X-BORDER LAB

For us global is less a place “out there”, and more a way of thinking about and engaging the world’s greatest challenges, which always happen somewhere, and impact diverse people and communities in particular ways.

Because of its “global” tag, the UCSD Center on Global Justice tends to attract researchers with interests in poverty and human rights across the developing world. We believe that researchers interested in global justice need to consider the increasing relevance of cities. Cities today are at the front lines of our most urgent global crises, the most immediate responders to accelerating global migration, explosive urbanization, climate change and increasing nationalist hostility to diverse and vulnerable groups.  Across the world cities are asserting themselves as “sanctuaries”, protectors of human rights and trail-blazers of a more egalitarian world.

The X-Border Lab is led by urbanist / architect Teddy Cruz and political theorist Fonna Forman. Our work blurs theory and practice, and merges the fields of architecture and urbanism, political theory and urban policy, visual arts and public culture.  Our creative output takes many shapes: critical research, urban and architectural design, cultural exhibition and performance, urban pedagogy, consultancy at various institutional scales, cross-border civic engagement and spatial intervention in the city, including social housing, public space, green infrastructure and environmental conservancy.

Our work is “embedded” in the binational metropolis of San Diego, California and Tijuana, B.C., Mexico. We engage this region as a global laboratory for investigating the central challenges of urbanization today: deepening social and economic inequality, dramatic migratory shifts, the thickening of border walls everywhere, urban informality, the disproportionate impacts of climate change on vulnerable populations, and the decline of public thinking.  Ultimately we see the border region is a zone of rich urban and political creativity, that challenges dominant public narratives that criminalize and marginalize immigrant communities. We have been amplifying border communities as sites of urban and political experimentation, intensely active urban agents who challenge the dominant models of growth that have excluded them.

Our work is inspired by the bottom-up ingenuity and resilience of communities navigating conditions of scarcity in sites of struggle.  We engage informal environments not as sites of charity, or as sites of institutional alienation, neglect and exploitation – which of course they are — but as laboratories for reimagining the city.  While we condemn the economic forces that marginalize people into slums, we believe that the most compelling examples of inclusive urbanization are emerging from within these peripheral sites of scarcity.  The revelation for us is that the future of the city will not be led by buildings but by a fundamental re-organization of social and economic relations.

In 2013, the CGJ launched the ​UCSD / Blum Cross-Border Initiative​, an interdisciplinary research and educational initiative focused on cross-border poverty research and practice, funded by University of California Regent Richard C. Blum and an UCOP-MPRI award through the Blum Center for Developing Economies at UC Berkeley. These resources enabled the CGJ to institutionalize and leverage funding for the ​UCSD Community Stations​, a network of field-based research hubs located in underserved communities across the San Diego-Tijuana border region, where research, teaching and service are conducted collaboratively with community partners.

We thank UC Regent Richard Blum, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the University of California San Diego, the University of California Office of the President, the PARC Foundation, ArtPlace America, the California Energy Commission, the Surdna Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the San Diego Foundation, and many others for supporting our
work.

Localizing the Global

We see ourselves as urban curators, mediators of knowledge from the bottom-up to the top-down and back again. We advocate for intelligent top-down support mechanisms that fortify the agency of those who inhabit and build the informal and marginalized sectors of the city.  The ultimate goal of our work is to translate these informal procedures to inspire a more inclusive metropolitan vision — the bottom-up teaching the top-down.  In our practice, we investigate Latin American urban experimentation, so this formulation often manifests as “the south teaching the north”

The border cities of San Diego and Tijuana share the busiest land-crossing in the Western hemisphere with 100,000 crossings every day. This border region is also a microcosm of the conflicts and injustices experiences by world’s most vulnerable people everywhere: poverty, climate change, accelerating migration, labor exploitation, human trafficking, gender violence, explosive urbanization, privatization, etc. It is a zone of dramatic disparities between rich and poor, between white and brown, and presently the main site of arrival for Central Americans seeking political asylum. Our region is always a lightning rod for American nativism and anti-immigrant sentiment. Here, geopolitics is intensely local.

Projects of the X-Border Lab

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