On one of his regularly sunday radio speeches on C.H.U.M Mayor Robert H. Saunders, (City of Toronto, 1945-1948) endorses the idea of building Regent Park, to be the biggest public housing in Canada.
In this speech he says ...
"... the true greatness of a city is measured not by its artistic and commercial attainment alone, but
also by the home of the citizens and the conditions under which the least affluent of them are forced to live."
(Sunday, December 22nd, 1946)
There are many questions still to be answered with the recent Condo Boom development in Toronto and the demolishing and revalorization of Regent Park. Why did the macro scale plan of public housing estates not work in Toronto when it works in other cities? Why was Regent Park for at least a decade neglected by the city to the point of urban blight? Could there have been an ideology that has criminalized this neighborhood? This is not to claim that the revitalization plan for Regent Park is unprepossessing, but is instead to focus on what the stigma under a larger picture of a hegemonic ideology may reveal.
Displaying the word "Luxury" on a banner hanging on a deserted Regent Park building seams by at glance problematic because it could be read as if Public Housing itself is a Luxury. Although the banner contains a subversive twist by referring to Luxury as the spectacle of what is left on television after programming has ended, with the off-program television snow as background and containing the text a "place to call home." (the slogan of the Regent Park revitalization program) The banner still doesn't quit seam to fit on-site, although it opens up to many readings.
On the other hand, if the Luxury banner was displayed on one of the new Condo developments, or even on the surprisingly similar looking architectural drawings from the Regent Park revitalization plans -- the proximity of the banner parallel with the site- would assimilate almost completely, and the fate of the sign would probably not be noticed at all from any of the many other new developments.
The reason to propose the banner displayed on Public Housing is to illustrate by juxtaposing the spatial clash between two ideological positions of structures built in the same city. The visualization that this project wants to enlighten is a long going paradigm shift in public and housing policies that slowly is moving from utilitarian to laissez-faire. Projects all over North America are being torn down -- and fewer get replaced in the case of Regent Park, which is only possible with private investments from the selling of booming prices of land. But many Projects especially, in the US, disappear completely from the radar. The current situation of Public Housing in New Orleans just to mention one, illustrates the 'new blond' agenda of urban planning.
When Public Housing was built it came with a post-war ideology led by the Bauhaus School that saw the new industrial capacity as a possibility to erect better social conditions. It was idealism lead by ideas of utopia of how to distribute and collectively change social behavior by distributing modern amenities and stabilities. (the problems of the macro-plan is here a secondary problem) Regent Park like many similar estates around the world at that time was modeled on the ideas of Gropius and Le Corbusier and in Regent Park's case particularly influenced by Howard's book titled "Garden Cities of To-Morrow." This book offered the at that time grand vision of towns free of slums and enjoying the benefits of both town and country.
The Condo Boom in Toronto of cultural extravaganza and consumer culture where luxury and pleasure is driven by individual entrepreneurship and success has deserted the idea of the common good. It is a desire driven by economy put into practice by mass culture that is more about fetish, affect and leisure. Toronto city with its slogan calls it "To live with culture." This shift from Utopia to Luxury - from collective to individual - is the effect of a long going cultural and economic strategy of imposing the de facto neo-liberal global economy. The government as as a result of these policies is losing ground where the power and capacity to address previously critical social liabilities evaporates.
With the "Luxury" banner placed on a Regent Park building, it is an tiny attempt to cut through the smoke screen of culture and identity policies that prevents us from seeing the government's increasing detachment from our collective body, and the spatial frontiers where housing, for the most of us, is never going to be luxury.
Luxury Displacement was produced for the exhibition, condo BOOM!, Sept 2006, Toronto.
more info: http://www.multistorycomplex.org