Posts tagged with "Globalization":

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What if Venice dies? Are architects to blame?

In The Stones of Venice, John Ruskin decries the ways the modern world is destroying the fragile particularity that is Venice. His biggest worries? Train travel and classical arches. God only knows what he would he make of Aqualta 2060, a proposal presented at the 2010 biennale to ring Venice with skyscrapers. In Salvatore Settis's newly translated If Venice Dies, Acqualta 2060 represents the ultimate debasement of a human-scale city by a global economic system that reduces everything, even history, to a commodity. Though only ever a pie-in-the-sky proposal, Acqualta 2060 is a powerful metaphor for Settis's larger argument. The project, Settis argues, reduces Venice to a series expensive views designed to profit real estate speculators. The historic city—animated by the daily use of it citizens for a thousand years—would be reduced to a shell. A City Without a People If you've been to Venice lately, you know the hollowing out of the city is already well underway. For Settis—an archeologist, art historian and former director of the Getty Research Institute—the imminent danger to Venice is not rising sea levels (though, of course, he acknowledges this as a very serious concern). Much more urgent is the threat that it will drown in the oblivion of a "tourist monoculture":
Oblivion doesn’t simply mean forgetting one’s own history, or developing a morbid addiction to beauty, which is experienced as though it were a lifeless ornament that should console us. It primarily means forgetting something essential: the specific role that a city plays in comparison to others, its uniqueness, and its diversity, virtues that Venice possesses more than any other city in the world.
Settis gazes unflinchingly at the towering cruise ships that turn Venice into a fleeting spectacle for paying guests, while literally weakening its ancient foundations. And to make vivid in our imagination a Venice without actual Venetians, he takes us on an unsavory tour of Venetian-style simulacrums around the world, from Las Vegas to Chongqing—even a proposal for a theme-park style replica of Venice within (most ironically of all) Venice itself. A Vitruvian Oath For Settis, Venice is a vivid case study for a process engulfing historic centers everywhere, and he challenges architects everywhere to stop participating in the accelerating commodification of urban life. In particular, he excoriates the way architects and their clients use purely aesthetic arguments to "mask the cynicism of the financial wheeling and dealing and real estate speculation that triggered them in the first place." As an antidote, the classically minded Settis sends his readers back to Vitruvius. Just as doctors take a Hippocratic oath, he argues, architects should take a Vitruvian oath. "No architect," writes Settis, "should ever agree to building anything—whether it’s a bridge, a terrace, or a window—that might contribute to the death of the historic city by destroying its uniqueness." Cri de Coeur At times, Settis can seem like a conservative curmudgeon, with his extravagant rhetoric and appeal to some golden past. Yet he describes the market's familiar creep into the public domain with such vividness, and he so forcefully marks out what is stake (not just Venice but civil society itself), that by the end you can only thank him exactly for his apparent faults. If you stay with him to the last page, you find it is impossible to disagree with his conclusion that, if Venice dies, "the very idea of the city—as an open space where diversity and social life can unfold, as the supreme creation of our civilization, as a commitment to and promise of democracy—will also die with it." If Venice Dies, by Salvatore Settis, translated by André Naffis-Sahely, New Vessel Press, September 2016, paper, 180 pages, $16.95.
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With Limited Land for Housing, Hong Kong Looks to Grow Underground

The housing problem in Hong Kong is critical. Studies estimate that the city of seven million will have to house another 600,000 people over the course of the next 30 years. With rapidly increasing urbanization rates, leading Chinese metropolises are speculating on fast and intelligent ways to manage population growth by creating additional housing within their existing borders. While some cities are growing taller and others are mulling developing rare and cherished park space, Hong Kong is taking a different approach. Officials and engineers have thought about something else: developing an extensive underground city. The plan calls for building a cross-harbor pedestrian corridor equipped with residences, shops, retail outlets, sports, and entertainment facilities located under Victoria Harbor. As the government is searching for any and all options that could create space for housing, it has already identified fifteen urban areas that could be used for underground development by the end of 2015. In their 2009-2010 Policy Agenda, the city’s Development Bureau released a new initiative to launch strategic plans to develop Hong Kong’s underground space in a sustainable way. The study, entitled Enhanced Use of Underground Space in Hong Kongexplores different techniques that would employ the city’s underground territory for additional housing and long term demographic and economic enhancement. Despite the ambitious nature of the plan, there remains many drawbacks and obstacles preventing its implementation. Experts argue that the development of Hong Kong's underground would be extremely costly, and much more so than surface projects as the costs of construction would be higher. Moreover, the laying out of such plans is extremely lengthy, and the need for housing in the city is pressing. Therefore, potentials of underground space development might not be the immediate answer to an urgent problem.   Still, others continue to push for bulldozing green space in favor of more development. Gordon Wu, chairman developer of Hopewell Holdings Ltd and Vice President of the Real East Developer’s Association, labels people’s attachment to city-parks as “stupid” and not something that Hong Kong should pride itself on. In line with Wu's statement, many city officials find parks to be extremely problematic as over 230,000 residents are on a waiting list for public housing. Another option being explored would be to take over the sea and to create man-made islands which would be in close proximity to the city's center and financial district. The Development Bureau estimates a need to extend the city's built environment by up to ten square miles in order to accommodate residential, commercial, and industrial facilities. This proposal remains opposed by residents who argue that such construction would have a negative impact on the value of water-front apartments, and would hinder the view of the city's famous and breathe-taking panorama. Environmental activists also object to the proposal as they are concerned with the safety and well being of dolphins and other marine animals.