Holographic Reality: Making Large-Scale Illusions a Collective Experience

[ By SA Rogers in Conceptual & Futuristic & Technology. ]

Instead of just imagining near-future applications of holographic virtual and augmented reality that we interact with individually on a small scale, what if we expanded them to colossal proportions? “Holographic Reality” by Behruz Hairullaev, Brandon Muir and Nicholas Licausi envisions holograms as collective experiences that can provide entertainment, education, information, news and more in public places.

Sci-fi films have already envisioned huge holographic billboards, but “Holographic Reality” takes the concept a bit further with huge sports games, sculptures, light shows and more projected into the sky via modular, skyscraper-like structures, allowing cities to become massive canvases.

The designers note that virtual and augmented reality innovations tend to focus on personal applications like games that people interact with individually more often than in groups. Users are isolated by putting on headsets and absorbing the content alone, disconnecting from other people and the immediate physical world around them.

“Holographic Reality,” on the other hand, brings people together to share experiences like simultaneously broadcasted live events by making holograms part of the urban fabric. It’s not clear exactly how it would work, and some aspects of the project raise immediate concerns, like the prospect of worsening light pollution and making cities feel more cluttered than they already do. But for special events and select locations, this kind of technology could be pretty cool, and it’s probably inevitable at this point anyway.

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Poison Ivy League: Abandoned Letchworth Village Asylum

[ By Steve in Abandoned Places & Architecture. ]

Letchworth Village was hailed as an advanced institution at its 1911 opening but chronic overcrowding and underfunding took an alarming toll on the asylum and its inmates.

Gotham’s Asylum

The deteriorating remains of this residential institution, overgrown with mold within and poison ivy wiithout, lie a scant few miles northwest of New York City in Rockland County. The complex encompassed over 130 buildings at one point – a striking departure from the usual practice of building high-rise institutional asylums criticized by reformers as being detrimental to patients’ care and well-being.

Unfunny Farm

Letchworth Village was all about reform: it was named for William Pryor Letchworth (1823-1910), a noted author, philanthropist and researcher renowned for his advocacy of modern treatment regimes for the institutionalized. Situated in the hamlet of Thiells, the “state institution for the segregation of the epileptic and feeble-minded” initially occupied 2,362 acres of pastoral land. Stately one- and two-story buildings were modeled after Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s plantation home and estate in Virginia.

Fork Gone Conclusion

In accordance with William Letchworth’s theories, Letchworth Village limited accommodations to 70 residents per building and instituted separate living arrangements for children, disabled adults, and able-bodied adults. The latter were put to work on communal farms raising crops and livestock, enabling the institution to be entirely self-sufficient in food production through the late 1950s and early 1960s. Other inmates occupied their time making toys which were sold commercially over the holiday season.

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Mirrored Chinese Bookstore Offers Readers a Maze of Discovery

[ By SA Rogers in Architecture & Offices & Commercial. ]

The newest of China’s surreal mirrored bookstores is now open in Chongqing, offering a disorienting, Escher-like experience to all who enter. Designed by X+Living, the Chongqing Zhongshuge Bookstore leads visitors through an unassuming glass facade on the third floor of Zodi Plaza and into a reflective maze full of reading materials waiting to be discovered.

Within the lobby is an arrangement of lampshade-shaped bookshelves that curve around illuminated reading spaces, their mirror images on the ceiling making them look much taller than they really are. “The bookshelves reflect on the ground and form a tunnel of books that beckons visitors to follow it deeper into space and knowledge,” says X+Living.

Further down the hallway, a “ladder hall” offers three levels of bookshelves accessed by branching staircases. The mirrors make it difficult to tell where the real shelves end and the reflections begin, but the space would be marvelous even without them. An adjacent children’s room is brighter in color, but similarly disorienting.

“Up to the 4th floor from the ‘ladder hall”’is a leisure area, where visitors can enjoy the aroma of coffee or a taste of good tea and immerse themselves into a tranquil world of different stories by reading. The ‘lampshade-shaped bookshelves’ around create scattered booths at this area, in which visitors may gather with friends to have fun reading and enjoy their leisure time. Connected to the leisure area is the extensive reading hall, where works of great minds are listed and visitors are able to broaden their eyes and enrich their spiritual world.”

Previously, the same studio designed floor-to-ceiling curved and mirrored bookshelves at the Yangzhou Zhongshuge bookshop, creating the effect of a tunnel of books. Check it out here.

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Future Visions of Vertical Architecture: eVolo Competition Winners

[ By SA Rogers in Conceptual & Futuristic & Technology. ]

Each year, eVolo Magazine solicits visionary proposals for futuristic skyscrapers from architects around the world. Focusing on sustainability, innovation and technological advancements, the annual competition produces ideas that may not be ready to build in the immediate future, but can inspire us all to think bigger when we imagine possible solutions to common problems like overpopulation, pollution and wildlife habitat loss. The 2019 eVolo Skyscraper Competition winners and honorable mentions include everything from hyperloop transit networks in the sky to urban structures that efficiently dispose of our trash.

Methanescraper (First Place)

Taking first place is Methanescraper by Serbian designer Marko Dragicevic, a skyscraper envisioned for Belgrade that responds to problems of overpopulation, mass urbanization and pollution. Noting that our current means of “disposing” of waste is untenable and that the problem will continue to compound in the future, the proposal “changes the model of a typical landfill into a raw vertical infrastructure.”

“The towers are module-based, and every tower is consisted of waste capsules that are attached to the concrete core. Firstly, city waste is being delivered to sorting facility, where it is categorized by type (glass, plastic, organic matter, paper, wood, metal), after which it is sent to temporary landfill. The recyclable waste is taken to recycling facility, and organic matter, parts of wood and paper materials are gathered and disposed into modular waste capsules. These capsules are attached to the tower core by cranes. Every capsule is equipped with inhaler and pipeline that connects to the methane tank, and when organic matter rots, methane produced by the process is drawn from each capsule and later transformed into energy. When the matter in a capsule decomposes completely, the capsule can be taken out, cleaned and refilled.”

Airscraper (Second Place)

How can we reduce deadly levels of air pollution in increasingly congested cities? “Airscraper” by Polish designers Klaudia Golaszewska and Marek Grodzicki envision a skyscraper that wraps around a chimney structure like a sleeve. The interior tube sucks polluted air from the surrounding area and sends it through a complex filtration system consisting of an air intake module, solar gain module and green garden module to move and clean the air before sending it back out to the city.

“Many megacities have emerged across China in the recent decades. Beijing’s population will increase by 30% in the next 15 years. This means that some of Beijing’s densest districts such as Chaoyang will reach a population of 2250 inhabitants per km2. In order to create compact cities, reduce car emissions and improve health conditions, Mega cities will have to build higher towers. Our idea is to facilitate this forecasted trend by introducing a new super structure that fits the needs of a megacity by providing healthy living quarters, while helping to alleviate the air pollution. The Airscraper can house 7500 people, which is equivalent to 3 km2 of residential urban Sprawl. It also includes recreational, educational, commercial, and cultural facilities. The tower stands as a healthy vertical city.”

Creature Ark: Biosphere Skyscraper (Third Place)

Decrying the current sense of apathy over the state of our planet, U.K.-based designers Zijian Wan, Xioazhi Qi and Yueya Liu say we have to reevaluate how human activity contributes to habitat degradation and do something about it. “Creature Ark: Biosphere Skyscraper” is a vertical nature reserve and research station internally divided into five levels representing climates on Earth, each populated with endangered animals.

“The proposed skyscraper is willing to recall the close relationship between human beings and their mother nature by the form of architecture. Every component in the ecosystem could hardly behave or survive as an individual literally, hence all living creature should appropriate the gifts from nature and they should be treated and valued equally. In modern society, the form of a skyscraper, carrying multiple functions, is expected to be one of the carries that making a better future.”

Vertical Sustainable City (Honorable Mention)

Urban environments present certain constraints, most crucially in terms of available space, that must be overcome by architects as cities continue to evolve. In the near future, we may no longer have a choice but to radically transform our ideas about what urban architecture should look like in the face of climate crisis. The U.S.-based BKV Group presents “Vertical Sustainable City,” a supertall tower with a small footprint, as an example of what could be to come as we prioritize limiting urban sprawl and preserving natural environments for forests and wildlife. It contains commercial areas on the ground floor “framed within a vertical mall concept,” as well as a food production area, a vertical farm and housing.

“Having access to the vertical farm are residences in the upper half of the tower that also feature access to drone landing pads. There, electric and solar-powered drones can dock at or near the elevated housing units – taking traffic off the congested street-level, and into the air. Rising to the very top of the tower is the Office Area, arranged around wind turbines generating energy, reducing the tower’s carbon footprint, and creating water collection systems for the farming, living, and working programs. En masse, the Vertical Sustainable City creates a holistic live/work/play environment for urbanites, effectively responding to the context and elements impacting modern-day cities.”

Horizontal City of No Nation (Honorable Mention)

The world is witnessing the highest level of displacement on record. As war and climate change drives millions of people from their home nations, the urgent need to house refugees in settlements that maintain normal societal functions has never been greater. Zichen Gong, Yong Chen, Tianrong Wu, Yingzhi He and Congying He of China offer “Horizontal City of No Nation” as a means of providing refugees with shelter, security and development opportunities along international borders.

“The core part of this proposal is how to conserve their original environment and provide adequate space. Based on the narrow buffer zone, the skyscraper introduced here should not be simple stack of broken layers, but a transformation from a horizontal lifestyle to a vertical one. In this skyscraper, people can follow their previous habitats in stable societies and get adequate education, training and jobs. On the other hand, neighbouring countries will not bear too much of population influx when they provide.”

“By presenting the unusual lifestyle, we try to seek a new direction in dilemmas. Living in a world where we can not choose where we are born, we would still have a place to go. We don’t have to consider which side we’re going to be on, we can have a new one, retaining rights, identities and languages. We envision that some people will choose to return to their homeland, and they will be able to use the relevant skills learned during this period to rebuild their homes. Moreover, where will this skyscraper go after the war? Because of its normal development during the war, it may become a new and complete society.”

Connection One: Skyscrapers Network (Honorable Mention)

What if we could free up an enormous amount of space on the ground by moving transportation up into the sky in a controlled way? “Connection One: Skyscrapers Network” by Thomas Gössler of Austria addresses both congestion and pollution with a reimagining of modern transportation systems using new technologies like hyperloop. Noting that transportation could take place either below or above street level, the designer proposes towers that act as central transportation hubs while also offering space for apartments, shopping centers, offices, schools and recreational facilities.

“The top floor is part of the hyperloop infrastructure. How does hyperloop work? The pods in the pipes move forwards, accelerating until they reach a speed where they lift up, and are guided by magnets. Hyperloop One says its 670mph system will be “automated by the most advanced systems in the world, allowing a safe and efficient journey that is never delayed or overbooked.” Hyperloop or conventional trains are usually bound to the ground. However, this presents big challenges, especially in mountainous countries and densely populated areas. Therefore, the network is floating in the sky by gas-filled pillows referencing an airship. This can be achieved sustainably by using the methane produced by farm cows or even pump greenhouse gases from the atmosphere into the loop. Approximately 1000m³ of gas are needed in order to lift a metric-ton, so the construction has to be very lightweight.”

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House Inside a Rock Takes Inspiration from Ancient Sandstone Tombs

[ By SA Rogers in Art & Drawing & Digital. ]

Humans have been carving architecture into rock for nearly our entire history on this planet, so it’s a little surprising we don’t see more modern marvels mimicking spectacular ancient wonders like the city of Petra in Jordan. Relatively easy to carve, sandstone offers an ideal medium for sculptural architecture that adapts existing rock formations into habitable spaces.

A new series of concept images by Shanghai-based architect Amey Kandalgaonkar makes that leap. “House Inside a Rock” combines colossal sandstone formations with minimalist concrete and glass, carving out spaces within the rock formations and adding new horizontal planes for outdoor living spaces. Taking inspiration from the rock-cut tombs of saudis Arabia’s Madain Saleh, the 3D renderings envision a new way to fuse human-created structures with nature.

“Considering the visual complexity the rocks at Madain Saleh, it was imperative to use simple planes and cubes in order to achieve a visual balance,” Kandalgaonkar tells Designboom. “I started out creating the rock in 3D software which in itself was a sculpting process. Later when inserting the house into this rock, I tried to keep its visual impact from eye level as minimum as possible and only when observed from a bird eye, the real extent of the intervention is revealed.”

There’s something a little villainous about the result, and if such an idea were ever to take off in real life, it may stir concerns about the degree to which we’re altering and developing our natural surroundings. But as a concept, it’s pretty cool. You can see more of Kandalgaonkar’s fantastical work on Instagram @ameyzing_architect.

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Haunted Hotel: Unfinished Abandoned Okinawa Resort Inn

[ By Steve in Abandoned Places & Architecture. ]

The reputedly haunted Nakagusuku Hotel in Okinawa, Japan freaked-out construction workers so much, they walked off the job before the hotel was even finished.

Guest Lost

The ruins of the Nakagusuku Hotel in Kitanakagusuku, Okinawa are a rare example of a structure seemingly cursed by fate and doomed to failure BEFORE it could even open for business. Remember the creepy “sacrilegious” housing development in the movie Poltergeist? It’s sorta like that, but in real life.

Naming Names

There are many mysteries swirling around the Nakagusuku Hotel – even its name is open to question. Depending on who you ask, it’s been referred to variously as the Royal Hotel, the Takahara Hotel, and the Kogen Hotel. The “Royal Hotel” probably was the intended commercial name: the word “ROYAL” was painted above the entrance and although now quite faded, it can still be discerned in good lighting. The evocative photos accompanying this article, by the way, were posted to Flickr by member keiyac in March of 2019.

Forlorn Fortress

The aborted hotel’s location invites speculation as well, being situated a mere 50 meters (roughly 165 feet) from the ruins of Nakagusuku Castle. The latter is a 15th-century stone fortress that was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the year 2000… almost a quarter-century after construction started (and stopped) at the hotel site.

All’s Fair

But we digress… back to the oranges, er, origins of the story. In 1975 the island hosted the Okinawa Ocean Exposition, aka “Expo ’75”. This little-known event was a World’s Fair conceived as a way to celebrate the return of the Ryukyu Island chain to Japan from the United States a mere THREE YEARS earlier. Kinda quick as anniversaries go but hey, World’s Fair folks!

Aha, Naha

A wealthy businessman from Naha (the capitol city of Okinawa) saw Expo ’75 as a unique business opportunity, and quickly secured a prime stretch of property on a hilltop just south of the castle ruins. The location was perfect, offering breathtaking views of the East China Sea on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other. The complex was to include a hotel, a vacation resort and a water park. What could possibly go wrong?

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The Tide: An Elevated Linear Park for London’s Thames Riverfront

[ By SA Rogers in Architecture & Cities & Urbanism. ]

Construction is currently in progress on a new elevated linear park running along the river Thames. Designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, “The Tide” offers a multi-level landscape for running, walking, meditation and contemplation of large-scale public art on London’s Greenwich Peninsula. The initial phase of the project, opening in July, will offer the first of 5 kilometers of walkways (about 3 miles total) which rise from the landscape like waves, some standing as high as 30 feet off the ground.

The architects envision The Tide as a network of public spaces and gardens “embedded into the daily rhythms of Greenwich Peninsula,” with programming split across the ground level and the elevated walkways. Sunken gardens, benches, integrated greenery, a long outdoor table and bike paths will be included among the park’s offerings, and Damien Hirst’s sculptures Hydra & Kali and Mermaid will be the first public art to arrive on site. Photographs of the construction process by Luke Hayes give us a peek at how it’s coming along.

“The Tide is conceived of as a series of elevated, landscaped islands where the public is invited to slow down, linger, and overlook the life of the Peninsula. Each island is distinct, defined by unique trees and planting, and by their surrounding views and sounds. These elevated gardens are designed as clusters of structural supports that create elevated planter beds, containing soil and channelling both gravity loads and water down to the ground. The sculptural structure supporting The Tide gardens above also frames and shelters the path below, creating arched pavilions that mark thresholds and passages at the ground level public realm.”

Greenwich Peninsula is a hotbed of redevelopment at the moment, with entire neighborhoods and new landmarks on the way, including a 79-foot-high glass arcade by Santiago Calatrava that will represent the Spanish architect’s first major project in the UK. The new park will sit at the intersection of these emerging neighborhoods, “diverse ecosystems and distinct cultural institutions, connecting north to south, east to west, center to periphery, and city to river,” say the architects.

Diller Scofidio + Renfro is the same firm responsible for designing New York City’s High Line, as well as the controversial new “Shed” structure in Manhattan’s Hudson Yards.

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Street Tree Pods: A Creative Proposal to Add More Housing to London

[ By SA Rogers in Architecture & Drawing & Digital & Houses & Residential. ]

Like urban treehouses, each of these “street tree pods” rises from a parking space to nestle within the branches of a tree, providing compact, low-cost living space for people in need of housing. University of Westminster graduate Matthew Chamberlain envisions these organically shaped portable dwellings as a potential way to address the housing crisis in cities like London, where there simply aren’t enough places for the population to live.

The design mimics the natural process known as “inosculation,” in which two trees merge together as they grow. Covered in cedar shingles and shaded by the trees, with bird houses built into their roofs to avoid displacing urban wildlife, the pods collect their own rainwater and use a bio-digester to handle waste. These urban treehouses would be built around the tree trunks, using rubber gaskets to accommodate their growth.

Inside, the four-floor dwellings include a utility room on the lowest level, a kitchen and living space with a bathroom and balcony on the second level, workspace and storage on the third level and a lofted bedroom at the very top. Doors at the third level of each tree house pod could connect to an elevated boardwalk for pedestrians and cyclists.

“Street Tree Pods seeks to offer a fresh insight into urbanization and community living within London, tackling and challenging both the current housing crisis and the growing pollution issues within the city. These self-sufficient, low impact urban tree pods merge the house and street tree together, facilitating humans innate attraction towards nature and natural processes, along with focusing on the importance of wellness and sustainable architecture.”

Chamberlain says he imagines the Street Tree Pods being most useful for people who have trouble accessing traditional housing, like those transitioning from homelessness, students, young professionals or first-time home buyers. A theoretical near-future transition to more car- and ride-sharing and fewer personal vehicles in cities could free up lots of parking spots, making space for experimental housing of all kinds. But realistically, this program would have to include a serious built-in dedication to affordability to make a real impact, lest it get taken over as the latest Airbnb craze.

You can read Chamberlain’s proposal in full, including details on how the pods would function and be built, at Issuu.com.

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Caviar Wishes: An Abandoned Alaska Salmon Hatchery

[ By Steve in Abandoned Places & Architecture. ]

The abandoned Jerry Myers Fish Hatchery in Skagway, Alaska was a vocational project offering local high school students a chance to work with even smaller fry.

Eureka, Ikura!

A photo dating from 1971 at the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game’s digital archives depicts only a single main building named the “Skagway Salmon Hatchery”. Under one name or another, it would appear the endeavor enjoyed an extensive period of successful growth… much like a young salmon, one might say.

Down the Hatchery

The hatchery had always been operated by the City of Skagway school board – run rather well, as in 1989 it was named the Alaska Vocational Education Program of the Year. On the heels of this triumph, the complex was renamed the Jerry Myers Fish Hatchery. The bronze plaque above is dated June of 1990, though it doesn’t appear to have aged all that well. Alaskan weather will do that.

Skagway the Hard Way

Skagway is situated about 100 miles northwest of Juneau in the Alaskan Panhandle. The smallish city (officially a “Municipality and Borough”) was founded in 1897, achieving widespread fame and notoriety as the jumping-off point for prospectors lured north during the Klondike Gold Rush.

Run, Salmon, Run

Those golden glory days have long gone – Skagway only has about 1,000 permanent residents today. That said, the population roughly doubles in the summer when cruise ships dock at the Port of Skagway. Almost a million tourists visit Skagway annually – not exactly a gold rush but respectable (and profitable) nonetheless. Fees and taxes collected from these temporary visitors help fund projects benefiting locals, one of which being this abandoned fish hatchery.

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Dome Dining Disaster: When Reclaiming Public Space Goes Wrong

[ By SA Rogers in Architecture & Cities & Urbanism. ]

When the city of Toronto forcibly cleared a homeless encampment beneath a downtown section of Gardiner Expressway only to turn it over to a luxury outdoor restaurant pop-up, people paying $545 per party got prime views of unappetizing protests. “Dinner with a View” set up heated glass domes near the site of the former camp, offering a three-course meal prepared by Top Chef Canada winner René Rodriguez “in a highly unexpected setting.” Critics called it tone deaf at best, “obscene” and “dystopian” at worst. Why didn’t planners see this reaction coming?

In a statement, Dinner with a View stressed that their installation is located about a mile east of the dismantled homeless camp, saying “we are sympathetic to those impacted by the City’s actions and were in no way involved with the decision making process [to evict the camp.] No encampments were removed to make way for Dinner With A View.”

That didn’t stop organizers with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) from planning their own three-course meals right next to the installation, in full view of the domes, which were prepared by volunteers and served for free. Noting the “brazenness” of the city’s decision to house a luxury dining pop-up under the very same highway as the evicted camp, they called it “Dinner With a View – of the Rich.”

Sabine Promenade, Houston

The conflict plays into a larger conversation around urban renewal, gentrification and the social and economic inequality that leads to homelessness in the first place. When we talk about “reclaiming public spaces,” particularly underpasses and other areas that are often occupied by people who have nowhere else to go, are we thinking enough about who’s being displaced by these projects, or what kind of domino effect they might have on the affordability of the neighborhood? When we say these areas are “disused,” what do we mean by that?

Historically, “urban renewal” has often been code for racist practices like redlining, the discriminatory displacement of black people from certain neighborhoods. Displaced people weren’t always compensated, and entire communities were razed as cities used federal money to make way for wealthier (and whiter) developments, often worsening poverty and overcrowding. The impacts of these practices are documented by the Digital Scholarship Lab at the University of Richmond on a website called Renewing Inequality. Today, the neighborhoods those displaced people moved into back in the ‘50s and ‘60s are frequent targets of new “urban renewal” projects, continuing the cycle.

Anti-homeless spikes
Uncomfortable bench design

The “reclamation” of urban spaces is often a euphemism for “cleaning up” areas where the full impact of poverty is on display, making something many of us would rather not think about impossible to ignore. In cities like San Francisco and Seattle, where the sky high cost of living and lack of adequate public services produces higher than average rates of homelessness, encampments are everywhere because people simply have nowhere else to go.

City policies that criminalize homelessness (like panhandling bans and laws against urban camping) jail people for minor offenses, making it even harder for unhoused people to gain access to affordable housing, employment and health care. Plus, public restrooms are often intentionally hard to find in cities thanks to fears that unhoused people will use them, while those same people are vilified for fulfilling a basic human need in the streets.

This is often where “hostile urbanism” comes in. Benches are designed to prevent people from getting comfortable, spikes are set into concrete beneath overpasses and sidewalks are broken up by posts and planters to disallow tents. It’s as if the people who demand and design these features think they can humiliate and terrorize unhoused people, poor people and addicts out of existence. A humane solution that wouldn’t “litter” our public spaces or force us to confront evidence of extreme inequality is actually a lot more simple: ensure that people’s basic human needs are met. Those of us who create, use and enjoy urban spaces can start by making sure new projects popping up in our neighborhoods are inclusive to every member of society.

Folly for a Flyover by Assemble Studio

Just as design can produce objects and structures that are intentionally hostile, it can be a powerful tool for good. It’s one thing to rehabilitate a polluted industrial site or push a city to open up urban areas that have been fenced off to prevent “undesirable activity,” and then create something the entire population of the city can enjoy. Vacant lots that developers hold hostage and liminal spaces that perhaps shouldn’t exist in the first place – like the spaces beneath noisy, polluting elevated highways – can and arguably should be subverted, whether via official or guerrilla means. But when we plan and support such projects, we should consider who might be negatively affected and how we can mitigate that harm. That might require confronting our own discomfort with poverty and inequality, and the ways in which we dehumanize other people without even realizing it. It also requires taking action.

One example of what this can look like is Montreal’s plan to address homelessness, which includes a philosophy of “social inclusion” along with housing and job assistance. The plan points out that homeless people are members of the larger community, and includes strategies and activities that invite participation in the fabric of the city. It’s not perfect, and some critics say it’s still undermined by criminalization and racism, but it’s a step in the right direction. “Community-first” projects that provide housing, support and social inclusion go a long way as well.

Not every misguided “urban revitalization” project carries such overt symbols of wealth and privilege displacing the poor as Toronto’s Dinner with a View, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a similar impact.

Top image via Dinner with a View

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