Monday, November 21, 2011
Sunday, November 20, 2011
What's better than watching South Park with a cold beer in your hand? Watching South Park with a cold beer in hand outside, especially when you can watch it on the side of a three story building! Last night in the Tenderloin I ran into this amazing spectacle created by two guys standing outside of the Amsterdam Cafe on Geary Street. With a laptop and a small projector propped up on a table.
Monday, November 14, 2011
I was surprised to wake up yesterday and see the police and military had taken over the Rocinha favela. I visited Rocinha during some design research for a project last year, and we were told even back then that the Rio government had begun systematically installing peace patrols in the favelas, but in order to establilsh the peace, they first had to take over the neighborhoods by force. Even back then, the NGO guide that took us through his neighborhood said tensions were heightened because the drug dealers knew their days of controlling Rocinha were numbered. The day finally came on Saturday.
The government has taken a decidedly more hands-on role in the management of the favelas given that Rio will host the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016. With so much of the favelas becoming solidified with more formal infrastructure, I am struck by the neighborhoods' origins in organic growth and how there can be the right balance between this new insertion of organization within the seemingly chaotic in these dense neighborhoods (Rocinha has estimates of 300,00 people in this small valley and hillside). After all, the favelas were orginally founded by former slaves who did not own land and relocated to uninhabited hillside jungle to cultivate crops. Over the years they've become gradually more formalized and permanent. Ultimately, I went to the favela to be inspired by what cities could learn from an organic settlement that grows with the intentions of the crowd that occupies it but I left wondering what the right balance of top-down and bottom-up is right for urban development that meets the evolving demands of the inhabitants.
So what is the critical amount of infrastructure that is provided in a top-down system, and what can grow with the will of the occupants and adapt to changing demands over time?
Upon my visit I was struck by how permanent everything was as my naiveté led me to assume we would be visiting ramshackle houses. While there are a few sections of new housing that look very informal and unsafe at the very tops of the hill which have been recently built on some very unstable, steep hills, the vast majority of the housing is multi-story concrete and terra cotta brick construction that looks like it's been there for some time. The two houses we visited had full kitchens, running water and electricity. Most people have lived in their home for several generations.
So while the government has largely ignored the favelas, the residents were busy building up their own infrastructure organically. Every phone pole in the neighborhood has dozens of power lines spliced into it. And there is even an informal address system and mail delivery that operates in the neighborhood. Trying to find a residence without a guide would be nearly impossible for a non-resident as there is only one paved road (which the government added several years ago) and all of the houses are stacked on top of one another on stair-ridden curving alleys.
Young men play soccer in an alley that is being carved up through Rocinha to prevent tuberculosis and provide better circulation.
An informal water system stretches from rooftop to rooftop since there are no primary and secondary roads to run a water main.
New housing that is being built within the favela for those who are being displaced by the new pathways carved into the dense neighborhood.
It will be exciting to see how the favelas evolve with a genetic code of organic, chaotic growth as they face new challenges that come with the addition of formal systems hopefully striking the right balance between the two.
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
As people gather in open public spaces around the country right now for the occupy movement, it's important for us to remember just how much this tradition that is so fundamental to American cities is being further restricted and "managed."
A couple of merchants and residents I spoke to mentioned that people use to regularly gather at Findley Plaza and sit in the beds beneath the trees, sometimes to protest but usually just to gather, talk, share music, and be social. This obviously doesn't sit well with local authorities who built a fence around the beds to stop this informal gathering. These awkward low corrals (really the inverse of a corral) completely kill the space and remnants of this gathering experience can now only be seen on a few benches squeezed in probably as a token to what once was.