May 13, 2008
by: Gregory Haley AIA AICP LEED AP

Event: This Will Kill That? A reading forum with Alex Kotlowitz
Location: Center for Architecture, 05.07.08
Speaker: Alex Kotlowitz — Author, There are no Children Here: The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in The Other America (Anchor Books)
Organizers: AIANY Emerging NY Architects (ENYA) Committee

When Alex Kotlowitz, author of There are no Children Here; The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in The Other America, first visited Chicago’s Horner Homes to write about the lives of the Rivers family, he expected to find a strong sense of community. Instead, he found “a community that had begun to unravel.” Lafayette, the older Rivers boy, explained to Kotlowitz that he has only “associates,” not friends. Having studied the problems of public housing in urban America, Kotlowitz believes that while architecture may have contributed, the real core of the problem is a mix of politics, race, drugs, violence, and a scarcity of work — “the thread that holds the social fabric together.”

While architecture may not be the primary problem or solution, Kotlowitz thinks super-block planning and the lack of public streets enables gangs to control neighborhoods relatively surveillance-free. In recent years, Chicago has razed several super-blocks aiming to decentralize public housing. Old towers will be transformed into low-rise mixed-income housing. Despite these efforts, however, many of the former residents have simply moved to similarly troubled communities. “The stubborn persistence of violence” among the poorest cities has not abated, argues Kotlowitz.

One of the greatest challenges in addressing safety problems is to overcome the profound “physical and spiritual isolation” that Kotlowitz sees defining communities such as Horner. By improving access to educational and cultural institutions, as well as improving the quality of public architecture in poorer neighborhoods, cities can encourage re-integration. Ultimately, however, Kotlowitz believes that to create change, people must tell their stories making them known outside of their communities.

Gregory Haley, AIA, AICP, LEED AP, is a project architect and urban designer at Studio V Architecture, and has taught at the Boston Architectural Center and NYIT School of Architecture.


Our website has detected that you are using a browser that will prevent you from accessing certain features. An upgrade is recommended to experience. Use the links below to upgrade your exisiting browser.