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Radical Cities: Across Latin America in Search of a New Architecture

“An intriguing picture of an activist urbanism and architecture that has made a real difference.” – Edwin Heathcote, Financial Times
What makes the city of the future? How do you heal a divided city?

In Radical Cities, Justin McGuirk travels across Latin America in search of the activist architects, maverick politicians and alternative communities already answering these questions. From Brazil to Venezuela, and from Mexico to Argentina, McGuirk discovers the people and ideas shaping the way cities are evolving.

Ever since the mid twentieth century, when the dream of modernist utopia went to Latin America to die, the continent has been a testing ground for exciting new conceptions of the city. An architect in Chile has designed a form of social housing where only half of the house is built, allowing the owners to adapt the rest; Medellín, formerly the world’s murder capital, has been transformed with innovative public architecture; squatters in Caracas have taken over the forty-five-story Torre David skyscraper; and Rio is on a mission to incorporate its favelas into the rest of the city.

Here, in the most urbanised continent on the planet, extreme cities have bred extreme conditions, from vast housing estates to sprawling slums. But after decades of social and political failure, a new generation has revitalised architecture and urban design in order to address persistent poverty and inequality. Together, these activists, pragmatists and social idealists are performing bold experiments that the rest of the world may learn from.

Radical Cities is a colorful journey through Latin America—a crucible of architectural and urban innovation.

Reviews

  • “Provocative and beautifully crafted.”
  • “In this inspiring book, McGuirk goes right to the heart of the dilemmas facing architecture and cities today. With its powerful prose and deep insights, Radical Cities reboots the potential of architecture to have social and political meaning, taking us through an unforgettable journey through the contested spaces of Latin America urbanism.”
  • “In his fine and timely book Radical Cities, the British writer and curator Justin McGuirk takes a road trip to seek out not only the problems caused by rapid growth but also the most radical and influential ideas to have emerged in response over the past couple of decades … an intriguing picture of an activist urbanism and architecture that has made a real difference.”
  • “A series of remarkable interventions across Latin America that seek to align architecture, planning, and infrastructure with the needs of disenfranchised people who seek to live in decent, democratic, and functional environments.”
  • “Makes the case for action in cities once again. This book is a generational call written without easy utopianism or fatal disillusionment about a new social consciousness in architecture and urban design.”
  • “Clear headed, elegantly written, carefully observed, the book introduces us to flamboyant mooning mayors and revolutionary theme park builders. We follow McGuirk through the dark stairwells of Caracas’s squatted skyscraper, and the cable cars dangling above Rio’s favelas.”
  • “Writing with verve and purpose, McGuirk explores how a new generation is developing strategies to build equitable communities in Latin America.”
  • Radical Cities is an exhilarating tour of the continent—a collection of stories that demonstrates great ingenuity in the harshest of circumstances.”
  • “The whole world over people move from the countryside into the city, but nowhere is this movement and its consequences so dramatic as in Latin America … The architecture critic Justin McGuirk travelled the continent and spoke with architects, politicians and campaign groups to try to understand how to respond to this threatening phenomenon. Radical Cities is the name of his book in which, with bitter irony, he first establishes that it is precisely in Latin America, where architects such as Oscar Niemeyer realised social-utopian architecture more than anywhere else, that the models of social building failed. And yet McGuirk is neither fatalist, nor dreamer. He points out problems, but also describes some fascinating approaches to try to mitigate them.”
  • “Justin McGuirk’s fascinating study shows that Latin American cities have much to teach the world's architects.”
  • Radical Cities is a fast-paced journey across the region’s cities where the author meets the people who are moulding social change in suburbs across Latin America … A real strength of McGuirk’s analysis is its contextual and historical sensitivity, which takes into account the unique circumstances of each country, city and community … For those of us disillusioned by the current social housing … The lesson to be learned is the need to bring creativity and innovation to address the challenges of our cities.”
  • “This is an engagingly-written, continent-wide introduction to the ways in which a couple of generations of Latin American architects and urban planners have contended with issues such as social housing, transportation and even the border.”

Blog

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    This transcript of Vincent Emanuele's interview with David Harvey appeared first in Counterpunch.


    March from El Alto to La Paz, June 2011.


    Emanuele:
    You begin your book Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution, by describing your experience in Paris during the 1970s: “Tall building-giants, highways, soulless public housing and monopolized commodification on the streets threatening to engulf the old-Paris… Paris from the 1960s on was plainly in the midst of an existential crisis.” In 1967, Henry Lefebvre wrote his seminal essay “On the Right to the City.” Can you talk about this period and the impetus for writing Rebel Cities? 

    Harvey: Worldwide, the 1960s is often looked at, historically, as a period of urban crisis. In the United States, for example, the 1960s was a time when many central cities went up in flames. There were riots and near revolutions in cities like Los Angeles, Detroit, and of course after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King in 1968 — over 120 American cities were inflicted with minor and massive social unrest and rebellious action. I mention this in the United States, because what was in-effect happening was that the city was being modernized.

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  • Infrastructures of Empire and Resistance


    Demolition of "The Jungle" migrant camp in Calais, October 2016. 

    In late October 2016, I packed my bags for a short trip abroad, leaving a region raw with struggle over the racial and colonial violence of infrastructure. In places like Standing Rock, Flint, Muskrat Falls, Toronto, and Baltimore, conflicts raged over the targeted violence of energy, water, border, and policing systems. Movements for Black lives, for migrants’ rights, for indigenous sovereignty, and for economic and environmental justice were increasingly mapping violent infrastructure systems with their direct actions and analyses. The water protectors’ camps at Standing Rock were large and growing, animated by spirit, ceremony, and unprecedented gathering as they halted the Dakota Access Pipeline. The largest prison strike in history, 45 years after the Attica uprising, was calling out the inhumanity of American carceral infrastructure. Black organizers were denouncing infrastructure crises like the one poisoning Flint, Michigan, suggesting these would be the defining struggles for Black communities to come. More than 50 Indigenous Nations from across Turtle Island had just signed the Treaty Alliance Against Tar Sands Expansion, with the goal of protecting Indigenous lands and waters from all proposed pipeline, tanker, and rail projects. In my hometown of Toronto, Black Lives Matter members were making claims for the protection of “Black Infrastructure.” Blockades of damns, ports, highways, and rail infrastructure had become frequent news virtually everywhere, except for in the reporting of the mainstream media.

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  • Elite Takeovers of the Vertical City

    "Vertical housing has transmuted in a generation into a movement of the elites into super-expensive condo towers."

    Cities around the world are now segregated by height, with the world's wealthiest living at the highest points. It's a new form of class war from above, the politics around which are under-explored.

    In this edited extract from
    Vertical: The City from Satellites to Bunkers, Steve Graham looks at how the geography of inequality, politics, and identity is playing out in our increasingly vertical and unequal cities.

    Vertical: The City from Satellites to Bunkers is currently 50% off with free shipping as part of our end-of-year sale.


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