Moral borders Honourable mention
Work title: DISPATCH FROM THE MORAL BORDER (0001001898)
A moral conflict zone exists in American cities like St. Louis, Missouri, USA. Here, and in other cities around the globe, local spaces are being systematically destabilized and erased for global development projects. In St. Louis, these projects promise to bring ‘regional growth’ with logistically efficient generic warehouses on ecologically compromised landscapes that in reality bring profit (if at all) for a limited few. An intensive contradiction exists here, whereby ‘progress’ in this sense relies on systems of spatial and social destruction. This pattern of contemporary urbanization threatens urbanism’s morality.
Global development’s attack is most pronounced on the front lines of places like historic (and all-African-American) Kinloch, Missouri, which have long been under siege by a bureaucratic arsenal slowly stripping local rights and public benefits, in the staging of future warehouse development enabling (projections of) global trade.
In Kinloch today, only a fraction –about 200- of the population is left, but by some perverse act of engagement protocols, their 12+ local institutions still stand. This proposal builds on the fragments of place as valued loci from which to wage a counter-offensive urbanism at the moral border between inhabitation and economic growth.
This project mobilizes design at the moral border in order to:
1. Develop critical intelligence and establish accountability for collateral damages: To articulate through drawings the intensive moral border zone, where moral and immoral practices of urbanization meet head on. This zone exists on the urban peripheries of cities like St. Louis where corporate-modeled city-region policies target externalized capital accumulations at expenses of lived space and social justice. The city as community, as history, as culture, diversity and memory has been under stealth attack by a bureaucratic arsenal seeking to capture global trade dollars.
Kinloch was Missouri’s first African American community to incorporate (in 1948); it claims many other firsts, but it also represented home and a cultural foundation for its residents. Over the past 20+ years, regional policy systematically diverted focused funding from places like this, allowing the occupation and take-over of the airport authority. Now private corporations will promote the development of global trade warehouses as “good for the region.” The drawings shed light on the policies contributing to Kinloch’s decline, countering dominant assumptions that poverty is somehow a resident’s own fault.
2. Provide Moral Urban Policy Reinforcements: The project examines the small-scale, local resistance movements already in play in Kinloch for tactical counter-offensive strategies, and launches design and design thinking for reinforcement through protections and additional similar actions. These existing movements include land appropriation tactics like informal urban farming, locally painted signs and billboards vocalizing the unfairness of the tax policies (TIFs)and reclamation efforts like the fledgling Kinloch Historical Preservation movement that took back Scott Avenue with a new Kinloch museum next to their only remaining locus of social life, the Cotton Club. The project infuses design thinking to consider long-term strategic policy interceptions that for example re-distribute the tax credits more locally based proportionally on existing needs, or that better track and capture federal funding for infrastructure improvements and environmental protections that bring public benefit.
3. Provide Tactical Design Counter-Offensives: The project considers how more targeted design tactics might enable immunizing reinforcement whereby what is left, the critical community institutions, are spatially bolstered to protect them from further destruction. These tactical reinforcements acknowledge and draw from the latent power of these 15 remaining institutions that include churches, a community center, a police station, a city hall, public parks, a fire station, the nightclub and new museum. Improvement to these strongholds -and to adjacent (appropriated) land and the infrastructure that binds them- acts as a shield to big box development, whereby any new future urban configuration must then grow out around these (re)valued structures. Community capacity is slowly re-built through the reinforced institution, as the protections double to allow the internal incubation and growth of community-focused programs like educational support, low-income job training services, or neighborhood council groups.
4. Open, Multiply Borders with New Alliances, Networks: If further destruction (or future growth) relies on strength in numbers, then local infrastructural improvements like added street connections open borders at Kinloch’s seams, drawing in the critical mass of surrounding neighborhoods with the programs or services fostered in protected institutions. This expands Kinloch as a territory beyond municipal lines. Slowly, creative new housing development might infill the edges at these points of connection. A cyber-spatial campaign stemming from the social networks already in place (facilitated by these institutions) then multiplies borders, re-connecting constituencies, re-asserting place and culture across an expanded territory beyond where it is otherwise fragmented or erased.
5. Re-establish Value as Social Capital: Musicians like Huey, artists and citizens are already at work to counter developments’ de-valuations of historic spaces. Design and design’s thinking are positioned here, too as reinforcement at the Moral Border, to challenge mainstream valuation systems and to control and limit how global development happens in localities like Kinloch, so that it might benefit everyone, residents alike.