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.

1 comment:

Charlotte said...

I feel like I wrote this. I'm so glad you've said what you said. I feel exactly the same.