This article is the third 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. In discussions of the U.S.-Mexico border region, what often gets lost is a full exploration of the geographic and social networks produced by the lives that span it. Taking in the meaning of the U.S.-Mexico boundary, the largest migration corridor in the world, requires an understanding of both ends of the journey as well as what lies in between. One way to do this is to follow the money—in this case, migrant dollars earned in various locations throughout the U.S. that are channeled back to households in Mexico. The economic term for this capital flow is remittances, typically used by political scientists, demographers, and NGOs that investigate how and if remittances alleviate poverty in receiving regions. I follow this capital flow to its material conclusions as manifested in migrant hometowns. The “remittance house,” a term I use to describe houses built in Mexico by workers performing unskilled or semiskilled wage labor (or migrants “from below”) in the U.S., reveals Mexican pueblos as distant hinterlands of American cities and as critical nodes in our understanding of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands at large. I first became interested in the remittance house through the stories of my co-workers, Mexican male migrants who lived and worked in Berkeley, California, while investing a portion of their earnings into new homes in Guanajuato, Mexico. The Central Bajío state of Guanajuato and its neighboring state of Jalisco have historically high rates of both emigration and remitting. Economist Paul S. Taylor documented migrants using dollars to build or remodel homes in Jalisco as early as the 1930s. Jalisco is an epicenter of remittance construction that includes homes as well as communally funded public projects like rodeo arenas and cultural centers. Today, Mexico ranks as the world’s fourth-largest remittance economy after China, India, and the Philippines, receiving approximately $20 billion dollars annually, and new construction financed by remittance dollars is evident across Mexico’s 32 states. Formally and materially, the remittance house has become a source of curiosity both for people who live in Mexican towns as well as for those peering in from afar. This has to do with the houses' heavily articulated facades that present a dizzying array of representational strategies. Fluted columns, zigzagging concrete cornices, and repetitive pediment-shaped window frames grace facades topped with false fronts that represent gable roofs or brick battlements. These eclectic arrangements clash with the built fabric of small towns composed of adobe or fired brick buildings with teja tiled roofs—towns once marked by uniformity and homogeneity. In the remittance house, architectural style carries great symbolic weight, as design ideas are pulled from various corners of migrant experiences and journeys. Homes with recessed yards, metal fences, carports, and picture windows are referred to as “estilo Californiano,” or “California style.” Yet they are hybrid forms, where the image of wooden stick-frame construction is translated into local masonry traditions, supported by migrants’ desire to have homes “built to last.” New migrant homes have created a maelstrom of commentary throughout small towns. A local architect in Jalisco described the migrant building style as “garigoleado,” or excessively adorned, pointing out a lack of rhythm, proportion, and pattern in the use of generic classical ornamentation, while some neighbors described migrant homes as distinctly modern. Whatever their stylistic attribute, the homes, as defined by artist Walterio Iraheta, are autorretratos—or self-portraits—of their makers. They are a material transformation of the built environment directly linked to the interior world of the self. But the remittance house is not primarily an opportunity for migrants’ personal expressions; it is the material manifestation of the specific political and social conditions under which contemporary social mobility and immobility for migrants takes place. Structural inequality, an absence of access to legal documentation in the U.S., and diminishing opportunities for economic and social mobility in the U.S. and Mexico have produced the spaces in which the remittance house becomes a viable, albeit imperfect, option. To understand these newly constructed homes as imperfect is to ask about the costs and consequences of binational building from below, building a dream home in one place while living and working in another. In order to remit, nuclear families are often separated or fragmented across geographies. For example, mothers and daughters live in a remittance house in Mexico, while fathers and sons work in and send money from the U.S. Meanwhile, elderly parents live in a home built with dollars on a street mostly abandoned or empty due to what neighbors refer to as “the floating population” abroad. Families split by gender or generation incur social and psychological costs as bodies are replaced by dollars, and living at a distance from one’s immediate family is normalized. The project of building a remittance house—of attempting to secure and invest in a future for one’s family—is also susceptible to the complexities of living life as a migrant in the U.S. Both documented and undocumented migrants might lose their jobs, build new relationships in the U.S. while attempting to maintain marriages or relationships in Mexico, become responsible for their ill parents in Mexico, or become ill themselves. Undocumented migrants are especially vulnerable as they live under the terror of apprehension, incarceration, and deportation, and are generally unable to return home without incurring great risk. For any number of reasons, homes may be incomplete or abandoned altogether. Ultimately, the remittance house teaches non-migrants important lessons. They are evidence of migrants’ strengths, the discipline required to achieve personal goals. They are evidence of complex social patterns and costs for families fragmented by global capital, and for whom remitting has become a way of life. Scaling up, they are also evidence of the Mexican and U.S. governments’ unwillingness to enact binational protections and opportunities for a flexible and exploited labor force that the U.S. economy has depended on for over 100 years. Understanding the remittance house in its messy complexity can cultivate the public’s awareness of the extended and complicated spaces that “migrants” are enmeshed in and co-constituting. If Mexican migrants in the U.S. were collectively supported, the term “remittance house” would become obsolete. With the capacity to choose where to live and work, and with the ability to travel, those who built homes in Mexico would join the millions of elite Americans and Mexicans who have second homes or vacation homes. For now, the remittance house captivates, and its meaning reverberates within Mexico and across the Rio Grande.
Posts tagged with "Berkeley":
As the federal government continues to curtail funding for affordable housing development nationwide, the city of Berkeley, California is moving to create its own cryptocurrency in an effort to potentially replace outlays for affordable housing from Washington with municipally-backed crypto-bonds. The so-called “crypto-impact” proposal is the brainchild of Berkeley city councilperson Ben Bartlett and Berkeley mayor Jesse Arreguín, who have partnered with the University of California, Berkeley’s Blockchain Lab and municipal public financing firm Neighborly for the effort. The proposal would create a municipally-controlled blockchain system that would back bonds issued by the city to help fund affordable or supportive housing and other city services, CityLab reports. Explaining the need for the cryptocurrency, Bartlett told CityLab, “The federal government has committed itself to [tearing] us apart, to dividing people by race and gender. And through its fiscal policies, it’s taking away the ability for cities to fund [things like] affordable housing.” Bartlett’s response is to remove some amount of fiscal control away from the federal government and place it instead in the hands of like-minded private investors with digital money. If successful, Berkeley’s Initial Coin Offering (ICO) planned for later this year would make the city the first municipality in the country to enter the risky cryptocurrency sphere. The plan would allow investors to use blockchain—a digital, crowd-sourced ledger that underpins cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin—to purchase digital currency backed by city bonds. The program, according to Bartlett would augment municipal services and could potentially be used as a day-to-day currency by residents at some point in the future, as well. The effort comes amid the recently-passed, Republican-backed tax overhaul, which public accounting firm Novogradac & Company estimates could whittle the future production of affordable housing by close to 235,000 units over the next decade, Business Insider reports. The regressive tax bill would exacerbate the regional housing crisis that has overtaken Berkeley by putting a dent in the city’s ability to develop affordable housing. The new tax bill also comes amid growing—and concerning—threats on the part of the current administration to cut off federal funding for so-called sanctuary cities like Berkeley. Bartlett told Business Insider, "We have a jobs explosion and a super tight housing crunch. You're looking at a disaster. We thought we'd pull together the experts and find a way to finance [affordable housing] ourselves." Estimates for how much total funding or how many housing units overall could be created using the proposed cryptocurrency have not been released. It is also unclear if the municipality will change its restrictive zoning policies to make room for more housing units and better instrumentalize the new funding. The risky scheme could potentially play a role, however, in taking advantage of a recently-proposed state law that would loosen density, height, and parking requirements around transit in an effort to boost housing production in the state. The law—still in its draft form—could increase zoning capacity across California to the tune of millions of new housing units. A traditionally-financed $3 billion state-issued bond initiative is currently in the works, as well, as are various municipally-led housing bond initiatives. A committee dedicated to the cryptocurrency scheme is currently working to implement the city’s ICO by May of 2018.
The San Francisco Bay Area Renters’ Federation (SFBARF) is suing the Berkeley, California City Council over allegations that the body has repeatedly violated California’s Housing Accountability Act (HAA), a 1982 piece of legislation that compels municipalities to “not reject or make infeasible” housing developments that help meeting housing needs. As is well-documented, the San Francisco Bay area—and not to mention, pretty much the entire state of California—is suffering from a prolonged and detrimental housing affordability crisis, a phenomenon that has been compounded by the heavy-handed influence that single family homeowners wield over the approval of new housing projects in low-density neighborhoods. In a civil court filing with Alameda County, SFBARF—and the California Renters Legal Advocacy and Education fund (CaRLA), a statewide nonprofit founded to ensure compliance with HAA that has joined SFBARF in the suit—alleges that the Berkeley City Council has violated HAA by rejecting the application for a new three-family development at 1310 Haskell Street. The development aims to replace a dilapidated single family home with three new single family units. The R-2A zoned parcel, the suit alleges, was being developed in compliance with “all applicable, objective general plan and zoning standards and criteria, including design review standards” and even had a use permit issued for the new development. Problems arose when unhappy neighbors appealed the project to the City Council, which then voted to scuttle the project’s previous approvals. According to the suit,
Under the HAA, if a proposed housing project complies with a city’s general plan and zoning standards, the city may not disapprove or condition the project at a lower density unless it provides written findings supported by substantial evidence that the project would have a specific, adverse impact upon the ‘public health or safety’ that cannot be mitigated.A later City Council meeting rescinded approvals for the project for good, as City Council members argued that because the project required a demolition permit to remove the existing residence, HAA did not apply. The demolition permit, the City Council argued, constituted a discretionary approval that voided the HAA “general plan and zoning standards” requirement mentioned above. The City Council then, the suit alleges, continued to pursue this course of action despite the Berkeley City Attorney's opinion that approvals like demolition permits were in fact covered by HAA’s broad scope and authority. The suit alleges further that rather than enforce HAA legislation, the Berkeley City Council instead changed course on the project due to Not In My Backyard (NIMBY) outcry, a course of action HAA was explicitly designed to prevent. The suit is the second attempt by SFBARF to “sue the suburbs” to comply with HAA legislation. A previous suit against the community of Lafayette was settled in May 2017. For now, the case will continue to make it’s way through the court system unless the City Council changes course.
This week, the Rockefeller Foundation awarded $4.6 million to the Bay Area: Resilient by Design Challenge team, a collection of San Francisco Bay Area organizations looking to use a public competition to develop approaches for fortifying the region’s infrastructure against the growing threat of climate change and sea level rise. The funds will allow this collection of municipal and non-profit organizations to develop regionally- and ecologically-focused infrastructural resiliency schemes throughout 10 sites spread across the Bay Area. The competition timeline will be divided into two phases. First, starting in April, the teams will participate in a three-month-long research and community engagement exercise aimed at developing initial design concepts for the specific sites with a "multi-faceted approach to resiliency." The teams will then have five months to design—working with community members and local municipalities—implementable infrastructure projects. Bay Area: Resilient by Design Challenge is modeled after the Rockefeller Foundation’s Rebuild by Design Hurricane Sandy Design Competition developed in the aftermath of the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy on the eastern seaboard by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and The Rockefeller Foundation in 2012. Bay Area: Resilient by Design will work closely with The Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities network, which is organized to assist 100 cities around the world in building urban resilience. The Bay Area region is home to three network cities—San Francisco, Berkeley, and Oakland—and is already in the midst of planning for future perils. Those three cities worked in 2016 to develop future-oriented resiliency strategies that will now influence the forthcoming competition. Allison Brooks, executive director of the Bay Area Regional Collaborative (BARC)—an organization that coordinates the planning efforts of the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD), the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC), and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC)—speaking to The Architect’s Newspaper over telephone, said, “We’re bringing in people from all over the world who have been grappling with this issue." Brooks and fellow organizers behind Bay Area: Resilient by Design Challenge will spend the next several months identifying sites across the Bay Area to feature in the competition while also working with local communities to identify specific needs. Brooks added, "We're not responding to a catastrophic disaster but a slow-moving disaster. The region has organized its most dense development and valuable infrastructure around a Bay that is expanding as a result of sea level rise.” Recent studies indicate that the level of the bay may rise between three- and four-feet between now and 2100. The nine-county region surrounding the San Francisco Bay is home to roughly 7-million inhabitants and is especially threatened by sea level rise, as many of the region’s key population and economic centers are located along the bay itself. For more information on the competition, see the Rebuild by Design website.
Pioneering post-war landscape architect Asa Hanamoto passed away at his home in Mill Valley, California on April 9. The son of Japanese immigrants, Hanamoto was interned with his family at the Tule Lake War Relocation Center in Northern California during World War II. He then served in the U.S. Army, studied at UC Berkeley, started his career at Eckbo, Royston & Williams, and went on to design public projects including parks, campuses, recreational designs and community plans over a career that lasted more than five decades. Hanamoto's firm, RHBA (now called RHAA), blazed a trail for then-nascent fields of environmental and community planning. It is known especially for work on the Willamette River Greenway Study (1975), establishing a vital recreational and scenic corridor along the Oregon river; and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (1976), assessing and planning the 116-square mile project and establishing management plans that still guide the area. Hanamoto's biography can be found at the Cultural Landscape Foundation's web site.
Berkeley designers propose building this pavilion entirely out of books, and you can help kickstart the project
Leaders of the Bay Area Book Festival (taking place June 5–7 in Berkeley) are teaming up with arts group Flux Foundation to make Lacuna, a wood-framed, yurt-like structure containing over 50,000 books, all donated by the Internet Archive. The "participatory" installation, designed with built in benches and alcoves, will have walls literally made out of stacks of books. Ceilings will be made of book pages attached to guy wires. lt will sit in Berkeley's Martin Luther King, Jr. Civic Center Park, creating what organizers call "a reflective space that offers contrast to—and respite from—the busy energy of the festival." In a digital world, this reminder of books' physicality, and the opportunity to read them and reshape the space, should be a major draw—especially as many bookstores still struggle to stay open. The project is still seeking funding. You can contribute to its Kickstarter campaign here.
Why don't more contemporary art museums commission works from architects? Those big open galleries could be so much more fun to explore. The Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archives' executive director, Larry Rinder (someone who is fast becoming adept at making the most of a space) had the brilliant idea of asking Thom Faulders to come up with an "internal landscape" for the museum's 7,000-square-foot atrium. The great thing about the big swoopy orange hill is that it is designed to be walked and lounged on. There are outlets for the undergrads to plug their laptops in and tap into the free Wi-Fi. You can drink coffee on it. On Friday, amazingly enough, there will be a concert on it after the official unveiling. "This big bright blobby orange thing was created to logically address a bunch of requests, instead of being a sculptural form that we just brought in here," says Faulders. The San Francisco architect had previously worked with Rinder to put together an installation called "Rooms for Listening" at CCA, with immense lounges made out of memory foam. The same impulse, to create a space for interaction instead of a "static object," motivated the two here. Designed to function as group seating, the terraces of recliners are made out of curving modules, created on the computer and efficiently fabricated out of flexible plywood over a foam base. The curves are striped with friction tape so that you can make your way through the hills without slipping. As a purely visual statement, the orange swirls throw into high relief the concrete angles of the 1971 Mario Ciampi building, the galleries rising above in a mysterious composition of ramps and sharp corners. "BAMscape" is a wonderful place to sit and contemplate another great work of art.
With its economy in the toilet and its legislature stuck in gridlock, California is .. hurting. But there is one area where the Golden State is still a leader. It's one of the few states in the country to be developing an actual plan for rising sea levels: the California Climate Adaptation Strategy Draft. This, and other very relevant topics will be discussed tomorrow at a UC Berkeley symposium tomorrow called Battling The Sea Level Rise: Climate Adaptation Plans in California & Lessons for Developing World Cities. Along with exploring California's efforts, the symposium will also address the fledgling plans for the world's developing countries, which could have the greatest impact on climate change as they continue to grow; and whose poorer populations could be the hardest hit by sea level rise. Panelists will include Will Travis, Executive Director of the Bay Conservation and Development Commission ( BCDC); Michel St Pierre, Director of Planning at Gensler; Prathima Manohar, founder of The Urban Vision, a Mumbai-based think tank promoting sustainable urban planning; and Maria Paz Gutierrez, Assistant Professor of Architecture at UC Berkeley. The event will take place from 9:30 am to 12 noon at Berkeley's School of Law's Goldberg Room.