have emigrated to Greece and Italy for low-skilled labour.
Aside from that specific splash of water, there’s the broader point that aimlessly walking around a country ‘s capital is a fucking terrible way to determine its level of development. I don’t speak Albanian. I can’t read Albanian newspapers or speak to people who know the country intimately. Basically, I have no ability to gather factual information. Experiencing the ‘feel’ of a foreign country is just another way of saying that you’re filtering your stereotypes through your observations.
This is obvious, of course, but it’s a hard impulse to resist. Just being someplace isn’t a remotely reliable way to gather systematic information about it. But it’s a great way to make you think you know what you’re talking about.