There are many words that we might use to describe the past year. As much as the past year has been marked by loss, anxiety, and uncertainty, hope, innovation and resilience abounded. Armed with experience, lessons and knowledge that we had acquired in this new, but ever-evolving world marked by the pandemic, we began the process of drafting the contours of our lives.
As planners, our professions are inherently tied to the future. We know that the spaces through which we move in the city represent a singular moment destined to be remade and reimagined. While we plan for the future in this world, we must decide how we will permit our past to determine our future.
In this issue which we have decided to call “Metamorphosis,” we are pleased to present a diverse collection of thought, keenly imbued by lived experience, and an audacious and stubborn hope to reimagine the world. From essays on eviction policy, to reflections on evolving land uses in Japan, each of our writers have presented critical observations from which we can shape our future.
Our cities are in perpetual flux. And while we as planners might be more keenly aware of this than the average urbanite, the collective anxiety surrounding the pandemic has revealed that there is much work to be done. We are grateful for the contributions of our talented writers and the dedication of our editors.
We hope you enjoy this issue as much as we have enjoyed putting it together.
The Editors of URBAN Magazine
Eve, Will, Sherry
Eliza, Calvin, Margaret, Varisa
In the past eighteen months, longstanding challenges to American urban life have been laid bare by compounding crises: public health, racial injustice, economic inequality, and climate change. While in this moment it is easy to descend into paralysis, a measure of hope may yet lie in the Biden Administration’s central commitment to “Build Back Better” (BBB), through both the American Rescue Plan (ARP) and an upcoming $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation package. Indeed, Congress and the Biden Administration are taking a whole-of-government approach and proposing bold, national-level urban agendas equally concerned with American cities’ physical infrastructure and socioeconomic fabric1. These imagined futures and new commitments to American urban areas have the potential to successfully improve life for residents, but only if policymakers and elected officials attend to historical lessons from previous attempts at collective urban programs.
The Biden Administration’s urban vision is far from the first to call for a comprehensive national focus on American cities. Among many examples are the Roosevelt Administration’s 1937 Our Cities report, advanced in tandem with and through the National Resources Planning Board (NRBP); the Johnson Administration’s 1968 Report of The National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (also called the Kerner Commission Report); and the Carter Administration’s 1979 Urban America in the Eighties report.2 Although all of these historical documents aimed to chart a new urban vision from their contemporary conditions, each effort was ultimately constrained by a timespecific meta-narrative dictating what kinds of bold change were possible. Since none of these reports were comprehensively implemented, we can view them as forensic documents reflective of various waves of the planning zeitgeist, if not actual moments of social or political change. If the Biden Administration’s current agenda aims to change the track record, leaders must pay attention to both the changes and continuities in the national interest in cities over time. In short, proposals must be constitutive of new institutional arrangements, not merely reflective of existing ones.
The National Interest in Cities in Historical Perspective
Planners and policymakers crafted many comprehensive visions for American cities in the 19th and early 20th century, including the 1909 regional plans for the New York and Chicago regions and Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City Association.3 However, the first comprehensive federal-to-local initiatives around American urban life were advanced in the Roosevelt Administration, both through creating the National Resources Planning Board (NRPB) and through the vision outlined in the 1937 Our Cities Report. The NRPB boldly connected an agenda of physical planning and natural resource management with an economic and social agenda geared toward post-Depression stability.4 The NRPB existed as an organizational and bureaucratic home to manage dynamics of growth and development across regions, with an eye toward broad-based shared prosperity. It did not seek the nationalization or expropriation of natural resources, but rather their smooth and stable use and management across disparate geographies. As envisaged and implemented, the NRPB reflected the dominant paradigm of economic management in the late 1930s: proto-Keynesian policies to protect existing firms and industries from cyclical economic downturns.5
Drawing heavily on social ecological conceptions of the city pioneered by the Chicago School of planning, the 1937 Our Cities Plan advanced that American cities, as centers of industry and culture as well as transportation nodes, were a “measure” of the country’s “maturity.”6 The report promoted a research agenda focused squarely on studying urbanization as a process, with an emphasis on demography and linkages between urban and rural areas, and did not shy away from “problems” plaguing cities, including delays in the provision of public goods and services and inadequate governmental powers.7 The report’s recommendations ranged from establishing a “clearinghouse of urban information,” to revising local taxation schemes, to creating a permanent national planning board across local, state, regional, and national structures.8 These bold recommendations were largely not enacted as the “reconstruction of the American city was abandoned in favor of rampant suburbanization,” and as Our Cities faced legislative and constitutional challenges.9 For example, the comprehensive agenda aimed to ensure full employment and serve as an “economic bill of rights” for workers across unequal geographies and was predictably decried by interest groups as “a drift toward real socialism.”10 While the Our Cities agenda did leave us the lasting relic of the president’s Council of Economic Advisors (CEA),11 its “effective demise was a significant defeat for planners.”12
Thirty years later, President Johnson convened the 1968 Kerner Commission, a national advisory commission on civil “disorders” in cities including Newark and Detroit, a euphemism for the racism inspired uprisings that shocked the country in the late 1960s. Although the Commission’s scope was initially a limited one, answering “What happened? Why did it happen? What can be done to prevent it from happening again?,”13 the conclusions of the report were expansive. Reflecting ideas that have once again come to the fore decades later, it advanced an agenda connecting racial, economic, and social inequalities with proposed interventions in urban and suburban built environments. For instance, the Commission discussed proximate causes of police practices and inadequate housing,14 but also noted structural causes ranging from “the maturing economy” of deindustrialization to disparities in un- and under-employment for Black Americans.15 Recommendations included creating joint community-government Neighborhood Action Task Forces, permitting the Federal Disaster Act to cover long-term economic assistance after civil disturbances, and a “national system of income supplementation” supported by politicians across the political spectrum.16
Elements of the Kerner Commission’s recommendations were considered and implemented piecemeal by Congress: funding for local community policing initiatives, the 1968 public-private HUD Act to theoretically promote Black homeownership, and the 1968 Fair Housing Act (FHA) aiming to prohibit housing rental, sale, and financing discrimination. Still, many of the programmatic responses to address segregation and racial inequality were not addressed, and programs implemented fell victim to poor and partial implementation.17 More fundamentally, the social democratic paradigm advanced by the Commission began to fracture in the years following the report’s release, and the Nixon administration’s politics of white resentment coupled with stagflation and socioeconomic upheavals in the 1970s prevented progressive urban policy from commanding the national agenda.18
In 1979, President Carter’s America in the Eighties urban agenda was grounded in contexts of deconcentration and urban fiscal decline, crises and life-cycles of demise in urban core areas, and “social distress in the urban underclass.”19 The report framed deconcentration as “natural,” promoting a “people-over-places” strategy focused on flexible federal funding streams, transfers, and a “new federal policy role” in cities.20 Advancing a paradigm of “The New Federalism,” the Carter administration sought to promote community control in cities with more contextually suited planning solutions; the report also invoked an increased private sector role in cities 31 times. While only small components of the Kerner Commission report were implemented, America in the Eighties was never implemented at all: as soon as the document was completed in 1979, President Carter lost the 1980 election to Ronald Reagan, who enacted austerity on U.S. cities.
It is telling that each of these documents self-importantly proclaims, in its own way, that until its publication there had been no comprehensive national agenda for cities in America.21 Indeed, the publications are not wrong, since none of the prior reports’ recommendations were implemented as such, due to changing political headwinds or the massive resources required. Yet these proclamations speak to a worrying collective amnesia about past national urban-planning programs, which may condemn us to repeat the same historical mistakes again. Therefore, past reports are worthy of study: they each serve as a window into the normative possibilities of urban planning in federal policy in their given eras.
Biden and Beyond
Anchored by Biden’s BBB Agenda and building on the recently passed ARP, federal officials, mayors, and city advocates should prepare “for a once-in-a-lifetime federal investment in cities,” says urban finance expert Bruce Katz, heralding a bold, aspirational agenda to revitalize the nation’s cities.22 With a potential $3.5 trillion at stake in the budget reconciliation package, and many resources still unallocated in the ARP, urban planning agenda items could include leveraging land banks to capitalize small businesses and local institutions, and promoting libraries, local back-end offices, and affordable housing along commercial corridors devastated by the rise of e-commerce and parasitic retailers like Dollar Stores and Walmart.23 Yet certain BBB visions have already sputtered toward failure: a multi-billion-dollar proposed investment in K-12 school facility upgrades and a plan for 1.5 million new and sustainable affordable housing units nationwide now seem unlikely. Although resources for cities appear central to these gigantic recovery initiatives, to what extent will they actually materialize? The ARP changed constantly as the House and Senate negotiated over the scope and limits of the Congressional budget-reconciliation process. With 50 votes in the U.S. Senate, the ARP was curtailed to pass muster with the most conservative democrat, Joe Manchin, and dropped items like a $15 federal minimum wage. Indeed, writing in December 2021, the $3.5 trillion reconciliation package has been reduced to $1.9 trillion after languishing in the House, and still faces hurdles in the Senate. It is also telling that there was minimal long-term programmatic ambition in the ARP or BBB agendas. The language of the ARP rarely engaged the question of renewal through annual appropriations cycles beyond 2024 or sought to institutionalize entities to manage steady funding streams. The initiatives at best represented massive one-time infusions of federal resources across agencies, not a restructuring of federal-urban relationships.
To consider America’s national urban policy across historical moments is to look archeologically across time at changing attitudes toward American urban planning and governance at the federal level, revealing several trends. First, the horizon of possible urban interventions and their long-term sustainability has waned considerably since Roosevelt’s Our Cities report, perhaps most notably driven by a decline in the Social Democratic tradition of activist economic management and its replacement by a more laissez-faire approach to urban entrepreneurialism.24 Recommendations in Our Cities were sufficiently bold as to include reconceptualizing the legal relationship between cities and states altogether, creating a permanent federal credit agency to give loans and grants to local governments for public-works construction, and ensuring minimum incomes for every household in America, surpassing the wildest dreams of today’s progressives.25 Just a few decades later, the America in the Eighties report, with its “people-over-places” paradigm, effectively communicated that cities were fiscally on their own, and that population deconcentration and disinvestment were “natural.”26 Biden’s urban vision now makes no promises as to sustainable federal investments in cities, instead offering one-time infusions and potential efforts to financialize the underlying value of land, speaking to the known limits of congressional action.
At the same time, through lines can be found, such as acknowledging the importance of socio-economic wellbeing for residents. Whether in the form of guaranteed full employment, a minimum income, or a proposed $15 minimum wage, each of these reports centers policies to economically empower urbanites. Moreover, each communicates the vital role that urbanization processes play in shaping the health of the national economy. Although current initiatives do not propose programmatic research agendas into these processes like Our Cities did, the sustained interest speaks to a view held by policymakers that American cities are key to national prosperity.
Practical lessons for planners and policymakers emerge from this historical inquiry. First, we must treat cities as active, fluid nodes within networks of people, natural resources, and capital investment to capture the functional reality of America’s metropolitan composition and help policymakers deal with the realities of the country’s pernicious urban-rural divide. Second, it is crucial to consider initiatives at the intersection of urban-level spatial interventions and personal-level socioeconomic well-being, anchoring any agenda in both built environment and livelihoods. Finally, we should make every effort to transcend the current horizon of possible futures prescribed by the prevailing institutional moment. Instead of short-term fiscal stabilization, we should build toward something larger and permanent. A national urban agenda grounded in existing paradigms, if it is even implemented, risks merely being archeological residue of what was. We might ask instead: what could be?
I would like to thank Max Nathanson and leadership of the Oxford Urbanists (OU) for facilitating conversations with Bruce Katz and Collin Higgins of the Drexel University Nowark Metro Urban Finance Lab. Thanks also to Columbia University GSAPP Professor Elliott Sclar for comments on multiple drafts of this paper, and to GSAPP URBAN Magazine editor Calvin Harrison for thorough and thoughtful comments.
Some of my fondest childhood memories take place in Japan. Every summer, we would visit my mother’s family in Nasushiobara, a rural exurb north of Tokyo. I would bike past lush green rice fields with my Ojiichan (Japanese for Grandfather) and brother. We would catch dragonflies and walk to the local tempura shop. Ojiichan smiled and waved at the familiar faces we passed by. The Nasushiobara I once knew is held only in these memories.
When Ojiichan died, the Nasushiobara I knew and loved died with him. It wasn’t just his absence that changed Nasushiobara, but the local government was also changed. It started pushing Gappei (mergers), a federally mandated program that amalgamated municipalities of decreasing population to cut national expenditures and strengthen local administration. Gappei in Nasushiobara took the form of “Land Readjustment” in 2005, where irregularly shaped lots were sliced and boxed into strictly regimented grids to improve public infrastructure, like roads and sewage systems. For the sake of fitting into a more “regular” grid, my grandparents’ house was lifted by a crane, dropped onto a rail track, and pulled to a location just five minutes away. The home was quite literally cut and pasted into the Gappei grid, flattening over the rich existing networks of places and pathways of attachment and memory.
Rural Japan’s municipal merger program dissolved Nasushiobara into surrounding neighborhoods in the name of “efficiency” and “growth.” I became witness to Nasushiobara’s rapid homogenization and so-called development; each year, I lost yet another element of the Nasushiobara that I loved. In 2007 I lost the vegetable gardens to perfectly paved roads; in 2008 I lost the rice fields to rows of identical apartments; in 2009 I lost the small local shops to megamarkets. We stopped walking on pebble pathways to street merchants to buy potato kurokke; we started driving on wide roads to chain supermarkets to buy the same things that I could buy in California. Nasushiobara’s identity, culture, and history was dissolved in a cookie cutter standardization that made for repetitive and auto-centric landscapes indistinguishable from everything nearby.
The Japanese government sought to cut costs in a top-down, hasty translocation of place —in doing so, it cut corners and ultimately created spaces that are clones of schemes found everywhere. The loss of place from Nasushiobara helped me understand that location-based markers of human experience are precious and vastly important for fruitful connections to each other and our environment. Neighborhoods should be patterned with overlapping and interlocking community ties developed over time. It is easy to press “Ctrl + X ” and “Ctrl + V” to cut and paste seemingly simple solutions— yet these solutions are often simplistic reductions that create messier, more complicated problems. Reversing this process is not as easy.
During the second half of the twentieth century, cultural and economic transitions towards neoliberal and post-Fordist systems generated emergent conceptual models for how cities were imagined, designed, and policed. Within these tectonic shift s, which can be described as a vector from industrial modernism towards a cybernetic postmodernity, architects including Kenzo Tange, Cedric Price, and Buckminster Fuller created images of cities defined by modular, interchangeable spaces, enclosed urban systems, and self-regulating feedback channels, organized around cyborg man-machine occupants. Simultaneously, writers, police officials, and policy makers drafted and ultimately implemented a methodology of policing in these new Anglo-American cities to eventually be dubbed “community policing.” The cybernetic legacy of community policing finds its roots in the writing of Jane Jacobs, George Kelling, and James Wilson, whose collective hypotheses of urban control systems would be expanded and articulated into a tentacular regime of behavioral monitoring and management.
Coined by Norbert Wiener to describe research on computing machines developed during World War II, cybernetic models presuppose that all biological and mechanical systems, from computers to brains or entire cities, can be studied and predicted as modular systems (Wiener, 1948). In this systems-eye view of the world, the idea that humans are separate from nature begins to erode against a network system in which humans and nature alike are expected to perform as robotic cogs in rational machines (Curtis, 2011). Feedback, or the behavioral impulse to course-correct actions based upon “the difference between a desired pattern and an actually performed pattern,” was the function supposed to govern these biotic and bionic systems, enabling bio-cogs to be studied and predicted as circuitry (Wiener, 1948). Most importantly, in this world regulated by feedback, the cybernetics movement hallucinated systems that would self-stabilize at equilibrium without the need for governance or authoritarian intervention. Simultaneously catering to global capital’s expressed interest in eroding government regulation and the skepticism towards power held by the post-1968 left , cybernetics fantasized that human, animal, and machine systems could self-regulate in a dispersed vacuum of power.
Jane Jacobs’ 1961 publication The Death and Life of Great American Cities represents a critique of 1950s urban renewal programs and a love letter to the complexity of prewar American cities and “slums” (Jacobs, 1961). Mimicking emergent models of systems ecology from the same period advocated by figures including Eugene Odum, Jacobs fetishized the social networks of American slums as internally regulating around a desirable security equilibrium, a self-stabilizing function maintained by an active pedestrian presence: “public peace…is kept primarily by an intricate, almost unconscious, network of voluntary controls and standards among the people themselves” (Jacobs, 1961). This function, referred to ubiquitously as “eyes on the street,” invokes a system of public security managed by police but enforced by civilians, who become accountable to other pedestrians through a casual surveillance network enabled by aggregate density and visibility. Jacobs observed this behavioral control system as protecting against a feedback loop of collective fear accumulating towards realized violence. According to Jacobs, as fear of unsafe streets crescendos, vulnerable pedestrians withdraw physically and psychologically, creating vacant environments increasingly suitable for criminal activity.
Jacobs’ dream of a self-organized control apparatus rested on an assumption that civilians could act as rational components within a social machine, a systematized view of the human subject reflecting that of mechanical nodes within emergent post-War computing technology. Social accountability, enabled through the collective visibility and surveillance afforded by urban density, provided a positive feedback mechanism by which subject-components in this system would condition their psyches for the normalized functioning of the greater city-machine. This positive feedback channel was to steer the urban system away from its inverse, the negative feedback loop wherein collective fear aggregates until the civilized community becomes the barbaric “jungle” (Jacobs, 1961). In this world governed by feedback, the bureaucratic hierarchy of the post-War disciplinary system, in which police officers had authority over residents and were accountable to central agencies, is rendered obsolete by a networked control apparatus. Regarded as a vector of behavioral surveillance, monitoring, and management, each civilian is transformed into a modular and interchangeable police-subject. As such, the urban security apparatus of behavioral normalization and control expands tentacular, alongside a decreased need for visible police power.
Jacobs’ control system was two-tiered: civilians prevent crime through casually enforced order-maintenance, while professional police supplement this system by responding to crime in cities. George Kelling and James Wilson would tighten and expand this control apparatus through Broken Windows theory, published as a 1982 essay in The Atlantic which argued that professional police should also be concerned with crime prevention through behavioral normalization and control - an injection of police infrastructure to buttress the positive feedback loops regulating urban security. Broken Windows theory, informed by foot patrol studies funded by the Ford Foundation during the 1970s (Kelling, 1981), imagined a style of policing around the figure of the patrol officer deployed on foot instead of in cars, and who was concerned with monitoring and punishing undesirable behavior in the name of crime prevention instead of making evidence-based arrests for the sake of crime control (Kelling & Wilson, 1982). The authors’ central metaphor, which equates “disreputable” people and behaviors with defaced features of the built environment, pays ideological homage to the negative feedback loops of fear and violence imagined by Jacobs: If a broken window goes unrepaired for too long, so say Kelling and Wilson, all of the neighborhood’s other windows will soon be broken. Accordingly, the presence of disorderly persons and behavior indicates that neighbors will spend more time inside the safety of their own homes, steadily leading to emptier streets, the erosion of informal social control mechanisms, and increased vulnerability to criminal behavior.
As the window territorializes an architectural interior and exterior, Broken Windows theory was concerned with constructing an inside and outside to Jacobs’ imagined social machine by soberly establishing a threshold between a behavioral interior and exterior. The resurgent foot patrol officer, championed by Kelling and Wilson, was to target disorderly people and behavior: “Not violent people, nor, necessarily, criminals, but disreputable or obstreperous or unpredictable people: panhandlers, drunks, addicts, rowdy teenagers, prostitutes, loiterers, the mentally disturbed” (Kelling & Wilson, 1982). The distinction between orderly and disorderly states is not between two behavioral conditions, but between a behavioral condition and a hallucination of reality-that-is not: Dionysian intoxication versus Appollonian order, or what Reinhold Martin calls “the interplay of imagistic dreams and libidinal intoxication.” That is to say, the embodied disorderly condition versus the endless ordering of reality into a temporal representations wherein power is rendered capable of taming irrational impulses, urges, and the repressed. Ultimately, libidinal instantiations of police brutality would expose the grand hypocrisy of attempting to legally distinguish between behavioral states, and to criminalize the irrational within. Still, the objectives behind Broken Windows policing were made clear: the window, instead of a boundary condition to be looked at or moved through, became a screen; its occupant, the civilian made stranger through addiction or race, became the target of police attention and violence.
Instead of attending to communities already experiencing violent crime, Kelling and Wilson directed the attention of their security apparatus at entire neighborhoods that they imagined existing within the liminal condition of this broken window, between states of stratified order and libidinal disorder. The responsibility of the police, they reasoned, was to administer a past-tense stasis or equilibrium, a safeguard against stepping into the dangerous social unknown. While the police-subject humbly deployed on foot to these neighborhoods created an illusion that this was somehow more egalitarian, or was a manifestation of the self-sustaining control “ecosystem,” this evolved management regime had been buttressed by vast information infrastructures to protect and fortify power. Neighborhood police officers were to use casual relationships built with residents to expand troves of neighborhood-specific police data, while civilians became collaborative partners of the police, who presented as one of their own. Every subject would act as a cog in a rational policing machine. While the police function appears waning, or yielding authorship to the collective, behavioral monitoring and management becomes increasingly powerful, dispersed, and invisible, with the police acting as administrators and regulators of increasingly vast databases of public information.
These fantasies of security, control, and management would reach their intellectual apotheosis at Harvard University’s Executive Session on Policing. In a series of three-day meetings between 1985 and 1991, police chiefs, mayors, policy makers, and scholars fleshed out the contours of an emergent community policing model to be published in a series of seventeen papers titled Perspectives on Policing (Kelling, 1988) . Community policing can be summarized as a fourfold behavioral management strategy, rooted in the writings of Jacobs, Kelling, and Wilson. First, the central concept of problem-oriented policing refers to police work that proactively identifies the structural problems plaguing communities instead of responding to isolated crime, implicating a wider breadth of problems as appropriate for police attention (Sparrow, 1993). Second, the community police officer would be concerned with the “quality of life” issues, an approach which meant policing disorderly behavior and targeting “disreputable” people as a means of managing collective fear (Moore & Trojanowicz, 1988). Third, families and neighborhood institutions were identified as key partners to the police, providing a community’s first line of defense against crime through a system of casual surveillance and behavioral normalization. Finally, patrol officers were to be taken out of cop cars, deployed on foot and “walking a beat.”
Perspectives on Policing highlights how community policing, like other institutional reform eff orts of the period, submitted simultaneously to the control logics of cybernetic computing machines as well as to post- Fordist growth models of the supply chain and multinational corporation through tropes of decentralization, deregulation, and financial reorganization. This decentralization would take the form of the devolution of police authority away from central command, yielding increased autonomy, authority, and “creative” agency to foot patrol officers walking a beat (Meese, 1993) . The erosion of this centralized authority and bureaucratic accountability, which provided a regulatory check against police corruption and operational error, would represent a gradual deregulation of police departments in the name of organizational flexibility and innovation (Kennedy, 1993), terms and approaches common in the private sector. This engorged, diff use community police force was financed through streamlined budgets, private partnerships, and subcontracting (Kennedy, 1993). Just as cybernetic architecture practices of the period performed as a “research and development” for late corporate capitalism, community policing was enmeshed not only in increasingly dispersed and invisible modes of state power but in the rise of the Anglo-American post-Cold War corporate agenda whereby the public sector became largely privatized under the political leadership of the Democratic and Labor parties (Virno, 1996).
Jane Jacobs’ fantasy of a self-sustaining behavioral management apparatus turned out to be just that - fantasy, of ossified states of order and equilibrium that would territorialize the intoxicating libidinal and irrational. Cities of the west at the close of the twentieth century demonstrated no underlying stability as welfare states collapsed and multinational corporations dilated along international supply chains. Instead of managing and maintaining an illusory social equilibrium, police violence was used to monitor and manage the decline of the Anglo-American middle class across processes of globalization and automation. Far from generating an egalitarian and self-regulating public safety network, the 1994 Crime Bill provided state funding for 100,000 new patrol officers deployed “walking a beat” on the streets of the United States. Broken Windows policing emphasizes that the notion of “criminal” as the behavioral exterior is produced by policing discourse rather than an a priori category, and that the subsequent convicts of the American carceral apparatus were made-convict by calcified fantasies of social stasis. The behavioral interior, the protected “community,” is an equivalently produced category, and “community engagement” would be a garish robe worn by an increasingly militarized police state that protected the elite and served economic power amidst destabilizing social, political, and economic change.
CURTIS, ADAM (Director). (23 May, 2011). The Use and Abuse of Vegetational Concepts . Dominic Crossley-Holland (Executive Producer), All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grade. British Broadcast Television.
JACOB S , JANE (1961). The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Random House, Inc.
KELLING, GEORG E L . , & WILSON, JAMES Q. (1982). Broken Windows: The Police and Neighborhood Safety. The Atlantic, 249, 29-38.
KELLING, GEORG E L . (1981). Conclusions. In Antony Pate (Ed.), The Newark Foot Patrol Experiment (111-129). Police Foundation.
KELLING, GEORGE L. (1988). Police and Communities: The Quiet Revolution. Perspectives on Policing, 1, 1-8.
KENNEDY, DAVID M. (1993). The Strategic Management of Police Resources. Perspectives on Policing, 14, 1-10.
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MOORE, MARK H., & TROJANOWICZ, ROBERT C . (1988). Policing and the Fear of Crime. Perspectives on Policing, 3, 1-8.
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SPARROW, MALCOLM K. (1993). Information Systems and the Development of Policing. Perspectives on Policing, 16, 1-11.
VIRNO, PAULO. (1996). The Ambivalence of Disenchantment. In Paulo Virno and Michael Hardt (Eds.), Radical Thought in Italy: A Potential Politics (14-15). University of Minnesota Press.
WIENER, NORBERT (1948). Cybernetics, or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine. MIT Press.
“Isn’t it funny,” a friend once said to me, “how many cities in the U.S. have a reputation only as a place where things used to happen?” He was talking about the great cities that used to produce steel, used to manufacture automobiles, used to house gold miners. I think about that a lot in New York City. Places like the Meatpacking District and the especially on-the-nose Industry City have long been transformed from bustling productive centers to leisure zones of consumption. But I think about his words when I’m underground too, waiting for the train and staring at the crumbling plaster and tile at the Chambers St. J stop, the icicles of rust in the Broadway G stop. I think about it when I see the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building in the skyline. I even think about it oddly enough, as I’ll explain, when I look at Hudson Yards. I think about that and I ask myself, are we already staring at the ruins of a past civilization?
That is, do we in the United States already live in something completely different than whatever society built the places we live in? If so, what exactly is it that is different? Could it be that back then, what motivated the engineering feats of the New York subway system, all the art deco skyscrapers, the interstate highways system, the Hoover Dam, public housing, and all the New Deal projects, was an unwavering confidence in the future – a confidence that today is denied to us by climate change, COVID-19, and political decline into right wing authoritarianism? That is – are the ruins of the past characterized by a vision of the future, and does the lack of future today distinguish the present from the past?
Last summer I wandered through the Met with my jaw afloat between the tombs and crypts of Ancient Egypt. Right here in New York, we get to see the marvels of a civilization halfway across the world that thousands of years ago accomplished the pyramids, the colossal statues of gods and pharaohs, and the labyrinths of hieroglyphic covered chambers in which those pharaohs rested – until relatively recently. Enormous stones were cut, transported, and placed; elaborate tunnels were planned and dug. Pictures, symbols, and written language dress the chamber walls from head to toe, instructing, warning, and guiding the god-king’s spirit; intricate decorations of gold and jewelry comfort him as he enters the trials of the afterlife; his body embalmed to ensure immortality. In other words, an entire civilization was organized to accomplish incredible architectural, engineering, and aesthetic feats, mobilized by a symbolic structure completely centered around a future beyond death. The future had a life in Ancient Egypt, it animated their present – looking forward, trying to affect that future beyond death, to make it good, empowered the society to achieve things that we still gawk at today.
What astounds me the most is the foresight and care that the funereries put into deterring, tricking, and trapping grave robbers. It’s almost as if it betrays a foresight about the collapse of the symbolic order that constructed the pyramids. Aft erall, why anticipate grave robbers if you believe the sacredness of the space will live on in the hearts and minds of all for all time? It’s as if to say, “one day, the god-king buried here will not be respected as such, and the pharaoh must be defended from the future non-believers.”
Millenia later, around the turn of the twentieth century, the British Empire – and capitalist society more broadly – looted and pillaged Egypt, carrying the ruins to the farthest-fl ung corners of the earth, a great deal landing here in New York. All things considered, the scale of the grave robbery is a technical feat at least as impressive as the pyramids themselves, but it’s somewhat awkward to admit that. That’s because as a symbolic feat, it’s revolting. Underneath the wonder and awe, there’s a certain guilt in the air at the Met that can be summed up as, “why is this here?” Moreover, if the Ancient Egyptians were mobilized by an all-encompassing preoccupation with a future aft er death, what then mobilized industrial empires to uproot the crypts and transplant them to museums and universities across the globe?
I think an easy answer would be that it refl ected the new bourgeoisie’s own desire to be worshipped as god-kings. In Europe and the Americas, capitalism had largely overthrown the old feudal-monarchical order by the twentieth century and any remains of it were in certain decay. Furthermore, the industrial capitalist empires were uprooting and exterminating traditional life across their ever-expanding global colonial portfolios. The scale, the speed, and the fervor of imperial capitalism-as-revolutionary-force involved all of the passions captured in Kurtz, who in The Heart of Darkness became a god-king among the indigenous people of the Congo and dies with the words “the horror!” The horror of industrial capitalism – which sat ambivalently alongside its supposed glory – by the twentieth century was the understanding that it was a machine out of control, one that had already made, and would only continue to make, sweeping, irreversible, destructive changes to literally all societies on earth. With this in mind, that these empires clutched on to the ruins of Ancient Egypt represents a profound sense of loss, a dread of things that can’t be undone, and an anxiety about what lie ahead.
But the destruction involved in capitalism is always creative destruction, and what was being created in European and American cities in the turn of the twentieth century was, truly, marvelous. Budding electrical grids lit the streets and houses, perplexing machines made up complex factories that made mesmerizing commodities; trains, trolleys, and automobiles carried people, goods, information, and entertainment farther than ever. Here in New York the subway system and the Chrysler and Empire State Buildings were built. These were the marvels of Modernism, that glorious side of capitalism’s horrors, the Enlightenment-propelled, all-encompassing faith that people could and would change the world for our better, that we could determine and build the future. By the New Deal and midcentury, grand hopes and dreams built grand nationwide infrastructure like the dams and the highways. In New York those dreams of a better future even seemed to make war with the past as the city flattened rows and blocks of the old, decrepit tenement buildings and replaced them with state of the art model public housing for everyday people.
Sure, none of these were without problem and exploitation at every turn, but the twentieth century’s engineering feats were undoubtedly wrapped up in a common belief that the future would be better than the past, that society was working toward a hope on the horizon. And sure, the rich didn’t particularly want to share that hope and that future with working people, but working people believed they could take it for themselves. Militant labor, tenant, and civil rights movements envisioned a greater world for all that demanded to be realized. This was the pressure and the fi re that drove the New Deal, the engineering marvels, and the creation of the American welfare state. Everyday people, inspired by the belief that they could change the world, actually did – and this is what I mean when I say we today stare at the ruins of their civilization. In the 1990s, history ended and my life started. I can assume that’s true of most of my readers too. Ours is a generation marked by two too many “once-in-a- lifetime” global crises, a declining life expectancy, a pacifying nostalgia for times we didn’t live, and a paralyzing uncertainty about the future. Crushing debt feels like a fact of life, upward wealth redistribution seems like a law of nature, war is endless, and climate change can maybe be adapted to but definitely not prevented. There’s a reason that depression and anxiety rates are at epidemic levels, and it’s because that’s how today often feels – depressing and anxiety inducing. The future is not up for grabs anymore, it’s just terrifying.
We don’t live in the future that that society dreamed of back then. Egypt prepared its monuments for grave robbers, but the New Dealers could not have anticipated the senseless neglect and abandon that would undo their achievements so quickly. Today, mold and strange slime oozes down the subway tiles and “crumbling infrastructure” is bipartisan dinner table talk. Today, tourists go up and down those art deco skyscrapers with much the same fascination as they have wandering through the Ancient Egypt exhibit, asking “how could they have possibly built something like this back then?”
Today, we see people sleeping on the street next to shiny, ugly new glass towers full of condos owned by global oligarchs who will never spend a night in them. It’s with a cool detachment that we experience the decaying built environment around us. It’s with a deep subconscious resignation that we accept the absurdities of our frayed society as realism. It’s with an odd whimsy that we casually believe we are living in the end times. Those ugly glass towers, huddled amongst themselves, don’t represent a future, not for us at least.
But – what good does despair do? It’s already a cliché to say that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. At the bottom of it we really do know what needs to happen. To reclaim the future we need to demand radical change through mass movements. I wholeheartedly believe that everyone knows this – even the most cynical conservatives and the truly lost conspiracy theorists – but few believe it’s possible. That is, few recognize the power that everyday people have and always have had. One day our political malaise, our paralyzing nostalgia, our fixation on the ruins, will be supplanted by a vision of a beautiful future demanding to be realized. Will you recognize it when it comes?
On Barak is an Associate Professor at the Tel Aviv University, of the Department of Middle Eastern and African History. Barak is a social and cultural historian of science and technology in non-Western settings. One of Barak’s three books, On Time: Technology and Temporality in Modern Egypt, assesses how the inception of new technologies redefined the notion of time in Egypt. This essay will serve as a close analysis of one of the book’s chapters: The Urban Politics of Slowness, where the meaning of “speed” is explored amid the new swift ness that Egypt’s major cities, Cairo and Alexandria, are experiencing. The introduction of the electric streetcar (tram) system brought a new paradigm of speed – “haste”. The discourse of urbanity, civilization and progress, were key themes to discuss the meaning and experience of the new electric vehicle system. The text elaborates how speed ought to be akin to power and colonialism, with reliance on foreigners for achieving progress. The paper will also discuss how modern transportation in Egypt served as a vector for space and time in changing the cities’ urban landscape.
Transportation as means of transcending space and time
With modern means of transportation, Barak mentions the concept of “annihilation of space with time” – the sense of time has been warped through the means of the electric streetcar tram system. The text communicates to its readers an image of the linearity of time in space, wherein the schedules of trams and trains are arranged in a one-directional way, with the passengers being transcended in a space through a forward motion. The infrastructure of trams and trains are also radiating in a network - a set of vectorized lines and curves (FIGURE 1) where entities can be transported from one space to another. In plan view, the transportation system is a set of connected coordinate systems, linked by the infrastructure of the train and tram components (cabins, carriages, railway), that serve as acting vectors and physical avenues that carry forth objects into another space.
Upon the inception of the new electric streetcar system in 1896 until 1917, Cairo expanded its size threefold in this period, which eventually carried 75 million passengers. Despite the size of the tram systems tripling, the ability to keep the time to travel constant, and is a feat of technology that slowly trickled into the Egyptian norm.
Speed as power, but a symbol for colonization & the melancholy for slowness
The electric transportation systems are mere objects of what it represents and functions for: speed. In the text, Barak propositioned “speed” as a symbol for internationalization and industrialization. Barak did not directly refer to the progress brought about by transportation as industrialization, however, there were new factors of technological advancement that transpired a different, fast cadence in the major cities of Egypt. Cairo and Alexandria manifested an infatuation for speed, which actually hones a problematic idea with “development”, that is anchored towards a dependence with the colonial eff orts of the British and the French, who introduced the transportation technology to Cairo.
The inception of the new electric transportation systems somehow fades the non-Western backdrop of Egyptian cities of what it was like pre-technology, normalizing the co-existing presence of “organic” pre-technology Egypt with an added layer of technology. This juxtapositional setting that progressed in the nineteenth to the early twentieth century has been transgressed until the present day, is known not only seen in contemporary Egypt, but also experienced and reinforced in the adjacent Arab world.
Barak incorporated a new way of seeing Cairo and Alexandria through the lens of the electric trams, and redefined different modes of speed. The transportation revolution somehow contrasts the mechanical nature of one of Egypt’s most important forms of transportation: animals (FIGURE 2). Egypt is moving away from venerating the solemnity of sluggishness (which was a cultural trait anchored in Islamic tradition, “Haste is from the devil and composure is from the Merciful”)* (Barak, 2013) , seen in the mechanical movements of animals (camels in the photo above) transporting goods, to glorifying speed – a quick shift in adapting from their known analog pace to new, fast technology-driven interactions.
Metaphorically and literally speaking, Egyptians are catching up with the change of the cadence that affected not only public life, but also personal norms. Figure 3 somehow shows the “hastiness” of transition, where some passengers are seen hurriedly holding on and barely clutching their bodies onto the rails of the tram, masking the once known lifestyle of sluggishness, which is being tried to be no longer known.
In the end, the implementation of transportation created different forms of violence. There is an asymmetrical experience of violence that is intertwined with the Egyptian socio-economic hierarchy. There is violence that is seen in the urban landscape, in which an abrasive determination of an electric transportation was put in place, but also to the different people interacting with transportation. Vehicles whose ability to not swing off sidetracks from its metal track was deemed a describable measure of laudable focus. However, the cost of laudable focus are numerous lethal accidents. “We will go back and forth with haste (‘ajal) / And he who dies under the wheel (‘ajal) / Shall not die without reason (‘ajal) / And death is not a big deal (Barak, 2013).” Dying under accidents, which are usually acts of haste – a dehumanized perception of death undos the progress of speed.
There is a preferential element to whom the electric car system benefi ts better. As mentioned in the text (Barak, 2013), working and lower class men are responsible for controlling the heavy machines while being paid low wages. Some tram schedules are bypassed to accommodate privileged citizens (families of pasha, i.e. noble families), while leaving the regular citizens with no alternative transportation at that scenario. Regular and lower-class Arabs have more pedestrian exposure and are more prone in regards to their interaction with the tram system. The diff erent forms of violence enforces the class system to who it serves and to who performs labor. The operating support system of the electric car system has diff erent actors. Drivers and conductors have a new heft y form of power, in which they act as keepers of the public transport system – but this responsibility is deemed reliant with an obedience to the controllers and managers of the system. Violence was not only contained in a physical aspect, but also in class, gender. Barak was able to illustrate that the electrical transportation system abstracts social class in Egypt — it reinforces the already existing social hierarchy and contentions in Egypt.
The author used the transportation system indirectly and in many ways to illustrate how it was a medium for transgressing development in Egypt’s major cities, but also reinforcing the idea that the transportation system benefits certain groups of people. The electric transportation system changed cultural norms in Egypt: Sluggishness isn’t a merit anymore, haste and mindless speed has become the norm, which transpired until today. Barak tried to make sense of the contrast between the transition, or lack thereof, from sluggishness and embodying swift ness in Egyptian society. Violence was experienced in many ways for different people.
The author used the transportation system indirectly and in many ways to illustrate how it was a medium for transgressing development in Egypt’s major cities, but also reinforcing the idea that the transportation system benefi ts certain groups of people. The electric transportation system changed cultural norms in Egypt: Sluggishness isn’t a merit anymore, haste and mindless speed has become the norm, which transpired until today. Barak tried to make sense of the contrast between the transition, or lack thereof, from sluggishness and embodying swift ness in Egyptian society. Violence was experienced in many ways for different people.
As an attempt to reflect on the principles when modern “speed” was still immemorial, Barak has foreshadowed a political meaning for “slowness”. Speed was a functional ally of modernization brought by colonial powers, which instigated empty, mechanized forms of moving and experiencing Egyptian cities. What if the act of slowing down, reversing haste, are depictions of anticolonial and anti-hierarchical critiques?
ON BARAK, On Time: Technology and Temporality in Modern Egypt (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2013), Chap. 5, “The Urban Politics of Slowness,” 146-174.
CAIROBSERVER. (n.d.). On Cairo’s dying trams. Retrieved from
SKYRISE CITIES. (2016). Once Upon a Tram: Commuting Like an
Egyptian Aboard the Alexandria Tramway. Retrieved from
SCHERER, K . (1965-68). People at the tram in Cairo, Egypt, 1965-1968.
People have been drawn to cities throughout history as centers of trade, culture, education, and economic opportunity, but the resulting urban population growth has not always been steady. Urbanization is a relatively recent phenomenon; until recent years, the vast majority of people lived in rural areas. We see the cities grow and expand through their constant dependence on rural areas and vice versa. There is an evident rise in migration every year, either as seasonal migration, the patriarch arriving in a city to earn a living for his family back in the village, or permanent migration, the entire family moving to the city. The Pandemic had for a while broken the connectivity between these two big bubbles of the rural and urban, affecting the co-dependency between them and temporarily altering the functionality of live-work-play and commute places.
Urban life is, as we know, highly dependent on an influx of resources. One can even say it’s an illusion of being independent while being the most dependent we have ever been. The Pandemic has made us all extremely aware of our immediate surroundings, in which we have had to be contained for over a year in our home, our workplace, our leisure space, and even in our healing space.
One can corroborate that the city functions akin to a human body. You have the distinctive areas of residences, commerce, education, and recreation, functioning as your major organs set in within the protective belt of the ribcage. Then you have the industries, agricultural land, ecological land uses, which are the limbs, far apart from the city center, but equally important for its survival. The city’s systems are distinctive - there are specific areas for specific functions - all connected by the exchange of goods, people, and visible and invisible capital.
Before the Pandemic, there was little to no restriction on a person’s movement. One would travel between their place of residence and their place of work/education daily. One would move freely between malls or stores or markets to shop, restaurants to eat, and parks or cinemas or beaches to recreate.
The Pandemic brought with it a peculiar identity that manipulated these city systems. It altered the physical and social fabric of the city space. In India, it created microcosms of urban fabrics. There were tangible borders to these microcosms where authorities had barred movement out of these tangibles. There were design and systemic changes that took place, almost creating personal intangible one-kilometer radii.
The 1km Radius City is a microcosm of a city where goods are the only thing regularly moving in and out of these microcosms, not services, not people. With work from home becoming normative and education transitioning online, with almost any kind of activity being cultivated digitally, we became cocooned and transformed this cocoon into an ever-evolving transformation and adaptation to an environment that would allow us to live our lives – the 1km Radius City.
While we are still battling restrictions on public and private transportation, we have had to adapt to what we have within our reach. The value of flexibility in the current state of the world has risen to the forefront of urban living. We see people transitioning from a more rigid to a more fluid society, thereby affecting urban design and the ethereal nature of human life.
The bubble reduced to the smallest unit of the economy - family, therefore a house. The elements in a house designed for a pre-Pandemic world were questioned especially for the middle, lower-middle, and lower-income groups. India is a country where the word “jugaad” is used more than design.
*jugaad: finding economically sound and cheeky solutions
Balconies and terraces have always been a major component in facilitating design solutions and community communication. From receiving milk and vegetables in the morning to chatting with your neighbors or acting as CCTVs for the gulli, they have been a staple for Indian society until recently, when people started extending their rooms into balconies. This led to the reduction of this requirement by many builders, creating something like a standing balcony to capitalize on the maximum Floor Space Index (FSI). In Indian cities, we are seeing the builder lobby to bring the balcony and verandah back into design schemes. The importance of natural light, ventilation, and having space to grow plants are demands that are now being addressed by profit-oriented developers.
Our cocooned transformation to a 1km Radius City very much has its drawbacks. People in the city have everything delivered to their door which reinforces a false sense of individuality and disassociates one from the people around them. It glorifies the efficiency of such a system, where you can optimize the time one would save in commuting. It eliminates chance encounters with the extended city and can easily make one apathetic to the conditions of the others. As we’ve observed in the treatment meted out to migrants and farmers across the country throughout the Pandemic, the creation of these microcosms creates a desensitization of the injustices invisible to the urban eye. They get pushed into the interstices of the microcosms or isolated in their own separate ones.
As we are transitioning into a new decade and to a post-Pandemic era, we as designers and planners, need to critically evaluate our propounded urban future. With the shift to virtual platforms, the new planning typology needs to not just be efficient but also equitable, just, and resilient.
Eve Passman, Content
Will Cao, Design
Sherry Aine Te, Publishing
Eliza Rose Dekker
Margaret Ann Hanson
Calvin Conley Harrison
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