Event: “Design for a Change” Presidential Lecture Series: Teddy Cruz on the Politics of Affordable Housing
Location: Center for Architecture, 05.19.11
Speakers: Teddy Cruz — Principal, Estudio Teddy Cruz & Professor, Public Culture, Visual Arts Department, University of California, San Diego; Cristiana Fragola — Deputy Director of Strategic Initiatives, Office of Strategic Planning & Change Management, NYCHA; Ron Shiffman, FAICP — Professor, Pratt Graduate Center for Planning and the Environment
Moderator: William Morrish — Dean, Parsons School of Constructed Environments
Introduction: Margaret O’Donoghue Castillo, AIA, LEED AP — 2011 AIANY President
Organizer: Center for Architecture
Sponsors: Underwriter: Arup; Buro Happold; Consolidated Edison; Lead Sponsor: STUDIOS Architecture; Sponsors: MechoShade Systems, Inc.; Trespa; Supporters: Acheson Doyle Partners Architects; DeLaCour Family Foundation; Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates; Syska Hennessy Group, Inc.; Friends: 1100 Architect; Bleecker Area Merchants & Residents Association (BAMRA); Brenda Levin; Capsys Corp.; Community Environmental Center, Inc.; Helpern Architects; Hugo S. Subotovsky AIA Architects; Levien & Company; New York Building Congress, Inc.; Oppenheimer Brady Vogelstein; P.W. Grosser Consulting, Inc.; Swanke Hayden Connell Architects; Viridian Energy & Environmental
Teddy Cruz believes that the “American Dream” of individual home ownership is an unsustainable myth. Furthermore, he contends that the dream has driven American municipalities to draft economic and planning policies that promote urban sprawl, monogamous neighborhoods, and unhealthy populations. However, he asserts that with sufficient education, energy, creativity, and patience, citizens can circumvent the standard planning procedures to craft vibrant communities.
The San Diego-Tijuana border area, straddling the U.S. and Mexico, serves as the laboratory for Estudio Teddy Cruz’s urban planning experiments. Here, with projects such as Casa Familiar, Cruz’s firm has explored unorthodox funding and formal solutions for multi-family developments, often while in the employ of non-profits. Cruz likens the non-profit to an informal city hall or a think tank, and he believes that these organizations bridge the widening gap between the needs of communities and those of local governments. Thus, non-profits mediate between top-down and bottom-up planning solutions.
Non-profits are also positioned to directly aid communities in the micro-development of individual parcels of land. This sort of small-scale, incremental change is central to Cruz’s philosophy because it allows designers to exercise more control over the process while also providing greater flexibility. In many cases, micro-development can foster a different social composition than in larger-scaled projects, and it can promote alternate means of economic production.
Cruz gave an example: imagine a residential community develops a plot by constructing small artist studios, and then offers to subsidize artists’ rent in exchange for social services. Their presence and economic activity would directly enrich the community. Cruz posits that this kind of development, so counter to modern zoning codes, has stabilized cities for millennia.
In spite of his theoretical tenets, Cruz is committed to the practical application of his ideas. He wants to implement pilot projects in low-risk areas and then apply the lessons learned to larger-scale planning. If most civic-minded thinkers present design professionals with food for thought, Cruz has laid out a banquet of ideas.
Matt Shoor, LEED AP, is a freelance designer, educator, and writer living in Manhattan. He is currently teaching sustainable design to Bronx high school students and recently completed his license exams.