Where There is Ruin There is Hope for a Treasure

by Tanya Zwahlen

I’m watching The Get Down on Netflix. It’s a fictional account of the birth of hip hop in the South Bronx in the late 1970s. CityLab just published a great article that discusses the lack of police representation in the series, provides background to the politics of the city at the time, and gives context to the premise that hip hop saves lives.

I have been reflecting about hip hop as a response to the bleak reality of the Bronx in the 1970s. Other artistic responses to chaos have been the Dada and Cubist movement in art. Hannah Hoch’s work, in particular, come to mind. And later, Abstract Expressionism. In music, there is American folk music of the 1960s. Where are there social and artistic responses to today’s problems? Graffiti is one, and there is a side plot related to graffiti artists in The Get Down. Where else?

From a planning perspective, I’m also wondering, what will be the next generation’s response to today’s urban environment when they become decision makers? I hope with fully funded multimodal transportation systems, neighborhood schools, and abundant tax credits for the renovations of historic buildings.

This topic reminds me of something Jane Jacobs said about the future of cities and New Urbanism:

People who try to predict the future by extrapolating in a line of more of what exists—they are always wrong. It is not going to go the same… [Instead,] here comes a generation or two that just can’t stand what the previous generations did. And for whatever reasons, they want to expunge it. And they are absolutely ruthless with the remnants of it.

But I don’t think of it as an economic or political trainwreck. I think of it as one of those great generational upheavals that’s coming. And I think that part of the growing popularity around New Urbanism is not simply because it is so rational, and not simply because people care so much about community (or even understand it), or the relation of sprawl to the ruination of the natural world. They just don’t like what is around. And they will be ruthless with it.

There is a connection between hip hop and New Urbanism. Both responses to what came before them, to what was despised and rejected by a new generation. Where do you think the next ‘great generational upheaval’ will come from? Check out the CityLab article. Watch the show. ​Tell me what you think.

The Get Down


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