Nikil Saval, a former n+1 editor, architecture and arts writer for the New York Times, and community organizer, won his election on Tuesday to represent the First Senate District of Pennsylvania. It’s an especially impressive win for the affordable housing and Green New Deal advocate, as the First District covers much of south and mid Philadelphia and wields outsized influence in the Harrisburg statehouse.
Saval is also the first Asian American to be elected to Pennsylvania’s senate and ended the 12-year career of Senator Larry Farnese Jr., who has held the seat since 2009. More impressive is the progressive platform Saval ran on: Other than the aforementioned Green New Deal promises, Saval backed a Homes Guarantee (a pledge to build, preserve, or convert one million units of affordable housing across the state) and Rebuild Every School, a plan to upgrade the state’s crumbling public schools while improving the siting and design process, and expanding their reach as community hubs.
Saval racked up a number of big endorsements, too, including from Vermont Senator and (at one time) presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, climate change activist group the Sunrise Movement, the Philadelphia branch of the Democratic Socialists of America, and plenty of local labor unions.
And it’s pretty clear where Saval stands in his approach to development and gentrification in the city. Writing for n+1 about Amazon’s ill-fated HQ2 competition, Saval savaged what he considered corrupt giveaways to the company and what they were requiring of potential host cities: “Amazon has bankrupted the ideology it claimed to appeal to: the ideology of ‘urbanism.’”
Only a week ago, on October 29, Saval hosted a webinar for Harvard GSD moderated by dean Sarah Whiting on reimagining Harlem after the 1964 Harlem Race Riot. Titled “A Rage In Harlem,” the talk dove into Buckminster Fuller’s plan to consolidate public housing in Harlem into spire-like towers (and the “slum clearance” that would come of it), and the 1985 MOVE house bombing in West Philadelphia. All of this is to say that the main thrust of the evening was how architects could design high-quality social housing, rather than perpetuating inequality. For the New York Times, Saval’s work has included everything from a Bauhaus retrospective to a recent feature on how to design a better world amid the ongoing pandemic and potential environmental collapse.
After triumphing in the Democratic primary against Senator Farnese in June, Saval ran unopposed in the general election.