Diversifying Architecture as a Field and a Practice

March 24th, 2015

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Photo: Architects, Designers, and Planners gather for a panel on the importance of Building Together from International and Domestic Perspectives as part of the November 2014 Ron Shiffman Symposium on Participatory Design and Advocacy Planning

Photo: architects, designers, and planners gather for a panel on the importance of Building Together from International and Domestic Perspectives as part of the November 2014 Ron Shiffman Symposium on Participatory Design and Advocacy Planning at Pratt Institute, Brooklyn.

In a recent ATTN: article, Why We Need More Women Designing Buildings, author Ashley Nicole Black highlights the good that would come from more women and people of color entering and climbing the ranks of the architecture profession. She also discusses the systemic hurdles that prevent that from happening. As an undergraduate student who found himself grateful that he’d chosen to major in urban studies instead of architecture each time he stepped to a cash register with architecture studio materials in hand, I can attest to such factors as the high cost of studio requirements pushing low-income students, who are disproportionately students of color (like myself), away from the field. In her article, Black outlines the increasing difficulties of remaining in the profession as a woman or as a person of color as one climbs higher and higher in the field. She argues that this lack of accessibility hurts architectural output and thus hurts people who interact with architecture (all of us). This all begs the question, what is architecture’s role in diversifying the field and its works?

Notably, the project that Black points to as exemplifying the benefits of diversifying the field is the city of Vienna, Austria, written up in the City Lab article, How to Design a City for Women, is designed not by a single architect who has risen through architectural ranks despite systemic oppression, but through a process of seeking the direct input of the diverse multitude actually using the final product. No doubt, the scarcity of non-white, non-male representation at architecture firms is a huge problem; it is, however, a problem with much deeper roots, a problem likely too big, too systemic for architects to solve alone. More immediately, looking to Vienna’s women-conscious design, architecture must shift its practice to shift the trends of minority inaccessibility in its output. The problem with architecture’s lack of diversity lies in how architecture, plans, and designs are often imposed upon people rather than constructed with significant input from those people. Ron Shiffman, co-author of Building Together: Case Studies in Participatory Planning and Community Building, says of his career in working with community members to meet their needs and their wants in the project that will ultimately be theirs: “It often meant abandoning one’s self-interest, acknowledging biases and sublimating personal and institutional egos.”

In this book, he and Roger Katan, also a veteran of participatory planning, provide case studies of their work, showing readers how architects, planners, officials, and community members can join forces in building up communities. Diversity at the professional level is powerful (architect Deanna Van Buren has an exceptional blog post on this—Changing the Face of Architecture), but will only be made more powerful accompanied by a diversity at the participatory level that reflects the diversity of every project’s stakeholders. Katan and Shiffman set their egos aside in order to use their privilege and positions to give power to those voices often ignored in the design process. The results are both inclusive and compelling; they even begin to chip away at the underlying systems keeping minorities away from top spots in the profession. As Black writes in her ATTN article, “The way spaces are built shapes the experiences we have in and around those spaces. Imagine the types of experiences we could have in and around buildings built by people who have had diverse experiences.” Participatory planning is one of the strongest tools we have for making this imagination a reality.

-Jourdan Sayers

“Do We Really Live Together?”

January 12th, 2015

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French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Drian announced the deployment of 10,000 troops in an effort to boost security efforts in the wake of the attacks on the Charlie Hebdo offices and a kosher supermarket in Paris last week. This is the largest mobilization of troops within the country in French history. President Francois Hollande has been in discussions about new measures to introduce including a French version of the Patriot Act that was rushed into action immediately following the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center. It seems certain members of the French government are failing to recall that swift military action and sweeping security reforms have created far more problems than they were meant to solve.

Lilith Guillot, a participant in the Paris March Against Terrorism that drew millions over the weekend, was quoted in the New York Times criticizing the government response to the attacks thus far. She felt dismayed at the prospect of increased security forces and the increased potential for war. Many of the people committing these atrocities come from disadvantaged backgrounds and perhaps they looked to Islamic extremism as an escape from their destitute situation. The leaders of the world fail to realize that the root of the problem is the lack of integration and inclusion. Until they realize it, “nothing will change,” Guillot said.

The acts that shook France last week were perpetrated by former residents of Paris’ 19th Arrondissement. It has housed numerous militant French Muslims that have either joined extremist groups abroad or plotted domestically. The NY Times has called the neighborhood one of the city’s “most fascinating and complicated,” adding that it is “one of the largest, youngest, poorest, most racially diverse – and the most criminal.” MSNBC interviewed residents of the 19th arrondissement after the attacks. An elderly resident said that there has been an increased police presence and that the atmosphere of the neighborhood has been “really tense.” A social assistant who works with teenagers who don’t go to school lamented the integration problems in her neighborhood. The video ends with the social assistant posing a telling question: “We are neighbors but do we really live together?”

In Urban Alchemy: Restoring Joy in America’s Sorted Out Cities out via New Village Press, Mindy Thompson Fullilove explores how the sorting out of cities (i.e. cities segregated based on race, class, age, religion, lifestyle, and sexual orientation) has exacerbated the inherently unequal conditions of those marginalized within them. In the book, she outlines nine elements of urban restoration necessary for repairing cities and ultimately rehabilitating the health of our nation. A point made early on is a statement attributed to architect and urban planner Michel Cantal-Dupart: in order to help neighborhoods, the whole city needs to be treated. Though the book is geared towards American cities, it can be applied towards any city in any country. Fullilove argues that fractured neighborhoods are responsible for health problems, such as the spread of the AIDS epidemic. These same fractured neighborhoods can also foster terrorism. The solution is not an increased military presence but rather an increased presence of empathy, understanding, and inclusion.

Mindy Thompson Fullilove will be speaking tonight at The Center for Architecture from 6 – 8pm as part of the Oculus Book Talks. She will be discussing the ills that have come as a result of divided neighborhoods and new approaches to urban planning and design that would cultivate collective well-being.


-Timothy J. Elliott

Why Community-Building Does Matter

June 20th, 2014

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Children line up for water ice to help ease the heat at the 10th Annual Hike the Heights

Children line up for water ice to help ease the heat at the 10th Annual Hike the Heights in NYC

In Jason Karaian of City Lab’s recently-published article, he cites the pan-European survey on happiness, concluding that the data suggest an inverse relationship between individual happiness and local community closeness. While Karaian does close with an “Of course, happiness is determined by many more factors then [sic] whether you get along with your neighbors” disclaimer, the overall implications of his article are dangerous and irresponsible. Carried out to its logical conclusion, this claim suggests that local investment and community-building efforts are unnecessary, unimportant, and maybe even harmful.

At the most basic level, his data analysis falls short in that it makes no attempt to account for differences in wealth. Germany and the UK are both listed as nations where individuals report weak local connections and above-average overall life satisfaction while Latvia, Croatia, and Romania are listed as nations with the opposite- high degree of closeness with local area and below-average life satisfaction. If we look past the shortcomings of analyzing this data at the level of national averages- an insufficient method given intranational inequalities- and look just at national wealth measured in terms of GDP per capita, the differences between the countries chosen for comparison cannot be ignored. Using International Monetary Fund data to determine GDP per capita in US dollars, Germany and the UK land considerably above Latvia, Croatia, and Romania (Germany- $44,999; UK- $39,567 vs. Latvia- $15,205; Croatia- $13,561; Romania- $8,910). My hunch is that the stark inequality between the nations chosen for comparison has much more to do with overall life satisfaction than the reported strength of community closeness. Given the mobility that wealth enables, economic elites are able to operate with relative disregard to place. Not relying on social ties may work fabulously for the mobile members of the upper class, but it is not nearly as beneficial for the markedly immobile working-class poor.

Eric Klinenberg’s case study of the 1995 Chicago heat wave (read an interview about his book and work here) reminds us why community-building is important, especially for low-income individuals. During the week of July 14th-20th, 1995, 739 more Chicagoans than the average died and the heat was blamed. Klinenberg lists the US Centers for Disease Control’s description of the typical victim as someone who was “living alone, not leaving home daily, lacking access to transportation, being sick or bedridden, not having social contacts nearby, and of course not having an air conditioner.” Intuitively, the conditions of lacking access to transportation and not having an air conditioner apply most frequently to lower-income individuals, so poverty was clearly an important condition for susceptibility. More than that, though, Klinenberg demonstrated that despite the economic similarities between certain communities, those with lower death tolls had specific social and spatial conditions such as “high population density, busy commercial life in the streets, and vibrant public spaces,” while those with higher death tolls had been “abandoned—by employers, stores, and residents—in recent decades.” He continues, “[t]he social ecology of abandonment, dispersion, and decay makes systems of social support exceedingly difficult to sustain.” Disinvestment from a certain subset of low-income communities, then, produced a condition in which hundreds of people senselessly died while community building efforts in another set of low-income communities preserved lives, and that is a link between community-building and happiness.

-Jourdan Sayers

Lily Yeh: Artist, Lecturer, Radio Star

April 16th, 2014

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423796_342130649166948_998715580_nWhere some see desolation and brokenness, Lily Yeh, author of Awakening Creativity: Dandelion School Blossoms, sees potential for positive transformation. Lily has a bright, colorful vision for the world and she strives to instill this vision in others by empowering impoverished communities across the world to experience creativity through the creation and preservation of art.

Just last week, Lily was interviewed by Caroline Casey on the Visionary Activist Radio Show in a segment titled, “Dedicated Acts of Beauty Trump Tyranny and Restore Intimacy to the World.” During the show  Casey indicated the extent to which Lily has touched her life claiming that “Lily Yeh is among my favorite humans and most inspiring radio guests.” Lily went on to share her personal mission and experiences, including her struggle to remain dedicated to her projects despite certain challenges, as well as stories about her work over the years with Barefoot Artists, including her trip to Palestine which is happening this month.

“I must somehow harness the fear and then just get courage to go into this project and…by facing my own fear and not running away from that, I stepped into my life and I felt that from then on…my fear became my guide…That’s when I learned broken places become my canvas, people’s stories become the color, and people’s imagination becomes the tool and we can turn brokenness and despair into beauty and joy”  —Lily Yeh, Visionary Activist Radio Show, 2014Balata_3-500x333

Lily has also been invited to deliver the 2014 Dudley Memorial Lecture at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. on Monday, May 12 at 7p.m, an event established in 1984 by Robert Whittier Dudley, and their six children to commemorate and perpetuate Argentina’s life’s work and interests, the objective of which is to provide memorable and enriching cultural experiences to diverse audiences. Lily will honor this objective by sharing stories from her inspiring work.

In the past few months, Lily has made great strides with her creative movement between appearing on the radio and on TMJ4’s Live at Daybreak, being interviewed by HsiuChih Lo for the October 2013 issue of Art World 279, and providing lectures and workshops  at screenings of The Barefoot Artist Movie. Here at New Village, we have enjoyed following Lily’s progress and look forward to witnessing more of Lily’s amazing work as she demonstrates the ways in which art functions as a catalyst for positive social change.

2014: Year of Jan Gehl

April 8th, 2014

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Jan Gehl1 smallIn an article featuring Jan Gehl, he is described as “the most influential architect you’ve never heard of.” However, we are pleased to say, that his efforts along with the collective efforts of Gehl Architects have not gone unnoticed as the people of Lublin, Poland, have nominated 2014 to be “Year of Jan Gehl.”

Jan Gehl, visionary architect and contributing author of What We See, aspires to create livable cities by improving their quality of life. He often writes and lectures on the subject of livability, indicating that public life is the key to improving it. Gehl addresses this subject by re-imagining city design to accommodate for the pedestrian and cyclist culture–a culture that he believes is the key to making healthy cities. Gehl has been pursuing these issues on a global scale since 2000 with the founding of Gehl Architects.

“The word livable is used more and more…it has to do with the notion of creating a city which gives a very good quality of life for those who are living there and those who are working there, and it is very important that it be for all age groups.” -Jan Gehl

At New Village Press, we celebrate Gehl’s ideals and commend him for his strides in urban design, and we are curious to follow the initiatives and the outcome of Lublin, Poland’s nomination.

The Green Schoolyard Movement is Gaining Momentum

February 11th, 2014

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Danks_Headshot_crop-a Author of Asphalt to Ecosystems: Design Ideas for Schoolyard Transformation, Sharon Danks, recently announced the launch of Green Schoolyards America, a new organization formed to inspire schoolyard transformation across America from bleak asphalt to green spaces full of life! Sharon hopes that Green Schoolyards America will encourage community engagement while promoting the idea that schoolyard transformation can be used to connect children with their local ecosystems, while maintaining a curiosity for adventure, and learning to nurture their surroundings first-hand.

Through Sharon’s tireless efforts and dedication to this worthwhile cause, the green schoolyard movement continues to grow, and Sharon speaks to the need for this growth in two articles published by the Children and Nature Network. The first article, “The Green Schoolyard Movement: Gaining Momentum Around the World,” outlines the physical and mental benefits of incorporating nature into schoolyards and play spaces. Sharon describes the significance of these spaces in stimulating healthy growth and development in children:

Schoolyards are now one of the only places many children are allowed to play outdoors on a daily basis, and they are increasingly important for fostering  children’s health and development. With this in mind, I believe that schools have a responsibility to provide the next generation with outdoor experiences that help them develop their curiosity, their sense of adventure, a healthy lifestyle, and a love of nature.

Sharon also shares her views on how to successfully establish these green spaces and why it is important to do so:

Schoolyard greening creates rich environments that connect nature and environmental sustainability with place-based learning, hands-on curricula, and imaginative play, while building community…By teaching students to explore their environment with their hands, hearts, and minds—whether they are climbing into a tree house or diving into the challenges of the surrounding world—green schoolyards help us to plant seeds that will blossom as children grow up and help to shape an ecologically literate society.

In the second article in of her series, “Trends That Give Us Hope: The Power and Potential of Green Schoolyards,” Sharon continues to expand upon her discussion of the green schoolyard movement. SheAsphalt to Ecosystems believes that:

If, as a society, we can turn our attention and resources toward creating school district-wide, ecological systems-based improvements to school grounds, we will make significant progress in addressing complex inter-related problems…The time is right to invest much more significantly in our school grounds across the country.

Sharon concludes both articles with an invitation to join the movement and participate in the growth of this important endeavor:

This is a call to scale up our green schoolyard work from coast to coast, and empower school districts to lead this paradigm shift with increased support from their communities, public institutions, local utilities, healthcare institutions and other like-minded organizations and partners.

Be sure to “like” the Asphalt to Ecosystems: Design Ideas for Schoolyard Transformation Facebook page for more information related to the book and the green schoolyard movement!

You can also receive updates by “liking” New Village Press on Facebook or “following” us on Twitter!

Community Supported Publishing

December 18th, 2013

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As an advocate of New Village Press, your engagement enlivens community. Your purchases of New Village books keep the Press alive. However, book sales alone only cover half the publishing costs, the other half needs to come from funding. Thats why, in a bid to underwrite the next year of publishing, we are calling all well-wishers, enthusiasts, advocates & patrons to join our Community Supported Publishing!

Support the mission to build vibrant, healthy and compassionate communities. Celebrate and reward the ingenuity and compassion of people rebuilding society. Help make the world a better place. Enable New Village Press to continue its work, which commercial publishers don’t risk, and join the creative, citizen-initiated, social transformation movement. Together, we can show how expressive arts can lift societies out of stuck places in ways that argument, armies, and legislation can never accomplish.

Please help spread the message and/or place your contribution here.

Book Review: Acting Together

December 10th, 2013

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Appearing in the Journal of Theatre Research International, Vol. 38/3 – 2013 is a review of  New Village Press two-volume set publication, Acting Together, by Anthony Ellis, Associate Professor – Renaissance Literature at Western Michigan University. Below is an excerpt.

“In keeping with its policy and education objectives, this project has produced resources in other media to complement the volumes. These include a feature-length documentary and an accompanying toolkit, and a website with news, interview clips, and event announcements, including film screenings. These resources testify to the politically and personally salutary effects of performance while offering a range of applications to artists, policymakers and educators.” 

Journalism Award For Beyond Zuccotti Park

November 25th, 2013

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New Village Press is pleased to receive the 2013 Journalism Award for its title Beyond Zuccotti Park: Freedom of Assembly and the Occupation of Public Space from The American Planning Association – New York Metro Chapter. Special mention goes to co-editors Lance Jay Brown and Ron Shiffman for this timely, informative collection of original articles by 40 leading urbanists.

What We See Featured At Jane Jacobs Forum

November 22nd, 2013

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Last night – in conjunction with the presentation of The Rockefeller Foundation’s Jane Jacobs Medal – the Municipal Arts Society (MAS) hosted their annual Jane Jacobs Forum at The Times Center, New York. A panel of leading women in the fields of architecture and planning, landscape architecture, development, community development, business and the arts, discussed the topic of Women as City Builders.

Invited to bring What We See, New Village Press was honored to hear MAS President, Vin Cipolla, use the theme of the book as a launch for his introductory remarks. Contributing author, Roberta Brandes Gratz and co-editor, Lynne Elizabeth were delighted to chat with event attendees and even sign a few books!

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