13:15
TEDGlobal 2013

Teddy Cruz: How architectural innovations migrate across borders

Filmed:

As the world's cities undergo explosive growth, inequality is intensifying. Wealthy neighborhoods and impoverished slums grow side by side, the gap between them widening. In this eye-opening talk, architect Teddy Cruz asks us to rethink urban development from the bottom up. Sharing lessons from the slums of Tijuana, Cruz explores the creative intelligence of the city's residents and offers a fresh perspective on what we can learn from places of scarcity.

- Architect and urbanist
Teddy Cruz looks for clues to the "city of the future" in the emerging urban areas of today. Full bio

The urban explosion
00:12
of the last years of economic boom
00:15
also produced dramatic marginalization,
00:19
resulting in the explosion of slums
00:23
in many parts of the world.
00:25
This polarization of enclaves of mega-wealth
00:28
surrounded by sectors of poverty
00:31
and the socioeconomic inequalities
they have engendered
00:34
is really at the center of today's urban crisis.
00:37
But I want to begin tonight
00:41
by suggesting that this urban crisis
00:43
is not only economic or environmental.
00:46
It's particularly a cultural crisis,
00:50
a crisis of the institutions
00:52
unable to reimagine the stupid ways
00:55
which we have been growing,
00:59
unable to challenge the oil-hungry,
01:01
selfish urbanization that have perpetuated
01:05
cities based on consumption,
01:09
from southern California to New York to Dubai.
01:11
So I just really want to share with you a reflection
01:16
that the future of cities today
01:20
depends less on buildings
01:23
and, in fact, depends more
01:25
on the fundamental reorganization
of socioeconomic relations,
01:28
that the best ideas in the shaping
01:33
of the city in the future
01:35
will not come from enclaves of economic power
01:36
and abundance,
01:41
but in fact from sectors of conflict and scarcity
01:42
from which an urgent imagination
01:48
can really inspire us to rethink urban growth today.
01:50
And let me illustrate what I mean
01:54
by understanding or engaging sites of conflict
01:58
as harboring creativity, as I briefly introduce you
02:02
to the Tijuana-San Diego border region,
02:06
which has been the laboratory to
rethink my practice as an architect.
02:09
This is the wall, the border wall,
02:13
that separates San Diego and Tijuana,
02:15
Latin America and the United States,
02:18
a physical emblem
02:21
of exclusionary planning policies
02:23
that have perpetuated the division
02:25
of communities, jurisdictions
02:28
and resources across the world.
02:30
In this border region, we find
02:33
some of the wealthiest real estate,
02:36
as I once found in the edges of San Diego,
02:38
barely 20 minutes away
02:41
from some of the poorest
settlements in Latin America.
02:43
And while these two cities have the same population,
02:47
San Diego has grown six times larger than Tijuana
02:51
in the last decades,
02:54
immediately thrusting us to confront
02:56
the tensions and conflicts
03:00
between sprawl and density,
03:02
which are at the center of today's discussion
03:03
about environmental sustainability.
03:05
So I've been arguing in the last years
03:08
that, in fact, the slums of Tijuana can teach a lot
03:11
to the sprawls of San Diego
03:15
when it comes to socioeconomic sustainability,
03:16
that we should pay attention and learn
03:20
from the many migrant communities
03:22
on both sides of this border wall
03:25
so that we can translate their informal processes
03:27
of urbanization.
03:30
What do I mean by the informal in this case?
03:33
I'm really just talking about
03:36
the compendium of social practices of adaptation
03:37
that enable many of these migrant communities
03:41
to transgress imposed political and economic recipes
03:44
of urbanization.
03:49
I'm talking simply about the creative intelligence
03:50
of the bottom-up,
03:53
whether manifested in the slums of Tijuana
03:56
that build themselves, in fact,
with the waste of San Diego,
03:59
or the many migrant neighborhoods
in Southern California
04:03
that have begun to be retrofitted with difference
04:05
in the last decades.
04:08
So I've been interested as an artist
04:10
in the measuring, the observation,
04:12
of many of the trans-border informal flows
04:15
across this border:
04:17
in one direction, from south to north,
04:19
the flow of immigrants into the United States,
04:21
and from north to south the flow of waste
04:24
from southern California into Tijuana.
04:27
I'm referring to the recycling
04:30
of these old post-war bungalows
04:32
that Mexican contractors bring to the border
04:36
as American developers are disposing of them
04:39
in the process of building a more inflated version
04:42
of suburbia in the last decades.
04:45
So these are houses waiting to cross the border.
04:47
Not only people cross the border here,
04:50
but entire chunks of one city move to the next,
04:52
and when these houses are placed
on top of these steel frames,
04:55
they leave the first floor to become the second
04:59
to be in-filled with more house,
05:02
with a small business.
05:04
This layering of spaces and economies
05:05
is very interesting to notice.
05:08
But not only houses, also small debris
05:10
from one city, from San Diego, to Tijuana.
05:13
Probably a lot of you have seen the rubber tires
05:15
that are used in the slums to build retaining walls.
05:18
But look at what people have done here in conditions
05:20
of socioeconomic emergency.
05:23
They have figured out how to peel off the tire,
05:25
how to thread it and interlock it
05:28
to construct a more efficient retaining wall.
05:30
Or the garage doors that are brought
05:35
from San Diego in trucks
05:38
to become the new skin of emergency housing
05:40
in many of these slums
05:45
surrounding the edges of Tijuana.
05:47
So while, as an architect,
05:49
this is a very compelling thing to witness,
05:51
this creative intelligence,
05:53
I also want to keep myself in check.
05:54
I don't want to romanticize poverty.
05:56
I just want to suggest
05:58
that this informal urbanization
06:00
is not just the image of precariousness,
06:02
that informality here, the informal,
06:06
is really a set of socioeconomic
and political procedures
06:09
that we could translate as artists,
06:14
that this is about a bottom-up urbanization
06:16
that performs.
06:19
See here, buildings are not important
06:20
just for their looks,
06:23
but, in fact, they are important for what they can do.
06:25
They truly perform as they transform through time
06:28
and as communities negotiate
06:32
the spaces and boundaries and resources.
06:34
So while waste flows southbound,
06:37
people go north in search of dollars,
06:40
and most of my research has had to do
06:43
with the impact of immigration
06:45
in the alteration of the homogeneity
06:49
of many neighborhoods in the United States,
06:52
particularly in San Diego.
06:54
And I'm talking about how this begins to suggest
06:56
that the future of Southern California
06:58
depends on the retrofitting
07:01
of the large urbanization -- I mean, on steroids --
07:04
with the small programs,
07:07
social and economic.
07:09
I'm referring to how immigrants,
07:11
when they come to these neighborhoods,
07:13
they begin to alter the one-dimensionality
07:15
of parcels and properties
07:18
into more socially and
economically complex systems,
07:20
as they begin to plug an
informal economy into a garage,
07:24
or as they build an illegal granny flat
07:28
to support an extended family.
07:30
This socioeconomic entrepreneurship
07:33
on the ground within these neighborhoods
07:38
really begins to suggest ways of translating that
07:41
into new, inclusive and more equitable
07:45
land use policies.
07:49
So many stories emerge from these dynamics
07:51
of alteration of space,
07:54
such as "the informal Buddha,"
07:56
which tells the story of a small house
07:58
that saved itself, it did not travel to Mexico,
08:01
but it was retrofitted in the end
08:04
into a Buddhist temple,
08:06
and in so doing,
08:08
this small house transforms or mutates
08:09
from a singular dwelling
08:13
into a small, or a micro, socioeconomic
08:14
and cultural infrastructure inside a neighborhood.
08:17
So these action neighborhoods, as I call them,
08:21
really become the inspiration
08:24
to imagine other interpretations of citizenship
08:26
that have less to do, in fact,
08:29
with belonging to the nation-state,
08:31
and more with upholding the notion of citizenship
08:33
as a creative act
08:37
that reorganizes institutional protocols
08:39
in the spaces of the city.
08:42
As an artist, I've been interested, in fact,
08:44
in the visualization of citizenship,
08:47
the gathering of many anecdotes, urban stories,
08:50
in order to narrativize the relationship
08:54
between social processes and spaces.
08:57
This is a story of a group of teenagers
09:00
that one night, a few months ago,
09:03
decided to invade this space under the freeway
09:06
to begin constructing their own skateboard park.
09:09
With shovels in hand, they started to dig.
09:12
Two weeks later, the police stopped them.
09:15
They barricaded the place,
09:18
and the teenagers were evicted,
09:20
and the teenagers decided to fight back,
09:22
not with bank cards or slogans
09:24
but with constructing a critical process.
09:27
The first thing they did was to recognize
09:29
the specificity of political jurisdiction
09:32
inscribed in that empty space.
09:35
They found out that they had been lucky
09:38
because they had not begun to dig
09:40
under Caltrans territoy.
09:42
Caltrans is a state agency that governs the freeway,
09:44
so it would have been very
difficult to negotiate with them.
09:47
They were lucky, they said, because they began
09:50
to dig under an arm of the freeway
09:52
that belongs to the local municipality.
09:54
They were also lucky, they said,
09:57
because they began to dig in a sort of
09:58
Bermuda Triangle of jurisdiction,
10:00
between port authority, airport authority,
10:03
two city districts, and a review board.
10:06
All these red lines are the invisible
10:09
political institutions that were inscribed
10:12
in that leftover empty space.
10:14
With this knowledge, these teenagers
10:17
as skaters confronted the city.
10:20
They came to the city attorney's office.
10:23
The city attorney told them
10:25
that in order to continue the negotiation
10:27
they had to become an NGO,
10:29
and of course they didn't know what an NGO was.
10:31
They had to talk to their friends in Seattle
10:33
who had gone through the same experience.
10:36
And they began to realize the necessity
10:38
to organize themselves even deeper
10:40
and began to fundraise, to organize budgets,
10:42
to really be aware of all the knowledge
10:47
embedded in the urban code in San Diego
10:49
so that they could begin to redefine
10:52
the very meaning of public space in the city,
10:54
expanding it to other categories.
10:58
At the end, the teenagers won the case
11:01
with that evidence, and they were able
11:03
to construct their skateboard park
11:06
under that freeway.
11:08
Now for many of you, this story
11:10
might seem trivial or naive.
11:12
For me as an architect, it has become
11:15
a fundamental narrative,
11:17
because it begins to teach me
11:19
that this micro-community
11:21
not only designed another category of public space
11:23
but they also designed the socioeconomic protocols
11:26
that were necessary to be inscribed in that space
11:30
for its long-term sustainability.
11:33
They also taught me
11:36
that similar to the migrant communities
11:38
on both sides of the border,
11:40
they engaged conflict itself as a creative tool,
11:41
because they had to produce a process
11:45
that enabled them to reorganize resources
11:47
and the politics of the city.
11:50
In that act, that informal,
11:52
bottom-up act of transgression,
11:55
really began to trickle up
11:57
to transform top-down policy.
11:59
Now this journey from the bottom-up
12:02
to the transformation of the top-down
12:07
is where I find hope today.
12:09
And I'm thinking of how these modest alterations
12:11
with space and with policy
12:16
in many cities in the world,
12:19
in primarily the urgency
12:21
of a collective imagination
12:23
as these communities
12:26
reimagine their own forms of governance,
12:27
social organization, and infrastructure,
12:29
really is at the center
12:32
of the new formation
12:34
of democratic politics of the urban.
12:36
It is, in fact, this that could become the framework
12:39
for producing new social
12:43
and economic justice in the city.
12:46
I want to say this and emphasize it,
12:49
because this is the only way I see
12:50
that can enable us to move
12:54
from urbanizations of consumption
12:56
to neighborhoods of production today.
13:00
Thank you.
13:03
(Applause)
13:05

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About the Speaker:

Teddy Cruz - Architect and urbanist
Teddy Cruz looks for clues to the "city of the future" in the emerging urban areas of today.

Why you should listen

Teddy Cruz works at the crossroads of architecture, urbanism, policy and art. He has looked deeply, over many years, at the Tijuana-San Diego area spanning the US-Mexico border -- a thriving, high-density, high-activity zone of trade and urban relationships -- and at other southern cities. And he suggests that the modern, highly planned cities of the developed world have much to learn from these developments. The informal shops, garages and neighborhoods of a boomtown are built to maximize "social flow" -- because buildings are easy to put up and modify, they can respond exactly to the inhabitant's needs, connecting them to the community and the city.  

In collaboration with community-based nonprofits such as Casa Familiar, Cruz and his team also explore new visions for affordable housing, in relationship to an urban policy more inclusive of social and cultural programs for the city. In 1991, Cruz received the Rome Prize in Architecture; in 2005 he was the first recipient of the James Stirling Memorial Lecture On The City Prize. Born in Guatemala, he is a professor in public culture and urbanism in the Visual Arts Department at University of California, San Diego.

More profile about the speaker
Teddy Cruz | Speaker | TED.com