Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Chinese Capitalism (2)

"Dereliction in the rustbelt, super-exploitation in the sunbelt: the treatment of labor is pitiless in either zone." - Perry Anderson
Perry Anderson also reviews Ching Kwan Lee's Against the Law (California, 2007), on labor protests in the Manchurian rustbelt and the Guangdong sunbelt. "Its first half is a study of the destruction of the proletariat that built China's principal industrial base, as the great state-owned enterprises were scrapped or sold off, leaving their workers jobless and often near-penniless, while officials and profiteers lined their pockets with what was left of all they had created. The second part explores the emergence of a new working class of young migrant laborers from the countryside, about half of them women, without collective identity or political memory. They have low-wage jobs, but no security; toiling up to 70 or 80 hours a week in often atrocious working conditions, with widespread exposure to abuse and injury."

Chinese Capitalism (1)

"Not many economists would think to dedicate their work to a couple of imprisoned villagers and an executed housewife." - Perry Anderson
UCLA History Professor Perry Anderson reviews Yasheng Huang's Capitalism with Chinese Characteristics (Cambridge, 2008) in the London Review of Books (28 January 2010, pages 3 and 5-6) "His central finding is that the apparently unbroken rates of high-speed growth [in China] have rested on two quite different models of development" - the pre-1989 liberalization, which brought momentary prosperity to the countryside, and its post-1989 reversal, which shifted funds and foreign investment to the cities, one of which Huang describes as a "forest of grand theft." Those millions of villagers who migrated to the big cities in the 1990s were pushed to do so by poverty back home.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Vox Populi

"A lot of fuss about the Prince of Wales, with a group of architects writing to the Guardian claiming HRH's objections to the Chelsea Barracks design is an interference 'in the democratic process.' This is hypocritical rubbish. Architects have always had scant regard for democracy and as often as not have the planners in their pocket; anyone who stands up to them gets my vote, including the Prince of Wales." - Alan Bennett
I have some sympathy for Bennett's viewpoint, although I find Prince Charles too enamored of genre buildings. (Peter Davey had an article in Architectural Review some years ago that showed how what the Prince values could also be achieved in a modernist idiom.) Are architects undemocratic? I think it's more accurate to say that urban-scale development is often so - and tipped against the immediate interests of the community, although architects will argue that they're defending a better future. I do sympathize with the Prince's interest in tradition. The legal theorist Friedrich Hayek believed that it's a safeguard against the kind of casual, cooked-up tyranny that politicians go in for when their vote is in play and money can be made dispensing it. I tend to blame them first. However puffed up they may be, architects are usually somewhere down the line. (Bennett's diary, well worth reading, appears quarterly (?) in the London Review of Books; this one is from 7 January 2010, pages 34-35.)

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Density and Urbanity

"Does 'new urbanism' say that we have to fight suburban sprawl by putting 400-foot buildings everywhere in San Francisco?" - Sue Hestor
Hestor is commenting on 555 Washington, a tower proposed for SF's Pyramid block that's up for reconsideration by the city's Planning Commission on 18 March. She has a point - a crucial one in my estimation. For too long, Smart Growth advocates have invoked sprawl at the urban edge to justify girth at the edges of the CBD. That gave us Rincon in SF, an area rife with mediocrity (some of it designed by Heller Manus, the architects of 555 Washington). Now the pressure to bulk up is shifting north, threatening the mostly lowrise area that borders the Pyramid block. To his credit, Chronicle critic John King sees the tower as a reason to first revisit the planning assumptions that have governed the area since the 1980s. That would give SF the opportunity to rethink how it approaches density, hopefully connecting it to urbanity and not assuming that density is urbanity by definition, as Smart Growth advocates tend to do. Berkeley has the same pressing need to revisit this issue. (Hestor was quoted by Tim Redmond on 11 February 2010 in an online San Francisco Bay Guardian post kindly sent me by Kenneth Caldwell.)

About Quotes & Thoughts

I started Quotes & Thoughts while visiting my daughter in a valley near Orgiva in Alpujarra, the region south of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, about an hour seaward of Granada, Spain. Q&T has lived as part of Common Place, the first issue of which has the results of those days, during which I wrote incessantly, prompted by some copies of the London Review of Books that I'd brought with me. This is its continuation. - John Parman