Brandon Easton, comic book creater, breaks down racism and sexism better than anybody else, ever

In his discussion about racism in the comic book industry, particular at Marvel, Brandon Easton riffs better than anybody else I have ever seen on how White privilege and male privilege keeps people from seeing:

Before I go further, we must understand that American race relations are very complicated and cannot be fully explained or understood through the microcosm of superhero comics. Any anonymous internet discussion of racism (in comics and in general) usually morphs into a virtual pissing match of accusation, denial, debasement, personal anecdotes and a lack of common decency. Everything becomes personalized, people make speeches and few walk away with increased clarity on the issues of race and prejudice. In the U.S., it becomes a situation where some White people feel personally indicted as a racist and the burden rests on Black people to 1) prove racism still exists and impacts all of us, 2) explain the difference between a White person living their daily lives vs. the institutionalized system of racism, and 3) defend yourself against claims of “reverse” racism as the very mention of the issue means that you hate White people. Almost every online discussion of race boils down to these three arguments before it’s all said and done. And ultimately, nothing changes because some folks refuse to separate the system from their personal identity.

Let me give you an example, during my undergraduate years, I took a few classes dealing with feminism and gender studies. I never once considered myself, a Black male, as a participant in sexism and patriarchy. I always thought of myself as being “more” enlightened than my male brethren on issues of equal rights for women. The revelation that I had sexist ideas drilled into my psyche was unsettling. I hated feeling like a bad guy. First, I blamed my professors, labeling them as “feminazis.” Then I gave endless examples from my personal life about how fairly I treated women compared to most men. For months, I carried a deep, burning hatred of feminism and those who preached the tenets of gender politics because I believed that the problem wasn’t “that bad” and it would go away if they would just shut up. Eventually, after many long years of self-reflection, I realized that it was not me – Brandon Easton – they were criticizing; it was the system of sexism itself and showing me how I was an unwilling participant in patriarchy didn’t mean I was an evil person. It just meant I needed to grow as a human being.

It’s super-fun being the female professors who are the object of all that anger, trust me. But that sounds pretty close to the processs. I have to admit it’s great reading this because you are never clear, as a professor, on whether anybody ever gets to the point that Easton does–getting over his resentment and self-centered dudgeon, and moving to an understanding of how race works or gender works as an institution.

Michael Ignatieff on learning from Rushdie’s Fatwa Years

Unfortunately, the article (found here)is behind a paywall, and I usually only link you to free content, but this bit of writing was so good that I can’t help myself:

So we come out of the Rushdie affair with one thing in common: democratic life together is a hard bargain. Each of us, Muslim believer and secular liberal, wishes the other were different. But we are not, and living together requires us to accept what we cannot change.

Living together should not be in resentful silence, each in our own ghettos. It means shouldering a burden of mutual justification without privilege.

Yes, well. Here we have the multi-cultural problem, don’t we? So a movie crosses a line, and we shouldn’t do that sort of thing, out of respect. But it’s acceptable to stone women and execute rape victims because it’s somebody culture to do so? There’s only so much you can ask one to bend their principles for the sake of harmony, there are two ways on the dialogic street if there is meant to be no privileging of individual positions.

I’m predicting lots more resentful silence.

Selections from Plan On! My brilliant students’ blog

Hey, if you aren’t reading the blog maintained by my brilliant USC students, you are missing out. I believe this year’s editor is wonder-student Stephanie Byrd.

There’s Jackie Illum reviewing The Garden Movie and discussing the use of community gardens to create place and interaction

And here’s Paige Battcher writes about Digital Story-telling in LA, and the connection between journalism and urban planning.

New book! Building Inclusive Cities: Women’s Safety and the Right to the City

I haven’t read it yet–I just got the announcement–but this book looks just terrific. It’s available from Routledge. From the publisher’s release:

Building Inclusive Cities Women’s Safety and the Right to the City

Edited by Carolyn Whitzman, University of Melbourne, Australia, Crystal Legacy, University of New South Wales, Australia, Caroline Andrew, University of Ottawa, Canada, Fran Klodawsky, Carleton University, Canada, Margaret Shaw, Independent Consultant, Canada and Kalpana Viswanath, Women in Cities International, India

Building on a growing movement within developing countries in Latin America, Africa, and Asia-Pacific, as well as in Europe and North America, this book documents cutting edge practice and builds theory around a rights based approach to women’s safety in the context of poverty reduction and social inclusion. Drawing upon two decades of research and grassroots action on safer cities for women and everyone, this book is about the right to an inclusive city. The first part of the book describes the challenges that women face regarding access to essential services, housing security, liveability and mobility. The second part of the book critically examines programs, projects and ideas that are working to make cities safer. Building Inclusive Cities takes a cross-cultural learning perspective from action research occurring throughout the world and translates this research into theoretical conceptualizations to inform the literature on planning and urban management in both developing and developed countries. This book is intended to inspire both thought and action.


In which both Joel Kotkin and Matthew Iglesias have points, but their points aren’t as good as mine

Attention conservation notice: Density advocates love density–and free markets–as long as those free markets supply density. The rest of us are less sanguine for reasons less easily discounted than Slate writers would have us believe.

Matt Iglesias uses his spot in Slate to criticize Joel Kotkin’s piece in City Journal. Kotkin says we need to let LA be LA; Iglesias, not for the first time, notes that allowing more density and rolling back zoning codes is actually pro-market, not central planning. Iglesias’ piece is called “When Conservatives Love Central Planning.”

Kotkin has some points. Like this one:

Demographics also make a mockery of the densification argument. With the exception of downtown, most of the central parts of Los Angeles have either stagnated or lost population over the last 20 years. Hollywood, for example, shrank from 213,000 residents in 1990 to 198,000 today. Within the last decade, Los Angeles County’s growth slowed to barely 3 percent—roughly one-fifth the rate that it enjoyed during the go-go 1980s, a period of extraordinary prosperity in the region. Yet Garcetti, Villaraigosa, and their allies continue to base their grands projets, as the French would call them, on outmoded assumptions of exploding economic and population growth. Particularly revealing is the experience of the Residences at W Hollywood, a luxury-condo project located a stone’s throw from the proposed new high-rise towers in Hollywood. According to recent reports, only 29 out of 143 units have sold since the project opened in May 2010, despite prices that have been slashed by more than half. The market, in short, is unwilling to embrace density here, “elegant” or otherwise.

There is something to be said for letting markets rather than zoning sort this through. If enough projects like Residences sit empty long enough, that’s a signal to developers to knock it off without having zoning involved. We don’t necessarily need to stop them from building high density projects; they will figure it out. And it’s possible with restructuring that you could allocate smaller numbers of people into fewer buildings and use the rest for green space or other uses. Nonetheless, I do think Kotkin has a point: California’s growth isn’t what it was was 7 years ago, and yet our political leaders are still acting like Los Angeles is spiraling outward like a supernova. It is, simply, not. Not anymore. And sprawl isn’t arguably the most important issue facing the region anymore.

Iglesias responds in kind:

This is not a devious plot to force people to engage in high density urban living. It’s a plot to reduce the extent to which people are currently forced to engage in low density suburban-style living. But it’s one form of deregulation that conservatives all-too-frequently can’t countenance, often for reasons they have trouble explaining.

Iglesias is, like Kotkin, arguably both wrong and right. It’s a favorite trope among density advocates that they are “freeing” the market from the shackles of restrictive zoning. Nevermind that the new development forms usually have a bundle of their own restrictions like parking maximums and whatnot: the density advocates think they are unleashing market forces.

But market forces have already worked to some degree. Iglesias is somewhat dated in his characterization of Hollywood: Hollywood isn’t the down-and-out place it was 10 years ago. It gentrified like crazy during the bubble, which explains the population loss Kotkin cites; rich people take up more room per person than poor people. People like the activists Kotkin describes bought their houses and decided to live in Hollywood based at least in part on what it is now, and they are understandably concerned about our ambitious mayor and his desire to cut ribbons and see large transformations made in his name. Tiebout really did have a good hypothesis for explaining how people decide where to live. Changing the neighborhood on them isn’t pain free, and it’s not a simple matter of letting markets work. They bought in the neighborhood thinking it was one thing, and now our Mayor and Hollywood elite want to tell them that they have to have another thing. Sounds a bit like a bait-and-switch to me, and I can’t vilify people for being worried about that, particularly when their school is probably already over-crowded and underfunded and adding more families, in condos or otherwise, won’t help any.

I also have a problem with the way that Iglesias assumes that people are being forced to live a suburban lifestyle. In Hollywood? Club center of the universe? The view from Manhattan is steep, and for them, Brooklyn is hopelessly suburban. However, the reality is that Hollywood already has quite a bit of density, and moreover, there are entirely empty buildings–ENTIRELY EMPTY–buildings and lots just south of 9th street and just east of Main Street downtown. If this region is a juggernaut of growth and absolutely every square inch of infill the region has to be developed, isn’t advocating for density in Hollywood rather than downtown counter to the point of good urban form?

I get it. The real estate developers want density in tony Hollywood instead of in places that are truly down-at-their-heels, like along the blue line or like the empty buildings south of 9th street. What developers are saying is that we need to squeeze more development into places that, using generous definitions, might still be part of the super-affluent west side land market. That’s understandable from their perspective. So call the spade a spade and quit bugging the rest of us with blather about how redevelopment there (rather than downtown) will save the planet and just explain to people that you’re siding with developers over current residents because there is money to be made here. It’s not a plot to free people from suburbia. It’s a plot, like most plots, to make some money, which isn’t really a crime in America, but also isn’t the all-that-a-bag-of-chips promised by density boosters, either.

Urban farmers in Africa

NPR ran a story last week on urban farmers in Africa, based on this report from the United Nations.

The survey — which is the first of its kind — looked at city farming in 31 countries, more than half of Africa’s urban population lives. The authors say that governments need to integrate urban farming into city planning, or else the cities may lose one of their best sources of food.

For inspiration, Africa can look to China and many countries in Latin America, which have incorporated horticulture into their urban planning since the 1960s. Now more than half of Beijing’s vegetable supply comes from the city’s own market gardens, the report notes.

Go listen and read.