Thursday, October 8, 2009

Jo Guldi: The Opposite of Development: The Landscape of government bulldozing in Chicago

Observers who grow up in the suburbs are used to seeing green lots as the emblem of a city working towards public health. It takes more than a few bicycle trips past the empty lots in south-side Chicago for the newcomer to realize that the fields, nearly five miles of them, are not a park system at all.

In 1962, Chicago's Robert Taylor Homes were at the forefront of city experiments in government experiments in racial integration, housing 11,000 people on the edge of Chicago's south side. Despite being a testing ground for radical programs such as Project Head Start, the neighborhood rapidly declined. High unemployment figures reflected the racial segregation and economic isolation that increasingly typified black inner-city neighborhoods after 1970. Graffiti and low-level drug trade in the 70s evolved during the 80s into gang wars, arson, and high murder rates. By the year 2000, Robert Taylor Homes were presented in urban planning textbooks as the icon of a geography of despair. When the homes were demolished between 2005 and 2007, their absence told a story about the scale of government hope, its breakdown and reversal.

There are other stories in that landscape, too. The moving bodies of displaced inhabitants, walking to work or congregating at church, tell what happens to a community whose landscape is disappearing beneath them.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Rust Belt Tour '09: Looking at Landscapes

In Rust Belt Tour '09, scholar Jo Guldi and activist Simon Strikeback traveled the landscape between Flint, Michigan and Holyoke, Massachusetts, documenting the foreclosures, arsons, vacant lots, anarchist squats, community gardens, and revitalization projects across eleven cities.

This conversation, recorded on the road in Western Massachusetts, offers an on-the-fly introduction to the phenomenology of landscape. How does a landscape scholar move through an environment? How do social and economic relationships produce signs that a landscape is changing?

Monday, September 7, 2009

Rust Belt Tour '09: Braddock, PA and Radical Utopianism

In 2009, the wasting steel town of Braddock, Pennsylvania hit international newspapers as an example of how post-industrial ruins could be transformed into utopian spaces after the mayors' plea for dedicated urban homesteaders to relocate to Braddock's abandoned houses. Braddock left behind a model of redevelopment pursued elsewhere, a model of urban clearances and arson that required the eviction of the urban poor. In contrast, Braddock and its mayor, John Fetterman, were lauded as pioneering a new model, based in community gardens, interracial collaboration, and public art.

Scholar Jo Guldi and activist Simon Strikeback traveled to Braddock to see the evidence of artist-directed redevelopment in the landscape. What they saw raised questions about race and economic flows in American cities.

This conversation, recorded on the road in western Pennsylvania, offers an on-the-fly description of three different models of economic regeneration in Rust Belt cities. The interlocutors compare corporate redevelopment in Homestead, PA; land-bank community gardens in Flint, MI; and community regeneration through the arts in Braddock, PA.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Rust Belt Tour '09: Elmira, NY and Prison-based Urbanism

At the close of the Civil War, the industrial hub of Elmira, NY began to pioneer a new model of economic development: they opened a reformatory. The model served them well. In the twentieth century, nineteenth-century industry collapsed around Elmira in Albany, NY and Pittsburgh, PA. Elmira, however, survived, even flourished, thanks to a constant stream of prison-based revenue.

150 years later, what does an experiment in prison-based development look like? Is it actually a healthy form of urbanism? In Rust Belt Tour '09, scholar Jo Guldi and activist Simon Strikeback traveled the landscape between Flint, Michigan and Holyoke, Massachusetts, documenting the foreclosures, arsons, vacant lots, anarchist squats, community gardens, and revitalization projects across eleven cities.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Rust Belt Tour '09: Traces of Industrial History in America: First Generation and Second Generation Rust Belt

The first, nineteenth-century industrial revolution began with mill-building along the rivers of New England in the eighteenth century. It grew to encompass a wide network of canals and rivers. The decline of early industrial towns today leaves few traces of decline, relative to the second industrial revolution.

The second industrial revolution, a revolution in scale, was predicated upon the vertical and horizontal integration of steel, rail, and labor across segments of the economy. Its foundations laid in the financial revolutions of the 1870s, the second industrial revolution transformed America, reaching its apex with the growth of the military-industrial complex after World War II. By the 1970s and 80s, however, its decline wrote ruin upon the industrial towns of the Midwest at a scale unprecedented in the history of America.

This conversation, recorded on the road in Western Massachusetts, offers an on-the-fly description of salient differences between the kinds of towns that America built during the first and second industrial revolution.

In Rust Belt Tour '09, scholar Jo Guldi and activist Simon Strikeback traveled the landscape between Flint, Michigan and Holyoke, Massachusetts, documenting the foreclosures, arsons, vacant lots, anarchist squats, community gardens, and revitalization projects across eleven cities.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Rick Prelinger on the lost landscapes of San Francisco

Footage collector Rick Prelinger takes us on a tour of the forces that built the vernacular sinews of twentieth-century experience in San Francisco: ethnic migration, infrastructure on the an enormous scale, mass transport, and consumer videography.

His presentation draws attention to how vulnerable are the landscapes, experiences, and even memory of those landscapes not linked directly to the needs of the state.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Robert Todd: Thunder

Robert Todd feels things through landscape. In the first film of his I saw, fields bristled in sunlight, the hirsute stems of Queen Anne's lace lit by the rising sun. Like the psychoanalyst Gaston Bachelard, Todd thinks that all materiality contains a metaphysics of unseen relations.

"Life shivers as the ground beneath and sky above tremble," he writes.

More of his films are available for viewing here:

Monday, August 3, 2009

Max Cafard: The Surre(gion)alist Manifesto

Max Cafard's Surre(gion)alist Manifest first appeared in Exquisite Corpse in 1990 and was afterwards republished with a preface by New Orleans poet Andrei Codrescu. Arguing for the eminence of the local as a point of view, the manifesto urged readers to consider their own perspective, political and culture, as the outcome of their existence at a certain place and time. It argued that only in radical utopian moments such as May 1968 do individuals become able to envision life beyond the bounds of their own history.

The Surre(gion)alist Manifesto excavates radical European and Chinese philosophy for a new political philosophy appropriate to twenty-first century America. It looks back to the radical individual Taoism of Lao Tse, the utopian experiments of nineteenth-century Europe, the anarchist/individualist critique of Dada, and the radical Situationist Internationale of 1960s Paris, searching for a utopian logic that respects the radical difference of place and individual will. The intellectual roots here are serious: the analysis of psychogeography pioneered by Bachelard, Dubord, and De Certeau, combined with the Henri Lefebvre's critique of capitalism. Cafard reduces, engineering a new dialectic of liberation, a landscapey recipe, the navigation between the "utopian nowhere of meaning and the topian density of earth."

In the Manifesto, attention to local landscape offers a movement towards political and economic liberation. Cafard urges, Strive to reject the people who would manage you from another place far away, whether they are capitalists or teachers. Try not to be like them: try to live instead in the landscape of your journey, taking lessons from the cities and seasons where you find yourself.

This injunction to inhabit the local first, as a beginning of a radical politics, is explained more fully in another fine essay, "Deep Play in the City." Here Cafard applies radical psychogeography as an instruction set for looking at urban landscapes. Landscapeyness becomes the beginning of radical political freedom.

The video version of the Manifesto is here presented by Cafard's student Andrew Goodrich. If you'd prefer the text version, you can find it here.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Simon Strikeback: Visit to Memphis

U Chicago grad student Simon Strikeback takes us on a hypnotizing visual tour of the textures and geometry of infrastructure around Memphis. Travel shots capture trucker zones at winter sunset and other thresholds. Landscape is abstracted to pure mathematics at the level of electronica.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Broadcasting from Tokyo

How do you channel experimental mastermind Chris Marker and higher-level mathematics at once? Transplanted from Chicago to Tokyo, astrophysicist Simon DeDeo started looking around him in the cafes of Tokyo, watching eye-contact and subtle variations in light, trying to make sense of the subtle aesthetics that govern everyday interaction. The result: a semiotics of the smallest boundaries and gestures that reconcile and divide in Japan.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Sam Amidon: "Saro"

This episode comes courtesy of Jeremy Blatter, a member of the Landscape Posse, former intern at the Prelinger Archive, and graduate student in the History of Science department at Harvard. Landsploitation is proud to present "Saro," a vernacular film tribute to westward migration, set to music by Sam Amidon. In "Saro," love for the woman left behind in the old world blends with nostalgia for a remembered landscape from home, both starkly contrasted against the changing, harsh reality of the American West.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Landsploitation: Cosmology

"It has come time to talk about the very small and the very large; streetscape, townscape, highways, continents and oceans. It is time to talk about vision." "Cosmology" explores the relationships between the traveler and social gravitation, handling the connections between vision and movement in ordinary journeys. It is presented as the first episode of the LANDSPLOITATION podcast of experimental short films about landscape.

Friday, April 25, 2008

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