Tuesday, January 1, 2013


By: Jaime Correa



I enjoyed your interpretation of the current situation at the new Harvard School of Design (formerly known as GSD). However, as I told you many times before, Harvard should not be the yardstick against which the world should be measured. If you add to the events in your e-mail the new P-2-P initiative by Nikos Salingaros and Michael Mehaffy, the recent "Small Scale, Big Change" exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the renewal of socio-political planning currently sponsored by the University of California, at Berkeley, or the kin interest of every American school of architecture and planning on issues of under-development through the so-called "Informal Urbanism" rubric, then you will be able to understand that all of these issues are nothing but effects of very confused minds -minds which are completely taken over by the desperate circumstances in which we find ourselves nowadays.

I can't see my self at war with anybody and have difficulties understanding any of the above proposals as threats to the survival of the goals and objectives so preciously defended by the Congress for the New Urbanism.

America is a concept which no longer exists; an idea which is not operative anymore. 

For those of us who have had the privilege of living abroad for a few months, our perception of America has widened through cultural experience, collegiate discussions, and comparative studies. It is not hard to see that the outside image of America has changed and that, no matter what we do, things will never be the same. The world is experiencing an America of sufferance, distress, and failed policies; an America where conservative efforts have organized an irrational blockade to prevent our own progress and the development of original ideas; an America which our own forefathers would have despised for its lack of innovation in the fields of philosophy, politics, social and economic development, science, and art; an America where mytho-poetic dimensions are long gone and where dreams are sabotaged by the so-called “realists”; an America where daily debates about economic opportunity end up in discussions about white supremacy, racism, religion, or sexual orientation; an America of human damnation and confused democracies; an America without identity or capacity for self-sufficiency; an America with a vast territory yet stagnant natural resources; a neurotic America full of commodities yet lacking leadership and direction; an America with abandoned and unprepared teenagers and with an exhausted supply of elderly people under the poverty line; an America which is nothing but a dystopia that no longer exists; most importantly, an America which is neither a research topic for Harvard nor the focus of attention of our so beloved Congress for the New Urbanism (C.N.U.).

The dismantling of the Berlin wall, in 1989, was the urban collective symbol that acknowledged a troubled soviet system and the beginning of a new period of unity and innovation. In the landscape of America, this type of symbolic action has no correspondence. All we have is the economic crisis of 2008 or the political failures and terrorist attacks of 9/11. Our meaningful values and successes are not measured against physical structures but through the abstraction of economic ideas which are difficult to grasp for normal Americans i.e. the New York Stock Exchange listings, the federal Rate of Return, the national census demographic data, political polls, the national unemployment rate, the Gross National Product, and many more; all of them, however, pointing out to an imminent failure and to results which are avoided by government and still remain unacknowledged by the big business machines –including Ivy League universities and intellectual groups like the CNU.

America fears innovation in all fields, including arts and sciences. Nothing genuinely innovative has been proposed to reconstitute the original American dream or to keep abreast with the technological discoveries that are forcing our civilization to evolve in quantum leaps. After 30 years of experience, we can honestly state that planning is a failure and urbanism is almost dead; that urban form discussions, by themselves, will never stop the rampant process of global urbanization. It is a cosmic joke; the more we insist on the repair of suburbia or the reconstitution of "urbia", the more serendipitous and chaotic the city becomes. To the point in which many of us are losing faith not only on eternal principles and natural laws but on quantum concepts and everything else that our contemporary civilization has to offer.

Despite futile attempts to restore what is left standing, no strategic proposal seems to work because every piece of patchwork is based on our old cultural habits and patterns of consumption; on the assumption that the individual must reign over the welfare of society; on our self-imposed ignorance about the inter-connection of the world and our role as creators of change; on ideas of planning which do not take into account quantum serendipity and chaos; on nostalgic views of a post-modern world in which everything past was formally, morally and ethically much better than what we, as individuals with a human mind, can propose today; on our own failure to recognize that the system is doomed and that the so-called promise of the “Audacity of Hope” has felt short. But, most importantly, neither intellectuals nor universities, like Harvard, have found a clear cut strategy to replace it.

I have been in total dismay for the past few months and my faith in urban design, as a redeemer of society, is already running short. Let us not see these disparate proposals as moments of confrontation or denial, but as opportunities to move a stagnant professional state of affairs into a more hopeful and positive direction. Unfortunately, the real estate bubble of the past 10 years blinded us with our futile attachments to consumerism, fame, and fortune. Meanwhile, a new breed of design was on the making; a breed which, by choice or by default, has been neglected by each and every one of us.

This is an important moment in time. Let us not waste it on futile ideological battles but on the production of a set of alternatives that will help America move forward into the future.

Urbanism, if it does exist, is not a theory; urbanism is both an art and a science.

E-mail to Andres Duany - Oct 19, 2010, at 5:48 AM

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