what happens when we are forced to confront waste head on?

by cindy

this question was posed early on in the semester.

the new yorker article on lagos which mentions rem koolhaus’ study of the city as an example of the perfect chaos that may be the model of the urban future offers a cutting and – in my opinion – accurate assessment of the psychology behind the architect’s intellectualized conclusions:

‘The impulse to look at an “apparently burning garbage heap” and see an “urban phenomenon” and then make it the raw material of an elaborate aesthetic construct, is not so different from the more common impulse not to look at all.’

bingo.

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4 Comments»

  yeongran wrote @

I always have mixed feeling when I read articles about the interventions to the Third World slums.

I think this part is definitely a good example of the source of my negative feeling about social elites’ *consciousness* as well as nostalgic romanticization of the poor.

However, I think Packer’s view is also very much Western centric and unfair. For example, when he explains the reason why there is no people’s movement in slums, he cunningly borrows a local professor’s opinion, addressing that ”the spirit of individualism overwhelms the idea of solidarity.” Not analyzing the history of social movements, military dictation, and colonialism, it is just another colonial gaze on people in Lagos. I do believe it is important to point out how their life conditions are seriously in crisis and urge the change in global society. However, Packer’s *story* lacks the analysis on the cause of the situation so that it is hard to think the solution as a reader living outside Lagos.

I liked Davis for this reason. Davis critically points out how international organizations such as the IMF and World Bank, international development agencies, and urban elites destruct people’s lives in slums.

  jessica wrote @

Ran, I am glad you bring up this critique of Packer.
Everyone should keep in mind as well that Packer and Davis have very different audiences and agendas with their pieces. The Lagos piece is a New Yorker article that mixes slum portrait with travelogue and starchitect profile for a certain kind of urban social elite readership, one could argue. “Slum Ecology” is a book chapter by an urban theorist/historian and political activist…

  jennykane324 wrote @

In fairness to Packer, I think it’s the editor at the newspaper who explains that in Lagos, as opposed to in other cities in Africa, “the spirit of individualism overwhelms the idea of solidarity. Everyone believes that his lot can and will be better.” (Just to bring it to the local, I think we see this here in the US when people consistently vote against their better interests in terms of healthcare and economics.) In Lagos, the editor says it’s the patronage system that flourishes, rather than collective action against injustice. Packer isn’t subscribing to the romanticized view of Lagos as vibrant squatter city that Koolhaas, Brand and Neuwirth seem to see – I think he pretty clearly shows the desperation in the “collective adaptation to extreme hardship.”

I don’t think that Davis and Packer are really writing from such different places politically and it seems they both have an ‘elite’ readership. Packer though is writing about one city – Lagos – from a more micro perspective with individual stories and Davis from the macro, about many mega-cities and what causes and continues the desperate conditions and the ramifications of global and national policies.

  jen rhee wrote @

Interesting thread. I too was struck by the marked difference in tone bw the Packer article and all the other readings from this week. I think Cindy’s right– he raises some important concerns that warn against the dangers of ethnocentrist views that over-romanticize/intellectualize poverty and hardship. On the other hand, I agree with Ran that it’s a pretty dystopian view that doesn’t seem to really provide any alternatives possibilities for improvement.

Even more than Davis, I think that Cruz, Brillembourg, and Klumpner approach megacities from activist perspectives that provide stark contrast to Packer’s approach. Perhaps their rhetoric of giving “Power to the People” is overly idealistic or naive — but it’s also an important component of any social justice agenda.


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