Teddy Cruz of the Visual Arts Department at UC San Diego turned planning and policy paradigms upside down for 70 minutes in a presentation at MIT on November 7th, 2011.
The archetype inversions began with a story about U.S. General David Petreaus, who, according to Professor Cruz, told Congress early in his tenure that today’s soldier needed to transform from distant fighter to cultural broker, sociologist, and anthropologist. When Cruz heard this, he thought: Why shouldn’t we architects transform too? Why shouldn’t we also borrow the procedures of other disciplines?
In that spirit, Cruz has delved into zoning codes and real estate pro formas, finding the absurdities in these logic-based systems along his way. “The notion here is to rethink the very nature of zoning, which has been perpetuated as a punitive tool to prevent socialization. How do we reengage zoning as a generative tool, that organizes activity?
Cruz described fringe immigrant neighborhoods as cultural production centers. He compared America’s battered suburbs to highrises, or ‘vertical sprawl’. In one especially compelling map (above), he used bright colors to show the difference in land use patterns in Mexico and the U.S., and how those patterns were filtering North — “the positive impact of immigration in the transformation of the American neighborhood.”
Cruz praised a group of California teenagers who dug up the land under a freeway to build a skate park, got caught and kicked off, but then rallied, thanks to their abilities to ask the right questions: “What defines open space? Why is it that this space we want can’t have a land-use category?” The teens ultimately built a beautiful skate park under the highway.
“I am interested in a neighborhood becoming the developer of it’s own housing,” said Cruz.
To close his talk, Cruz told the story of the time he crossed from the U.S. to Mexico in a drain. It took a year for him and his collaborator to organize the trip. Their concept was to transform the drain into an official point of entry in an effort to curate conversations that allow people to visualize conflicts. He got permission from Homeland Security and Mexican Immigration, and, as shown in the video below, made a brief and sunny pilgrimage to Mexico with friends.
The travelers cross with such ease, one almost (but not quite) forgets the treachery of the border. Indeed, many immigrants have died in drains between Mexico and the U.S.
Cruz concluded: “I am searching for a more effective set of paradigms to move us forward.”
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This event talk was sponsored by MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning Joint program in City Design and Development and the Architecture Department Urbanism Group.