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By : Michael K. Jenson

Even today, Marx’s critique of the capitalist system still rings true. Many of his prophecies have manifested, though not as quickly nor to the magnitude that he imagined. Capitalism is incredibly wasteful and has a propensity to centralize wealth to a small segment of a society. There are few “safety nets” to aid those that do not work well within the ethic of the system. In the last decade, which has been one of the most prosperous in our country’s history, we have seen a simultaneous rise of the “super rich” class as well as a rise in poverty and homelessness. This phenomenon emerges in our urban landscapes as well. As one drives out from an urban center to its encircling suburban ring, derelict warehouses, malls, and neighborhoods are encountered just before the outer suburbs with their “starter mansions” and impressively manicured lawns that sprawl to the horizon emerge.
This paper proposes to undertake two things simultaneously, and at two vastly differing scales. The first is to undertake an examination of the effects of the advent of global capitalism from a Marxist standpoint. Its effects often emerge in the form of abandoned real estate in the material sense, and socially as exemplified in those individuals left poverty stricken and homeless. The second part will speculate on what role designers play in the utilization of this “waste” in combating the homeless problem. In this way, the modern architect might redefine his/her role from being the developer’s advocate with an eye solely on the bottom line to a socially conscious individual that can influence local social/political structures. Sites that could be recycled might include abandoned malls, warehouses, billboards, or freeway overpasses in an effort to understand both the source of the problems and some of the possible solutions.

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