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Discuss the significance of both defensive and fortress architecture and the privatisation of public space within American cities. To what extent do these reflect the underlying social problems within the urban landscape?

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Introduction

Discuss the significance of both defensive and fortress architecture and the privatisation of public space within American cities. To what extent do these reflect the underlying social problems within the urban landscape? American cities, as we have seen throughout this module, are increasingly sites of conflict and segregation amongst social and racial groups, heightened and escalated by riots and unrest, such as the disorder throughout the early 1960's. This essay will seek to examine how the emerging popularity of architectural interventions in society is characteristic of the state of social relationships. In order to do so in a focussed manner, information will be drawn primarily from the city of Los Angeles, California. The use of fortress and defensive architecture by Los Angeles' residents will be analysed, in addition to the rising inclination of particular groups of citizens to privatise public spaces for their exclusive use. Los Angeles is an obvious choice to demonstrate the social segregation that can occur within a city, along with highlighting the role of architecture in creating both physical and invisible boundaries between the various social groups. Recent progress within the city has involved the redevelopment of parts of its centre, or 'downtown' as it is known, bringing with it some interesting design features to attract or repel particular social groups. Los Angeles has been of interest to sociologists for many years due to it's unique character, and mix of ethnic backgrounds (cf: Scott et al, p49). The city is, in fact, home to some of the largest metropolitan groups of Koreans, Mexicans, Filipino and Vietnamese outside of their country of origin (Scott et al, p49). Unfortunately it has also been the location of increasing social conflict, including the Watts rebellion of 1965, and the 1992 Rodney King riots. Whilst the city is renown for the opulent lifestyle of those residing in areas such as Beverly Hills and Belair, it is also home to some of the most disadvantaged and densely populated groups of people in America, such as those in MacArthur Park and Lincoln Heights (Davis, 1993). ...read more.

Middle

However, the threat facing those in the poorest areas are of much higher magnitude, and yet the protection available to them is of much less assistance. This is evidence of a distinct 'security differential'(Davis, 1993) between the groups, where the security available to individuals is dependant upon their means, rather than a universal provision. These communities are also often divided into a form of 'gated community', but against their will, with the aim of keeping the poor and the criminal inside rather than preventing their entry. The barricading of such neighbourhoods is instigated by the police as part of their 'war on drugs' (Davis, 1998, p223), and is imposed upon residents, as in the Sepulvedia barrio in Los Angeles (ibid, p248). Homes in these areas have become 'windowless concrete-block buildings' (Davis, 1993), said to resemble 'cages in a zoo' or 'prison cells' (ibid), in an attempt to protect residents from the increased crime and violence. In contrast to the private police employed by the middle class gated communities, 'slumlords' and 'rent-a-thugs' operate their own "reign of terror against drug dealers and petty criminals" (Davis, 1993). These divisions on both sides of the societal spectrum result in the city being described as a 'fortified honeycomb' (Davis, 1993). As can be seen from the evidence produced so far, the poor are demonised by the middle classes, and are therefore victimised by this move towards segregation, being strategically confined to particular areas and zones within the city, known as 'social control districts' (Davis, 1993) which have the highest population densities in the city (ibid). This is can also be seen in the containment of homeless people in the Skid Row area of the city. Any attempts by the homeless to move out of the area to create safe havens or encampments elsewhere are stopped by the police. The key aims of containment strategies are the exclusion of the homeless from public spaces, and to ensure such poverty remains out of the view of the middle classes. ...read more.

Conclusion

The 'spatial and social isolation from mainstream economic and educational opportunities' (Boger et al, p166) means that for many within the poor immigrant communities, they will be unable to escape their current situation. By segregating themselves from this section of society, the middle classes are effectively repressing them, 'keeping them down' or 'imposing an iron heel' (Davis, 1993), and are therefore at best preventing improvement, or at worst escalating the problem. This is a view supported by William Wilson (cited in Boger et al, p319): "Today the ghetto features a population, the underclass, whose primary predicament is joblessness reinforced by growing isolation". It is therefore perhaps being suggested that fortification of the affluent is not the answer to the social problems, and that action needs to be taken to re-integrate society. What must be understood, according to Mike Davis, is that: "...if we continue to allow our central cities to degenerate into criminalized Third Worlds, all the ingenious security technology, present and future, will not safeguard the anxious middle class" The current situation in Los Angeles, which is manifesting itself in urban design and architecture, is of such a serious nature that it is being referred to by some commentators as a form of 'South-Africanisation' (Davis, 1998, p227) and 'spatial apartheid' (ibid. p230). Whilst some believe the resolution to be rooted in fiscal affairs (Boger, p81), others believe that it is an issue of individual action, with citizens actively 'drawing immigrants and refugees into the mainstream' (Moody, cited in Keil, p125). With concerns being raised about impending guerrilla warfare, or a social 'Armageddon' (Davis, 1993) it is disturbing to read that there is 'considerable public scepticism' about the capacity of the federal government to solve the city's social and economic problems (Boger, p80). As stated by Davis, the harsh reality is that; "...even as the walls have come down in Eastern Europe, they are being erected all over Los Angeles" (1998, p228). ...read more.

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