Readings for a Post-Trump Politics

Photo composite of Places articles

On October 3, 2016, we published an article which we titled, with a sincere but naïve optimism that now feels painful to recall, “Post Trump.” Starting with the early shambolic years in property development, author Belmont Freeman tracks the trajectory of Donald Trump from New York City punchline — failed builder, racist slumlord, serial bankrupt, shameless deadbeat, tabloid philistine, megalomaniacal liar, etc etc — to major-party presidential candidate. Alas, way back then it still seemed improbable that the louche proprietor of Trump Tower, the uber-glitzy Fifth Avenue high-rise described by Ada Louise Huxtable as a “pink marble maelstrom,” would soon be redecorating the Oval Office, giving ostentatious pride of place to an oil portrait of president Andrew Jackson, signer of the Indian Removal Act, and to the bronze Bronco Buster, by artist Frederick Remington, who infamously pledged to shoot “Jews – injuns – Chinamen – Italians – Huns, the rubbish of the earth I hate.” 1 But Freeman’s article was nonetheless prescient. In the concluding paragraph he incisively frames what has become a central question in these turbulent times.

How enduring will be the damage wrought by Donald Trump? The real estate world has certainly seen its share of charlatans and crooks, yet the industry continues to drive New York City’s economy and mold its physical form. American politics has been serially disfigured by demagogues, yet our democracy has survived. Donald Trump might have gotten out of actual real estate development years ago, but his superficial and egotistical enterprise of branding projects has left an unhealthy residue across the industry. Lately it has been grimly satisfying to see some owners scrambling to de-brand their TRUMP developments. For the deservedly damaged Republican party, the de-branding will be fraught and perhaps impossible. As I write the news is breaking that George H.W. Bush is planning to vote for Hillary Clinton, and that the Republican National Committee is embracing Trump’s racist birtherism lies: only the most recent signs that Donald Trump has polluted the political landscape so thoroughly that the detoxification will be long and arduous.

On January 20, 1,570 days since our article went live, its title will finally be accurate. Or at least, the White House will welcome a new occupant, and the “detoxification” of our political landscape — which feels ever more urgent after the mob attack on the United States Capitol on January 6 — can at last begin. In that spirit, to start the new year — the new era — we’re pleased to share a list of readings from our archive, 21 articles for 2021, which together delve into political crises that have summoned responses in the design disciplines, ranging from housing precarity, to pressing calls for racial justice and the expansion of feminist practices, to economic inequality and the climate crisis. A contribution, at this nervous and hopeful moment, to the ongoing project of rebuilding a world “Post Trump.”


Post Trump, Belmont Freeman, October 2016
The young Donald Trump launched his career by developing buildings that extracted the maximum in tax credits and delivered the minimum in public amenities. The old Donald Trump is proving — devastatingly, destructively — true to form.

Reality in the Balance, Jeremy Till, January 2017
Reality is being assaulted by falsehoods and duplicity; reinvented by manipulators of new media; and ignored by political leaders. But reality has always been in the balance. Things are not set. Portents of the decline of democracy should in fact be read as prompts to engagement. For architects, as a call to action as citizen-professionals.

Notes Toward a History of Non-Planning, Anthony Fontenot, January 2015
The battle of ideas between those who argue for unfettered markets and those who champion a strong and beneficial role for government remains as relevant as ever. Yet to counterpose “capitalist vitality” against “top-down planning” is to obscure the accumulating effects — for starters: petrochemical pollution, deteriorating infrastructure, poor public health, housing precarity, climate disaster — of public disinvestment and deregulation.

Maintenance and Care, Shannon Mattern, November 2018
Values like “innovation” and “newness” have mass appeal — or at least they did until “disruption” became a winning campaign platform and a normalized governance strategy; now breakdown has become our experiential and epistemic reality. No wonder that in many disciplines and professions — from architecture to urban studies to the information sciences — “maintenance” has taken on new resonance as a theoretical framework, an ethos, and a political cause.

Tent City, America, Chris Herring, December 2015
Homeless camps have been more or less permanent fixtures within U.S. cities since the rise of modern industrialism in the 19th century. But the contemporary era of chronic homelessness began with the Reagan Revolution of the 1980s. Dedicated to lowering tax rates and shrinking the size of government, and more broadly to deregulation and privatization, the administration of Ronald Reagan slashed federal subsidies for low-income housing and deinstitutionalized thousands of mentally ill patients. The all too predictable consequence was a dramatic rise in the ranks of the homeless, and the return of encampments to the streets and open spaces of American cities.

Housing and the Cooperative Commonwealth, Susanne Schindler, October 2014
In America we have an escalating crisis of affordability in housing — yet we are overlooking time-tested solutions. Why aren’t policy makers pursuing diverse forms of ownership and financing, from housing trust funds to community land trusts? And why aren’t they encouraging non-profit, limited-equity cooperatives? Some of the priciest cities in Europe, including Zürich, Vienna, and Munich, have successfully embraced the cooperative model, and as a result are benefiting from housing that is not only more affordable but more innovative as well.

“Housing Is Everybody’s Problem,” Amanda Kolson Hurley, October 2017
More than half a century ago, the postwar housing activist Morris Milgram built one of the first privately funded, racially integrated suburban developments in America. Milgram was staunchly pro-integration and anti-discrimination, and decades on, his essential conviction has been borne out: housing is central to the achievement of equality in America; put differently, it is central to the persistence of inequality. Today it’s clearer than ever that the only effective way to redress the structural inequities in housing wealth — which is most Americans’ wealth — is through muscular public policy.

The (Still) Dreary Deadlock of Public Housing, Barbara Penner, October 2018
In her long career as an activist/author/academic, Catherine Bauer consistently argued that governments have a duty to ensure that all citizens are properly housed — a clear-eyed and unequivocal position that offers a much-needed antidote to the hopelessness that now clouds America and Europe as leaders prevaricate, austerity bites, social inequity worsens, and the shelter crisis deepens. Bauer believed that democracy itself depends upon the provision of high-quality housing for all citizens; and, with well justified alarm, she argued against the rise of socially homogenous and racially segregated communities, taking them as proof of the insufficient boldness of existing policies and the inability of private markets ever to address the needs of the poor — points that now feel more prescient and compelling than ever.

The Inequality Chronicles, 2016 – 2019
Not an article but a series in which six authors measure the profound consequences of racial and economic inequities in U.S. cities including Memphis, Houston, Baltimore, Chicago, New Orleans, and Philadelphia. “There are many reasons for our troubles,” wrote historian Jill Lepore in the aftermath of the election of Donald Trump. “But the deepest reason is inequality: the forms of political, cultural, and economic polarization that have been widening, not narrowing, for decades. Inequality, like slavery, is a chain that binds at both ends.”

Rexford Tugford and the Case for Big Urbanism, Garrett Dash Nelson, January 2018
In the mid 1930s, as one of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Dealers, the left-wing economist Rexford Tugwell argued that government power needed to scale up to match the power that private business had accumulated. Tugwell planned an ambitious network of “greenbelt cities” across the country, intended as an alternative to speculative development, with the community retaining land ownership and political control over future expansion. Dismissed as utopian and thwarted by private interests, Tugwell’s generous vision seems newly relevant. What if we were to associate top-down planning not with expressways and racist clearance schemes, but rather with urban greenbelts and the provision of social services?

Design and the Green New Deal, Billy Fleming, April 2019
Contemporary landscape practice is focused on sites, not systems; on elite desires, not public interests. By and large, landscape architects have been bystanders to environmental progress, not principal actors. To participate in the massive ecological challenges of our time, we must rethink how landscape architecture engages with social and political movements. As a start, our professional societies need to find ways to train a rising generation of landscape architects for careers in public service.

The Problem with Solutions, Rob Holmes, July 2020
“Solutionism” has been described as an intellectual pathology that defines problems on the basis of one’s capacity for solving them. For planning agencies, solutionism has led to conceptually limited, repeatable and quantifiable projects that reduce landscape complexities to known solutions, or that avoid altogether the problems that are most pressing — the “wicked” problems, like climate change, that by definition are never solved. How can the profession confront this challenge to our usual methods and familiar practices? How might a reinvigorated federal planning bureaucracy sponsor more effective and non-solutionist practices?

Beneficial Use: Balancing America’s (Sediment) Budget, Richard Campanella, January 2013
Of all the anthropogenic transformations occasioned upon the North American continent, few receive less attention than the large-scale movement of huge quantities of sediment, a.k.a. earth. Yet what is at stake is nothing less than the survival of coastal cities and landscapes. What can we do about the catastrophic erosion of American coasts?

The Middle of Everywhere, Timothy Schuler, November 2019
The Flint Hills region of Kansas is home to the last stand of tallgrass prairie on the American continent. Today this iconic landscape, one of the most biodiverse on the planet, is rapidly disappearing, a casualty of restless market forces and the sanctity of private land ownership. Its survival will require nothing less than a truly public vision — one that expands the definition of heritage to include indigenous histories and epistemologies; that supports local artists and entrepreneurs; that builds coalitions with area tribes; and that commits to the protection of the prairie ecosystem in all its fullness.

Designing Indian Country, Rod Barnett, October 2016
Let us start by rejecting the false opposition of settler and native, migrant and inhabitant, bad species and good. Let us suppose that Native America is not over, that there is no “after colonialism.” That Natives and non-Natives live in a continual contact zone and that colonization is an unfolding spatiality as well as an historical event. And that in everything they do, landscape architects bear the responsibility of contributing to the political landscapes that all things dwell within.

Refuge and Fortification, David Taylor, October 2020
The U.S./Mexico borderlands are rife with the contradictions and cruelties of global capitalism. They are where commerce flows freely but people do not, where corporate hegemony and economic inequity, political instability and organized crime, environmental degradation and global warming, are experienced with especially brutal force.

Notes Toward a History of Black Landscape Architecture, Kofi Boone, October 2020
So far Black Lives Matter has not tied its broader aspirations to the potential of Black urban planners and landscape designers to participate in the movement. But what if we started to tell different stories about landscape architecture, stories that recognized the power of physical places in catalyzing political and economic transformation? In this era of manifest inequity and injustice, can we remake the discipline so that Black Landscapes Matter?

Why Architects Need Feminism, Despina Stratigakos, September 2012
To an astonishing degree, the “subject” in design school curricula, as communicated in studios and history/theory courses, has remained male and White. Yet the growing desire for a more sustainable and inclusive architectural culture opens the door to a redefinition of what feminism can mean for the profession. Whether “old” or “new,” feminism is an inherently positive approach: it insists not only on the necessity but also on the possibility of change. Feminism weds theory to practice and encourages us to rethink the relationship between architecture schools and the larger professional world.

Abolish Oil, Reinhold Martin, June 2020
To be truly transformative, a Green New Deal must take an abolitionist stance regarding “oil” and what we might call the Carbon Empire — a regime under which countless lives have been sacrificed to war, racialized colonial violence, and paramilitary conflict, and countless others are now threatened by climate change. In this expanded understanding, “oil” names a system of production that begins upstream from the landscapes and cities that occupy the attention of most climate-crisis mitigation strategies; and oil abolition implies social transformation — a systemic change that turns away from the devil’s bargain between “green” austerity and corporate profit, and toward collective freedom.

Oscar-Zero: Notes from a Nuclear Tourist, Peggy Weil, April 2017
At this very moment, U.S. Air Force officers are on alert across the network of underground Minuteman III Launch Control Centers that support the intercontinental ballistic missiles that comprise our land-based nuclear arsenal. Located out of sight, deep below the surface of the earth in some of the least populous parts of the country, these sites of cold war-era deterrence have largely been forgotten. But now, amidst increasing global tensions, it’s time to put our atomic bombs — the deadliest weapons ever created — into the white-hot center of political debate.

Open and Shut, Nancy Levinson, January 2019
“The Fifth Risk,” by Michael Lewis, and “Winners Take All,” by Anand Giradharadas, offer complementary perspectives on our immediate crises and structural troubles — on the Trump administration’s catastrophic evisceration of the federal civil service, and on the ways in which  plutocratic philanthropists are distorting the very idea of social change and undercutting electoral democracy. Together these recent books suggest political frameworks that might inform the hard restoration — of civil discourse, collective trust, public institutions, democratic practices — that needs to follow the end of Trump. They also suggest provocative possibilities for how the design disciplines might structure an activist agenda and participate in that restoration.

Notes
  1. Ada Louise Huxtable, “Donald Trump’s Tower,” New York Times, May 6, 1984. Peter Schjeldahl, “All-American,” The New Yorker, July 5, 2004.
Cite
Places Editors, “Readings for a Post-Trump Politics,” Places Journal, January 2021. Accessed 27 Jan 2021. <>

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