The Just 15 Minute City
Author: Nakesha Newsome
Institution: Washington University in St. Louis
Instructor: Linda C. Samuels
TA: Tiffany Dockins
Studio: Spaces of Protest and Democracy; Graduate Architecture, Spring 2021
This project is using the concept of the 15-minute city as a base to design a community in a future that prioritizes moving people over moving cars. This studio combined the goals of the Green New Deal with social calls for justice and equity, creating spaces for protest and democracy while designing for a more environmentally conscious future. Interstate 45 in Houston, Texas currently divides two neighborhoods providing no support for the people it is harming and causing lasting environmental damage. This project proposes the removal of interstate 45 turning that space into a green community center, with programming that will create a just 15-minute city supporting a wide range of people. An elevated rail will provide alternative transportation as well as shade and resources to the members of the community. The area under the rail uses green storm-water management to slow down and filter large amounts of storm-water runoff in the event of a potential flood. The goals and objectives for this project follow the 5 large goals of the Green New Deal, lowering greenhouse gas emissions, creating high wage jobs, providing clearn air and water, and community resiliency, investing in sustainable infrastructure and promoting justice. The just 15-minute city makes people the priority, providing access to alternative transit, food, health services and the ability to participate in the democratic process. This project follows the Green New Deal while providing spaces of protest and democracy, prioritizing justice, and equity for the marginalized peoples of Near Northside village neighborhood.
This studio is guided by two primary motivations – the momentum of global social uprisings for equity and their particular resonance here in St. Louis, and the emergence of an optimistic, big vision plan for more socially just and environmentally conscientious cities, the Green New Deal. The Green New Deal, whose name references the original New Deal depression-era public works and social prosperity programs, is an aspirational and controversial policy document that takes as its very basis the challenge of climate change and global warming and the current and growing chasm of wealth disparity between the very rich and the working poor. It focuses on five broad objectives: greenhouse gas reduction, high-wage jobs, sustainable infrastructure and industry investment, security of common resources, and promotion of justice for historically disadvantaged communities. Unlike more recent stimulus efforts, the original New Deal initiatives were intended to create morale and unity, emphasize the importance of culture and the arts as part of our larger public infrastructure, and create shared prosperity. The concept of collective good was critical and should be again. The GND recognizes – and hopes to repair – the interrelated crises of environmental and social injustices, for everyone; so do we. Spaces of Protest and Democracy first introduces guiding concepts for the semester: infrastructure as sites of contestation and competition, publicness and democracy, relationships between micro and macro systems and ideas, privatization and consumerism, and design as a political act. Next, we focus on the study of contested sites in St. Louis, sites with rich and complicated histories; spatial, metaphysical, or ecological damage; visible and invisible scars.
Each student will create three quick design interventions for their site: one that acknowledges, one that informs, and one that repairs. These small design strategies will then be tested at a larger scale – the US highway. Like much of our public space, infrastructure is also contested territory, neither empty nor neutral, but a product of decades of decision making and hundreds of decision makers, typically favoring those with the loudest voices and the most wealth and power. The second half of the semester focuses on obsolete, under-utilized, or otherwise challenged freeway segments, both as sites of contestation and erasure and sites of protest and power. As cities around the globe reduce car-centric space and confront challenges of climate change and social inequity – particularly environmental racism – our projects aim to reclaim and reimagine that space beyond multi-modality and recreation to real democratization, simultaneously imagining ecological and environmental improvements while repairing for the loss and damage caused through “urban renewal” and other forms of spatial violence.
Our work asks how the major transitions before us – radical changes in commute / live patterns; technological increases in electric and autonomous vehicles; hyperloop and high-speed rail; demands for decarbonization and healthier air, water, and food – can leverage the skills and creative vision of architects, landscape architects, and urban designers to answer the call of the Green New Deal, both locally and as a source of repair at the scale of the nation.