Richard Anderson, from the National Public Housing Museum (Chicago) and Princeton, talked about the history of University of Illinois at Chicago construction, and the well-known displacement that occurred. The chord that really struck with me, and I think many other people in the room, is the poisonous legacy that exists because of the negative impacts that top down planning and development projects, in Chicago and beyond, have had on communities. It brought to mind the construction, neglect, and demolition of public housing in America, and the CHA’s struggles with it’s Plan for Transformation [see notes at end for links to more about the Plan for Transformation].
Understandably, there’s a deep mistrust of large scale interventions in planning and development, which sometimes hinders progress and holds us back from making deep investments in communities. I think that this mistrust is an important piece of the picture, and one that calls for better community engagement + empowerment approaches from the various public and private entities involved in city-building.
It’s interesting to me that this mistrust spans the political spectrum—from conservatives who tout limited government and little to no public spending, to progressives who draw upon the history of urban renewal and espouse a “tactical urbanism” by way of Jane Jacobs approach to planning. I thought back to this interview with Andres Duany, founder of the Congress for New Urbanism and an influential planner and urbanist. He championed the need for regional-scale, top down interventions in things like transportation infrastructure and renewable energy development, that will inevitably require compromise from residents, but must take a primarily resident perspective and design at the human scale in order to avoid the terrible mistakes and willful displacement that has occurred in the past.
Basically, we can’t all be NIMBYs (Not in my Back Yard) and BANANAs (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything), if we want to accomplish real, sustainable change— but we also can’t plow the Skyway through the South Side. It’s about finding that sweet spot for human scale interventions, and that happens through sincere engagement and providing people with real opportunities for participation and decision-making power.
Another speaker, Rosa Cabrera, from the UIC Latino Cultural Center, talked about her work studying cultural institutions in Chicago, and the difficulties that these institutions face embracing the multitude of perspectives, values, and identities that exist within cultural communities, rather than viewing them in monolithic terms.
All communities, cultural or otherwise, are constantly in flux, as new waves of immigration, or in some cases, depopulation, create changes in values and in shared experiences. The challenge to cultural organizations is to explore intersectional identities and intergenerational differences in culture. Cabrera felt that many cultural institutions have a need for capacity building and training aimed squarely at this issue in order for these diverse viewpoints to be expressed.
Chicago Housing Authorities Plan for Transformation
CHA report, The Plan for Transformation: An Update on Relocation [pdf]. April 2011.
Urban Institute, CHA Families and the Plan for Transformation. A collection of research, articles, and papers the UI has produced over more than a decade of following CHA families during relocation.
Sudhir Venkatesh and Isil Celimli, Tearing Down the Community. NHI.org, 2014
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