SAH Blog

  • Housing Questions

    Mar 12, 2012
    Fill the streets of New Jersey with a logjam of four-story bar buildings owned via portable mortgages. Suspend apartments and municipal offices within a shared tensegrity framework financed by a Florida real estate investment trust. Stack a former Illinois factory with modular bungalows to form a limited equity cooperative of multigenerational immigrant families. In Oregon, populate every other square in a superblock grid with a bestiary of idiosyncratic housing types. Overwrite the boundary between private and public in a California subdivision by misregistering the lines that separate inside from out, yard from street, yours from mine.

    These are the strategies through which five multidisciplinary teams reimagine United States suburbs in projects featured at the Museum of Modern Art exhibition “Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream.” Addressing the foreclosure crisis along with some of the other challenges facing suburbs and their residents, the proposals combine ideas from architecture, urbanism, ownership, and financing to model new scenarios for living, working, and investment.

    This investigation treats housing not only as a design problem but also as a medium of sociability, consumption, and governance—a biopolitical infrastructure. And just as they eschew modernist housing typologies, the teams avoid the model of direct public ownership and financing used for many of the housing projects constructed from the 1930s to the 1970s.

    One prompt for the work was a counterfactual scenario in which, after decades of subsidizing homeownership and affordable housing through market mechanisms and tax incentives, the federal government directed American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds toward the construction of public housing. But none of the participating teams took up this invitation to imagine a reinvigorated welfare state. Instead, they crafted public-private development and financing strategies allowing residents to build equity through ownership of one kind or another.

    “Foreclosed” addresses some of the questions preoccupying policymakers and critics today. How to make housing more affordable? More sustainable? More broadly accessible? Can we still count on the thirty-year self-amortizing mortage to expand the middle class? Are there other ways that our structures of housing and finance can mitigate income inequality? Should we count on housing equity to provide social security? Or, following Friedrich Engels, should we reject public housing as a palliative that blocks more fundamental transformation?

    This conversation coincides with a new cycle of scholarship on housing and its history, evident in urban renewal sessions at the 2007 SAH annual meeting and recent JSAH articles on public housing, Jane Jacobs, Robert Moses, and other topics. What are some of the insights from this work? What models could we use to imagine new ways of housing ourselves and one another? What models from other times and places, or overlooked in U.S. history, suggest strategies that move beyond both LBJ liberalism and contemporary neoliberalism?

    Go comment!
  • Rise and Shine, Detroit by Andrew Nelson (National Geographic Traveler)

    Mar 1, 2012
    It's not called a "tug" of memory for nothing: I'm outside Detroit's railroad station, and I instantly recall my mother's gloved hand pulling mine as we rushed through the vast atrium that was inspired by the imperial baths of ancient Rome. We are in a hurry to get somewhere, and Detroit is, too. Even a little boy in the mid-1960s notices the tempo. The Motor City is in motion. We build America's cars. Thanks to Berry Gordy's Motown, the world hums our songs. The city, fifth largest in the U.S. by population, is at the top of its game.

    Today, Michigan Central Station still looks Roman, but it's a Roman ruin. Closed since 1988 and stripped of valuables by vandals, or "scrappers," the empty hulk symbolizes my old hometown's decline, buckling beneath crime, corruption, and events such as the 1967 riots, the 1970s gas shortages, and the rise of Asian auto imports. My family, like others, moved away. A city of almost two million residents in 1950 shrank to 713,777 in 2010.

    To visitors, Detroit's attractions verged on the desperate: Three new casinos corralled gamblers inside windowless rooms; a desultory monorail circled downtown. The city's collapse actually created a new business in "ruin porn," as locals escorted tourists eager to experience the postapocalyptic atmosphere of decaying factories and abandoned offices.

    But Detroit has been down so long, any change would be up. And "up" is why I've returned. Something's happening in Michigan's southeast corner. Call it a rising, a revival, a new dawn-there's undeniable energy emanating from Detroit. America noticed it first at the 2011 Super Bowl. Chrysler debuted a TV commercial with rapper Eminem, star of the film 8 Mile (named after the road that serves as Detroit's northern border). The ad crystallized the city's spiky, muscular pride and won an Emmy, but Detroit was the real winner.

    Read the full story on for a great description of Detroit's architecture, including the Guardian Building where the SAH Benefit will be held on April 21. Story includes a great review of Roast, a popular restaurant in the SAH Conference Hotel.

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  • DHCommons Launches for All Users by Ryan Cordell

    Jan 25, 2012
    I've written twice in the past few months about DHCommons, a new centerNet initiative "focused on matching digital humanities projects seeking assistance with scholars interested in project collaboration." In this third and final DHCommons post (at least for awhile), I wanted to let ProfHacker  readers know that DHCommons launched for all users with a preconvention workshop at MLA in January.

    We'll be working in the coming months and years to reach out to isolated digital humanities scholars and help connect them to collaborators. If you have a digital project idea and need help, if you'd like to get started in digital humanities by helping on an established project, or if you have expertise to offer, visit DHCommons and:

  • browse the growing list of projects seeking help,
  • create a new account,
  • and contribute your own ideas.

    Find help—offer help—collaborate!

    View original post on The Chronicle of Higher Education: Prof Hacker

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