#ReadUrbanandPlanningWomen2014 entry #7: Charisma Acey

Charisma Acey is assistant professor of City & Regional Planning at UC Berkeley. She’s one of the folks who came to UCLA as I was leaving, so I’ve always known her to chat with (as she’s a lovely person), but I’ve not made time to read her work. This is one of those weeks where I am feeling exceptionally pleased with myself for coming up with this exercise because it got me to read some of Charisma’s work. I don’t know much about her research area, I learned a lot, and she’s a marvelous prose stylist. Newly minted fangirl here.

I selected a history paper:

Acey, C. 2012. Forbidden waters: colonial intervention and the evolution of water supply in Benin City, Nigeria. Water History

This paper follows up on earlier work Dr. Acey has done on Accra, and it examines the same themes tracing how colonial decisions about the land tenure, urban residential segregation, and water infrastructure investment created a path-dependent, lingering inequality in access to water within Benin. There is a strong dose of environmental history here along with urban history.

The manuscript begins with the pre-colonial history of the Benin City dynasty that transformed the city via engineering to bring the spread of malaria. The result was a thriving city and polity that remained independent until the 1800s, when the British began to pressure the Benin leadership for greater access to trade. Whenever I read histories and I encounter the word “trade” I’m always grumpy because of a pet peeve; the type of trade is not incidental to the subsequent history. If we don’t know what the trade is in, we don’t the motives or the geography of the incentives that people are responding to. I had to do some background research to figure out what the trade was in, and from what I can tell, Benin City was a lively slave trading kingdom as well as a supplier of tropical commodities like palm oil and pepper. But the apparent wealth of the Benin City kings appears have to flourished prior to European contact as they were an established empire who conquered neighboring tribes, so an existing slave economy makes sense given the the empire’s reliance on farming and agriculture to support the city (there are slave empires all over the ancient and medieval world.) This isn’t the main point of the manuscript, but it does suggest to me that, given agricultural dependency, the story about water has some interesting facets prior to the story that Dr. Acey develops here.

The British took over Benin City in 1897 after a series of tentative treaties broke down into violence, and British colonial water regulation began in 1910 with taking water from the Ogba River–a river that locals had usually allowed only grey water uses and not human consumption. Instead, local residents use the water from the Ikpoba River, with royal and elite families drawing from the more exclusive freshwater offshoots of the Ikpoba. The Ogba was selected because it was a cheaper infrastructure project for th British. Soon conflicts ensued over water levies and taxes. Eventually, the city went back to relying on the Ikpoba River in 1987, but it still has proven difficult to get an adequate supply of water for the entire city, with attempts at private supply and an emerging hybrid governance structure that still carries the imprint of colonization: disproportionate investment in European settlements with investment lagging in indigenous settlements.

Going to college is not mandatory: Dr. S’s guide on life choices in one simple blog post

There, I said it. If you don’t want to be in my class, I’d prefer you not be there. I am not a jailer. Nothing is mandatory. There are many paths, and many places to learn.

This news story is making the rounds, and ZOMG it totes proves that higher education is a totes ripoff, I totes tole ya…except why, exactly, we need a ranking system to explain to us that people who major in art, education, and the humanities at tiny second-tier schools are worse off is a bit beyond me. We know this. We’ve known this for years. We pay teachers shit salaries. Artists struggle. The humanities have been a luxury item for decades.

But, hey, uncovering the major shocking factoid that a degree in art from Clodhopper University doesn’t pay is super-big news. Save all that money (that you don’t have) and put the money in stocks. Because, you know, the people who wind up going to Clodhopper U had that money sitting around.”Shall I invest in stocks today, or go to community college? I need Slate to tell me.”)

There are any number of conditions under which a person shouldn’t go to college:

1) If you have to get into serious debt to do it and you are looking to college to pay your way out. I don’t know why everybody thinks it is news, or why the people who point it out think of themselves as special geniuses, but getting into massive debt for anything other than an extremely durable asset or a major increase in human capital is not likely to pay out. There are people in the world who can buy $350,000 cellos for fun even though they don’t play; there are people who can buy $350,000 cellos for whom it actually makes good professional sense to do so (professional cellists). For the rest of us, it would be financial idiocy. You wouldn’t buy a washer and dryer at 25 percent interest. You might at 2 percent. To figure that out, you do the math against the laundry mat. I wish higher education were free for everybody who had the talent, motivation, and interest. But it’s not, so do the math.

If you want to be in college because it’s fun to learn, you know what you want, and you can do it without getting into unrecoverable debt, or you don’t mind the debt, then that’s another thing entirely.

2) If you don’t want to go. I am not listening to any wah-wah about “My mom and dad are making me go.” Please. Get a spine. If you really, seriously have no idea what you want to do and you don’t want to continue your education, then ask them to help you by fronting your first month’s, last month’s and a deposit on an apartment of your own and then get out there and hustle if you think you’d rather do that. College will still be there if you think you want it later, and you might find you like doing something else enough to stick with it without going.

And parents, OMG, please don’t force your kids to go to college by refusing to help them get set up on their own. I am 100 percent behind saying “no” if the answer to not going to college alternative involves kids who think they are going to sponge off you indefinitely. But a person in college who doesn’t want to be there will find a dozen ways to not get anything out of being there, and in the mean time, you are writing tuition checks. So yeah, if little Bobby doesn’t want to do anything besides smoke pot and play video games, you have to realize there is really nobody at college who will force him to do anything besides smoke pot and pay video games. Do you want to pay tuition while he does that, or would you rather not?

I’m sick and tired of hearing about how “college isn’t worth it” when people send wee Bobby to college because he isn’t “ready” to live on his own and, thus, should go to college. That is insanity. The drug trade is alive and well on college campuses, binge drinking is everywhere, and nobody will force wee Bobby to grow up in college. Most colleges and universities are terrible, and exceedingly expensive, babysitters.

3) If a tech libertarian bazillionaire gives you $100,000 to start up your own company. By all means. Again, if it doesn’t work out, college will still be there if you blow through your $100K and fail. You can learn in many places.

4) If you can get the training you want on the job and you can get hired. Why not? College is really fun, but if you can apprentice with somebody and it’s something you want to do–again, college will be there later if you don’t like what you are doing. I repeat: you can learn in many places, and if you do not want to be college, then figure out it on your own. Again, you may find you like being apprenticed to a carpenter, electrician, or hairdresser. Every plumber who has come to my house seems to be genuinely happy in his or her work. That’s the idea. Making a decent living doing something you don’t mind getting up to do strikes me as close to heaven as anybody but the extremely fortunate get. You don’t know what you want until you try many things. And once you learn how to do something, you can, if you are entrepreneurial, start your own business.

I’m not the sort of person who thinks every university needs to survive to the end of the 21st century. I think there are enough people to support what I do. I believe in markets. If I find myself out of a job, I’ll have to do something else. No clue what. But I am going to barf if I hear any more about the “higher education bubble” or any more whining about “having to go to college.” You want to go to college, great. You don’t want to? Don’t. Lots of people do fine if they don’t; lots of people fail if they do–and vice versa. The general numbers about being better or worse off for going to college are general numbers and don’t tell you your future, it’s as simple as that. You could be the person who majors in music and who winds up starting a multi-million dollar label. Or the person who winds up teaching piano at an elementary school. One is more likely than the other, but still.

In which I tell full proffies to learn to behave themselves on the internet

I left PLANET, which is the planning educator’s listserv, after an incident that involved what I thought was a really interesting debate about Harvard students walking out on Greg Mankiw with Randy Crane from UCLA, who is also my former advisor. We’re both opinionated; we shoot from the hip sometimes (me more than him). I can be spicy, but I also think it was pretty clear throughout the course of the discussion that I think Randy is the shizzle with awesomesauce. I thought it was all in good fun until my inbox started flooding with “How DARE YOU?” and “You’re ruining your career, you stupid girl” emails. “Apologize immediately, or you’ll never be promoted or get another job, EVER!” from various and sundry full proffies. Randy, btw, never said boo. He tells me I’m wrong on a rather routine basis. I suspect he says this to others, as well. But the idea that I might intellectually disagree with him has never bothered him as far as I know, not even when I was a student. He has a first-rate mind and likes other people with stuff going on upstairs.

But I did as I was told. I groveled, publicly, as I was told, and also left. Because that? That’s just screwed up. I’m sure that these folks thought they were doing me a favor, but telling a full professor he’s wrong on the internet is not the same as taking pictures of you and your partner using your sex toy collection and posting it on LinkedIn.

By promulgating the belief that public disagreement is death in the academy, they perpetuate the practice that only full professors are allowed to speak with frankness, which the world doesn’t need. For the most part, the world already knows what full professors think. That’s how they got to be full professors; by making sure everybody knows what they think.

I recently had more full proffies on my ass on Fboo because honestly, the you-mustn’t-mustn’t-say-that police in the academy are everywhere.

It’s Facebook. It’s supposed to be fun, you fools. Yeah, I’m irreverent. So? Is that really such a crime? Will every grumpy quip result in the end of my career? Really? In general, I live my life well within the bounds of propriety. Lighten up. Yeah, future potential employers are going to know that I’m crazy and vulnerable and oversensitive and I rescue dogs and–gasp!–I’m not always right or that favorite word of already-dead people everywhere: “appropriate.”

So how should full proffies behave on the internet/seminars/job talks/etc?

Stop basically threatening people for having ideas, being real, and having emotions. Stop losing your shit if somebody junior is a little messy. You’re probably no picnic, either, sunshine; the rest of us just have to pretend that you are. Stop puffing about hierarchies. Trust us, all of us who aren’t you know full well you outrank us and can hurt us if you choose to do that. We don’t need reminding every 10 minutes. Stop trying to take the risk and fun out of life. Recognize that some of us are in this for the adventure, and if you can’t unbend enough to join us, then at least don’t stamp out our little campfires, tell us it’s past our bedtime, and then take all the s’mores for yourselves. Show us that wonder of discovery never stops being so gratifying by being more interested in the endeavor than you are in defending your field advantage. There’s plenty of time to discipline ideas, approaches, etc for lack of rigor. You can still protect people if they have voice. Save your cautions and admonitions over stuff that really matters.

David King, Mike Manville, and Mike Smart tell the truth about transit in the WashPo

I’m in a grouchy mood this morning because of a (really wonderful) piece in the WashPo from David King (Columbia), Mike Manville (Cornell) and Mike Smart (Rutgers.) It talks about the how the transit ridership numbers from last week are not particularly good news because they demonstrate the same trend we’ve had for years: declining productivity even as rider numbers limp upwards.

Federal policy change that we should enact right this second: You don’t get a penny of transit money until you have upzoned around station areas and have development approvals in place. Period. Not a penny.


#ReadUrbanandPlanningWomen2014 entry #6 Gen Giuliano

So this an unabashed fangirl post about one of my favorite people, Gen Giuliano, who is a dear friend and the Margaret and John Ferraro Chair in Effective Local Government here at USC. The summary statistics on Dr. Giulano make the case: she has over 100 peer- reviewed articles on various aspects of transportation research. Her total citation count is over 1,000. She has been the principal investigator on over $21 million in external research and funding on transportation, particularly on the analysis of the freight policy and planning. She was selected to give the Thomas B. Deen Distinguished Lectureship by the Transportation Research Board in 2007. In 2006, she was awarded the W.N. Car Distinguished Service Award, coming off her term as the head of the Transportation Research Board.

As accomplished as she is, it is a bit strange to begin the discussion with her dissertation, but I am going to. With her dissertation, Giuliano set out to establish the important features of public transit as an industry by answering a key question: are there measurable economies of scale in transit provision by mode? The answer from the dissertation suggests that bus service, in particular, does not exhibit economies of scale or scope for the organization running services. While at the route level, larger vehicles can provide cost savings to organizations, additional routes, additional vehicles, and additional service types can serve to raise the cost per passenger served. This dissertation, written over two decades ago, presaged some of the most pressing issues in the transit industry today as operators grapple with their operating costs vis-à-vis service demand. She began her research career addressing the most important questions in her field, and she has continued to do so.

In addition to questions of finance and industrial organization in transit, Professor Giuliano’s other significant contributions illuminated the fields of mode choice and travel demand. Her most oft-cited contribution, which appeared in Regional Science and Urban Economics in 1991, demonstrated the role that employment subcenters have on shaping travel demand in US regions. Perhaps more importantly, the same research shows that, while rigorously defining employment clusters in the urban geography can explain employment destination for commute travel, nearly a third of all employment occurred in places outside of the major job centers their analysis. She wrote this piece with the wonderful Ken Small at UC Irvine.

Variously called “job sprawl” research or “polycentricity” research, Professor Giuliano’s contribution here disproved the jobs-housing assumptions that transportation researchers made—and it significantly challenged monocentric city models in urban economics at the same time. No wonder this manuscript, and its follow up in Urban Studies, have been cited in total over 700 times. Her most recent work is focused on using cutting-edge methods such as electronic data collection to begin getting real-time information on origins, destinations, and modes.

#ReadUrbanandPlanningWomen2014 entry #5: Jenny Schuetz and transit-oriented commercial development

Professor Jenny Schuetz is one of my favorite colleagues here at USC. She’s in the real estate group, and her work focuses on urban economic geography. She gave a seminar Wednesday for Metrans on work she has done on the commercial real estate effects of transit investment. You can see a draft of her paper, entitled Do Rail Stations Encourage Neighborhood Retail Activity, here. Jenny’s contributions to the literature are careful empirical analyses of urban economic theories of location. Her contributions stand out because she works incredibly hard to get the detailed data that she needs in order to answer questions well. Data on the commercial real estate sector can be hard to get, and planners tend to pin pretty high hopes on transit’s transformative power while not systematically testing their claims.

The question tested here are straightforward: Does new transit investment prompt more retail activity within a buffer of the station area?

But just because it’s a straightforward question does not mean getting a good answer is easy. Why not? Because like just about all aspects of urban research where we’d like to see cause and effect, there are many possible explanations for why we might see an effect if we do, in fact, see an effect. If I do a great job with route planning, for example, it’s likely that I’m targeting places that are already growing. So investment there may simply be a continuation of the existing trend. We need to see some change in the trajectory, and that’s hard. For places in decline, we have to show that, post-investment, there’s some slower decline or turnaround. And that’s hard to show when you are just looking at data at one point in time and noting that land values are higher near rail stations. That’s good, but it’s not the sort of evidence we need to be able to say that the investment was a game changer.

Jenny contends with this problem by looking at the conditions from 1992 to 2009 both case and control areas surrounding train stations in four California cities: San Francisco/San Jose, Los Angeles, Sacramento, and San Diego. Her controls are tracks outside the normally accepted walking area around stations. If trains are really making a difference in retail, you should see higher performance in the tracks within the station capture area than for those outside. Granted, this is an arbitrary boundary, but the research shows that the capture area commonly used around transit stations is pretty sound. There are so many weirdos like me who will walk 2 miles to a station. (What else am I going to do for exercise? A nightclub?)

Anyway, the resulting model includes some information about the station characteristics, locational metrics (station density, proximity to highway, distance to CBD (a combo of variables I very much like)), and some local population statistics we would normally associate retail attraction. (Retailers like areas with moneyed folk in them.) Her dependent variable is retail employees per square mile and she’s got about 500 station areas in the study.

She finds no statistical difference between rail-accessible land compared to the controls in San Francisco and San Diego; in Los Angeles and Sacramento, she does a find a significant difference, but negative: that is, rail-accessible areas lost retail employment compared to controls, save for suburban station areas. Rail development seems to offering suburban locations a chance to get more retail in two of the cities.

I do have some questions, since this is a draft paper. One question just concerns the dependent variable as a measure; retail employment. I’ve been skylarking (skylarking = thinking unencumbered by either theory or data) about changes in the retail sector over that time period, and its possible that there is something going on with the type of retailer that gets attracted to station-areas. Planners have great faith in local small businesses, and I’m sure that, when aggregated, they create a lot of employment. But it’s entirely possible that you might see new small businesses start of up in a station area (whee!) but on the whole, those employ fewer people in the retail sector than a big box located off a highway. Or there might be something technological going on, where employment in the retail sector is systematically declining, and those places without investment have what retail they have and those linger for awhile, but those new opportunities for retail don’t really blossom particularly fast around new commercial land supply around train stations.