Tuesday, April 29, 2014

High Modernism returns to DC

Last week, I attended the excellent Cities at the Center of the World conference organized by Mason's Center for Global Studies and Cities and Globalization Working Group in collaboration with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Of the many interesting discussions, I want to talk first about UCSB Professor Paul Amar's outstanding keynote lecture "Cities of Megasecurity."

Amar began by talking about the high modernist architecture and urban planning of the 1940s and 1960s. The high modernist view involved both a certain kind of monumental building:
L'Enfant Plaza Hotel, Expedia.com

and a lunar view of the city or the view from a military plane ready to bomb or already bombing the city:
Southwest DC during urban renewal 1955, National Capital Planning Commission
High modernism was the project of, in Amar's words, crony state actors and corporations. Jane Jacobs and many others have criticized high modernism, calling for a more human city. Yet, Jane Jacobs was soon coopted by developers into giving a human face to the now walkable corporate landscape.

As the extraordinary Columbia University sociology professor Saskia Sassen has shown, cities in the 1980s became financial hubs and primary agents in the global economy. Interestingly, I have found references to DC as a financial center at this time. Richard Florida gave this financial city of modern buildings and monumentalism a "fun" spin, as the Creative City. An example of this is the Yards area of DC with its restaurants, parks, and monumental buildings:
Forest City's rendering of the DC waterfront project, JDLand
Importantly, according to Amar, the Creative City is an increasingly privatized city, run by real estate management or other kinds of corporations.

Amar's keynote primarily explored the new fantasy cities of the Third World, spectacular, monumental, high modernist cities modeled on Dubai. These new cities are managed primarily or completely by private corporations and highly secure, defended by either state militaries or by private police, and funded by Saudi, Qatari, or other Gulf investment groups.

High modernism of this new sort has appeared in DC, in City Center. As reported in December in the Post:
Qatar’s real estate investment arm decided in 2010 to pump $650 million into City Center, becoming the main owner of the $1 billion project on the site of the District’s old convention center in Northwest Washington...“Qatar is a family business with a seat at the United Nations,” said Chase Untermeyer, a business consultant who was U.S. ambassador to Qatar under President George W. Bush. “It doesn’t really matter who owns Al Jazeera or Qatari Diar [the state-owned real estate investment company] because it’s all part of the same family business.”
Here is an image of a planned hotel at City Center, which will join luxury retail: "Dior, Hermès, Longchamp, Paul Stuart, Salvatore Ferragamo and Zadig & Voltaire. Tumi and Allen Edmonds have both already opened their stores and Burberry, Hugo Boss and Kate Spade have announced their plans to follow." (Post, April 23, 2014):
Washington Post, April 23, 2014
Amar noted that these new forms of spectacular high modernism funded by Royal families are created for a wealthy crowd who seek megasecurity, to be protected from the rest of the city in enclaves, including from people who work for them. In contrast to such exclusive cities or enclaves, those in Tahrir Square in Egypt called for an integrative city. What kinds of cities do monarchies create? Can DC be an integrative city?

P.S. What would Jane Jacobs say? Jane Jacobs harshly criticized such urban renewal based on "cataclysmic money," huge investments that fundamentally change a section of the city. Jacobs called for gradual change in communities and gradual money invested in neighborhoods.

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