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Cooperative! Part 3
by DK Holland

Schutte says, "I'm glad we never got into the debate 'What is art?'" He led the anti-graffiti campaign on Myrtle, and also urged litter removal and "greening" the streets. Now Pratt has meticulously landscaped lush, rolling lawns and Myrtle is tree-lined and almost litter- and graffiti-free. Each tree on Myrtle is surrounded by a decorative wrought iron guard designed by a local artist, sponsored by MARP and maintained by the Business Improvement District (BID). This visual statement reinforces the perception that this is turf where art thrives. (Swoon, who has illegally posted her work on walls here recently, is a world famous street artist and revered Pratt alum as is maverick graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister).

Schutte also chairs the board of the Myrtle Avenue BID, which was started by MARP and includes merchants and property owners on the avenue. As a direct result of the BID and MARP, this thoroughfare has become attractive to many new small spunky shops such as Green in Brooklyn, Pillow Cafe and Cake Joy Bakery as well as a few chains like Utrecht Art and Bank of America. And Myrtle feels safe, convenient and shopable. Early on Pratt design students and their professors got involved by designing new store identities. This provided a win-win-win situation; students got real professional experiences and effective portfolio pieces, stores got effective brands that they otherwise could not afford and the whole community became a little more attractive and convenient in the process. Pratt recently completed an impressive contemporary glass and brick facility, the largest building on the avenue, designed by Pratt alum and local resident Jack Esterson. This made a statement. It brought the campus right to Myrtle.

The extended Pratt family, along with other wealthy nineteenth-century industrialists, including the Pfizers and the Underwoods, dominated this prestigious area long ago. Tom and Tess Schutte live in an elegant apartment within the stately Caroline Ladd Pratt House just off campus (on the most historic avenue in Clinton Hill), the interior of which has been lovingly restored and furnished by Pratt alumni.

Much of Schutte's focus has been on making a friendly, cooperative environment. Schutte, who is trim and fit, says, "On my stroll from home to the office I talk to everyone on the street. I say hello to everyone. It makes me late for work because I stop so often yet it's only three blocks."

Pratt's 25-acre gated, guarded campus is on the National Register of Historic Places. Young parents who live nearby lounge on the lawn playing with their toddlers as students stroll to class. The campus features a huge world-class contemporary sculpture garden, library (interior designed by Tiffany in 1896), as well as the country's oldest functioning steam plant (designed by GE in 1900). Charles Pratt, who started Pratt, lived in Clinton Hill, spared no expense in creating this school where the common man could learn a trade.

In contrast, on the Southeast side of Pratt's tall wrought iron fences, is Lafayette Gardens, an eight-acre public housing complex. Many of its residents are unemployed and the complex is troubled by drugs and violence.

The poorest of the poor must depend on the kindness and cooperation of strangers in their struggle to improve their precarious environment. Whereas the very wealthy of the world can pay to control their lives: They often live in highly-ordered worlds surrounded by tall privy hedges that mask their presence, choosing isolation over community. What could possibly compel these individuals—those of extraordinary means—to cooperate, especially with people they don't even know?

The guy next door plays loud music at night, driving you round the bend! You need to calm down and talk to him! When you do, you learn he could fix your bicycle. And, as you chat, his mouth waters as you let it slip you make a mean lasagna. You will make one for him if he fixes your bike. Suddenly the music is lower at night. But, of course, you could have just called the police. Or you could have thrown a rock through his window. But, in either case, would you have improved your cooperation skills one iota? Or your attitude? Or your bike? No. Nor would you have gained a new human connection. A potential friend and ally.

A lot is learned from being forced to cooperate. Between one to two billion adults live in squatter cities around the world, projected to rise to three billion. Because of the intense density in the slums—the small spaces people live within—communities form quite organically, through necessity.

Robert Neuwirth studies makeshift cities—shanty towns, ghettos, barrios, favelas, mudhut settlements, squatter cities. Slums (in which one in seven people on this planet live) are sophisticated communities in the sense that they have a kind of self-imposed law and order. Like cities they form residents' associations, leaders emerge and so does structure. Neuwirth says, "We make the mistake of thinking these communities are outright deprived." In Kibera, the biggest mudhut settlement in sub Saharan Africa, he saw that "the main drag is just loaded with stores all run by the squatters themselves. There are bars, health clinics, grocery stores."2 Everything you need is there—except for the big entitlements we all strive for (like sanitation, education, protection). That's the role of official government.

Environmentalist Stewart Brand says many communities are built by "a cooperative or mutuality where ten families will get together and build ten homes." Paris was a shanty town, named after its earliest settlers. In fact, many cities and towns that start small and spread are named for the people who established them. The Bronx, named for the Broncks, the Swedish family that settled the area, now has a million-and-a-half adult residents. In 1932 the country of Saudia Arabia was named for the House of Saud, which that family still controls. Brand adds, "Paris stops being a huge slum and becomes Paris." And France's socialist government provides all the entitlements people strive for and then some.

Brand predicts the end of shanty towns. He says, "The Lagos, the Mumbais, the São Paulos and the Jakartas become upstanding cities with high rises and a downtown and the equivalent of a suburb."3 And the poor get pushed further out of town or better themselves so they can stay. Cooperation is not a moral value; it takes many forms, ranging from liberation to oppression. Holland
DK Holland writes about design and teaches in two MFA design programs in New York, one at SVA and one at Pratt. She is an advisor to Project M and Design Ignites Change. Holland has been the editor of Design Issues since she started it in 1990. She is the author/producer of many books on design as well as Branding for Nonprofits. She is the producer of CitizenME, which creates transmedia tools that engage students in understanding how to become proactive citizens. Holland lives and works in her tiny nineteenth-century restored Italianate house and garden in Fort Greene, Brooklyn.