Interview with Clara Irazabal

As we gear up for the launch of our masters program this fall, in the following weeks we’ll be introducing some of our stellar faculty members in a series of exclusive short and sweet interviews that tell us a bit more about these seasoned urban practicioners; from personal favorites to snippets of advice to young urbanism students.

Today we introduce Clara Irazabal, assistant Professor of Urban Planning at the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation at Columbia University. She has worked as consultant, researcher, and professor in South America, Europe, Asia and the US and explores social justice struggles manifested in the processes of transformation of urban space.


Before we begin…

Your specialty: Urban and regional planning

What will you bring to the course Regenerating Intermediate Landscapes?  I am an architect, urban designer, and planner. I can bring perspectives that address both the particularities of those fields and the integration of them in reference to regenerating intermediate landscapes. As my particular area of focus is international/transnational planning, I expect to contribute to a more holistic and nuanced understanding of the politics of placemaking through a comparative approach based on international examples.

What do you think differentiates this masters course from other lines of urban study/practice?  Intermediate human settlements constitute a growing, yet frequently overlooked and definitely understudied area in terms of both planning and design research and practice. A continuous insistence in the dichotomy urban/rural when addressing human settlements obscures the complex gradient of landscapes that exist between these two poles and the hybrid characteristics that can coexist in any particular landscape. I do not know of any other master program that centers on producing theoretical and practical insights for the equitable and sustainable regeneration of intermediate landscapes as this program attempts to do.

10 Questions

1. A model city, or one you would choose to live in:  A model city does not exist yet, but in our vision. I conceive it as the Emancipatory City: A city equipped to provide the political, socio-economic, cultural, and spatial conditions and opportunities that incentivize and nurture the full realization of the individual and social capabilities of its residents in equitable and sustainable manners. I choose to live in manners that contribute to inch cities closer to this ideal.

2. Favorite urbanism books:  Since I mention below Peter Marcuse, Tom Angotti, and Arlene Dávila as people whose work I admire, I’d recommend one of their books.

Marcuse, Peter (with Neil Brenner and Margit Mayer, eds.). 2012. Cities for People, Not for Profit: Critical Urban Theory and the Right to the City. London and New York: Routledge.

Angotti, Tom. 2011. New York for Sale: Community Planning Confronts Real Estate. Boston: The MIT Press.

Dávila, Arlene. 2012. Culture Works: Space, Value, and Mobility Across the Neoliberal Americas. New York: NYU Press.

3. Something you like and dislike about [city you live in]:  New York. I love its urban density, mix of uses, mix of people (in terms of income, ethnicity, origin, language, religion, sexual orientation, lifestyle, occupation, age, etc.), cultural diversity, street vitality, pedestrian-friendliness, multi-modal mobility, public spaces, political awareness, and glocal orientation. I dislike the profiteering ambitions of some decision makers and real estate developers that pretend to make the city ever more exclusive and less affordable.

4. When you aren’t working, you most enjoy:  I enjoy spending time with family and friends, political engagement for the promotion of just causes, spiritual reflection and gatherings, traveling, exploring New York (or other cities), reading Latin American novels, yoga, eating ice cream, and strategizing for the next teaching or research engagement (but that would technically count as work, right?).

5. The biggest challenge architects and urban planners face today:  Contributing to make cities and regions more sustainable and equitable, in light of this set of conditions: the global climate disruption, the overexploitation of the biocapacity of the planet, the persistence of poverty and inequality, and the growing complexity of governance and multiculturality in our human settlements.

6. One of your projects that you are most proud of:  Teaching, when my students feel supported, educated, and empowered to think courageously outside the box.

7. A recent example of successful urban regeneration:  The Integral Development of the Barrio Santo Domingo Savio in Medellin, Colombia. A multidisciplinary team working with community members conceived of integrated interventions in some of the poorest and most violent barrios of Medellin, such as Santo Domingo Savio, to insert public buildings and spaces such as parks, libraries, schools, and museums in the communities together with social housing and services to promote social inclusion and opportunities for residents.

8. An example of failed urban regeneration:  The “Third Millennium” urban renovation project in the center of Bogota, Colombia. Even when the project got architectural awards, it caused the displacement of local residents and did not deliver on its promises for the creation of affordable housing. The focus was on physical renovation and public space creation. The existing problems with homelessness, drug addition, and crime were simply displaced to other areas. Spatial interventions that are not part of systemic projects that understand and address the socio-economic and cultural needs of residents and aim to maintain them in place usually end up displacing and/or otherwise hurting residents.

9. An urban planner or other professional whose work you admire, and why:  There are many people in the planning/design fields whose work I admire. I’ll refer only to three in my city, New York: my colleagues and mentors Peter Marcuse, Tom Angotti, and Arlene Dávila, who masterly combine progressive political activism, teaching, and research. Peter Marcuse has transformed our understandings of the fields of housing and planning law and ethics. Tom Angotti has led by example on what it means to be a reflective practitioner in the field of community development. For many decades, both have courageously spoken truth to power while putting some real meat into the bones of planning scholarship. Arlene Dávila, originally from Puerto Rico, is chiquitica pero picante (petite but hot-peppered)!: she does not let anybody or anything get in her way and courageously denounces the trappings of neoliberal urbanism and the disenfranchisement it causes to communities of color.

10.  A piece of advice for the future generation of urban planners:  Continuously strive to challenge the status quo until we attain the Emancipatory City.

Thank you Clara!! Stay tuned for more interviews in the coming weeks. For more information about our program, browse through our main menu or contact us.

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