Public Programs And Events

Nowhere to Go but Forward: Social Housing and the Good Life from Red Vienna to the Green New Deal

Nowhere to Go but Forward: Social Housing and the Good Life from Red Vienna to the Green New Deal

Room UL104, University Center
General Public 

In 1919, the people of Vienna elected the city’s first Social Democratic mayor. The Social Democrats have not lost a free election since. During the Red Vienna period of the 1920s and early 1930s, the city led the world in public housing construction, building homes for a tenth of the city’s workers, at a rental cost of approximately 3% of the average semi-skilled worker’s salary. The buildings were designed and built by leading architects and craft workers throughout the city. Along with housing units, the elegant complexes featured gardens, theater stages, libraries, dental clinics, and more. Nearly half the funds came from taxes on luxuries and the very rich. And Vienna’s public housing was its most important program of both physical and social infrastructure. This lecture traces the ideology of Red Vienna’s home construction project, the physical attacks (including literal bombing) that it came under from fascists, and the way that it inspired social housing construction in the United States—and horrified American centrists. We will consider the defeat, within the American New Deal, of a major effort to create an analog the Vienna social housing model, thanks to the lobbying of the real estate industry. And we will then leap forward to the present, to see how the Green New Deal for Housing idea that has been taken up by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Ilhan Omar, and others, could revive the best elements of Red Vienna’s visions of the urban good life for all working people—only this time, that project would also help slash carbon emissions, safeguard communities from extreme weather, and stabilize the climate.

Daniel Aldana Cohen is assistant professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, where he directs the Socio-Spatial Climate Collaborative, or (SC)2. He is a Senior Fellow at Data for Progress, and a member of People’s Action’s Homes Guarantee campaign policy team. In 2018-19, he was a Member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. He works on climate change, inequality, cities, and social movements. His research and writing have appeared in Nature, Public Culture, the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, The Guardian, The Nation, Jacobin, and elsewhere. He is the co-author of A Planet to Win: Why We Need a Green New Deal (Verso 2019). 

This lecture is sponsored by the Department of Historical Studies at Eugene Lang College of Liberal Arts and The New School for Social Research and The New School’s Centennial Celebration and run in conjunction with the Global 1919 Lecture Series. This lecture is free and open to the public.

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