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This is a video lecture by Dianne Harris presented by Dumbarton Oaks in March, 2021.
It is interesting in that it mainly centers on Broadacre City and Wright's use of the term"Darky Village" for the Jesse C. Fischer, Jr. housing project of 1957.
It has become part of our culture to obey laws until they become inconvenient. Slavery and the treatment of native peoples are the 2 crimes of our nation. But obliterating history is no solution. Fiddling with statues and names on plaques and lakes accomplishes nothing of substance. Taken to its logical end, Calhoun would not be the only historic figure to be erased; it could easily be extended to practically all persons born before the millennium. Lincoln would not escape censure.
One thing that perplexes me about this talk, however, is that if professional architectural critics are looking to put Wright's Broadacre City concept into a social justice context, why are there omissions of its very applicable solutions to modern social problems?
Around 58:00 mark, a question is asked about Broadacre City's public spaces. Ms. Harris answers that the problem isn't that there's inadequate public space––no restricted access issues via privatization––but that African Americans in 1932 wouldn't have been able to get loans and/or afford to live inside of this Utopian concept. Of course she's correct. Yet isn't this an issue of public policy and an unfair financial industry?
In my opinion, reviewing the Broadacre City as social reform for everyone actually has a lot to offer... Surely, Urbanists insist that density solves all carbon-emissions concerns, but as we're learning, the world is shifting to more of a "work from home" model, for one thing.. More concerning, at least to me, is the overwhelming research and evidence that modern urban lifestyles are producing unhealthy and stressed out people.
Just to discuss health, it's now abundantly clear that human beings were evolved to be on their feet, moving around, in the sun, in the fresh air, eating foods that come right out of the ground... Surely, Wright saw naturalism as an aesthetic value and a philosophical one (in the realm of Whitman). But his concept, as it pertains to healthy lifestyles, offers a remarkable amount of equity in primary human well-being.
We talk about future communities that offer fresh, local produce and animal proteins, grown conscientiously by small farmers. We talk about places to walk and run and ride bicycles where the air is clean and there is minimal danger. We talk about schools that have healthy air circulation* and places for children to run around in grassy fields. We talk about obesity and how lack of these things produce it. We talk about mental health problems, and how lack of these things produce it. Etc.
* https://www.theguardian.com/environment ... tists-warn
So for the sake of the future, sure, let's call out Wright's "cringeworthy" stuff. But if we're talking about Broadacre City, we're doing a major disservice to ourselves by not talking about its solutions for our modern community-design problems. Specifically, the question of what a healthy community is... That question is very much at the heart of social equity problems.
There are so many challenges, logical ones perhaps, to ideals like "health care is a right, not a privilege." Could that ever be established, proven as a fact rather than proffered as an ideal ? Is the creation of money, by the simple laws of supply and demand, a natural phenomenon, or an unethical practice---and if so, whose side does one come down on ?
I bring these matters not to distract from the discussion but because they arose in my mind while reading Jay's post. We have Mr Wright on the record, in the matter of interest (the fiscal kind). What would he have said about health care---that it was for everyone, or for those who can afford it ?
––What did our grandparents call "organic food"?
––I dunno, what?
Food supply probably should be thought of as the heart of civilization. And we're in an odd predicament now in that regard, of course, as our food supply is overwhelmed by processed and generally-unhealthy foods. These problems are exacerbated in low-income areas, sometimes referred to as "food deserts", due to low access to fresh healthy foods.
Clearly, social justice equity and food supply are linked. And therefore, "health" itself becomes a social justice issue.
While I agree everyone should have health care as a right, it's important to remember that chronic health issues that result from unhealthy lifestyles can't be "fixed" by the health care system. Which is where community-design has a role in this issue.
Broadacre City might be seen as an agrarian-centered concept. And Wright deserves some real credit here. Even Taliesin was an agrarian model, which often isn't discussed in much depth.
So just in regards to food supply itself, Broadacre City offers a model that most community-designs don't, in its integrated local healthy food sourcing.
For anyone interested, there are two books I love that focus on the combination of food supply, newer agrarian models, health and modern culinary culture:
Michael Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemma"
Dan Barber's "The Third Plate"
In addition to healthy food access, things like exercise, adequate vitamin D exposure, and avoidance of airborne toxins have been so overwhelmingly proven to maintain good health. All of these issues are connected to lifestyles....and lifestyles are often constrained by community circumstances.
Another example, I was talking to a friend recently who's a school teacher in North Jersey for a Title 1 school... His school is re-opening soon and I told him about a New York Times article I read about air ventilation in classrooms. The advice was to open the windows to circulate air and dilute airborne Covid. My friend responded: "None of the windows open in my school."
What a disgrace. The article I linked in my last comment showed the science of CO2 accumulation in indoor spaces. Forgetting Covid for a moment, it's still a disgrace to know that kids would be sitting in classrooms all day with stale air that makes them sleepy, that lessens their cognitive sharpness. And to think of social equity. One cannot even imagine rich kids sitting in classrooms with windows that can't be opened.
Anyway.... Broadacre City—as a community model that offered a broad healthy outdoor lifestyle—remains a particularly resourceful concept for our modern social problems. Really disappointed this review completely avoided that.
It is true that Wright’s houses, especially by the 50s, were designed and built for the white country club crowd, whether it was Wright’s intention or not. (I’m certain it wasn’t, though he did little to challenge restrictions, unlike architects such as Gregory Ain in Los Angeles, for example, who fought tooth and nail to guarantee Black ownership of his designs).
The heavy handed, unnuanced style of her writing doesn’t present her case in the best light, even though I feel she makes some valid points. Referring to Black Americans as “dark**s” in the late 1950s only reveals Wright’s lack of awareness of the social upheaval which was occurring all around him. The insular life at the Taliesins might have partially contributed to Mr. Wright retaining some antiquated ideas left over from the 19th Century.
Wright was human, a progressive one at that. But recognizing inadequacies in his thinking or trying to poke holes in his theories should not be equated with a cancellation of his validity or enormous contributions to humanity.
It’s nearly universally recognized that he was masterful as an artist and architect, but members of the jury might still be in recess when it comes to his social planning (we can’t really use the term urban planning, since he wished the city would simply disappear!)
This morning I listened to a woman in New Orleans argue strongly for the demolition of overhead highways which were cut through less-affluent communities like hers, in the late 'sixties. The argument was made that these highways deposit harmful fumes and soot deposits onto the neighborhoods they pass through---which is no doubt true. The remedy acceptable to the person making the argument: street-level boulevards. Nothing was said about the obvious fact that such boulevards---assuming they carried the same amounts and kinds of vehicle traffic---could be expected to deposit identical amounts of pollutants.
We won't be out of the woods when it comes to motor-vehicle pollution and resource consumption when fossil fuels have been largely replaced by battery power---because all batteries (so far) have a finite life span, after which they are discarded or recycled. And so far it appears that recycling/remanufacturing of vehicle batteries is largely cost-prohibitive. Furthermore, the materials needed to make such batteries---again, to date---included heavy metals which, considering the expected exponential growth of the electric-vehicle industry, will require extensive new sourcing of those ores.
My understanding is that large HVAC systems recycle most of their air, and ones that offer high fresh-air exchange rates are costly...? A quick internet search suggests that classrooms should be exchanging air 4-6 times per hour. And according to the first study below, recently built schools average just 2 exchanges per hour.
I doubt FLW was a vegan, or that he intended Broadacre residents to grow all of their own food. After all, he did design a splendid farm house with attached spaces for cattle, pigs and chickens, seemingly to be placed beyond the Broadacre city limits. I also believe that fretting about the quality of the food supply is exaggerated. Canned or frozen vegetables are not unhealthy. Many processed foods contain way too much sugar, however. If baby food were made with less sugar, children might not grow up to relish sweets so much (he said, while munching on a sour cream doughnut). Genetically modified food? Modifying food by one means or another has been going on since the invention of agriculture. There is not a plant that hunter gatherers dined on of necessity that would pass muster in today's 2-star eatery on wheels. The biggest problem with the diet available to poor people of any description is that there are many neighborhoods without stores that carry healthful foods. They are left with fast food joints, wherein lies the problem.
Broadacre was a product of its time and place, or rather ahead of it. There are lessons to be learned, but in an era when the trend is toward small living facilities in multi-family buildings, in high-density cities, away from detached suburban single family houses, Broadacre is a harder sell than ever. I don't believe packing people like sardines is a good thing, but at this time it appears to be the future.
Salt added to processed foods, along with unnecessary sugars, contributes to ill health. Americans are recognized as requiring stronger flavors in their diet that those in other countries, as reported by food manufacturers. I don't keep salt (or butter, or bread) in the house; granulated sugar is reluctantly accepted as necessary for my morning coffee. I recall my mother saying, as each meal was served, "Everything needs salt !" Not for me---but the cans of soup I consume are full of the stuff, sadly. Daily pills keep my blood pressure regulated.