Shantyown, USA and small town revitalization program thoughts...
The best part about this is that the town is truly FOR the residents, with integrated support for small businesses owned and run BY the residents.
One thing I've noticed about all the "Main St. Revitalization" programs going on in small towns across the U.S., is that technically, the goal is not to support small businesses. It is to bring revenue to the TOWN.
Well, the small businesses are not really integrated with the town, its residents, or the social structure of these towns, and I think this is why it doesn't really work out as well as hoped in a lot of cases. Not only does the model rely on outside dollars to fund the under-utilized businesses (which is not necessarily sustainable), but those businesses are not really an integral part of the town's infrastructure. They are more of an aesthetic, nostalgic landmark, rather than a social or economic generator. Back when those Main St.'s were bustling, the social infrastructure was different, and instead of going to WalMart, you went down to Joe's store. His wife might make you a lemonade, you might talk about the fly ball his son hit the other day, and you would walk away knowing that your purchase was supporting a neighbor, who, in return, saw to it that you also got what you needed on a regular basis.
Ask yourself how you feel about "special ordering" something these days, and you might begin to see how our expectations have changed over time, with the increase in shopping "convenience".
In a lot of cases, what residents really want these days, is the convenience, instant gratification, and predictability of big box stores for the bulk of their purchases.
This includes grocery stores, which is a major point.
I believe that food is the most centrally unifying commonality in any community. If you allow a non-local entity to control or provide your food source, whether it be at the production or distribution level, then you are giving away a major source of self-sufficiency, solidarity, and sustainability for you community.
I just love the fact that this architectural plan includes markets! Somebody's paying attention.
Just a short drive from the U.S.-Mexican border, a densely packed community will soon hum with activity. Homes will be jammed together, with any leftover space commandeered by taco stands, market stalls, and gathering places. It’ll be a far cry from the sanitized suburbs of southern California, but make no mistake: It will sit on the American side of the border.
Indeed, if the architect Teddy Cruz gets his way, the shantytowns of Tijuana, Mexico, will act as a blueprint of sorts for a new kind of urban development. “Architecture has been so distant from the politics and economics of development,” says Cruz. “We need to rethink the way we’ve been developing, and what we mean when we talk about housing, density, community, and neighborhood.”
Behind the precariousness of low-income communities, says Cruz, there is a sophisticated social collaboration: People share resources, make use of every last scrap, and look out for each other. Cruz is incorporating this resourcefulness into the planning of two new developments, in San Ysidro, a border-town community in southern San Diego, and in Hudson, New York. If they work as planned, these projects will become powerful case studies for a new approach to urban development that could be implemented across the country.
In collaboration with the nonprofit Casa Familiar, the San Ysidro development will include 30 housing units alongside spaces where residents can run small businesses. The model also accounts for sweat equity, allowing people who help with construction to gain rent credits for their work. Hudson, meanwhile, may not be a border community, but Cruz says the same conflicts are present—specifically, “a huge gap between rich and poor.” Cruz’s plan aims to vault the income gap with developments on several lots that are integrated into the city. The developments will include 60 housing units, playgrounds, a market, urban agriculture, and job-training facilities, all managed by a coalition of nonprofit groups.
Both projects require Cruz to go beyond the traditional role of an architect; rather than designing for a client, he is working with city governments to change the framework in which developments rise. “Beyond designing buildings, architects should design political and economic processes as well,” he says