Dispatch from Dublin: Authenticity and Entrepreneurialism in the City of Saints and Scholars

Dublin is a city of juxtaposition. And perhaps city-ness is nothing more than a multiplicity of juxtaposition in form and function. But as it reimagines its past and rebrands its future as authentic, Dublin gives this truism some shape.

During our summer research with the Annenberg Scholars Program in Culture and Communication and the National University of Ireland Maynooth, we grappled with the prevailing forces shaping Dublin’s realities. In particular, we reckoned with what David Harvey identified as an emergent but dominant mode of urban governance: entrepreneurialism [1]. The city as enterprise. The city as facilitator and partner. The city as both place and place-maker. What was the relationship between “the political economy of place and the cultural politics of place” [2]?How did the contingencies of Dublin – the city and the city-brand – and Ireland – the nation and the national imaginary – shape the city government’s entrepreneurial endeavors?

Attending the Dublin City Council's StartUp City charrette, we began to see how the city's ongoing transformations and internal tensions were etched into the built environment. The event, in which teams variously comprised of city officials, urban designers, hackers, and entrepreneurs presented proposals for improving city support for small to medium-sized enterprises, was located in the City Council's Wood Quay offices along the River Liffey. Once there, we found ourselves in the City Wall Room, an immense conference space in the office building's basement, named for the Viking-built wall undergoing archaeological excavation at the time of the site’s construction – the wall that lay dormant behind the speakers, their Prezis, their future-motifs. Not only were Dublin’s deep past (as Viking settlement) and immediate future (as an entrepreneurial e-city) juxtaposed in this ethnographic moment, so too were the specters of its more recent history – a history of vast public campaigns to halt construction, a history of voices extinguished, of democracy, public space, and urban identity in doubt.

 One StartUp City team focused on encouraging street markets by streamlining the bureaucracy for establishing new hubs. While officials and developers see these hubs as catalysts for entrepreneurship, urban livability, and local investment, commitment to existing markets was waning. The sites of extant locales have increasingly become targets for large-scale development projects that cater to the ongoing hope for middle-class influx.

Hopping between these market hubs, we saw an abundance of forms, styles, and purposes: from the sidewalk vendors in the Liberties selling cell phones, toilet paper, toys, batteries, and watches, angry with the City Council for doubling their stall fees; to the Temple Bar Food Market and Cow’s Lane Designer Market, where gourmet fare is hocked upscale tourists and locals and is carefully managed by the city’s Temple Bar Cultural Trust; and the Ballymun Farmer’s Market, inside a new but failed shopping mall in a northern suburb dominated by social housing.

In a subtle yet striking juxtaposition, two types of markets emerged after the Celtic Tiger crash: sprawling, outer-city car boot sales and curated, inner-city flea markets. In poorer suburbs, car boot sales attract hundreds of vendors and thousands of visitors. Furnishings, appliances, toys, and jewelry sell for a couple of Euros. Vendors pay a small fee to set up shop, their wares laid out on a table or blanket as they chat with friends nearby, bargain with shoppers, or peruse cars arrayed in rows, face-to-face, boot open. Vendors are usually under- or unemployed, and the sale is only one of their many informal trades.

Meanwhile, the inner-city’s flea markets cater to a younger, hipper crowd, selling homemade and vintage jewelry, vinyls, antique furniture, old fashionable clothing, and art. A founder of the Dublin Flea believes that this new interest in markets is partly a shedding of the middle-class fear of being associated with peasant culture. City Council representative Siobhan Maher, on the other hand, imagines it a tourism amenity: “visiting people want to find the quirky stuff.” Perhaps the street market presents a variety of opportunities for what Sharon Zukin calls “shopping for authenticity” [3]: a few extra dollars for vendors and for the government, a way to encourage individual entrepreneurship at a low risk, and a way to validate authenticity through consumption.

But authenticity can be an elusive siren. And the quest for it dictates much of urban governmental action. Cities seeking to foster authentic built environments and a creative material personality must make concessions; the role of government must be transformed. The City Council, wary of its own preponderance, strives to become a facilitator of authentic creativity and urban place-making.

Channels are thus created for the sourcing of citizen input at the front-end of development. The Studio, an “interdisciplinary” branch of City Council founded after the economic crisis, looks for “new ways to engage with the public that are less formal [and] less officious.” The hyper-localized urban connaissance of what it means to be a resident of Dublin, on x street in y neighborhood, becomes the currency of city officials. New rituals and frameworks for public engagement are enacted. The Dublin City Beta Project transforms the city into a “test-bed” for seemingly radical, citizen-sourced design concepts to improve street life. Citizens become users of the city-as-product, and the entrepreneurial city knows what its users want.

The Digital Dublin Master Plan and Dublin City Public Realm Strategy each project an image of perfected, open city-ness, in which consumers of city-space provide constant input to the City Council in real time, a feedback effect that risks being construed as a substitute for democracy.  These newly-minted initiatives are aspects of an explicit imperative to “open” the city – to make big data available, open source, for developers and citizens. The open city extends beyond the digital and into the public realm, where clever “hacks” of public space are now praised and promoted by city officials. Reports like these are mechanisms of power, not because they shape the future, but because they coordinate “a shared belief in the future” in the present [4].

In Dublin, city of juxtaposition, these techniques call attention to themselves. Public spaces are no longer the physical and social domain of the commons but “a key part of the city’s identity and distinctive character [whose] quality affects the city’s competitiveness and ability to attract investment.” Smart, open, transparent, walkable, consumable cities. The imperative is to spatialize a city-image attractive to consumers of urban authenticity. What comes into relief, however, is not a city trying to improve the conditions within its territory, but an enterprise with the singular objective of competing with its global peers in attracting capital.

Aaron Shapiro and Emily Ladue are doctoral students at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. Aaron studies cities, intellectual technologies of urban revitalization, and commodity aesthetics. In particular, he is interested in urban design and planning as spatial techniques of government. He can be contacted at ashapiro@asc.upenn.edu. Emily is studying urban development, dispossession, and consumption in US cities. She is also a filmmaker looking to express this research through video projects. Her email is eladue@asc.upenn.edu.

Leveraging Large Scale Development for Equity and Sustainability?

The Oakland waterfront redevelopment project called Oak to Ninth is back in the news after Governor Brown and Mayor Quan recently secured $1.5 billion in funding from a Chinese investment company. The Oakland’s City Council approved the project and a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) in 2006, but the developer, Signature Properties, never broke ground due to the recession. In 2011, city officials even tried (and failed) to attract the planned satellite campus of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to the site. Now, the development is proceeding with a new name: Brooklyn Basin.

Like fees and exactions, CBAs represent a developer’s contribution to the local community as a condition of receiving public subsidies and permits. Going beyond baseline payments for infrastructure such as roads and schools, CBA campaigns can target affordable housing and workforce development, among other local needs. They can involve diverse stakeholders, as well as more immediate input from the public than fees and exactions, which may be assessed automatically.

Oak to Ninth put equity advocates and the developer in an unlikely alliance. Once the City and the developer had signed a development agreement that included community benefits and enforcement provisions, community groups came out to planning meetings to support the project. This placed them at odds with environmentalists, intent on maintaining an earlier agreement with the city that created a greater amount of public open space from the former industrial site, as well as historic preservationists who wanted the whole Ninth Street Terminal, not part of it, restored.

Site of Brooklyn Basin, the project formerly known as Oak to Ninth  (Google, Europa Technologies, TerraMetrics 2007)

Site of Brooklyn Basin, the project formerly known as Oak to Ninth (Google, Europa Technologies, TerraMetrics 2007)

Today, Plan Bay Area and other efforts to promote smart growth in the region suggest that environmental and social justice groups are much less at odds with each other. This is partly due to a greater aligning of goals between environmental groups and organizations focused on social justice and community development. The former have focused their agenda more on urban issues, in addition to wildlife preservation outside cities. The latter have focused on health and opportunities in the green economy. Both have come together around the uneven impacts of climate change.

With Oak to Ninth-Brooklyn Basin and its accompanying CBA looking set to move forward again, it’s worth checking in with the overall concept of community benefits. In the time that Oak to Ninth lay dormant, CBAs were tested, shown to have some fundamental weaknesses, and improved upon. The foreclosure crisis and a new drive to link sustainability with housing and land use under Plan Bay Area provide a different backdrop for the project than the pre-recession real estate market did.

At 30 acres, Brooklyn Basin is small compared to other large-scale infill projects such as the Railyards in Sacramento (240 acres), the future terminus of California’s high-speed rail line, or the Brooklyn Navy Yards in New York (300 acres). Yet Brooklyn Basin will be significant for reconnecting Oakland neighborhoods south of Downtown with the waterfront. The site borders Chinatown, Lower San Antonio, and Fruitvale, where there are high poverty rates and a need for jobs and affordable housing.

Brooklyn Basin plaN  (Signature Properties 2013,  http://www.brooklynbasin.com/images/sitemap.jpg )

Brooklyn Basin plaN (Signature Properties 2013, http://www.brooklynbasin.com/images/sitemap.jpg)

In the seven years since the Oak to Ninth project approval and CBA campaign, Oakland has experienced high foreclosure rates, rising unemployment, and social movements targeting income and housing inequality, such as Occupy Oakland. Developer funding for job training programs and affordable housing stalled along with the Oak to Ninth project. However, as soon as the first building permit is issued on the multi-year project, $1 million will be divided among several Oakland job-training programs, with another $325,000 specifically for job training in Chinatown, Fruitvale and Lower San Antonio. In terms of housing, 465 affordable units will be built onsite-- about 17 percent of a total 2,765 units.

Oak to Ninth was approved at a time when CBAs were becoming a popular tool for equity advocates. CBAs provide a political rallying point for sharing the benefits of publicly funded projects, rather than simply halting them. The Staples Center CBA (2001) is considered an early model for community groups to negotiate for first source hiring, living wage, and affordable housing when large public subsidies for development are at stake. Yet CBAs can also reflect broader power imbalances. Who represents the “community” can come up for debate, as it did with the Atlantic Yards CBA (2005).

The Oak to Ninth CBA was grassroots-driven. A group of labor, neighborhood, faith-based and equity advocates were among the coalition members who created political pressure for the City of Oakland to approve the development agreement that codifies the CBA. The City of Oakland, eager to attract development, was a reluctant partner in the CBA, but eventually signed a development agreement that is binding for both the City and the developer. Among the agreement’s safeguards are payroll reporting by contractors and financial penalties if targets are not met.

The local hiring provisions of the CBA are designed to help Oakland workers without significant previous experience break into the construction trades. It does this by requiring that six percent of the job hours on individual parcels be carried out by Oakland residents who are new to the construction trade, with an incentive to keep the same workers on the job for the equivalent of 23 full time weeks. Although this is only a small percentage of the site hours, the effect will be that at least a third of the apprenticeships – paid, entry level, career path positions - on each project site will be filled by Oakland residents.

CBAs have become more common since Oak to Ninth, and with more examples have come lessons for their proponents. Enforcement mechanisms are key, and the most effective CBAs provide a stepping-stone to stronger citywide policies on local hiring and affordable housing, rather than project-by-project funding. Although a more comprehensive citywide policy on community benefits has not materialized in Oakland, members of the Oak to Ninth CBA coalition have put the experience they gained to use. In 2012, EBASE helped negotiate a stronger CBA in connection to the redevelopment of the Oakland Army Base. The site will remain industrial, creating construction as well as long term living wage shipping and logistics jobs for Oakland residents and residents of the high unemployment area of West Oakland.

The loss of state funding has complicated local redevelopment, but public funding and permitting of large-scale development remains a leverage point for equity and sustainability advocates. As it moves forward, the Brooklyn Basin project will provide much-needed local investment, but work remains to be done to make housing and employment more equitable in Oakland and in the Bay Area across the board.

Lizzy Mattiuzzi is a doctoral candidate in City and Regional Planning at UC Berkeley. She studies the politics of sustainable land use, transportation, and community development at the urban and metropolitan scales. She can be reached at emattiuzzi@berkeley.edu.

From Project to Pre-Fab: A Window into Future Affordable Housing

Affordable housing in the United States echoes a continuously changing ideology of the most effective, safe, and desirable way to house the poorest and most marginalized people of our society. In the 1960s, the idea was that affordable housing had to first and foremost accommodate immense numbers of people. Subsequent massive projects such as Pruitt-Igoe in St. Louis and Cabrini-Green in Chicago were constructed. It was later realized that such poorly designed and enormous publicly run housing projects led to widespread crime and danger. During the next phase, affordable housing was built on a much smaller scale, managed by private developers, and not segregated from more well-off neighborhoods. While this type of lower density housing harbors a much more hospitable environment, it cannot accommodate the growing number of poor Americans.

The most recent question surrounding affordable housing is how to construct quality, well-managed, safe, publically funded housing for the poor in the mass quantities that are needed to make a dent in homelessness.

The Skid Row Housing Trust (SRHT), based in Downtown Los Angeles, has attempted to tackle this question. Skid Row is an area in downtown Los Angeles that contains the highest concentration of homeless people in the United States. Streets are lined with cardboard, shopping carts, tents, and belongings. SRHT strives to assist the 3,000-6,000 people living on these streets by constructing affordable and desirable housing. The Star Apartments, the first pre-fabricated affordable housing complex, are an effort to construct a larger scale, well-designed project at minimal cost and construction time. The Star Apartments will cost $20.5 million and will consist of 102 units built in a factory and then stacked on site in just over a month. According to the Los Angeles Times, the project, designed by renowned architect Michael Maltzan, will include basketball courts, art centers, community gardens and green space. Star Apartments will serve the entire Skid Row community through services and public spaces. Residents will pay 30% of their income and will not be mandated to attend any counseling or social services. The Skid Row Housing Trust advocates for the so-called “housing first” model, which argues that the most effective way to deal with homelessness is to provide sustainable housing as quickly as possible, regardless of the level of stability of the resident.

Due to this unconventional model, Star Apartments have been the subject of controversy. Residents of the Star Apartments do not have to prove that they are on “the right path,” because “housing first” prescribes that once homeless people have housing, improvement and stability will follow. Opponents, such as conservative radio talk show host John Carlson, call such projects “bunks for drunks” and argue that in order to make a real difference in homelessness, residents need to be mandated to stop “risky behavior” and take proactive steps to better their life.

The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) conducted a study to evaluate the effectiveness of “housing first” programs in reducing chronic homelessness and health care costs. Costs of individuals living in housing first programs were compared with those on the waitlist for the same type of housing but who were still living on the streets. Including housing expenses, public service costs decreased from $4066 to $2449 per person per month after a twelve-month period. This study thus demonstrates that it is actually cheaper to provide subsidized permanent housing for the chronic homeless than to pay for public health and safety services. Give the homeless homes, and the reduction of drug use is secondary to the numerous benefits that come with safe, sanitary, and sustainable shelter.

Critics of the Star Apartments might also take issue with the relatively low capacity of the project. However, regardless of its size, this well-designed building has the potential to completely change an entire community. A mixed-use housing project provides the space for people of the whole neighborhood to collaborate and build relationships. While it may house fewer people than a Cabrini-Green or a Pruitt-Igoe, it has the potential to positively affect the lives of many more.

In addition, others might claim that though the project will attempt to nurture a safe environment, it is still located on 6th and Maple; residents will still live in the heart of Skid Row and it will be nearly impossible to escape its lifestyle. But to argue that a project should be built in a different region is to completely give up on Skid Row and settle that it will never be a productive or family-conducive community.

In order to understand why it is important that Star Apartments is located in Skid Row, it is necessary to understand the dynamics of the area. In the documentary Lost Angels: Skid Row is My Home, director Thomas Q. Napper, attempts to justly frame the Skid Row community and the issues it faces. The documentary demonstrates that even though crime and drugs are rampant, the region has also nurtured a unique, lasting sense of community. Kevin “KK” Cohen, who is profiled in the film, lived on Skid Row for 14 years and became the fiancée and protector of Lee Anne Leven, an older, mentally ill, hunched-over Skid Row native. KK claims: “I would defend her with my life, believe that, dude. I would die behind this little lady right here.” Skid Row has fostered this unique and compelling relationship. I believe that while it is important not to isolate the poor from urban life, it is just as essential that longstanding neighborhoods are not abandoned because of negative outsider conceptions.

The Star Apartments could be the model for the future of affordable housing. However, as Mike Alviderez, the Executive Director of the Skid Row Housing Trust, told the L.A. Times,  “We’re not going to be able to build our way out of homelessness.” Pre-fab affordable housing must not be seen as a solution for homelessness but as a way for those who are desperately poor to begin to climb out of poverty. It is one step in the mitigation of homelessness, just as pre-fab affordable housing can be viewed as one phase in the United States affordable housing timeline.

Hannah Squier is a second year Civil and Environmental Engineering major at UC Berkeley. She is interested in the way engineering and urban planning intersect to solve social and systemic injustices. Feel free to contact her at hannahsquier@berkeley.edu.

Beijing Homeless

Things change when there is no place to go. A city loses itself when the gravitational force on metros, buses and people loses its hold. Before opting out, I was living in a nice place, working for a good office, and spending time with close friends. From the apartment at Sihui Station to the office on Tuanjihue Lu; from the diplomatic areas of Dongzhimen to the alley bars of Gulou, work life and personal life revolved around design scenes, family-style meals, and group outings. This is how I interacted with the city, and this is how the city interacted with me. But once these things, these places, and these people were gone, Beijing became something less familiar.

Maybe I had watched Into the Wild one too many times. Maybe I thought I was a character in a Knut Hamsun novel. Or maybe it was that I had experienced a broken heart. But as my lease at the Gemdale Plaza next to Line 1 came to an end, I filled a backpack, dropped my luggage off at a friend’s house, and spent the next 8 months looking for the best places for personal displacement. I didn’t know where I was headed, or if being headed anywhere made much sense. All I wanted was nowhere, and I wanted it wherever I could find it.

Beijing is a cold city in more ways than one. The winter of 2012 was no exception. The wide-open spaces created an impersonal landscape of gray brick and white barriers. Low-density blocks the size of airport runways made my jacket feel thinner, as exhalation would come to obstruct my vision. Within these vast openings would sometimes sit a bench, isolated and prominent, as if drawing attention to itself just by existing. I began to find comfort in the outskirts. I would seek out the corners and retreat into the narrowness. The hutongs were mazes, and mazes are indeed fun when time is irrelevant. Once, I would get frustrated when I ended up in the wrong side street to meet friends at an obscure pool hall. Now, my frustration applied itself to a stopping point.

Physical movement became more necessary as the temperature ticked downward. I sometimes found myself on the periphery, running in place, waiting for 10am, when the nearest heated space, known as a shopping mall, would open its doors. To me, malls were giant mixed-use monstrosities, and I found myself in them more often than not, resting, reading, and writing. The couches were more comfortable than the concrete, and the clean bathroom stalls made napping manageable. Laowài were welcome there, and I took full advantage.

I even spent a few nights in the biggest, freest hotel in Beijing: Foster’s Capital Airport.

I spent little time in parks with their controlled access points and more time under overpasses, as they felt freer and at the same time more private. When the ring roads intersected a highway, the massive looping exits created pockets and barricades. Businesses operated along the roads running underneath the 8-lane traffic several meters above. Medians were brick islands with a width of two lanes. Where the overhead’s giant concrete columns touched down on these islands, a good place for leaning was born. Nearby, tunnels could be found that gave pedestrians and cyclists a means of punching through the vehicular onslaught. It is within these negative spaces that city equipment was stored and traces of graffiti could be discerned. Beyond the sound of revving engines and blaring horns, it was a place of burnt wood and loneliness. Sometimes, I would find jackets and blankets, a pile of flattened cardboard boxes, a lighter, a cup. And no one else.

In order to bypass the roads, the highways, and the noise that accompanied them, I would sometimes travel the city canals and walk for miles and miles. Like the tunnels and grooves, I felt safe and off-the-grid, with the benefit of a de-saturated sky above me. I went to places I had never been, and I spent time in places that I had once enjoyed with the people that I used to know. It was at this old sky bridge where a pointless conversation had taken place, a time of eye contact, winter jackets, and the backsides of green traffic signs. But my memories were fading, and it became harder to figure out what was so special about that damn sky bridge.

By the spring, I was no longer serving drinks and cleaning bathrooms in exchange for a bed at the local hostel. I had removed myself from the couches of generous friends. I had left my new job of only 3 months, and the convenience of their office furniture. My nights were now spent on patches of grass between sidewalks and tower plinths. Long-haired and bearded, I continued walking the city, often without an idea of where I was. Beijing is not known for way-finding, so I followed whatever way I could find. I would hike along railroad tracks, watching vendors sell clothing, books, and chuanr. They never noticed me, and I never minded. The city was now blooming, and the large setbacks became small green parks with foliage-draped benches and places for locals to nap and water the flowers. It barely rained, and when it did, I found the nearest awning, metro station, or mall. I was now used to it all.

By the fall, I had made it into Mumbai, India with a void work visa. My distaste for Beijing was at an all-time high. I had championed Beijing the previous year, only to become too intimate with its reality as compared with my own. Everything I had loved about the city was associated with and based upon everything I had now lost. Through my own stupidity, I had broken, ruined, and separated myself from every personal and professional association that I had obtained while living in the city as an architect. Now the city was lacking because I myself was lacking.

Beijing became a barren wasteland, and my understanding of cities had changed. A city can be many things: It can be clean. It can be dirty. It can be pleasant or stressful. It can have a public transportation system and a logical road network or be lost within chaos. It can feel as if home, or it can resemble something foreign. But without the stability of relationship, a point of contact, with a person, a job, a bed, the reference is lost, the meaning is void. Without this framework, the city bleeds away into empty materials and emptier buildings, an ocean of grayscale pavement, broken up by stoic park benches. Things change when we have no place to go. Or we have no place to go because things change. Either way, as Steven Wright once said: Anywhere is walking distance if you’ve got the time.

Brad Hooks is an architect who graduated from the Savannah College of Art and Design. He has worked for ATOL Architects in Shanghai, URBANUS Architecture & Design in Beijing, and Studio Mumbai Architects in Alibag, among others. He now lives and works in Ahmedabad, India. You can reach him at brad.hooks@gmail.com.

Modern Planning on Film: Re-shaping Space, Image and Representation

by Mark Tewdwr-Jones

Introduction

For those of us actively involved in the analysis, interpretation, and design of places, and in the understanding of people who use them, I believe it is fair to say that, as experts or professionals, we often look at places as others see them, but neglect to study their meaning and representation. We can say that cities are physical constructs, but as Lefebvre (1974) remarks, the social construction of cities and places is a vital element in how people see the environments that surround them. Representations of places evoke the imagined as well as the real; Calvino (1974) in his Invisible Cities states, “The eye does not see things, but images of things that mean other things.” The city and its representations in film and photography provide unique perspectives from which we can interpret urban places in ways that the approaches of the traditional social sciences often do not permit (Tormey, 2013).

As a child of the 1960s, it should be no surprise that, as I grew, television and film played an increasingly prominent role in my leisure time. My fascination with real places was often mirrored by a fascination for the places I saw on screen, some of which I recognized, or thought I recognized, while others were somehow different. Television and film offered a unique laboratory for learning, one which, admittedly, I did not fully appreciate as such at the time, which provided insights into how people lived and co-existed in places and how they coped with change, or even opposed it. Above all, film provided a unique lens through which to analyze contemporary change or urban histories in ways that were not at the time used in formal academic discourses. Some of these depictions were fictional, narrative story lines involving crime capers, car chases, and the noir side of urban life; others, set in suburbia, were gentle family comedies, involving on-going light-hearted tensions between the different values of members of a family or a circle of friends; while others, documentary or realist in tone, demonstrated in a much more graphic way, perhaps, the consequences of change, the inadequacy of the state, or the exclusion of societies in particular settings.

Building on my recent work (Tewdwr-Jones, 2005, 2007, 2011), I contend that planning, place, and people’s perceptions of both planning and place are indecorously bound together. Drawing upon the insight of Sandercock (2003), I believe that utilizing images, stories, and film from cultural sources offers a highly effective way to reflect upon different perceptions of place and urban change as well as upon the role and status of urban planning itself. We all have prior perceptions of places, even when we have never set foot in them. These perceptions have been formed from the media, from literature and film, from historical developments, from chance encounters, and from a suspicion that people from other places are not like us. These depictions are both objective representations of the place, and are fictional characterizations of actual places. But the important point is that they communicate ideas about places that can sit heavily on people’s emotions and sense of attachment to the represented locations and, additionally, to people’s own ideas about the identity and meaning of the place. Like maps, films are one more way of looking at the world, but they are more likely to evoke matters concerning power and contestation.

The study continues with a discussion of the relationship between space, place, and film before turning to a brief account of the use of film in depictions of urban change and planning over the last century, with particular reference to the UK. Subsequently, I argue that the depiction of planning during these “formative years” has had a demonstrable effect on more recent public perceptions of planning, politically and otherwise. A final section presents several conceptual observations regarding perceptions and attitudes towards planning, more generally.

Space, place and cinema

A greater sensitivity to place is helpful in the interpretation of notions of space within particular cultures and geographies, and cinema is an ideal format through which such interpretations can be developed (AlSayyad, 2006; Barber, 2002; Clarke, 1997; Mennell, 2008; Shiel, 2001; Shiel and Fitzmaurice, 2003). Film often provides a unique sense of place unavailable through other media. Film can be highly personal; it observes and captures emotion, personality, motivation, reactions, and conflicts,  while permitting these emotions and other subjective aspects of experience to be transmitted to  an observer in a more immediate and personal way, providing more focus on events as well as closer insights into these events. Film can also capture changing environments over time and changes in human behavior, and it provides time for analysis and interpretation by the viewer. We may consider how evocative filming of physical places grants a perspective for the interpretation and representation of places, allows for reflection, and deepens audiences’ impressions of subjective experience, while at the same time providing a good spatial sense of environmental change and development.

Like urban planning, cinematic film is a product of modernity and, interestingly, film is about the same age of urban planning in its modern guise. The urban has long been a feature of motion pictures and the use of urban landscapes for the setting of films has taken varied forms since the dawn of the cinema more than 100 years ago. The Lumière Brothers’ short 50-second silent film of 1895, generally regarded as one of the first moving pictures, is urban in focus and shows workers in Lyon leaving a factory at the end of their shift. The urban has been present in film since this time and has taken on varied forms. There are the studio urban landscapes popular in film noir, employing special effects, which serve to represent everything dark and dangerous about city living. There are also location urban landscapes in which places are recognizable either by setting, by name, or both. This typology may be oversimplified, however, because one can also think of the use of specific places to falsely represent other geographies, and the use of specific places to represent more anonymous urban industrial or post-industrial landscapes symbiotic of wider socio-political issues. The urban landscapes form part of the narrative text of these films since they serve to represent and promote a discourse on particular social conditions of urban existence that appear to be unified. This (selective) construction of the city, in turn, leads to discourses concerning the lives and portrayal of personal identities and interpersonal communication within families, between friends, work colleagues, as well as fellow urban habitants, and the social relations between them.

The camera lens is well positioned to provide a holistic interpretation of materially substantial interventions in the urban. The eclecticism of planning is associated with a growing body of theory on place identity, or placeness, and spatial awareness, on the interrelated linkages between place, space, people and politics, with a long-standing interest in urban form and city life, and with an understanding of the use of urban space and arrangement. And this same eclecticism provides an opportunity for an alternative critical perspective, gleaned from celluloid representations, that might explain the prevalence and significance of people’s perceptions of places from which planners often feel remote and are unable to discern.

When considering perceptions of the urban—how it is planned and designed and how it has evolved historically—it is necessary to acknowledge that a considerable amount of the best work has been undertaken in disciplines other than planning. Although there are conceptual and methodological challenges, I call upon planners to take a fuller interest in place image and representation, through three principal domains: first, the literature on cultural geography, which opens up a number of perspectives on place identity and place emotion; second, the relationship between the “city” as an identifiable place with its own identities, histories, myths, and collective place narratives; and, finally, a discussion of the real and imagined worlds associated with place, or what Donald McNeill terms, “the plasticity and multidimensionality of the urban experience” (McNeill, 2005). Film may be viewed as a technique or tool within these domains which can assist those in urban planning to reinterpret places and to understand emotional attachments to places. Much of the work discussed in the present study originates from disciplines outside planning, including history, architecture, urban studies, film studies, and—of course—geography. Many of these fields have strong interdisciplinary relationships to urban planning, and further attempts to bring together the paradigms of these parallel disciplines could enrich planning writing by allowing a greater sensitivity to place. Sandercock (2003) has been one of the few academic planners, lately, to identify a need for such a heightened sensitivity: “In the postwar rush to turn planning into an applied science much was ignored—the city of memory, of desire, of spirit; the importance of place and the art of place-making; the local knowledges written into stones and memories of communities” (Sandercock, 2003, 2-3). Contemporary cities are sites of spatial struggles, people coping with the dilemmas of identity, and difference (Sandercock, 2003; Massey, 2005).

Shiel (2001) states that cinema is the ideal means through which to understand increasing spatialization organized both culturally and territorially, since it deals with the organization of space (cf. Soja, 1989; Scott and Soja, 1996). This entails the need for an analysis of the treatment, interpretation, and portrayal of space in film as well as how film is treated in space. The space within which a film is shot, the place and landscape of a narrative setting, and the differing geographies between different sequences within a film are no less important than the spatial setting of film production with its unique production, distribution and screening. My contention is that the public often possesses attitudes towards notions of place, difference, and distinctiveness, particularly when the forces of globalization appear to contribute to the uniformity of the streetscape (the repetition of the same chain stores and coffee shops, for example, city to city), as the public clings to real or imagined perceptions about the stories, memories, traditions, and cultures of individual places. Cinema and photography can be useful media to record and represent these distinctive places and to locate and position narratives within built environments.

Planning as filmic subject matter

Today, in an era of television, when the highest audience ratings are possessed by game shows, soap operas, and light entertainment, we may be forgiven for wondering about the appeal of planning and development subject matter as entertaining topics for peak time television viewing. However, during the modernist era in the UK between the 1930s and 1970s (Ward, 2002), and also, perhaps, because of the early days of broadcasting, when topics for films were not as sophisticated as they are currently, there was an excitement apparent on the part of the public who were eager to witness the process of change in a new, technologically advanced way (Attenborough, 2002). Television provided a useful medium to represent the rapid changes of the period, socially, politically, and architecturally, and—simultaneously—to reflect the concern of the British people (Burns, 1986). But television was not the only medium concerned with this process of change. Cinematic film also focused on changing societal and economic conditions. Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times of 1936—although a comedy—depicted industrialization, Fordism, and the effects of economic depression in the United States in the 1930s. Likewise, the output of the Ealing Film Studios between the 1930s and the 1950s depicted changing communities in Britain, a deliberate policy on the part of its producer, Sir Michael Balcon (Barr, 1993). In a similar vein, “kitchen sink” neo-realism films of the late 1950s and early 1960s attempted to provide a more social realistic dimension to film output, through the depiction of working class characters, social problem narratives, and industrial landscapes (Higson, 1984).

The depiction of changes in the landscape became a subject for film early on. In Britain by the early 1930s, the documentary movement in film—founded by John Grierson (Aitken, 1990)—had started to make realist public information films centered on working class urban conditions (Garside, 1988), and these included Housing Problems (1935), The Smoke Menace (1937), and Housing Progress (1938). This trend continued during the war years with features that examined planning and reconstruction, including The City (directed by Alberto Cavalcanti in 1939), New Towns for Old (1942), and Proud City (1945) (Gold and Ward, 1994). Many of these features were commissioned by official agencies, such as the General Post Office, The Ministry of Information, and the Oil and Gas Company. Most of the films are authoritative in style, with factual information, commentaries, and lectures to camera by experts and officials (Gold and Ward, 1997). Professor Sir Patrick Abercrombie’s prominent role in several of the documentary films of the 1940s certainly extended to the public the image of the planner, who was frequently portrayed as a visionary or scientist with a plan to make things better. There is no greater illustration of this than Abercrombie’s starring role in Jill Craigie’s 1946 film, The Way We Live, an 80-minute feature length, Rank-distributed film about the planning and reconstruction of Plymouth (Tewdwr-Jones, 2013). At the commencement of the film, accompanying the images of a gentleman walking amidst Plymouth’s few remaining historic buildings, the narrator informs the audience that: “The heroes or villains [of this film], according to your point of view, are two men with a plan: James Paton Watson, the City Engineer, and Professor Patrick Abercrombie. What they have to say is something of a challenge to the way we live.”  And later in the film, as if to emphasize the mystique surrounding the original thinking of the professional expert, the narrator states: “No one knew what the professor was up to.”

Gold and Ward (1997) comment on this depiction of the rational man of science, the expert, and they suggest that the portrayal in films of a central hero—“a planning wizard”— was related to a desire to make features about planning, development, and reconstruction entertaining, informative, and forward-looking within film. It was not so much stories about how planners and architects engaged with members of the public in rebuilding towns, but rather about the way planners were transforming landscapes to provide new rational visions of the future. During the 1950s, the portrayal of the planner as expert  was relegated to second place to make way for a primary emphasis upon building and renewal. But this was in stark contrast to the realist approach of many of the British documentary movement of the 1930s, whose productions often included members of the public speaking directly to the camera about their experiences. Nevertheless, by the late 1940s, thanks to the wartime films of the Ministry of Information, the depiction of planners as rational, professional experts had already been lodged within the mindsets of audiences.  Efforts to raise the planner to the status of visionary genius in film would always be hostage to fortune, leading to serious consequences when modernism started to be questioned more prominently during the latter half of the twentieth century.

Within narrative film, some of the celebrated British Ealing Studios’ productions of the 1940s and 1950s evince a desire to look backwards for comfort during the period’s immense socio-economic change. In 1995 when the studios were sold to the BBC, the studios’ producer, Sir Michael Balcon, installed a plaque on the building, which read, “Here during a quarter of a century were made many films projecting Britain and the British character.” Many of the most successful Ealing comedy films possess one particular common characteristic: a story of one small community’s desire to break free from overt bureaucratic control (Chapman, 2006).

The 1949 film, Passport to Pimlico, bases its entire plot on the desire of people within a small London residential area to escape post-war restrictions, while coping with physical change and the loss of community. Within the film, the people are divided when it comes to decisions about what sort of development to allow at a derelict bomb site in the heart of their community: a commercial center (progressive, economic, and necessary, but portrayed as “harsh”) and a swimming pool “for the local kids” (social, community-centered and “nice”). The dilemmas of choosing a type of development for the area represent two nations; both are intended to be pro-community and to represent the people's attempt to get on with their lives through the creation of something new. But the swimming pool dream is portrayed as the more heartfelt response, because it is something in which the whole community can become involved.

Ealing's 1953 film, The Titfield Thunderbolt, employs a similar theme for the story of a rural community's protest at the closure of their local railway line (the community's lifeline) and the community’s attempt to take over the railway to avert its replacement with a bus service (the operators, “Pearce and Crump,” are portrayed in the film as shifty, corrupt, greedy, and anti-community, eager to turn the village of “Titfield” into “Pearcetown”). In one interesting scene—a public inquiry into the community's application to run the local rail service—the lead character turns to the assembled public gallery and pleas with the audience for support against Pearce and Crump: “Don't you realize you're condemning our village to death! Open it up to buses and lorries and what's it going to be like in five years time?! Our lanes will be concrete roads, our houses will have numbers instead of names, there'll be traffic lights and zebra crossings. And that will be twice as dangerous!”

Charles Barr's (1993) authoritative work on the Ealing films excellently portrays this almost pro-community/anti-change sentiment in the film-scripts of T.E.B. Clarke, by referring to the “polarisation” displayed in the films “between recreated past and threatening future, between the dynamism of acquisitiveness and the static nature of community,” and a tendency to increasingly portray, “Something nice and wholesome and harmless, quaint and static and timeless” in the films as change unfolded at the time.

These discussions are useful because they place the birth of statutory town and country planning in an historical context. As with US commentators (Jacobs, 1961; Gans, 1972; Goodman, 1972), it is possible to identify the alienation some of the people of Britain felt at the onset of the radical changes promoted through the new town planning process, while they simultaneously recognized the need to organize such a process in post-war restructuring. But the debate is also necessary to understand the persistence of the British desire to continually lambaste, or at least remain suspicious of town planning, and such unease has been evident in the film medium for many decades. This suspicion emerged during the austerity years of the 1940s, and the people’s agitation at the loss of their pre-war communities (more directly through the ravages of war than planning) continued into the 1950s and 1960s as the public continually lamented at the loss of their pre-war existence. The public frustration was vented on the professionals who were charged with physical rebuilding, and this frustration was reemphasized, perhaps, by narrative cinematic features that looked constantly backwards. The dream of improved housing, economic prosperity and planned communities was realized, but not in the way people had imagined (Hopkins, 1964). In cinematic representations, the British film industry eagerly portrayed the changing conditions of the country, but these efforts were tarnished by a desire for nostalgia and for a continuation of the wartime machinery of reasserting the pre-war spirit and community of Britain (Murphy, 1989; Higson, 1997; Richards, 1997).

Reactions to bulldozers and bureaucrats

The tendency to cope with physical change by recreating, through film, a golden age image of pre-war Britain only served to fuel the public’s dismay at the developments of post-war urban planning. One doubts whether the sort of romanticized images of communities and one-nation Britain portrayed in the films of the 1940s and 1950s ever existed. The literary works of George Orwell and J.B. Priestley, for example, suggest that they certainly did not reflect northern British urban life. They are, rather, scenes of a middle-class Britain put forth as visions of English identity (Easthope, 1999), which the public found more reassuring than the visionary/Modern realities of the new developments emerging in rebuilt towns and cities across the country.

Certainly the spirit of much media appeared to change in the late 1950s and 1960s. First, in film, a number of projects remained very much in the tradition of the “David” of the individual or community against the monolithic planning system “Goliath.” This trope, depicted least subtly in the Ealing comedies, exposed the conflicts arising from community redevelopment (Barr, 1993). Subsequently, the social realism ‘Kitchen sink’ dramas of the late 1950s and early 1960s, such as Room at the Top (1959), Saturday Night Sunday Morning (1960), A Taste of Honey (1961), and This Sporting Life (1963), reflected a more realistic sense in a “documentary style” (Higson, 1986) of what living in England meant for the vast majority of the urbanized population. While cinema went the way of gritty urban realism, in literature and television the preconceived image of urban planning as a threat to community and heritage was further expressed.

Thanks to film and other media that captured, framed, and, perhaps, led, the public imagination, planners were increasingly criticized for their perceived utopian visions. The criticisms only reinforced a belief that urban planners were more interested in physical rebuilding rather than in the people who used the buildings (Dennis, 1970; Gans, 1972). Such worries about a perceived lack of concern for people and for the community among planning professionals can be understood as part of a decline in the post-war consensus which supposed that “the values of society could be safeguarded by the judgments of professional planners and democratically elected politicians” (Davies, 2001, 194) and prompted the government to commission a committee to investigate “Public Participation in Planning.” The committee, chaired by A.M. Skeffington, reported in 1969 and suggested planners should consult with the public much more actively (Skeffington, 1969); as a consequence, the public was given legislative rights of involvement in planning in the UK for the first time in 60 years.

And yet, despite such remedial measures, the era of the unchallenged planning professional was over. The pronouncements of the literati regarding urban planning during the modern era had captured the public’s imagination and stuck. Such attitudes were picked up by a number of travel writers and prominent individuals during the period and presented as subject matter for television, including Lucinda Lambton’s BBC television series, The Alphabet of Britain, and the accompanying book, A-Z of Britain, as well as the BBC current affairs program devoted to conservation issues, One Foot in the Past.

Likewise, the Prince of Wales in several speeches and in his Vision of Britain television documentary and book for the BBC (The Prince of Wales, 1989), pointed out examples of perceived poor and good architecture and planning in the mid-1980s. In a speech marking the 150th Anniversary of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1984, Prince Charles criticized architect Sir James Stirling’s proposed extension to the National Gallery in London: “What is proposed [for Trafalgar Square] is like a monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much-loved and elegant friend.” Three years later, he made a more profound attack on the Modern movement in planning and development in a speech at the Mansion House:

 At least when the Luftwaffe knocked down our buildings, it didn’t replace them with anything more offensive than rubble. We did that... planning turned out to be the continuation of war by other means... large numbers of us in this country are fed up with being talked down to and dictated to by an existing planning, architectural and development establishment.… This is the age of the computer and the word-processor, but we don't have to be surrounded by buildings that look like such machines (The Prince of Wales, 1987).

In the ensuing outcry in the media over the Prince’s remarks, criticisms were all framed with respect to the architectural profession. Planners escaped the attention of the media and the public (possibly because both did not obviously recognize a difference between the professions), although it is noticeable that the Prince had pinned blame on both disciplines for the onset of the modern movement in cities and that he deliberately used film to convey his message. The Prince, no stranger in creating controversy on planning and city building issues, has more recently become embroiled in a dispute and accused of high intervention concerning the redevelopment of Chelsea Barracks in London to a design by the international architect Richard Rogers, whose project was subsequently refused permission. In response, the planners themselves have tried to reclaim the argumentative high ground through their own use of media, but frequently this only served to further their image as remote technocrats or bureaucrats (Gold and Ward, 1997; cf. British Channel 4 television programs Cream Teas and Concrete [1991] and An Inspector Calls [1996]). Indeed, since the late 1970s, television representations of planning or the planner have been predominantly technocratic and bureaucratic—useful themes for television comedies; see, for example, how the planner is portrayed in David Nobb’s Reggie Perrin, and Tom Sharpe’s Blott on the Landscape and Restoration for the BBC, and The Secret World of Michael Fry and Demolition for Channel 4. In 2013, we have witnessed a somewhat noticeable change in the depiction of planning and planners. To much acclaim both from the public and from reviewers, the BBC broadcast The Planners, an eight part documentary series depicting the efforts of planners working in local government; and those inside the planning profession began to hope that some of the frequently asserted media myths about planning might finally be debunked.

It is also possible to identify a shift in the representation of town and country planning away from the threats to community portrayed during the period between 1945 and the 1980s, to a more complex recent narrative. In this new narrative, which has been prevalent over the past 25 years, the town planners have metamorphosed from their former status as simple threats to the community to overtly bureaucratic threats, who strictly follow laws and policies with little regard for places or for the people who inhabit them.

There is much debate as to whether or not the public image and identities of planners presented in popular media exert a powerful influence on public trust in planning. Indeed, the understanding of the current public image and professional identities associated with UK planning is of critical importance to both the practice and theoretical underpinning of spatial planning (Tewdwr-Jones, 2012). The type of planning undertaken during the post war period, particularly the new towns and associated redevelopments of the 1950s and 1960s, has left a legacy for the planning profession which may also contribute to the public’s discontentment. For many, the only other work planners do is giving out, refusing, or putting “unnecessary” conditions on planning permissions for householders to build garages or houses in the countryside (Tewdwr-Jones, 1999). As catalysts for more reactionary responses from a right wing press, town planners are continually lambasted for their overt bureaucracy, for their “toy town” outlook, and for their destruction of Britain’s heritage (Clifford, 2006). During times of rapid change and urbanization, these views may be understandable as people cope with rapidly changing landscapes. But what is interesting is that these negative sentiments have continued in the UK from the post war era right through into the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Take, for example, Peter Hall’s book Great Planning Disasters (Hall, 1980), which cataloged some of the biggest failures of the modern movement. More recently, we have witnessed the publication of the popular and populist book Crap Towns: The 50 Worst Places to Live in the UK (Jordison and Kieran, 2003), followed by Crap Towns II: The Nation Decides (Jordison and Kieran, 2004) that reported the public’s vote on their own candidates for the most poorly reconstructed towns and cities. Or Demolition, the 2006 television series that encouraged the public to vote on the buildings and developments across the UK they considered the ugliest and most warranting demolition. This may seem bewildering to an international audience and to scholars in other countries where urban planning may be accepted, established, and viewed as a necessary governmental activity. A key issue here is that outside of planning circles, the successes and achievements of planning in the UK have not been promoted both positively and loudly at one and the same time. The reactions in the UK reveal an on-going love-hate relationship between planners and politicians, businesses and communities. Furthermore, these reactions mask a range of contradictions between values and actions on the part of the public and others (Clifford and Tewdwr-Jones, 2013). Regardless of these contradictions, the subject itself has become, to all intents and purposes, something of a national pastime, even if these dualisms in perceptions towards planning have rarely gone reported or received treatment in academic discussion.

Conclusions: Planning, modernity and film

What can we say, then, about the treatment of planning by and through film and the impact this treatment has on public perceptions? Turning to conceptual thoughts, Berman (1982) suggests that modernity may be considered from two perspectives: as a project that develops over time and influences and explains the development of modern society; and as an experience of living within, and sometimes against, the modernization project. Jervis (1998) also defines modernity as “the experience of a world constantly changing, constantly engendering a past out of the death of the here and now, and constantly reproducing ‘here and now’ as the present, the contemporary, the fashionable” (6). But he also states that the project of modernity is also associated with an orientation and rational control of the environment, to understand it but also to transform it. Time and space are separated, and there is an emphasis on technology, the industrialization of production, demographic upheavals, rapid urban growth, and mass communications.

Giddens (1990) refers to these processes as the development of both social relations that are not location specific and of “disembedding mechanisms” (27) that lift out social relations to give rise to new mechanisms across large time-space distances. One of these mechanisms, and a feature of modernity, is the rise of experts and technical and professional expertise. For Giddens, a mark of modernity is the way in which knowledge is continually gathered, examined and reformed in the light of new evidence. This allows for rational control but also suggests continual change or upheaval (Giddens, 1990, 53). The nation state is preeminent in controlling and supporting citizens through bureaucratic arrangements, and relies on and trusts technical and professional knowledge and the experts that propagate the knowledge (Clarke, 1997).

Planning has been for the most part a project of modernity. But enthusiasm for modernity is often double-edged: in the post-war period after 1945, Britain celebrated reconstruction and renewal through new architecture, improved housing conditions, faster transport, and economic growth (Hennessey, 1994). But simultaneously, Britain was also agitated by the onset of change and the effect this would have on traditional ways of life, including threats to the countryside by urbaniation, and by a reliance on technology and professional expertise. Such a division of values and sentiments is often a feature of modernity and society (O’Shea, 1996). Berman sums up this duality well, suggesting that it is possible “to make oneself somehow at home in the maelstrom” (Berman, 1982, 344), and “to relish that the process of modernization, even as it exploits and torments us, brings our energies and imaginations to life, drives us to grasp and confront the world that modernization makes, and to strive to make it our own” (Berman, 1982, 348). For others, anxiety about the modern world leads to “the desire to preserve and retain” (Light, 1991, 145), which has its focus in a concern with the past, described by Wright as “the backward glance which is taken from the edge of a vividly imagined abyss” (Wright, 1985, 70).

Depending on your point of view, film and television in Britain has either reflected these dual societal feelings or else helped to create them. Planners are no longer the only public service professionals in the UK that have been subject to scrutiny and even ridicule. Ongoing political ideological stances towards bureaucratization, the public sector, professional elites and impediments to delivery have all reshaped the public services. Tellingly, stories about planning failure and the inadequacy of the public sector remain prevalent and even today are communicated to the wider public through the media and news channel reports. But the British public at large remain concerned about housing affordability, the efficiency of transport, the availability of energy, the creation of jobs, and the protection of the urban fringe. Although the public may be continually bombarded by negative stereotypical news stories and political sound bites concerning planning, they are equally fiercely protective of the planning system since it affords them, in their view, democratic rights.

As with Calvino’s eye on the city, the camera lens may well be used to depict the multiple meanings of places, to represent both difference and distinctiveness, and to challenge not only our existing perceptions of the urban, but also those manipulated and furthered by others. How we, as urban planners, perceive of a place and what, in turn, people try to cling to in their perceptions of a place, are issues that need to be considered fully within the urban planning realm. Planning has to become more sensitive to notions of both place and meaning as well as its portrayal by media, if it is to play a significant role in shaping the distinctive places of the future that communities are calling for.

Note

Professor Sir Patrick Abercrombie (1879-1957), architect and town planner, was appointed Professor of Civic Design at the University of Liverpool, and later became Professor of Town Planning at the Bartlett School, University College London. He was a student of Charles Reilly and contemporary of Lewis Mumford (1895-1990), sharing the latter’s admiration for the ideas of Patrick Geddes. Abercrombie was responsible for the design of several UK cities, including Plymouth, Hull, Bath, Edinburgh and Bournemouth and overseas, in the replanning of Hong Kong and Addis Ababa. He was closely involved in the founding of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England (CPRE), the countryside pressure group, but is best known for the post-Second World War replanning of London. He co-authored the County of London Plan (1943) and the Greater London Plan (1944), commonly referred to as the Abercrombie Plan. He also helped shape modern London over the following four decades. He was knighted in 1945 and became, in effect, an internationally recognized public figure and authority on urban planning.

Additional Links to Films on Planning

References

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Transformative Love & Conditions of the Concrete: A Reflection on the Martin/Zimmerman Verdict

From the violence experienced by youth, to the imbedded racial discrimination experienced by people of color in the trial court system, to the obsession of the construction of whiteness around Zimmerman who in the end killed a young innocent man—there are so many powers at play in this case, and so many things to say. But I want to focus on what themes have been springing out from the dreadful case that are connecting to the work I seek to do with my own experience as a planner in training, but also as a woman of color deeply involved and in youth organizing, environmental and restorative justice, and community. The Missing Link of Transformative Love

Some of the people that I look to when working as a planner and as a community member are my sisters and guides whose wisdom I access through books: the radical feminists of color, in particular Professor of English and activist bell hooks who posted a response. In her acclaimed book, All About Love, hooks writes:

“The growing number of gated communities in our nation is but one example of the obsession with safety… The person who is really the threat here is the home owner who has been so well socialized by the thinking of white supremacy, of capitalism, of patriarchy that he can no longer respond rationally.

White supremacy has taught him that all people of color are threats irrespective of their behavior. Capitalism has taught him that, at all costs, his property can and must be protected. Patriarchy has taught him that his masculinity has to be proved by the willingness to conquer fear through aggression; that it would be unmanly to ask questions before taking action. Mass media then brings us the news of this in a newspeak manner that sounds almost jocular and celebratory, as though no tragedy has happened, as though the sacrifice of a young life was necessary to uphold property values and white patriarchal honor…. This is what the worship of death looks like.”

This excerpt alone could have been a response to the Trayvon Martin case outcome where hooks describes how youth, particularly young men of color, are seen as a threat. Unlawful and devoid of humanity through their criminalization, young men of color are then subject to the racialized systemic violence and discrimination due to deeply ingrained societal racism. She also links the environment in which we live, the social and concrete ecosystem of place and space that make up the violence and the social understanding of what it means to be black and dangerous.

Her response to this phenomenon is that of transformative love, how the power of love can transform communities, socially and physically. Some people look at the matter of love as something of a subjective nature, something that is not objective. Similarly, some might underestimate this blog piece and deem it as a mere social science theory. But as a planner, I have to look at its application in the real world. Transformative love to me is not as theoretical as it seems; in fact, it can only be reached through simple and practical applications such as engaging in real conversations with each other.

The reason Trayvon Martin died is because we, as a society, do not communicate. We need to invest in one another. One group’s equality must be invested in another group in order for us to move forward to better cities, better schools and a better environment. I believe our society can no longer afford to leave some groups struggling, while others enjoy economic, social and physical protection. As hooks explains in her last sentences, justice itself is wrapped up in the love of human dignity. I think this is something that we have lost as the Trayvon Martin Case/Zimmerman acquittal becomes more and debated and sensationalized.

Trayvon’s life may have been like any other urban kid’s experience. Surrounded by poverty and stricken by lack of opportunity, young people like Trayvon Martin are harassed and need to defend themselves. These conditions often result in the murder of such young men. Trayvon Martin’s murder is the loss of a life, but it is also the loss of an opportunity for the entire world to see what young people like Trayvon can offer. What worldly perspectives, what deep insight on poverty, resilience, love, dedication, problem-solving and ingenuity can the strong and creative minds of our youth offer? And, most importantly, at what rate and at what cost are we losing them, especially our youth of color?

Roses from Concrete: What Makes Up the Concrete

Another idea that has been circulating the blogosphere and social media outlets has been that of Brooklyn-based black feminist scholar and activist Syreeta McFadden: “Only in America can a young black boy have to go to trial for his own death.” Not only can a black boy go to trial after his death, but it is only after he dies that his life is recognized as a life—or that his life can make it to the big screen. From Rodney King to Oscar Grant—America is familiar to stories like these. However, what about other deaths in our neighborhoods, the deaths of the urban poor?

I ask these questions because it is clear that black and brown bodies are not only unsafe in white spaces, but that the very spaces where poor people of color have grown up and that they have sustained are terrorized with hyper police-reinforcement, low health outcomes, and very little opportunity for educational success. These questions are part of the death sentence killing youth of color and they are also part of the work that comes with the privilege to plan cities. However, these are also the questions that have very little room in planning classrooms or in commission meetings.

Lastly, let us not mistake the murder of Trayvon Martin as an act of an individual; rather it was an entire system that killed Trayvon. As many of us mourn this loss, I think of the families of fallen heroes, of these roses from concrete. However, this cannot paralyze us. Let us honor the lives of these young people by actively creating avenues for transformational love that can change the way cities function and the way historically marginalized people live. Let us create new planning approaches, so that their environments and life outcomes can match the dignity of their lives.

Mar Vélez is a master’s student in both the Department of City and Regional Planning and School of Public Health at UC Berkeley. She is currently interning with the Pacific Institute and working along side Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice (CURYJ) in Oakland on issues of health, gentrification, gang injunctions and popular education methods for participatory planning strategies for sustainable communities. Yes, all these things are related. She can explain how if you reach her at velemar@gmail.com.

Planning for Equity and Racial Tolerance: Reflections from a White Planner on the Zimmerman Verdict

Last week, six jurors acquitted George Zimmerman, a white Hispanic neighborhood watch volunteer, in the shooting and killing of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager. This sad moment in our nation’s history reveals how racial biases and fears map onto our communities and built environment, a lesson every planner ought to consider. This verdict challenges all of us to ask what biases and privileges do we carry in the work that we do. How do the ways in which we plan our communities either enforce or challenge assumptions of who belongs and who does not?

It seems clear that what can be called casual racism had a significant role in this case. What made Zimmerman think Martin (and the several other African American men he reported to the police) didn’t belong? What assumptions made at least one juror think these suspicions were justified? Why would the police at the scene test the dead black teenager for drugs, but not his killer? Would each of these people have responded differently if Martin had been white? I can’t help but think that the answer is at least “probably” if not “yes.”

These questions have also made me consider how racial bias and white privilege has played out in my own life, and in the work that I do as a planner. I grew up in a mostly white, upper-middle class suburb in California, partly in a townhouse development that looked not too different from Retreat at Twin Lakes, where Martin was staying and where he was killed. While overt racism was not tolerated, subtle biases were rampant. The town rejected new public transit investments and tore down one of the few affordable housing options (a trailer park) to replace it with condos in order to keep low-income people out. I remember being told as a kid that I had to do better in school, or else we would move to East Oakland. At a young age, I learned that white people and white places were at the top of a certain hierarchy, and that others did not belong. I imagine Zimmerman was acting based on similar assumptions.

The research on implicit bias has shown that nearly all of us carry racial assumptions, oftentimes at a subconscious level that we don’t realize or want to admit to. But the consequences of these biases are real and can be deadly, particularly against black men and boys like Martin who are stereotyped in our society as dangerous.

Planning tools are not neutral – they interact with these implicit biases and racial stereotypes, more often than not to keep low-income, African American, and other communities of color separate and unequal from white communities. Single-use zoning and efforts to stop affordable housing developments have been used to keep low-income families (and oftentimes people of color) out of neighborhoods. Non-white renters and home buyers still face well-documented discrimination by both real estate agents and lenders when looking for a home. People of color are shown less home options, and poorer quality options, than their white counterparts. And they are much more likely to end up with a subprime loan, even when they qualified for better terms.

The discrimination may no longer be codified in deeds, but the impacts are clearly visible. Schools are as segregated today as they were 50 years ago, with African American and Latino students overwhelmingly attending low-performing schools in high poverty neighborhoods. But the way I learned this as a kid was that bad students (of color) from East Oakland went to bad schools, as if somehow the students themselves were to blame.

As planners – and especially white planners from the ‘burbs like me – we need to recognize our own implicit biases and think critically about how these assumptions may play out in our work. We need to speak up on issues of equity and inclusion in our cities and towns. We need to recognize when coded racial language is being used (like claims that affordable housing will increase crime rates, or calls for more local control) and engage city staff, electeds, and residents in constructive conversations about race, privilege, and community planning. We need to conduct equity analyses of city plans and policies to identify any negative impacts on low-income communities and communities of color, and ensure these impacts are addressed proactively.

We also need to address these issues at the structural level, creating policies that support inclusion and racial equity. Recent initiatives to promote regional planning, like Sustainable Communities, can help create more integrated and diverse communities that begin to unravel the stereotypes and create better opportunities. We need to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline and provide education and workforce training tied to career opportunities so that all residents can succeed, regardless of where they live. And we need to recognize that demographics in this nation are shifting rapidly, with people of color already the majority in many states and regions. Our suburbs in particular are becoming more diverse, and we need to put strong community development infrastructure in place to support them.

We owe it to Trayvon Martin and countless others to create more equitable communities that promote racial tolerance, not feed into racial fears. For many of us, that work has to begin with an honest look inward at our own biases and assumptions.

Chris Schildt, MCP ’12, is a program associate at PolicyLink, a national research and action institute advancing economic and social equity, based in Oakland. She conducts research on equitable economic growth strategies, including best practices for advancing equity in job creation, entrepreneurship, and workforce development. She can be reached at cschildt@policylink.org.

Historic Sites as Modern Urban Development: A Trip to the Modern City of Teotihuacán

With the monumental Pyramid of the Sun in sight, one passenger in my van ride to the ancient city of Teotihuacán outside of Mexico City complained about our compulsory stop at a “tequila factory.” By the end of my visit to the archeological site, I came to see that the ancient pyramids we were all so eager to see were just as modern as the cinder block tequila factory. It became apparent that tourists are central characters in cycles of local subsistence, in the production of landscapes advertised as ancient, and in shaping notions of what is and is not valid culture and history. These practices are not outside or secondary to Teotihuacan; rather, together they constitute the modern ancient city. As the tour van arrived at the empty outdoor workshop, our driver gave two honks and in seconds a man and a woman scurried out of a building and took their positions before agave-processing machinery—the factory came to life just for us. The woman, wearing blue jeans, converse shoes, and speaking broken English, sat my tour cohort of 10 on a bench and explained the many uses of the agave plant before alleviating the awkward performance with a complementary round of tequila shots. We were then given an hour of free time in the factory’s gift shop and restaurant.

I knew this was coming. Like any privileged western youth preparing for a trip, I consulted the collective wisdom of the tourist community on TripAdvisor.com. I selected the tour company because it was the most affordable. Reviewers and the sites of more expensive tour companies bashed this particular company for “[wasting] your time […] taking you to exhibitions or stores where you are ‘suggested’ to purchase, or to restaurants that pay them a commission.” In short, pricier tours drove you past the obstacle course of tourist traps along the way to the main attraction, the ancient city of the gods.

What the community at TripAdvisor.com was in fact doing was making a case about what constitutes valid, true, and pure culture. They ripped Teotihuacán from its modern position in Mexican history and placed it back in the time of its ancient life—suggesting that meddling with this ancient identity was tantamount to cultural degradation. Those who chose the pricier tour, avoided complicity in these practices of cultural appropriation (for profit) in the hands of those to live less than a mile away from the site.

In my mind, this is an act of historical amnesia, not to mention a superficial understanding of historical time. The pyramids have not loomed in their present state over their surrounding poor towns since the 8th century. They have a modern history.

Because of my height and small build, I was asked to sit in the middle seat of the van, between the driver and tour guide, Alejandro. He gave his rehearsed remarks in English, yelling over my head to the back of the van. But during the hour-long trip, Alejandro, speaking out of script in Spanish, talked to me about the excavation of Teotihuacan as part of Mexican dictator Porfirio Diaz’s Mexican centennial celebrations in 1910, the recent discovery of Wal-Mart’s blatant corruption in the construction of a store at the entrance of the archeological site, and the seemingly unbelievable return of the PRI party to Mexico’s national politics.

The pricier tours that focus on the still-ancient city of the gods ignore the modern city of Teotihuacán. They ignore that for dictator Porfirio Diaz, the archeological site was unveiled in 1910 as a political argument, well understood as an early example of what UC Berkeley geographer Gillian Hart calls re-nationalization (Diaz’ new articulation of ancient Mexican identity) in the face of fervent de-nationalization (Diaz is remembered for opening Mexico to foreign capital leading to dramatic inequality and eventually the Mexican Revolution which began on the year of Teotihuacán’s excavation). UC Berkeley’s own chancellor-historian Nick Dirks’ argument of “history as a sign of the modern” is apt as well. By proposing that the grand civilization in Teotihuacán was second only the Roman Empire, Diaz hoped to assert Mexico’s place in modern western civilization (and implicitly 20th century capitalism).

The pricier tours also ignore the living city of Teotihuacán, one that is at the center of poor communities’ struggle for subsistence and reproduction. Like the tequila factory owners whom I, and countless other tourists, are “forced” to visit, people all around the pyramids depend on the ancient history that attracts tourists. These cycles and practices are not outside of Teotihuacán; they are modern and living Teotihuacán. These merchants to the tourist industry embody a temporal dialectic between modern poverty and ancient culture necessary for modern life in many tourist destinations.

For the average visitor to Teotihuacán, a walk down the “Avenida de los Muertos,” the archeological site’s central walking path, means avoiding countless street vendors between photo ops. I was no exception. Yet at the end of my walk, after rejecting at least 15 vendors, an old vendor sitting on the stones of an ancient wall responded to my brush off with an exhausted “ustedes por que no nos compran?” (why don’t you all buy from us?) He was speaking not only to me but to the collective tourist, interested in ancient ruins and not the city’s living dependants.  Even as tourists struggle to frame street venders out of their vacation photographs, these vendors exemplify the relationship between past histories and modern poverty in the archeological site. (For a spatial, rather and a temporal, analysis of the visibility of poverty, see Ananya Roy and the #globalpov project.)

My experience of the modern city of Teotihuacan exposed, in my eyes, the necessity to rethink the relationship between time and culture. Cultural sites, to many tourists, are most genuine when seemingly undisturbed by the passing of time. But such sites are nonexistent. Tourists also tend to see themselves outside the cultures they visit (often even try to remain outside so as to keep local culture “pure”). Yet as this story illustrates, in Teotihuacán the tourist is a key character in the region’s modern culture and practices, for better or for worse. There is much to learn about ourselves in examining what we try to ignore.

Luis Flores is a recent UC Berkeley graduate with degrees in Political Economy and History. He is a junior fellow at the Oakland Institute and a 2013-14 visiting scholar at UC Berkeley under the auspice of the Judith Lee Stronach Prize. He can be reached at jr.luisf@gmail.com.

Eyes on the Street: CED Alum’s Film Finds an Audience

While a graduate student at the College of Environmental Design, Darryl Jones completed the short film This Is Market Street as a companion piece to his thesis in landscape architecture. The film, shot in 2012, spurs a dialogue about the future of Market Street, San Francisco’s most central street, and preserves an experience of the corridor before its transformation. This Is Market Street is screening for free at the San Francisco Public Library at 6:00pm on Wednesday, June 26, and at SPUR at 12:30pm on July 11. A panel discussion and Q+A will follow. Presented by Walk San Francisco and the Better Market Street project. For more information, go to http://www.walksf.org.

Why did you make this film? Why Market Street? Why a film?

I have been a hobby filmmaker since I was kid, but the landscape has always been my inspiration. I saw this as an opportunity to merge two of my interests: landscape architecture and filmmaking. For the past few years I have been thinking about how to do it, and it dawned on me that graduate school would be a good place to start. In fact, during a conference at UC Berkeley in the early 2000s, a group of landscape architects deliberated on the idea of how film could be utilized to bring the landscape, and landscape architecture, into the cultural mainstream. Reading about their discussions inspired me to answer their call.

I chose Market Street in San Francisco because currently, there is a huge effort to study and eventually redesign the street. It intrigued me because it is a monumental design project, not the kind you see very often, and I knew it would be happening for several years, so hopefully, the film would have some traction. Also, it is my hope that my film will be an educational artifact, long after the street has changed.

How was making the film? How much time did you spend filming? How much time did you spend on Market Street?

The key to good film production is good pre-production, which I didn´t really do, I’m a little shy to admit. Like I said before, I grew up making films, but I learned how amateur I was as a result of this project. This realization has actually led me to pursue more of these projects. The historical footage is all from a website called www.archive.org, and if you haven´t used it, it is a great resource, even if you´re just curious about history! Some of the footage is from the Prelinger Archives, a Library of Congress collection, which is curated by Rick Prelinger, a Bay Area archivist and writer. He has compiled some amazing collections of archival footage of San Francisco and the Bay Area, including A Trip Down Market Street, which is the infamous film taken from the top of a streetcar on Market Street only days before the 1906 earthquake.

All in all, I spent 14 days shooting and usually was on Market Street an average of two-three hours each day. I complied 55 interviews, almost all of which are in the film. As is typical of documentary filmmaking, I discovered, it really comes together in the editing room. I spent probably triple the time editing than I did actually shooting on Market Street.

Why do you think will Market Street be redesigned and how will it be?

It’s still a little early in the process, and the Better Market Street team isn’t quite in the unique design phase yet. They have presented three options and are at the stage of getting feedback on those options. Part of the purpose of these screenings on June 26 and July 11 is to raise awareness about the upcoming public workshops, where everyone can go to be a part of the decision-making.

Personally, I think San Francisco is ready for a more pedestrian Market Street. That is the key to it becoming more livable, because it’s just a ghost town in some places, and unsafe in others. Since Market Street is so integral to all the other modes of transit and the flow of adjacent streets and spaces, it is going to take some bold experimentation and inspiring proposals to actualize this project.

How do you feel about Market Street? 

That’s a tough question. I think Market Street inspires me. It feels like the center of the city, and I believe that is a really important feeling for a city to have. Feeling like you’re at the heart of it all is one of the best feelings about cities; when you say to yourself "I’m really here right now—this is where the energy is". It’s no mistake that tourists come to Market Street. Obviously, they come for the cable cars a lot of the time, but I think they really come to experience the heart of the city. There is something monumental about its size and orientation that cannot be denied, and when you revisit history, you start to really root for Market Street.

Is the redesigning process on Market Street similar to what is happening in other cities?

I’m not sure I can answer that accurately, but from my experience I have definitely seen these projects in other cities. My hometown of Raleigh, North Carolina, redesigned their two main streets in recent years, to much success. However, cities are always making plans to revitalize their streets, so it’s nothing new. But the scale of what is being proposed for Market Street may be very ambitious compared to other cities.

Do you think your film will make a difference?

I certainly hope so! If anything, I just hope it will encourage people to be excited about how design affects their lives, and that they can be a part of the conversation.

Is it home? [Watch the film to understand the significance of this question!].

Haha, good question. For me, truthfully, it isn’t. I live in Oakland, so that may be why. But I certainly feel a connection with Market Street, and the more time goes by, the more it becomes familiar to me and the more I admire it.

 

Darryl Jones is a recent graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, where he received his Masters of Landscape Architecture. He is an active artist, designer and filmmaker whose work focuses on the relationship between people and their environment, specifically as a human being on foot. He currently works at a small architecture practice in San Francisco, CA. Darryl can be reached at DarrylJones@cal.berkeley.edu.

The Robert Taylor Homes: Failure of Public Housing

Growing up in the Chicagoland area, I was constantly told to avoid the area surrounding the Robert Taylor Homes. It was not a recommendation, but rather a command from my parents, repeated numerous times throughout my childhood. I never really questioned their reasons until this semester when I took a course on international housing in the College of Environmental Design at UC Berkeley. I decided to do some research. The Robert Taylor Homes, located on the South Side of Chicago, are widely considered the greatest public housing complex in the world—and one of the greatest historical public housing project failures. City planners and historians pinpoint limited eligibility, racist intentions, and overreaching modernist design for the poor outcomes. However, after looking into the project in more detail, I think it is equally essential to consider the placement of these projects in deserted areas as well as their lack of state-sponsored maintenance.

By the mid-1900s, nearly seventy-five percent of Chicago’s African American citizens resided in a series of neighborhoods on the South Side referred to as the "Black Belt." The overwhelming majority of homes in the Black Belt were decrepit and nearly uninhabitable, and segregated economically, with the poorest African Americans residing on the northern tip, and their wealthier counterparts living on the southern end. Most strikingly, the Black Belt’s infant mortality rate was sixteen percent greater than anywhere else in Chicago between 1940 and 1960.

In 1946, the Chicago Housing Authority finally acknowledged the substandard living conditions of Black Belt ghetto residents and proposed the development of public housing in regions with lower populations within Chicago.

Although African Americans anticipated an improvement in their living conditions with the creation of public housing projects such as the Robert Taylor Homes in 1961, they were sadly mistaken. For this reason, I believe that the projects did more harm than good. The twenty-eight buildings were colossal and gloomy, reaching over fifteen stories each, with perpetually broken elevators. According to the Affordable Housing Institute, overcrowding was unavoidable, as over 27,000 individuals crammed into a space designed for no more than 11,000. Nearby streets were covered in litter, and the neighborhood lacked any semblance of banks, libraries, or even grocery stores; residents were thus unable to attain public services or purchase basic food staples.

Due to an “obsession with cutting cost,” the city of Chicago and state of Illinois lacked the requisite budget to keep the buildings in good condition, and they deteriorated drastically after only several years of existence as crime continued to dominate.Furthermore, it is somewhat troubling to learn that approximately ninety-five percent of Robert Taylor’s 27,000 tenants were unemployed, and drug deals worth nearly $45,000 took place each day. These numbers truly reveal the devastating conditions surrounding this massive, modernist housing project for low-income Chicago residents.

The Chicago Housing Association’s sanguine, post-war perspective on public housing simply resulted in a perpetuation of the already catastrophic subsidized housing on Chicago’s South Side. It is important to ponder the role public administrators played in establishing the budget for construction of the homes as well as their annual maintenance. I believe that until the demise of the Robert Taylor Homes, many city planners failed to recognize the association between proper facility maintenance and their external safety, such as low crime rates, as contrasted with the internal safety of the structures themselves.

Ultimately, I believe that public housing projects are described to young children from certain socioeconomic classes and ethnicities, like myself, with a negative connotation that most of us do not even think to challenge. The dismissive reputations of affordable housing ingrained in many children by their parents, whether intentionally or not, can tremendously shape our outlook on these federal actions as adults. Fortunately for those individuals like myself able to receive an unbiased, critical education, these perceptions are able to be shattered and we can see projects such as the Robert Taylor Homes for what they are: tremendous public housing failures that resulted from pairing lofty ambitions with insufficient funds.

Ariel Prince is an undergraduate student in Political Science at UC Berkeley. She focuses her studies on the intersection between government legislation and the overall well-being of citizens in the United States, and has spent significant time examining housing and financial policies following World War II. She can be reached at arielprince@berkeley.edu

HOT Lanes and Equity: Challenging L.A.’ Transportation System

Los Angeles is known for three things: Hollywood, wealth—and insane traffic congestion.

L.A. is thus constantly working to devise strategies to decongest its transportation system. Last year, the city embarked on a one-year demonstration program, administered by Metro in conjunction with Caltrans and primarily funded through a $210 million grant from the US Department of Transportation. The program, Metro ExpressLanes, seeks to utilize congestion pricing to transform High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes to High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes. This means that lone drivers are now able to buy their way to the carpool lanes.

The program aims to convert 25 miles of existing carpool lanes on the 10 and 110 freeways in downtown Los Angeles into high occupancy toll lanes. According to City of Los Angeles officials, the program is geared towards improving traffic flow in the Los Angeles clogged freeway system and providing enhanced travel options.

Whenever I travel, I like to keep my planning eye open and on my Spring break trip to Southern California, I was introduced to the 110 and 10 freeway tolling program first hand. It costs about 25 cents to $1.40 a mile, depending on traffic and time of travel, to use the HOT lanes. The estimated average toll for a motorist is between $4 and $7 a trip, though it could be as high as $15.40. Anyone using these lanes without a FasTrak transponder risks a fine of at least $25. For one weekend, I experienced what those who can’t buy their way into these new lanes, popularly referred to as HOT lanes, go through on a daily basis. Hours of waiting while watching an almost empty lane beside me made me question the rationale behind HOT lanes.

A panel on transportation equity a week later, on the 6th April, 2013, hosted by the College of Design and Environment Students of Color (CEDSOC), reminded me of my L.A. experience and I began to wonder whether initiatives such as the Metro Express Lanes program truly meet equity standards.

So what is transportation equity?

Several transportation studies define equity as the fairness with which impacts—benefits or costs—are distributed. Transportation equity can be categorized into 3 main areas.

Horizontal equity is concerned with the distribution of impacts between individuals and groups that are considered equal in ability and need. This approach assumes equal individuals and groups should receive equal shares of resources, bear equal costs, and that transportation policies should not favor any individual or group over another.

Vertical Equity with respect to economic and social class assumes the distribution of impacts between individuals and groups that differ in abilities and needs. Transportation policies are equitable if they favor economically and socially disadvantaged groups, thus compensating for overall inequities.

Vertical equity with respect to mobility need and ability focuses on the distribution of impacts between groups that differ in terms of mobility ability, need and the extent to which transportation policies meet the need of travelers with mobility impairments.

At the CEDSOC panel, Joel Ramos, Senior Community planner at TransForm, an organization that advocates for sustainable transportation and smart land use, described transportation equity as transportation decisions that cater for accessibility, convenience, speed and affordability.

The question whether the HOT lines meet transportation equity becomes even more complex. Transportation researchers in support of HOT lanes argue that distribution of traffic through congestion pricing eventually leads to improved speed for everyone. Researchers arguing against HOT lanes, on the other hand, cite inequity based on income. This modal split is a compromise of mass transit and carpooling and spatial equity where programs may disadvantage certain parts of the city where HOT lanes apply or do not apply.

The L.A. program seeks to address income equity through issuing discount facilities to low-income households. In addition, some of the tolls’ income is reinvested to purchase extra passenger buses. Nevertheless, the use of discount facilities for low-income drivers does less to convince me that HOT lanes are a viable long-term solution to congestion and that the program does not disadvantage low-income households.

Evaluations on the San Diego’s I-15 HOT lanes suggest that users of the HOT lanes were more likely to have higher incomes than drivers in the regular lanes. For instance, drivers coming from households with annual incomes of $20,000 to $40,000 a year made up 3% of FasTrak users. Moreover, some researchers argue that those with the lowest income who might actually be priced out of HOT lanes are likely priced out of car ownership as well. They often rely on public transit and their travel times and options are even more limited, since the L.A HOT lanes utilize former HOV lanes previously made for buses as well as carpooling. In this case, the conversion of HOV lanes to HOT lanes significantly reduces the travel time for those using mass transit options who are likely low-income groups. Again, what if a higher number of drivers (both high and low-income) are able to access HOT lanes? Doesn’t that consequently slow traffic for carpoolers and mass transit, thus impeding transportation equity for low-income drivers and carpoolers?

Besides pricing out low-income drivers, the L.A. program is likely to negatively affect carpooling. Cities across the world have used carpool fast lanes as a means to decongest regular lanes, reduce travel time for travelers and green gas emissions. The conversion of HOV lanes to HOT lanes seems contradicts the existence of carpool lanes and is likely to negate some or all of the travel time advantages that would exist with HOV lanes, leaving no motivation for HOV lanes especially for those who can afford to buy their access to the HOT lanes.

This program assumes that distributing traffic in regular and HOT lanes will translate to reduced travel times for everyone. However, I believe that cities need to think of ways of decongesting traffic by addressing the core roots of congestion: the automobile. While I appreciate multiple approaches to transportation planning, a strategy that promotes more choices for private cars seems counterproductive. Instead, we should focus on improving the use of mass transit. Ultimately, this would discourage the use of private cars and reduce congestion without imposing unnecessary costs to travelers that hinders equity for all.

Keziah Mwelu is a first year master’s student in the Department of City and Regional Planning, UC Berkeley. She is an urban planner from Kenya interested in urban development policy, governance and equity. She can be reached at mwelu.keziah@gmail.com.

The Tactics That Be: Contesting Tactical Urbanism in New Orleans

The stretch of St. Claude Avenue (LA-46) that coincides with the catchment area of St. Claude Main Street ­– one of four Main Street organizations in New Orleans – will soon be host to a number of “parkettes.” As a matter of the organization of public space, parkettes – like their cousins, “parklets,” “pocket parks,” “mini-parks,” etc.­ – are relatively innocuous. They stem from the Park(ing) Day tradition that Rebar – a design firm that specializes in the “re-imagining” of contemporary cityscapes – launched in San Francisco and which has since spread to cities across the US. They tend to be situated in proximity to commercial properties, contain plants and seating, and are chartered on the premise that anyone can occupy the space. Why, then, have these seemingly innocuous installations stirred such discontent amongst New Orleans’ downtown residents?

The St. Claude Avenue commercial corridor serves as a boundary for a number of New Orleans communities: the Marigny, the 7th Ward, St. Roch, the Bywater, and St. Claude/Upper 9th Ward – at the same time dividing and uniting these neighborhoods. Over the past five years, this stretch of St. Claude has become host to a number of art galleries, storefront theaters, and cafes that import beans roasted in Portland or New York. St. Claude Main Street and the St. Claude Arts’ District have promoted the Avenue as a vibrant new hub of New Orleans’ arts and cultural scene, specifically at some remove from its straightforwardly tourist counterpart along, say, Royal St. in the French Quarter.

When local historian and long-time New Orleans resident Christine Horn asked whether anybody really wanted “parkettes” along the St. Claude corridor, the discussion was never really about the small, designer installations in themselves. For Horn, the most outspoken critic of the parkette program, along with her neighbors and fellow long-term residents, the parkettes serve as a stand-in for the much broader, amorphous, and rather uncritically-received tactical urbanism movement.

Tactical urbanism is a particular articulation of “creative place-making” – an ethos that today shapes many local urbanist initiatives in cities across the country, praised by urban enthusiasts and idealists for its ability to catalyze “vibrancy” and civic engagement. “Guerrilla urbanism,” “pop-up urbanism,” “city repair,” and “DIY urbanism” all describe the same set of phenomena that tactical urbanism has categorically linked together. Guerrilla gardening, weed bombing, and “site previtalization”; pop-up retail, mobile vendors, and gourmet food trucks; pavement-to-plazas, intersection repair, and pocket parks – such are the “tactics” for reclaiming urban public spaces that tactical urbanism has canonized in its handbook. To Horn and her neighbors, the arrival of tactical urbanism to the Crescent City appears to be merely the most recent in a series of enterprises to transform public space in the likeness of those that the city would most like to attract: people with money.

Whereas previous initiatives to attract capital to New Orleans’ downtown neighborhoods may have proceeded under the banner of cultural sensitivity, tactical urbanism ups the ante by explicitly affording the promise of ongoing community input and engagement in order to keep new design – as St. Claude Main Street manager Michael Martin puts it – “indigenous” and “born out of on-the-ground conditions.” At least, it does so in theory. Community support and indigenous design, the logic goes, might mitigate some of the tensions inherent in neighborhoods undergoing rapid social transformation by gentrification.

Carrying out this promise in practice, however, is much messier. “The community” must be conjured, constructed, and represented, through various practices and technologies, which range from the focus group to civic media platforms for participatory urbanism. Horn’s critique is thus not about the parkettes themselves, but rather about the failure to accurately represent and meaningfully engage with the community during the planning process.

In May 2012, St. Claude Main Street, in partnership with the Bywater-based design studio Civic Center, received a $275,000 grant for their Arts District & Parkettes Program. The funding source, ArtPlace, is a coalition of foundations (thirteen of the nation’s largest: Ford, Bloomberg, Rockefeller, etc.), supported by six of the largest banks (Bank of America, Citi, Chase, etc.), and is overseen by the federally funded National Endowment for the Arts.

St. Claude Main Street’s programming for the ArtPlace grant consists of four parts, three of which will go “unseen” through investment in arts organizations and artists to develop organizational and personal capacity and place promotion. The fourth component is the parkette program, to be “based on programs in San Francisco and New York City where community organizations collaborate with property owners, the municipality, and residents to build small, public greenspaces along commercial corridors” by employing “tactical urbanism processes that will help us build resident buy-in and thus assure that the park designs will be respondent to how people actually use the space.”

At a community meeting in July 2012, St. Claude Main Street announced its plans for the grant-funded programming. Talk at the meeting, however, was not about how badly the Avenue needed parkettes, but rather about how to mitigate the forces of gentrification that have been so rapidly and dramatically transforming the neighborhoods along the St. Claude corridor.

What concerned Christine Horn most was that if the programming was premised upon the success of parklets in San Francisco as the representatives of St. Claude Main Street intimated, then shouldn’t San Francisco’s guiding principle of “pre-existing community support for public space at the location” apply? There is no answer to this question in the case of the St. Claude parkettes, since funding was allocated for the development of parkettes before the affected communities were consulted. The parkettes were, in fact, written into the ArtPlace grant application prior to any community meeting.

The problems that tactical urbanism must address do not stem from any spatial or design flaw, but that it presents its tactics sans strategy. Those who subscribe to this regime of small-scale spatial intervention must remember that even cheap, quick, and tactical appropriations of public space entail a level of responsibility to the public – especially when they proceed under the guise of “pre-existing community support” or “resident buy-in.” There is no spatial or design fix that can undermine the constellation of forces that conspire to rapidly and dramatically transform neighborhoods, or alleviate the anxieties borne of such transformations. There is only earnest engagement with and respect for those affected by spatial intervention.

As a design form that privileges the social life of small urban spaces, the parkettes are brilliant. But they are nonetheless a symptom of, not a reprieve from, a long failure to meaningfully communicate and engage with disadvantaged communities in the reconfiguration of public space.

Aaron Shapiro is a doctoral student at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. He studies cities, intellectual technologies of urban revitalization, and commodity aesthetics. In particular, he is interested in the transformations of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the city’s shifting demographics, the mobilization and engagement of new residents in shaping the city’s developmental direction, and the quantification of the region’s cultural economic assets and social entrepreneurial endeavors as evaluative techniques of urban governance. He can be contacted at ashapiro@asc.upenn.edu

Who Says Nobody Walks in L.A.?

Quick Quiz: Which of these cities is the more walkable city in CA?

A.)  San Luis Obispo

B.)  Los Angeles

C.)  Monterey

D.)  Richmond

When one thinks of walkable cities, Los Angeles probably doesn’t immediately spring to mind. After all, Southern California was the birthplace of the pervasive car culture in Los Angeles, and hearing statements like “I live by the 60 (Pomona Freeway)” are commonplace when Angelenos identify their address and current location. But, according to Walk Score, a website that measures walkability in North American cities, the answer to the question above is B.) Los Angeles.

In fact, Angelenos are so fond of walking that over 150,000 people came together on Sunday, April 21 to uncover the mask of LA’s car-obsessive culture and celebrate walking and other non-car transit modes at CicLAvia.

What is CicLAvia? Only the most exciting event in Los Angeles! CicLAvia is named after ciclovías, which translates from Spanish to ‘bicycle way.’ Over thirty years ago, the city of Bogotá, Colombia organized ciclovías to occur every Sunday, in which it closed the streets to cars and opened the streets strictly for pedestrian and bicyclist use. Ciclovías in Colombia continue to this day. In October 2010, the idea reached Los Angeles.

The first CicLAvia event in Los Angeles took place on October 10, 2010 and included 7 miles of roadway extending from Boyle Heights to East Hollywood. Instead of noisy, polluting cars, the street corners were filled with capoeira dancing, local food vendors, bike floats and giant chessboards.

CicLAvia was so successful that this year, the organizers added more than 8 miles of roadway to reach the Pacific Ocean, bringing together 150,000 people to enjoy the route to the sea.

Events like CicLAvia are crucial to supporting pedestrian safety, because pedestrians are more likely to die in Los Angeles due to a car crash than in any other city, with the exception of New York City, according to a recent study by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. In Los Angeles, about 33 percent of all fatal crashes involved pedestrians, which is about three times the national average and almost two times higher than the California state average of 17 percent. However, these percentages do not accurately reflect the risks of walking in Los Angeles because although there are fewer motorist fatalities, the number of non-motorists deaths in collisions actually increased. There is no denying that support for pedestrian safety is often not a priority.

Despite the fact that 20 percent of the population in Los Angeles county walk or bike to their destinations, less than 1 percent of transportation funding goes towards bettering pedestrian infrastructure.

In light of the knowledge that it can be unsafe to walk in Los Angeles, what can CicLAvia offer for pedestrian safety? CicLAvia gives credence to the adage “there’s safety in numbers.” More than 100,000 bicyclists and pedestrians come out to enjoy Los Angeles, as it becomes a giant street park. But CicLAvia is more than a park. At CicLAvia, I’m not just working off the chocolate brownie I ate, but I’m also rediscovering my city–the local shops and network of community organizations. As more people join CicLAvia events, more people realize that walking in Los Angeles means realizing the health and social benefits of being a pedestrian. People might be more inclined to support measures to increase pedestrian safety.

There are many ways to improve pedestrian safety in Los Angeles. Los Angeles policy officials and transportation planners can increase pedestrian and driver education on rules of the road, invest more in pedestrian infrastructure, and improve the pedestrian infrastructure we have now through better signage and crosswalks. Such projects are already underway. One example is the MyFigueroa Project that will transform the Figueroa Street Corridor into a complete street–a street designed for bicyclist, transit rider, and pedestrian safety and convenience.

And fellow Angelenos can also take part in this effort by supporting pedestrian advocacy groups like Los Angeles Walks and enjoying free and fun events like CicLAvia.

When I first heard of CicLAvia I thought it was just an awesome party for bicyclists—and it is, to an extent. I admit that CicLAvia is more commonly associated with cycling, but as I rode my beat-up blue road bike at my first CicLAvia in 2011 and found that I couldn’t move as freely as I wanted without injuring someone because there were too many bicyclists, I dismounted my bicycle and just walked.

I remembered that I first experienced Los Angeles as a pedestrian. I was born in Los Angeles, and growing up, I walked everywhere. I walked to school. I walked to visit my friends. I walked to the bus stop. I realized that I first fell in love with the city when I was walking through its mural painted streets under the shade of trees, not when I was encased in a car on concrete freeways. I remember spending an evening in the summer walking with a friend to a park in Los Angeles where I met new people that lived in the neighborhood as we played la lotería, a board game, and ate burgers and oranges. I realized that when I walked, I could experience the community around me more easily than when I was in a car. This is why I hope and believe that Los Angeles can become a model walkable city.

Jimena Cuenca is an undergraduate Geography student at UC Berkeley. She studies how city planning is connected and can contribute to bettering environmental health. She likes to explore new and old surroundings on a bus, a bike, or on her feet. You can contact her at jcuenca@berkeley.edu

What is the Color of Planning and Design?

This is the question that a new course, “Race, Equity, and the City,” in the Department of City and Regional Planning (DCRP), College of Environmental Design (CED) at UC Berkeley takes seriously and challenges graduate students to consider.

In the spring of 2012, a set of difficult interactions transpired between students in city planning and architecture about representations of race and ethnicity. An infamous flyer introduced Pepe, the Donkey, to the CED. Pepe was a jenny (female donkey) from Oaxaca that was photoshopped into our world to cordially invite CED students for a placid Thursday afternoon happy hour. What followed brought confusion and astonishment to many of us at the CED, as Pepe’s racialized blunder became the source of further racial faux pas between students.

The impropriety of using an animal to represent a national and cultural group became even more poignant for two specific reasons that specifically concern our intellectual community at the CED.

First, the representation ignored the history of racial stereotyping that defined racist anti-immigration discourses in California and the US before the civil rights era. Racism once filled the American public imagination. Its echoes reverberated in urban policy through urban renewal and the displacement of minorities, as well as racial covenants and zoning which continue to affect people of color in our cities. Second, the image arose from an international studio where pedagogy is fraught with concerns pertinent to professional ethics and positionality beyond the development of formal design solutions. How is the privilege of entering and leaving the site, the evidence gathered in a temporary international visit, and the products of the studio managed to ensure concrete benefit for residents long after our departure?

The representation didn’t answer these questions. Rather, it aimed to symbolize a friendly pet in need for translation in the walls of Wurster.The translation didn’t work and many students across the DCRP found it reductive. The image reified and silenced rather than provided agency and voice to the people it sought to represent and were absent from the conversation: people of color and immigrants who are our “others” not just in Oaxaca, but also closer to home in our classrooms.

In the aftermath students and faculty realized the need for a reflection on how we talk about race in our department and in the CED in general. What does it mean to incorporate questions of race and ethnicity, equity and justice, power and privilege, and broadly defined “cultural competency” into the masters curriculum?

Motivated to see immediate change, a group of masters students from the College of Environmental Design Students of Color (CED-SOC) committee along with us--Ariel Bierbaum and Fernando Burga--began meeting to create a student-led reading course on these topics. Our simple goal was to educate ourselves on how to talk about race beyond Pepe and its reductive stereotype. We aimed to engage the debates, categories and concepts from other intellectual fields where the subject of race holds traditions of inquiry. In the middle of the fall semester, we were asked to develop this ad-hoc reading group into a full-fledged class and co-teach it in the spring of 2013.

We began the hard work of designing a syllabus based on precedents. We scanned and reviewed up to 20 syllabi that included a wide range of topics: Critical Race Theory, ethnic studies, multiculturalism, segregation, urban design, urban renewal, and sociology of race. We focused on pieces that would offer both clear theoretical frameworks as well as empirical grounding. We also considered cases that placed primacy on urban space, urbanism, and planning practice in their discussions. As planners and designers we considered this an essential aspect of how we constructed this space in our community. The design of this syllabus allowed us to conceive of “Race, Equity and the City” as more than just a class.

Based on the in-depth analysis of readings, the in-class discussions provided us with a set of interrogations about identity, memory, history, and place and on the ways in which planning and urban design practices are implicated in the spatialization of racism. In class, we actively dug deep into particular issues in urban places that intersect in various ways with planning practice, including segregation, environmental justice, transportation and regional planning, education, criminal justice, and labor. Through all of these discussions, we grappled with the historical, ethical, and political trajectories of planning practice and specifically the technologies of our field of practice. How do the forms of data analysis and representation open up or foreclose certain outcomes that further racial justice? How do our processes privilege some over others? What is our own positionality and privilege – as people of color, as white people, and as planning professionals? How can we harness action from this space of interrogation to confront these tensions and make them productive?

As an innovation in critical pedagogy, our course brings together readings and seminar discussion about these issues with personal reflection and studio production. The course has drawn graduate students from City and Regional Planning, Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning, Public Health, Environmental Science Policy and Management and the School of Information, who all maintain a commitment to using our scholarship and professional practice as a tool to alleviate racial inequity in our places. All represent a cross section of minority groups that make up our national social landscape. Together they also represent a self-selected group of students who joined our class not only to learn about race and equity in the city, but also be active in the transformation the curriculum in the CED.

We challenge students to understand, problematize and challenge, but then also deploy the tools of planning in ways that support goals of racial justice. We have challenged students to enhance their critical analysis by visually representing readings, and by understanding representations as texts calling for critical analysis.

To carry out this mission, the course is organized around two assignments: the Racial-Spatial Autobiography and the Cartographic Thesis.

The Racial Spatial Autobiography challenges students with the question: How can you visually represent your racial identity, sense of place, spatial practices, and locational experiences?

Personal perspective, experiences, and identities influence professionals’ and scholars’ motivations, understanding, and commitment to their practice. Despite this, we are often told to check ourselves at the proverbial door of the academy or the office. The Racial-Spatial Autobiography disrupts this paradigm of professional and intellectual practice, and specifically invites all of our multiple selves to become visible in a graphic essay.  The Racial-Spatial Autobiography was the first exercise of the semester and set the reflexive tone of the class. Students shared their personal reflections through space and identity using diverse media--painting, collage, mappings, websites, photographic essays, bookmaking. Through each of these unique creations, students articulated their own racial and spatial identities, and the ways in which these identities have shaped personal and professional trajectories.

The second assignment, the Cartographic Thesis, is a synthesis of students’ prior experiences with knowledge from the semester. Students make compelling arguments about a particular site and its attendant urban policy issues. Each thesis investigates, interprets, and illustrates urban phenomena, challenges, and potential planning interventions that reinvigorate a conversation about race and equity in planning. Students have selected topics that relate to their own coursework or research. By “plugging” into work outside the class, we aim to expand the conversation about race and equity in the city beyond the walls of our weekly seminar. The centerpiece of the Cartographic Thesis is the Racially Just Criteria, which are metrics or frames used to develop context-sensitive, practical outcomes that address past and present racial inequities in the city.  Drawing on texts from the seminar, students developed original criteria that ground abstract concepts in the specific context in which students work.

We have captured the work of the semester--the “dirty design” process–on our blog. Like all visual representations, these images are more than just a record. They are a statement of commitment to design as a tool in analyzing, deconstructing, and reimagining ourselves and our work through a lens of racial justice.

Our conversations over the semester and our students’ culminating projects have demonstrated that we can have a conversation about race – one that is personal and intellectual and that engenders compelling products, cases, and research questions. We have taken a moment of conflict and turned it into a positive outcome.

With this blog piece, we would like to announce “Race, Equity, and the City” to our department, college, and the world beyond through the virtual pathways of the web. We would also like to invite those of you that are local to our Final Review on May 3rd from 9 – 12pm on the first floor of Wurster Hall, where the final projects will be presented and displayed before an audience.

This final act of the semester will provide the platform for future endeavors that develop from the pedagogy and questions that defined this class, and the original tensions brought forth by Pepe. We are considering teaching the class again in the Spring 2014 and seeking funding  to turn some aspects of the class into a working group/incubator model where issues of race and equity can encompass a wider umbrella of practice and theory. In following posts we will reflect on the experience of the class and consider concrete steps in moving forward.

Ariel Bierbaum is a PhD student in the Department of City and Regional Planning. She studies the relationship between gentrification processes and public education. Ariel’s professional background includes experience in city government, community development, community engagement, strategic planning and organizational development, and university-community relations. She can be reached at arielb@berkeley.edu.

Fernando Burga is a PhD candidate in the Department of City and Regional Planning. He studies ethnic politics, immigrant empowerment and gentrification in Miami, Florida. Before coming to Berkeley Fernando worked as an architect and urban designer in Washington DC, in projects ranging from affordable housing to community master-planning. Hi is currently a fellow at the Center for the Research of Social Change at UC Berkeley and can be contacted at hfburga@berkeley.edu.  

My Beloved Boston

When I learned of the two explosions that rocked the Boston Marathon my first thought was that it was another electrical fire, like the one last year, that blackened the neighborhood and permeated the deserted streets with noxious fumes. I never thought of bombs; I never thought of acts of terror, this accusatory and amorphous allegation that (in my mind) is too commonly spoken these days. As news from my hometown inundated my iPhone, the truth became depressingly clear. Boston was bombed at the heart of the city, at an event that had long brought my city together, among ourselves as we celebrated this country’s oldest marathon and with the rest of the world who had traveled to my city to run it.

I felt so bewildered to be half a world away in Berkeley. As my classes continued and my classmates went about their daily lives, my mind was back in Boston’s Back Bay. Two bombs had exploded near the Public Library, where I would secretly steal away to study in high school, only blocks away from the apartment where I was born and lived for the first three years of my life. I walked around Berkeley in a daze of perplexity and longing, remembering only last year how I purposely walked down Boylston Avenue burrowed into jacket to hide from the windy cold. I recalled bringing my out-of-town friends to nearby Newbury Street to stroll beside the old-world brownstones while we window shopped and later walked back to Cambridge across the Massachusetts Avenue bridge, the beautiful Boston skyline at our back and my university, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, out before us.

Over the coming days, I could not get Boston out of my mind. I could not focus on my city planning readings from the other side of the world when my heart was back in my hometown. I could not struggle through their opaque language when I struggled for even a simple explanation of why I was so distraught. I did not know any of the victims of the bombing. My best friend was there, and because she is a reporter for National Public Radio her voice echoed in my mind as I listened to news from back home. But staring at the photographs of my city, especially of those who lost their lives and limbs because of this act of violence (senseless, as violence almost always is), I dwelt amid my own grief and fury.

All week I had been receiving emergency text messages from MIT about suspicious packages around campus, daily reminders that those I was thinking of back home were preoccupied with alert. Then on Thursday evening I received a text message about a shooting outside MIT’s Stata Center, designed by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry, its jagged edges and curves prominent on a campus otherwise defined by industrial architecture. An MIT police officer had been shot. My Facebook feed lit up with updates from my friends and fellow students that they were safe at home or locked in their offices on campus. One inside Stata posted a picture of the police cars outside. I was devastated. My sister is a law enforcement officer, so I thought of her. I was devastated to quickly learn from my MIT friends that the officer had died. I was devastated that only days ago the Senate had failed to pass even the most benign gun control measures. I had NO IDEA that this was connected to the Boston Marathon bombings. It was difficult to sleep that night as my friends in Cambridge and into the suburbs posted stories about hearing gunshots and grenades outside. I listened into Boston’s police dispatcher (live online) but all I could comprehend was confusion.

The next morning things became clear and my world fell apart. The suspects in the shooting of the MIT policeman were the two blurry-faced brothers whose pictures were released the day before. The older one had been killed; the younger one – only 19 – was still hiding. My entire city was in lockdown searching for this kid, this kid from Cambridge who murdered four other young people and maimed dozens of others. I soon learned that he and his brother lived only blocks away from MIT. I had walked by their home countless times as I visited friends in East Cambridge. When I lived on campus we may have even shopped at the same supermarket. I had certainly been to the 7/11 where they had been the night before, before they killed Officer Sean Collier only blocks away. Those streets of East Cambridge are dark and deserted at that time of night. I know from too many late nights on campus studying, too worried about writing my master’s thesis to even think about the work that the MIT police did day in, night out to keep us safe.

I could not tear myself away from the news that day as my city was locked down in search of this boy from my neighborhood. Dzhokhar had recently graduated from Cambridge, Rindge and Latin, a school that represents what I love most about Cambridge, where children of professors and children of immigrants and children who were refugees from conflicts such as Chechnya intermingled and grew up together to hopefully become the citizens that this country needs to be more aware of the world around them. When he was found that evening (after the city’s eyes were finally allowed back on the street), I was wishing they had found him dead. I did not seek vengeance but I did not want to confront the why? Why had a boy from my neighborhood committed such violence? Neither did I want to face the inevitable injustices committed in the name of “justice”, especially the displacement of his trial from Massachusetts, where we do not have the death penalty, to the federal jurisdiction where they do.

I was distressed to see the American flags amid the celebrations of Dzhokhar’s capture. It was not that I wanted to deny my fellow Bostonians their freedom to rejoice after such a wrenching week, but I did not understand the place of the flag when a fellow American, a neighboring resident of Cambridge, was the one who was responsible. The news has since taken more difficult turns, from conservative calls for Dzhokhar to be tried as an enemy combatant to even progressive consensus that he should be denied his Miranda rights. The media searches for explanations back in Chechnya to what motivated these Cambridge brothers to commit their crimes. I too am interested in their Chechen background. In high school I took a class called “Children in War” and our final project was to write a diary from the perspective of one of the children we had read about. This was the mid-1990s and I wrote about Chechnya.

Yet fast-forwarding to April 2013, I could not be anywhere other than Cambridge. I could not point my finger at Chechnya, because as my grandmother always tells me, that means three fingers are pointing back at me. I am not blaming Cambridge or Boston or anybody who knew these brothers for their horrific acts. As Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish wrote, “Terror never paves the way to justice, but leads down the shortest path to hell.” I cannot put the explanation down to extremism when Tamerlan and Dzhokhar spent most of the last decade amid the diversity that is Cambridge, nor can I explain why I am infinitely more haunted by the bombings in Boston than by the daily atrocities carried out in Syria, not to mention American terrorism in the drone attacks that kill countless (literally) civilians. As I grieve for the victims I want to feel fury at the perpetrators, but that almost feels like turning the anger against myself and my own neighborhood where the Tsarnaev brothers and I walked down the same streets. For me, and perhaps for others who think of Cambridge as home, justice can never be done when the injustice goes beyond the killings and collides with our conscience because it was committed by our neighbors against our neighbors. As I grieve for the real victims of Boston’s tragedy, I also grieve for my myself and my fellow Bostonians, and amid my confusion I grieve for the perpetrators because they too were part of my beloved Boston.

Julia Tierney is a first year doctoral student in City and Regional Planning at UC Berkeley where her focus is on international development and comparative urbanism, with a focus on Brazil and Lebanon. She graduated with a Masters in City Planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2012. She can be reached at jtier@berkeley.edu.

 

The Color of Elsewhere: Identity and Wealth in Rural America

Most of us have heard of the growing racial wealth gap and the statistics that show how white America continues to diverge from households of color when it comes to building assets, particularly in the form of quality homeownership. While we may tend to think about this disparity in the context of urban and suburban environments, it is crucial to also relate the issue to the households that live on the other 90% of the U.S. landmass, known as rural and small town America. To place myself in context to the issue, I’ll note that I worked as a researcher at a rural housing organization headquartered in Washington, DC, called the Housing Assistance Council (HAC) before coming to UC Berkeley to study planning. At HAC, I delved into learning about rural development, a field that I had rarely before been exposed to, and discovered some of the complexities of planning and development in small town communities. Nuancing my understanding of rural poverty and rural communities of color was strong takeaway from my work, particularly through examining historical social interactions between different populations and historical relationships to land.

A recent report from HAC shows that rural America has diverse racial and ethnic characteristics when taken as a whole. While these regions have a larger percentage of non-Hispanic whites (78%) in comparison to non-rural communities (64%) overall, rural people of color live in a variety of settings, such as Native American lands, the Lower Mississippi Delta, the southern Black Belt, and the colonias region along the U.S.-Mexico border. Populations such as migrant and seasonal farmworkers are also often found in rural areas. In examining the poverty rates among non-Hispanic whites and people of color, the gap between the two is wider in rural locations than throughout the U.S. overall. Additionally, the issue of persistent poverty—counties with continually high rates of poverty over the past 20 years—has much to do with these rural communities of color. Large parts of rural regions of color, in addition to several communities in Central Appalachia, make up the vast majority of counties in the U.S. with a history of persistent poverty.

Clearly, the wealth gap applies to rural landscapes, and considering rural demographics helps remind us of the multifaceted nature of race, ethnicity, and asset accumulation. Black identity in a given urban inner-city, for example, can be very different from black identity in a given county in the rural Mississippi Delta. Each has a unique connection to the surrounding environment, and develops in part due to a unique political and economic history of marginalization. In considering planning and development avenues, these unique connections and history may translate into a need for entirely different planning processes and sets of stakeholders across the two locations. If we return to the crux of the racial wealth gap—housing and homeownership patterns—we see that while the rural story often parallels dynamics in urban and suburban areas, rural housing displays some important differences from other housing patterns that are worth considering.

Similar to disparities throughout the rest of the U.S., rural households of color are less likely to be homeowners than non-Hispanic whites, and many of these households were hard-hit by the recent foreclosure crisis. Other patterns of housing hardship, however, may be different in rural regions. For example, in rural and small-town areas high-cost lending and low access to mortgage credit are more prevalent than in other places, and households of color are more likely to face high-cost loans.

Housing distress itself can also manifest differently in rural areas. For instance, in a past interview I conducted with a rural Minnesota housing services provider, I discovered that families at-risk of homelessness in the area were more likely to “double-up”, or move in with another family, than families throughout the rest of the state. So, in the service provider’s area, due to doubling-up, there was a lower proportion of federally-recognized homelessness than might have occurred if sharing housing was a less-common response to dealing with economic hardship. What is hidden behind the low rate of homelessness is the fact that many families still experience housing distress and need better access to housing resources in an area where homeless services are few and far between. Later, I learned that this pattern is not unique to rural Minnesota, and is in fact the case across many other parts of rural America.

When it comes to addressing the racial wealth gap in rural America, and improving housing conditions across the board, understanding some of the ways in which rural areas are different is vital to instigating effective and equitable change. Some of the most important affordable housing work in rural areas may have to do with improving infrastructure, both at the financial level and with respect to site development and connectivity, whereas in urban and suburban areas this infrastructure may already be mostly present. Also, rural planners and policy-makers have to notice the unique manifestations of housing distress and housing preferences in their regions, and then be able to translate those needs into economic progress in a country that mainly has eyes for the big city.

Thus, we should use the example of rural to caution against “prescriptive” planning approaches that attempt to replicate a particular development solution across varied contexts. While attempting to transport planning examples even between separate urban environments can be dubious at times, clearly the process becomes even more so when attempting to translocate an urban planning paradigm to a rural area. We also owe it to the world to learn a little bit more about planning outside of urban areas. To get rid of the racial wealth gap, even if we aren’t experts, it is critical to stretch our minds beyond standard approaches and to advocate for a variety of policies to fit the multitude of planning contexts that exist in this country, as well as to understand how these different policies may interact with one another across varied geographies.

Stefani Cox is a master’s student in City and Regional Planning at UC Berkeley. She studies equitable and participatory planning with respect to economic and housing development, and has spent time working on issues of housing and community health in Washington, DC, and Chicago, IL. She can be reached at stefanicox@berkeley.edu.

Planners’ Responsibility? A personal exploration of Race and Ethnicity in Kenya and the United States

Growing up in Kenya, I did not engage with race or ethnicity through academic research rather than through social, economic and political affairs. But it only took a few classes and interactions at UC Berkeley for me to appreciate the amount of research that has gone into race in relation to professional practice in the United States. I have found that race in the United States is an academic research issue and that it also affects every other aspect of life and determines how people interpret the environment around them, sometimes unconsciously. During my short stay here, there is not a single public place I have gone to that did not remind me of race. One day, for example, I was in church and the pastor mentioned that Michelle Obama is an inspiration to women. From the congregation, someone asked: “What about for white women?” Was Michelle a woman or black first? Another day, I invited a friend to the same church. When I asked him what he thought of the church, he said it was a great church, that there was a sense of community but that he was not used to the style of a white preacher. Again, I thought “Mmmm?!!”

At school, race has been central to most class debates. It’s not unusual to find scholars whose research interests and career goals are shaped by their experience with race. To me, it seems that racial equity is a common denominator for scholars interested in social justice in the United States, at least according to my experience at the Department of City and Regional Planning.

Race and ethnicity is not just an issue here in the States. Back in Kenya, where I come from, ethnicity defines our political and social ideologies, resource allocation and interpretation of law and marriage patterns--love alone no longer defines whom you marry. Ethnicity also shapes the conversations and jokes people can make in public. Despite carrying out its first general elections under the dispensation of a new constitution that is based on equity and respect for diversity, the determination of Kenya’s fourth President in the just concluded elections, majorly depended on ethnic alignments.

But what do race and ethnicity have to do with city planning? The above scenarios have prompted me to reflect on the role of planning education in shaping the decisions planners make. Does or can racially sensitive planning education affect how professional planners make decisions? Do planners need to study race issues in order to understand how their planning actions or race-based decisions impact different ethnic communities?

Planners have the power to control resource allocation and distribution. Planners’ decisions may determine where people live, shop, go to school, what services they can access. Planners determine people’s quality of life. Knowing the role of planners, the decisions they have made in the past and the consequences of such decisions, could planning schools have played a role in shaping planners’ decisions? In other words, can planning schools contribute to racial justice and social inclusion? Is there a course that can adequately equip planners with skills necessarily to address racial discrimination or “negative ethnicity” in city planning?

Spring 2013 saw the Department of City and Regional Planning in UC Berkeley launch an optional course on “Race, Equity and the City” which seeks to “explore the connections between race, racial justice, and equity and the scholarly and professional practices of city planning and how to conceptualize a "racially just" set of criteria to apply to planning practice and processes.”

I think such a course is needed in a context where race is central to almost everything. Moreover, based on U.S. planning history, it seems necessary to include racial issues as an integral part of a planner’s school curriculum. But a question that arises for me is whether racial discrimination and negative ethnicity in city planning is a result of ignorance, inadequate planning tools to address racial justice or simply prejudice? Is it something that can be dealt with through planning education and equipping planners with “racially just” planning tools?

These questions might not have straight answers. I, however, believe that racial and ethnically unjust decisions in planning or elsewhere are manifestations of deeper issues: insecurities, power struggles, contest over limited resources/opportunities, fear of the unknown, prejudice and mistrust. So, while planning schools should institute race and ethnic studies, there is also a need for the adoption of other tools besides planning education to equip planners and the society at large with mechanisms to achieving racial justice. Therefore, there is need for planning schools to go beyond awareness creation and problem identification to devise innovative ways of engaging with racial injustices. Besides training and requiring planners to be culturally and racially sensitive, another strategy is to restore the trust of marginalized communities by encouraging planners to work within their own community as well as in other racially and culturally different communities.

A planner is supposed to be a generalist, but are race and ethnicity in the realm of a planner’s responsibility? Levitt Williams, whose developments during the 1960s are believed to have fueled white middle class suburbanization and inner cities blight, once said: ”We can solve a housing problem, or we can try solve a racial problem. But we cannot combine the two.” I believe as planning schools, students and practitioners, we need to challenge ourselves to do both.

Declaration: In this blog piece race is used in the context of the US while ethnicity is used in the context of Africa. 

Keziah Mwelu is a first year master’s student in the Department of City and Regional Planning, UC Berkeley. She is an urban planner from Kenya interested in urban development policy, governance and equity. She can be reached at mwelu.keziah@gmail.com.

How the Other Half Lives: Exploring Trailer Parks in the American Sun Belt

I believe that trailer parks are an important source of affordable housing for low-income households. I also believe that they serve as an important transitional step for social mobility. These conclusions are a culmination of a complex and emotional, although enriching personal journey of writing my senior thesis at UC Berkeley.

As an urban studies undergraduate, I first sought to investigate the concept of colonias because to me it represented the Third World phenomenon of informalities on First World territory. The journey began in the summer of 2012 when I received the Judith Lee Stronach Summer Travel Scholarship to explore poor migrant settlements near the U.S.-Mexico border. During my travels, I drove along the U.S.-Mexico border through the States of California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas to study this phenomenon of underdevelopment. But what I saw was very different from what I expected, based on the academic papers and scholarly books I had read.

Naively, I had expected to find isolated pockets of poverty that could be addressed through institutionally coordinated efforts and proactive legislation. But what I found were not isolated settlements but whole poverty-stricken neighborhoods, suburbs and, in some cases, cities, built entirely of mobile homes and trailer parks. I had never inquired into this scattered pattern of settlement clusters before, where people seemed to be camping permanently in mobile homes over the vast expanse of desert land. Initially, residences looked empty, isolated and neglected, uprooted and restless. But after spending a few weeks in the Sun Belt, I began to question my preconceived notions about life in the desert. I became conscious of very different ways of life that exist outside American metropolises. I started to wonder whether there was not one, but multiple American Dreams.

Instead of just focusing on colonias, I decided to make trailer parks a central part of my research since they represent a lion’s share of low-income housing in California. Tracing back trailer park evolution in history allowed me to better understand how they had become such a big part of American culture. I also learned about the complex social, economic, environmental, and cultural challenges in the border region and its relationship to the trailer settlements within the state in the UC Berkeley course, “The U.S.-Mexico Borderlands,” taught by Professor Michael Dear in the Fall semester of 2012.

Following my travels, I learned that throughout the 20th century, U.S.-Mexico border issues and American planning ideology have precipitated negative attitudes towards trailer parks and low-income population residing within. Institutional, social, and economic barriers impeded the transition to conventional housing and reinforced the status quo of the informal trailer park stature. I, then, incorporated the infamous Duroville settlement as a case study in order to examine life in an informal trailer park with the most dramatic conditions. Finally, my research came full circle to cumulatively encompass first world informalities, trailer parks and colonias—all in one paper.

When Assistant U.S. Atty. Leon Weidman declared that the Duroville Trailer Park’s “leaking sewage, 800 feral dogs, piles of debris and fire hazards are a deadly threat to its roughly 5,000 tenants” and should be closed immediately, locals were not surprised. The farm belt of California is full of people living in their cars or in beat-up trailers. Some don’t even have that; they sleep outside. Duroville trailer park, located in the Imperial Valley, consists of about 200 trailers, with a population varying from 2,000 to 6,000, depending on the growing season in one of the most productive agricultural industries in the nation.

Duroville was first formed in 1999 when, according to the New York Times, the local Indian tribe leader, Mr. Duro, declared that the new trailer park on the reservation would be free of local code-enforcements. Coincidentally, Riverside county officials had just decided to clear out illegal trailer settlements in the area, which created a large demand among the low-income population. Indian reservations with their lax land use policies empowered trailer park owners to shun certain housing responsibilities and exploit the vulnerable and desperate trailer park population that had nowhere else to go. Subsequently, Duroville degenerated into a slum-like settlement with terrible living conditions.

Duroville is a culmination of a long history of systemic trailer park exclusion, discrimination and abuse that have precipitated since the trailer park heyday of the World War II Era. However, Duroville is just one of many cases illustrating the affordable housing crisis in California. Thousands of people live in severely substandard housing in California where the waiting list for affordable housing contains thousands of people.

In the current context, local governments lack political and financial capacity to address the affordable housing crisis, and therefore continue institutional efforts to zone or regulate low-income trailers out of sight or existence. While redevelopment agencies are being shattered and counties are unlikely to cough up millions of dollars to relocate the residents in the near future, life in low-income trailer parks goes on as usual. As humble as home can be in the trailer park or illegal trailer community, most residents prefer self-sufficiency to dependency. Moreover, there is great deal of pride involved in achieving “homeownership” status, stability associated with real estate ownership and benefits with raising a family in a close-knit community. As the Duroville community clearly demonstrated, trailer parks can achieve an incredible unity and coherence at beating the odds of survival in the worst of conditions and represent a dynamic vernacular environment worth of the American Dream.

Many Americans, by choice or out of necessity, live in trailers permanently and at odds with the current regulations and social ideals. Society’s refusal to reevaluate the housing needs of the poor contribute to the shortage of affordable housing. In my research and this blog post, I hope to bring awareness to the little-known community life that has been burgeoning in trailer parks and elucidate the evidence that trailers remain the last resort of affordable housing for low-income populations.

Tomas Janusas is a senior in Urban Studies in the college of Environmental Design at UC Berkeley. Born and raised in Vilnius, Lithuania, he now lives in San Francisco. He is a curious fellow in everything urban, and especially fascinated by beautifully perverse American urbanism. You can find him at tomasj@berkeley.edu.

Expanding the Intellectual Commons: Planners’ and Librarians’ Shared Responsibility for Open Access Publication

Urban planners and librarians share a number of virtues and values: we frequently work for public agencies, we’re inclined to make the fruit of our work readily available to society at large, and we share the goal of expanding the commons despite an era of increasing privatization.  As such, we need to work together to highlight the importance of publishing in open access venues. Scholarly publication is a cornerstone for advancing academic discourse and relies on peer-reviewed publication, most often in scholarly journals.  In the 17th century when small scholarly societies began advancing scientific knowledge through the publication of journals in their fields they developed the peer-review process and the scholarly journal structure as we know it today.

Traditionally, the sharing of scholarly knowledge through journals has been an expensive enterprise and, by the middle of the 20th century as journal publishing grew, publishers were providing critical (and costly) services such as editing, printing, subscription oversight and distribution of print issues to subscribers throughout the world. It turns out scholarly publishing is also an extremely profitable industry. Commercial interests such as Reed/Elsevier, Taylor and Francis, and Springer have turned scholarly publishing into a multinational, multi-billion dollar industry. Since 1989, journal prices have increased an average of 7.3 % each year, far exceeding the consumer price index. In other words, a journal that cost $100 in 1986 costs over $670 today. In 2010/2011, Elsevier posted profits of 35% compared to profits of 24% and 27% reported by Apple and Google that same year.

By the 1990’s, the Internet allowed journals to go online. Potentially, anyone, anywhere in the world with access to the Internet could have access to published research findings. Yet the current publishing model is based on a 17th century model even though the kinds of services once provided by publishers such as printing and distribution are no longer necessary.

Meanwhile, universities already paying the salaries of faculty who write the articles and serve on editorial boards and act as reviewers for free – now find themselves in the position of buying back the content from commercial publishers that was freely provided to the publishers in the first place. UC Berkeley currently pays $6 million a year for electronic scholarly content.

Rising costs and decreased buying power has also led to an increasing lack of access to scholarly materials for citizen scholars, planning professionals, and general community members as content is either no longer acquired or is hidden behind fee-walls or restricted to members of university communities.

But the transformation from print to electronic distribution so profitable to commercial distributors also promises a solution to the problem.  Peer review can be achieved via proprietary systems managed by commercial vendors, or through alternate means in open access journals. Open access, simply put, is free access which is made increasingly viable as the costs of electronic distribution become negligible. The costs of managing peer-review, editing, and hosting digital content remain and as such two basic forms of open access have developed: gold and green.

Gold open access journals provide their articles for free at the time of publication. About 30% of open access journals (many in the biomedical and life sciences) charge authors a fee to publish in their journals, the other 70% have developed other business models. Increasingly universities and granting agencies are subsidizing these fees, as is the case with theBerkeley Research Impact InitiativeSome have even argued that open-access publication is a disruption innovation that is inevitable: “Using the 2000 to 2009 data, it is likely that Gold OA journals will publish half of all scholarly articles by 2017 and will publish 90 percent of the articles by 2020.”

Green open access refers to the self-archiving of an article, sometimes a pre-publication version, often in an institutional repository such as the University of California’seScholarship or in a subject repository such as the National Institutes for Health (NIH) PubMed Central.  “Green OA sits alongside the subscription journal system and does not attempt to replace it. Rather, it is a supplement that provides a version of the content to people who would not otherwise have had access to it,” writes Lewis.

We applaud the Berkeley Planning Journal as a noble example of gold open access, hosted by the university and retaining caliber articles.  As a student-organized, peer reviewed journal, its costs are borne by student editors and hosted on university servers. The planning profession is already heavily reliant upon grey literature (plans, consultant reports, conference proceedings) which are already widely accessible for free via government websites.  As such, the shift to open access scholarly publication should be viewed as complementing those freely available, non-peer reviewed sources.

As planners and librarians we have a shared responsibility to expand the intellectual commons by promoting open access scholarship that it is widely available to academics and practitioners alike.  Let’s continue to work together to promote open access so that our work inside the academy is widely available to other academics, practitioners, citizen scholars, and the broader public communities we hope to serve.

David Eifler received an MCP from Berkeley in 1985 and is now the Interim Head of UC Berkeley’s Environmental Design Library.  When he’s not worrying about access to information he’s busy trying to teach his 15 year old son, Camilo, proper citation techniques.  He can be reached at deifler@berkeley.edu.

Margaret Phillips began her career as a librarian at UC Berkeley in 1991 -- after the card catalog but before the Web. Contact Margaret at mphillip@library.berkeley.edu.

Urban Agriculture for Food Security: Good but Not Enough

For 12 years, City Slicker Farms (CSF), an urban farming and food justice organization in West Oakland, California, has been growing fresh fruits and vegetables for residents who otherwise have very limited options for healthy food. In 2011, CSF produced and distributed 9,000 pounds of produce and cultivated more than 69,000 square feet of land. Working there as a farm intern, I helped to grow and harvest hundreds of pounds of lettuce, peas, and squash, which we sold to local residents at a weekly, sliding scale farm stand.  Yet, through all our hard effort, we only delivered produce to 510 people, 2% of the 25,000 residents in the community.

Today, with the rocky state of the economy, rising food prices, an increase in diet-related health concerns as well as the environmental concerns associated with food production, cities are increasingly turning to urban agriculture. Community gardens, urban farms, and backyard gardens are popping up all over the urban landscape. Abandoned lots are converted to booming gardens and vegetables are sprouting up in the most unlikely places: on rooftops, in traffic circles, even in truck beds. I too am taking advantaged of a few small dirt patches and empty containers around my house to sow a few seeds. However, while these efforts play a role in the growing societal shift in our approach to food, ultimately, urban agriculture will not solve the ever-growing need for increased access to healthy food that plagues the nation.

One of the biggest challenges to our food system is the growing number of families who don’t have access to food—let alone real food, that is minimally processed, healthy, sustainable, and affordable. According to the USDA, today more than 15% of all households—approximately 18 million American households—are food insecure, up 1.5 times since 2000. Right now, we need to focus efforts on finding ways to sustainably feed these families, the some 50.1 million people, who are without fresh food, in a way that is beneficial to both the people and the planet. It is this massive scale that renders the production of urban agriculture insufficient.

Urban farming and gardening efforts like CSF have blossomed in recent years.  Yet, their ability to boost the food security of a metropolitan region still remains unproven. R. Ford Denison, a professor at University of Minnesota, estimates that a farm the size of Connecticut is required to grow enough food to feed New York City. Coupled with rising urban property costs and high real estate values, there is not enough space, nor resources, to accommodate the dietary demands of a dense urban population.

While limited in its reach, this is not to say that urban agriculture is counter-productive to the food movement. There are many environmental and social benefits of producing food in an urban environment. Much of the time, it isn’t just about the food, it is about community. Gardening is a means of bringing communities together, creating a sense of place and building social cohesion, by sharing the labor and the fruits of the labor with those around you. And it is healthy. Not only does gardening increase physical activity, but urban farms also provide green space in a densely populated, cement-laden landscape.

In cities overrun by processed foods and fast food restaurants, urban agriculture helps reconnect city dwellers with their food, providing a new sense of awareness of what food production entails and what it means to eat real food.  It can also act as a means of nutrition education, encouraging people to eat fresh fruits and exposing them to new and different types of food as well as help increase overall consumption of healthier foods. In their annual report, City Slicker Farms, for example, reported that before shopping at their farm stand, 44% of their customers ate produce a few times a week or less. Since shopping at the farm stand, half have increased their consumption to at least once a day.

But what about the other 24,500+ West Oakland residents? With only one small grocery store in the entire neighborhood, they continue turning to corner stores that expose them to very poor and limited food options, or they travel long distances to do their shopping—most likely on public transportation. Sure, urban agriculture plays a role in creating a societal shift in the way we think about what and how we choose to eat. But what it is not is a means to solve the growing food crisis that provides real, healthy food for all people. Realistically, the amount of food required to sustain our growing population far exceeds the productivity potential of urban agriculture.

In comparison, focusing efforts on bringing a grocery store to the area has the potential to reach a far larger percentage of the population and could have a much greater impact on overall health. Working with a community to create a store that meets their needs and is attentive and mindful can not only provide increased access to more people, but can also provide some of the added benefits similar to those of an urban farm: When done correctly, it too can act as a meeting hub that can strengthen the community. Such a store also has the potential to engage and inform residents about healthy food options that are fresh and affordable as well as provide employment opportunities and improve overall economic development.

The need to increase food access is a much larger issue than growing a hundred pounds of tomatoes in an abandoned lot. In a system that needs to provide increased food access to increasing numbers of people, more energy must be spent on creating outlets capable of reaching a large audience. Only this will produce a real systemic change.

Lauren Heumann is a first year dual City Planning and Public Health Master’s student at UC Berkeley. Born and raised in Portland, Oregon, she has been gardening and raising chickens since an early age. Today, while she only has space for a few fresh herbs, she can also be found at the local farmers market, selling fresh produce and eggs with Say Hay Farms, a small, 20 acres, ecologically sustainable farm. She can be reached at lheumann@berkeley.edu.