May 6 2017 / 321 Gallery

INFRASTRUCTURE TALK

PART II OF A POLITICAL-SPATIAL SERIES

IN RESPONSE TO THE CURRENT POLITICAL CLIMATE

OTHERNET: INTERNET ISLAND / DHRUV MEHROTRA

What if there was another internet? Able to be visited by subway or on foot. Unique and location specific like the neighborhood it’s in.  What if it was autonomous? A virtual territory or an Internet Island with rules and customs determined by the community in which the infrastructure lives.

There are web pages on this island that can only exist here. Some are created by you, and others by your neighbors. No Facebook, No Google, No Internet Service Providers. Just us. Neighbors.

 

The Othernet, is another network in Bed Stuy – new infrastructure and applications that enable neighbors to browse and create “web” content. The result is an alternative constellation of web pages that are only accessible in Bed Stuy and are made by neighbors. Its purpose is the formation of space that is autonomous from the internet as we know it. A tool to build resiliency and trust amongst the community.

 

The infrastructure is meshed and decentralized, antennas mounted on roofs of buildings. There is flexible domain name assignment, and an html editor and file uploader to allow any neighbor to publish any content to any URL.  Packets to web-pages are routed within this network territory to an internal application server which hosts webpages pdfs mp3 and movies submitted by the neighborhood. Imagine:

 

 

All of these pages only visible only in Bed Stuy and only on the Othernet.

 

I believe that while the internet continues to develop into a tool for institutional control and corporate surveillance, the local network can function as a site for resistance, coalition building, and the emergence of distinct more intimate types of communication.

 

The othernet is manifestation of the neighborhood in virtual space. A realization of the moments and spaces in which freedom from the internet as we know it is not only possible but actual. Our little internet island.

LANDSCAPE AND EARTHWORKS AS BORDER BUFFER IN THE JORDAN-SYRIAN NEUTRAL ZONE / XIAOXI CHEN LAURENT

Since July 2014, UNOSAT, the Operational Satellite Application Program of the United Nations Institute for Training and Research has documented the buildup of informal refugee settlements at the Rukban crossing in Jordan-Syria Neutral Zone, a thickened border zone between the two controls delineated by two sides of earthworks on either side.  Pixels captured from an international hi-definition satellite reveal the subtle gradations and changes in sand patterns in the desert between Jordan, Syria, and Iraq, where modern day borders were largely divided by the Sykes-Picot Agreement in 1916.  From close-readings of these images, a new map is created that traces this region of contested and oscillating neutrality.

FUNDING NYC'S PUBLIC HOUSING INFRASTRUCTURE / AMY DEHUFF

The federal public housing program is viewed largely as a failure by politicians and planners due to its segregation of the poor and unsustainable financing model. Built with federal funds, the operations and maintenance of public housing were to be financed with tenant rents which dropped with tenant incomes soon after the program’s inception. The feds then began providing annual funding to local housing authorities to stay afloat.

 

Twenty years after the program’s start, the federal government began investing in a new housing model: contracting with private developers to own, operate, and maintain “project-based” housing for low-income households. Owners receive “operating subsidy,” covering what tenants can’t afford to pay in rents. When contracts end, owners can return their units to the private market.

 

While Congress has consistently and adequately funded the project-based program, it has drastically cut funding for the public housing program over the past 15 years. With insufficient revenues and diminishing federal subsidy, local housing authorities can’t access capital to improve their crumbling properties and have slipped into fiscal crisis.
 

In 2012, the Obama administration proposed a solution to the $25.6 billion capital needs backlog in the nation’s public housing portfolio: convert public housing to project-based housing. By selling shares of public housing to private developers, public-private partnerships can borrow against future operating subsidy to complete major renovations. Under this federal Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program, the Feds have approved conversion of up to 185,000 units of public housing to project-based housing. Trump has proposed lifting the pilot’s cap on conversions altogether.

 

RAD includes several safeguards to protect tenants from displacement and preserve units. But tinkering with a program fiscally abandoned by government makes tenants and housing advocates fearful, especially in NYC. Questions remain unanswered. If this model is costlier than anticipated, will we tinker with the program to get projects to pencil out? When contracts near expiration, what influence will private partners have on the direction of the program?

 

While necessary, RAD is an insufficient solution in NYC. NYC’s excessive demand, limited supply of land, and tight rental market have always made it an outlier in federal policy. NYC’s 278,000 public housing units account for 65 percent ($17 billion) of the nation’s capital needs backlog. Located in rapidly changing neighborhoods a train ride away from bustling job centers, NYC’s public housing is critical infrastructure worthy of special federal attention. By 2025, the NYC Housing Authority (NYCHA) plans to generate new revenue streams, stabilize its budget, and convert 8,300 units through RAD. NYCHA should not struggle alone, however. As it sets out to resolve its fiscal crisis, NYCHA should solicit the cooperation of federal, state, and city government to develop innovative and sustainable, NYC-centric financing solutions for our country’s most unique public housing portfolio.

Amy DeHuff is an urban planner with over a decade of experience working in affordable housing policy and administration. She has lived and worked on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, in Baltimore, MD, and in New York City.