Ask the design curator at the MoMA in New York and a San Diego-based architect to talk about cities and violence, and the result is a match made in heaven. Moderator and expert on urban issues Tracy Metz seamlessly glued the conversation together in the WDCD Academy Series breakout on 9 May.

MoMA’s design curator Paola Antonelli was dumbstruck when she heard about the first 3D-printed gun last year. It formed the basis for her Design and Violence project, an experimental online exhibition. Teddy Cruz’s hometown San Diego is the gateway to neighboring Mexican city Tijuana. Regarded as a hotbed of trouble, the San Diego-Tijuana border area is, says Cruz, a creative laboratory to rethink the politics of surveillance, immigration and labor, density and sprawl, and the expanding gap between wealth and poverty.

What Antonelli and Cruz share is the conviction that we should not bury or avoid violence, but should research it for inspiration and a more thoughtful debate.

Zoning policies

With so much violence going on in the San Diego-Tijuana area, can some of it actually be contributed to architecture?, Metz wanted to know. Cruz took zoning policies as a first example of cruelty. ‘Policies are designed in a dark room by politicians, and architects don’t see the design of policy as a tool that they could use to influence their cause. But the policies of zoning are a forceful influence on the city. We would like to make cities work from bottom up.’

The US-Mexico border is an another act of violence, said Cruz. ‘Yet it’s not closed. People will always cross it, as long as there is a demand for cheap labor.’ Even San Diego trash is transported to Tijuana. Disregarded Levittown homes from the 1950s are now being bought by Mexican speculators to be relocated to Mexico.

Should the Levittown houses be added to the Design and Violence exhibition?, Metz asked Antonelli. They could be, she answered, but stopped to consider adding anything new to the exhibition. ‘We’ve been online since September, and we are trying to decide how to end the project. It is difficult to end online exhibitions; they can go on forever. I’ve trained people on my team not to say virtual space: the digital space is as real as the physical space. So we would like to wrap it up in the same way.’

Creative thinking

Several cities in South America have reversed their violent reputation. Tijuana is one of those examples, and so is Bogota. Why those cities? ‘After a rapid decline of the tourist sector, they had to look inwards,’ explained Cruz. Antonelli highlighted the myth of South American mayors who are single-handedly transforming cities — a beautiful myth but a myth nonetheless. ‘Colombia has the most violence, and so it calls for the most creative thinking,’ added Cruz.

Can local lessons be transferred elsewhere? Antonelli: ‘When we read Russian literature, we are far away from it, but we are still moved. You can metabolize these universal lessons and create new things from it. At the moment, everyone is so afraid, especially politicians, because they might lose votes.

Cruz finished her thoughts: ‘Let’s build where the need is instead of where the votes are.’

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