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Coates and the case for reparations

Ta-Nehisi Coates published an excellent explanation of the case for reparations to African Americans in the Atlantic. Here is the original article, which is excellent, except for the quote from Deuteronomy (read the quote from Locke instead) and here is a link to Coates discussing the contribution with Bill Moyers.

Something more than moral pressure calls America to reparations. We cannot escape our history. All of our solutions to the great problems of health care, education, housing, and economic inequality are troubled by what must go unspoken. “The reason black people are so far behind now is not because of now,” Clyde Ross told me. “It’s because of then.” In the early 2000s, Charles Ogletree went to Tulsa, Oklahoma, to meet with the survivors of the 1921 race riot that had devastated “Black Wall Street.” The past was not the past to them. “It was amazing seeing these black women and men who were crippled, blind, in wheelchairs,” Ogletree told me. “I had no idea who they were and why they wanted to see me. They said, ‘We want you to represent us in this lawsuit.’ ”

For instances above, there is no real principled objection. I doubt we’ll ever manage to pull ourselves together enough to pay reparations for slavery; there are too many people in America whose families came long after slavery ended, and it’s too easy for people to get sidetracked on–as they have in the comments–the distance between those wrongs and contemporary conditions. But there are survivors and families that remember the many wrongs committed against African Americans that Coates outlines; we aren’t taking about paying money to the 5th generation removed of former slaves. In these instances, we still have people alive and their children who themselves lived through sharecropping, the slave labor of southern prisons, and property seizure; and we still have people alive who participated in those wrongs. There’s no principle of justice that denies them compensation for the real economic loss that these wrongs inflicted.

Blair Kelley over at the Root has collected a nice set of links to prior research on reparations, as well. He finishes with:

After all, how might we account for the cost of the scars Callie House wore on her back, the price of the terror of a lynched son or the value of a mortgage never granted? How could we begin to calculate the costs?

Actually, Randall Robinson attempted to get there with his book, published in 2001 but still in print, called The Debt. The point of reparations is that we can’t ever really compensate for the terror of a lynched son, and we know that. If we were just trying to cover economic loss, the gesture would be compensation–not reparation. The point of reparation is to acknowledge the wrongs have both a social and economic aspect, and that you aren’t walking away from either by a) flinging a check at somebody’s feet and walking off or b) apologizing and walking off…but sticking around, facing the wrong, and trying to recover.

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#ReadUrbanandPlanningWomen2014 entry #11: Ella Howard

This week’s entry is definitely in the “urban” rather than in the “planning” component of my challenge, as Ella Howard is a historian at Armstrong Atlantic State University. I read and used her book in my class on the Urban Context this year:

Homeless: Poverty and Place in Urban America, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013.

and I am thinking about using it in my class on urban social policy and planning in the spring. It’s framing in Chapter 1 helps illustrate the social welfare approach to housing: “The institutions that address poverty embody the values of their creators.” For my students thinking about how to state a strong argument you can spend the rest of the book supporting, here it is.

Dr. Howard’s book centers mostly on the Bowery, and I particularly like how the book uses that perspective–i.e., looking at the Bowery–as the place where federal, state, and city institutions attempted to reform and regulate homelessness. Her time period focuses predominately on the Depression onward, though she starts us at around the turn of the city in New York–1890s onward–in their attempts to figure out what to do with homeless men and women. The history deepens from the Depression era onward, and then goes decade by decade as there are important shifts in public policy that, nevertheless, always seem to be motivated by two internal tensions: 1) the desire to be humane to those in need, but not too humane, because, you know, dependency, and 2) the need to deliver services in place with the pressures to make sure the homeless move on, not be there, move somewhere else. Chapter 2 explores the treatment of the transient homeless during the Great Depression. The Depression was a game changer in multiple ways. First, economic hardship meant that more people than ever before struggled to maintain housing, and second, it saw the shift of policy response to homelessness to federal housing programs rather than, simply, local relief.

One major factor in serving those without homes concerned changing perspectives on alcoholism and mental illness, with religious and secular approaches to problem coming more into conflict as the century progressed. Organizations like the Salvation Army downplayed therapy or other, secular solutions, at the same time that homelessness became the object of social scientific study.

In the 1960s, the focus became increasingly spatial with urban renewal and ‘slum clearance.’ Most of my students can recite urban renewal history (more mindlessly than I care for) about how communities of color were destroyed to make way for highway projects, but few people ever think about the homeless men and women targeted by the program. Here is where the federal involvement in urban policy gets even more dicey, as local officials came to the conclusion that while homeless men and women may have to exist ‘somewhere’, skid rows were both unsightly and unhygienic. The feds put $5.4 billion into urban renewal programs from 1949 until 1966. As Howard points out, Eisenhower epitomized the federal problems: many people, like Eisenhower, favored urban renewal projects, believing them tickets to urban growth that would ‘lift all boats’ and yet viewed public housing with extreme suspicion. The result is a whipsaw we still live in: the desire for urban growth and population increase without the commitment to increased supply of affordable shelter, and by the 1980s, more affordable units were being destroyed than created in urban centers. Homelessness became viewed as something to be fixed:

Throughout the twentieth century, urban residents by and large did not want homeless people living in their neighborhood ,nor did they wish to fund residential programs to offer continued housing assistance. The homeless were to be returned to “normal” life rather than being placed in supported living conditions.

p. 122.

The Bowery escaped urban renewal due to widespread resistance to it in New York, including Jane Jacobs and others, who viewed urban renewal for what it was: a state-sponsored real estate development strategy that selected easy political targets for private commercial gain with specious public interest rationales. The plan for Cooper Square would have removed 4,000 beds; the plan failed, but eventually, efforts to redevelop the Bowery will win out. It will just take real estate markets a few more decades to make this happen.

Before we get there, however, Howard treats us to yet another means of dressing up old wine in new bottles in the neotraditional, punitive ways in which social science and media constructed narratives around men and women without homes and the neighborhoods that served homeless populations, like the Bowery. Here you get a strong flavor of American studies in Howard’s background as she connects older, more overly judging frames for impoverished people with the lurid, exoticed narratives constructed in particular media outlets. These are old ideas about danger and lack of hygiene dressed up for the spectator world of mediated imagery. Social science approaches were little better, framing individuals according to mainstream values of functionality and–a shocker–always finding their homeless subjects wanting. Nonetheless, good research conducted out of Columbia also began spending real time and energy with people living in the Bowery to understand how social life functions in homeless districts.

The later chapters of the book, like the earlier ones, are excellent, but they felt like less of a revelation to me as I had lived through many of the policy changes and conflicts of the 1980s and 1990s. I remember the federal and state withdrawal from homeless programs, particularly the deinstutionalization of those with serious mental illnesses. That policy move prompted the very public conflict between New York Mayor Koch and New York Governor Hugh Carey, whereby Koch viewed his city’s increasing number of homeless people as a direct result of the state making homelessness into a city problem. As Howard notes:

The Koch and Reagen administrations and the advocates for the homeless agreed on a single point: each supported the expansion of the private, religious-affiliated homeless shelters. p. 208

And thus nearly a century later, theories about serving homelessness return back to its religious, voluntarist roots. By then, the Bowery had become, like many places where poverty exists, the spatial exemplar of ‘edginess’ that nightclubs, musicians, and other artists exploited as a means to commercial success. In the end, New York’s real estate boom will erase the Bowery, and Mayor Guiliani will capitalize on security narratives as a means to simply regulate homelessness out of New York so that, as in most contemporary cities, homeless people are simply expected to slide through the shadows of the city, in perpetual motion.

I highly recommend this book both for its subject matter and as an exemplar of just how good a dissertation book can be.

15071

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Mark Edmundson on campus rape

I’ve been reading through Mark Edmundson’s Why Teach this week, and this paragraph caught my eye:

Colleges are even leery of disciplining guys who have committed sexual assault, or assault plain and simple. Instead of being punished, these guys frequently stay around, strolling the quad and swilling the libations, an affront (and sometimes a terror) to their victims.

This is a chapter where Edmundson has described the consumer universe of the corporate campus. Grade inflation? Looking the other way for cheaters? Come on. When campuses look the other way for felonies, they aren’t going to worry much about the other contours of character formation.

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“If your reporting is right, tell them to f#*k off.” Ben Bradlee on ire

I’m never really willing to get engaged in outrage over who has been fired from exec positions because you never really know what is going on in an organization from the outside looking in, but I have been enjoying reading through the various entries on how difficult it is to run a major newspaper as a woman. So far, two of my favorites are:

Editing while female by Susan Glasser of Politico:

And that’s the point: The leaders who succeed are the ones who are allowed to make mistakes, who have the time and space and breathing room and support from their bosses to push and prod, experiment and improvise until they get it right.

And from Kara Swisher at re/code Dear Jill: From One Pushy Media Dame to Another, an excellent summary on how you have to be pushy (duh!) to do your job, including this very nice memory about Ben Bradlee of the WashPo who nurtured along a lot of young reporters:

I actually learned that skill when I was a really young reporter at the Washington Post, when the legendary Ben Bradlee still held sway over the newsroom. He was every single fantastic thing people think of him as: Tough, smart, profane, funny, difficult and, yes, often very pushy.

He hardly knew who I was, of course, but one time when I was working in the business section covering the rapidly declining retail landscape in the Washington area, the lifeblood of the Post’s business, he did me a solid I have never forgotten. A major mogul who paid for a lot of the bills for the newspaper was haranguing me — via phone and via peckish lawyers — for being too hard on him in my coverage of the spectacular meltdown of his family business.

It was a mess through and through, and I had not backed off so far, but I had to admit I was scared when the heat from the mogul got a little stifling. Bradlee — who loved my stories of this retail version of “Dallas” and now and then came over and asked, “Whatcha got today, kid?” (he actually said “kid”) — was there when such a call came through and could see I was distressed.

After I explained the situation, he took only one second to give me a piece of advice that I have been following since: “If your reporting is right, tell them to f#*k off.”

Words to live by in scholarship as well.

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Socrates at the end of the Phaedrus

I’m an idiot. Wanna know what makes me an idiot?

I check my email first thing in the morning. That’s why I’m an idiot. Email is annoying. Nobody ever emails with “you’re awesome and we want to give you an award.” At least not to me. To me, it’s always “here’s some work” and “here’s some more work” and “here’s why my ideas are better that yours” and “this is why you can’t get what you want.” It’s never different.

Why I can’t live without seeing that until later in the day is beyond rationality.

Contrast this with the delightful ending of the Phaedrus, which is what I could be reading, instead of crappy snarky emails:

Beloved Pan, and all ye other gods who haunt this place, give me beauty in the inward soul; and may the outward and inward man be at one. May I reckon the wise to be the wealthy, and may I have such a quantity of gold as a temperate man and he only can bear and carry.-Anything more? The prayer, I think, is enough for me.

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ReadUrbanandPlanningWomen2014 entry #11 Kristen Jeffers, the Black Urbanist blog

We’re in the middle of commencement, and my next research entry is a book, so I am a little behind and I thought I was use this week to direct you to the very nice blogging of Kirsten Jeffers of the Black Urbanist. Her writing is accessible, and her relationship with things urban is delightfully personal. Here is the link to the blog so you can get over there and set it up in your feed: The Black Urbanist. And here are some of my favorite recent posts get you started:

Things that should never be in driving distance

Can we let people gentrify themselves?

This breaktakingly sensible post about cars: What Grinds Our Gears About Cars

Whose Suburb Are We Talking About, Again?:

But enough of this kind of snark. Let me get to the real shade. Urban is not a race of people. Suburb is not a race of people. Rural is not a race of people. Say it as many times as you need to. Then, if you write articles like this that either by accident or lack of inclusiveness, imply that only one race of person moves to and from the suburbs, don’t be surprised if they get interpreted as attempts to be nice about labeling races, instead of true analyses of migration patterns.

Go read and share.

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Feminist reading lists from Feminismxianity


Feminist theology

and

A compilation of feminist reads from Twitter (some things I haven’t read! Awesome!)

Get reading, my emancipatory friends!

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Bike lanes and bike babble, in context

Every so often, people get mad at me for rolling my eyes at my profession and the fuss we make over bike lanes, which always winds up with somebody lecturing me on how bike lanes save the universe, and…Copenhagen! Davis! Portland! Oh my.

1. I have nothing against bike lanes. Nor do I think they save the world. Or cities. But we should have them anyway. They are an amenity that increases the choices and options available to people; they make places better. The people who use them enjoy them, tremendously. They are an inexpensive way to add value to streets.

2. Thus they are a no-brainer. I don’t spend a lot of time advocating for bike lanes and other amenities for the same reason (I think) that the bike loudmouths don’t advocate for pedestrian amenities–we both assume that these things should be the default, and every time we go out to redevelop, these amenities should get put in without a lot of question and hooptydoodle because they are a standard urban amenity that we put in every redevelopment plan, like a sidewalk or a setback.

3. People who seriously oppose bike lanes are a minority, and those people are cranks. Cranks are everywhere. You have to deal with them, but you shouldn’t make them the centerpiece of what you think about when you think about your job. The average conservative does not worry about bike lanes. Real opposition comes from people who are worried about the other stuff that come with redevelopment (like gentrification and strangers), or because they are worried their ideas and preferences are getting shoved aside in favor of what planners want, or because bike lanes are often packaged with a heart-stoppingly expensive rail project. There are things we can do about the opposition, but it’s not to scream louder about bike lanes.

4. I do think that bike lane babble displaces a lot of the discussion around what other things people really want and need from urban redevelopment, such as ensuring affordability. I think far too many people dance on the head of a pin when it comes to the hard questions of “what to do” in favor of focussing on street amenities because because, as I said, those are a no brainer. Bike lanes are to planners what “our children are our future” is to politicians. If one of the charges is that your profession is marginal and ineffectual, then one of the ways to refute that charge is to pick an inexpensive solution to implement and credit it with having huge, world-altering impacts. I don’t buy this line of professional self-promotion, and I doubt many people outside the profession do, either. Again, I don’t think bikes save the world, but I’m sure that bikes are good for people and neighborhoods. I don’t think we should give up on the big problems in urbanism, or the small ones, either, but I think planning looks foolish when it conflates the two.

5. This does not mean that, if you are a bike and pedestrian planner or advocate, I think your job is trivial or meaningless. Some of the most meaningful things are details and no-brainers. Nobody loves the sanitation workers until they go on strike. Nobody ever thinks about storm drains until they don’t work. Underneath all that public ignorance is a system that works well, in the US at least, because talented and smart people have worked on them, and there are still many problems to solve in those systems. Yeah, surgeons are awesome but so are the nurses who help you go to bathroom. Bike and pedestrian planning matters in the same way, and there is great possibility for doing good and creatively solving problems within the context of bike planning. The political difficulties are real, but planners spend far too much time shadowboxing about the importance of things that are not really controversial with anybody other than cranks (see above). Providing the bread-and-butter in a profession is not as gratifying as it should ideally be if you what you want is wealth and status.

So yeah, bikes lanes? Get ‘em done and get busy on the other issues. Of course, if you have framed the world of the city entirely in terms of your pet bike issue, you will be furious with my comments because everything you see wrong with cities is a bike-related problem. My advice is to ask yourself why there was no bike-lane-themed season for The Wire. Perhaps it was a GM conspiracy.

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It’s time for a faculty meeting

and we’re all just thrilled.

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Creative workers’ segregation and why city-level rankings annoy me

Richard Florida ran a series on the Atlantic Cities on various types of economic segregation in cities, and while it’s a good idea, I don’t really understand what he’s doing, and ranking indexes makes my eyebrows do that pinched thing they do when I am not happy. They find that LA is #1 in segregation of creatives. And while Florida (thankfully) doesn’t go there, somebody will: this is MORE PROOF that sprawl is bad. Because LA = must be sprawled = must be bad.

I will spare you the theory about why economic segregation makes sense, and that there are few reasons to a priori assume that economic segregation is a problem. Suffice it to say that there are good reasons for industries and their employees to cluster.

So here’s the post on creative class segregation. They use a dissimilarity index. DIs tend to be very good at showing segregation between two groups: they were designed back in the day to show residential segregation between binary race categories: white and black. We find with DIs that aggregating them causes them to behave oddly, as does having multiple categories. Those things can be dealt with, and it may be that Florida and his coauthors have done so.

Still, I am looking at the actual index numbers with my head tilted and thinking: so what? LA’s number #1 here, and the DI is 0.344, with 1 being perfect segregation. What does 0.344 even indicate? The range in the DI for the top 10 goes from 0.344 to 0.281. When we are looking at that small a range, exploding those differences by setting up rankings to represent what are, in fact, differences in hundredths in an index grossly distorts the concepts being measured. The income segregation numbers, shown in one of Florida’s prior columns, go up to 0.70. THAT is enough to get my attention. But while the map is nice, all I see here is meh: places that still have some hard industry left and have creatives come up an intense navy blue, one of my favorite colors no doubt, but awfully intense-looking for what are, in reality, tiny segregation numbers.

Can anybody who studies economic geography tell me why the rest of us should care about these DIs? Are they good news? Bad news? Because I kind of think they are “whatever” news.

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