When you begin rethinking suburbia, the border between San Diego and Tijuana isn’t what immediately comes to mind. But for architect Teddy Cruz, this contested territory is where “the perennial alliance between militarization and urbanization is reenacted.” What happens there, Cruz continues, is “later reproduced in many US neighborhoods, as the expansion of a social legislation of fear is transforming the 11 million illegal laborers who mostly live there into criminal suspects. What are the implications of these forces of control on one hand and of nonconformity on the other in the reshaping of the American City?”
Heady questions to be sure and to address them, Cruz Studio uses this territory of conflict as “a backdrop to critically observe the clash between current top-down discriminating forms of urban economic redevelopment and planning legislature (as expressed through dramatic forms of unchecked eminent domain policies supporting privatization and NIMBYism), on one hand, and the emerging American neighborhoods nationwide made of immigrants, on the other, whose bottom-up spatial tactics of encroachment thrive on informality and alternative social organizational practices.”
We can’t really discuss suburbia, Cruz would argue, without engaging in a frank conversation about social, economic, and racial conflict and diversity (or the present lack thereof). So how can we flip the current narrative of suburban development, a narrative that seems to have run its course? And empower the disenfranchised to act, to improve their own circumstances? Cruz sees the micro scale of the neighborhood as the perfect laboratory for exploration. What he’s really advocating is a small-scale activism that aims to alter what he sees as discriminatory urban planning of the American metropolis. In its place, we need to search for new modes of social sustainability and affordability. Transforming political and economic processes can bring new meaning to the role of the informal (grassroots, bottom-up, non-hierarchical) in the contemporary city.
Works like Manufactured Sites, a collaboration with critic Mike Davis, hoped to impact the politics of discriminatory zoning in San Diego. Davis commissioned a provocative prototype: nothing architecturally crazy, merely the retrofitting of his existing garage into his library and writing studio. But such retrofits are illegal in San Diego despite their obvious benefits (personal entrepreneurship, housing for extended families, increased density). This is but one way to alter what Cruz thinks of as “plug-ins” into the homogeneity of the existing suburban fabric. Ultimately, this might lead us toward a decrease in numbers of the increasingly unsustainable single-family home.