Interboro would like to take this opportunity to announce that it has been selected to sub-curate the 2009 International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam, which will open at the NAI in Rotterdam in Fall, 2009. The show’s theme is “Open City” (previous themes were “Mobility,” “The Flood,” and “Power”). Pitched as “an ideal that has inspired architects and planners through the ages, the Open City is here defined as “arena in which diverse social and ethnic groups can coexistst, interact, and generate complex relationships and networks that consequentially stimulate sustainable urban structures.” The lead curator of the IABR 2009 is the Zurich-based urban designer Kees Christiaanse.
Interboro’s role is as sub-curator: Interboro’s task is to interpret and represent “Community: the American Way of Living,” which was chosen by Christiaanse as one of six “archetypes” to be explored in the exhibition.
Thus, Interboro has spent the past month or so thinking about community in America today, especially as it relates to ideals of openness. This has led Interboro to do a literature review, with a focus on recent material that insists that, as Bill Bishop recently put it, “the Like-Minded Clustering of America is Tearing us Apart.” Bishop writes that while America may be more diverse than ever coast to coast, “the places where we live are becoming increasingly crowded with people who live, think, and vote as we do,” and that “our country has become so polarized, so ideologically inbred, that people don’t know and can’t understand those who live just a few miles away. Similarly, Gerald Frug, in Citymaking: Building Communities without Building Walls, insists that “The overall impact of American urban policy in the twentieth century has been to disperse and divide the people who live in America’s metropolitan areas, and, as a result, to reduce the number of places where people encounter men and women different from themselves.”
For people like Bishop and Frug, for whom urbanism is synonymous with heterogeneity, the late twentieth-century brought about the end of cities. What has replaced them, they argue, are homogenous suburbs and neighborhoods “organized in terms of a multitude of ‘we’ feelings, each of which defines itself in opposition to outsiders.”
While Interboro agrees with Bishop et al. that when given the choice, most Americans will choose homogeneity over heterogeneity, Interboro challenges the notion that this has only produced hyper-militarized, forted-up, exclusionary spaces of fear. Without undermining the unequivocal misery that America’s anti-urban policies and sentiments have caused the poor, mostly non-white residents of America’s cities, Interboro wishes to demonstrate in this exhibiton that these same anti-urban policies and sentiments have produced geographic communities of gay retirees, hipsters, and suburban Muslims too. The fact is that people sort themselves for all sorts of reasons, many of them quite sensible.
Among the case studies Interboro is considering are: Arizona Sky Village: a community of amateur astronomers 150 miles southeast of Tuscon, AZ; Iowa 80: the largest truck stop in the world, accommodating over 800 hundred trucks on 75 developed acres; Heaven’s Landing: a 635-acre gated “fl y-in” community outside Atlanta; Williamsburg, Brooklyn: the migratory hub of the “hipster” movement, which draws young artist types from all over the United States; Peace Village: a 265-home subdivision outside Toronto, Canada populated exclusively by members of the Islamic Ahmadiyya sect who fled to Canada after religious persecution in Pakistan in the 1980s; Rainbow Vision: a new LGBT retirement community in Sante Fe, New Mexico, soon to be reproduced in the Bay Area, Palm Springs, and Vancouver, Canada; Fremont, CA: an outlying suburb of San Francisco with a large population of Asian immigrants including one of the largest Indian populations in the US and the largest Afghani community in the US; and Paulville: a gated community (not yet built) containing 100% Ron Paul supporters and/or “people that live by the ideals of freedom and liberty.”
Interboro thinks that closer readings of such communities reveal that 1) it is over-simplistic to say that fear is what motivates people to segregate themselves along race, class, and lifestyle lines, that 2) homogeneity is more often perceived than real, and that 3) there is almost always “a crack in the picture window,” a modest space of encounter that introduces a modest amount of heterogeneity into a given community.
Interboro has found this last idea particularly fruitful. By way of example, consider Ave Maria: Ave Maria is a new town located near Naples, Florida. Marketed towards Catholics (and funded by the notoriously conservative founder of Domino’s Pizza, Tom Monaghan) the town includes 800 residential units, a large oratory, and a university. However, despite officially opening in the summer of 2007, the Catholic-themed town still lacks a proper church: because of the local diocese’s differences with the town’s founder, the $24 million, 100-foot tall megastructure meant to anchor the community has not been consecrated. The result? The town’s religious ceremonies are performed in a neighboring parish in Immokalee that services the decidedly lower-income Creole and Hispanic Catholic population. Needless to say, the residents of Ave Maria are not happy about this.
This is a crack in the picture window. It evidences the idea that within each and every closed community lies a little Open City, a modest space of encounter that undermines the community’s integrity, but that simultaneously opens it to the larger world to which it is invariably connected. It is a “glitch” in the system: something goes wrong, not quite as planned, and suddenly the promise of Monaghan’s complete Catholic community is critically compromised. If you want to be a good Catholic in Ave Maria, you have to leave Ave Maria, and you have to go where people are poor and don’t speak English.
It sounds cynical, but Interboro thinks that in America, these cracks might represent the last gasp of the Open City. Though the Open City is still an ideal that inspires architects, planners, and artists, in reality, “arenas in which diverse social and ethnic groups can coexistst, interact, and generate complex relationships and networks that consequentially stimulate sustainable urban structures” are few and far between, and in any case are more often than not the unanticipated (and largely unwanted) bi-products of homogenizing impulses. In America, the Open City is often a mistake.
Interboro is looking forward to continuing to work with Kees Christiaanse on this very exciting project. Feel free to write Interboro and tell it what you think.