force for change
The goal of our model is not to convince people to end subsidies, but instead, to see the reality of our built environment beyond the simple dichotomy of public and private. Hopefully, this vision of the subsidized landscape may help us think about how a finite sum of public dollars should be used to facilitate the construction of our ideal living environments.
After all, the ideal of homeownership—made possible only through government loans and the construction of a state-devised mortgage finance system—has become a key aspect of American life. And yet, it is public housing that continues to symbolize government intervention, while highways and suburbs have been taken for granted as nearly natural occurrences. Much like the disparate fates of Social Security and “welfare,” housing subsidies have developed along separate and unequal tracks, highly segregated by income and race. One track leads to homeownership for well-off whites, the other to substandard rental housing for poor blacks; one is normalized, the other, stigmatized.
CUP hopes to develop further technologies for visualizing the subsidized landscape. We're currently developing a set of visual aids for community development that a variety of organizations can use to help educate and motivate their constituencies, improve public charrettes, and more. We're also producing a television series called “Public Housing Television” to educate residents and others about how public housing works. When residents have a clear understanding of the government's role in shaping their environment, they can take a more active role in shaping their government. Even if we are not proposing new buildings, architects can still play a vital role in educating the public about places and how they work.
Damon Rich is the founder of CUP (Center for Urban Pedagogy), a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based nonprofit organization. He studied architecture at Columbia University and was recently named a Loeb Fellow at Harvard's Graduate School of Design.