Some wonderfully wise words from Eric Hayot’s The Elements of Academic Style

I have been reading Eric Hayot’s wonderful book The Elements of Academic Style:

Let’s start with fear. I am terrified–seriously terrified–of academic writing. Nothing that I do confronts me as strongly with a fear of total, consuming incompetence and inadequacy. The problem is that I am trying to be great, and I am (quite reasonably, unfortunately) afraid that I am not great.

Comrade.

Of course you should be afraid, aiming higher, going farther. If you weren’t afraid, you’d be complacent, and it wouldn’t be research.

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#ReadUrbanandPlanningWomen2014 entry #22: Carolyn McAndrews

I recently met Carolyn McAndrews during a visit to UC Denver’s planning program. She’s doing really interesting work in transportation on street safety. The reason she’s so interesting is that her approach is highly empirical. Unlike the million and one designers in the world who pronounce what design aspects are safe, McAndrews actually does the work, as we say: she works from secondary data, or data she collects herself, to see how different street layouts and features affect safety, and–and this is the cool part–how the distribution of ‘safe’ streets differs across different socio-economic groups. At the center, it’s an environmental justice approach. Very cool stuff from a very promising young scholar.

Her web page is awesome, and it’s reminded me that I need to get off my duff and really spiff this place up. So yeah, that’s going to happen. Yessirree. But hers has all her publications laid out along with her research interests, where you can find the paper that I am going to discuss today:

McAndrews C, Florez J, Deakin E. 2006. “Views of the Street: Using Community Surveys to and Focus Groups to Inform Context-Sensitive Design.” Transportation Research Record, 1981:92-99.

This is a really nice example of applied planning research. So they have San Pablo Avenue, and it’s an urban arterial with a decent amount of traffic. The planning goal is to reshape it so it’s not just big street dominated by cars, but a multi-modal environment that people can use for walking and other modes as well. It runs through a bunch of neighborhoods, so the effort is actually looking at a corridor analysis. They do surveys on how residents use the corridor as it is, and they find that residents already do a lot of their shopping and other activities already along the corridor. The focus group activity, which sought input on what types of changes residents were interested in, found that walking was the main interest. McAndrews and her coauthors are a little more polite than I would be discussing the “I, Me, Mine” aspects of what emerged from the focus groups. Translated less gently than the authors do, what emerged from the neighborhood focus was (hardly a surprise) the desire there be more street amenities and businesses that serve residents. And mixed use retail is ok, as long as it is ‘within scale.’ Which every planner who does housing has heard a million times: you can bring me amenities, but don’t bring new residents in any number:

The focus group participants therefore want assurance that the new resi- dents have adequate off-street parking. They also want assurance that new developments will not look like “big-box” retail or “monolith” apartment buildings. Neighbors thought that the design of the build- ings is important—the height should not be out of scale with the surrounding neighborhood (most thought three and sometimes four stories would be suitable), and the building should convey a sense of permanency rather than temporary residence. They say that the possibility for new development should be analyzed with design in mind, and further, if reduced parking is going to be justified on the basis of transit proximity or walkability of the area, a detailed study should be produced to establish reasonable parking levels.

The residents also don’t buy the idea that you can just eliminate parking just because transit is available…

The authors are right; you can’t really ask residents to participate in the process to reveal their democratic preferences and then critique the results; that’s not good. But that’s why we have grumps like me to point it out.

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ACSP would be way better if we had food fights and other futile and stupid gestures

I hate all group activities of every kind. Therefore, most conference activities are a bit like the 8th level of hell, only with (thank God) a hotel bar.Now, I’m picking on ACSP, but all conferences are the same as far as I can tell.

Of the many sad, boring, and futile group activities at conferences, none is more stultifying than anything that falls into the following categories: speaker dinners, plenaries, keynotes, and other opportunities where the incumbents in a profession use their incumbent/oldie old person status to monopolize the podium. Yep, all of you out there enjoying your rubber chicken meal slathered in indifferent sauces and overcooked side vegetables, all you enjoying the feast of reason and the flow of soul, you put a sock in it and genuflect while we with status talk about ourselves and our few, consecrated cronies in a boring circle jerk of such epic boringness the entire thing is like a cosmological experiment to disprove the possibility that black holes are made of boredom because if they were truly made of boredom, academic conference dinners/plenaries/etc have already generated such infinite densities of boredom that we should have already caused the universe to be so riddled with wormholes that every downtown Marriott would have been sucked somewhere east of Bajor by now.

Thus, the confession:

When I do show up to these things, I spend the entire time during the self-congratulatory blather fighting off the desire to pick up one of those inedible white flour rolls and huck it, in a graceful, yet forceful, arc across the room, to bounce it off some full professor’s little white-guy bald head. Given the incredible prevalence of full professors who are white guys with little bald heads, I don’t even have to do any training for this. The chances are so good even with utter incompetence, right?

I see it over and over in my mind, while I am sitting there…the perfect, slow-motion arc…perhaps it is one of those lop-sided faux brioches, or one of those little tripartite buns that look (and taste) much like pincushions, or maybe one of those split rolls that are shaped like a football that achieves a perfect spiral mid-flight…and then it hits….

SPACK!– crusty bread meets flesh….

and then

BOING!–

off it bounces, hitting the temple of another scholar at an adjoining table, who immediately assumes the original victim threw it…and responds in kind.

Outraged old guys all get up in a fury, and a big, bench-clearing, really sloppy food fight, where every academic slight is avenged between combatants via slices of banana cream pies to the face. (This is obviously fantasy. The anti-obesity people have made it to the boring-fest so that all deserts are now sensible portions of indistinguishable red fruit-blobs that don’t explode upon impact, more’s the pity. They probably stain, at least. That could be ok.)

The more I visualize this, the more I yearn for it all to happen, just like all those power-of-positive-thinking people say, and the more agonizing it is to sit there while prim little butt kisses are rationed out from the podium, and I fear that as I age, and become even less concerned about my status as a pariah in the profession, that my self-control, none-too-reliable under the best of circs, will break and I will be unable to stop myself from launching that first, fateful bun.

It would be glorious.

By publicly admitting these desires, I seek to establish accountability for myself via peer effects. I can never ever do this now, can I? No, I can’t. No.

Alternatively, should one of you other abused, passed-over, dumped-on, silenced, shut-down associate professors out there see my confession as the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to wang a crusty bread product off the middle of an offending full-rank forehead and let Schweitzer catch the blame–well, I’d understand. I wouldn’t judge.

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Marlon Boarnet and his better-looking, taller and smarter colleague (me) discuss his field experiment with rail transit ridership

See it here:

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Politico’s essay on conservatism in Mesa, Arizona is God-awful

So Joseph Cordes got me up this morning with this piece from Politico this morning, which is really nice in the way it talks to residents and really awful in the way it talks about cities: Are Conservative Cities Better?

We start off with Mesa, Arizona. Yay, conservatism! The part where he covers the politicians bragging about themselves and their city is fine. Whatever. Standard bloviating.

Only, whatever. Here’s the first howler:

While it’s willing to make investments, Mesa is also lean in ways that more bloated liberal cities can’t boast. Take the City Council. Despite Mesa’s hefty population, council members are part-timers who have day jobs in fields from education to copper mining. City leaders also pay themselves considerably less than those in other cities do. Mesa City Council members make only $33,000 a year, and the mayor is paid only $73,000. (And those salaries represent the fruits of a big raise: Before last year, city councilmembers made less than $20,000 a year and the mayor earned only $36,000.) By contrast, as of 2012, in similarly sized Fresno, the mayor made $126,000; city council members brought home nearly $65,000. In neighboring Phoenix, meanwhile, the mayor makes $88,000 and city councilmen earn more than $61,000.

Read more: http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/09/mesa-arizona-are-conservative-cities-better-111069_Page3.html#ixzz3DlvKrqfY

Mesa has 450,000 people in it. Phoenix has 1.5 million. And the higher salary of the folks in Fresno? Fresno in the original study has no policy preference; it’s governed by both, and it’s in 15 cities more conservative than the remaining 50 shown. Phoenix is among the top 25 most conservative in the rankings. He’s done some research, but he’s not thinking , nor is he really using the study that prompted him to start writing in the first place. These comparisons could actually be interesting: Mesa’s median home value is $270K, Fresno’s is $170k. Those Fresno salaries do seem pretty far out of line, but Fresno policy mix is where it is in ranking–more conservative than most cities.

The next howler:

As the great, Democratic-run cities across the country—Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles—face fiscal calamity, America’s conservative cities are showing that there’s another way.

Read more: http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/09/mesa-arizona-are-conservative-cities-better-111069.html#ixzz3DlwYy1ks

Ok, well, yes, those “Democratic Run” cities. Except for those are metropolitan regions, cherry picked for the fact that they have had money trouble, and yeah, they are solidly Democratic, but there are many solidly Democratic cities that are doing just ducky. Can I name some? Um, yes: When was the last time New York had a Democratic mayor? Then there’s San Francisco, Portland, Boston, Philadelphia, Seattle, Milwaukee, St. Paul, Minneapolis,etc.

Look, I don’t have to do that work. Politico is trying to make a story out of something that isn’t really a story. Why isn’t it a story? According to Tausanovitch and Warshaw’s original measure of conservative policy mix that prompted the story, there are 11 cities that are actually negative in the measure of conservatism in their ranking, and the distribution of the index scores is solidly positive. Now, they have data that goes past the rankings, but we have an index measure. On the ranking there are about 40 other cities, all leaning more liberal but ranked against each other. So generalizing that those liberal cities are ‘in trouble’ has no basis in these data.

I’ve read the original paper, it’s very interesting and the methods are promising, but what is currently posted is a draft. I’d wait for the full paper–the authors themselves haven’t even figured out what their data mean. They are trying to figure out if voter bases prompt municipal governments to reflect those in a policy mix. They’ve been able to show that there is a difference in federal and urban policy mixes, but I don’t see where they show the differences among cities are significant, and if that’s true, then we’ve established that people have differences in their preferences for federal policy but somewhat less variation in their preferences about local government policy, which theory leads us to suspect. The methods are cool, but the paper is sprawling, undisciplined thought piece right now, and they haven’t digested their results yet. But with that kind of imbalance in the groupings with a tortured index variable, it’s going to be very hard to show what the authors are seeking to show.

And none of it evaluates whether a city is well run or not, or whether a city is a fiscal trouble.

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Why do planners love charging for parking but not for congestion?

Granted, Don Shoup is a charismatic spokesman for his ideas on parking, but parking charges and congestion charging are both applications of Bill Vickrey’s pricing ideas. But you can’t mention parking with some zealous planner affixing you with glittering eye like the ancient mariner and subjecting you to a lecture on economics, but road pricing? Eh. Politically infeasible. They shrug and move on. Or talk about how it just can’t work.

I think they are interested in parking charges because many of them work at the municipal level and parking charges both manages the parking problem, penalizes the sinful auto, and yields a pot of money. (But congestion pricing does the same thing!)

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In memoriam of David Prosperi

David Prosperi, a professor at Florida Atlantic University, died a few weeks ago. I’m usually faster about putting up remembrances, but with this one, I was hoping that if I didn’t write about his leaving us, he’d still be there at ACSP in Philadelphia for me to sneak outside with when he decided he had to have a smoke. We enjoyed making fun of terrible papers–gently, of course. He had edges, but he wasn’t mean.

I met David when I was a fresh-out assistant professor at Virginia Tech, and he was part of an accreditation team. I was worried, rightly it turns out, about accreditation, but nobody else seemed to be. (I would say I was perceptive, but actually, I just worry about everything so that of course I’m going to be right now and then). Thus my attempts at getting some coaching from the more experienced faculty went unanswered–honest and decent of them, really. I sat down in my interview with the accreditation team, a nice, very accomplished gentleman from an eastern university, a wonderful practitioner, and David Prosperi. I figured…he’s from Florida Atlantic, and he’s an old guy. He’ll be easy to handle. He started by asking me a thorny, unpleasant question. No preliminaries. I deflected it. He said, “Nice answer, but that’s not what I asked you.” I looked at him, and we locked eyes, and there was a lot said in that look. A gun recognizes another gun, as they say, and with that look, he communicated everything he needed to, along the lines of “Look, kid, I’m not an idiot. Try again.” The rest of that conversation was a chess match between the two of us, and both of us liked each other intuitively afterwards. Whenever we met, we’d chat and enjoy the camaraderie of two people who do not fit in well within the profession: edgy doubters with our own minds, him responding kindly to my inexperience and roughness.

Farewell, friend. I was reading this bit from Donne the other day and it reminded me of David’s passing.


PERCHANCE he for whom this bell tolls may be so ill as that he knows not it tolls for him. And perchance I may think myself so much better than I am, as that they who are about me, and see my state, may have caused it to toll for me, and I know not that. The church is catholic, universal, so are all her actions; all that she does, belongs to all. When she baptizes a child, that action concerns me; for that child is thereby connected to that head which is my head too, and ingraffed into that body, whereof I am a member. And when she buries a man, that action concerns me; all mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated; God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice; but God’s hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again, for that library where every book shall lie open to one another; as therefore the bell that rings to a sermon, calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come; so this bell calls us all: but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness.

David Prosperi’s obituary from Elsevier discussing his pivotal role in founding the journal, Computers, Environment, and Urban Systems.

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Bleg: The confusing universe of online academic marketing and social media

We have discovered a topic where Dr. Lisa does not have an opinion. I KNOW, RIGHT?

I’m confused. I feel like I don’t know what I should be doing to market myself online anymore. I love blogging, and I feel like I do a service here by posting ways to think about things that interest me, even though I am wrong a lot and people tell me that. Which is fine. I learn that way.

But I don’t really have a personal webpage beyond the “Here’s Lisa” website at USC which is honestly never kept up-to-date because it’s a hassle to do so.

How important do you think personal websites are to academics?

And there are so many sites where I think I should probably beef up my stuff, like ResearchGate and Academia.edu. How important are those? Should I be pestering my PhD students to get posting on them and begin marketing themselves?

Opinions, please.

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Monsters and monstrous things in the light of the NFL and Ray Rice

This exceptionally touching reflection by Lacy Johnson over Good: Stop Calling Abusers Monsters. Her point is that these domestic abusers are not, in fact, monsters. They do not have tails, they do not have fur or sharp teeth; they do not breathe fire. They are men who walk readily around among us, as Ray Rice would have done, had the video not been made public and a media outlet seize on it. But let’s get real. I grew up in a small town where we knew full well some men were “hard on their wives.” This never disqualified them from from a seat at the bar, or a party invite. No point in making trouble with a neighbor, right? He’ll probably grow out of it, and they’ll settle into a happy marriage someday. Unless it “goes to far.”

What all this shit covers up is that there two people who need help. Rationalizing and minding your own business in this context is simple enabling. Liberty and minding your own business is not an excuse for failing to lead or for tolerating the intolerable.

The NFL, which thrives off violence and the objectification of women, and its posturing is just another entry into the game of appearing to care about domestic violence while not really caring. The Ravens fired Rice, which is useless. Rice didn’t need to lose his job. The man needs help, and so does the victim. He was ordered to go through counseling by the court, which is pretty standard for domestic abuse. I agree that it seems light, but I also think that counseling can make a difference. But only if the participants and their supporters are ready for it to make a difference, and the way to help the Rices be ready is to support them in that direction. Not make a sideshow of their lives or make gestures to protect your own reputation.

People are not monsters, even though they do monstrous things. From C.S. Lewis’ The Voyage of the Dawn Treader:

“Sleeping on a dragon’s hoard with greedy, dragonish thoughts in his heart, he had become a dragon himself.”

Only he wasn’t, not really. Under all that dragon skin, he was still just a boy.

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#ReadUrbanandPlanningWomen2014 entry #21: Lisa Bates and Stacey Triplett

Apologies for all the typos. I’m in a rush.

Lisa Bates is an associate professor at Portland State University. The piece of hers I decided to read and report on is:

Bates, Lisa K. and Triplett, Stacey, “Getting Your House in Order: A Model for African-American Financial Education” (2014). Urban Studies and Planning Faculty Publications and Presentations. Paper 82.

http://pdxscholar.library.pdx.edu/usp_fac/82

This is a research report rather than a journal publication, but I like it so much and I think it’s so important that I wanted to circulate it anyway. The report examines how to develop financial training that helps African Americans attain home ownership. If you don’t understand why this is an issue, then you haven’t been paying attention. Banks may make a big show out of your down payments supposedly being the product of savings and not a gift, but most people get their downpayments from their parents or grandparents, who are homeowners themselves. When that isn’t true for you, being able to pull together enough money for a downpayment, particularly in the super heated markets along the coasts, can be an insuperable challenge.

On top of that, if you have never had parents, or known anybody else, with a mortgage who can help you, you face a bewildering array of issues when dealing with mortgages, and absolutely positively none of the professionals engaged in the industry have your best interests at heart. This is particularly true for black credit-seekers. Sometimes you get a really good mortgage broker in the mix–I did like and respect mine because he is a no-bs guy of guy–but honestly all of them are steeped in the industry jargon and blather on about things that make no sense to those of us outside the game: “You’ll be paying points if you do that.” Huh? The whole system is extremely byzantine, so that when you add the fact that it is stacked against black families, it’s hard to tell when you are being presented with wealth-stripping evil versus a decent deal that reflects your real credit-worthiness.

The gap in home ownership between black and white Americans is 45 to 76 percent, and that gap goes a long ways to explain differences in intergenerational wealth:

Persistently low homeownership rates contribute to the Pew Center’s finding that the average African American household has a net worth of just $6,446 compared to $91,405 for an average white household (2013).

There are many reasons for these differences, but most come down to discrimination in labor, housing, and financial services markets.

The rest of the report describes an educational program designed to foster financial skills tailored towards Black Americans and their experiences with white-dominated lending institutions, as well as ‘developing a healthy relationship’ with money. They use focus groups to evaluate the issues and the ideas that need to come into training directed at helping people get their finances set. One persistent finding was, simply, that most black participants over-estimated their credit rating. Frankly, I am surprised ANYBODY guesses their credit rating properly. Talk about a rigged game.

The training topics that emerged stress ways of thinking and feeling about money as well, in a way that reaffirms individuals’ entitlement to use their money for their own priorities and security.

The results here are good: some debt reductions–I have no idea what would be sizable here– and increases in savings and credit scores among participants. One quote I thought was particularly apt:

“I learned more how to protect my credit…being comfortable to sit in front of this guy that doesn’t look like me and ask him questions before I apply for something, because I’m more informed. And so I feel more empowered…And I’ve built myself up.”

This strikes me itself as a pretty good use of education. Congratulations!

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