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Teddy Cruz Leads Walking Conference At Border

Teddy Cruz created Political Equator 3. He is an architect and professor of visual arts at UCSD.
Teddy Cruz created Political Equator 3. He is an architect and professor of visual arts at UCSD.
Teddy Cruz Leads Walking Conference At Border
Ever wanted to walk through a culvert built by Homeland Security and emerge in Mexico? This weekend's Political Equator 3 conference offers that opportunity. PE 3 was conceived by visionary architect Teddy Cruz.

Ever wanted to walk through a culvert built by Homeland Security and emerge in Mexico? This weekend's Political Equator 3 conference offers that opportunity. PE 3 was conceived by visionary architect Teddy Cruz. It involves a series of walking conversations - imagine a fascinating panel discussion, nomadic style - about the neighborhoods along both sides of the US-Mexico border.


Teddy Cruz is an architect and professor at UCSD. He recently won a prestigous Ford Foundation Visionary Award.


The Political Equator 3 conference takes place Friday and Saturday.

To learn about recent work by Estudio Teddy Cruz, check out Voice of San Diego. They visited a new San Ysidro art space, now home to an exhibit featuring work by Cruz and Casa Familiar. The exhibit was first presented at MOMA in New York.

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This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: Talking the talk and walking the walk about border issues are often two different things, but they combine in this weekend's political equator conference. Architect and professor at UCSD, Teddy Cruz, will lead the third of these mobile conferences to look at border communities and neighborhoods and the walls that separate them. My guest, Teddy Cruz, recently won a prestigious Ford Foundation visionary award, and congratulations, professor Cruz.

VARGA: Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: You see the neighborhoods along the border on both sides as laboratories for the 21st century. What do you mean by that?


VARGA: Well, in fact that's the spirit of the conference this time. And I should say that the conference is coorganized with, in fact, two neighborhoods across the border. One of them is San Ysidro, led by Casa Familiar, a very progressive nonprofit organization that has been leading the discussion in terms of housing issues, led by Adreas Colepa. She is a collaborator with me. And on the other side of the border is Los Aureles Canyon, which is an informal settlement in Mexico, where Oscar Romo, my other collaborator and coorganizer for this conference has been working in this settlement suggesting in fact that this informal settlement in Tijuana could be essential in the protection of the Tijuana river estuary on the U.S. side. So these two environments are really interesting environments of innovation, and of experimentation, San Ysidro, again, as a laboratory to rethink housing paradigms in terms of affordability, and on the other side of the border, the Los Aureles Canyon is an environment where we're rethinking the role of environmental infrastructure in the scale of an informal settlement.

CAVANAUGH: Take us there, if you will. Describe the patterns and the social elements that you see in these communities that really interest and engage your imagination.

VARGA: Well, at the basis of the conference in terms of its content, in terms of its aspiration is to suggest a very positive impact of immigrants in the transformation of the American neighborhood. That much of the sort of social economic entrepreneur of immigrants at the scale of these communities begin to suggest very different ideas of land use, of density, of economy, places like San Ysidro again facilitated and mediated by entities like casa familiar, who are incrementally becoming developers, progressive developers of affordable housing, they translate much of this entrepreneurial energy into models of affordable housing. So realizing that possibility as immigrants come to this country and they begin to inject into what I consider a kind of homogenous at times monocultural environment. In terms of the kind of sprawl that we're gonna see and continue to witness in the last years. They begin to retrofit those communities with alternative economies, alternative uses. And that could really be an inspiration to rethink urban policy all together.

CAVANAUGH: You see the cramped, lively, organic neighborhoods that we see south of the border and you see in there a model for a new kind of urban community in neighborhoods all across the United States.

VARGA: If we forget for a moment that these places might be considered messy or as you were saying, cramped. But behind a kind of logic of organization of the way people share resources, of the way a family might construct a granny flat to sustain an extended family, or somebody might plug an economy or a small business into a garage. A lot of these transactions with spaces while seen as forbidden by existing land use policy.

CAVANAUGH: Zones laws.

VARGA: Exactly.


VARGA: They begin to make sense. And that's what I mean, we need to understand that these patterns can be an inspiration to rethink land use as we know it. And begin to speak of sustainability at the scale of an economy and the social interactions that these neighborhoods are part of.

CAVANAUGH: Now, most border conferences, people sit in a room, nice hotel, and they talk about things, in a very scholarly way, and very innovative. But this is not how political equator conference takes place. Tell us about that.

VARGA: Thanks for mentioning that because the spirit of the event is to really bring the public, the audience, to the site themselves of conflict. Conflict between natural and social systems, and political borders, so we are bringing, in fact, the conference away from the university and really inserting it in the middle of these neighborhoods. So the conference in Friday and Saturday, tomorrow and Saturday, it begins in San Jacinto, at casa familiar, in front, their cultural space, then we move into the Tijuana river estuary the next day. We are gonna set up a tent, that Homeland security allowed us to set up next to the border wall. Then we're going to enter Los Aureles Canyon from the estuary in a very unprecedented crossing. So Homeland security and Mexican immigration allowed us to do this, so the whole audience will cross the border from a pipe, from the estuary into the informal settlement where we will have our last tent in the middle of this very thriving again community. The mayor, the former mayor of Medellin, Colombia, is going to begin the event in casa familiar with a speech and will close at the Los Aureles canyon, and then General Sergio Fajardo, the former mayor of Medellin, incredible visionary in understanding marginal communities habits of creativity and invasion. So he will tell the story of the projects he produced in the slums of Medellin where he created an amazing series of library parks. Suggesting that investment in education and investment in public infrastructure into these environments is an essential aspect to rethink organization.

CAVANAUGH: Now, from what I be this is the third such mobile conference that's taking place. And I'm wondering, how does this change people's attitudes? What do people come out of this saying to you? Going through pipes and taking these journeys with you?

VARGA: It's very different to speak in the abstract about these environments where we can really see, visualization of conflict, materialized in the territory itself. So it's a very different conversation that takes place, so to witness†-- the audience becomes a witness of the kind of very odd conditions of these landscapes as they collide with each other, and the conversation is motivated and recontextualized by the witnessing of these environments so it's an unforgettable experiences, it's for the audience who comes, and a lot of people have never seen these images. So for me it has been an essential way of rethinking that one thing that needs to take place at this moment is a shift in conversation and to kind of blur the boundaries between institutions of culture that have been -- that remain isolated in the communities themselves that have been proposing and producing very interesting paradigms.

CAVANAUGH: If people want to take part in this conference, do they have to be a certain anal? Do they have to have a certain level of mobility? Simply to be anal to make this trip? How will it actually physically be under 15?

VARGA: It's definitely open to the public. Everything is free. We are providing shuttles between San Jacinto and the estuary, between the estuary and Tijuana, for those people who cannot cross by foot. Mexican immigration and home land security require that everybody that will do this performance of crossing needed to submit their passports.


VARGA: So we have at least a hundred and 50 people that provided their pas ports. But whoever wants to come on Saturday, there will be shuttles taking people to Tijuana to meet us on the other side. I should also say that as we move through the landscape, the conversation unfolds. So there are a variety of international figures across urbanism, art, politics, and local also figures from Tijuana and San Diego who will be part of this conversation. So as we move through the landscape, there will be presentations, there will be discussions, and performances. And the crossing is probably the most important performance, which is emblematically represents as a gesture the spirit of this event.

CAVANAUGH: This sounds fascinating. The political equator three conference takes place tomorrow and Saturday. To learn more and participate, go to the website, And I've been speaking with architect and UCSD professor Teddy Cruz. Thank you.

VARGA: Thank you, Maureen.