Cliven Bundy, sociologist

Clive Bundy, the rootingest-tootingest-shootingest big hero of the week because he can’t make a go of his ranch without grazing handouts from all the rest of us had some real insightful things to say about the abuse of public subsidy in the NYT:

so Mr. Bundy used the time to officiate at what was in effect a town meeting with supporters, discussing, in a long, loping discourse, the prevalence of abortion, the abuses of welfare and his views on race.

“I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro,” he said. Mr. Bundy recalled driving past a public-housing project in North Las Vegas, “and in front of that government house the door was usually open and the older people and the kids — and there is always at least a half a dozen people sitting on the porch — they didn’t have nothing to do. They didn’t have nothing for their kids to do. They didn’t have nothing for their young girls to do.

“And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?” he asked. “They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.”

One really needn’t make things THIS easy for the liberal lame stream media.

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Heaven forbid USC administrators deal with protesting students, but construction can destroy my class all spring!

So USC administrators who spend roughly 900 billion percent of their time fretting about faculty images and the university’s self-mythologizing got us in the LA Times today for calling students’ parents….because the students were protesting noisily. ERMERGERD. Students. Protesting. On behalf of textile workers in Bangladesh.


Never mind that my 245 class has been subject to constant screeching noise, bone-jangling vibrations, and retch-inducing stench for three months. OH NOES. That is in pursuit of a Greater Cause. (A giant building for its new elite centers.) No, nothing worth worrying about here, just the student learning environment. Nothing earth-shattering like administrators who would rather not deal with students who have a social conscience and want to make a difference.

And don’t give me any crap about how it’s not ok for students to protest. They’re young. If you don’t stand for things when you are young, even if it isn’t appropriate or palatable or feasible, then heaven help you. They tried to have voice. I don’t care if you don’t like how they choose to exercise that voice or not. We are a university, not a corporate headquarters. Or…?

I’m mad at you people. Get it together. Everybody everywhere in the US does a horse laugh every time we wind up in the paper for this kind of neocon nonsense. You want to be a top-ranked university? Stop losing your crap FOR EVERYBODY TO SEE every time some students think for themselves and something gets a little messy.

God. Why I even gotta say this???

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Howlers in Vishaan Chakrabarti’s NYT op-ed on cities

In general, I’m all for planners and architects and their “Cities are awesome with awesomesauce” messaging. Cities are wonderful. Cities are sexy! Cities are infinitely many more times better than suburbs! Suburbs are just full of fat jobless losers bringing all the cool people down and ruining the environment. Suburbs, in fact, are ruining America.

Ok? Now that I’ve joined the zeitgeist and proven that I’m not one of those Joel Kotkin types that all the cool urban kids revile, can we talk about numbers?

Vishaan Chakrabarti is an associate professor of architecture at Columbia, so I don’t feel bad picking on him, but several of my students have circulated his NYT Op-Ed and it makes me rather sad. His recent Op-Ed notes that cities are growing (most are) and now full of those fab millenials, families, and retirees alike. There are many howlers in the article, but this one is a serious problem:

A staggering 90 percent of our gross domestic product and 86 percent of our jobs are generated in 3 percent of the continental United States, namely our cities.

Where did these numbers come from? The Bureau of Economic Analysis releases GDP numbers by metro region, not by incorporated areas (cities) as far as I know. Where did he get this number? I have no idea because he doesn’t tell us.

I’m pretty sure that’s not his research, and it’s not ok to throw around those numbers without telling us who actually produced the information, even in an Op-Ed. I think it’s a misquote of a Brookings report that came out of a few years ago or from Ed Glaeser’s book, but I could be wrong. You say “According to a recent report from researchers at….” and move to your point. Even if that is Chakrabarti’s own research, his book, or his team’s research, he should tell us where the info comes from.

It IS true that MSAs are the engines. You can download the data from BEA and show that: Total US GDP is 15,566,077 (millions of chained $$$$2005); the amount of that which comes from MSAs is $12,206,566 (millions of chained $$$2005). So that’s some nice trillions there. But that percentage is about 80 percent, rounding up. Cities are part of metro regions, so how cities can be producing 90 percent of GDP while regions are producing only 80 percent is confusing. I don’t get it. Am I missing something? I am using real GDP adjusted for inflation. Anybody seen the 90 percent number?

I’m too lazy to look up the jobs numbers, but I suspect there is a similar problem there (e.g. conflating metro regional numbers with “cities”.) But at least you could get employment numbers by zip code rather than by MSA.

But I have an intellectual problem of traducing suburbs and then incorporating their portion of GDP into the argument for why cities are so much better than suburbs.

Chakrabarti throws around a lot of assertions about what millennials want, how cities are centers of support for marriage equality, etc etc….and I’m pretty sure that information comes from Pew and other sources. Given how poorly Chakrabarti presents the economic growth numbers, I’m not buying these assertions either.

Howlers and failing to discuss his sources notwithstanding, Chakrabarti wants to know why are we subsidizing those terrible suburbs?

Because most voters live in suburbs. That’s why:

Total population 2010 by incorporated area to MSA

Screenshot 4 21 14 3 09 AM

And while cities are growing, suburbs are growing, too, and in many instances, at a much faster rate than central cities, even still:

Share of metropolitan growth 2000 to 2010

Screenshot 4 21 14 3 07 AM

I’m not sure I handled the Chicago pop loss properly in these calculations (It’s 3:10 am, by my excuse, and I’d welcome somebody to check the numbers), but you get the idea here. This is all metro area growth, and while most cities did grow–and Chakrabarti is right, that’s good news–their suburbs did as well or better than they did.

Now, we can argue causation. Subsidies might prompt people to move to suburbs, which might explain these numbers. Or it might explain why it’s so difficult to shift those subsidies. Or it might suggest a political economy of people who get the subsidies they want. But if we are just counting voters, there’s your answer. It also doesn’t help that downtown voters’ participation rates are lower than those in suburbs, generally. (See Jeff Seller’s new book).

I dunno. In general, urban op-eds make me happy. And in a world where people seem to believe whatever the hell they want to believe (climate change is university conspiracy designed to control us; Obama is a Muslim after our guns; General Motors ruined our jolly streetcars),the sloppy thinking in this Op-Ed maybe just advances the cause we all have in helping people understand that cities are important, because cities actually are important, and not unrelatedly, those of us who study cities want people to realize how important cities are and, by extension, how important we ourselves are, for being big-a-time experty-experts on them.

The other part me of just thinks this type of stuff makes urbanists look innumerate or like con artists. Check the numbers. Then double-check them. Then explain why, in polycentric post-city metro regions, we need cities to stand out. There’s an argument to be made for strong, amenity-rich centers even in major metro regions, and it has been made. Just not here.


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ReadUrbanandPlanningWomen2014 entry #8: Ann Markusen

So Ann Markusen is a professor at the Humphrey School at the University of Minnesota, and she is the director of the Project on Regional and Industrial Economics.

I knew that I was going to include Ann Markusen in this discussion because she was an early influence on me. I came to planning from economics, and this does a lot of things to color your viewpoint, but one of the things it does, depending on how you were trained, is to make you perpetually skeptical of economic development. “Transfer effects” you sniff. Human capital development, you’ll buy. Place-based efforts? Eh. Transfer effects that foster either gentrification or throwing good money after bad.
You then view the people who foster such practices as well-intended ninnies who don’t get they are encouraging destructive competition between places and subjecting their own to winner’s curses.

This is wrong, but you don’t get to be the sort arrogant old person I am without being an arrogant young person first, and so this dialogue of sorts rummaged through my brain quite a bit in my classes about economic development at the University of Iowa when I was a master’s student. I did have excellent instructors there, Alan Peters and Heather MacDonald, who have since moved to more tropical environs, as anybody who lives in Iowa for too long really owes it to oneself to do.

All those self-indulgent reflections aside, Ann Markusen’s writing and thinking blasted into my lack of interest in economic development in the mid 1990s. Like Heather and Alan, her writing was, simply, too smart and interesting to ignore. And she did it to me twice. Once with economic development as an overall concept, and then again with arts and culture as part of economic development.

I have generally read everything of Ann’s that I have encountered since 1992 or so, but I know her only in passing. This paper appeared last year (2013) in Work & Occupation. The cite:

Markusen, A. 2013. “Artists Work Everywhere.” Work & Occupations. 40: 481-495.

This is a policy brief, and it aims to examine where artists live and their migration patterns. This is one of those papers that isn’t going to make anybody excited over methods or data; it’s just a report that gets people think differently than they tend to about artists and where/how they live. From La Boheme onward, we’ve had a very particular image of what artists are: young dreamers, struggling to make it in a big market and living, loud and proud, in splendid squalor in the middle of the most romantic downtowns out there: Paris, London and, of course, New York.

Using PUMS data, Markusen demonstrates that this image is a bit off.* There is a sizable number of artists over 65 working in many industries and living about as far outside of bohemian artist garrets as one possibly can. And even in the arts supercities (LA and New York), plenty of artists live in the suburbs in those regions.** Markusen uses location quotients, with caution, to note that LA and New York do have more as a share of total employment than other metro areas, in general, but that those two metro areas only have a little over 10 percent of all those employed in arts and culture industries. They report that second-tier metros like DC, Boston, Seattle, Minneapolis, San Diego, and Miami also have higher shares than the national average.

The more interesting story concerns migration and reverse migration among artists. Migration to and from supercities for artists splits by type of artist and by age. Up to about age 35, artists flock to the supercities. Artists over 35, when they move, tend to move away from the supercities:

Qualitative work and case studies suggest that many reverse migrants, especially visual artists and writers but also musicians, are seasoned, successful, midcareer people who have both gallery represen- tation and publishers in arts market cities or who can travel to act or perform anywhere. Two well-documented cases—New York Mills (MN) and Arnaudville (LA)—involve visual artists who not only chose to live in small towns for amenities, affordable quality workspace, and family reasons but also brought skills that transformed their towns and communities. Painter John Davis bought a roomy farmhouse and barn in rural New York Mills, many hours from a major metro, to paint in peace, and ended up spearheading the creation of the New York Mills Regional Cultural Center (Cuesta, Gillespie, & Lillis, 2005; Markusen & Johnson, 2006). Painter George Marks returned home to the tiny hamlet of Arnaudville to care for his dying father and stayed to lead a revitalization effort using visual art, Cajun music, and French language


Paint in peace? What the heck? Hasn’t he read Ed Glaesar? Doesn’t he know that he can only be innovative when he’s got 18 million other people yakking on their cell phones around him?

So some artists move to supercities, find a market and representation, and get their brand established, then move out when they can, probably to paint in peace and not pay out the nose for apartments they have to share with roommates and mega-rats. Or just to go back home, a call I hear now and then myself.

Musicians are the most dispersed of the artists, which I think is very interesting, though I have to admit: I know a lot of studio musicians in LA who live in the Valley. I need to think about this one. And that’s the point. Markusen always makes me think.

*But the fantasy is still pretty cool, except for the dying from TB part, even if that makes for pretty great opera:

**Squalid garrets I suspect are much less fun when Placido Domingo is not your roommate.

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JAPA needs to change its book review format

There, I said it.

750 words is not enough to engage in an intelligent discussion of a book-length work. Either planners read and take books seriously, or they don’t, and 750 words suggests no, we don’t take books seriously. As a result, most book reviews wind up sound churlish, amateurish, or like the reviewer didn’t bother to read the book. And I strongly suspect that many reviewers do not read carefully as they know they can slough through 750 words of careless skimming.

Just for two instances:

I have a great deal of respect for Emily Talen, but the limited scope of her book review of Paul Knox’s makes it sound like she’s on some ideological rant instead of reviewing. I *know* Talen has intellectual reasons for calling out Knox here, and I would actually like to read her reasoned argument, instead of what she can cram into 750 words. I know in general her normative positions on planning models and cities; I’d like to see her take on the particulars of that book. You can only really do that in a review essay and higher expectations.

BTW, my own reviews for JAPA are pretty lame, too, given the 750 word format.

There is a a market for serious, long-form reviews on urban ideas, and that gap currently gets addressed in the major book review publications–London Review of Books, New York, Los Angeles, etc. While those are wonderful, it means that few planners are famous enough to get to the nod. Instead, it’s the same people: Mike Davis, David Harvey, Witold Rybczynski, Richard Florida. And the world hears enough from those guys.

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The best and highest MOOC ever

You can go to Hogwarts via a MOOC.

Finally, a MOOC that doesn’t make me want to hurl.

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#ReadUrbanandPlanningWomen2014 entry #7: Kaisa Schmidt-Thome

(not terribly well proofed as I want to get jump-started on my reading and writing again)

So for this week’s entry (actually last week’s, but I am behind, and I’ve decided not to sweat it. I’ve had my own papers to finish last week), I selected:

Schmidt-Thome, K., & Mantysalo, R. (2014). Interplay of power and learning in planning processes: A dynamic view. Planning Theory, 13(2), 115-135. doi:10.1177/147309521349030

I do not know Dr. Schmidt-Thome or Dr. Manytsalo at all. Here is Dr. Schmidt-Thome’s page, where she is listed as faculty at Aalto University. I just happened upon this manuscript when I was catching up on reading Planning Theory, and I liked the paper a great deal. There’s a copy available for download on her page.

So one of the persistent problems we have had in planning theory (and everywhere else) is dealing with power. One take, which thinks about “empowering” communities or individuals, tends to underplay the role that structural differences in power plays in maintaining existing practices. A lot like my problems with Sandberg’s Lean In–well, women would do better in the world if they just asserted themselves. Yes, but they would also do better if people stopped expecting them to do all the work all the time and rewarding men simply for being male. Power taken up from the structural direction causes us problems, too, unless you are of the “we’re doomed” mindset: structural theories of power and how it works often do not help us see how to function within those structures with any real level of agency. Planners can be stooges of big institutions, or failed revolutionaries, and little more in hard structural approaches.

This manuscript helps us out of that problem by examining two, complementary ways of thinking about power. One comes from Lukes’ Power: A Radical View and the other from Bateson Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution, and Epistemology. Lukes developed a “third dimension” of power that describes the capacity of individuals within structures to exert influence in key ways; Bateson develops a similar concept to the “Third dimension” of individuals within ecology, where power moves throughout a system, back and forth, and to and fro. From there, Schmidt-Thome and Mantysalo draw on the work in planing theory from Patsy Healey to develop a model of learning that reflects ways to crack into “power over” represented in structures. It’s a three-level concept: learning I is what they refer to as “trial-and-error” learning undertaken so that individuals within contexts begin to suss through what is true about the situation. This type of learning changes power over situations as it enables individuals to move to Learning II whereby they change the system simply via understanding it and, thus, changing the capacity of institutions to set the terms of the discussion unchecked. Level III is where the action is: it occurs when the practices embodied in I and II lead to understandings that can’t be reconciled within those levels and require a transformation in conception among learners about selves and systems.

Schmidt-Thome and Mantysalo then illustrate their understanding of learning via looking at the agonistic planning around the high speed rail station in Stuttgart, GR. There has been quite a bit written about this case study from one of my colleagues, Deike Peters, and it’s nice to see people writing about that case from multiple perspectives. Here, the authors trace the social learning aspects of the opposition in such a way that you can see how power shifts via learning across the three levels they discuss. A useful contribution, indeed.

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Crapping in your drawers at the *merest mention* of no football

Ranking schools tends to be both hideously subjective and biased, and therefore, bull crap, at just about any level you choose to do it. But a writer with the WashPo decided to start looking at some of the top-ranking programs in their index of high school at what they might all find in common, and on a whim, he asked if they had an 11-person football team. 67 of the top 100 didn’t.

Before I start I should say that I agree he doesn’t show a trend; I agree he hasn’t eliminated lots of other possible explanations. I would also point out that journalists don’t. That’s why they are journalists and not social scientists. The howls from the comments are, however, over the top, as the Big Brainz of the internet hand out lectures on research design to this guy/crap in their panties at the *MERE MENTION* that football isn’t the greatest thing that was ever great in the greatest greatest great thing for students to do list.

Um yeah. No intellectual problems there. One of the first rules of research might be to examine yourself when you have that reaction (hello, transit) to the suggestion that something isn’t as wonderful as you think it is. “OMG YOU CAN TOTES HAVE A GREAT ATHLETIC PROGRAM AND ACADEMICS” they howl. Of course, it’s possible. But it’s also possible that, for schools of limited size and resources, they really can’t invest in football and are better off with sport programs that require fewer resources than football. It may be the exalted position of football in American society leads school management to begin to emphasize those programs disproportionately; the parents and students become overly focussed on the sport instead of on health and play when they invest in football, whereas nobody really cares of your water polo team sucks as long as the kids get exercise and have fun and everybody is merely pleasantly surprised if your girls volleyball team has a fabulous season. It may be the male-worshipping culture of football isn’t all-that-and-a-bag-of-chips for creating more supportive (since this high school, read “less sociopathic”) peer relationships in school where female physical activity and male physical activity are treated like…activities….instead of male physical activity being treated as The Most Important Thing Ever.

It strikes me as perfectly reasonable to ask what a small school might gain by eliminating an activity where they will always been a disadvantage in favor of pursuing things that might matter to them more.

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Eric Jaffe shows the yearly financials on transit, and it’s ugly

So people like Gen Giuliano and I have been saying this for years, but Jaffe is a man, and ostensibly a transit ally (unlike people like me, who wish to destroy it all by noting it costs money and suggesting we should plan for that problem), and since men are the only people who could ever ever understand transit, maybe the transit fanboys will listen this time out.

In either case, Jaffe from Atlantic Cities combs through this report and boils it down for his readers. I’m sort of excited about this entry into the discussion because 1) the DOT seems actually to have taken President Obama’s evidence-based decision-making to heart with things like this report, which is very good and 2) Jaffe does a terrific job of hitting the high points, so I can, in turn, be a fangirl in his general direction.

Except…the “blame labor” question is a big one because I thought the reason we were running around pouring money into trains was to take advantage of economies of scale and save on labor costs. The commenters are circling around the issue, which is higher management salaries do not translate to lower operating costs on the ground. So all those contract managers we have floating around transit agencies are probably expensive relative to what they are producing in terms of revenue.

It’s a lot more than a salary story. First, energy costs are problem for transit agencies as well as motorists (as energy costs are an issue for every industry) so the prices for fuel creeping upwards hits transit agencies right along with everybody else, even if they are using “alternative” fuels, which also probably have a petroleum base. Energy prices tend to move together.

During the time period Jaffe is talking about (00 to 10), there has been a lot of capital investment. Capital budgeting is done separately, but that’s a bad idea. Capital expenditures become debt service, and expanding the system means an increase in both operating costs and revenues in different proportions. In private management decisions, it would be clear: with operating deficits of this magnitude, you shut down. Immediately. You’re losing money every time you send a bus out of the barn. On the rail side, you don’t invest billions of dollars to lose 40 cents on every dollar you spend to operate. Public management requires a more subjective nexus. Is a 50 percent subsidy adequate? Unacceptably high? We have to think about transit a lot like we think about public schools. It’s the same debate, really.

I haven’t gone through and looked at anything rigorously yet, but it’s entirely possible that new expansions are pulling down cost recovery ratios even more because the investment decisions are poor upfront–that is, without the expansion, the existing system gets about 40 percent, but the new service gets 25 percent. And that might be common enough to pull down those numbers as well. The response is always “Those new lines take awhile to build ridership” but then…Metrolink.

There are a couple of key graphics in Jaffe’s discussion that should worry us. The one that really really worries me is this puppy:

Dot chart 3

Wuuuuuuuuuuuut? Yeah, nothing really surprises me here, except the bus and light rail entries. WUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUT? And people wonder why I am always in such a bad mood. One of the reasons we are supposedly pouring all this money in light rail is that, while it’s more costly upfront to build, it has lower operating costs. This graphic does not suggest that, at all. Now, there are other arguments for light rail (it’s jolly! It’s sweet and wonderful and provides a better ride! Woohoo!) But damn it. The fact that there are no apparent scale economies here suggest that all that public investment in trolleys could be kicking some agencies straight in the financial groin. You spend more to get the same return, and to the degree that there are amenity benefits to the investment, those go to land owners who may or (in California’s case) may not be paying in via local land taxes.

(PS I’m sorry, Atlantic Cities, for lifting your graphic but if you label your figures with numbers I could just refer it rather than lifting it.)

Finally, inevitably, somebody in the comments started in about subsidies to drivers, to which I responded:

I have never understood the transit advocates’ belief that, somehow, operating subsidies to private vehicles are germane to how much operating subsidy transit requires. Is it a fairness or public interest argument? I agree that motorists should pay their full marginal costs, but they already pay via gas taxes, they provide a good deal of their own labor and capital costs privately (owning the car (horrendously expensive), operating it, fueling it, insuring it, etc etc). Buses, bikes, streetcars, and trucks use roads, too, so acting like those are all on car owners is also a bit off. But it’s not like places that charge very high petrol taxes, which for all practical purposes serve as a green tax*, don’t also have to grapple with how much operating subsidy to provide. At some point, there is a basic public management problem here: How much of the operating deficit is a “subsidy” that goes to benefitting patrons, and how much of it is just poor public management, where we really ought to start saying “no” to various add-ons (like new buildings with marble floors, etc, ala the LA Metro building) and expansions that simply put agencies on the hook for operating service they can’t afford to operate.

*I know it’s probably third-best, but see the work of Ken Small and Ian Parry.

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I’m officially tired of the “Things you shouldn’t say to Whomever” lists online

I really do understand the desire to forestall the rudeness of racist questions–I really do–in the original entries in “Things you shouldn’t say” genre. And in some ways, the effect of these have been good by making it clear: people educated about race don’t ask these things.

But now I think we’ve started undermining the efficacy of the original message with silly things like “Things you shouldn’t say to people without children” and the like. I have no children. It was not by choice. I have dealt with my fair share of shitty comments from people over the years. But I delight in other people and their families despite my grumpy anti-social demeanor, and nobody promised me a rose garden. Parents say clueless things. Non parents say clueless things other times. If you are not really part of an oppressed group, it’s your job to engage in conversation to help people get a clue if they don’t have one, and then move on and forgive once you have. It is also your job to obtain clues when you should. For those facing oppression, the cluelessness of dominant majorities is different and more damaging than the simple fact that people don’t understand special, special me and the fact I haven’t had children. Oppressed groups have told us again and again, left us many clues, about the nature of their oppression and their differences. Not getting a clue there is all-too-socially-accepted.

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