Belltown Paradise/Making Their Own Plans and Spatial Justice

Starting with a holistic approach to Portland’s urban space (now functioning in other cities), the City Repair Project works to address social conditions of alienations in urban environments. Their projects address neighborhoods of homeowners, renters, and the homeless alike through “Placemaking”. With a mind to cutting through city bureaucracy by stressing the values which make cities livable if not great, City Repair is committed to non-hierarchical methods of group sharing and collective space urban interventions. With ecological themes combined with gardens, cob architecture and humane environments, City Repair works with a spacial conception of the urban malaise to get deep into what others just conceive of as “social problems.” By sighting the problems of poverty, pollution, crime and stress in real designable spaces, City Repair’s civic interventions are profoundly captivating.

Spatial Justice is a concept advanced by Ava Bromberg, editor of two excellent books Belltown Paradise/Making There Own Plans and the new Spatial Justice issue of the Critical Planning Journal out of UCLA. Concepts of spatial justice work to reframe social problems in space- the territorialization allowing for an active engagement with problems as a collection of ecosystems, rather than isolated abstracted alienated concepts.

Belltown Paradise/Making There own Plans is a cool double sided book put out a few years back by the exciting Whitewalls Press (Sun Ra’s Notebooks, Prison Inventions). Along with Chicago based, man for all seasons, Brett Bloom, this book presents several projects that are working on the level of landscapes to create inclusive, creative and just places for human cohabitation. Half of the book is devoted to transformations and stories from the Belltown neighborhood of Seattle. The other half focuses on a bunch of projects: City Repair gets a work up here as do Park Fiction (a German utopian group which facilitates spaces for “collective production of desire”) and Can Masdue. Can Masdue is a part of the intriguing (and endangered) Spanish Anarchist scene and is a project affiliated with the “rurbano revolution”.

The Spatial Justice issue goes way deeper into conceptions of spatial justice-giving frameworks (starting with postmodern Marxist geographer David Harvey) to the situationist/holistic/anti-hierarchical/D.I.Y. conceptions that are inspiring analysis and action in the worlds of proactive, progressive, urban design. A slightly heavier read than Belltown Paradise, the journal has its share of write-ups of radical D.I.Y., City Repair like, spatial interventions including an essay about Camp Baltimore and a rad essay about German Bauwagon culture (think squatting industrial wasteland in improvised circus trailers). Also included are discussions of alternative ways to design villages in Palestine, to resist the occupation, and explorations of how street festival’s in Philly help to cement a sense of blackness in gentrifying neighborhoods as a force counteracting economic displacement (gentrification). A wonderful case where expressions of culture serve to mark space, creating power.

My favorite section of the book is a series of interviews with spacial thinkers who offer expansive ways to consider how it is that we occupy land across all kinds of divides, and ways that we might better live here together. Spatial Justice offers ways to think beyond the brick and mortar which binds us to the status quo.