Urban Forensics is the application of dialectical research methods and actions to the investigation and later transformation of a concrete urban injustice. Its aim is to construct a relational way of understanding critical urbanization processes by transgressing traditional disciplinary boundaries, conducting broad fieldwork, engaging with urban movements and designing strategic actions for challenging the reproduction of an urban ecology.
“Originally, life in the community and, through its mediation, the relationship to the earth as property, are basic presuppositions of the reproduction both of the individual and of the community. Among pastoral peoples, land and soil appear merely as precondition of the migratory life, hence appropriation does not take place. Fixed settlements with soil cultivation follow – thus landed property is initially held in common, and even where it advances to private property the individuals’ connection to it appears as posited by his relation to the community. It appears as a mere fief of the community; etc. etc. The transformation of the latter into mere exchangeable value – its mobilization – is the product of capital and of the complete subordination of the state organism to it.” -Karl Marx, The Grundrisse notebook 8, 1858.
The relation between property–fixed capital–its exchange value and urbanization under contemporary capitalism establishes the general critical frame of this semester’s design studio, under this frame, the goal is to understand, negate and speculate the counter-production of communal and non-speculative forms of property, which in principle contradict the systemic forms that urban development has taken. In short, our focus will be the conception of alternative forms of property and their larger impact in the urban environment.
The development of this studio was inspired by the numerous urgent discussions on property generated by the mass mobilization of the Occupy Wall Street movement and the exchanges with many actors and organizations that conformed the urban struggle. Out of these exchanges a strong relationship with a non-profit organization for social justice from Brooklyn named “La Unión” began to emerge. We not only coincided in our desire for an organized anti-capitalist struggle for urban rights, but also in their search for radically new socio-spatial development possibilities.
La Unión is based in the neighborhood of Sunset Park (Brooklyn), one of New York City’s largest Mexican immigrant neighborhoods. It is a grassroots organization of people of the global south working to advance the social, economic, and cultural rights of the communities where they now live and the communities they left behind. The 600 members of La Unión are predominantly from the Mixteca region of Mexico and immigrants from across Latin America and even though its member base is large, the organization operates in a very precarious situation. The usual lack of funding and member disorganization hunts La Unión on a daily basis, but this has not stopped it from developing a small Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), working on fixing the current broken immigration system through comprehensive immigration reform, improving public education for immigrant families through parent and student organizing, and fighting for various environmental and social justice issues such as safe housing and access to healthy foods. What is stopping La Unión is their nomadic status and the impossibility of acquiring a permanent or temporary space for its operations. Today, La Unión moves from Church to Church, from Community Center to Family Clinic to the Street, nomadism has its benefits but the type of militant work that La Unión focuses on urgently requires a base.
By digging deep into the intricacies of general property and the idea of “common” property, this studio aims to address La Unión’s need for acquiring and transforming property into common property, together with an urgent reconfiguration of urban practice and the need to provoke like minded individuals and organizations into claiming their right to reconstruct their environment according to the socially just principles they profess. This studio will ask of you, the student, to take an active role in the construction of an urban project based on the reconfiguration of property, something that is not common practice but that must be one of the major transformative drivers of our design disciplines if we want to ever see a radical shift in the way cities are built, outside the control of large powers and the interests of neoliberal capital.
Top Row (Left to Right): Miguel Robles-Durán, Alessandro Angelini, David Harvey, Sara Bissen, Angel Luís Lara and Christine Gaspar
Miguel Robles-Durán is the Director of the Design and Urban Ecologies program at Parsons The New School for Design. Miguel was born in Mexico City and studied architecture at the ITESM in Monterrey, Sci-Arc in Los Angeles, and the Berlage Institute in Rotterdam. In 1999 he began his practice in the border region of Tijuana San Diego. He has taught architecture, urban theory, and urban design at the Universidad Iberoamericana in Tijuana, Mexico; the NewSchool of Architecture and Design in San Diego, California; Woodbury University Los Angeles/San Diego; K.U. Leuven, Belgium; and the Berlage Institute, Rotterdam. He headed the Civic City postgraduate program at the Zurich University of the Arts in Switzerland, along with the Social InHabitat postgraduate studio at the Berlage Institute. He is also responsible for the graduate design program Urban Asymmetries at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. His work as co-founder of Cohabitation Strategies, the international, Rotterdam-based foundation/cooperative for architecture and urbanism, has focused on the design of interventions and strategies in uneven urban developments and areas of social urban conflict and has been widely published and exhibited.
Alessandro Angelini is Adjunct Professor in the Design and Urban Ecologies program at Parsons The New School for Design. He is also a Ph.D candidate in the Doctoral Program in Anthropology at the City University of New York Graduate Center. His dissertation, entitled “Model Favela: Youth and Second Nature in Rio de Janeiro,” explores how residents, police and state actors imagine and valorize informal settlements in Brazil’s emerging market economy. The historical ethnography centers on a remarkable 4,000-square-foot mockup of Rio constructed of bricks and mortar, called Morrinho (“Little Hill”), where favela youth play with urban reality through role-playing with figurine avatars. Angelini also holds a Master’s in Geography from London School of Economics, where his thesis investigated the politics of memory and restitution in District Six, a site of apartheid-era forced removal in Cape Town. His critical interests include the militarization of urban space, urban-nature relationships, and the politics of everyday life.
David Harvey is a Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Geography at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY), Director of The Center for Place, Culture and Politics, and author of numerous books. His contributions to critical analyses of capitalism center on the relationship between urbanization and financialization; the role of geographical thought in imperial formation; and the history, present and future of anti-capitalist struggle.
Sara Bissen is a Teaching Assistant in the Design and Urban Ecologies program at Parsons The New School for Design. Sara is also a graduate student of International Affairs at The New School where she studies the Garment District of New York City as an ecosystem in relation to design theory and Karl Marx’s primitive accumulation. She also recently evaluated the mandate of the United Nations Global Alliance for Information and Communication Technologies in Development. The critique challenges the theoretical and hierarchical framework within the UN system, and proposes an ecological approach based on individual participation and the (social) production of space. Re-Conceptualizing UN GAID: A Participatory Approach to Organizational Design was published this September and will serve as the agency’s background note for the 2012 General Assembly.
Angel Luís Lara
Angel Luís Lara is a sociologist and scriptwriter. He has taught at the Open University of Catalonia (UOC) and has been a visitor scholar at the Laboratoire “Travail et mobilités” Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), Université Paris X (France, and at the Department of Sociology of the Università degli Studi di Padova (Italy). He is a member of the Charles Babbage Research Group on Social Sciences of Labor at the Complutense University of Madrid (Spain) and a research collaborator of Cohabitation Strategies. Angel became a professional screenwriter while conducting an extensive research on the living and working conditions of the television writers in his country of origin (Spain). He took it so seriously that today he is a professor of screenwriting at the prestigious International School of Film and Television in San Antonio de los Baños (Cuba) and he leads a community learning program through collaborative fiction television writing for the Jacob Burns Film Center & Media Arts Lab (New York). He is also one of the founders of the New York Foundation for Audio-visual Narratives in Spanish (FUNAVE), where he teaches television screenwriting in collaboration with Cervantes Institute New York. Angel possesses an extensive background as a participant in different international social movements, a subject on which he reflects and writes constantly. He is an Op-Ed contributor for the Mexican newspaper La Jornada and a frequent collaborator for other publications and digital media in Europe and Latin America.
Christine Gaspar is Executive Director of the Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP), a New York-based nonprofit whose mission is to use design and art to increase meaningful civic engagement. She partners with designers and community organizations to create visually-based educational tools that help demystify complex issues from zoning law to sewage infrastructure. The projects are designed with and for advocacy organizations to help increase their capacity to mobilize their constituents on important urban issues. CUP’s print, audio, video, and media projects, along with tactile interactive workshop tools, are in use by dozens of community organizers and tens of thousands of individuals in New York City and beyond. The projects have been featured in art and design contexts such as the Cooper-Hewitt Museum’s National Design Triennial, PS-1, and the Venice Biennale.
Christine has over ten years of experience in community design. Prior to joining CUP, she was Assistant Director of the Gulf Coast Community Design Studio in Biloxi, Mississippi, where she provided architectural design and city planning services to low-income communities recovering from Hurricane Katrina. She holds Masters in Architecture and in City Planning from MIT, and a Bachelor of Arts from Brown University.