On March 30, ADPSR helped host and facilitate "Envisioning a Healthy FREE LA: Community Solutions Not Jail Expansion," a free community workshop in Los Angeles. The event was an opportunity for members of the communities most impacted by L.A.'s troubled (to say the least) justice system to share their point of view. In particular, it was intended to give voice to alternatives to the current proposal for over $1 Billion of new jail construction proposed by the L.A. County Sheriff. The workshop was facilitated by ADPSR, led by Raphael Sperry (current ADPSR President), and LA-based architects Rebecca Seward, Joe Day and Claude Eshaghian.
The event began with a teach-in where a variety of speakers from community-based organizations explained the jail construction plan and the broader context of criminal justice "Realignment," a recent California state policy that has put more people charged with low-level offenses at the county level, in order to reduce the state prison population to a constitutionally acceptable level (which has not entierly worked). Counties were given flexibility to address how to respond to keeping the people locally: either with probation, enhanced services (like drug treatment), electronic monitoring, or jail. Jail expansion of course is the harshest and most expensive alternative. Participants followed the teach-in with a brainstorming session on what they think could more effectively reduce crime and meet community needs if the county was going to spend $1 Billion on construction:
At "MCJ" -- the current site of Men's Central Jail, where a $900 Million rebuild is proposed -- people thought that job training, higher education could be useful. This site is adjacent to downtown LA, walking distance to Union Station, Chinatown, and other central neighborhoods. Yet these densely populated neighborhoods -- the densest in Southern California -- lack a community center or enough open space to meet community needs. One comment, perhaps ironic, noted that the existing boxy building has enough space to function as a movie multiplex (if interior walls are removed). It's not far from Hollywood, at least in miles.
At the site of the Sheriff's proposed "Women's Village" -- which will hold more than 1,100 women in detention -- participants were in mind for transitional housing and related to the remote, open space of the site with ideas for green jobs development in the organic farming and/or solar sectors. In fact, while the site is remote from most of L.A. County, it is surrounded by four other jails already, consuming the last piece of flat land among them.
This was an afternoon of inspiration and innovation. Everyone present came to the conclusion that we can do better than building more cages for people. The models produced will be part of an ongoing conversation within the community and with the LA Board of Supervisors, Sheriff's department, and the broader public. The visual impact and emotional charge they carry should help advance a point of view that needs to be heard.
ADPSR's Alternatives to Incarceration campaign has long advocated for the building of more community infrastructure -- as well as more deucational, cultural, and economic opoprtunity in general -- as a way to prevent violence in America's poorest neighborhoods. At least one New York City Council member agrees with us. Speaking is response to a protest over police violence that later turned violent itself, Jumaane Williams said, "Tonight was a peaceful vigil that devolved into a riot. The youth in this community have no outlets for their anger, no community center." Obviousble providing a community center with better recreational opportunities won't solve all the problems kids in East Flatbush, Queens, face, but it would be a start. It might both symbolize and realize a turn away from the harsh neglect the nieghborhood -- and thousands like it all over the country -- have suffered for decades.
Why is it that the U.S. is exporting our prison designs to Latin American countries, such as Colombia, Mexico, and now Haiti? To my amazement, the rationale has now shifted. In the drug war framework, the implication was that Mexican and Colombian prisons were not effective enough at stopping gang communications across prison walls, while American designs and management styles would be (although the frequency of smuggling everything from cigarettes to drugs to cell phones into prisons by prison guards in the U.S. is high). Now, the claim is that we are simply doing this out of our concern for the wellbeing of Haitians. "By constructing new prisons that are consistent with international human rights standards, the (U.S. State) Department seeks to alleviate this overcrowding and to reduce the spread of disease and violence."
By all accounts, prison conditions in Haiti are horrible, but on the other hand by all accounts the police and justice system there are highly corrupt too. Is building a pair of new prisons really the place to start? As an architect I understand the importance of good design and the effects that shaping space can have on human behavior, but I also understand the limitations. To take another example from Latin America, during the rightist military dictatorship in Argentina, office buildings and suburban villas were used as secret interrogation facilities. There’s nothing in those designs that made it easier or harder to do the dirty work there – the outcome was a result of the horrific nature of the regime. And they tortured people in “proper” prisons, too. In Haiti, A brutal, corrupt local cop is not going to become a human-rights observing jailer because he is given a new jail and a new handbook – even when the handbook is written by international experts and the jail is designed to the highest standards by the best designers.
Building a culture of human rights is a major project that is very difficult for outsiders to accomplish. In some ways, the best thing we can do is to live up to the highest standards ourselves and then undertake small-scale, person-to-person diplomacy to help export our culture of human rights elsewhere. Where does that put U.S. prison-building expertise? Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and many other international human rights groups have repeatedly criticized the criminal justice system and prisons in the U.S. for torture (especially in the form of solitary confinement), inhumane conditions, racism, and mass incarceration. U.S. prison construction often improves physical conditions for some prisoners, but has also included over 50 prisons dedicated solely to solitary isolation over the past 30 years, and has enabled the development of a system of mass incarceration that flies in the face of simple justice.
Living up to the highest standards of human rights here at home is an immense challenge. By comparison, building a new prison in Haiti is easy, but it won’t be much of an accomplishment.
While many if not all ADPSR members support nonviolence as the “right” way to challenge injustice, the new book “Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict” by Maria Stephan and Erica Chenoweth argues powerfully that nonviolence is also a more effective way to challenge injustice than violence. Nonviolence actually works better than violence. That’s news.
I think many people have assumed that nonviolence is often too limited in its capabilities or too hard to pursue. Perhaps some people have accepted that if things get really bad for people under oppression it’s OK to take up arms. The authors don’t debate the morality of taking up arms, but they demonstrate that a resistance movement is far more likely to lose if they move to violence rather than pursuing nonviolence. After a comprehensive survey of 323 violent and nonviolent resistance movements of the 20th century, they conclude that nonviolent resistance is far more successful as a strategy.
Of course nonviolent resistance requires different methods to succeed than violent revolution. In particular, it needs the support of many and diverse segments of the civilian population. Based on that, a key factor in success is often if there is enough connection between the supporters of the civil resistance and the repressive regime’s armed forces to get elements of the armed forces to switch sides. They found that no matter how repressive the regime being challenged, nonviolence was able to make waves of violent repression backfire if the civil population was able to switch tactics and maintain support – for instance, dropping massive street rallies (which are often shot at by security forces) and switching to stay-aways or boycotts, which can shut down a regime’s entire economic life if a majority of society participates.
Another noteworthy finding was that nonviolent insurgencies are far more likely than violent ones to lead to democratic self-rule and domestic peace. The explanations there aren’t hard to find: after a violent insurgency, you have people in power who learned that violence works – why would they stop using it just because they are now in power? And if a violent takeover by one disposed group worked once, it legitimizes a path for others to follow. (On the topic of the U.S. founders, who led a violent insurgency against British rule, the authors note that the revolution was presaged by a decade of nonviolent resistance to British taxes and other policies.) It makes me think that violence is in fact not the last resort of a worthy cause facing overwhelming repression, but more often than not the choice of a small faction who can’t imagine that the broad population will support them but who still want to seize an unfair share of power for themselves.
One question I’d like to ask the authors is what role, if any, is played by public spaces and civil landmarks in the progress of nonviolent campaigns. Could we survey their vast database of nonviolent resistance movements and look for patterns in where public gatherings occurred? For instance, is holding a key locale characteristic of successful movements, as with Tahrir Square in the recent Egyptian revolution? And conversely, was the destruction of the monument at Pearl Roundabout in Bahrain – and losing it to pedestrians – likely a key strategy to the repression of the popular movement there?
It seems that in our major cities everyone from developers to average neighbors would object to a new prison opening next door to their home. We all know that having a prison next door drives down property values. So what do Jean Nouvel and Frank Gehry know that we don’t? It turns out that their widely celebrated recent projects in Manhattan’s trendy Chelsea neighborhood are next door (in Nouvel’s case, literally) to the Bayview Correctional Facility for Women, a New York State prison for convicted felons.
In the recent past, strategies for ‘urban revitalization’ put sports stadiums as a catalyst for local investment, particularly in real estate. Minute Maid Park in Houston, whose main entrance is an adaptive reuse of a former train station, and Comerica Park in Detroit were both constructed in areas that were seen as blighted or abandoned by the 1980s and 1990s. As a tool to transform these areas into entertainment zones, I hear they’ve both been pretty successful in causing an influx of gentrification, new activity and large scale real estate investment in the immediate area. Since I no longer live in either of those cities, I wonder what flavor of successful those areas are, roughly a decade or so after their construction. A case has been made that a sports franchise creates external benefits for the residents by sharing in the pride or commiserating about the defeats of the home team, but have the nearby residents who were there before they were built benefitted economically, too?
These structures and the zones they created are evidence of a time when the conventional wisdom was to create opportunities with these large-scale moves on land that was treated as a clean slate. However, a place that reflects its true self looks more like a palimpsest, shifting to the city’s needs, in place, over time, rather than a fresh new development that came of age all at once. As for benefitting the local residents, how does a city, a place, a town or a suburb build its own capacity to create more direct and tangible opportunities, on a daily basis, for the people who live there? Some places that have seen disinvestment, instead of large scale investments, are starting to craft their own unique approaches that are meaningful to the residents, the ultimate stakeholders. Rather than rely upon corporate job creators, smaller scale start ups, food incubators and green business entrepreneurs seem to be popping up, as a strategy to build the local economy from a grassroots level.
The documentary, Fixing The Future, hosted by David Brancaccio of NPR and PBS fame, showcases communities empowering themselves economically by using sustainable and innovative approaches. Currently, this documentary is making its way around the country through being hosted by a variety of community groups or through local PBS affiliates.
The links between between economics, collective self-sustenance and healthy communities are most notable when Brancaccio visits Cleveland. A group of locally based institutions, including The Cleveland Clinic, Case Western Reserve University and the municipal government, crafted an initiative called Evergreen Cooperatives when the big institutions realized that their fate was bound with the residents of the Greater University Circle (GUC) district. Evergreen takes a triple bottom line approach (people, planet, profit) in helping create living wage jobs in six low income neighborhoods, located in the GUC. One of the businesses it has launched so far, Evergreen Laundry, is prominently featured in Fixing the Future. Operated as a worker owned co-op, it provides commercial laundering services to local medical institutions, restaurants and hotels in a LEED Gold Certified facility. In 2011, its revenue totalled $900,000 and has 10 owner/employees, earning a living wage. By building the workforce and the entrepreneurial skills within the community to run it, the cycle of generational poverty can start to become undone. With this cycle starting to break loose, neighborhoods are able to revitalize and reinvest in themselves, rather than be driven out by gentrification from the outside.
Evergreen Cooperative’s goal in community wealth building and anchoring capital, rather than going outside of it for its goods and services is inspiring, even at its relatively small scale. In order to further equip the residents in gaining self sufficiency, capacity building in design and planning knowledge embedded into or in addition to job training would also help ensure breaking the cycle. In Baton Rouge, Foundation for Lousiana created resources to support citizen engagement to ensure equitable growth and development called The Citizen’s Guide to Land Use and Citizen’s Guide to Urban Design. These guides have been used to help facilitate and expand dialog between residents, policy makers and planners. Because of this, residents can develop skills to make a collective impact on how their communities develop and remain sustainable for everyone. As the economy shifts forward, slowly for some, sprinting wildly ahead for others, places and communities would do well to seek ways to reduce vulnerability for the disadvantage and opportunity for all. A nice big stadium for the home team might bring people together a few times a year, but being a real part of reinvestment in one’s own community can serve as the foundation and support of that collective pride.
I’m excited to announce that ADPSR is launching an effort to ask the American Institute of Architects (AIA) to amend their Code of Ethics to prohibit the design of spaces intended for torture or killing. That means execution chambers and supermax prisons designed for long-term solitary confinement. These spaces create human rights violations, and since AIA’s Ethics Code already calls for architects to “uphold human rights in all their endeavors,” it’s actually not that big a change– we just need a more specific ethics rule clarifying that these spaces are violations of human rights.
Sign our petition here: http://www.tinyurl.com/aiaethics.
If you’re an AIA member, then I’m happy to let you know that this campaign is coming to a chapter near you. While Ethics Code changes are made by the national AIA board of directors, the chapters are where members can discuss and debate issues, so ADPSR is just starting outreach to many AIA chapters to invite them to consider our proposal and to endorse it. If you are part of another architecture-related organization that would like to endorse our campaign, please email: prisons (at) adpsr (dot) org.
We anticipate bringing the issue to AIA in the middle of next year. Join in, and stay tuned!
Once upon a time people engaged in social progress assumed that the forty-hour workweek was only a waystation on the path to an economy of full employment, rising wages, and ever increasing leisure time. In this former utopia of broadly shared prosperity, participating in work would earn increasing freedom to play. In today’s reality, after decades of regression, an opposite endpoint is approaching where free play is only available within the workspace, physical and virtual. No where is this more advanced than in the tech office boom of Silicon Valley and its northern extension, San Francisco.
Two recent articles on office design for tech companies present contrasting views on the value of these “playful” workspaces. In Architects Newspaper, Sam Lubell writes:
Studio O+A’s 395 Page Mill incubator offices in Palo Alto are inset with a huge half-pipe-shaped seating area and bocce ball courts; Nichols Booth’s San Francisco offices for Zynga (makers of, among other apps, Words with Friends and Farmville) include game rooms, athletic courts, smoothie bars, and eating spaces themed on the word “Play.” Huntsman Architectural Group’s new offices for YouTube are equipped with a giant central slide. All these amenities don’t just draw talent, they keep the talent at work…
Once-derelict neighborhoods in San Francisco are turning into cool high-tech hubs, and bland office parks in Silicon Valley are becoming bastions of urbanity. And offices here, from finance companies to medical firms, are beginning to look more like tech offices, with open layouts and more communal spaces. Perhaps it’s only a matter of time before your own office starts knocking down walls and installing a ping-pong table. Yes, the rules of the iPhone are ruling your life, including how and where you work.
Contrast this with William Hanley’s essay in Architectural Record, “Welcome to Corporate Kindergarten”:
A variety of flexible workspaces and the opportunity to mix nonwork activities into office life has been shown in many studies to boost creativity, productivity, and employee satisfaction, but it also lends itself to longer hours with less of a separation between work and life outside of the office. ... But the amenities come with an expectation of an entrepreneurial fervor. The ideal employee at most tech firms possesses a geek's capacity for all-nighters fueled by free food and supported by comforts built into the office plan that take on the role of nanny. This works well if you're a borderline-antisocial single male in your 20s, but the infantilizing aesthetic of corporate day care patronizes workers who don't fit the boy-genius archetype and reinforces hours that can be downright hostile to those with children of their own. It also belittles creativity as childish…
So many companies have introduced beanbags, bleachers, or other tokens of the fun office that these gestures, which once seemed surprising, have been repeated to the point of becoming banal, sometimes laughably awkward clichés. But even in their watered-down versions, these design elements signify a culture in which work and fun—along with their social and identity-forming dimensions—occur around the single valence of the office. The danger is that even if the corporate kindergarten falls out of fashion, the colonization of workers' time that it reflects will remain.
I have to admit I side with Hanley. The supposedly free exchange of longer working hours for a more playful work environment just doesn’t seem right, for all the reasons he provides: infantilizing, not family friendly, belittling. I trace it back to Nike’s “Work Hard/Play Hard” meme of the early 1990’s, which started the erosion of free time by redefining its primary function as refreshing the employee for further work – “Work” comes first in the Nike formula. In Silicon Valley and now beyond, architecture has collapsed these two supposed opposites into one space where the flow between them can be continual. It’s less a merger of work and play than a subtle but hostile takeover.
Usually I’m a fan of AN but I have to say Lubell’s boosterism on this theme leaves me cold. Yes, architects need work, the tech sector in the Bay Area is one of the few bright spots these days, it's big enough to be a real estate phenomenon, and the projects refreshingly invite design creativity. But at what cost? If, as Haley suggests, these “play-full” designs are the back door to the further loss of free time (especially once the fun elements are removed), what is the responsibility of designers for enabling it?
- Raphael Sperry
Raphael is director of ADPSR's Alternatives to Incarceration / Prison Design Boycott campaign and a 2012 Soros Justice Fellow.
ADPSR board member Jeffery Hou's essay on civic action was just published in Design Observer/Places. The essay is an excerpt from his chapter in Beyond Zuccotti Park: Freedom of Assembly and the Occupation of Public Space. The book explores the definition, use, role, and importance of public space for the exercise of demoncratic rights to free expression. Hou shifts the emphasis from physical space to citizen action. We need to focus not just on ensuring the right to public assembly, he writes, but also on "the making and mobilization of the public as an actively engaged citizenry." It is this that "enables a public space to remain public and continue to serve as vehicle -- a building block -- of our participatory democracy."
Here's a link to the Design Observer/Places essay.
Jeffery Hou is associate professor and chair of landscape architecture at the University of Washington, Seattle.
Today’s design students are more interested in having an impact on the lives of others than any previous generation. Frustrated with decades of brand-name architects with little or no social agenda in their work, these students want to contribute to projects with some long-term benefit for people that have not traditionally had access to quality spaces and environments
Universities provided the catalyst for the growth of this movement. They offered visionaries like Sam Mockbee an opportunity to work with communities in dire need of quality housing and public amenities. Embedding the Rural Studio in Auburn University offered Mockbee the opportunity to concentrate on educating students and providing quality designs to the program’s clients outside of the real estate industry, which sets the direction of almost every architectural practice. Formative design build institutions like Rural Studio and Building Project at Yale succeeded because their university affiliations allowed them to concentrate on producing quality, appropriate, necessary projects for communities completely left behind by the market.
In the last ten years, this handful of design build programs have become the touchstones for a generation of students that want to use their skills to contribute to the social and environmental health of the world. The Academy recognized this and have launched efforts large and small to give design students what they want. The University of Kansas’ Studio 804, Stanford’s d.school, bcWorkshop at The University of Texas, and many other architecture and design schools established design build programs based on the Rural Studio Model. After Hurricane Katrina in 2006, Tulane University integrated community service into its core curriculum, and new programs are launching across the country every year.
Yet when these same students graduate, and when they leave the academy for the professional world, only a very few are able to continue practicing design on projects that have a real social impact. I recall a recent conversation with a new graduate from the Yale School of Architecture, whose enthusiasm for having a social impact was matched only by her mystification with where and how to capitalize on that enthusiasm. At Public Architecture, we fielded far more requests for internships and employment than we could ever hope to fill. Architecture for Humanity, probably the highest-profile and best-resourced social design organization, had such demand for engagement among its supporters that it started a world-wide chapter network.
Part of the reason for this frustrating lack of opportunities is that there are simply not enough jobs in these formative design impact organizations to go around. Community design centers and advocacy organizations like Public Architecture and Architecture for Humanity are relatively small organizations with modest budgets and modest turnover. The market for social design and the resources available to these organizations haven’t caught up to the interest among students and designers in this work. But I believe that universities bear some of responsibility for teaching their students how to translate their work and interest in the academic universe into the practical, professional universe. Graduates of these programs, and design students in general that come out of school with an interest in producing meaningful work that contributes to the greater health of society, aren’t given to tools to do so out in the real world.
Consider how many students gain their first exposure to design with a social mission. When featured in the design (or mainstream) press, they are most often presented as finished objects. These designs are very often taken out of context to be judged based on their aesthetic and assumed functional quality. Programs like the Rural Studio gained legitimacy among mainstream designers by presenting projects with great narratives, and that could also stand on their merits as designs. The presentation of these completed projects gives their most willing recipients – the many students who bought and passed around their dog eared copies of Mockbee’s books – the illusion that these projects are self-evident and self-producing. They are not, and universities could start by showing that these beautiful, meaningful projects are in fact the products of a long and complex process and network of partners.
The university system is broadly responsible for failing to train students interested in design projects with a social mission in the skills they need to actually make such projects possible. Recent graduates with enthusiasm, dedication, and a valuable set of skills have only a handful of highly coveted positions and opportunities in the social design sector to seek out. But it is also because universities don’t give students any introduction to the cross-disciplinary skills they need to get these projects off the ground, and just as important, the networks of stakeholders and gatekeepers to ensure these projects are successful. Without an understanding how design for good is actually possible, many recent graduates that would be great contributors to the movement end up getting discouraged and walking away from the movement entirely.
In fact, one of the most common compromises that leaders in the design for social impact field must make is how little actual design they do. Many more of their hours are spent meeting with clients and stakeholder groups, pursuing funding, ensuring their access to student labor or AmeriCorps members or community volunteers stays strong. Many more are concerned with site acquisition, financing and ownership models that allow the clients to keep their homes without a massive hike in property taxes. In short, working in the design for social impact sphere requires a much broader skill set than one is taught in design school, and even a broader skill set than one is taught at the Rural Studio.
John Peterson, Founder & President of Public Architecture, makes the point that “we are seeing an almost unprecedented interest now in design projects that serve a social mission. But this interest will wane, at some point, just like it did in the 80's, and whether or not these values last will depend on how well designers integrate them into professional life.”This series of essays will examine how universities can better teach the next generation of design leaders to not just be great designers, but real contributors to the social fabric. It will examine the models for socially-conscious practice, whether they are working for a community design center, in the academy, or for a traditional firm. Finally, it will present a vision for how design education could be adapted to make better, more effective public servants.
Nick is currently Vice President of ADPSR's national board and in the Masters of Architecture program at the University of Pennsylvania.