16 June 2020

equity - standing against systemic racism

The architecture profession is not one known for its forward thinking in terms of equity. Sure we have social housing, public space, and cultural institutions to our name but even these are largely inequitable. Housing that segregates people by race and income, public space unequally distributed and cultural institutions that largely focus on white European accomplishments. We can do better.

During the current public protests against systemic racism, catalyzed by the death of George Floyd, there seems to be an awakening. I receive daily messages from individuals, institutions, and companies sharing their support for the protesters brave enough to go out into the streets to demand change. I support this cause against systemic racism in our policing, policy, and culture and am here to amplify their voices. We have been quiet for far too long. Injustices against black and brown people in this country, and all over the world, have been happening forever, and the voices of these people have been suppressed for just as long.

It is time we listen. When people say “Black Lives Matter”, it is because the system has been acting as if they don’t. When people gasp “I can’t breathe” it is because they are suffocating from injustice. When people shout “no justice, no peace”, it is because they are willing to fight for the same rights that the rest of us take for granted. It is time we hear.

It breaks my heart, I am disappointed in myself that it has taken so long. But here we are. We must stand against injustice and inequity. In our personal lives and in our profession, we must make a conscious effort against racism, misogyny, and other forms of hate. It is with this that I pledge to work within my community, include people from all backgrounds, mentor, and teach. I ask you to do whatever you do, with purpose and love. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere...whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” Act for justice.

02 July 2019

Tariffs for a Green Economy

Can we use tariffs to build a green economy?   Imagine if the debates you hear on the news were of tariffs like these: 

  1. Tariffs on products that cannot clearly prove freedom from exploitation throughout their supply chains.  Including freedom from exploitation of people, animals, land, water and natural resources. 
  2. Tariffs on goods that cannot demonstrate that they were produced under fair working conditions. Including living wages, freedom from discrimination, the right to organize, compulsory time off, etc.
  3. Tariffs based on the environmental footprint of goods; including, carbon emissions, water use, natural resource use, and waste production.
  4. Tariffs on products that do not have a clear and sustainable end-of-life.  Meaning they must be easily compostable, readily recyclable, readily adaptable for future use, or come with a buyback program from the manufacturer. 

Shortly there would still be debate about tariffs, some of the arguments would likely be the same while others would be clearly different.  Most are aware that the general goal of tariffs, putting politics aside, is to change the behavior of those whom the tariff is being placed upon.  A sort of tax on “bad” behavior if you will. Justification for the current tariffs has included unfair trade practices and national security, among others. So, one could argue, the tariffs are a tool, used to influence those engaged in unfair, or undesirable behaviors, with a goal of changing those behaviours.  Alternatively, tariffs can be used to encourage more preferable behaviors, using more domestic supply chains for raw materials and technology, for instance. So, it seems like tariffs could be a tool in our path towards a more sustainable society.  

In practice, the cost of tariffs are not paid directly by the entity upon which they are placed, but are instead paid by those who purchase the tariffed goods.  This has been a point of contention in our current situation in the USA, where the general public perception of tariffs is that they are “bad” as they hurt consumers by increasing prices on consumer goods.  These increased prices can serve as an encouragement to purchase other, non-tariffed goods, the producers of these alternate products may look at these tariffs as “good,” as they make their products more competitively priced and, potentially, bring in new customers.  Presumably these goods are produced by entities with more favorable behaviors, fair trade practices for instance. These changing purchasing behaviors, away from the tariffed goods, are the real cost paid by those being tariffed. With the goal that they will lead to a change in the behaviors that provoked the tariffs in the first place, creating a more fair playing field. 

It is here that we see the case where tariffs can be a tool in our move to a more sustainable economy, and society.  The fact is we should be paying the true value of the products we consume, and, in all likelihood, we are not. I’m not in favor of putting undue financial burdens on people, but I’m not opposed to tariffs either, in fact I would support them for the right reasons.  It’s hard to argue against the fact that our capitalist society has thrived off of worker exploitation. There are countless stories of the use of child labor, slave labor, menial wages, and horrid working conditions in factories overseas that produce goods for the western world.  A sustainable society is built around the triple bottom line, which includes social equity. If we are to build a society that promotes social equity, that includes fair and equitable labor practices. This includes fair living wages, a safe and healthy working environment, access to healthcare and time off, freedom from discrimination, no child or forced labor, and the like.  These aren’t unreasonable requests but, some, or all, of these are lacking throughout the world.  

It’s sad to say but, while the USA has laws against child and slave labor, we still benefit greatly from unfair labor practices throughout the world, and even within our borders.  Even those of us who work to be more sustainable may support illegal labor practices, through the purchases we make, due to the lack of transparency. We are often ignorant of where our products come from, what they’re made of, and who makes them. If tariffs were placed on all goods entering the country that could not demonstrate fair labor practices we would likely be paying a more realistic price for all of the items we consume, from food, clothing, electronics, etc. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, that if we lived in a world where all workers had a living wage and the other benefits listed above, and abandoned this culture of abuse, prices would rise, likely significantly.  For this reason, this approach would likely not find immediate favor with many and can only come with a real push towards a sustainable society while working holistically.  

If we are truly looking to build a sustainable economy and sustainable society we should be paying a fair price for all we consume.  A price that reflects the true value; the true cost of raw materials extraction, farming, production, transportation, the whole life cycle.  By identifying unsustainable practices, as well as sustainable practices, tariffs can be used as a tool to help build a sustainable world.

20 December 2017

a [quote] for architecture [11]

"Architecture is supposed to complete nature. Great architecture makes nature more beautiful — it gives it power."

- Claudio Silvestrin

12 December 2017

a [quote] for architecture [10]

"Architecture is always political...what about being against power?"

- Peter Eisenman

27 November 2017

a [quote] for architecture [9]

"Architecture is intended to transcend the simple need for shelter and security by becoming an expression of artistry."

- Jay A. Pritzker (1985)