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by Mitch McEwen

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    Thoughts on Juneteenth: The Paradox of Pausing

    Mitch McEwen
    Jun 19, '20 4:52 PM EST


    Like many others, within a few groups of Black architects and urban designers, I have been processing this moment and what it might demand from the fields of architecture and urbanism.  A paradox is becoming evident.  In this rapidly changing reality, there are many pressures for speed. We have seen a number of professional chapters of practicing architects around the country respond to the protests and uprisings for Black lives.  Often response is within days of a news cycle in that city or region.  The calls from professional architecture chapters speak of rapidity in the re-building, the designing, the planning and design assistance, to quickly repair and restore and reconstitute any street fronts or buildings seen to be damaged.  Simultaneously, with the call to de-fund police departments, resources may be arriving swiftly to places and organizations that did not previously have access to such civic resources.

    It is paradoxical in the midst of all this rapidity to look for opportunities to pause.  It is also paradoxical -- in the midst of so much momentum -- to feel the need to offer that pause sooner rather than later and to speak the will to work toward that pause.

    Why pause?

    1) Firstly, there is the open-ended question of how exactly streets and buildings were destroyed.  As local leaders and journalists have started observing publicly, many locales across the country are seeing the same pattern of arsonists and glass breakers arriving separately from protestors and with distinct intentions. A pause would enable some non-criminalizing fact finding or truth seeking processes to be guided locally. 

    2) It takes time for designers to emerge from local leadership.  The structures for technical support could be managed in unconventional ways.

    3) Capacity building takes time.  Many of the organizations will not have had experience with commissioning architects and urban designers before.    

    4) There are very few national experts in spatial alternatives to incarceration and processes of transitioning to a non-carceral model.  Those experts might not have time to immediately scale up their models and practices to address the intense national distribution. 

    5) Pause does not mean do nothing.  This may be the most important thing to realize.  Pause means connect, reflect, think-- it means so much. 

    Of course, there is the understandable fear of pausing for too long - taking too much time - slowing things down to nothing, allowing this summer to de facto become frozen in time.


    As someone who grew up in Washington DC in the 1980s, I think immediately of U street.  Even through 1988, as shown above, the street had boarded up shops and signs that still hadn’t been replaced from the 1968 fires following the assassination of Martin Luther King.  I remember blocks this way, almost like a film set.  What happened after 1968 was not a pause but a deep freeze.  A denial.  A slow un-knowing.  On the ground it meant streets boarded and literally still charred a generation later, with the ultimate questions -- Who had ordered the assassination of King? What were the urban promises of integration?  --- still very much deep frozen, as well.   

    It is important to reiterate -- Pause does not mean do nothing.  Pause means connect, reflect, think-- it means so much potential and care. 

    A couple quotes to reflect on----

    “We are dreaming of a new world.” Josie Duffy Rice on Trevor Noah  

    https://thejusticecollaborative.com/about/blueprint/  

    “We need visionary solutions crafted in collaboration with the communities most impacted.” Deanna Van Buren 

    https://ssir.org/articles/entry/mass_decarceration_and_covid_19



     
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About this Blog

Posts are sporadic. Topics span architecture, urban design, planning, and tangents from these. I sometimes include excerpts of academic articles. There is an evolving series of interviews with non-architects about subjects often discussed by architects (neighborhoods, social justice, style, etc). This blog started during my fellowship at Akademie Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart, Germany.

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