Conference lectured at the Symposium "Arxipelago of Exceptions. Sovereignties of extraterritoriality" CCCB 10-11 November 2005
1. The new global borderTracing an imaginary line along the US-Mexico border and extending it directly across a map of the world, what emerges is a political equator that roughly corresponds with the revised geography of the post-9/11 world according to Thomas P. M. Barnett’s scheme for The Pentagon’s New Map, in which he effectively divides the globe into «Functioning Core», or parts of the world where «globalization is thick with network connectivity, financial transactions, liberal media flows, and collective security», and «Non-Integrating Gap»: «regions plagued by politically repressive regimes, widespread poverty and disease, routine mass murder, and chronic conflicts that incubate the next generation of global terrorists».
Along this imaginary border encircling the globe lie some of the world’s most contested thresholds: the US-Mexico border at Tijuana-San Diego, the most intensified portal for immigration from Latin America to the United States; the Strait of Gibraltar, where waves of migration flow from North Africa into Europe; the Israeli-Palestinian border that divides the Middle East, along with the embattled frontiers of Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, and Syria, and Jordan; the Line of Control between the Indian state of Kashmir and Azad or free Kashmir on the Pakistani side; the Taiwan Strait where relations between China and Taiwan are increasingly strained as the Pearl River Delta rapidly ascends to the role of China’s economic gateway for the flow of foreign capital, supported by the traditional centers of Hong Kong and Shanghai. These are only a few of the critical thresholds of a world in which the politics of density and labor are transforming not only the sites of conflict but also the centers of production and consumption, while unprecedented socio-cultural demographics rearrange flows of information and capital.
So, it is also along this imaginary border that the most dramatic socio-economic global dynamics are witnessed as a series of two-way hemispheric crossings. On one hand, the increasing migration of people across this border represents an illegal flow from the non-integrating gap in search of the «strong» economies of the functioning core setting in motion a sort of «reverse colonization». On the other hand, the redistribution of centers of manufacturing moves in the opposite direction, as the functioning core targets the non-integrating gap as the site to enact its politics of outsourcing and its search for the world’s cheapest labor markets. Furthermore, as migrant communities from Latin America, Africa, and Asia move northward, settling illegally within the strong economies of the United States and Europe, they unleash a southbound flow of capital – informal subsidies – to support the fragile economies of their countries of origin. In Mexico alone, these informal subsidies amount to US$ 16 billion annually, becoming now this country’s first largest source of domestic revenue.
The dramatic images emerging from the political equator are intensified by the current political climate in which terrorism and its opposite, fear, set the stage for the current confrontations over immigration policy and the regulation of borders worldwide. Along the newly reconstituted global border that this post 9/11 world has produced between the First and Third Worlds, we are witnessing how societies of overproduction and excess are barricading themselves in an unprecedented way against the sectors of scarcity they have produced out of political and economic indifference. The result is an urbanism born of surveillance and exclusion which casts these geographies of conflict as anticipatory scenarios of the 21st-century global metropolis, where the city will increasingly become the battleground where control and transgression, formal and informal economies, legal and illegal occupations meet.
These global forces of division and control are amplified within the local at certain critical thresholds along the political equator’s trajectory, such as the San Diego-Tijuana border region. It is at critical junctures such as these that the shifting sociocultural and economic dynamics around the world can be reflected and anticipated, potentially transforming our notions of housing, city, and territory.
2. Critical thresholds: strategies of surveillanceThe international border between the US and Mexico at the San Diego-Tijuana checkpoint is the most trafficked in the world. Approximately 60 million people cross annually, moving untold amounts of goods and services back and forth. Historically, the border has alternated between conditions that were more relaxed and conditions that were more repressive. Currently, the intensity of this socio-cultural and economic funnel is once more being suppressed as the US government is quietly planning to close the gaps and fortify or «harden» the San Diego-Tijuana border. One of the most recent and symbolic post-9/11 urban interventions has been a new focus on the massive transformation of the San Ysidro border crossing, a project that is currently in the early planning stages. It is with this project that the Department of Homeland Security is pouring billions of dollars into this border region to reinforce its infrastructure of surveillance. As a consequence, the United States is becoming further divided from its Mexican neighbor.
This massive transformation of the border ecology calls for a reflection on its evolution, as well the urbanisms that have emerged from the zero set back condition of the border zone. Such a reflection would reveal how, over the last 30 years, the invisible line that was rendered arbitrarily at one point in history, has incrementally been solidified. The physical transformations of this edge condition – from the time when the territory between Tijuana and San Ysidro flowed uninterrupted, as one sees in photos by Alex Webb of the border at Colonia Libertad in the early 1970s without a fence and children flying kites oblivious of the political boundary, to the construction of the first chain-link fence, to the making of a ten-foot-high steel wall built in the early 1990s of recycled temporary landing mats used in the Desert Storm war in Kuwait. Since this steel wall has proven to be very inefficient (its corrugation runs horizontally, allowing people to easily climb it, and its opacity made it a perfect foil for those who wanted to hide behind it), it is currently being replaced by a more functional version. The newest wall, currently under construction, will be the longest instrument of surveillance in history: a very hygienic and efficient wall made of concrete columns strategically spaced to allow maximum surveillance and minimum human slippage and crowned by electrified fencing.
Needless to say, the impact of this hardening of the border zone falls first and foremost on the adjacent communities of San Ysidro and Tijuana, not to mention the natural ecology and landscape of their shared territory. These new protectionist strategies fueled by a collective obsession with safety and security, paranoia and greed, are defining a radically conservative cultural agenda that is incrementally reinforcing a rigid grid of containment instead of a fluid bed of opportunity. In other words, the hardening of the wall has occurred in tandem with the hardening of a social legislature toward the public, producing a discriminating urban policy of exclusion and division. This is how the perennial alliance between militarization and urbanization is re-enacted here and epitomized by the solidifying of the border wall that divides the cities of San Ysidro and Tijuana, further transforming San Diego into the world’s largest gated community.
While in the context of the history of urbanism this historic alliance between systems of control and urban development is nothing new, what dramatizes its effect in the post-9/11 city is its complicity with the increasing neo-liberalist global economic policies of privatization and homogenization. The notion of an «ownership society» and the «free market» forces that support it, promise the consolidation of a global «new economy» that is also engendering divisive tensions in terms of social and economic inequalities and the erosion of public institutions across communities, nationstates, and hemispheres.
3. Five border tours: tactics of transgression
«The wall exists only to be transgressed ... » Tijuana citizenAs we move through these landscapes of contradiction, we witness two kinds of urbanisms: one of separation, one of juxtaposition; two different attitudes towards constructing city, collide and overlap daily. If San Diego is emblematic of an urbanism of segregation and control epitomized by the master-planned and gated communities that define its sprawl, Tijuana’s periphery has evolved as a collection of informal, nomadic settlements or favelas. This contrast is not reductive, if one considers that the steel border wall is the ultimate symbol of a puritan planning tradition made of social exclusion and separation. At no other urban juncture in the world can we find some of the wealthiest real estate, as the one found in San Diego’s northern edges, barely 20 minutes away from some of the poorest settlements in Latin America as the ones found in Tijuana’s southern fringes.
On the other hand, we can simultaneously witness how the differences between these border cities dwindle and urbanisms of juxtaposition emerge as San Diego’s signature mini-malls spring up on Tijuana’s street corners and San Diego-style gated residential communities fill in the city’s periphery, while Tijuana’s random patterns of density, mixed-use and informal economies begin to appear in neighborhoods of San Diego. The following mini tours will reveal how as these cities further divide, they also begin to contain each other. Unavoidably, in every «First World» city a «Third World» exists, and every «Third World» city replicates the first.
So, despite the apocalyptic implications of a more fortified border with intensified surveillance infrastructure, the growing tension between the various communities of San Diego and those of Tijuana have elicited a multitude of insurgent responses – new opportunities for constructing alternative modes of encounter, dialogue, and debate, sharing resources and infrastructure, recycling at the most outlandish levels the fragments and situations of these two cities, and constructing practices of encroachment into the increasingly privatized public realm. A series of two-way crossings – north-south and south-north across the border wall and within the border cities – suggest that no matter how high and long the post-9/11 border becomes, it will always be transcended by migrating populations and the relentless flows of goods and services back and forth across the formidable barriers that seek to preclude them.
Tour 1 When Kevin Lynch was commissioned by a local environmental group to come up with a «regional vision plan» for the US-Mexico border zone in 1974, he dreamed of a Temporary Paradise. Addressed to the City Planning Commission of San Diego, his bi-national planning strategy focused on the network of canyons and watersheds that traverse the landscape on both sides of the San Diego-Tijuana border. Lynch could never have predicted that neither the natural landscape nor city planners would define the real action plan for trans-border urbanism, and that instead it would be an emergent network of underground tunnels masterminded by drug lords and «coyotes» which would quietly and invisibly efface the formidable barrier that separates the two cities. Now, 34 years later, at least 30 tunnels have been discovered, a vast «ant farm-like» maze of subterranean routes criss-crossing the border from California to Arizona – all dug within the last eight years. At the very least, this creates a Permanent Hel for the US Department of Homeland Security.
South under North:
The fictional cartographies of an urbanism 70-feet deep
An archaeological section map of the territory today would reveal an underground urbanism worming its way into houses, churches, parking lots, warehouses, and streets. The most outlandish and sophisticated of these tunnels, discovered by US border officials in January of this year, is clearly the work of professionals: up to 70 feet below ground and 2,400 feet in length, its passageways are 5 to 6 feet high and 4 feet wide to permit two-way circulation. Striking not only for its scale, but also for its «amenities», the tunnel is equipped with ventilation and drainage systems, water pumps, electricity, retaining reinforcements, and stairs connecting various levels. Beyond its use by drug traffickers, it was also «leased out» during «off» hours to coyotes transporting illegal aliens into the US, making it perhaps the first mixed-use smuggling tunnel at the border. Some might see this as a marvel of informal transnational infrastructure, but most locals understand it as just another example of the vigorous Mexican-American economy at work.
Beyond the sensationalism that might accompany these images, it is the undeniable presence of an informal economy and the politics of density surrounding it that are exposed here. As we actually insert the actual location of these illegal tunnels into an existing official border map, a different image of the borderline appears. The linear rigidity of the artificial geopolitical boundary, that has «flat-lined» the pulsations of the living complexity of the natural, is transformed back into a complex set of porous lines perpendicular to the border, as if they were small leakages that began to percolate through a powerful dam. As these lines puncture the borderline in our fictional cartography, they almost restore the primacy of the network of existing canyons, juxtaposing the natural with the socio-economic flows that continue to be «under the radar» in our official modes of urban planning representation.
Tour 2 In many ways, Tijuana builds itself with the waste of San Diego. One city recycles the «leftover» of the other into a sort of «second-hand» urbanism. Tijuana’s informal settlements are shaped by these cross-border recycling dynamics and by organizational tactics of invasion, allowing settlers to claim underutilized territory. While San Diego’s vast sprawl is incrementally made of gigantic infrastructure to support loosely scattered units of housing, in Tijuana’s edges dense inhabitation happens first so that incremental small infrastructure can follow.
North to South: migrant housing
How San Diego’s waste builds Tijuana
This temporal, nomadic urbanism is supported by a very sophisticated social choreography of neighborhood participation. Hundreds of dwellers called paracaidistas, (parachuters) invade, en masse, large public (sometimes private) vacant properties. As these urban guerillas parachute into the hills of Tijuana’s edges, they are organized and choreographed by what are commonly called «urban pirates». These characters, armed with cellular phones, are the community activists (or land speculators) who are in charge of organizing the first deployment of people at the sites as well as the community in an effort to begin the process of requesting services from the city. Through improvisational tactics of construction and distribution of goods and ad hoc services, a process of assembly begins by recycling the systems and materials from San Diego’s urban debris. Garage doors are used to make walls; rubber tires are cut and dismantled into folded loops, clipped and interlocked, creating a system that threads a stable retaining wall; wooden crates make the armature for other imported surfaces, such as recycled refrigerator doors, etc. After months of construction and community organization, the neighborhood begins to request municipal services. The city sends trucks to deliver water at certain locations and electricity follows as the city sends one official line, expecting the community to «steal» the rest via a series of illegal clippings called «diablitos (Little Devils)». These sites are threaded by the temporal stitching of these multiple situations, internal and external, simultaneously, making the interiors of these dwellings become their exteriors, expressive of the history of their pragmatic evolution. As one anonymous resident put it: «Not everything that we have is to our liking, but everything is useful.»
But not only small, scattered debris is imported into Tijuana. Entire pieces of one city travel southward as residential ready-mades are directly plugged into the other’s fabric. This process begins when a Tijuana speculator travels to San Diego to buy up little post-war bungalows that have been slated for demolition to make space for new luxury condominium projects. The little houses are loaded onto trailers and prepared to travel to Tijuana, where they will have to clear customs before making their journey south. For days, one can see houses, just like cars and pedestrians, waiting in line to cross the border. Finally the houses enter into Tijuana and are mounted on top of one-story metal frames, leaving an empty space at the street level to accommodate future uses. These floating houses define a space of opportunity beneath them, that will be filled, through time, with more houses, a taco stand, a car repair shop, a garden. One city profits from the dwellings that the other one discards, recombining them into fresh scenarios, creating countless new possibilities. This is how the border cities enact a strange mirroring effect. While the seemingly permanent housing stock in San Diego is turned disposable from one day to another, the ephemeral dwellings in Tijuana want to become permanent.
Ultimately, this intensive recycling urbanism of juxtaposition is emblematic of how Tijuana’s informal communities are growing faster than the urban cores they sur-round, creating a different set of rules for development, and blurring the distinctions between the urban, suburban and the rural. As notions of the informal are brought back, recycled by the fields of architecture and urbanism in debating the growth of the contemporary city, let’s hope that it is not only the figural «image», of the ephemeral and nomadic that is once more seducing our imagination, but, the complex temporal, evolutionary processes beneath them, whose essence is grounded on sociopolitical and economic dynamics.
In other words, what is missing from our institutions of urban governance and development is precisely what gives shape to this informal urbanism, the notion that any physical intervention in the city should be preceded by a social imprint made of collaborations across agencies and institutions as well as the negotiation of territorial boundaries and private and public resources. These trans-border urban dynamics are evidence of how guerrilla urban tactics, whether in the hands of common citizens or artistic practices, are incrementally re-shaping the city out of an infrastructure of acupuncture, a temporal urbanism of small parts, of social and economic contingency.
South only: architectures of desire House, horse and dol
«Here, unlike any other place, dreams have broken steps as if they were old ladders.»
1. House (segment in collaboration with Tijuana artist Marcos Ramirez, ERRE)José Hernández builds a house. He has wrapped it with pieces of cardboard that he picked up from the trash at the «curios» market where he works. It was there where he was also able to find other leftover «stuff» to build the rest of his walls. Approximately 40 pallet racks that his neighbor’s boss sold him after retrieving a shipment of clay figurines from Guadalajara that a truck driver had mysteriously abandoned without getting paid. José got a couple of blue canvases from the flea market that comes to his neighborhood every Tuesday and used them to fabricate a temporary roof. The type of blue he chose was a bit stronger than the blue of the sky, but useful anyway, in order to stop the water leak that has been dripping on the corner that he is currently using as kitchen.
At the house’s entrance there is a nice patterned cotton curtain that, from the inside, hides a crooked door that cannot close all the way, but can, in any case, by connecting to a wooden post with a chain, allow him and his wife to sleep peacefully at night. José was also able to pay monthly installments to his neighborhood’s hardware store for a couple of French windows, the ones that have multiple mullions, so that in case the window breaks, he doesn’t have to replace the whole thing, but only the broken piece. In terms of furniture, José has a strange mixture of styles and colors, which he wants to further edit immediately after taken care of the most pressing necessities. It is useless, he says, in order to console himself, to have strong, uniform furniture when you don’t have an appropriate floor surface. José’s floor is made of compacted dirt that he has to water constantly to avoid the dust cloud that makes everything dirty and makes him feel suffocated.
But there is a refrigerator. José does not tolerate warm beer. His wife and two daughters need this appliance a lot more than he does, which is as indispensable to them as the $30 television set that José bought for his wife Teresa on their last wedding anniversary. The Hernándezs also have a battery operated radio and a camping stove which works with a small gas cylinder that allows them to cook for two weeks at a time. The rest of their housewares: clothing, appliances, utensils, dishes, blankets, and linens they will find here and there, either by buying them or by receiving them as gifts. They just arrived a few months ago to this location and with time they will save more money to finish painting their house. This will only happen after they finish building a fence and a place for washing. But this will not happen until they finally receive official electrical service that up to now they have been stealing like everyone else. Among their other priorities is to replace the parabolic dish that the wind took away the other night when it wouldn’t stop raining and this will not happen until their uncle, who is the leader of the neighborhood’s liberal political party, fulfills his promise to finally give them the property title of the small lot where José and his family build their house every day.
2. HorseOn the 26th September 1997, as part of a bi-national art project called InSite, Marcos Ramírez Erre, one of the most far-sighted artists to emerge in Tijuana, rolled an enormous Janus-headed Trojan horse into the midst of traffic waiting to cross the border on both sides. The horse appeared out of nowhere, and in the same way, it vanished. It was positioned to straddle the border, with two legs resting on the US side, one head looking north, while the other legs remained rooted in Mexico, one head gazing southward. Erre inserted his horse into the de-centered, de-territorialized, and multi-directional flows that constitute the border, where it dwelled for a brief moment, (impossibly) occupying both sides at once in defiance of the dialectic forces that govern the space. Representing both arrival and departure, stasis as well as movement at a crossroads, the Trojan horse, in the words of Erre, was:
«The fragile “anti-monument”, ephemeral and translucent because in our time there is nothing to hide, we already know all their intentions towards us, and they know our intentions towards them. It is a universal symbol, which was modified to indicate the uncertainty of a time in which the only way to conceal the truth is to overwhelm us with information. When there are no more sufficient caretakers of censorship to control the avalanche of doubts, and when one does not know anymore where the truth has been buried, everyone has a version of it, and that is where creativity begins. This should be the best response for those who still believe that it is possible to establish rigid custom houses, and protect cities and their images with judicial decrees.»
3. DolIn 1989, Armando Muñoz, a Tijuana citizen Michel De Certeau would have called «a common hero», paid homage to the hundredth anniversary of his city by erecting a home-made «Statue of Liberty». La Mona (the doll) appeared from one day to the next from within Colonia Libertad, one of Tijuana’s oldest informal, favela-like communities. Her arms reaching for the sky, La Mona invokes the irony of «liberty» in this context, but she also stands for the political role of women in the city. La Mona was not only a monument to Armando Muñoz’s city – it is also a permanent addition to his own house. As the Situationists imagined it, the ultimate avant-garde action occurs the moment that an average citizen is able to appropriate the spaces and the materials of the city.
Muñoz’s «monument», Erre’s «anti-monument», the Trojan horse, remind us that the contemporary city is still able to elude the absolute ordering devices that attempt to render it homogeneous and one-dimensional. Spontaneous gestures such as the horse and the doll allow us to glimpse the subjective and collective struggles of a community locked into conflicts that are being played out in the border zone: the most derelict and unexpected places have the potential to become sites for light occupations that challenge the massive colonization of traditional urbanism. For San Diego as well as Tijuana, the horse and the doll have ironically become political symbols that remind us of the opportunities opened up by an insurgent, flexible urbanism that insinuates itself into the most rigid contexts using simple strategies of transgression and appropriation. How to appropriate the empty spaces of the city – defunct infrastructure, abandoned industrial buildings, and brown fields – and how to activate the potential of the void are still, as Catalonian urban theorist Ignasi de Solá-Morales noted in his seminal text «Terrain Vague», the crucial questions for contemporary artists – and also for architects and urban planners.
North into South: The counter invasion
Tijuana’s mini gated communities and the purchase of Baja
1.The world’s aquarium for sale (segment in collaboration with Mexican architect Enrique Martin-Moreno)As millions of Latin American immigrants flow north to work illegally for «unwanted» jobs, US citizens, armed with millions of dollars, run southward in an unprecedented land rush to purchase the peninsula of Baja California, as this unspoiled corner of Mexico, whose internal Sea of Cortez was once called «the aquarium of the world» by renowned oceanographer Jacques Cousteau, is for sale. Re-enacting the now famous scene from the movie The Day After Tomorrow, when Americans are shown fleeing the destruction of Southern California by severe climatic changes caused by Global Warming (Americans forcefully transgress the border wall, «jumping» into Mexico in search of a better climate, as Mexican Patrol agents are unable to stop them…), North American developers are rushing to cross the border to buy large sections of land in such a volume that a string of mega-luxury waterfront residential subdivisions and resorts has begun to emerge in the last five years, all along the Baja Peninsula, from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas. As xenophobia is permeating the American public in denouncing once more the perils of illegal immigration, calling it «an invasion», one could claim that the Baja California colonization, currently in the hands of land speculators, represents the beginning of a «counter invasion».
This buying frenzy has been primarily sponsored in recent years by the installing of an infrastructure of an integrated network composed of 29 ports along the peninsula called the «Nautical Ladder» by FONATUR, the Mexican Federal Tourism Bureau, which for years has been dreaming of luring vacation dollars from the US into the Baja California region. But the acceleration of the sale of Baja began when the neoliberalist economic policies of Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari amended the Mexican Constitution in 1992 to allow the selling of ejidos or communal land that had been given to peasants as part of the post-1910 revolution’s agrarian reform. The owners of these waterfront properties have been living in poverty for decades as the land they own has proven unproductive – the desert and saline lands make agriculture impossible and cattle-raising difficult – but now under the new economic logic of the global tourism industry, these waterfront lands have become attractive for beach resort development. These developments are characterized by «economies of extraction» such as the ones found in similar tourist strips strung along the Caribbean coast, for example, where, according to the urban research group SUPERSUDACA, for each dollar spent in a Caribbean resort, only 3 cents trickle into the local economy.
Although it is still prohibited for foreigners to own land near the coast, real estate agents have developed strategies for giving Americans the equivalent of ownership, even if they cannot hold the formal title to their houses. In the most common arrangement, banks buy houses then hold them in a trust for the foreign «buyers». A trust, under recent amendments to the law, can now last 50 years and can be renewed at the end of that term. The bottom line is that a «buyer» can expect to retain a property in perpetuity. If the bank fails, the trust can be transferred to another bank.
These changes in the financial and political structures that until recently maintained a check and balances framework, indirectly protecting these ecologically sensitive zones, have unleashed a real estate speculation frenzy that no longer asks whether the communal lands will be sold but «when». Around the Bay of Loreto, for instance, most ejidatarios (communal land owners) have already sold their land, especially if they have access to the water. In an article for the Mexican Newspaper La Jornada, José de Jesús Varela, director of the NGO «Kuyima», describes a recurring dynamic as people see the amazing possibility of a short-term profit: «the American developers give them about $800,000 pesos (about $80,000 US) and the first thing the ejidatarios do is buy a new truck – a Ford Lobo – then they throw a big party and then they change their wife. Very soon, they are left without money, without a wife and without land. They are left with nothing.» Soon Baja Californians will become the gardeners or the bellhops of the resorts built on the land they once owned.
It is here, in the Bay of Loreto, where developers are building a 5,000-unit resort designed by Andres Duany, who is selling it to the world as «the first ecologically friendly subdivision». In a typical «New Urbanist» appeal, this mega development, is customized as an authentic Mexican village, completing the invasion of Loreto Bay by not only a monoculture of upper-middle-class North American landowners who can afford this island of pleasure, but by a «seaside» and «celebration» type of planning, making this the official arrival of New Urbanism on a grand scale to the Mexican West Coast. Beyond issues of architectural style, though, it is tragic that these mega developments, as ecologically responsible and manicured as they can be, are indifferent to the social and economic inequalities they will engender, as these «all-inclusive» and gated environments might be eventually surrounded by the shanty towns built by their own service providers. This phenomenon will add to the strange asymmetry at the border and along the political equator’s trajectory, as this will become another instance of the kind of neo-liberalist urbanities worldwide that continue to be supported by cheap labor (service sector) at one end, and the emergence of expensive real estate (enclaves of wealth) at the other.
2. Little San Diego in TijuanaBut the most dramatic physical manifestation of the importation into Tijuana of these neo-liberalist economic policies of privatization and the urban planning values of security and sameness that accompany them, can be found in the newly built mini master-planned gated communities sprawling to the south-east of the city. As Tijuana grows eastward and is seduced by the style and glamour of the master-planned, gated communities of the US, Tijuana is building its own version – miniaturized replicas of typical suburban Southern California tract homes, paradoxically imported into Tijuana to provide «social housing». Thousands of tiny tract homes are now scattered around the periphery of Tijuana, creating a vast landscape of homogeneity and division that is at odds with this city’s prevailing heterogeneous and organic metropolitan condition. These diminutive 250-square-foot dwellings come equipped with all the clichés and conventions: manicured landscaping, gate houses, model units, banners and flags, mini-setbacks, front and back yards.
This process is the result of the privatization of new social housing in Mexico. The Mexican Federal Housing Commission, INFONAVIT, is now awarding contracts to private developers and speculators to develop public housing in Tijuana and in other cities across Mexico. These developers have adopted and are selling the image of individual houses on individual lots, even if these are miniscule. The urban code of Southern California is imported here, as in the rest of the world, to build the periphery of a 21st-century city. But, while the gated communities of Southern California remain closed systems due to stringent zoning that prohibits any kind of formal alteration or programmatic juxtaposition, housing tracts in Tijuana quickly submit to transformation by occupants who are little hindered by comparatively permissive zoning regulations. The ways in which occupants customize their tract houses and parcels – filling in setbacks, occupying front and back yards as well as garages with more construction to support mixed use and more usable space – mirror the urban tactics common to older informal communities of the city rather than the idealized suburban dream house. Even if designed with a fixed stylistic recipe by developers – beige units irresponsibly thrown in the landscape, lacking an infrastructure of public space and transportation – these tracts are transformed through time by their occupants into open systems, allowing them the freedom to activate higher-density, mixed uses and the negotiation of a new public realm. A small business fills in the front yard; an overhang appears, extending beyond the right of way, creating a public shade by a main sidewalk; two, three, four stories unfold through time, morphing the tiny prototype original model from an autonomous object into a series of interlinked spaces and patterns. Sometimes beneath the many layers, one can view the original house, hidden away as a silent witness of its transformation.
The tactics of encroachment Tijuana residents have taken here may prefigure the fate of urban densification in many cities around the world, where redevelopment has been driven by privatization, homogenization, and «theming». The cataloging of these improvisational additions and ad hoc public domain tactics could begin to give us clues as to how to imagine the re-definition of future cross-border development to accept programmatic contingency and spatial transformation. The radical physical transformation of these developments in the last five years suggests an «urbanism beyond the property line», becoming the kind of laboratory to search for tactics of intervention in the contemporary city that can anticipate densification and diversification of social and economic composition. In other words, by critically observing and measuring the mutation of these environments, we can begin to redefine the degree of criticality in the field of architecture today, which, within this context, might be better measured, not by what forms we can produce, but by the social formations we can engender, as these tactics also encroach into the one-dimensional modes of thinking of the official institutions shaping the city.
Tour 5 After years of being absent from our main institutions of representation and display, we are all again drawn to the city, yearning to recuperate it as a site of experimentation, a laboratory of cultural production. The current desire in our cultural institutions to move from the notion of city as a static repository of objects – whether seen as autonomous architectural artifacts or as sculpture in the middle of the plaza – into a more «complicated» notion, one that is inclusive of the temporal dynamics of social and ecological networks, and the politics and economics of density and urban development, has been unavoidably provoked by a new world in flux that begins to redefine, once more, the role of architecture in relationship to the larger territory. The changing geopolitical boundaries across continents, the unprecedented shifting of socio-cultural demographics, the migration of labor and the re-deployment of centers of manufacturing across hemispheres are conditions that are currently provoking many architects and artists to construct alternative practices, particularly within geographies of conflict such as the Tijuana-San Diego region. So this return to the city, then, and to critical thresholds such as Tijuana might be ultimately a reflection of our need to critically redefine established notions of public culture.
South to North: ilegal zoning
Levittown retrofitted with difference
But as we return to the city, it is clear that across the fields of government, academia, and private development, the focus of attention continues to be two-fold: the return to the downtown core, on one end, or engaging the challenge of sprawl, on the other; while the territory that continues to be ignored is the space in between, the mid-city. Even though the return to the center is a welcomed agenda after the urban flight to the periphery of past decades, the economic strategies that are generally driving these re-development energies are engendering a project of gentrification in a massive scale. The downtown revitalization projects in many American cities, a widespread phenomenon occurring from New York to San Diego, are ironically importing into city centers the very suburban project of privatization, homogenization and «theming», accompanied by «loft-like» luxury housing, stadiums, and the official corporate franchises that are always brought with this kind of development. At the other end of the spectrum, the interest in suburbia of recent years is equally a welcomed attitude, mainly when the institution of architecture and urbanism has been overtly discriminating against such environments, calling them uncivilized and benefiting the center as the privileged site of urban culture. Many efforts to engage sprawl end up merely supporting a repeating project of gentrification. The proliferation of Mac Mansions everywhere, continues to be made possible by the construction of a huge freeway infrastructure subsidized by our own tax dollars and indulged by architecture’s own indifference to the economic forces that shape these recipes for development.
The emphasis on these two extreme areas of development in many cities around the world mirrors in some way the urgency for many metropolitan centers to engage the relevancy of new economic models of revitalization through privatization. But when the «new economies» of globalization hit the actual territory, it divides into two projects: at one end, the mega project of re-development (every city wants its Times Square, its grand stadium) and the project of marginalization, at the other (the service sector needed to support such projects). At the time when these mega projects of re-development are becoming the basis for the skyrocketing of the realestate market in many city centers across the United States, creating a formidable economic bubble of land speculation, practically no one is asking where the cook, janitor, service maid, busboy, nanny, gardener, and many of the thousands of immigrants crossing the border(s) to fulfill the demand for such jobs will live, and what kinds of rents and housing markets will be available to them? There are not too many options when we are reminded that, according to last housing census, San Diego is the second least affordable housing area in the country, with only eleven percent of households capable of affording a median-price home at $500,000.
So, while leftover rubber tires, garage doors, pallet racks and disposable houses flow southbound to construct an urbanism of emergency, immigrants flow towards the north, searching for one of the strongest economies in the world, the state of California, with the assurance that such economic power still depends on the cheap labor only provided by them – a demand and supply logic. The increasing waves of immigrants from Latin America, have had a major impact on the urbanism of many American cities, not to mention the economic and social life of this country. Already, Los Angeles, for example, is home to the second largest concentration of Latin Americans outside the capitals of Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, for example. Current demographic studies have predicted that Latin Americans will comprise the majority of California’s population in the next decade. As the Latin American Diaspora travels north, it inevitably alters and transforms the fabric of certain neighborhoods in cities like Los Angeles and San Diego. Immigrants bring with them diverse socio-cultural attitudes and sensibilities regarding the use of domestic and public space as well as the natural landscape. In these neighborhoods, multi-generational households of extended families shape their own programs of use, taking charge of their own micro-economies in order to maintain a standard for the household, generating nonconforming uses and high densities that reshape the fabric of the residential neighborhoods where they settle. Alleys, setbacks, driveways, and other underutilized infrastructures and leftover spaces are appropriated and activated as the community sees fit. This results in the emergence of a temporal public domain encroaching into private property: social spaces begin to spring up in large parking lots, informal economies such as flea markets and street vendors appear in vacant properties, and housing additions in the shape of illegal companion units are plugged into existing dwellings to provide affordable living. Together, these «plug-in» programs and architectures pixilate with a finer socio-economic grain, the discriminating land use that has maintained the social and the formal at a distance.
It is not a coincidence, then, that the territory that continues to be ignored is the mid-city. This is the area where most of the immigrants coming from Latin America, Asia, and Africa have settled in the last decades, making these neighborhoods the service communities for the newly gentrified center and the expensive periphery. Not able to afford the high-priced real estate of downtown or the Mac Mansion of the new sprawl, waves of immigrant communities have concentrated themselves in the midcity neighborhoods of many American cities in recent years. The temporal, informal economies and patterns of density promoted by immigrants and their socio-cultural and economic dynamics have fundamentally altered what was the first ring of Levittowntype suburbanization of the 1950s, transforming its homogeneity into a more complex network of illegal socio-economic relationships. By critically observing how these temporal and contingent urbanisms have contaminated the rigidity of zoning within these older fabrics, can we anticipate how the one-dimensionality of the Mac Mansions now sprawling in the third, fourth, and fifth rings of suburbanization will be retrofitted to accommodate difference in the next five decades?
In other words, our institutions of representation across government, academia and development have not been able to critically observe and translate the logic of the informal socio-economic dynamics at play, not only at the border itself, but also within the city at large. The official documentation of land use at any municipal agency, whether in San Diego or Tijuana for example, has systematically ignored the nonconforming and self organizing dynamics of these environments by continuing to advocate a false, bi-dimensional land-use convention based on abstract information rendered at the planners’ table, whereby retail is represented with red and housing yellow, safely located adjacent to one another in the best of scenarios, since they are typically very far apart.
If, on the other hand, one were to map the actual land use in some of the San Diego neighborhoods that have been impacted in the last decades by waves of immigration, examining them parcel by parcel, block by block, what would emerge is a land use map with at least ten or more «zone colors», reflecting the gradation of use and scale of the diverse social composition and non-conforming small businesses and social exchanges that characterizes these culturally intensive areas of the city. We would also find a three-dimensional zoning based not on adjacencies but on juxtapositions, as dormant infrastructures are transformed into usable semi-public spaces and larger than «needed» parcels are illegally subdivided to accommodate extra dwelling units. In other words, the appropriation and negotiation of public and private boundaries remain anathema for conventional code regulation, ignoring the potentialities that this stealth urbanism can open. How to alter our conventions of representation in order to absorb the ambiguity of these forces, remains the essential question in the negotiation between the formal and the informal city.
Similar to the cartography of cross-border illegal tunnels, then, an accurate binational land use map does not currently exist. If we were to «cut and paste» the existing land use documents from Tijuana and San Diego, a borderline – without marking the border wall itself – would again «appear» between the two cities as the larger land use «chunks» of San Diego come side to side with the smaller pixilation of Tijuana’s Land Use map – two different ways of administering density and mixed uses. A fictional cartography of this «collision», would invite one to speculate a way of representing the transformation of some of the San Diego neighborhoods impacted by informal patterns of development. This new map would show the higher pixilation of Tijuana’s three-dimensional and multi-color zoning crossing the borderline and forming an archipelago of exception within the sea of the current homogeneous sprawl that defines this city’s periphery.
What this phenomenon points out, then, is the fact that our institutions of representation are unable to mediate the multiple forces that shape the politics of the territory and resolve the tensions between the top-down urban strategies of official development and the bottom-up tactics of community activism. The micro heterotopias that are emerging within small communities in the form of informal spatial and entrepreneurial practices are defining a different idea of density and land use. Making visible the invisibility of these non-conforming forces and their operational potential to bridge between the formal and the informal, the wealthy subdivisions and the enclaves of poverty (service communities) in the city, would be the only point of departure to construct a different idea of density and sustainability. We need to engage new conceptual and representational tools that can allow us to transcend the reductive understanding of density as an abstract amount of units/inhabitants per acre, and instead reaffirm it as an amount of «social interactions and exchanges» per acre.
This is how Tijuana’s informal urbanism could become an instrument to research and further understand the patterns of density and programmatic intensity that are re-defining the American Metropolis. The cataloging, for example, of the small prototypical non-conforming appendages, spatially and programmatically, that have erupted illegally from the official planning of the mid-city, would point out that the future of the edge, sprawling city will be determined by the tactics of an urbanism made of retrofitting. Small programs, spaces and infrastructures will be injected into the homogeneity of these large-scale environments as a result of micro-political and socio-economic transformations in urban policy. In other words, the future of these environments might be determined by a more strategic relationship between the socio-economic, the political and the spatial tactics that can frame and support such transformations, and by urban policies and infrastructures that can support levels of ambiguity and open-endedness.
4. Practices of encroachment at the border: The centralization of police power in Washington D.C. has made Homeland Security the new national planning department and the «Patriot Act» its social and environmental blueprint, making many disenfranchised inner-city neighborhoods across the US become again the focus of police repression and disinvestment, and transforming the 11 million illegal laborers who mostly live there into criminals. While we observe this renewed centralization of unchecked and unchallenged political power in the US, imposed from above as a new totalizing land use ordinance, we can also notice a resurgence of pockets of resistance distributed at the ground level in the shape of informal densities, economies and politics to reclaim the public domain. My architectural and urban practice at the Tijuana-San Diego border has been reflecting on the trans-border urban dynamics between San Diego-Tijuana, using it as a backdrop to critically observe the clash between current discriminating forms of planning legislature – from the top down – and the emerging American neighborhoods nationwide, made of immigrants, whose spatial tactics of encroachment – from the bottom up – thrive on informality.
Relational architectures, micro-urbanisms
It is out of these socio-cultural and economic tensions and from territories of political conflict, such as the San Diego-Tijuana border region, where critical architectural practices can emerge. These are territorial projects whose main focus is not the object of architecture, but the subversion of the information imprinted artificially on the land, the alteration of the boundaries and limits established by the institutions of official development. In the context of this paradigm shift and in order to respond to the mutation of the socio-cultural demographics across the world, it is clear that one of the most important issues that we need to question is housing and its relationship to the urbanism it occupies, promoting new types of densities and land uses.
But the future of public housing and its triangulation across social and ecological networks in the United States is currently not in the hands of the federal (the Bush administration) or state (Schwarzenegger’s administration) governments, who have overtly indicated their indifference to the social and environmental project as well as to the public institution. Nor is it in the hands of private developers, most of whom continue perpetuating the equation of minimum investment-maximum profit and perceive investing in the public realm to be anti-democratic because it reduces their economic «freedoms». Instead, the most experimental work in housing in the United States is in the hands of progressive, community-based, non-profit organizations, as well as small communities across the continent. These agencies engage the social dynamics of many mid-city neighborhoods daily, mediating between their histories and identities and the planning policies that shape their destiny. It seems appropriate that these NGOs become the future developers of affordable housing and a new public realm within these environments, because their socio-cultural agendas can translate into unique organizational and spatial strategies, inclusive of the specificity of individual communities and places. It is this sense of emergency in shaping alternative practices that can erode the increasing privatization of the public domain and mobilize new triangulations among institutions across the border, negotiating private and public resources and straddling both sides of the San Diego-Tijuana border, between the politics of zoning and the strategies of the informal.
San Diego: the politics of (contaminating) zoningThe current need to engage the politics of land use, then, has been provoked by the realization that no advances in housing design can be accomplished without advances in the transformation of housing policy. In other words, that the ultimate site of intervention is planning regulation itself, and the «contamination» of zoning in the form of alternative densities and transitional uses, informal politics and economies, and in a search for new organizational strategies across the untapped resources found within diverse jurisdictions, communities, and institutions. It is in fact the political and cultural dimension of housing and density as tools for social integration in the city that can inform an urbanism of transgression that infiltrates itself beyond the property line, a migrant, micro-urbanism that can alter the rigidity of the discriminatory public policies of the American city. The effort has been to create a participatory practice that can enter the politics of information and public debate in the border cities: What do we mean by density? What is the meaning of housing?
The site where these questions converge is within the microscale of the neighborhood, transforming it into the urban laboratory of the 21st century. The micro heterotopias that are emerging within small communities in the US in the form of informal spatial and entrepreneurial practices are defining a different idea of density and land use, setting forth a form of counter-spatial and economic development that thrives on social contact and exchange.
It is in fact the political and cultural dimension of housing and density as tools for social integration in the American city that has informed my practice and research in recent years. Conventional ideas of housing generally define it as an equation, a number. In the same way, density has been understood solely in terms of building size and mass. Both of these notions need to be redefined, not as singularities, but as a set of relationships in the broader socio-political and economic framework: in other words, housing and density not as a number of units, but as dwelling in relationship to the larger forces at play in the city – transportation and natural networks, the politics of the public, the economics of land use, and particular, cultural idiosyncrasies of place, for example.
These are the notions that are fueling the alternative housing projects we are currently developing on both sides of the San Diego-Tijuana border, focusing on the neighborhood as a site of exception to shape new processes of intervention in collaborations with progressive non-profit organizations. The goal has been to achieve maximum effect with minimal gestures, to take existing patterns of use as a point of departure, and to develop urban solutions with enough persuasive force to change obsolete planning policy and zoning regulations.
Case study 1 During the last four years, I have been collaborating with Casa Familiar, a non-profit community-based organization located in the border city of San Ysidro, adjacent to the San Diego-Tijuana border checkpoint, to construct what we have called «practices of encroachment». Andrea Skorepa is Casa Familiar’s executive director, an urban activist who has become the matriarch of this small and forgotten border community made up primarily of Hispanic immigrants. Skorepa is searching to redevelop this community’s historic core with alternative housing projects that can be an excuse for the transformation of existing policy. This relationship between urban practice and social service agency has allowed us to recognize that the foundation for any meaningful architectural intervention within the shifting dynamics of mid-city neighborhoods such as this one, depends on shaping a tactical process of collaboration.
A micro policy: Affordable Housing Overlay Zone (AHOZ)
The neighborhood is transformed into an experimental think-tank, a site to investigate actual economic and spatial tactics that can encroach on the established procedures of stagnant institutions in order to mobilize dormant sources of funding and blur certain obsolete boundaries separating public and private resources. Out of this foundational act, a tactical new zoning policy can be proposed to the city, one that is initiated from within the community and not from the planners’ table, and mediated by the non-profit organization, an urban legislature emerging from the internal energies of the neighborhood that can accommodate and support a more inclusive and complex micro-urbanism.
The tactical design and organization of a series of community dialogues and workshops generated the idea of a micro-zoning policy that could provide the fertile political ground from which alternative hybrid projects and their sources of funding could emerge. This new policy framework would ignite new opportunities for economic development from within the community in order to avoid gentrification. The nego tiation of certain junctures between public and private property and funding could generate small, alternative public infrastructures, as organizational frameworks for new social and cultural programs for the neighborhood. Some of these micro-infrastructures will frame and support the non-conforming, informal economies typical of these communities, as well as their organic patterns of development. This framework could also include new networks of connectivity, so that this small community can redefine its role within the busiest border in the world.
Out of this initial process emerged the Affordable Housing Overlay Zone (AHOZ), becoming such a socio-political and economic framework. The AHOZ is an instrument of development by which the community, through the non-profit organization, will partner with the municipality and selected financial institutions. It must be pointed out that given the current market forces in San Diego, calling housing «affordable» is an oxymoron. Skorepa instead wants to call it «expensive housing for the poor».
Through the AHOZ, we proposed to the municipality of San Diego to consider partnering with Casa Familiar and give this non-profit organization a new role in developing alternative, affordable housing prototypes that can advance notions of density and mixed-use for communities such as San Ysidro. This process would include alternative models for funding and entitlement processes (construction permit management) oriented toward the disenfranchised members of this community.
AHOZ micro-policy:Premise: In San Ysidro housing will not be just units spread indifferently across the territory. Here, housing is dwelling in relationship to the social and cultural program managed by Casa Familiar, a neighborhood’s non-profit organization. In this context, density is not just an amount of units per acre, it is an amount of social exchanges per acre.
1.The non-profit organization becomes an urban think-tank. It would manage an initial research project to identify and document properties on which illegal construction has taken place in the last decades, as small extended families share resources in building non-conforming additions. These stealth companion units usually are located in the back of a parcel flanking an alley.
2.The municipality would allow a small overlay zone, within which these illegal and fragile units could be legalized, allowing their replacement by new ones without penalizing the property owners (the municipality makes visible the invisible, inserting these illegal units into a new category of zoning).
3.The non-profit, with the support of special grants, would fund the design of a series of small, ready-made housing additions that can be combined in a variety of scenarios and assembled by human resourcefulness within the community (it is in these neighborhoods where the service construction sector lives).
4.The non-profit would act as mediator between city and financial agencies (banking), managing and facilitating construction permitting and loan processes.
5.A property owner would select a particular combination of dwelling and the nonprofit would assist in expediting its permitting process (the non-profit becomes a micro city hall). The municipality would pre-authorize the construction documents for these new dwellings, allowing the non-profit to facilitate the end of the process and managing the actual construction permit.
6.The property owner promises to participate in the construction of the unit, therefore allowing sweat equity – hours of labor – to become equity in the development pro-forma. (The property owner becomes a micro-developer, participating in the process).
7.How to make these units affordable? The non-profit would manage a series of microcredits. This is achieved by breaking the loan structure allocated to large affordable housing projects – out of tax credits and other subsidies – into small pieces that can be distributed throughout the community. Let’s imagine shattering the large loan for a conventional condominium project over parking into smaller pieces, and then distributing these micro credits across the neighborhood.
Note: The reason private developers have not built affordable housing projects in neighborhoods such as these ones – even during a period of unprecedented construction boom in California – is because of a discrepancy between zoning policy and economic development. In other words, for a developer to make an affordable housing project profitable, he or she would have to be competitive in terms of tax credits and subsidies. In order to make it feasible, this project would have to have an average of 50 units. Fifty units are not allowed by code in many of these communities, and mixed used is prohibited by zoning. Housing affordability is trapped in this contradiction.
8. The construction of housing units at the back of parcels would support the activation of a network of alleys into a circuit of pedestrian and landscape corridors.
9. Some of the amenities included in these community housing projects would include small, open-ended social service infrastructures as support systems for non-conforming community uses, such as informal public markets and gardens.
10. The guidelines proposed by the AHOZ could be distilled into a series of new relationships, so that private developers who want to benefit from the higher densities proposed by this overlay zone would have to comply with the social and public programs that accompany these developments.
In a special resolution, in January of 2005, Casa Familiar’s micro-policy was authorized by the City of San Diego’s Mayor and City Council, paving the way for the design of a pilot housing project that could anticipate new densities and mixed uses in the mid-city.
Case study 2 Living Rooms at the Border is a small housing project that emerges from the micro policy and serves as a catalyst to anticipate San Diego’s needed densities and mixed uses, while becoming a political instrument to enable Casa Familiar to further transform zoning regulation for the border city of San Ysidro. Both the micro policy and this small architectural project convey to the municipality the need to foster the relationship between socio-political and economic strategies and spatial tactics in order to shape a new notion of affordability. In terms of spatial organization, the objective of this project, then, has been to distill the essence of patterns of use within conventional parcels in this neighborhood, where property owners encroach and activate the leftover. Also, to learn from the improvisational tactics of transgression by which people inside this community appropriate the undifferentiated public right of way, transforming alleys into complex, informal networks of pedestrian activity.
Living Rooms at the Border
This informal negotiation of boundaries and spaces becomes the basis for incremental design solutions that have a catalytic effect on the urban fabric. In a small parcel where existing zoning allows only three units of housing, this project proposes, through negotiated density bonuses and by sharing kitchens, 12 affordable housing units, the adaptive re-use of an existing 1927 church on the site as a community center, offices for the non-profit in the church’s new attic, and a community garden that serves as an armature to support this community’s non-conforming microeconomies. The parcel becomes a system that can anticipate and organize social encounter. Housing units take a different meaning within this service infrastructure as they are «stitched» with the socio-cultural program choreographed by the nonprofit.
In a place where current regulation allows only one use, we propose five different uses that support one another, suggesting a model of social sustainability for San Diego, one that conveys density not as bulk but as social choreography and neighborhood collaboration.
5. Epilogue: The move from solid to lightMy collaboration with Casa Familiar has challenged me to imagine real processes of intervention within the multiple forces that shape this border territory, where the incremental homogenization of architectural styles and exclusionary planning practices has resulted in zoning that opposes the forces and influences arising out of this continually changing and expanding border condition. This situation has prompted a search for an alternative political process that can advocate instead an urbanism of juxtaposition, inclusive of the particular socio-cultural patterns of use that can yield unique housing prototypes. Using the border zone as a laboratory, then, has inspired the observation of thriving conditions in existing neighborhoods, focusing on the dormant potentialities of under-utilized elements of the urban infrastructure. Many lessons can still be learned from the great transnational metropolis stretching from San Diego to Tijuana, as it embraces recurring waves of immigrants from around the world. A different notion of housing can emerge out of this geography, pregnant with the promise of generating an urbanism that admits the full spectrum of social and spatial possibility.
But this sense of possibility is put into question once more as we return to the reality of the current hardening of the Tijuana-San Diego border. The border’s transformation in the last decades from porous (light) to impermeable (solid) is precisely the opposite of the mutation of contemporary urban strategies and artistic practices in the city, which have moved from solid to light. In this context, the San Diego-Tijuana border wall is an instrument of criticism, to question contemporary urbanism’s desire for re-visiting the meaning of dynamic metropolitan landscapes such as the ones found in Latin American, Asian, and African cities, searching for new models of land use based on layered programmatic intensities, as well as contemporary architecture’s quest for new formal expressions based on strategies of transformation and openendedness. As much as these notions are liberating, it is questionable whether or not they are achievable under the discriminating social policy pertaining to the «public» in the increasing neo-liberalist global city, a condition that is radicalized at the border. If contemporary art, architecture, and urbanism do not engage the sociopolitical, economic, and cultural dimension of the territories they occupy, they are destined to continue being isolated and trivial formal events, perpetuating the idea of the city as a static repository of objects instead of revealing its potential as a dynamic field whose thickness is made of the complexity of its multiple forces and mutating histories and identities.
In other words, as architects and artists are reclaiming the city as the privileged site for investigation and experimentation, searching for urban models that are more inclusive and heterogeneous, it is questionable whether or not these ideals can be achieved under the conditions that prevail at the beginning of the 21st- century, as discriminatory social policies against the public are augmented with intensified layers of «security» against invisible threats. In this sense, we are reminded that the policies being rolled out by the Department of Homeland Security might, like the Trojan horse, not be as benign as they seem. For in their blind desire to reinforce barriers, to lock out what is different and unpredictable, they, of course, run the risk of locking the door on the wrong side.