chimera urbanism
winter 2019
project in collaboration with  Sami Prouty

The body in space: exploratory collages of distinctive spaces along the Jackson St. transect

Urban ecology is complicated. As designers, our instinct is to simplify, abstract, step out. We begin the decision making process from an imagined pattern, often disregarding the rich texture of life reflected in a space. Designers see urbanism as a problem to be “solved”. The condition on the Jackson st. transect is an excellent example of how this complex collection of lives, when organized into a simplified, topdown order, creates an urban environment that fails in reflecting the voices of those who live inside.

This discrepancy in agency is the subject of Lefebvre’s Right to the City, and the subject of our project, Chimera Urbanism. This project aims to imagine a future in which the urban condition of a space is in direct dialogue with the lives that inhabit it; that the urban condition can be a space of infinite possibilities rather than clear routes and throughways.

This project is a re-imagining and subsequent reshaping of the city of Seattle, with, perhaps repercussions for a broader re-shaping of society as a whole.

This is a project that stresses social change before physical change, but also recognizes that physical change occurs simultaneously with social change.

The citizens of the International District, and the Central District have a long history of community activism. By centering this area as the site of social, political, and economic revolution, we draw directly on the existing active energies to envision an alternative futurity that operates on an intimate community level re-imagined and re-shaped by empathy.

We both recognize the problematics of us outsiders attempting to represent a community that we are not embedded within. Therefore, our goal is to attempt to understand the structural violence, racism, legacy of colonization and white supremacy that oppresses the various racial and ethnic minorities who have occupied and continue to occupy the transect by imagining a wave of revolution that topples the state and economic systems of oppression; rebuilding a society from the ground up based on notions of intersectionality, acceptance, and empathy.

re-imagining future  I  re-imagining past: a conceptual timeline of the history of the Jackson St. Corridor

moments    [some undisclosed past]

It has been a week since the militant arm of the Interveners took the state building. The city - and country - has devolved into utter chaos. Their work had a ripple effect across the nation. Groups with similar ideologies banded together to form a network of Interveners with designs to take down the government. It had been years since the government did anything for anyone other than those holding the majority of resources and power. The State’s most recent policies and laws showed a complete disregard for the welfare of the people, and chose to side with corporations over the working class folk. Our prisons had become bloated with scapegoats and innocent individuals, and our racist police forces had militarized the nation, turning once friendly neighbors into enemies. The Interveners were amongst the strongest coalitions to begin addressing the widespread poverty, racism, and structural violence that had seeped into every crevice of civilization from the beginning. [The Interveners had first convened around 2020…]

I remember when we had first begun to plan it, I was part of the collective from the beginning, and we had been designing this “intervention” for quite some time. Though I didn’t quite know the scope of the work, I was committed to the cause of “turning the tide” of capitalism. Everyone was aware of the trajectory of the economic condition of the country, that the future would bring immense suffering to a majority of the people, and that our capitalist system would eventually eat itself. Many individuals from diverse backgrounds were motivated by abstractions, like freedom, dignity, social justice for racial and ethnic minorities, and they were not affiliated with any group or ideology. Our political movement was gaining ground through workshops and outreach that would draw on personal narratives to begin to understand the nuances of the larger issues we were trying to tackle. We needed to understand the abstractions that formed our obstacles and discover creative ways of tackling those obstacles. We didn’t know what post-capitalism would look like, we just knew ideologically that toppling capitalism was just one cultural monolith that needed to be destroyed for any real change to occur. After that, our manifesto called for the dismemberment of prisons, the restructuring of health care, and decentralized education for everyone - essentially, the beginning of a new civilization. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Interveners first came into being as an artist collective. We cultivated appreciation of craft, beauty and knowledge. As such, we formulated a coalition of mastercraftsman, master storytellers, master artisans, tinkerers, and skilled dancers, to create an economy of ideas and narratives that would help form the basis of what was soon to be the foundations of a revolution. Our economy of ideas was centered around a process of radical unlearning and relearning that enabled us to first look outside the societal norms we were conditioned to operate within, and second, to reformulate a futurity that could topple the structural violence that plagued our communities. We began to hold workshops of community healing because the suffering was so widespread, that our art simply did not have enough reach or impact. We fostered mutual care and compassion interpersonally in order to come together more as a cohesive whole under a banner of love. And we held accountability discussions to help address the structural violence that we ourselves (albeit unintentionally) perpetuated. We expanded our scope to include community child care, and we began subsistence farming on the vertical surfaces of our building in case anyone was experiencing food shortages (as so many at the time were).
The Chimera Plant    [some future]

The sporadic growth of the chimera had origins in the dumpster of Hou Hou market. It was believed to be the spawn of a papaya and an invasive blackberry bush, with an unhealthy mix of pollution from the I-5 corridor, back when it still existed. The first person to discover this new breed of fruit mistook it for a rare kind of pear - one with a red flesh, a sharp crunch, and an unbeatable sweet and sour punch - known as the red widow pear. Because the red widow pear was only known to grow in one very specific region of the world, the discoverer sent the small bushtree to a fruit lab to confirm its true nature, but was surprised to find the DNA results did not align with any fruit currently in existence. This curiosity became an afterthought, but was delicious to snack on from time to time, and was thus planted in the backyard of the Intervener’s headquarters. When first planted, the bushtree struggled mightily. It seemed to shrivel at the tops and turn a brownish hue, when before it was a lavish emerald green with red specks. Underneath the topsoil, the plant had taken hold and grown its roots at an accelerated pace reaching for the farthest known morsels of nutritional content. Mycelium attached to the roots and helped aggregate the crop, making it appear in more and more backyards over the course of the next decade.

To support those living without shelter, or those whose homes are seized by landlords and developers, this plant becomes a provider, a new structure, a new way of building an environment, and cherished for these properties by those living on the transect. Of course, the State apparatus does not approve of these new structures consuming rubbles and settling in spaces not zoned for development, permanently turning tent cities into groves of homes. Vacant lots are becoming “infested” with this new architecture, developers cannot break ground, landlords cannot collect rent as people abandon rented space to set up business in these new chimeri-symbiotic homes. The rebellion is to overthrow the system by defending a new relationship between environment and body, between material and construction.

becoming the carnival

the first carnival    [some future]

It was the beginning of the 21st century. Most of the city had been taken over by big tech money and developers, leaving only pockets of Seattle still “livable” for most regular people. Just East of the old downtown was the last of these urban pockets before the revolution. The Jackson St. transect was once home to the most diverse body of people in the city. Over time, re-zoning and development displaced and isolated these diverse bodies. When the Chimera plant was discovered, a new potential in building and occupying the city was discovered.

My grandparents recall the first carnival, the first time the Chimera was launched into the infrastructure. The rebel groups had been planting small rings for months, spreading the word and the potential of this plant to help people take back the city, to grow a city that was theirs. From the tops of buildings, from the streets, everywhere, seed bombs were launched towards the earth! It was a week before the Carnival was to occur in the intersection outside of Hau Hau market, the celebrated birthplace of new space making. The morning of the Carnival, fresh sprouts bore their heads, creating a conspicuous ring of new growth around the market and intersection.

Chimera growing had been tested at smaller scales before. When a body stepped into the circle of sprouts, the plant would grow slowly, its colors and shape reflecting the movements, emotions, whims, desires, etc. that the body inside was experiencing. The hope was that bringing the entirety of the community into the Carnival ring would catalyze a Chimeric reaction that would take back open space around the ring in a form that was reflective and celebrative of the beautiful life within. The rebels knew if they could launch the Chimera like this, the city would have to forfeit the transect. The lots, the roads, the partially developed high-end housing projects would all lose their value, no longer having the capacity to produce capital.

the chimera plant integrates itself into everyday life, becoming a resource of the people

moments    [some present]

To understand our current history, one must first understand the history of the revolution and the parallel rise of the Chimera plant. Through the network of storytellers and circle keepers, the revolution was growing stronger day by day. The revolution was built on the backs of everyday people, young and old, who were no longer afraid.
The Interveners could now count most of the International District as part of the movement, with not only the younger generations showing up, but also the community elders, as well. Each individual brought their own specialties to the movement, and coalition growth was nonlinear and exponential. While the elders taught patience, thoughtfulness, and a willingness to slow down, the younger generations provided fluidity of thought, willingness to do the groundwork, and unrestrained desire for social change. This incredible intragenerational dynamic made the coalition and movement a force to be reckoned with - a malleable agglomeration of energies and talents that built the foundation for massive change.

While the coalition was building itself through community meetings and workshops centered on building communal values and desires, the Chimera plant was finding fertile ground amongst the rubble of the International District. With origins in the back dumpster of Hau Hau market, the Chimera plant proved resilient and hungry for anything. With each attempt to destroy it, it grew back with a ferocity that rivaled the great Hydra of heraldic mythos. When left alone, the plant would grow slowly and sprout in strange circular groves, overlaying an interconnected and incredibly strong root system deep beneath the soil.

At first the citizens of the International District fought this chimeric plant fiercely, even conscripting the local state government to intervene in any capacity. But the plant merely grew back at each attempt to quash it, and thus the residents of the ID eventually left it alone to eat the dumpster trash.

The months following saw a major reshuffling of the state apparatus. Police arrest quotas were increased, state funding for social services were cut down, and several major public schools were forced to close their doors all contributing to a growing unease within communities in the International District.

moments    [some present]

The idea for today was to carve a crude O into the fabric of the city through ambulant semiotics. I was to forge a sandwich through these meanderings, stopping at randomly selected shops along my arbitrary route to craft my meal for the day.

My abuela told me that nomadic enjoyerism like this wasn’t always the way things were done. She used to tell me stories about how efficiency was favored over all else under the regime of capitalism. What I find absolutely nuts is: in a capitalist system there were actually single shops devoted to the making of a sandwich! I mean, hell, there were even single shops for the making of cars, books, music, you name it! The production of goods was not centered on crafting something beautiful, it was about getting something in return.

As I stop in at the first shop of my derive, I just imagine what it would taste like to get a slab of bread, or a bean spread, that wasn’t crafted by the finest craftsmen in the land. HAH! Not on my watch.

Driven by whiffs in the wind, emotional pulleys, or little tickles on the skin, I wend my way through the pneumatically arranged cityscape, crafting the ingredients of my meal with the beautiful artistry of only a small portion of the craftsman that form the bedrock of this society.

a new urban condition: chimera urbanism

moments    [some distant future]

I stepped outside, it was raining again, the clubs were peeling open so the rain could rinse the dirt and grime from the floors from the night before, or from this morning. I always love the city in the rain, dancing to collect a drink, showering, playing in the glistening sprinkler. The shimmering lights difracted in a single raindrop, each drop its own treasure. I find myself pausing to admire each one as it falls.

So distracted by the kaleidoscope of drizzle, I didn’t notice the rain, just around me, had stopped. I was being passed by a market crawler above. My new dress, a gathering of golden tentacles I wove from muscle wire (I am really quite proud of my newest hobby, getting to know the muscle wire has been infinitely fruitful) managed to snag a leg of the market just before it passed me. It’s underbelly absorbed me into the, very busy, mass of produce, spices and gadgets. I notice I’m already shopping, my dress is as much gold arms as it is bundles of fruits and salts . A small bouquet of golden tentacles pulls itself from my dress and wiggles its way into the market structure, re-weaving its pattern into the very skeleton of the market, the area around me now a string of golden wrapped goods, bouncing about each other joyfully. Like everything in this city, the dress is alive with knowledge and experience, it becomes one with whatever it wishes, reforming the market crawler into a glistening spectacle of a produce basket .

project by Sami Prouty and Amelia Jarvinen