Michael Sandel, Virginia Woolf and intrinsic pleasures

We are reading What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets from Michael Sandel this week in my justice class, and we’ve had a lively discussion. Sandel’s point, which is a good one, is that markets have taken over all over American life so that we don’t have much égalité or fraternité any more. He calls it the “Skyboxification” of the world, where rich people buy passes to get to the front of the line Disneyland, cut to free-flowing traffic on congested freeways, and get shorter lines for security at airports, etc.

Many of his examples are not so trivial: The buying and selling of immigration or refugee status, the trade in organs, and paying women who are drug addicts to be sterilized.

Sandel does not help us much sorting through the cases he writes about. His major point is that market exchanges fundamentally change the nature of the human interaction: that once you pay, you feel more entitled, and less connected and obligated to the people in the interaction.

I have been writing about Sandel in Chapter 6 of the book. We’ll see how far I get in answering the critique.

My students’ reactions to the various cases were, as always, the most interesting part of the exercise. Of particular interest was their reaction to paying children to read books. That, in general, got a firm “nope.” I’m not sure what I think anymore, after the two classes. The students’ various reasonings have gotten into my own brain now, and I need to do some writing to figure out what’s going on in my own head here.

However, the being paid to read discussion made me remember Virginia Woolf’s reflections in How To Read A Book:

Are there not some pursuits that we practice because they are so good in themselves, and some pleasures that are final? An how is not among them? I Have sometimes dreamt, at least, that when the Day of Judgement dawns and the great conquerers and lawyers and statesmen receive their rewards–their crowns, their laurels, their names carved indelibly upon imperishable marble–the Almighty will turn to Peter and will say, not without a certain envy when He sees us coming with our books under our arms “Look, these need no reward. We have nothing to give them here. They have loved reading.”

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David Levinson’s metro job accessibility report is out, and it’s vital for planners interested in transit

David Levinson has been working on accessibility for years, and his work is so important to those interested in public transit. He’s got two reports up we should be talking about right now. Here’s the link to the maps and the report for transit accessibility (2014), and here’s the link to auto accessibility. These are available from the Accessibility Observatory. There’s lots there to read because David and his research group are very productive, but here are some of the numbers that I have been playing with this morning:

Number of jobs accessible by car relative the number of accessible by transit by travel time (2014)

City 20 minutes 40 minutes
Boston 31.0 18.4
Chicago 36.4 19.6
Dallas 161.0 80.6
Portland 66.7 18.5
Los Angeles 96.1 39.6
New York 10.1 6.2
San Francisco 57.6 12.8
Washington, DC 38.9 10.2

All these are my calculations based on numbers I took from the two reports, so if they are messed up, I did it, not David. I typed this up before coffee.

This little exercise was eye-opening to me in several ways. First the no-brainer: We’ve always known that in US transit, there is New York and there is everybody else. That’s true here. Second, the 20 minute versus 40 minute distinction strikes me as being really important. For many cities thought to have good transit (San Francisco, Boston, Chicago), the competition enters in at the 40 minute mark, not the 20 minute mark. The rest of these numbers…oye. The Los Angeles numbers, oye. The Portland numbers, face palm.

I may spend the rest of the day in bed.

edited to add–David emailed me and said my original numbers were off…I found a bunch of typos. He’s going to have a proper report up in a month…so stay tuned for that. When I fixed the typos, the numbers got worse.

Seriously. Staying in bed. Do we have any ice cream?

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On Aristotle and thanking dogs

Acknowledgements in books or dissertations are very funny things. People get sniffy if one goes on too long, but they also get mad if their own perceived contribution is slighted in any way. The former does have a point. I wrote before about Noreen Malone’s commentary about the breathlessly overblown, name-dropping acknowledgements section of Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean-In:

She also lets us know that Scovell wasn’t the only person who adjusted her schedule. Harvard Professor Hannah Riley Bowles “interrupted her vacation to spend hours on the phone discussing her work,” a description that was surely meant to express genuine gratitude, but mainly just clarifies the global pecking order.

I am so important, even Harvard proffies and Oprah come a-running. Or these folks are just exceptionally generous. Same diff?

I got a fair amount of crap for thanking my dog, Zz, in my dissertation. Zz was a marvelous little dog I got when I was 22 years old, and who had traveled with me from Iowa, to Chicago, back to Iowa, then to California throughout grad school and my dissertation, and then finally passed away at the age of 17, when I was living in Virginia. He was an exceptional little fellow, always up for a walk or snuggle, and his friendship mattered tremendously to me.

So what’s the point of thanking him in the acknowledgements? Dogs can’t read. He can never know what I wrote, even if I read it to him. That’s just stupid, people said, and still say. That’s treating animals like they are people, which is wrong. (I don’t think so, but it’s a common argument.)

But saying thank you is only partially about the recipient. I’m convinced Aristotle was right about virtue: it develops via practice. I practice gratitude on purpose. I’m not as good at it as I want to be, but I figure the only way to get better is to do what I’d do if I wanted to play the guitar better: keep working, keep trying to find new ways to do it, keep at it, time and again. If a waiter fills up my coffee, I say “thank you.” If a student holds a door for me, I say thank you. The waiter is just doing his job. Should he be thanked for doing his job? Yes, yes he should because we all need to feel like our work matters beyond whatever coins we receive for it, and because I myself need to remember that I’m not entitled to things. I’m not entitled to coffee, even if I pay for it; it’s not the sum total of what happens between me and waiter. I’m not entitled to a door being opened for me. I’m not entitled to friendship, either human or animal; it has to be acknowledged, cherished, and fostered. Whether anybody cares if they are thanked or not, letting myself forget my debts, big and small, is bad for me. I am proud of much of my work and what I have achieved in my life, but it’s self-delusional to believe your own bootstrap stories.

To wit, thank you for reading. :)

Here’s a picture of ZZ:

ZZ close up

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Fabulous urban links to read

The Rise and Fall of Public Housing in New York by Richard Price

Emma Staub moved to Nashville, the city, because of Nashville, the television series. Media, of course.

Rebecca Onion covers the crazy quilt of neighborhoods by ethnicity from an 1894 map of Manhattan in Slate.

The Road to Civilization: A Conversation with Sid Meier from Ars Tecnica.

The Toronto Star lists 10 books that capture its beautiful city.

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#ReadUrbanandPlanningWomen2014 entry #23: Lois Takahashi and Michelle Magalong and AIDS and Social Capital

This week I am reading Lois Takahashi and Michelle Magalong. Lois was one of my teachers at UCLA, which is a bit of an understatement. Whenver I am asked the question, “which teachers influenced you the most”, I always have to mention Lois. She was never really a formal mentor of mine at UCLA; she did teach my advanced planning theory courses, wonderfully. And I think she served on my committee for roughly 14 seconds. But she had a tremendous influence on me nonetheless. Always gracious, always supportive, she helped me by being a cheerleader who understood, perfectly, how hard it is to be an outsider in the academy. She also taught me how to be a cheerleader, too, in that just as everybody needs criticism to learn and grow, they also need encouragement. I never, ever would have managed to finish my PhD without Lois’ support. She’s one of the most generous, compassionate and funny people I have ever met, and she’s also brilliant.

Michelle Magalong was a student at UCLA when I was just leaving, and even though I didn’t get to know her well, my first impression of her turned out to be right. When I first encountered her, I remember thinking: this person is a leader. She’s one of those people who is attracted to planning less because they are all that motivated by the academy, but because they want to change cities and neighborhoods, and Michelle has gone on from UCLA into nonprofit management. She is one of the co-founders of My Historic Filipinotown. When I think of her work, I think of Gail Dubrow and Leonie Sandercock and the unique possibilities for constructing history based on place and ethnicity.

Takahashi, Lois M. and Michelle G. Magalong. 2008. “Disruptive Social Capital: (Un)Healthy Socio-Spatial Interactions Among Filipino Men Living with HIV/AIDS.” Health & Place 14: 182-197.

One of the biggest revolutions in health research comes from the idea that people exist in places, families, and networks, and those influences can help foster an individual’s progress, or not, in health. Social capital is the idea that within social contexts, people differentially trust and rely on individuals in reciprocal relationships that encourage and reward selected behaviors within that social group. The norms can either be healthy or not.

Nonetheless, as Takahashi and Magalong point out, there are any influences on individual choices, and social relationships can take on different aspects in places where people struggle facing oppression, poverty, and other structural forces that ‘distrupt’ and destabilize what might otherwise be more ordered expectations of relationships and contexts. That is, people can’t always reciprocate, and as a result, trust may not form, and if it does, expectations may not be met. Furthermore, not all network effects are good. Networks can serve as means to set groups against each other, or set the larger group against its more vulnerable members. People in distrupted contexts have to be more entrepreneurial in looking out for themselves; they can’t just sit back and expect their social contexts and contracts to deliver.

Takahasi and Magalong interview 52 Filipino men living in Los Angeles through a community organization, the Asian Pacific Aids Intervention Team. What they found was that social capital worked readily for these men who were able to move into employment and housing opportunities through their families. Nonetheless, gay activities and identity are strongly suppressed among traditional Filipino families, so that men within these contexts did not really see their families as potential sources of support in their relationships. As a result, many of these interview participants reported in high-risk sexual behaviors in part because of the anonymity involved, as a way to separate that part of their lives from their everyday social networks. Their places–homeplaces and places of homosexual expression–existed in entirely separate social milieu, neither of which informed the other.

The HIV positive diagnosis was a severely disruptive event for these men. I found this quote to be particularly poignant:

I started doing heavy drugs [after I received my HIV positive test result]. … I wanted to kill myself. … I was doing, excessive amount of, not just crystal, I was doing, you know, I mean, I tried heroin, I tried, um, PCP. I tried, smoking crack. I tried, primos. I tried hydroglass, crank, peanut butter crystal, paint crystal. I tried uh, mushrooms. I tried uh, angel dust. I tried, oh, every drug, you name it. Acid. … (And um, was there anyone that you, you feel, you felt like you could turn to during this time?) Um, no. I didn’t feel that I, I didn’t feel comfortable, where, you know, I didn’t feel comfortable going to, any of the group. No. (And um, did you, talk to your, your therapist? About this? After when you got your results?) Um, yeah, but it was, like, too shocking for me. I didn’t want to, talk to anybody after. Because I had to, rethink my life. So I wanted to be left alone. [232949, Filipino male, 32 years old, immigrant, lived in US 20 years, diagnosed in 1995]

He’s not coping very well, and he is isolating himself even more when he needs support the most.

Moments of rebuilding social capital came for some of these men when their illnesses required them to come out to family, and/or when their own illnesses coincided with those of other family members who needed help: rebuilding across the common issues of chronic illnesses like cancer became possible, and in some instances, redeeming in their family networks.

In sum, the work highlights how important it is for researchers in health to really understand what disruption is, and how it works in contexts.

Brilliant student Brettany Shannon, of course, thinks of everything light years ahead of me, and has written up her own summary of the manuscript.

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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.


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


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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