A look at the constructs of a booming U.S. city, this project questions development that favors money made off of urban spaces rather than livability.
Cities being built for profit carries the assumption that everyone living in the city will be profitable. We see this idea come to life in a multitude of ways; homelessness and the privatization of public spaces are a couple ways that I highlight in this work. The inception of these ideas came to me from a self-managed encampment in Portland called Right 2 Dream Too. This site was a safe space for houseless people to set up their stuff and sleep, as well as have a sliver of protection with surrounding gates and a front desk. It was a positive example of the unhoused community actively helping themselves and demonstrating the natural right to take up physical space.
In 2017, the encampment was removed and the lot now sits empty with the protective gates still up (and locked). The symbolism of this occurrence carries itself throughout the cityscape as public parks, lots, and plazas are blocked off and sit waiting for their turn to be developed into the city's new million dollar prize. You also see this symbolism in the city's blatant effort to move the low income and houseless out, as rent skyrockets and organized crews sweep through camps and throw away personal belongings.
It's easy to blame individual people for how Portland has changed in recent years. What's harder, is noticing the ways in which the city is constructed to foster making money off of space, rather than the ability to live in it.
In a growing city where developers have full control, it feels as though isolation is a tactic used on spaces to insure that it remains a private investment. I also see this isolation tactic used on unhoused people. Through camp sweeps, the city pushes out communities so they aren't seen. This does nothing to help the initial problem, but rather creates even more chaos and isolates the houseless from resources that are more densely available downtown.
I used to gather with friends in this park (pictured above). Of course, Portland being a small city with not a lot of places to go, many low/no income people without money to spend at a bar or café would also socialize here. This park is in the middle of downtown, it's extremely accessible, and has now been sitting empty and gated for over three years.
The lack of access to free, public spaces leaves the vulnerable population wandering with nowhere to go. This leaves them prying for accessibility not only to food, shelter and hygiene, but to community as well.
In my experience getting to know people on the streets, it seems that they're in a constant state of surrender. It boggles me when housed people with a stable livelihood state that they are scared of the houseless, or immediately perceive them as dangerous. Being houseless means that you are in a constant state of vulnerability; constantly uncomfortable, constantly stolen from, constantly outside and exposed, and constantly subjugated to violence.
Ian with his 1970s Schwinn Varsity. He enjoys helping his community with their bike needs. Having a free mode of transportation is an essential part of his life, and says it's a good way to empower those without a lot of resources.
In 2016, Coffee lived in an apartment in Gatlinburg, Tennessee and worked as a cook. As he rode to work one evening in November he noticed ash falling from the sky; the Great Smoky Mountain wildfire was rushing into Gatlinburg from the mountains above. That night, he lost all of his belongings and has spiraled into homelessness ever since.
Studies have shown that since the 1980s, Housing and Urban Development dollars spent on public housing has gone down drastically, while the number of laws criminalizing homelessness has increased threefold. With this in perspective it's easier to see how harmful camp sweeps are. There is no safety net for those who've experienced trauma and misfortune, and taking all they have can be their death.
'Superior Construction' is the company whose tag I noticed on some of the gates placed throughout town. This trademark grabbed my attention as I thought about cities literally being constructed for the superior and business class.