“Voices from Places Journal” is a film series focusing on contributors to Places whose scholarship provides relevant perspectives on the future of architecture, landscape, and urbanism.
Architectural and urban historian Gabrielle Esperdy discusses her research on 20th- and 21st-century metropolitan landscapes. Esperdy, whose books include “American Autopia: An Intellectual History of the American Roadside at Midcentury” and “Modernizing Main Street: Architecture and Consumer Culture in the New Deal,” reflects on the possibilities of a post-autopia future and explores how investment in public transportation can transform the experience of urban and suburban density. She also describes her collaboration with the Getty Research Institute on the archives of Ed Ruscha’s project, “Streets of Los Angeles.”
Journalist Sam Bloch, the inaugural recipient of the Writing the City award, a collaboration between “Places Journal” and Columbia Journalism School, builds on his expansive article, “Shade,” published on “Places” in spring 2019. Bloch argues that shade is far more than a consequence of tree planting or architectural form-making — that it is nothing less than an index of economic inequality, a necessity for public health, and a new mandate for urban design and planning. During the course of the new film, Bloch talks with Helene Schpak, president of the Glassell Park Improvement Association; urban planner James Rojas; and John Yi, executive director of Los Angeles Walks, about the numerous challenges of implementing this new mandate in Los Angeles.
Timothy A. Schuler, an award-winning journalist and contributor to Places Journal, examines the history of the Flint Hills of Kansas, the last and largest remnant of tallgrass prairie in America. He discusses the role that both geology and the human history of this place have had on shaping its current identity. Emphasizing the need for new narratives and revived public institutions in the Flint Hills, Schuler describes the often-conflicting interests of private landowners, ranchers, residents, and environmentalists in determining the future of the tallgrass prairie. Schuler describes how the prairie was historically seen as pastures for grazing rather than a vital ecosystem. He also reflects on the elusive qualities of the prairie that challenge our aesthetic senses, presenting the work of several artists who have engaged with different ways of seeing the prairie.
Despina Stratigakos, a writer, historian, professor, and Vice Provost for Inclusive Excellence at the University at Buffalo, speaks about her interest in unwritten and unknown histories, and considers how the contents of archives reflect what has been excluded. She examines why omissions have occurred and proposes that interventions have the power to alter the archive, and thus build new disciplinary knowledge. Regarding her book Hitler at Home, which was excerpted in Places, Stratigakos discusses the significance of discovering the presence of power in unexpected places — in this case the propaganda role played by Hitler’s domestic spaces in the rise of Nazism. She also emphasizes the importance of seeing the unseen in architectural and urban history through her research on Nazi-occupied Norway. Discussing her writings on the neglected histories of women architects, Stratigakos describes public edit-a-thons that have written women into digital archives, including Wikipedia.
Hillary Mushkin, an artist and research professor of art and design at California Institute of Technology, shares insights from her Places Journal essay “Survey to Surveillance.” Mushkin’s work asks us to reconsider conceptions of the U.S.-Mexico border as a hard or definite line and instead to understand the border as a network diagram. Mushkin draws a connection between the 19th-century scientific impulse to classify a territory as a way of claiming and controlling it — exemplified by the creation of the U.S. Mexico Boundary Survey Commission Report (1857-1859) and also by contemporary modes of surveilling and compiling data on individuals. Specifically, Mushkin considers technologies used by the Department of Homeland Security to surveil migrant and immigrant communities. She reflects on the idea that the border is malleable, and, given the political will, that this system could be dismantled and reconstructed to reflect different and more humane priorities.