Blogging the PHI: Temporalities of Transition

Professor Dewar’s work on decline as a paradigm for urban planning was utterly fascinating and creative. It was perhaps most striking that a term so closely associated with pessimism—to death—was recuperated to allow for creation and optimism. It is a theme we saw repeated in the various project we encountered, this transforming of space that appeared unproductive at best and detrimental at worst into something regenerative. I wonder, though, how these projects fit in if we keep the model of decline in the back of our minds. Are these stop gaps, actions that decelerate decline but do not lead it to desist? Are they meant to reverse the trend and lead to stability and even growth? What will happen to urban gardens and public art projects if they create a demand for commercial and residential land use, the demand whose very decline led to their existence? Do these projects’ success depend on their eventual demise?

I tend to hope that projects like Feedom Freedom, The Heidelberg Project, or Grace Lee Boggs community activism can develop structural reinterpretations of urban settings and lifestyles that will outlive the projects themselves. But perhaps demise—to unset, to deplace—should be not only accepted as inevitable but kept as a model, even in moments of growth. I am wary of engaging in the search for the progressive stage, for the fulfillment of the most perfect society. Each moment in time holds possibilities of past and future, and these possibilities might only surge if we do not try to repeat or improve, but to acknowledge the present reality as one of many.

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