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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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
SQUATTING IN PARIS
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
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.