COVER STORY

Dreaming American

In Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream, on exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art, architects were asked to rethink the American suburbs in light of the foreclosure crisis.

by Paul Hond Published Spring 2012
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For Martin, the vitriol on the Internet illustrates how public discourse on housing crumbles at its foundation. “What hasn’t been asked is, what is the role of the government in addressing the housing crisis?” Martin says. “Again, that’s a question we’re barely able to enunciate in public because of the stigmas associated with public housing and the durability of the fetish of the single-family home. You can see from some of the reactions that we were denounced for asking that. There was a certain amount of name-calling. That is not surprising, but it’s interesting: even though these are hypothetical projects, they draw out the political contours of the country. They draw out different strategies: more activist strategies that consider this to be fiddling while Rome burns, purely academic speculation that doesn’t take into account the voices of the people who would actually live in these places.

“Certain fault lines will always be hard to overcome. One is the genuine suspicion that many activists have toward settings like MoMA or Columbia, whatever our intentions may be. Learning how to overcome those suspicions, to work together productively and critically, and, most important, to confront our own contradictions, is something we can all do, including the well-intentioned activist.”

IV. A Public Option?

In the end, Foreclosed might be remembered as much for what it says about economic and cultural life in America in 2012 as for its bold conceptual designs.

Foreclosed demonstrates the tools that are available under current conditions,” says Martin. “The teams have been very innovative within the market parameters, using land trusts, co-ops, real-estate investment trusts — various forms of communal ownership intended to empower the residents.”

But for Martin, one possibility was conspicuously absent. “In my view, some options were overlooked, like public housing. I’m not surprised, but it’s a fact. Despite our encouragements — we even provided publicly owned land, and identified sites that were either publicly owned or under the supervision of the local municipalities — in virtually all cases that alternative was sidestepped. So the results have proven that it’s very difficult to contemplate options outside the market.

“That’s the bottom line: the option of public housing is not currently available in the mainstream.”

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