Category Archives: Uncategorized

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!)


Filed under Uncategorized

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.

Comments Off

Filed under Uncategorized

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 How important are those? Should I be pestering my PhD students to get posting on them and begin marketing themselves?

Opinions, please.


Filed under Uncategorized

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.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

#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.

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!

Comments Off

Filed under Uncategorized

Some good reporting on public housing from Jake Blumgart

Anybody who reads and references Ed Goetz’s wonderful work is all good by me, but this is the first bit I’ve read from Jake Blumgart, and I’m happy to note it’s a well-written and well-reasoned piece on public housing. In the United States! By a US writer! Go read it here.

One of the money quotes:

Because Congress gave sweeping discretionary authority to locals, political machines controlled the staffing of the housing authorities. Thus staff and management positions were transformed into so many patronage appointments. This became an even greater problem as many housing authorities began to exclusively serve deeply impoverished and unemployed populations. Such a task is difficult even for committed public servants of a well-oiled bureaucracy. But that is most emphatically not who was running most U.S. housing authorities. Goetz notes that “public housing was the backwater of local public administration in many cities.”

That’s putting it nicely. Public housing offices because a den of unconscionable thieves stealing from poor people–stories with police reports that would curl your hair in fury, including some horrible scandals in the city Blumgart currently calls home–Philly.

Comments Off

Filed under Uncategorized

The ALS Bucket Challenge, Clean Water, Fantasy Football, Botox, and the Insect on the Leaf

Attention conservation notice: If you would like to solve the world’s water problems, I’m on board, but going after ALS is silly. Instead, go after fantasy football and botox, if you are going to equate dollars with importance.

Disclaimer: My beloved husband lost his mother and grandfather both to ALS, and he and I have spent years and years facing the shadow of his having that disease hanging over us. So I get rather shirty with the pronouncements that ALS is not ‘sufficiently important’ to merit the fundraising that has occurred around the Ice Bucket Challenge. I’ve lost track of how much they’ve raised–$70 million was my last count. So while others are able to talk about the disease and whose death matters in the abstract, I can’t do that here.

As Dickens has the Ghost of Christmas Present to Ebeneezer Scrooge:

Will you decide what men shall live, what men shall die? It may be that, in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man’s child. Oh, God! to hear the Insect on the leaf pronouncing on the too much life among his hungry brothers in the dust!”

But I think the other reason I’m so grumpy, other than the facile way people seem to be deciding whose suffering is important and whose isn’t, is the way in which utilitarianism seems have to leapt forward as the default mode for thinking about the morals of the challenge. And that way madness lay. Friends don’t let friends become act-utilitarians.

The argument goes something like this: ‘only’ about 5,500 people die every year of ALS in the US. Then we tote up the body counts that occur from other things: lack of potable water, as one example, and the relative bigness of that number compared to the relative smallness of ALS, and then we conclude that people are over-giving to ALS because of the relative bigness of the other, bigger problems.

The problem with toting up bodies to decide relative social value of lives lost is that it’s unlikely, unless you are talking to economists, to convince anybody for any real length of time. Yes, of course, we can agree it’s worse when 10,000 people die than when 5,000 people die, but it’s not like that really decides resource allocation in human society. So one popular new thread is to note that 3.5 million people die from unsanitary water every year. So much more important than ALS. And I agree: it is a devastating loss of human potential, and absolutely unacceptable.

Except that we have the technology to save the victims of waterborne diseases. We’ve had relatively low cost solutions that could save millions and millions of lives, and we’ve had these solutions for decades. It’s not like ALS where there is no known cure, and money for research might find a cure; we’ve got the cure for waterborne diseases, but we won’t implement them. There’s evil here, but it’s not that ALS gobbled up all the resources, and there’s none left to solve the mystery for why some children die from waterborne diseases and others don’t.

According to the WHO, it would cost about $22 billion a year to get everybody access to clean drinking water. We could raise that money if every American would toss in $7.07. I’m in! By all means. Raise my sales tax on iced caramel lattes. They are bad for me anyway.

Or, everybody who plays fantasy football could knock that off and give that money to clean water. Fantasy football is a $70 billion-dollar-a-year industry when you factor in ad revenue, and $15 billion in hard sales. $15 billion a year isn’t the total bill, but it would more than halve the number of deaths from waterborne diseases.

So while we can denounce giving to ALS because it is ‘less important’ than waterborne diseases, people blow through over three times what it would cost to fix waterborne illness on fantasy football and selling other things we probably don’t need on fantasy football websites. I’m picking on fantasy football; we could easily go with the global beauty industry which is expected to hit $265 billion a year by 2017. We could provide clean water to every baby on the planet 12 times over (and some change) if people stopped buying lipstick, hairspray and botox. How clever of me to have solved the issue, eh?

The Mexican government once found $22 billion in cash stashed in the walls of one drug lord’s house. Boom. There’s one year of clean water, right there.

ALS’s 70 million is looking a little like chump change now, though, isn’t it, when we evaluate $$$ and priorities. So ALS might not be as important as waterborne disease, but I’m thinking that BOTH ALS and waterborne diseases are more important than pretending to manage teams where grown men play with a little ball. Or botox.

And yet. Here we are. Fantasy football and botox get to amble on, unquestioned in their moral importance because a market exists for them. But ALS and the people giving to it? Utterly wrong! Because waterborne disease!

Critics of the ALS challenge assume the ALS giving has displaced giving to other charities, but I’d sure like to see the data on that because I’m betting much of what they raised came from new gifts. We don’t know that the money given to ALS would have gone to another cause, let alone a worthier one. That’s what Kant helps us grasp: humility regarding the metaphysics of assumed values of future or counterfactual states. Maybe every single $ raised under the ALS bucket challenge would have otherwise been spent on Twinkies, bacon, cocaine, Vin Scully bobblehead dolls, pay-per-view mixed martial arts matches, and fantasy football etc, etc. etc. Thus debating the marginal benefit versus the opportunity cost is entirely speculative until we get the data. There are lot of places that money could have gone (cigarettes, porn, Halloween costumes for your iguana, etc) other than worthier diseases.

Even settling that empirical question does not settle the moral questions, and this is where the universe of spending on social welfare has, to me, gotten even murkier in our neoliberal world. The idea that we might, somehow, as a society suss out what social concerns (like disease and cures) should be funded and what should wait might be adjudicated through the welfare state charged with figuring out what society’s most important problems are. But one of the idealogical bases for deconstructing the welfare state has been to avoid forcing people through taxation to give their money to solve social ills they don’t agree are either a) ills or b) solvable or c) more important than their own priorities for that money. Thus, dismantle the welfare state and leave people alone to do what they WANT to give their money to, into the hands of the voluntary, private sector, both private and nonprofit, where atomistic organizations, like ALS and my little rescue nonprofit, compete for the hearts and minds and dollars of donors. That environment rewards innovation and entrepreneurship…like deriving cute and fun fundraising strategies which get celebrities involved.

That is a much different moral context than the assumption that we can wind up with a collective, unitary, public interest ranking for spending on social ills that truly captures an aggregate social welfare function. That context creates analogues in charitable giving for consumer sovereignty where it is entirely possible that people enjoy doing the bucket challenge and prefer to give their dollars to ALS, and to be a part of a particular circle of giving, than to give to some other, supposedly worthier cause that offers them less fun ways of giving and less of a chance to be part of something. So what if your cost-benefit rationale shows society would be better off with that money going to cancer or mosquito netting, under these circumstances? I’m sure we could do a c-b that shows society would be better off if consumers bought more brussels sprouts and fewer onion rings, but voluntary transactions depending on individual utility curves don’t work that way. Whatever distribution results from individual choice has its own prima facie legitimacy based on noncompulsion unless we can make a case for externalities or other information problems. If ALS really isn’t worth curing and the Ice Bucket Challenge was not what people really ought to be doing, then…why did so many people do it, and why do so many people continue to do it even after potential information problems in the market were addressed? That is, as soon as the challenge went viral, claims that ALS doesn’t merit such largesse came up almost immediately and in high-profile venues. And yet there are still buckets going over heads.

Finally, and this is the big surprise: the fact that ALS is a “small” disease might actually make it much, much worthier of charitable giving based on need than big-number diseases. Big number diseases, like cancer, offer some pretty damn good incentives for private companies to stay in the hunt for research and treatments. The lab who develops the anti-diabetes pill and the anti-cancer treatment will stand to make money. That’s much less likely to be true for for a disease that ‘only’ kills off a relatively small number of people. In that instance, charitable giving may have a huge role to play in shoring up what is likely to be a consumer set undervalued by the for-profit part of private sector because of the relative size of future revenue streams compared to other markets. Isn’t charity supposed to fill exactly those kinds of market gaps?

There is absolutely nothing preventing somebody from responding to the challenge with “Cancer/Clean Water/Foster kids are closer to my heart than ALS, but here’s my bucket, and here’s my checks for these other causes, and I challenge Bob and Judy and Marcus to give to their favorite charities, too.” And again, that could be an empirical question. Maybe all those shaking their fists at the ALS challenge have taken this moment to write that check to the cause that meets their standard of importance, and giving overall to every worthy cause might go up as the challenge got people thinking about giving when they otherwise might not. I can’t think of a downside to that.

Instead, I strongly suspect that people are just complaining and opining. Because, you know, the social value of those activities? Utterly priceless.

Comments Off

Filed under Uncategorized

And, yes, “I read what I wanna, no judging” is also boring

As regular readers will know, I count myself among the book snobs that the folks over at Book Riot and whatnot always seem to complain about. The book snobs: those sniffy, snotty, elitist people who fail to validate one and all for whatever reading choices they make. I’ve taken various positions against the “I read what I wanna” position that predominates the anti-book-snob snobbery, but this one here from David Mikics really says it so much better: repetitive assertions of one’s own consumer sovereignty, are, among other things, simply boring: :

There have been a memorable series of “battles of the books” over the centuries (Jonathan Swift’s extraordinary eighteenth-century satire The Battle of the Books will give you a taste of such combat.) Arguments over how to judge the worth of books are perpetual and unavoidable: they are also deeply useful. such arguments can be invigorating and helpful no matter what side we’re on. They can save us from a dull insistence on our personal taste. We ought to stretch that taste, to see where it might lead. Be hard on yourself; think about why you like or dislike something in a book, and how someone else might respond to your judgment.

Emphasis mine. This is from his wonderful book Slow Reading in a Hurried World.

IOW, insistence that you can read whatever you want is, indeed, factually true, but if you use that freedom merely to indulge your fantasies and need for entertainment, fine, but don’t expect the rest of us, who are challenging ourselves, not to find you dull.

Comments Off

Filed under Uncategorized

Saving room for cats: Slouching and spreading on public transit

I have to say that the internet can be utterly redeeming.

As a young feminist at UCLA, where they are for-sure, for-sure more justice-oriented than all the rest of the planning world, I once made a point in a seminar with my fellow students that men who slouch and spread themselves all over transit seats were enacting male privilege. Of course, this statement was nonsense, utter nonsense, the male students went to to decry, and it was the dumbest dumb thing that could ever be dumb, as women who make knowledge claims should understand about the dumb things they say all the the time, particularly when critiquing male entitlement. (I will be forever grateful to have had the privilege of going through my doctoral program with Renia Ehrenfeucht, now at the University of New Orleans. I never would have finished without her; a brilliant mind and genuinely focused on justice.)

So when the whole Men Taking Up Too Much Space on the Train Tumblr went viral, along with the utterly, utterly hilarious Saving Room for Cats Tumblr, I was able to smirk a bit.

Tumblr n9o47czRcD1tcqv97o1 400

This morning’s entry comes from Gabrielle Moss at Bustle, who writes about an experiment where she decided to sit like a man on public transit:

I decided, for the length of one weekend, to become a slouch-and-spreader. To truly understand the phenomenon, I decided I’d act like the worst examples I had encountered in my own commuting life: I wouldn’t budge for a knee nudge or exasperated expression. I would hold my ground. I would embody the worst of slouch-and-spread assholery to the letter. I would try very hard to imagine that I had balls, and that those balls were desperate for air. And by the end of the weekend, I hoped to understand what made the slouch-and-spreaders slouch and spread.

Her write up is funny and insightful. Inadvertently, I think she comes to the same point Cheryl Sandberg comes when, from her perch of unbelievable social privilege, she hands out advice on how to behave to other women who just aren’t going after what they want:

And then, as my weekend wore on, a funny thing happened: I registered the fear and displeasure of strangers less and less. I went from faking being absorbed in my book as I maintained a nervously wide stance, to actually being absorbed in my book, forgetting that my legs were splayed out like I was holding a beach ball between my knees.

In other words, I became unconscious of my own manufactured privilege. As people viewed my leg spread as an act of aggression and possible instability and steered clear of me, I slowly began to stop even noticing them.

Now, do I think hogging space in public is a particularly important aspect of male privilege? No. It’s not world-changing. But it is indicative.

Comments Off

Filed under Uncategorized

#ReadUrbanandPlanningWomen2014 entry #20 Annette Kim

Annette Kim recently joined our faculty here at USC, and she’s a specialist in international development who works in Asia. She’s got a long cv, but today I am going to write about her first book:

Learning to be Capitalists: Entrepreneurs in Vietnam’s transition economy. Oxford University Press, 2008.

Ok, before we start, I have to share my favorite line in the book:

The study of capitalism (and Communism) is an ideological minefield filled with caricatures.


This book presents Kim’s dissertation research in Ho Chi Minh City studying Vietnam as a transitioning economy. For decades, many believed Vietnam would be one of the least likely states to succeed in transitioning their economy. Kim suggests that the comparatively rapid changes in transition economies have to do with “social cognition.” Capitalism is a culture and a set of norms as much as it is an institution. People thus have to learn how to do it, and social conditions vary systematically in fostering that learning. Her study traces how individuals learn to behave as capitalists as they interact with others doing the same–thereby changing a place and culture. The research triangulates between state actions to foster capitalist growth with following business owners as they learn to grasp the stakes and rules, and also as they learn how to innovate in their particular contexts.

She’s interested primarily in real estate, so the story begins from a difficult position: property rights are unstable and ostensibly collectively held, so that anybody who goes forward believing they have the entitlement to developt might, actually, be wrong and find they have invested in property that might get expropriated. In addition, there is the development of the permitting and approvals process to get going at the same time that developers are hoping to get stuff done. That’s a problem everywhere, but in a place where protocols and private plans evolve at the same time, it adds even more risk to what is already a risky venture. Nonetheless, people figured it out, and as Kim shows, they figured it out primarily through social and political connections which represent a risk minimization strategy.

I’ll let you read the book–it’s beautifully written–to get the rest, but one point: she does discuss state-sponsored planning and what they did to boost capitalism, and it comes back to the old saw: infrastructure. They developed various plans and urban districts in Ho Chi Minh City, but I strongly suspect much of the planning support for real estate came in the form it usually does: streets, roads, transit, water, sewer, electricity, etc. etc.


She has another book, Sidewalk City: Re-mapping Public Space in Ho Chi Minh City. University of Chicago Press, coming out in 2015, so we can look forward to that.

Comments Off

Filed under Uncategorized