[-empyre-] Resilient Latin America: Reconnecting Urban Policy and the Collective's Imagination

Brian Holmes bhcontinentaldrift at gmail.com
Wed Mar 28 15:52:48 EST 2012

These ideas are really compelling, Teddy. Concerning the "much that has 
been written" (and the almost nothing I have read) could you suggest 
some books or articles or weblinks whether in English or Spanish, that 
many of us would probably take time to follow up some day?

> -So, even though much has been written about these important realized
> projects in Latin America, there is still a lot of missing information.
> Most of the descriptions behind these projects focus on the achievements
> themselves, as final products, but very seldom, if not at all, we can
> find specific narrations that convey the complex processes behind many
> of the transactions, exchanges, negotiations that took place across
> institutions and communities, linking bottom-up social activism with top
> down planning, integrating the agencies that had been divided, while
> decentralizing the economic resources, a sort of committed search to
> democratize urban development.

The specific narratives are pretty important. When I went to Rosario, 
Argentina (which a few years ago was named "capital de la 
gobernabilidad" by I-don't-know-which international institution) I was 
very keen to find out about the many urbanistic innovations of that 
maverick socialist city about which I had read (in particular, 
participatory planning). Alas, what I found was a sophisticated urban 
rhetoric that makes the city famous internationally, but actually covers 
yet more land-grabs by local real-estate oligarchies, which today are 
digesting the last few square meters on the Rio Parana for their 
high-rise money-makers... At the same time, everyone should recognize 
that this kind of balance of forces indicates the presence of strong 
grassroots activism as well as some less-corruptible mediators. We found 
both in Rosario, struggling and succeeding locally with urban gardens, 
poor people's housing (particularly a program invented by the Madres de 
la Plaza de Mayo), attempts to start up a community school (Movimiento 
Giros) and many other impressive projects. I agree, lots of inspiration, 
and it would be great to study that systematically, as you have done.

The question is how to bring that back home, or better, just invent 
something right here. In my case that would be in the wilds of the 
"Midwest Radical Cultural Corridor," aka the Abandoned Heartland, which 
begins the minute one leaves Chicago's downtown Loop and continues for, 
say, a thousand miles in every rusting direction. I dislike the Loop 
which for me is a space of total control, so one of the most interesting 
things in recent years has been just exploring this larger region -- 
basically new to me, but very warm and welcoming since it has already 
given rise to quite an interesting group and project:


I agree, too, with your conclusion that people in the arts and 
humanities have to lead the way to a more decent kind of territorial 
development, because no one else is doing it. Walter Benjamin has been 
mentioned here and we know that his concept of history arose from the 
recognition that even the existence of the losers could be wiped off the 
page and banished from memory by those who take the power to dictate 
what we will have been. That could happen tomorrow (literally) in the 
city of Detroit, for example, if the state appoints an Emergency 
Financial Manager with full powers to do whatever he, as a pure 
technocrat, sees fit. The big wave of activism that is finally rising in 
the US is maybe based on resilience in Boris Cyrulink's definitions of 
the term. People are amazing, and Detroit, for instance, has the deepest 
urban memory and the most powerfully articulated leftist activism of 
anywhere I know (not to say there aren't other places, other memories, 
for sure and more power to them). But our ruling class just crushes such 
beautiful human creations, or at least, tries its best to restructure 
them out of existence. Resilience here is like an afterlife, like nine 
lives and you need every one of them.

I have no idea what the reality of the libraries in Medellin might be, 
but I know that is exactly the kind of institution that seems necessary 
for the postmodern multitudes that we tried so hard to theorize back in 
Paris. The question is, how to invent a social policy that does not keep 
people on the edge of survival as permanent victims, but instead, opens 
up the resources of globalization for uses both wild and caring? I once 
wrote a text about that, still valid today I think, which tries to take 
the lessons of file-sharing and free software and extend them much 
further, into a pattern for an alternative social policy. It's called 
Three Proposals for a Real Democracy:


Today the most important cultural projects strive to create both memory 
and dreams from below, rigorously outside of an official ambit marked by 
total corruption. Here is one that's just starting, the Chicago Torture 
Justice Memorials, which calls on everyone who feels concerned to 
propose a feasible or speculative monument against what was done by the 
racist cops, and what can still be done in the future if we are not 
thousands thousands to stop it. May these virtual memorials flower and 
plant seeds in all the vacant lots where kids learn how to be human beings:


best, to all, Brian

More information about the empyre mailing list