Curitiba, I remember it as a rather wonderful city, though I know it has different sides. But the buses…a brilliant example of an innovation that brings meaningful and important change to many thousands of people and has an impact on the carbon footprint. With service every few minutes, a life-changing improvement in accessibility built into the design, dedicated lanes and innovative safe and protected loading areas where passengers pay before they get on the bus, they revolutionised public transport for a fraction of the cost of underground lines. A stripped down version of the idea was introduced in LA, and London as well until Boris Johnson made one of his first disastrous marks. So in many ways I love this short book of what are essentially case studies from Jaime Lerner, the mayor who made the bendy buses possible and whose loss earlier this year made many mourn.
In some ways I am all for it. As Lerner writes:
Everyone knows that planning is a process. Yet no matter how good it may be, a plan by itself cannot bring about immediate transformation. Almost always, it is a spark that sets off a current that begins to spread. This is what I call good acupuncture–true urban acupuncture. (2-3)
I definitely love this idea of a spark — I think in the end this is actually how good things start to happen. And acupuncture is awesome, but has its limits, especially when you have no food or shelter.
So I do wish this book came with a warning label. Something like, YES! Be inspired, do what you can with what you have, imagine and innovate, try new things, get people involved, learn from others, see how powerful small changes can be. BUT DO NOT STOP THERE.
Because nothing here is stopping global capitalism and financialisation from destroying lives, cities and planet, so please don’t pretend this is enough. I wish we could be better at holding these tensions. Can we not celebrate what creativity can do because people are so extraordinary, while also seeing the big picture and working for more meaningful urban transformations so that people do not have to be extraordinary within such tight limits and such horrifying conditions? Can we not try?
So these case studies, I loved some more than others. You can get a taste for them here, but over all they need to be taken one by one I think, not summarised in blog form. You can also see that some serious critique must emerge, because such interventions have proved so easily co-opted by real estate markets and financialisation. And what are they worth if they contribute to the forces pushing communities out of their homes and neighbourhoods? So I hold that critique and still hope we do not forget the power of small interventions in the production of solidarity and hope, even knowing that alone they are not enough. I do believe though, that they have to be firmly rooted in community ownership and a culture of resistance. I missed that here.
But I did love the unapologetic love for the city, that belief that city living teaches us to be more tolerant, more open, more cosmopolitan in Elijah Anderson’s words — such a distance from so many in the European male cannon.
Don’t forget that the city is a meeting point. It is gregarious by definition, the place where the codes and by-laws of living together were first established.
The great ideological conflict in the world today is “globalization vs. solidarity.” In the words of Portugal’s Mario Soares, we must “globalize solidarity.”
And the city is the last refuge of solidarity. the city isn’t the problem–it’s the solution. (63)
I always love a call to solidarity.
I also loved this take down of so much that is wrong with current architecture and the defensiveness of so many quasi-public spaces emerging from regeneration. Architects, planners and developers have built the fear that comes from widening inequality into the very fabric of our cities, what do they expect to be the result?
What is the commitment of a modern building? To deny us an entrance, to hide its public face, to open itself only to a select few. Surrounded by its entrails or its egoism. Its transience makes it a candidate for human demolition, because it is unperturbed by its reduction to rubble. (99)
I’d read the book for that sentence alone.