Posts tagged with "Donald Trump":

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Government shutdown over border wall could drag on well into the new year

The United States is entering the thirteenth day of a partial government shutdown after Congress failed to reach an agreement before the December 21st deadline, with President Trump promising to veto any bill that did not include $5 billion for a border wall. On Wednesday, January 2, Trump shot down a $2.5 billion compromise bill proposed by his own vice president Mike Pence, as well as a compromise suggested by Senate Republicans that would couple border wall funding with DACA legislation offering deportation relief and work visas to young undocumented immigrants who had been brought to the United States as children. These rejections follow last week's failure to reach an agreement in Congress to stop the shutdown, with House Republicans shooting down a Democratic attempt to fund the government in the short term. This leaves nine federal agencies shuttered, including the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Transportation, alongside the Departments of Agriculture, Justice, Treasury, Commerce, Homeland Security, Interior, and State. FEMA announced it would be unable to process flood insurance policies, thus affecting home sales, while many workers, including Forest Service firefighters, TSA employees, air traffic controllers, and Customs and Border Protection agents have to report for work without being paid. The effect is also being felt in the country's national parks, which have been kept open without the workers to maintain them, overwhelming trash and sanitation systems. All told, approximately 800,000 federal employees and the people who rely on them are affected, with roughly 350,000 workers furloughed without pay. That border wall funding is at the center of the current shutdown is perhaps not surprising. Trump has long signaled that the border wall is the hill on which he has planted his flag. But a look at the past several years of failed negotiations on the issue between the White House and Congress, even a Republican-led one, shows just how malleable the definition of the border wall is. Even for Trump, whose cheery Christmas message was a promise that the shutdown would continue until the border wall was funded, the form of the wall has shifted from one composed of solid concrete to a transparent one to "artistically designed steel slats." Beyond the rhetoric of the current showdown, however, over the past two years, only 6 percent of the $1.7 billion allocated for the border wall has been expended by the administration. Tests of the latest prototypes also cast doubt on their effectiveness and sheer feasibility, considering the terrain and environments the wall is expected to traverse. On Thursday, when Democrats gain control of the House, they are expected to approve two bills that would halt the shutdown and maintain current levels of border security funding for measures at the U.S.–Mexico border to the tune of $1.3 billion. This funding is only designated for improving existing segments of fencing and enhancing surveillance capacities. Are the existing fences already part of the so-called border wall? What would Trump's envisioned border wall bring to the existing barriers of sheet metal, barbed-wire-topped metal fencing, and concrete columns? But it remains to be seen whether Trump will approve those bills or extend his costly political standoff. For perspective, the 16-day government shutdown in 2013 cost taxpayers millions, with $2.5 billion in back pay given to furloughed workers and $70 million lost from national park revenue alone.
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Petition aims to rename the block in front of Trump Tower after Obama

As of today, over 3,900 people have signed an online petition to name a stretch of Fifth Avenue in Manhattan after former President Barack Obama. The petition comes shortly after a portion of Rodeo Road was renamed "Obama Boulevard" by the L.A. City Council in August.

“We request the New York City Mayor and City Council do the same by renaming a block of Fifth Avenue after the former president who saved our nation from the Great Recession, achieved too many other accomplishments to list, and whose two terms in office were completely scandal-free,” wrote Elizabeth Rowin, the author of the petition.

The clear controversy surrounding the appeal stems from the fact that the famed Trump Tower occupies the block, located on Fifth Avenue between 57th and 58th Streets, which petitioners want to dub “President Barack H. Obama Avenue.” If the name change were to be approved, President Trump would be constantly reminded of the president before him, a president who Trump has falsely accused of a variety of offenses over the years, ranging from lying about his citizenship to spying on Trump's campaign.

With 3,975 signatures and counting, the MoveOn.org appeal is a little ways away from reaching its goal of obtaining 4,000 signatures total.

To the dismay of the petitioners, the City Council holds that in order to get a street renamed after an important figure, the honoree must have had a meaningful connection to the community and must no longer be alive. While Obama does not meet at least one those prerequisites, petitioners and local residents hope to deliver the online form to Mayor Bill de Blasio for approval.

The New York City Council frequently votes on street co-namings, with 164 streets renamed within the past year. In December, the council voted to co-name streets after three of New York's greatest musical icons: Notorious B.I.G., the Wu-Tang Clan, and Woody Guthrie.

h/t 6sqft
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Studio Vural designs memorial to slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi

A Turkish-American architect has designed a speculative funeral memorial for the late Jamal Khashoggi. In an immersive sketch, Selim Vural, owner of the Brooklyn-based Studio Vural, envisioned a traveling memorial for the Washington Post journalist who was allegedly murdered while visiting the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul this October. Vural places the memorial in front of the White House in Washington, D.C., as a nod to President Donald Trump’s business links with the suspected murderer, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia. An axonometric view of the memorial shows the design arranged in the outline of a keffiyeh, traditional Arab headgear, overtop green grass. “Our project addresses not only the criminal acts of the president but also the lack of closure of Khashoggi’s death due to his missing body,” Vural said in a statement. “The idea of a hybrid funeral/memorial arose from this duality.” Made with a pattern of polished red sheet metal, the layout references the specific keffiyeh that the Crown Prince wears. Layered on top of the metal are concrete planters, funeral flowers, and a black marble “coffin” (also a planter), rounding out a makeshift memorial that pays homage to a man who can’t be properly mourned or buried due to his missing body. “Although all planters can be interpreted as coffins of possibly other tortured journalists, this one is special, this is for Jamal,” explained Vural, “this is for his family, for his immortality, and has a sense of permanence.” In the renderings, Vural depicts the Crown Prince walking with Trump, observing the memorial which sits in front of the president’s home. The pointed planters lie in stark contrast to the round and skinny colonnade that accents the White House’s southern central facade. According to the architect, this funeral memorial aims to “bring serenity, calm, and closure to the violence and secrecy of the act” of Khashoggi's killing. It’s designed for him, but for all journalists—“heroes with pens,” as Vural noted. Last week the Committee to Protect Journalists released a report that found that at least 53 journalists had been killed worldwide in 2018. Since Khashoggi’s gruesome death was one of the most high-profile murders of the year, it’s sparked international outrage and caused potential trade tension between the United States and Saudi Arabia. The latest headlines detail that Trump doesn’t plan to punish the country for the crime in an attempt to maintain the country's long-held support for America’s foreign policy priorities, but growing global and domestic opposition to the Crown Prince may soon force Trump to change his outlook.
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Editorial: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s tenure was a national disgrace

President Donald Trump announced last week that Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke would be resigning at the end of 2018. And while even ardent supporters are finding it increasingly difficult to praise any move by the current administration, the end of Secretary Zinke’s corruption-riddled tenure at the helm of the Department of Interior is, perhaps, cause for brief, though bittersweet, celebration. America—and the world—is better off with Zinke out of office. Why? For one, over the two short years Zinke has been at the helm of the Department of Interior, he has continually treated his office like a personal piggy bank by making ridiculous purchases and indulging in a penchant for unnecessary private jet travel, all at taxpayer expense. Worse by a mile, however, is the fact that Zinke has also been hell-bent on using his position to perpetuate environmental destruction. Tasked with overseeing and maintaining roughly one-quarter of America’s land area, Zinke has instead transformed the Bureau of Land Management into a bargain bin thrift store open exclusively for the country’s grifting oil and mineral moguls. Under Trump’s direction, Zinke has scrapped Obama-era regulations and opened up for exploitation formerly off-limits public lands at break-neck speed. As a result, business is booming for the world’s extraction industries in America, indigenous rights have been superseded, deadly carbon emissions are on a precipitous rise, and environmental safeguards for clean air, water, and soil have been trampled. Under Zinke, America is having a going-out-of-business sale with public lands across the country on the auction block. A few examples: In Utah, the Bears Ears and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments were drastically shrunk and partially sold-off; in Alaska, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the National Petroleum Reserve, the largest pristine landscape in the country, are being opened for oil exploration; and off the nation’s coasts, roughly 90 percent of the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf was also approved for resource extraction. All along, the plan has been to reduce environmental regulation and protections so that public lands can be mined, probed, and drilled for private profit. With global climate change reaching a new cataclysmic phase as the cost of renewable energy continues to fall, one must question why these approaches were taken at all. But as America joins Russia, Saudi Arabia, and others in a new “axis of climate evil,” the scheme becomes quite clear. To paraphrase and update a recent report from The Atlantic, cruelty—and private profit—drive many of the administration’s policy decisions. At the Department of Interior, Zinke has presided over a radical shift that has transformed the federal government into an instrument of business, stripping it of its historic role as a steward of public landscapes and, by direct extension, of the public itself. This administration’s profit-driven and deleterious impacts on our national parks and monuments have been particularly vile and will likely take generations to repair. Given ever-increasing estimates of the potential destruction that could be wrought by climate change, however, it’s unlikely whether repair will even be possible if the administration’s “America First” energy policy comes to fruition. This approach has not been without controversy, of course: Reports cite Zinke’s escalating ethics crises as a main driver for his resignation. So, although Zinke famously arrived for his first day in office on horseback, he leaves Washington running with his tail between his legs as an ascendant Democratic majority in the United States House of Representatives threatens to set its sights on one of the administration’s most blatantly corrupt individuals. The outcome proves what while it takes a supreme level of nihilistic cowardice to steal from the future only to then run from the repercussions, Trump’s administration is filled with individuals willing to do the same. Zinke’s disgraceful tenure, like those of ex-EPA head Scott Pruitt, ex-attorney general Jeff Sessions, and the current grammatically-challenged Department of Homeland Security head Kirstjen Nielsen, proves that this particular basket of deplorables was all picked from the same rotten tree. To put it simply: If you care at all, even slightly, about the need to preserve and venerate the country’s iconic landscapes, about the public’s right to access public lands, or about the freedom to breathe clean air and drink untainted water, then Zinke’s tenure should fill you with dread and disgust. Under Zinke, the Department of Interior became a middleman between gluttonous extraction industries and the federal government’s land bank, plain and simple. Pristine landscapes have been sold off, soiled, and laid waste, indigenous rights have been superseded, and America’s vast territorial legacy has turned into a get-rich-quick scheme by an administration that sees personal profit as a professional virtue. It’s sad. There’s no silver lining, either, because Zinke’s replacement will likely pick up where the now-disgraced Montana politician is leaving off.
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DHS says it is "building wall and building wall quickly" in bizarre statement

*After a storm of ridicule on social media, DHS updated the statement linked below with improved grammar on Friday, December 14. You can find a screenshot of the original version below.  Yesterday the U.S. Department of Homeland Security sent out a poorly written yet rather braggadocious press release about President Donald Trump’s completed border wall projects along the U.S.-Mexico border, as well as the other sectors that are closing up construction. Considering how testy Trump has been this week about securing funding for the rest of the wall, the timing of this grammatically-incorrect piece of government literature is very odd.  Titled "Walls Work," it reads:
DHS is committed to building wall and building wall quickly.
Notice the two missing articles before “wall.” It continues:
We are not replacing short, outdated and ineffective wall with similar wall. Instead under this President we are building a wall that is 30-feet high. FACT: Prior to President Trump taking office, we have never built wall that high.
Weird, but not new information. The message details just how quickly several key sections of the border wall have been constructed and where work is still being done. Citing the completed route near the El Centro Port of Entry in Calexico, California, as well as a finished 20-mile stretch across El Paso’s border in Texas among others, the release notes that as of November 21, over 31 miles of the border wall have been replaced or repaired. Another section in El Paso and a 14-mile project in San Diego are estimated to finish construction in 2019. The tone throughout the press release seems fueled by Trump's rhetoric. Much like how the president spews fast "facts" and statistics in his press and public appearances, this statement reads just as punchy and pointless.
How effective is this new border wall?
Very.
What’s next you might ask?
So much. The point of the release is not only to showcase the supposed “success” of the areas constructed thus far, but also to increase the hype around funding—which is a contentious topic this week in particular. In a televised meeting on Tuesday with House-Designate Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Trump threatened a government shutdown in the name of border security if Congress doesn’t allocate the $5 billion he wants by December 21. Today, he said that the money saved through his new trade deal with Canada and Mexico will actually help pay for the wall. Pelosi and Schumer have already called the assertion absurd. Many of the dollar figures thrown around in this error-laden statement refer to the amounts that Congress has provided for the border wall in the past, specifically in the fiscal years 2017 and 2018, but Pelosi doesn't seem keen on allowing Trump to have his way when the new Congress takes over in January. However the money is obtained, or rather if the money is obtained, according to DHS, over 120 miles of the new border wall portions will be completed or underway by the end of next September.
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As global ecocide approaches, Trump seeks more oil in Alaska

The United States Department of the Interior issued a notice late last month signaling its intent to "jump-start development" in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska (NPR-A), part of a 23-million-acre stretch of oil-rich natural habitat that makes up the largest tract of undisturbed land in the United States. The notice, the latest effort by the Trump administration to increase oil exploration and mining activities on ecologically sensitive federal and tribal landscapes, “envisions clean and safe development in the NPR-A while avoiding regulatory burdens that unnecessarily encumber energy production, constrain economic growth, and prevent job creation.”  The Washington Post reported that it will take “about a year” to create a new plan for extracting oil reserves from NPR-A, according to Joe Balash, assistant secretary of land and minerals at the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The 11-million-acre NPR-A site represents roughly half of a larger wildlife refuge originally set aside by President Warren G. Harding in 1923. It also falls within the ancestral homelands of the Gwich’in Nation of Alaskan Natives, an indigenous community that uses NPR-A lands to hunt porcupine caribou herds that frequent the area.  Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee, told The Washington Post, “The [Trump] administration has made my people a target. We will not stand down. We will fight to protect the porcupine caribou herd…every step of the way.” The preserve represents a vital habitat for the porcupine caribou that use the area to birth and nurse their young, and for the many migratory bird species that roost in the region over the summer. It is estimated that NPR-A and surrounding tribal lands could hold up to 8.7 billion barrels of oil and 25 trillion cubic feet of gas. BLM has started a 45-day comment and review period for the proposed plan, which comes after new oil and gas auctions in Wyoming, Montana, and Utah, according to reports.  Those efforts follow President Trump’s downsizing of the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, which President Obama previously had increased in size, and come on the heels of a new federal mandate that calls for oil drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to the east of NPR-A, as well.  The increasing scale and rapid pace of resource extraction under the Trump Administration represent the culmination of a nearly 40-year effort to open these lands to exploitation and comes as the administration scrambles to set into motion a last-ditch move to negotiate lucrative land leases with private parties. Once those leases are set, it will be harder to prevent resource extraction in those areas, even under a different administration, so current officials are racing against time to sell off the rights in the event voters do not re-elect the president in 2020.  This admittedly short-sighted effort is representative of the administration’s push to refashion the Department of Interior into a broker between the federal government, which controls millions of acres of pristine but resource-rich lands, and profit-driven private industry. The trend also represents a larger belief that business interests run ahead of environmental concerns, a priority that was highlighted over the weekend as the United States joined Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait in rejecting a 2017 report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that calls for “rapid, far-reaching, and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” in order to reduce the amount of global temperature rise associated with anthropogenic climate change.
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Trump reportedly pressured architect to remove braille from Trump Tower elevators

Barbara Res, the former vice president of construction for the Trump Organization, recently published an op-ed in the New York Daily News, which alleges that Donald Trump once pressured an architect to remove the braille signage from the elevators in Trump Tower in New York City. Res, who supervised the construction of the Manhattan skyscraper in the early 1980s, recalled being present as one of its architects showed Trump the newly installed elevator cabs. She says Trump was puzzled by the little raised dots on the button panel and demanded that they be taken off. When informed that braille was required by the Americans with Disabilities Act, the future president of the United States became furious. “Get rid of the [expletive] braille. No blind people are going to live in Trump Tower,” she remembered him shouting. “The more the architect protested, the angrier Trump got…As a general rule, Trump thought architects and engineers were weak as compared to construction people. And he loved to torment weak people,” wrote Res, a professional engineer. She went on to explain that this was a typical "Trump-style win-win," which allowed him to belittle a subordinate while setting up a scapegoat for any repercussions his "ridiculous orders" may bring. Although Res did not identify the architect, many have speculated that it was Der Scutt, the tower’s lead designer, who died in 2010. The firm responsible for the project, Poor, Swanke, Hayden & Connell, changed principals several times in the years that followed and filed for bankruptcy in 2015, making it difficult to corroborate the story. However, as noted by Snopes, a fact-checking website, neither the White House nor the Trump Organization have refuted it. For those familiar with president’s history of ableist comments, his organization’s suspected housing discrimination, and his administration’s hard-line position against health and safety regulations, these new allegations come as no surprise.
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New York City launches interactive map of its privately owned public spaces

New Yorkers and open space enthusiasts have something to celebrate, as the NYC Department of City Planning (DCP) has released a map of the more than 550 privately owned public spaces (POPS) in the city. POPS have been an integral part of New York City’s zoning process since their introduction in the 1961 zoning code as an incentive to developers; in exchange for building public plazas, arcades, or outdoor spaces, the city allows private developers to add extra floor area to their buildings or grants other waivers. According to the DCP, POPS exist at over 350 buildings and account for more than 3.8 million square feet of open space. With the new searchable map, interested visitors can gather information on the location, amenities, hours of operation, year of construction, and designers behind each and every privately owned public space. Most of the aforementioned spaces are in Manhattan, and while Brooklyn and Queens only contain a smattering of such public areas, the DCP expects this number to grow dramatically as development in these boroughs increases. Despite the significance of POPS in Manhattan, they’re not untouchable. A furor arose in October of last year as the owner of 200 Water Street at the southern tip of Manhattan sought to convert half of their public plaza space into retail. Even the release of the DCP’s mapping tool wouldn’t have happened without pushback against developers who were misusing the extra space afforded by POPS. The city has been engaged in a tug-of-war with the Trump Organization since the 1980s over the removal of a 22-foot-long stone bench from the lobby of the Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue and East 56th Street. After Trump added two sales counters hawking Trump-branded merchandise to the public lobby, the city issued a series of fines, and the City Council ultimately passed legislation in 2017 to guard against the future misuse of POPS. Up until that point, nearly half of all POPS were being improperly used but the city lacked a stringent inspection protocol to verify this. A three-year inspection schedule, along with new signage requirements and the map released this week, arose directly from that vote to tighten POPS regulations.
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Costas Kondylis, architect of Trump's New York City towers, dies at 78

Architect Costas Kondylis, the prolific designer behind over 86 buildings in Manhattan, died Friday at age 78, according to The Real Deal. The cause of death has not yet been announced. Kondylis was best known as one of Donald Trump’s closest and most frequent collaborators in New York City. He designed the 90-story Trump World Tower, formerly the world’s tallest residential structure, in Midtown East for the real estate mogul as well as the Trump International Hotel and Tower at Columbus Circle, and several buildings at Trump Place on Riverside Boulevard. While Kondylis’s extensive resume reveals a handful of projects associated with Trump, the architect’s 50 years designing in New York included countless high-rise designs for various local developers Born in Central Africa, Kondylis studied in his parent’s home country of Greece before earning a graduate degree at the University of Geneva in Switzerland. After finishing his second masters at Columbia University in 1967, he began working for Davis Brody & Associates. While employed by Philip Birnbaum & Associates, he designed his first notable building, Manhattan Place Condo, in 1984. As one of the first high-rise condo projects in the city, as well as one of the few to focus on luxury design at the time, it caught the eye of Trump who was then expanding his New York building empire. Five years later, Kondylis launched his own firm, Costas Kondylis and Partners in 1989. During this busy time in his career, he designed 65 buildings—one building every six weeks—from 2000 to 2007, TRD reported. Once the practice dissolved two decades later, Kondylis started his own firm, Kondylis Design. It’s argued that Kondylis influenced the New York skyline more than any other architect in history. His more recent projects, Silver Towers, River Place, and Atelier, all towering residential properties, have helped shape the newly-developed far west side of Manhattan. He was largely recognized as the “developer’s architect,” a term he grew to embrace, having worked well with everyone from Silverstein Properties to Moinian Group to Vornado Realty Trust and Related Companies. Though his work was usually on time and on budget, it wasn’t highly favored by critics who saw his large-scale structures as too conventional. Larry Silverstein told The New York Times in a 2007 interview that Kondylis’s name is almost synonymous with the city’s condominium architecture. “He designs an attractive, buildable, functional building,” he said. “If I’m going to do a residential building in New York, the most natural thing in the world is to pick up the phone and call Costas.” Kondylis repeatedly stated that his primary goal was always to please the client. He was regarded as one of the most professional, humble, and patient architects in the business despite criticism or praise of his work.  Kondylis died last week in his home and is survived by his two daughters, Alexia and Katherine. A service in his honor is scheduled for October.
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Manufacturers launch ad campaigns to get their message to Trump

A group of American manufacturers has developed a new strategy to get their message to President Trump. Knowing that the president regularly watches a handful of programs on Fox, a trade organization has bought airtime for 30-second ads during the president's favorite shows to promote the group's messages. Bloomberg reported on a campaign from the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) that debuted this month and encourages Trump to follow through on his campaign promise to create a massive national infrastructure spending program. The ad plays a clip of Trump's campaign victory speech when he said, "We’re going to rebuild our infrastructure." Another AEM ad from earlier this year encouraged the president and congressional leaders to reject steel tariffs, saying that they would harm equipment manufacturers. The clips show blue-collar workers speaking directly to the camera, often explicitly addressing the president. The steel tariff ad begins with a worker saying, "Mr. President, thanks to you, equipment manufacturing right here in Illinois is growing stronger." After a bit more ego-boosting, the workers then say that tariffs would undo the support that the president has shown industrial workers. Trump is known to be an avid television-watcher and reportedly insists on watching several Fox programs every day. The spots will run during programs like Fox and Friends, The Sean Hannity Show, and Tucker Carlson Tonight. According to Bloomberg, AEM plans to spend $250,000 on the infrastructure campaign.
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Initial notes on Houston after theory

1 We landed in Houston two weeks before the storm. For newcomers to Texas, Hurricane Harvey provided a terrifying crash course in the geography and hydrology of the city, its micro-differences in topography and macro-differences in resources across the city’s communities. We were told that after the water receded, nothing would be the same, that the magnitude and destruction of the storm would simply be too hard to ignore. Yet less than a year later, as rebuilding continues on the verge of another hurricane season, it is hard to see how much—if anything—has changed for the better. Money was spent reconstructing homes on their original sites, and large-scale infrastructures that were designed to flood, like Buffalo Bayou Park, have performed admirably well as examples for designing resilient landscapes in Houston and elsewhere. A slew of well-intentioned policy reports were issued in the wake of Harvey, many reiterating similar proposals that preceded the storm, seemingly to little avail. The heuristic measures of the so-called 500-year event were questioned in light of a new reality in which such mega-storms will now be separated by years, not centuries. And then the city went back, it seems, to the combination of development and dread that has apparently become the new normal. 2 I came to Houston expecting to tap into a rich body of urban writing from the late 1970s to the 2000s that placed the city firmly at the center of broader attempts to theorize the contemporary metropolis. These formed part of what Joel Warren Barna described as “a long American tradition of minority reports” in which the social, political, economic, and psychological dimensions of architecture and the city were probed. Houston’s horizontal field provided an ideal environment for such speculations. For Joe Feagin, it offered the example par excellence of the “free enterprise city,” a case study of the unceasing urban transformations wrought by capitalist development unburdened by zoning. For Doug Milburn, Houston was “the last American city,” characterized by its ever-unfinished status as process rather than product. For Lars Lerup, its diffuse ecology of mega-shapes and micro-stimuli heralded the demise of the traditional city: a fluid condition of natural and artificial strata, a metastasizing field of events and affects punctuated by moments of stim and dross. At its peak, metropolitan Houston served as a radical testing ground for new ways of understanding the relentless permutations of 20th-century urbanism at large. Far from finding new extensions of these threads of writing the metropolis, probing their limits, or harnessing their potential for new speculations, instead, I encountered a city that seemed to have little nostalgia not just for its architecture, but also for its own prior theorizations. While cities like New York and Los Angeles capitalize on the major authors of their urban histories, Houston, by comparison, has largely fallen out of the center of contemporary discussions of urbanism and its possible futures. The most significant attempts to characterize Houston ultimately left a shrinking footprint on the contemporary urban scene, perhaps condemned by their avoidance of fixed definitions in relation to a metropolis endlessly in becoming. 3 Perhaps the major characteristic of Houston in the age of its most provocative theorizations was its lateness. An economy centered on petro-capital meant that its cycles of boom and bust happened a full decade out of step with urban development elsewhere in the U.S., with its peak following the spike in crude oil prices in the 1970s at the same time that the rest of the nation suffered from a deep recession. The city was similarly subject to the end of the oil boom in dramatic fashion, as plans to build the world’s tallest tower in Houston ran aground as prices crashed after 1983. The city’s authors reinforced the sense of Houston as late: for Milburn, the “last” truly American city in its combination of frenetic pace and untimely development; for Lerup, a model for what comes “after” the conventional city. Inevitably, Houston became a capital of late modernism and its manifestations. These included lapidary icons of petro-development, like the faceted, symmetrical towers of Pennzoil Place (Johnson/Burgee, 1976), along with local masterpieces like Four Allen Center (Lloyd, Morgan & Jones, 1984), which MoMA curator Arthur Drexler praised as “absolutely staggering” in its mirrored-glass effects. Houston’s later corporate development encapsulated its seamless, stylistic transition to postmodernism in buildings often designed by the same architects, like Johnson/Burgee’s RepublicBank Center of 1984, just across the street from Pennzoil Place. Houston’s theorizations provided valuable frameworks for understanding these economic and aesthetic cycles together, from the city’s boom to the period that Joel Warren Barna called the “see-through years” in homage to the hollow, abandoned development projects that littered the city’s landscape in the 1980s, begun a decade too late. 4 Houston has emerged as ground zero for what architecture and the city have become—for good or evil—in the midst of our national politics. The genuine multiculturalism of the country’s fourth-largest city—its greatest resource—offers conflicting signals with regard to architecture’s complicity with, or resistance to, the rise of xenophobia, racism, and nationalism in the U.S. This year provided welcome news of an international competition to design the country’s first official Ismaili Center, sponsored by the Aga Khan, with the hope of producing a distinguished building worthy of serving the nation’s largest community of Ismaili Muslims. Emancipation Park, established in 1872 as the first municipal park for African Americans in a segregated Houston—but long fallen into disrepair since the 1970s amid the decline of the historically underserved Third Ward—reopened last year to much fanfare following an extensive program of renovation and new construction by a team of designers led by Phil Freelon. Such initiatives are tempered by the news that Southwest Key Programs, a Texas nonprofit, plans to repurpose a warehouse near Houston’s downtown—which previously housed families displaced by Harvey—as a detention center for “tender age” immigrant children under the age of 12 who were forcibly separated from their parents by ICE. Meanwhile, the first federal contract for an immigrant detention center under the Trump administration was awarded in April 2017 to GEO Group, a private prison company, to build a $110 million, 1,000-bed facility in Conroe, a city just north of Houston. Such cruelties underscore the presence of the vast prison-industrial complex that underlies much of the financial landscape of the city’s politics, in parallel with the multinational conglomerates centered here—such as Halliburton—that have tied the city’s petrochemical industries to the construction of military detention facilities abroad. 5 What lessons can we learn from Houston today, from its dissonant combination of the hopeful and the horrifying amidst the city’s current urban transformations? How can new thinking emerge from the multiculturalism of an expanding city? Perhaps Houston’s lateness can be redeployed in its favor: While it may be behind the beat in offering responses to climate change, urban development, and cultural conflict, Houston’s apparent condition of being out-of-time can be reclaimed as a mode of resistance, a slowness in relation to contemporary politics. In this context, what can we do differently, and what must we think anew? For one, future criticism and speculation on the city will have to become more intersectional, no longer centered around a dominant—white, male—set of voices. (Look again at the list of authors on the previous page.) New ideas will have to come from beyond the domain of the academy, from the full spectrum of actors, interests, and constituencies that together represent Houston’s enviable diversity. The way forward might be indicated by the remarkable success of Project Row Houses, established in 1994 by artist Rick Lowe as a residency program for artists, architects, and writers—primarily women and people of color—to create and exhibit work in a series of restored shotgun houses in the Third Ward. The project’s model, based on a commitment to public art and an alternative model of community development—one that includes dedicated residences for young, single mothers—offers a true praxis for how cultural identity and community work can intersect in rethinking and remaking the city. Another lesson in joint urban practice can be found in the recently announced initiative by the University of Houston and the International Center for the Arts of the Americas at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston to create a partnership focused on Latino and Latin American art and culture. In seeking to connect students to the culture and heritage of Latino communities that make up some 43 percent of the urban population, this initiative suggests how architecture and design can respond more fully to a deeply multicultural city. Such examples offer the hope of a new Houston urbanism to come, one that expands the range of those who can participate in interpreting its transformations and reclaiming its prior theorizations toward new, untimely, and more humane futures.
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The monorail that could have united El Paso, Texas, and Juárez, Mexico

This article is the second in a series that originally appeared in AN's July/August 2018 issue which focuses exclusively on Texas and was guest edited by AGENCY. The rest of the essays will be released in the coming days and examine architecture and practice across the southern border of the United States. These days the conversation about the United States–Mexico border is dominated by the implications of building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico. But back in the mid-1960s, there were concerted binational efforts to build a monorail to further connect the commercial districts of two cities conceived as part of one binational community. A 1965 document outlining the proposal for a Juárez-El Paso Monorail System invoked the common origins of both cities. The river was referred to as an obstacle to be overcome: “No other metropolitan community of equal size has been so restricted and contained by so relatively a small item as a channelized river.” Recently, the idea for a monorail has surfaced again, but this time riding on top of a 2,000-mile border wall promoted by an American president to further separate the U.S. and Mexico. The 1960s were a period when ideas for urban planning boomed in the Juárez/El Paso border area. This was the context of the 1965 proposal for a transportation project designed to move passengers back and forth across the border. Although the idea did not come to fruition, it gives a glimpse of how certain sectors viewed the future of Juárez/El Paso as an integrated border metroplex. A prototype of the monorail can be seen in the 1967 film adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s novel Fahrenheit 451 by Francois Truffaut. It was built on the outskirts of Paris as a demonstration facility by SAFEGE, the company chosen to install the El Paso/Juárez monorail. Guy Montag, the main character, enjoys a smooth ride between the city and the suburban neighborhood where he lives. The suspended train featured in the movie is the same as that in the photomontages published in the booklet that circulated in the Juárez/El Paso area two years earlier. It was estimated that the nonstop ride between stations would transport commuters between the San Jacinto Plaza and the Juárez bullring in less than three minutes. Both cultural and aesthetic considerations were made, along with technical, commercial, and other economic aspects of the interaction between the two cities. The project was proposed not just to satisfy a growing demand for a rapid transit system that would minimize crossing time, but also as a potential tourist attraction. It anticipated that visitors from all over the world would visit “to witness the most advanced form of mass transit functioning commercially in a modern community.” It would have been an invitation to take a glimpse into a science fiction future, one where limitations imposed by geopolitical borders were meant to be overcome. The design considered how to implement inspection of passengers by Mexican and American immigration and customs officials, and proposed that this process would take place upon arrival at either station rather than at traditional border checkpoints. The document stressed that authorities considered this viable. But did this pitch really correspond with the sociopolitical context of the epoch? Or was this early globalization, pro-trade discourse merely boosting rhetoric aimed at gaining sympathizers for a binational entrepreneurial group trying to get a piece of the border transportation business? At first glance, the mid-1960s were a promising time for a project that gave the impression that Juárez/El Paso were twin cities living in harmony. But in fact, these notions were contrary to national border control policies that produced the infamous Operation Wetback, which resulted in numerous human rights violations and the deportation of over a million people. More recently, Donald Trump has been reviewing prototypes for a different kind of border project: the construction of an “unscalable” and “unpenetrable” wall. His idea has prompted architects and builders from both countries to make proposals. Earlier this year The New York Times ran an article posing the question, “Is Donald Trump, wall-builder-in-chief, a conceptual artist?” It was a report about Christoph Büchel, himself a conceptual artist who circulated a provocative petition seeking to save the prototypes—built with $3.3 million in federal funds—from demolition by invoking the Antiquities Act of 1906. According to Büchel, the set of textured slabs, which can be seen from across the border, was “a major land art exhibition of significant cultural value.” Not surprisingly, the petition created an uproar in the art world. Although some proposals were made in jest and did not reach the prototype stage, there have been numerous bids that attempt to subvert Trump’s purpose to isolate and supposedly protect the United States from the perils of contact with its southern neighbors. The New York Times reviewed a dystopian parody consisting of a 2,000-mile pink wall, housing seemingly disparate facilities like a detention center and a mall. This was a collaborative effort by Estudio 3.14, a design group in Guadalajara, Mexico, and the Mamertine Group, a design lab at the University of Connecticut. The designers used minimalist concepts and colors reminiscent of the style of influential Mexican architect Luis Barragán: “It is a prison where 11 million undocumented people will be processed, classified, indoctrinated, and/or deported.” The project also contemplates the wall housing a mall with a Macy’s in the Tijuana section. The San Diego Union-Tribune accounted for an apparently serious plan presented by a Southern California firm named National Consulting Service that envisioned a wall topped by a monorail serving both countries. The train would run along the border and would feature “voice analysis technology to detect different emotional states of riders to possibly assist law enforcement.” According to the firm, the system was designed to keep Americans safe, but also to improve and revitalize sister cities along the border. The future is still in the past.