Blog: The Heterogenous City at NY Festival of Ideas

The Heterogeneous City, a panel discussion at the New York Festival of Ideas, looks to a dynamic equilibrium for the urban environment.

The Heterogeneous City, a panel discussion with Jonathan FP Rose, Jonathan Bowles, Suketu Mehta, Vito Acconci and Rosanne Haggerty.   

The changing city

Jonathan Rose, founder of Rose Companies, started out with random facts of cities of the world, highlighting the rising water in New York City in conjunction with loss of water in Atlanta, to the spread of the West Nile disease in unexpected areas. Speaking quickly, due to the short time period for each speaker, he continued to rush through facts about world issues and concerns. He mentioned “climate refugees” and facts that support it stating that “by 2050 Europe will have 300 million refugees” solely because of climate change. He showed graphs about peak oil and how we have reached it, supporting the data by stating that “the demand comes from population growth and consumption growth”.  He reflected on Rem Koolhaas’s earlier words on architecture, how in the case of CCTV by OMA, it does not reflect Chinese culture but that is because the culture is quickly changing. From subject to subject, Rose gave the audience a quick view on how quickly the world is changing. He stated: “The developing and developed worlds are switching.” He gave examples of how changing behaviour changes attitudes. By building bike lanes in New York City, for example, it shifts the experience for the dwellers, to a more accepting attitude. Finally he noted a point about real estate development: “The way we manage our cities today is very static, we need to change to a dynamic way of planning - plan, regulate, measure outcomes, compare to community health indicators, establish community health indicators.”

Public rules

Jonathan Bowles could be known as the prime guy for marketing New York City. He is the director of the Center for an Urban Future, which oversees public policy for NYC. He presented many reasons for why his team believes NYC is successful.  He asked why highly educated people come to NYC. He also answered his own question, stating that NYC is “unique, diverse, complex, and (most importantly) tolerant.” It was good to know that Manhattan houses 192 Starbucks, a fact he mentioned to reflect how many individual businesses are still growing. Finally, and this as my favourite part of his talk, Bowles states the main reason people of all backgrounds live in NYC is because “creativity is a magnet and it is not just for creative people”.

Life in the city

Suketu Mehta, professor of journalism at NYU and author of Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found, gave us a beautiful, image-free talk about his life and NYC. He began by telling us a story  of when he was 14 and moved from Bombay to Jackson Heights: “Moving from culture to culture was difficult, Sundays brought the entire neighbourhood together to watch Visions of Asia.” He clarified that they, being the neighbours, did not love each other. They all thought racist things but what brought them together was one Bollywood film. He then supported New Yorkers stating, “NYC is a city of good people who stayed thorough bad times. NYC did not become Detroit, New Yorkers have a strong identity of being New Yorkers.” He commented on the heterogeneity and unpredictability of NYC and compared it to his culture in that “it is like the Hindu caste system; it is not equitable, but everyone has their place”. Strongly ending his speech, Mehta stated that “NYC is the city of the second chance”.

Mixed spaces

A visual and performance artist who now practices architecture, Vito Acconci, gave us a new look into public space. Not all of his projects have been built, in fact, very little have. Acconci supported his un-built projects by stating that “sometimes having un-built projects is better than built, as it allows it to be more easily read as a public space”. Acconci managed to quickly go through fifteen projects which he calls “operations.” Operation #1was about a mobius tubing that allows children to interact, in and out of space. Operation #2  was “an architecture of holes” which his teams proposed for the World Trade Center, a building full of holes. He joked that “maybe a building should become pre-exploded, where street vendors and parks can come inside the building, bringing the public space inside”. Most of Acconci’s projects supported his overall concept of how “things work best when they are mixed, so they can contradict each other”. He ended his talk by stating that “the architecture of the future is going to move, maybe there would be no more borders, people can go from one place to another”.

Design solutions

Rosanne Haggerty passionately discussed the adaptive reuse of existing buildings to affordable housing. Her spaces support anyone, from the former homeless to the mentally ill, artists and the elderly. “Combining different groups of people is not just an American idea, everyone has a challenge within,” Haggerty said. She found that “design is the solution” to creating spaces that can combine different people. Her transformation of a hotel in Newburgh, New York showed how 128 units of studio housing was inserted successfully into the existing space.

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