British Urbanists On The London Riots


Image credit Beacon Radio

The British publication The Architects Journal asked some of the most prominent architectural thinkers for their comments on why Britain was burning. (and they even dropped their paywall so we could see it.) Some interesting excerpts:

Joseph Rykwert " is Paul Philippe Cret Professor of Architecture Emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania, and is widely regarded as the most important architectural historian and critic of his generation."

Cities incite riots - and herding people in high rise reservoirs of social aggression doesn't help: if we didn't have football and rugby matches to release it, however messily, we'd have many more, though riots are almost always triggered by specific incidents.... Locking up cowed hoodies in overcrowded prisons won't solve anything. We need to think about public housing and public space - quickly.

Jeremy TIll is Dean of Architecture and Built Environment at the University of Westminster and a partner at Sarah Wigglesworth Architects.
... Here the riots spatialise years of ramping up of social inequality. So when my Twitter feed calls for the reintroduction of Jane Jacobs, I blanch (because space is not the solution, just the symptom) and when the Tories say it is 'pure' criminality, I rage (because of the implicit disavowal of their political responsibility).

Wouter Vanstiphout is a historian of architecture and, since 2009, professor of design and politics at the Delft University of Technology.
Riots have nearly always resulted in politicians simplifying the problem even more, and looking away even further. After a riot your average city will become more afraid, more authoritarian, more segregated, more exclusive and less tolerant.

More, including Alain de Botton, Robert Tavernor and Richard Sennet at The Architects Journal.

And could it happen here? Paul Kedrosky writes in Infectious Greed:

One of the more persistent self-congratulatory questions I hear people ask is this, "What would it take for something like the London riots to happen here in the U.S.?" The implication is that for all its flaws and wildness the U.S. is somehow more civilized in its incivility than is Europe, at least London.

It is, of course, deadly wrong. As the U.S. has discovered many times over history to its dismay, the patina of civilization here is as thin as anywhere. What protects the U.S. has been wealth, complacency, and American exceptionalism in service of the idea that bad things don't happen here.

What would it take? A year of austerity and more cuts ahead, plus a wobbling economy, did it in London, and I'm reasonably sure the same thing would happen here in the U.S. Arguably, it would happen faster given this country's modern inexperience with societal sacrifice in service of a common goal. All of this makes late 2012 -- a year into U.S. austerity alongside a wobbling economy -- the time to watch the U.S. streets.

As much as I would like to think that we can solve these kinds of problems with urban design, it's bigger.

Tags: Cities | Urban Life | Urban Planning

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