Then, as we started collecting examples of the urban interventions you see in this issue, and will see more of at the U.S. Pavilion in Venice, I wondered how they might compare to similar citizen-initiated urban improvement projects in Europe. At first glance, there is a strong resemblance: Most are small-scale projects that highlight issues of transportation, ecology, and social justice. As a European-in-denial, I am groomed to be what Baudrillard describes as “a fanatic of aesthetics and meaning, of culture, of favor and seduction.” That’s why, initially, I did not find many of them compelling. To be blunt: Many of them seemed easy, unpolished, one-liners compared to many of their European counterparts, which tend to be elegant, abstract, and part of a multilayered narrative. (There are, of course, exceptions on both sides of the Atlantic.) So what makes these projects worthy to be a part of something as elaborate as this exhibition?
"With healthy exceptions (Jeanne van Heeswijk and Bik van der Pol, to name a couple), many European urban interventions are part of a slightly tired, overly critical discourse that takes place in art institutions and academia and is largely impenetrable to outsiders. Many of these European projects manage to receive funding from municipalities or institutions, or the designers aspire self-consciously for their projects to be included in exhibitions, which are also subsidized by government money. Although often highly participatory in ambition, I wonder if they really connect to the everyday life of cities.
"The American projects, on the other hand, are bracing in their honesty: They are often rough, unpolished, and sometimes wild. Many are made by young and passionate urbanites who are not part of any formal art or architecture discourse, and do not aspire to join one. (This being said, many of our featured interventionists are as well-versed in Guy Debord as they are in the latest national transportation policy). Overwhelmingly, however, many of our featured artists simply strive to improve their neighborhoods, and, in so doing, they make a strong critique of American city planning, urban policies, and, most importantly, the ways in which Americans operate in urban space. Their projects amplify a renewed decisiveness from ordinary individuals who feel as though they can—and will—change their cities.
— "Towards Decisiveness," by David van de Leer for the Venice Biennial