20-04-20 // MONU #32 – AFFORDABLE URBANISM
Redefining a Radical Social Market Economy – Interview with Jörn Walter by Bernd Upmeyer; The Architecture of the People’s Housing Plan by Sasha Plotnikova; Normal City by Christopher de Vries; Urbanism for All by Richard Florida; Can Affordability Be Flexible? by Savia Palate; The Good Fight – Interview with Anne Mie Depuydt by Bernd Upmeyer; Fair Game by Ellen Donnelly and Marc Maxey; Affordable Housing in New York by David Schalliol; Cologne, Open City by Steffan Robel; Benign Neglect by Fani Kostourou, Cecily Chua, and Elahe Karimnia; Affordable Access: the Economic Impacts of Makerspaces by Nate Bicak; City in the Making by Matthias Lamberts, Ken Vervaet, Jeroen Stevens, and Bruno De Meulder; For the Right to Occupy and Hold Ground by Ana Paula Pimentel Walker, María Arquero de Alarcón, Luciana Nicolau Ferrara, and Benedito Roberto Barbosa; The Problem Is the Solution by Tanzil Shafique; Squatting in London by Will Hartley; Kiosk Culture by DK Osseo-Asare; A Home for Housing by Jonathan Tate; Affording Tightness by John Doyle and Graham Crist; The Distributed Cooperative by Scott Lloyd, Alexis Kalagas, and Nemanja Zimonjic
The creation of affordable urban spaces – whether for housing, work spaces, public spaces, urban infrastructure, or other functions – is a complex issue, as cost considerations must be balanced with other important objectives such as social usability, environmental sustainability, beauty, etc. Because, as the former Chief Planning Officer of the city of Hamburg, Jörn Walter, argues in our interview “Redefining a Radical Social Market Economy”: none of this is worth anything if people cannot pay for it. Following Christopher de Vries in his contribution “Normal City”, urbanization and gentrification have become synonymous to such an extent that they seem inescapably paired. Global cities such as New York, Tokyo, Berlin, London, and Paris, whilst at the centre of our collective urban imagination, appear increasingly elitist instead of representing shared societal ideals. Although there is much evidence that cities have predominantly been elitist over the course of history, over the last centuries cities have transformed into beacons of civic pride, national self-image, and stages for an increasingly inclusive democratic society, a legacy that is under threat, according to de Vries. Thus he investigates the ‘Normal City’ to heal our broken system, creating places not as refuges for cosmopolitan elites, but as places of shared identity and belonging that can represent the normal distribution of the larger urban reality. In his piece “Urbanism for All” Richard Florida outlines some strategies for producing a more inclusive urbanism, reflecting questions about uneven urban development, in order to find concrete paths to improve urban life for all, yet still believing in the value of the creative class as an engine for economic prosperity in cities, but not as an isolated strategy. For Anne Mie Depuydt, in our second interview entitled “The Good Fight – Towards a Popular, Original and Productive City”, to create more inclusive and affordable cities, municipalities need to find new ways to achieve affordable housing, stressing the fact that people should only become the owner of the bricks and mortar but not of the plot, meaning of the building, but not of the land, referring to countries such as Switzerland and the UK, where such a system exists. This provides the municipalities with advantages such as the increase in tax revenue and an extra bargaining tool in seeking to incentivise certain land use, as de Vries explains using the case of the Netherlands and especially Amsterdam, where this system exists too, although currently under threat of being scaled back or even abolished. Depuydt emphasises further that in order to create more affordable housing, there are – apart from the more obvious and established solution of constructing more units, the provision of subsidies, or the implementation of rent-controls – many things architects still need to improve, such as re-thinking our living and working spaces. To demonstrate that affordable housing can take many forms – from cooperatives that are collectively owned by the residents to not-for-profit developments that rent out units at below-market rates, to public-private partnerships that reduce the prices of single-family homes – was the idea behind David Schalliol’s “Affordable Housing in New York” project, providing a fuller representation of public housing in the United States and chronicling the history of a wide variety of affordable housing models in the country’s largest city. How diverse and vital affordable spaces for work can be, especially in a socio-economic sense, is shown by Fani Kostourou, Cecily Chua, and Elahe Karimnia in their article “Benign Neglect” bringing London’s railway arches into the discussion that are used – due to benign negligence by landowners, developers, and the planning systems – by artists, artisans, mechanics, craftsmen, and other businesses so they continue their productive existence within the city. These activities present themselves as resistance to – and counter-strategy to – top-down planning policies and neoliberal market forces resonating with a Lefebvrian plea for rights to the city, as exemplified by the occupation movements of residual spaces across the urban fabric of São Paulo that are brought to our attention by Matthias Lamberts, Ken Vervaet, Jeroen Stevens, and Bruno De Meulder in their piece “City in the Making”. These urban movements show a valuable capacity to guide and integrate those missing out on proper shelter. How chaotic and difficult, but at the same time beautiful and intimate it can be when people try to claim their right to have a roof over their head and a place to sleep at night, is illustrated by Will Hartley in his photo-essay “Squatting in London”. In order to make more of our city-spaces available and affordable, Jonathan Tate reminds us – in his contribution “A Home for Housing” – to reengage with the things that we have left behind to the less inspirational sectors of the market, and that there are cracks in every system and holes in every market through which design can appear to become a generative endeavour instead of merely a decorative art, as he shows using some vacant odd-sized lots in New Orleans that put creativity at the start of the process. In their article “The Distributed Cooperative” Scott Lloyd, Alexis Kalagas, and Nemanja Zimonjic focus on ‘odd lots’ too, here in the city of Zürich, which represent unrealized opportunities for smart densification, exploring strategies for re-imaging a mixed-use cooperative housing development, conceived at a neighbourhood scale, and distributed across multiple networked locations. In resisting global shifts towards the treatment of space as an exclusive commodity in order to generate affordable urban spaces, they intend to strengthen the community and eke out more marginal financial gains through trade-offs, compelled by the systems of capital that shape our cities. However, in order to produce more affordable cities it may still be necessary to re-think capitalism, as Walter states, but invent a radically new social market economy since all planned economy counter-models of the 20th Century failed.
Bernd Upmeyer, Editor-in-Chief, April 2020
(Cover: Image is part of Will Hartley’s contribution “Squatting in London” on page 97. ©Will Hartley)
Find out more about this issue on MONU’s website.