The Graham Foundation is well known for its contributions to the work of architects and designers as thought leaders. In recent grant programs, grantee projects (research), and public programs (social advocacy) The Available City program Chicago Architecture Biennial (Sept – Dec. 2021) revealed that some thinking never changes, fails to develop, and feeds on the most lasting problem of our time.
The video below describes a recent public program initiative of the Graham Foundation. As one involved in projects exactly like those below, only a half-century ago. The shock continues to be nothing has changed. It is as if I am watching a time loop with irrevokable power.
After watching it is easy to rationalize my experience and theirs. The vacant lot conversions of my New York past are now well-institutionalized community gardens or taken city-owned land absorbed into more extensive projects such as a head start center and housing. I wrote of one example in Brownsville, New York (here).
Another part of the surreal time loop feeling of “now it is all happening to you” is more critical regarding the essential sadness beneath the optimism of The Available City video. It is for the lack of robust, institutional stewardship of the built and “to be demolished” environment this is capable of reforming real estate development as a process. The lack of that stewardship allows the renewal strategy to be little more than restocking a supermarket shelf with packaged and processed, nutritionally neutral foods. Or, it could be worse than that. It supports development practices that are pleased to support a vacant, lead soil lot for a modest community garden or some adventure play. Oh, and a vague hint of change.
The sadness is that these are earnest attempts to create a new life. They reflect the possible elimination of poverty with further use. The design builds on a grand purpose, recalling the loss by considering rebirth. Yet, to this day, the despair remains. It is limited to vegetables or keeping a playground safe amidst the chaos of the vacant lot neighborhoods of Chicago or those of Brooklyn. It was not enough then, and it is still that way.