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<nettime> Aklex Shafran: MoMA NY: Rehousing the American Dream
Patrice Riemens on Tue, 27 Mar 2012 14:24:43 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Aklex Shafran: MoMA NY: Rehousing the American Dream

original to:
for nice pics

(bwo INURA list/ Roger Keil)

MoMA Rehouses the American Dream

One would be hard-pressed to find a more jarring juxtaposition to the new
exhibit "Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream" than the venue itself:
New York's Museum of Modern Art. MoMA is pre-High Line Big Apple
contemporary, with glass, steel and high-end patrons. It is located in a
very high-end neighborhood, a far cry from cities like Rialto, Calif., and
Cicero, Ill. discussed in the exhibit. One is far more likely to be
standing next to a Carioca discussing her new downtown condo than
suburbanites wondering about foreclosure or falling property values. At
$25 a ticket, an hour of museum entrance fees on a typically busy weekday
could probably buy an entire block in many of the hard-hit suburban
communities across the country.

That said, it is high time that a high-profile American cultural
institution took on the question of housing and the future of the American
Dream, and the exhibit does an admirable job of asking some important
questions. The project began at the Buell Center for the Study of American
Architecture at Columbia University. In classic architectural style, it
emerged first as a pamphlet and then as the "Buell Hypothesis," an ode to
manifestos and monographs past that combines Socratic dialogue with a
scrapbook of American housing history and an urgent call to rethink the
American Dream.

The goal of the exhibit is urban ? this is not just about housing, it
argues, but about cities. Its hypothesis is: "Change the dream and you
change the city." Doing so requires "a different kind of public
conversation" about housing, dreams and cities. In addition to featuring
arty displays of this hypothesis as textual object, the exhibit features
the grand designs of interdisciplinary teams of architects and
non-architects that seek to test it. Five places were chosen: Rialto,
Calif.; Cicero, Ill.; Keizer, Ore.; Temple Terrace, Fla.; and The Oranges
in N.J. Teams did extensive research, and their renderings of a rebuilt
and re-imagined suburbia appear in the exhibit.

To their credit, what emerged were not simply architectural renderings.
The Keizer team included planners, economists and one of my favorite urban
law theorists, Harvard's Jerry Frug. The "design" of this 21st century
rendition of Ebeneezer Howard's dream includes ideas on taxation and
ownership structures. The other four models include ideas on energy,
water, transportation, land use regulation and microeconomics. Some of
them are spectacular, especially the neo-Garden City model from Oregon.

Unfortunately, most of these ideas get lost in the pretty models and
large-scale renderings, buried under architectural gloss and the dominance
of design. I have the utmost respect for the goals of the Buell
Hypothesis, and I would argue that most of us at Polis are attempting to
engage in a new public conversation on urbanism. However, I question the
degree to which the exhibit pushes this conversation forward. Perhaps it
is my own distrust of high architecture, or of architecture and architects
as the primary drivers of this conversation. Much is made in the Buell
text of the history of modernism and public housing, a history that made
many non-designers like myself inherently distrustful of a conversation
about changing cities that seems to foreground physical models.

There is also little engagement with the fact that much of what made
Howard's Garden City idea great was his re-imagining of property ownership
and local political economy, not simply his ideas on design. In fact, the
fate of American suburbs and the hardened fiction of the American Dream
stems in part from the ways developers and urbanists used Howard's design
model but threw away his anarchist ideas about ownership.

The failure of this exhibit to highlight a fact that it clearly knows, and
instead fall back on the enticing eye candy of design, is all the more
frustrating because of its location. New York City has long been home to
some of the most innovative ideas in collective property ownership, from
co-ops to mutual housing associations. Needless to say, the towers
surrounding the museum are reminders of a different kind of "ownership,"
debt-fueled speculative capital markets whose global center is only a few
miles to the south.

If you want a more complete story of the American Dream, walk down one
flight of stairs and take a look at a piece MoMA commissioned from Diego
Rivera in 1931, aptly titled Frozen Assets.

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