Interrogating the Sabotage

Bon Dieu. Saltz catches us up on the techno-climactic imitation-felt confluence-peddling praxus-shuffling symbolically-metaphorical thrice-divorced yet still unimaginably and singly imponderable grammatically-scientific but geographically-sociological and revolution-intolerant latest art show:

The catalogue has words in it that I didn’t know. The show is about the “precariat” and “geontopower.” I looked them up. The first word is about a generation born during a period of the greatest accumulation of wealth in the history of the world but who nevertheless live in unstable economies. It’s worth pointing out that 99 percent of all artists have always lived like this. Needless to say most of the artists included here are relatively well-off —either schooled, degreed, living in more than one city (that’s a nice racket), recipients of important grants and residencies where they do “interventions with the local communities.” This is not to say, of course, that no beneficiary of art-world largesse should feel qualified to make work involving social critique. Quite the opposite. But I want to see them walking the walk, not just posing the pose.

To define the second word, “geontopower,” the catalogue offers a dodge: “a set of discourses.” You can’t win with these people! Words like “undercommons,” “hypercapitalism,” “networked mediascapes,” and “anarcho-syndicalists” are tossed off. There’s lots of usual art-speak about art that “interrogates,” leading us to conclude that in the last 15 years the art world has gone from being undertakers proclaiming mediums dead to becoming lawyers taking depositions. In an old neo-Marxist tip of the hat, the approved word for artists is now “cultural producer.” No artist can rise to these levels of activism. Especially not very very young ones. (And these are the same people who end up writing the histories, curating the shows, teaching the courses, editing out “impurities” from bibliographies, reviewing one another’s shows, hiring colleagues for jobs.) Meanwhile, a claque of critics lauds every show and demonizes all those who don’t. It’s airtight.

There is no joy in attending a gathering of people who [ostensibly] do what you think you do but all urgency is being discussed in a language you do not understand. It could be that the end-product of the eventual combination of art and business schools is to organize an end-of-the-world exhibition where nobody comes.

Transformational Means

Also known as Getting Green(tm), or the means to transform the way a region (or country, or planet) is powered:

WASHINGTON — Google and a New York financial firm have each agreed to invest heavily in a proposed $5 billion transmission backbone for future offshore wind farms along the Atlantic Seaboard that could ultimately transform the region’s electrical map.

The 350-mile underwater spine, which could remove some critical obstacles to wind power development, has stirred excitement among investors, government officials and environmentalists who have been briefed on it.

Google and Good Energies, an investment firm specializing in renewable energy, have each agreed to take 37.5 percent of the equity portion of the project. They are likely to bring in additional investors, which would reduce their stakes.

So, in the span of a week PK writes about the non-existent stimulus spending, and the tunnel that won’t be built (not in a day, not in a year or 10) and so we should begin to get a genuine idea of what a lack of progress looks like by now – with more where that came from. But the problem is one of perception and purposeful misunderstanding. We’re basically using money as prism but seeing all the wrong things through it. Yes: projects are expensive. But they put people to work and we have no other choice but to constantly improve and fine-tune our physical infrastructure anyway. And while it’s easy to demagogue supposedly high-dollar fiascos like the financial bailout of last year, how about recognizing the fact that it will actually cost $0? Why, you ask? Now you’re getting green.

Real Estate

This is one of those areas where green is green, green meets green, green begets green… however you want to think about it.

It is turning out that the outlook for investments in smart growth real estate are better than for investments in sprawl(!).

“Next-generation projects will ori ent to infill, urbanizing suburbs, and transit-oriented develop ment. Smaller housing units-close to mass transit, work, and 24-hour amenities-gain favor over large houses on big lots at the suburban edge. People will continue to seek greater convenience and want to reduce energy expenses. Shorter commutes and smaller heating bills make up for higher infill real estate costs.”

In the near term, the report advises investors to “buy or hold multifamily” as “the only place with a hint of hope, because of demographic demand” as a large contingent of echo boomers seek their first homes.  In a section titled “markets to watch,” the report also advises investors to favor convenient urban office (see graph), retail, entertainment and recreation districts where there are mass transit alternatives to driving.  Investors are advised to shy away from, among other things, fringe areas “with long car com mutes or where getting a quart of milk means taking a 15- minute drive.”

The report is Emerging Trends in Real Estate 2010 and its conclusions are pretty obvious. What the report signifies is this outlook working its way into the consciousness of real estate developers and investors. Change the diaper, change the landscape.

Your Permanent Record

And I’m not talking about News Of the World glued B side up on your turntable. This is more of a …And you’ll know us by the trail of dead kind of thing, only crappier.

Land use. Really good s.f.streetsblog piece on this Transportation Research Board report on Driving and the Built Environment. Among the nuggets:

Finding No. 2 is: “The literature suggests that doubling residential density across a metropolitan area might lower household VMT (Vehicle Miles Traveled) by about 5 to 12 percent, and perhaps by as much as 25 percent, if coupled with higher employment concentrations, significant public transit improvements, mixed uses, and other supportive demand management measures.”

They note that were you to move the residents of Atlanta to an area built like Boston, you’d lower the Atlantans’ VMT per household by perhaps 25 percent.

Better land use results in reductions in energy use and carbon emissions, the authors report, from both direct and indirect causes. (Direct causes would be a reduction in VMT; indirect include things like longer vehicle lifetimes from reduced use and the greater efficiency of smaller or multi-family housing units.)

Not only that, but were you to move the residents of ATL to a Massachusetts-like locale, you’d have one hell of a lot of pissed off, not to mention cold, white people. Which could do wonders to re-invigorate the hypothetical Boston-like area punk scene. But really, these are the kinds of shake-ups that people (researchers) can actually quantify with models that make sense of the implications of changing things like where we build the new houses, in-fill vs exurbia, that will create the density that will in turn make mass transit a more realistic necessity – rather than the mere wish for better transportation options. There’s also the side benefit of helping us decouple the concepts of person liberty and freedom that have become so defined by isolation, three-car garages and the God-given right to front and back patches of personal lawn of minimum dimensions.

&%$#!… that’s not at all where I was going with this. Oh well.

Sepia-toned future

For the six of you out there who don’t already read him, I link to today’s column from the shrill one – who now seems of the more sane among us. Go figure.

I would like to pick up on a few things he points out.

To be sure, the Obama administration is taking action to help the economy, but it’s trying to mitigate the slump, not end it. The stimulus bill, on the administration’s own estimates, will limit the rise in unemployment but fall far short of restoring full employment. The housing plan announced this week looks good in the sense that it will help many homeowners, but it won’t spur a new housing boom.

My first reaction to this is, we don’t need a new housing boom – that was one of the problems in the first place. But even this, as green as I always make it out to be, is itself a little too facile. What we don’t need is the same kind of crazy suburban housing boom, centered on and driven by the automobile in every way, and that is a non-trivial distinction if there ever was one. We do have to keep moving forward, a consequence of which is a growing population, one that needs housing. All the many things we talk about as far as energy efficiency, conservation, and lowered carbon footprint need to be incorporated in a kind of new housing boom. One that takes place nearer central cities, one that s accompanied by a boom in SUPERTRAINS and SUPERTRAIN TRACKS and SUPERTRAIN STATIONS, connecting this kind of housing boom to these smarter, much smarter goals for development being hatched on sites and across lecturns the nation over.

So… when Krugman also lays out some of the seeds of our recovery being planted…

Consider housing starts, which have fallen to their lowest level in 50 years. That’s bad news for the near term. It means that spending on construction will fall even more. But it also means that the supply of houses is lagging behind population growth, which will eventually prompt a housing revival.

Or consider the plunge in auto sales. Again, that’s bad news for the near term. But at current sales rates, as the finance blog Calculated Risk points out, it would take about 27 years to replace the existing stock of vehicles. Most cars will be junked long before that, either because they’ve worn out or because they’ve become obsolete, so we’re building up a pent-up demand for cars.

…These should only re-enforce the critical importance of putting these opportunities to work in the service of less waste, less energy, more walking, biking and mass transit. It could be a golden era – when our sepia-toned nostalgia for street car days of yore combine with the wizbang advantages of our high-tech faggery to give us copious amounts of actual time to piss away on stuff that matters. But it will require a major re-casting of all the tools we use to build houses and cars, including the nuts and bolts and screwguns and the materials they fasten but most importantly their designs and the regulations that guide them. Different requirements yield different outcomes, and that, my smiling-because-it’s-Friday friends, is what we’re after.

Building blocks

This is the ING Bank Amsterdam, designed by Alberts & van Huut.

From chapter 5 of Natural Capitalism, Creating the Next Industrial Revolution by Paul Hawken, Amory  and L. Hunter Lovins:

In Southeastern Amsterdam, at a site chosen by the workers because of its proximity to their homes, satnds the headquarters of a major bank. Built in 1987, the 587,000-square-foot-complex consists of ten sculptural towers links by an undulating internal street. Inside, the sun reflects off colored metal – only one element in the extensive artwork that decorates the structure – to bathe the lower stories in ever changing hues. Indoor and outdoor gardens are fed by rainwater captured from the bank’s roof. Every office has natural air and natural light. Heating and ventilation are largely passive, and no conventional air conditioners are used. Conservatively attired bankers playfully trail their fingers in the water that splashes down form-flow sculptures in the bronze handrails along the staircases. The building’s occupants are demonstrably pleased with their new quarters: Absenteeism is down 15 percent, productivity is up and workers hold numerous evening and weekend cultural and social events there.

The results surpassed even the directors’ vision of the features, qualities and design process they had mandated for their bank. Theor design prospectus had designated an “organic” building that would “integrate art, natural and local materials, sunlight, green plants, energy conservation, quiet and water” – not to mention happy employees – and that would “not cost one guilder more per square meter” than the market average. In fact the money spent to put the energy savings in place paid for itself in the first three months. Upon initial occupancy, the complex used 92 percent less energy than an adjacent bank constructed at the same time, representing a saving of $2.9 million per year and making it one of the most energy-efficient buildings in Europe.

Architect Tom Alberts took three years to complete the design of the building. It took so long mainly because the bank board insisted that all participants in the project, including employees, understand its every detail: The air-handling design had to be explained to the landscape architect, for example, and the artwork to the mechanical engineers. In the end, it was this level of integration that contributed to making the building so comfortable, beautiful and cost effective.