Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Residential Street Life

After finishing school, getting married and settling here in Milwaukee I have learned a lot from this country. When you look at things from a different perspective especially coming from a different country (Puerto Rico, A.K.A. “The oldest existing colony in the world”) you start to notice details. Something that I have been noticing is the way houses in these new developments do not have a defined front. All you see is two huge garage doors and a single door with a doorbell button. Not only that, the house sits as far away from the street as possible. All there is between the street and the house is a concrete curb some grass, a narrow sidewalk, more and more grass and then a huge concrete driveway. I also noticed how quiet these neighborhoods are, you would not think people live in these houses. People work all day and then they come back home, open their remote controlled garage door, drive their car in and they don’t even put a foot outside of the house. The way people come in and out of the house is very antisocial there is no interaction with the neighbors at all.
All these observations have inspired me to study the social experience in a residential neighborhood. I would also like to focus on how architectural elements like porches and stoops would help promote street life in these “dead” neighborhoods. I will investigate how other options like changing setbacks, sidewalk widths, and street landscape could also encourage interaction between neighbors and street life.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Three weeks so far!

It has been an exciting three weeks, I have learned much more in three weeks than my entire career an undergraduate time. Is refreshing to try a different school, it had already broaden my knowledge and perception on this world.

It is amazing how the new technology have been able to make a social connection with people that never met before in person. The world is moving towards a society with no face-to-face interaction. People do not have to move or even leave their homes or offices to communicate, meet or interact with other people. Computer technologies have shrunk the world and limit in a way the tactful and warmth aspect of personal interaction.

When I arrived to Boston for the “Intensive” I had the privilege to meet people that I have been “talking” for the past two week through internet. Nothing compares to the way we have been able to share time together in the studio and the classroom. Going to lunch together, spending late nights in the studio, sharing personal experiences, have thought me how important that close interaction is. Putting a face to a voice or writing makes the social experience better.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

In response of James S. Duncan’s reading: “Landscape Taste as a Symbol of Group Identity: A Westchester County Village”

Duncan’s observation is on how the landscape of a property in Bedford Village relates with their resident status; furthermore, the relationship between the size of their properties and segregation within the community. He talks on how “the majority of the residents are upper-middle class and upper class white Anglo-Saxon Protestants”; he also describes the village as “an image of affluence and cultural homogeneity”. He portrays the village residents as people who do not like changes because they like their colonial look and they want to protect their heritage. They also have strict zoning codes because it is supposed to “preserve the rural atmosphere of the town”.

On Duncan’s observations he reveals four different landscapes: the village center, the tradesmen’s landscape, the alpha and beta landscapes. The village center landscape or area consists of the main business area and couple of churches. The tradesmen’s landscape could be described as an area with humble houses, quite streets and most of the residents are over 50 years old. There is interaction between neighbors since their houses close to each other. The alpha landscape is the oldest of them all; it has narrow, unpaved and crooked roads with picturesque ponds and miles of bridle paths. The street area is not used as communal play area for children and the distance between houses minimizes interaction between neighbors. On the beta landscape they have paved streets and their houses are newer reproductions of Old New England Colonial. His main focus seems to be the alpha and beta landscapes.

It is interesting how Duncan’s observations reveal a clear segregation between the residents of Bedford Village. The table that he provided on page 346 (Table II - Social Groups and Landscapes) shows a clear disproportion between the different social club members. For example, The Golf Club, 91.1% of the members are from the alpha landscape; on the other hand, 8.9% of the members are from the beta landscape. The percentage of Italians in the alpha landscape is 17.7% compared to an 82.3% in the beta landscape. Also religion groups are very different between the alpha and beta landscapes.
The alpha landscape residents describe their membership with Episcopal Church as an “inner circle”. The beta landscape residents are mainly Italian Catholics and they are regarded by the alpha people as laborers.

Duncan’s observations bring up the issue of status or class in this country and how generally the upper-class ends up alienating themselves from the lower classes. Upper-Class people tend to treat lower-class people like they do not belong and are not welcomed. Nearly all of the time upper-class people inherit their money and traditions from their families. So they would never experience or know many people from lower classes. The traditions play a mayor role on this issue of segregation, like in Bedford Village there area many towns in U.S. that are “obsessed” with their past and traditions and they would not accept any changes because of the fear of “betraying” their heritage. For example, The Village of Germantown, Wisconsin, they have a rich German heritage. A couple of months ago I drove by the village for the first time and it struck to see how a series of new buildings in a shopping center were built to resemble traditional frame work buildings from Germany. The problem was that since it was a commercial development the design looked like Disney/Hollywood fake little village. Seems to me, the village design/zoning board ended up designing the building in place of the architect.

Duncan’s readings as well as Bickford’s basically address the issue of segregation. Even though there are no political boundaries at Bedford Village, its residents make their own social and class boundaries. Residents would not welcome change or new people to their neighborhood or clubs. I think there is a “natural human” tendency of people from the same “kind” or class to separate themselves from the others. This way they create their own perspective in terms of what its right and what is not. Bickford explains how the gated communities are separating the community from the rest and making everybody else not welcome. Bickford’s suggestion of constructing a social space where people would intermingle and get to know each other is a great idea, now the problem is who is going convince these people to open their mind and forget about how they were raised?

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

On Susan Bickford

Hello everyone, I am very excited for the program and I am looking forward to meet everyone in Boston.

Susan Bickford’s reading talks about the problem of segregation in the U.S. Throughout my life I have experienced various forms of segregation first hand. I grew up in the city of San Germán, Puerto Rico; moved in the year 2000 to Milwaukee, Wisconsin to attend college.
The City of San Germán’s population is over 35,000 and most of the people live in what is called “urbanizació­nes”. They are basically middleclass suburban developments in which all the houses are built with the same or similar floor plan. They are usually built on what used to be farm land on the outskirts of the city. Some are gated with a security guard 24 hours a day. The guard’s duty here is to keep people that do not belong to the neighborhood from coming in. These communities similar to what Evan McKenzie calls “common interest developments” (CIDs) or “planned unit developments” (PUDs). Some of them have owner organizations and different fees that residents will pay for maintenance of their shared amenities.

The area where I grew up was in the country side of San Germán, we were just a 10 minute drive from the city center. The city center is where most of the business and government facilities are located. Some of my friends in high school lived in “urbanizació­nes” in their minds they were superior to the other kids whose parents couldn’t afford to live in such places.

In San Germán also there are some affordable housing developments that are called “caserios”, these were built back in the 1980’s and were basically government funded. In the 1990’s the “caserios” were notorious for their crime rate, criminals used them as hub for drug dealing and drug related killings. By the mid 90’s the crime was so out of control the government used the National Guard to take control of these places. Later on, the government helped to build fences around the “caserios” and added controlled access gates with a police guarding those 24 hours a day. The guard’s duty here is to keep the crime isolated and help to prevent it from spreading into the rest of the city. People who live in “caserios” they are usually victims of prejudice just because they were raised in a typically violent location.

When I moved to Milwaukee I started to notice the city of Milwaukee is just as segregated. Here there are so many people from different backgrounds and economic circumstances, but they tend to group together into different neighborhoods. This seems to be based on both economic circumstance as well as culture. There are physical as well as political boundaries. The river divides the primarily Caucasian “East Side” from the primarily African American “West Side”. The highway pushes the primarily Latino population towards the “South Side”.
The school districts are also affected by this division. The city of Milwaukee attempts to keep their schools somewhat diverse for political reasons. They bus in students from lower income neighborhoods into the high income schools. This is an example of what Bickford describes as “Overlapping.” Though this is an effort to increase diversity, the schools are still extremely segregated. The students who are bused in from the lower income neighborhoods tend to form their own groups, and do not actually “mix in” with the local students. Perhaps after time this problem will lessen as the different groups of students mingle more with each other.