Ijlal Muzaffar: Hello every­one. My name is Ijlal Muzaffar. I am asso­ciate pro­fes­sor of archi­tec­ture here at RISD. I’m also the grad­u­ate pro­gram direc­tor of our oth­er degree, Global Arts and Cultures, which was launched with NCSS and it’s just as involved this con­fer­ence and the things that it’s deal­ing with.

So my job is easy. My job is to just intro­duce the speak­ers of the spec­tac­u­lar pan­el that we have now. You can read the descrip­tion, it’s called Architectural futures, pub­lic infra­struc­ture + the Green New Deal. I’ll sum­ma­rize it in words para­phras­ing Damian, which is, does archi­tec­ture give a damn? So, we’ll find out. I think it does. But it has an uphill bat­tle. So, to dis­cuss this I’ll invite, and you can read again their detailed bios in the pack­et that you have but just to give a very brief sum­ma­ry, Bill Fleming, who’s research coor­di­na­tor at Ian L. McHarg Center at UPenn; Peggy Deamer, pro­fes­sor of archi­tec­ture at Yale and The Architecture Lobby; Daniel Barber, pro­fes­sor of archi­tec­ture at U. Penn; and Liliane Wong, who’s pro­fes­sor of inte­ri­or archi­tec­ture at RISD. So please wel­come.


Billy Fleming: Good morn­ing. Give me one sec­ond while I ori­ent myself here. I just wan­na begin by thank­ing Damian and every­one else here at RISD for hav­ing us and for orga­niz­ing this incred­i­ble event. I’m sure those lit­tle cheers in the back were all the stu­dents I’ve dri­ven from Penn into com­ing up here while I’m here so thank you, you’ve ful­filled your con­trac­tu­al oblig­a­tion to cheer for me.

I think that Damian asked me here in large part to talk about this essay from last spring in Places Journal that begins pret­ty timid­ly with this line, I don’t know when the myth of design­ers as cli­mate sav­iors began, but I know that it’s time to kill it. Which as you can imag­ine got me invit­ed to lots of din­ner par­ties at Harvard. So I’m going to talk a lit­tle bit about this piece and some of the things that went into it. And I’m going to talk about some of the work that’s been under­way with­in the McHarg Center and else­where around the Green New Deal sort of since this thing went live.

And I’ll begin with some of the myths that I sort of set out to chal­lenge a bit in that essay, sort of design and design­ers as agents. The so-called agency of land­scape and the cen­tral­i­ty of design to the strug­gle for cli­mate jus­tice, which…we’re can­cel­ing. And the notion of design and design­ers as a sort of mys­ti­cal prac­tice, the work itself a prod­uct of lone, cre­ative genius­es clois­tered away mak­ing change, or as some col­leagues up the road from here sug­gest­ed ear­li­er this year in an exhib­it, some­how mak­ing social change through maps and images. Which we’re also gonna can­cel.

And in their place I offered what I think many oth­ers have argued in allied fields for a long time, some­thing that folks who do not spend a lot of their time in elite design schools read and said, Like no shit.” Which is that—and what Ananya Roy, Neil Brenner in urban plan­ning, Peggy Deamer who’ll fol­low me here and Keefer Dunn in The Architectural Lobby and oth­ers have said for a long time, which is that design is in fact none of these things, it’s mere­ly an instru­ment for pow­er. And that who wields that pow­er is the bound­ary that sets how land­scape and archi­tec­ture and plan­ning are expressed in the built envi­ron­ment.

And among the many ques­tions I asked here, and some folks who’ve ben­e­fit­ed immense­ly from the rise of neolib­er­al­ism and the finan­cial­iza­tion, pri­va­ti­za­tion, and depoliti­ciza­tion of our fields who I think viewed it as maybe a bit too provoca­tive and per­haps strik­ing the wrong tone, par­tial­ly because they felt it as an attack on all of the sort of wealth and ben­e­fits they’d built for them­selves over the years, some­thing I think is increas­ing­ly impor­tant to a ris­ing gen­er­a­tion of design­ers caught in the myr­i­ad traps of pre­car­i­ty and down­ward mobil­i­ty set by this pri­or gen­er­a­tion of design­ers who have found com­fort and mate­r­i­al wealth in their rela­tion­ship with cap­i­tal. This to me seemed like the only ques­tion that mat­tered for the rest of my time in this field. And name­ly, can a prac­tice tied to lux­u­ry real estate and urban devel­op­ment deliv­er any­thing mean­ing­ful to com­mu­ni­ties impact­ed by cli­mate change and extreme inequal­i­ty? Or to put it anoth­er way, can design be both an instru­ment of neolib­er­al­ism and an activist force for good in the strug­gle for cli­mate jus­tice? And I think the answer to that is pret­ty obvi­ous­ly no.

And so I don’t mean to say that design­ers aren’t doing good or inter­est­ing work. I think quite the con­trary. There are plen­ty of good pilots and demon­stra­tion projects out there. Rather I want­ed to argue that we would be hard-pressed to look at the world around us beyond the clois­tered worlds of places like Penn and Harvard and RISD and to believe that things are large­ly fine, that these projects are in and of them­selves enough. And that we are but a few small tweaks away from where we need to go. And that ulti­mate­ly there are only dead ends for us in the sort of pro­fes­sion­al struc­ture tied com­plete­ly to the whims of cap­i­tal and elite clients. And that we’re left with this sort of creep­ing sense that we’ve been sold a dis­ci­pline or set of dis­ci­plines whose tools, oper­a­tions, and modes of prac­tice are fun­da­men­tal­ly mis­aligned to the goals that we’ve set out for our­selves.

And I’m not gonna bela­bor this point too much. This is a thing that every­one, if you have not read should read at some point, Alexandra Lange’s…the last in her series of ret­ro­spec­tive book reviews of some of the canon­i­cal archi­tec­ture books of the 90 and ear­ly 2000s. This is from Koolhaas’ X…S, M, L, XL—which I can’t believe I said that right, I’ve nev­er said that right the first time—where she asks in here could Rem have used his star­dom to do the things that we all sort of I think and hope archi­tec­ture will do in the next ten or twen­ty years, which is to use his star­dom to refuse com­pe­ti­tions, to estab­lish para­me­ters for equi­table prac­tice, to set a forty-hour work week, not to work with author­i­tar­i­an regimes. Could he have? Maybe. Did he? No. And I know Peggy will talk more about this but this is one of the chal­lenges before us now for folks at places like this.

And so, if we take this cri­tique seri­ous­ly that design is and always has been an instru­ment of pow­er not an agent of change, then we must also begin to view our role in the acad­e­my as some­thing more than sim­ply try­ing to chip away at the worst effects of cli­mate change and cap­i­tal­ism. That instead what we must do is devel­op and offer a viable alter­na­tive to design prac­tices struc­tured entire­ly around flows of cap­i­tal and elite whims. And that what we must begin to build togeth­er through these dif­fer­ent net­works that Damian and oth­ers are begin­ning to build is an anti-capitalist counter-hegemonic block aligned with move­ments and not with these sim­i­lar bod­ies of clients. And for us, the sin­gle and only big idea on the table in that regard is the Green New Deal.

And to do that it requires that we recov­er and pro­duce new his­to­ries of some of the moments in this coun­try’s his­to­ry and in glob­al his­to­ry when pow­er has been wield­ed by dif­fer­ent actors and wield­ed well. We were look­ing at Red Vienna, we’re look­ing at an image here of CCC work­ers dur­ing the New Deal. And we have to begin to tell more ful­some his­to­ries of the sort of canon­i­cal projects that our fields hold up.

Though American city planners and landscape architects often celebrate Olmstead's accomplishments, they rarely engage seriously with the ways in which he participated in these structures of dispossession and racial violence

Design for a Green Future, Billy Fleming & Xan Lillehei

This is—I don’t think she’s here. Xan Lillehei, who’s a grad stu­dent who’s done a bunch of work with me. This is from an essay she and I had in Dissent mag­a­zine ear­li­er this year. The text is a lit­tle wonky going from PC to Mac, sor­ry about that. But we should begin to tell some more ful­some his­to­ries about peo­ple like Frederick Law Olmsted and his Central Park, the canons that sort of bound our fields or shape our fields, and to talk about him and cer­tain­ly oth­ers as the prod­uct of their will­ing­ness to col­lab­o­rate with racist city elites and devel­op­ers and evict­ing the black res­i­dents of Seneca Village to make way for the ulti­mate bour­geois park, Central Park.

And even with­in the New Deal (we’re look­ing at DC here), the will­ing­ness of plan­ners and archi­tects with­in the Farm Security Administration to dis­pos­sess black farm­ers in the delta to make way for white landown­ers seek­ing to con­sol­i­date and indus­tri­al­ize agri­cul­ture in the rur­al south, process­es ever long under­way before the New Deal but that accel­er­at­ed dur­ing it. And the per­va­sive use of slave labor in many of our nation’s sort of icon­ic cities. This is from an an old issue of LA+ show­ing the build­ings here built by slaves in Washington DC. These are not his­to­ries that are often taught in our core his­to­ry and the­o­ry cours­es at design schools.

And as I also wrote in that essay any­way, the Green New Deal rep­re­sents the biggest design and envi­ron­men­tal idea in a cen­tu­ry for us. And it large­ly has mate­ri­al­ized with­out us. As Damian sort of allud­ed, this is an idea that’s been put on the table by move­ments and orga­niz­ers strug­gling for years and years in obscu­ri­ty to cre­ate space for peo­ple like us to come togeth­er and talk about this sort of an event, or these sort of ideas in a con­text like this.

So, if we look at— This is com­ing from the protest Damian men­tioned. And we can already see some of the oppor­tunists with­in our fields, out in the design fields, clam­or­ing to sort of steal these ideas for them­selves, either in per­pet­u­a­tion of their own per­son­al brand or in the sort of con­stant seek­ing of busi­ness devel­op­ment oppor­tu­ni­ties for their firms, will­ing and look­ing and eager to say that what they do is already the Green New Deal so send us more mon­ey to do more things we already do.

Now, oth­ers in this field have also tak­en a posi­tion I think that the Green New Deal as cur­rent­ly for­mu­lat­ed is miss­ing cer­tain things. So we-re look­ing at HR 109, a sort of fram­ing doc­u­ment here. And that because they looked at it, it’s miss­ing some things that their par­tic­u­lar sub-sub-sub…sub-field of their dis­ci­pline cares a whole lot about, it has to be can­celed, it’s over. Or they’ve read it and con­clud­ed that the Green New Deal sort of already exists in the way that they prac­tice and noth­ing real­ly needs to change. I’ll say for us—we sort of came to this in the McHarg Center…with the idea that I think what most peo­ple would under­stand rep­re­sents a sort of frame­work. So if we look at the var­i­ous built envi­ron­ment aspects of HR 109, some of which are up here on the screen, we can get a sense that like, this is to be viewed as a skele­ton to be filled in. This is what we’ve been doing now, with a group of pub­lic hous­ing res­i­dents orga­nized most­ly by People’s Action and the Homes Guarantee, and a num­ber of oth­er peo­ple who’ve been involved in sort of craft­ing the pol­i­cy frame­work for this going for­ward. And I feel like I would be in very big trou­ble and remiss if I did­n’t men­tion how much of this work has been pro­duced in part­ner­ship with Daniel Aldana Cohen, my work hus­band and like, hous­ing dad at the University of Pennsylvania.

So, I’ll men­tion that stuff briefly in a moment. I’ll come back to the Green New Deal work we’re doing. But I think we also have to begin with its pri­ma­ry ref­er­ence, the New Deal and talk about what we can learn and we can not from that, since these move­ment folks have told us that you know, through the Green New Deal this is where we have to begin. And so the New Deal for us any­way rep­re­sents prob­a­bly the last moment in this coun­try when there was an alter­na­tive on offer in the design field to the sort of elite and pri­vate capital-led prac­tice of archi­tec­ture, land­scape archi­tec­ture, and city plan­ning.

And beyond intro­duc­ing uni­ver­sal pro­grams like Social Security, the New Deal also rad­i­cal­ly reshaped the phys­i­cal land­scape of the United States. We’re look­ing here at The Living New Deal’s sort of map­ping project show­ing about 15,000 of the 55,000 or so built envi­ron­ment projects built by the New Deal. And you know, this is cre­ate for us what Phoebe Cutler sort of called her book The Public Landscape of the New Deal a designed bureau­cra­cy. So we’re look­ing here at the sort of orga­ni­za­tion of design­ers in the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment through the New Deal, with some lin­ger­ing sort of ves­ti­gial com­po­nents still remain­ing in places like the EPA, the Army Corps, the BLM; some of our actu­al worst actors in the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment, where we still have design­ers and plan­ners employed.

And I think it’s becom­ing more wide­ly under­stood that the New Deal itself was not a sin­gle piece of leg­is­la­tion or even a pack­age of leg­is­la­tion but a descrip­tor for an era of pol­i­cy mak­ing? Which is again I think how the Green New Deal is now becom­ing more com­mon­ly under­stood. It was ini­tial­ly sort of can­celed by peo­ple for HR 109 not being a seri­ous piece of leg­is­la­tion; peo­ple who did­n’t under­stand it was intend­ed as a set of goals and frame­works. And if we look at the sort of—the why and the how of how the New Deal itself came togeth­er we can look at three over­lap­ping crises that pro­duced the space for it to occur.

One of them was their own eco­log­i­cal cri­sis, the Dust Bowl and the forced migra­tion of three and a half mil­lion or so peo­ple from the Midwest, most­ly to California. The sec­ond was the sort of mas­sive glob­al finan­cial cri­sis of the Great Depression, which brought us to about 20, 22% unem­ploy­ment in this coun­try and gave us the pol­i­tics space for some­thing like a jobs guar­an­tee and the CCC and WPA in oth­er places. And the third was the rise of glob­al fas­cism. And the polit­i­cal cri­sis that forced FDR and his col­leagues to the table to offer an alter­na­tive.

Though those are impor­tant?, I don’t want to spend too much time in this talk on the sort of well-known sto­ries. I know oth­er peo­ple will prob­a­bly do that or we can have that in the con­ver­sa­tion. The TVA, the CCC, the WPA—we’re look­ing just quick­ly at some of the TVA’s images here—in part because I know oth­er peo­ple will cov­er them but also in part because those agen­cies are often held up as exem­plars and they’re actu­al­ly quite dan­ger­ous for us to think about in this con­text? The TVA itself was a very anti-democratic cen­tral­ized plan­ning insti­tu­tion. Its board is com­prised of peo­ple appoint­ed by elect­ed offi­cials in the region it cov­ers. Almost all of whom are fund­ed by the coal and fos­sil fuel indus­try. And so it should­n’t be a big sur­prise when the TVA’s fuel mix turns out to be much more reliant on coal than the medi­an util­i­ty in this coun­try. It’s because the peo­ple who appoint the folks who sit on the board make their liv­ing rais­ing mon­ey from the coal and fos­sil fuel indus­try?

There’s actu­al­ly far more I think in there for us to learn from places like the REA, the Rural Electrification Administration. One that built some 380,000 miles of trans­mis­sion line over the course of the New Deal. That’s about 42% of all the lines ever built in this coun­try. And in a few short decades, less than the time scale we’ve been hand­ed to decar­bonize our econ­o­my now, they were able to raise rur­al elec­tri­fi­ca­tion rates from 10 to 97%, and did it most­ly through coop­er­a­tive­ly and publicly-owned util­i­ties, many of which still exist today. And we’re look­ing at a map here from one of my grad stu­dents who I think is not here, Sara Harman, just show­ing lit­er­al­ly a foot­print of the REA over the course of the New Deal, the places where it stood up coops, where it built trans­mis­sion lines, where it did all of the work I just sort of described to you.

We might also look at a place like the Civilian Aeronautics Authority, an agency that gave us our net­work of munic­i­pal air­ports and all of the weird pre-radar sort of way-finding devices that we still have scat­tered across the land­scape. These are like lit­er­al­ly large arrows drawn and built into the land­scape for planes to fol­low. And for folks who’ve flown to Chicago you rec­og­nize this prob­a­bly. This is Midway, most of our munic­i­pal air­ports can trace their roots back to the New Deal.

And we’re look­ing here— I think Allison is here? Carr? Are you here some­where? Yeah, she’s back there. So this is her map, anoth­er one of my stu­dents. We’re work­ing on a Green New Deal stu­dio togeth­er this semes­ter. And so if you look again these are places with a very high car­bon lega­cy. These aren’t things we would­n’t nec­es­sar­i­ly want to repli­cate exact­ly as we find them today? But they’re nev­er­the­less I think an exam­ple of what we can point back to when we’re told that the hollowed-out gov­ern­ment we’ve designed for our­selves can’t do any­thing big any­more. Of course it can’t, we built it that way. But that has­n’t always been true, and design has not always been weaponized in the way it’s been weaponized in this par­tic­u­lar moment.

And so as we think about what our sort of gen­er­a­tional projects might be, and what ambi­tions we might take from the New Deal, and we think about their over­lap­ping crises…we think about the moment we find our­selves in now with our own eco­log­i­cal crises. This one, that of glob­al cli­mate change, our own finan­cial cri­sis, part of it stem­ming from the Great Recession. But also the sort of con­tin­u­a­tion of down­ward mobil­i­ty amongst ris­ing gen­er­a­tions in this coun­try and around the world. And our own, again, polit­i­cal cri­sis with the rise of not only glob­al fas­cism but fas­cism here at home.

It seems increasingly clear that the Great Recession is not sparking new New Deal… We confront our crisis in a political climate that's contemptuous to…the very idea of the public.

The Public Works, Nancy Levinson

It seems increas­ing­ly clear, at least it did a few years ago when Nancy Levinson from Places offered this to us in one for many amaz­ing essays on the top­ic, that as we look ahead to the Green New Deal, it seemed at the time any­way (this is 2012, I believe) that the Great Recession is not spark­ing a New New Deal. We did­n’t yet have the lan­guage of the Green New Deal. And that if we con­front this cri­sis and our polit­i­cal cli­mate, at the moment any­way that she was imag­in­ing this, we seemed very con­temp­tu­ous to the very idea of the pub­lic. So a lot has changed in a few short years.

And if we think about how we’ll… We’re look­ing at Chicago’s tem­per­a­ture pro­file over the course of the next cen­tu­ry here. I think the big ques­tions I have about the Green New Deal that we’re try­ing to work through now fall into sort of two cat­e­gories.

One is, how are we going to bal­ance the need to build the most stuff we’ve ever built, as fast and as well as we’ve ever built it, with our desire to uphold this coun­try’s demo­c­ra­t­ic val­ues and self-determination? We’re look­ing here at migra­tion pat­terns pro­ject­ed from sea lev­el rise and cli­mate change, and this is where they’re going to move. This is Mat Hauer’s work at the University of Georgia that we visu­al­ized for him.

And we’re look­ing here at just…on top of those cli­mate refugees adding 100 mil­lion peo­ple to the US, which is the sort of medi­an pro­jec­tion for the next fifty years or so, what that would look like build­ing at these dif­fer­ent den­si­ties.

The sec­ond ques­tion is how we think about grow­ing our coali­tion beyond rooms like this, beyond places like Philadelphia and Providence and New York and Boston. I’m from rur­al Arkansas so I think a lot about places like that, and in our stu­dio we’re look­ing at places like Appalachia, the low­er Mississippi Delta, and the Corn Belt in the Midwest in part because we know we can’t actu­al­ly achieve any of the goals of the Green New Deal with­out putting those places if not first then very close to first? And we also prob­a­bly can­not grow our coali­tion large enough to achieve all the things we want to achieve with­out bring­ing more and more peo­ple along.

And I’ll zoom through those pret­ty quick­ly.

And so let me begin to kind of wrap up here by con­nect­ing the dots between the New Deal, the Green New Deal, and the sort of polit­i­cal train we now find our­selves in. And to the for­mer the point, you know those of us at places like RISD and Harvard and Penn, in par­tic­u­lar, with resources and pow­er at our disposal—this is with what Damian was just talk­ing about—have to begin to orga­nize our col­leagues, too, not just to allow our­selves to be orga­nized by the move­ments we’re hop­ing to serve but to orga­nize our col­leagues around these ideas. To do more than to give out a prac­tice that sim­ply blunts the worst effects of cli­mate change, pro­duces strik­ing visu­als and the like. We have to begin the offer on-ramps from our places into move­ments, to cre­ate space for cli­mate action and cli­mate activists to be wel­come and part of our schools. And for us to find ways to move togeth­er to build this anti-capitalist counter-hegemonic bloc that is going to deter­mine whether or not we suc­ceed on this Green New Deal ter­rain.

And what I’ll say— I know I’m like, run­ning out of time, I’m going to be very very quick. Damian asked me to talk a lit­tle bit too about this sort of like ongo­ing fight I’ve had with Shawn Kelly and ASLA, which I’ll do real­ly quick­ly. Shawn is thank­ful­ly no longer pres­i­dent at ASLA so…goodbye?

But any­one who was in Atlantic City with me last…February, January, might remem­ber I gave a pre­sen­ta­tion about a book we’ve just put out called Design with Nature Now. Very benign pre­sen­ta­tion. About an hour. The last three min­utes or so, I put up a slide show­ing a AIAs very like, timid endorse­ment of the Green New Deal, HR 109, and sort of ask­ing peo­ple in the audi­ence to email, call, what­ev­er ASLA’s office and ask them to make a sim­i­lar state­ment, or maybe a bet­ter one, God for­bid.

And I did not know at the time, but Shawn Kelly was in the audi­ence. He was extreme­ly not hap­py with me. Went to the stage the next day, in the­o­ry to give a talk and used that entire talk to talk about why they would not be endorsing…not the Green New Deal because he did­n’t know the name of it, but that green plan? So he also I think sided with Nancy Pelosi on that.

And even­tu­al­ly they felt com­pelled to put out a state­ment around the Green New Deal, HR 109. Which is, if you read it it’s prob­a­bly the worst state­ment I’ve ever read on any piece of leg­is­la­tion. It made every­one mad, it did not endorse it, it did not attack it, so every­one from every side was mad with them. And for us then… Aside from pick­ing a fight with the ASLA pres­i­dent which maybe was not the smartest thing I’ve ever done, it real­ly set us into action and then to work I think with­in the Center to think about press­ing them on this issue in a vari­ety of ways.

So, one of those was to pull togeth­er this event that Damian’s men­tioned, Designing a Green New Deal in September. This is Varshini Prakash lead­ing a bunch of stiff design­ers in song. You can see like, this is one of the most insane pic­tures for peo­ple who know design­ers to ever look at. You have Marilyn Taylor who was our for­mer dean and like very into cor­po­rate archi­tec­ture next to Naomi Klein, next to Raj Patel, next to Alyssa and Thea and like DSA Ecosocialist Caucus over here in the cen­ter. I don’t know if she knew who all these peo­ple were, but this is an insane pic­ture to think that I have now.

And then this event and many oth­er things got us to work on help­ing to write what became the Green New Deal for Public Housing bill that AOC and Bernie just put out for the Homes Guarantee bill, the Homes for All Act that Ilhan Omar just put out. And the for­ma­tion of this sort of student-led group. Let me zip through these real­ly quick­ly. Those are just some of the Data for Progress things you can always look at if you have not already.

It also led to the cre­ation of this real­ly amaz­ing group of stu­dents who’ve been agi­tat­ing ASLA for the last few months as well called ASLA Adapt and who then I think along with us and all of this oth­er out­side pres­sure we built on ASLA, sort of forced them to the table to put out this state­ment around the Green New Deal for Public Housing bill that just came out a cou­ple weeks ago, where they actu­al­ly endorsed it. Part of that is that Shawn’s…no longer the pres­i­dent, and the CEO at the time is no longer there. But also because of all of this out­side pres­sure that had bent ASLA into this coali­tion in ways that I did not expect to hap­pen quite so quick­ly. And that has I think helped us think about how this work might con­tin­ue going for­ward as we think about the oth­er aspects of the built envi­ron­ment in a Green New Deal that we’re gonna take on in the Center and as a set of fields.

And so I just want to end here—I promise I’m done—by just acknowl­edg­ing my stu­dents who are here today. Can you all like, raise your hands. I see some of you in the back. This is also my way of keep­ing atten­dance. There’s absolute­ly noth­ing in this pre­sen­ta­tion that I think would’ve come togeth­er for me as clear­ly or as quickly—and it’s like, I think we’re sup­posed to be ten and prob­a­bly real­ly fif­teen minutes—if not for the work they’ve been doing with us this semes­ter. They’ve done real­ly incred­i­ble things help­ing me think about the Green New Deal an the built envi­ron­ment. And so I wan­na think Damian and thank them for hav­ing me here.

Further Reference

Climate Futures II event page


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