Economic Engines: Addison’s Focus Shifts To Redevelopment

In Extreme Cities, Dawson eviscerates the proposed development, pointing to the proven inefficacy of seawalls as a defense against extreme weather events (90% of the seawalls along the coast of Japan broke when the 2011 tsunami hit). The Great Garuda, he argues, fails to rectify Jakarta’s drain on its groundwater supply, which an architect working on the project has identified as the most basic cause of the city’s sinking. So why go ahead with the plan? “Coastal protection efforts such as the Great Garuda effectively constitute a new form of disaster capitalism, one in which highly remunerative real estate development overlaps with engineering megaprojects whose spectacular character is clearly designed to attract speculative capital investment,”

In other words, it mirrors what’s happening in Miami, where immediate investments take precedence over future stability. And in both instances—and so many more across the world’s megacities—the cities’ poorest people, and those who are least able to economically protect themselves against climate-change-wrought destruction, are the ones who fall victim to these schemes. In Miami, the relentless luxury development is driving up property values and the cost of living. In Jakarta, progress on the Great Garuda will dispossess residents of the informal settlements that have sprung up on the unstable land slated for redevelopment.

This dynamic is symptomatic of a whole host of concerning trends that have accompanied urbanization over the last several decades: lack of communication, lack of foresight, willful blindness to human need across the full socioeconomic spectrum. But the underlying driver of destructive development in cities, Dawson says, is privatization.

The private developers and architecture firms that are commissioned to undertake large-scale redevelopment projects like the Great Garuda are, to their credit, “trying to think about how cities could exist in a more complementary nature, and specifically with water,” Dawson says. In recent years, cutting-edge architects have shifted their focus away from building in silos and are designing their developments more holistically, integrating green spaces and other resiliency features in acknowledgment of the shifting demands of a world facing down climate change.

But the fact that they are private companies commissioned specifically to work on one project in one location within much broader and more complex urban ecosystems creates and strengthens structural and economic divides in cities. Illustrative of this, he says, is a redevelopment proposal, called Hunts Point Lifelines, that is currently underway in the South Bronx, New York. The design for the Hunts Point neighborhood was solicited through New York City’s post-Sandy reconstruction request for proposals, Rebuild By Design. Spearheaded by University of Pennsylvania School of Design and Olin Studio, a Philadelphia-based landscape architecture firm, the plan comprehensively links the portion of the South Bronx to a proposed network of new waterfront parks that would line the river. New public transit hubs and a clean power generating station accompany the plan, as do new restaurants and public amenities attached to the parks.

The PennDesign/Olin team worked closely with community groups in Hunts Point to develop a plan that would address their chief concerns, mainly a lack of green spaces and poor air quality due to the numerous industrial hubs sited in the area. Hunts Point Lifelines does that, but Hunts Point is just one of several communities clustered on the South Bronx—it just happens to be the one where crucial citywide resources, like the Hunts Point Food Distribution Center and the Fulton Fish Market, are located. The neighboring Port Morris and Mott Haven and their combined 90,000 residents are left out of the redevelopment, as are the five other areas throughout the five boroughs that are designated as Significant Maritime Industrial Areas—low-income places where heavily polluting industries have been encouraged to cluster together in order to shield wealthier zip codes from health risks. Because these initiatives are not citywide, he says, they do little to advance equitable development, and the prioritization of Hunts Point over the rest of the South Bronx rings of the sense that “people in that region are constantly asked to make sacrifices for the rest of the city,” Dawson says.

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