26 October 2008

the election, from an architect's point of view

Some readers wonder why this Progressive Reactionary—typically so obsessed with such architectural obscurities as locative cartography, John Portman, and Swiss bunkers—has switched gears in recent months to become so fixated on the presidential election. Well, besides the obvious fact that we have a real chance with an Obama presidency to pursue an alternate (and better) future for this country, I think there are several direct implications for our small microcosm of architectural discourse. I've been thinking lately how to contextualize the election within the realm of architecture, and to start, I can offer the following quick thoughts:

  • An Obama presidency would of course represent a truly generational shift for American politics. One hopes that such a revolution could possibly ignite a similar generational transformation in the world of architecture, architectural criticism, and design in general. Part of the reason why I've shied away from things architectural in recent months is because the discourse and the production has become so stale and, frankly irrelevant to what is going in the world that it is hard to bring myself to even look at another Zaha folly or absurd project in Dubai. It sounds way harsh, I know; but really: who gives a shit anymore? Aren't there more pressing issues facing us? Aren't we, as responsible designers and writers, obligated to address these issues? I mean, really. I think the architecture industry and architecture culture in general could benefit from leaving the starchitecture system behind once and for all, and embracing a new mission of architectural responsibility and advocacy. I see this already as a generational difference, in the schools and the young design start-ups, and I really think that much of the Obaman rhetoric of responsibility, sacrifice, and progress is in line with what I see as a new generation of design activism.
  • Without getting into the nitty-gritty of federal housing policy, I think it's fair to say that an Obama administration would no doubt redefine the goverment's role in housing assistance, construction, and much-needed oversight of the housing market. Besides addressing some of the problems that are at the root of the currently unfolding global financial crisis, a realignment of federal priorities with regard to housing would hopefully present a huge opportunity for new thinkers, planners, and designers to be brought into the process. Furthermore, questions about urban growth and suburban development dovetail with issues of sustainability, environmental responsibility, and even energy conservation. I'd be interested to see who a President Obama would appoint for his Secretary of Housing & Urban Development.
  • Along those same lines... Obama is a truly urban figure, and one assumes that his background gives him a far greater understanding of urban issues than any other politician in recent memory. The Washington Post ran a piece today on this very issue, which also brings to mind recent commentary by critic Karrie Jacobs, as well as this almost-over-the-top manifesto in the Seattle Stranger, written in the aftermath of the 2004 elections. The Stranger piece is inflammatory (and understandably so, considering the great disappointment of that year's election) for its polarization of America into two irreconcilable urban and rural components; given Obama's tremendous and unprecedented efforts to attract Republican votes in rural areas, it is evident that the Obama candidacy does not subscribe to this ideology. But the fact remains that should he win, he will be the first president in a long time who is a product of urban America. For those of us (two-thirds of the nation, in fact) who live in metropolitan areas, this is something to celebrate.
  • As I've argued previously, infrastructure spending should be a central component of the next president's economic recovery plan. This is a no-brainer: such spending immediately creates jobs, stimulates a suffering construction industry, and will rebuild the nation's crumbling infrastructure. One could argue that our infrastructure—highways, railways, public parks, ports, even energy production—are facing a 21st century "tragedy of the commons" that desperately needs to be addressed. If this sounds like a call for some sort of Depression-era W.P.A.-type program, well, that's because it is. 
These are just a few examples of what's at stake, from an architect's perspective, and what's possible if this election goes our way. Doubtlessly there are more — feel free to offer your comments below.

19 October 2008

a reality check

This morning's political television provided a fitting contrast of the choice this country faces in two weeks time. On Meet the Press, former general and Secretary of State Colin Powell eloquently and wholeheartedly endorsed Barack Obama. In a 7-minute delineation of what led to his decision (which, like the New Yorker's long endorsement from a few weeks back, goes down the list, issue-by-issue, demonstrating how Obama is overwhelmingly the better choice), Powell issued perhaps the most comprehensive and well-spoken endorsement of the candidate to date. And this is no minor development: Powell is a pillar of the Republican Party, and a figure of almost mythic esteem and appeal to independent voters. This will be seen, no doubt, as an attempt by Powell to atone for past misadventures in the Bush administration, most notably the charades that led up to our invasion of Iraq. And while such a redemption cannot happen overnight, this observer sees Powell's endorsement of Obama—undeniably a brave political move—as a step in the right direction. Listen to his words; they are powerful:

It's also worth noting that, as with other conservatives who have become disillusioned with McCain's candidacy, the ultimate dealbreaker for Powell—the last straw that pushed him over the edge—is McCain's selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate. Powell echoes what the majority of the country feels in his judgment that Sarah Palin is not qualified to be Vice President. The implication, and the reality, is that the selection of Palin, someone utterly unfit for office, thus renders McCain (who chose her) equally unfit. If things go our way, this fact will no doubt dominate the "why McCain lost" election post-mortems.

Meanwhile, over on Fox, after casually dismissing the Powell endorsement (Surely, McCain must realize its import? Maybe not), McCain was grilled by Chris Wallace on the flood of "robo-calls" that has been unleashed in the battleground states in the past week:

The stark contrast of McCain's delusion with Powell's nuance speaks for itself.

I agree with Josh Marshall's assessment that the McCain/Palin/Republican strategy from here on out will be a last-ditch, desperate attempt to tie Obama through innuendo to the (implicit) twin evils of blackness and Islamic terrorism. And while the media and Obama partisans may be tempted to brush such a strategy off as desperation, we dismiss it as such at our own risk. Not-so-distant history teaches us that such tactics, unfortunately, work; and as I've written before, the very chance that the agents of this intolerance could possibly emerge victorious in two weeks time make the stakes that much higher.

Disregard the polls. They are a meager attempt to quantify the unmeasurable, and I fear that this election will be shockingly close. So, I urge you, all of you who are on the side of decency and justice and virtue and common-sense and, yes, hope: with 16 days left in this epic election season, go out and do something to help make sure that in three weeks time, we won't be once again looking back, saying "What did we do wrong?" If nothing else — come November 5th, should Obama lose this election, I don't want to be able to say I didn't do anything about it. Make phone calls, and go to a battleground state. And if you can't do that, then contribute. Put your money where your mouth is; it's a worthy investment.

06 October 2008

"landscapes of nostalgia"

Geoff Manaugh, in true form, has a great post up today at BLDGBLOG. It's is his own kind of geographical take on the state of American politics, and it's not to miss. As good an argument against rancher presidents as I've ever read. Check it out: "Minor Landscapes and the Geography of American Political Campaigns."

04 October 2008

i want my house back.

Earlier today, in Philadelphia:

02 October 2008

the choice

This says it all.