I received this invitation to attend the Congress For The New Urbanism (CNU) Press Luncheon with my friend held at the Metropolitan Pavilion here in New York City. It was attended by former and present Mayors and Governers, political leaders, top names in real estate development, architecture, urban planning and policy. The purpose of this meeting was to discuss how New Urbanism could reinvigorate the inner cities, surburbs and rural areas and how they could save the world. This was their ninth annual conference bringing together 9,000 people in attendance from different countries around the world. I was suspicious this might be the latest form of an urban renewal/urban removal gentrification and genocide scheme. I am not sure if fancy tree lined streets are gonna save me from poverty in the face of plenty but I figured hey, I could at least get a free lunch out of it. Their idea of lunch was a glorified box lunch containing some kill off the homeless tools itself, bologna and cheese. There were mostly suits in attendance. I was the only person of color at this press luncheon, betraying their hypocrisy of saying they are trying to find livable solutions for all kinds of people in all kinds of income brackets.
CNU’s motto is “New Urbanism: Improving our quality of life by improving our neighborhoods” That quality of life statement reminds me of something a police officer would say to me as he is throwing me in jail for being black in public. Their marketing material reminds me of a brave new world kind of scenerio, where the tax paying citizens are completely shielded from the realities of the income divide, creating the illusion of all while really being a sanatized version of the real demographics.
Their list of speakers addressed issues such as how do we continue to grow without destroying the natural and architectural beauty of our nation. For anyone who has spent some time outside of the United States the question is, which architectural beauty are they talking about?
The ingenuous chessbord like plans behind our cities or the new world improved concept of designing houses to be looked at only from the front reminds me of a community upstate that has decided to make a museum of the Sing Sing prison complex, including a tour of the death chamber, maybe that is the cultural and architectural heritage they want to conserve in a sanitized version. Why not make luxury condominiums out of the cells complete with ghosts and Hudsom River view.
New Urbanists support coherent regional planning, walkable neighborhoods for work, school, playing and shopping, and attractive accomodating civic spaces and they turn these ideas into both policies and money making real estate developments. They seek to bring people back to the cities and integrate all different incomes and classes of families into neighborhoods. Their members include architects, developers, planners and others involved in the creation of cities and towns and they focus public anti sprawl sentiment into positive prodevelopment action. CNU or “Coming Near You” deals with for profit developments and they are not an environmental organization.
A director of CNU noted the changing demographics of America. The 2000 Census report stated that the median age is the highest ever, three and four car garages are no longer dominant and one half of all households are poeple living alone. The American Dream is no longer 2.2 kids, a house with a front lawn drowning in pesticides and a white picket fence. Johnathan Moore, who works for a real estate company mentioned there is a no growth movement in Arizona and I suppose I am against growth myself when I hear the word development. The director of “Smart Growth” an organization which developes policies that refocus public investment and attentoin on existing urban centers, rather than encouraging urban sprawl seeks to find a solution as to how to get out from under these two crushing forces. I am aware of what I see around me in my everyday life. The city is for sale and the neighborhoods are changing. I went out to eat in the overwhelmingly populated shi shi East Village the other day and all the conversations at the surrounding tables consisted of “I just purchased my house this and I just signed the contract on my apartment that.” I went to a party later that evening in the West Village on some beautiful rooftop garden and the conversation with guests was much the same, “So where do you live and how much rent do you pay?” Walking down the streets past Urban Outfitters department store I see conotations of real estate reflected in fashion, worn faded town jeans and hippy fashions that were once scorned upon now selling for outrageous prices. This being very similiar to those wooden porch houses of the south that were once frowned upon bv the wealthy as a slum and the lofts in Soho that were once warehouses and offices that are now a stylish trend promoted by the New Urbanists as culture preserving measures.
If America was the democracy and land of the brave and free we always proclaim to be how come we kill every desire of the individual to create his own environment. I do not mind the streets that used to be infested with dealers and hustlers here in the East Village but the gardens, squats and the cafe and club cullture has gotten destroyed with it. It seems like New Urbanists at least noticed that there is a problem with apartheid and segregation in this country. They are looking for solutions for the problems caused by inhumane urban layouts and commuting insanity but in their candy coated world they managed to overlook whole problem areas and ignore the cultural death sentence any pre planned surroundings has on any organic life that is placed in its middle. And unless your name is GOD, in any attempt to create a perfectly regulated world nature will remind you that you overlooked somehting when it is too late.
Unless my ears betrayed me, I heard one of the speakers mention that New York has the highest concentration of poverty in America and that CNU likes to work with the market place on how to formalize squatters rights to take the tremendous housing stock with an underutilized core. But this process requires developers rather than individuals. As a former squatter in the Lower East Side, I believe in utopian ideas. That the world housing crisis wil give rise to squatters and the squatters struggle as a vision of the world freed from bankers, bosses and landlords who currently claim ownership and by freeing the land from the oppressors and creating zones of resistance and saying no to concentrated landlord and government ownership. Creating a viable alternative for people of neighborhoods to restore homes through their own efforts. It is my utopian vision of seeing the earth as a liberated zone one day.
By: Carla Cubit