No, it’s NOT true that people did “nothing” about Donald Sterling’s prior racism

Well, there was the outrage about Donald Sterling’s comments, all of which is well-deserved. Some folks, including my eternal beloved Kareem Abdul Jabbar, attempted to turn the outrage into a learning moment by noting that there’s a lot of finger wagging at Sterling over his racist speech but “gave him a buy” or “never cared about” his prior racist actions, and how that emphasis on speech rather than actions makes us rather complicit and complacent when it comes to social injustice from racist actions, and a bit over-preachy when it comes to racist words.

Now, I am all for confronting people on structural racism and racist actions, I need it as much as anybody, but there is a lot of casual, assumed, default, anti-government stuff going on the “y’all did nothing to discipline Sterling when he did this and this” talk, and it needs to be confronted in the interests of fairness.

Sterling’s long, horrid-guy behavior appears here in the New York Times.

There’s a story there of a guy who does lousy mean stuff.

There is also a story there of a Justice Department who prosecuted the guy and made him cough up nearly $3 million in fines for his prior discriminatory behavior towards people of color because we–we–have rules about that sort of thing.

That is NOT nothing:

In 2009, Sterling paid a $2.725 million settlement in a lawsuit brought by the Justice Department accusing him of systematically driving African-Americans, Latinos and families with children out of apartment buildings he owned.

It was an important LA story, so I knew it. And I’m a professor in a public policy school. But there are a lot of stories out there for people to be outraged over. The fact that people in, say, Dallas or Des Moines, weren’t up in arms over the housing discrimination is that they didn’t see that item in the paper, or it didn’t get covered in their news outlets. A shame, that. But understandable.

However, and this is a BIG however, people in Dallas and Des Moines and everywhere in the US live in a country where his housing discrimination practices are illegal. And those laws were enforced. Illegal. Enforced. At the federal level. People DID do something. Residents fought. Lawyers on behalf of the clients fought. And they won. And he couldn’t just send his private rich-guy army/mafia out to gun down those lawyers or those residents. For the residents, standing up to landlords like Sterling and his corporate henchpeople is both frightening and exhausting, and it takes courage to do it. And yet they did it.

Democratic institution passed civil rights laws and expanded them to include housing discimination; citizens–impoverished, marginalized citizens, but citizens nonetheless, appealed to those laws; and bureaucratic institutions enforced those laws.

That is most definitely not nothing. The fact that Joe Smith in Random Locale didn’t know the particulars about Donald Sterling’s attitudes and past conduct? Much less important than what the civil society Joe Smith belongs to can do when it crafts just laws and institutions and then uses them for what they are for.

I’m just saying. It may not be enough; I think it’s not. But it’s not *nothing*, and treating it as such is wrong. We should be scandalized by his words and his behavior towards tenants. But we did something about the latter.

I forgive you, Kareem, not for not acknowledging that fair housing rules do what they are supposed to (sometimes, at least, partially), and I still want to be your BFF. Call me.

Philip Pullman and comfort with mystery

There are so many wonderful things in this interview with Philip Pullman, it’s hard to know where to begin. But one part near the end struck me:

Previously, we’d talked about John Keats’s description of Shakespeare’s ‘negative capability’ — the ability to experience ‘uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason’. Pullman had compared it to being in twilight and seeing things in shadows: if you turn on the light, you’ll miss the mystery and banish the shades. Then he tells me about the scientists who inadvertently killed the world’s oldest living creature, a 500-year-old clam, by analysing it, and I joke that this is what critics and academics do to writers. He chuckles again, maybe agreeing, maybe not quite.

There is something truly unfortunate about over-analysis.

#ReadUrbanandPlanningWomen2014 entry #10: Petra Doan

I first met Petra in 2002 or 2003, I’m not sure, when I was in gradual school at UCLA and my advisor convinced me to go on a field trip on Columbia, Maryland, led by the brilliant Ann Forsyth. The year ACSP was in Baltimore. Yeah. 100 years ago.

Anyway, the US was racing into Iraq, and I was in my typical mindset of waffling angst: hating unilateral military invasion unsupported by allies, deploring Saddam Hussein at the same time, and not at all sure what to think. Petra was on the tour, as well, and she was wearing a button that said “I love the Iraqi people.” It was such a thoroughly apt reflection of the one thing that I did understand about the whole situation that I immediately became a fangirl of Petra’s, and I have followed her writing and leadership at ACSP on LGBT issues ever since.

I am particularly fond of this paper:

Doan, . L., & Higgins, H. (2011). The demise of queer space? Resurgent gentrification and the assimilation of LGBT neighborhoods. Journal of Planning Education and Research, 31(1), 6-25. doi:10.1177/0739456X1039126

This manuscript examines outcomes for LGBT communities in Atlanta, using a case study and interview method. There’s a lot of material here that is interesting, and I am somewhat pressed for time here to really do it justice, but the basic premise of the article is to examine how planning disrupts and commodifies LGBT communities in metro Atlanta. They examine nine communities: five for both lesbian and gay residents, and one community, Virginia Highlands, served both groups. Gay enclaves included N. Druid Hills (best name ever), Midtown, N. Atlanta, and Midtown. Lesbian enclaves included S.Columbia-Forest Hills, Candler Park/Lake Claire, Glenwood Estates, and Decatur-downtown.

Doan and Higgs discuss how LGBT groups inhabited older suburbs abandoned by affluent whites during post-war suburbanization. There, small LGBT businesses developed and thrived. As Atlanta attempted to shake off its “poster child for sprawl” image, planning began to treat these neighborhoods as possible places for infill and change. The best part of this manuscript, for me, is the content analysis of the plans for these neighborhoods, along with the critique of the zoning decisions. In plan after plan, agencies just couldn’t deal with the LGBT residents of those communities even in a discussion of the demographics of the area. It’s not as though we need anybody to arrive a at some essential “well, gay people live here so we have to plan gay” moment; just the fact that the plans would not mention the possibility that difference existed in these neighborhoods, let alone that LGBT men and women central to the identity of a place, demonstrates that planning wasn’t ready to talk about LGBT places as places. Another, particularly sad example includes zoning decisions that threatened landmark LGBT businesses, including Outwrite Books and Charis Books, through zoning for big box stores to serve new, affluent, hetero residents.

(Outwrite books closed for good in 2012, which is a pretty long time to hold out, but still sad. And even sadder knowing that it was forced out of its original location. Charis books lives on.

The desire to bring affluent, middle-class families back to downtown and interior suburbs (I’m not sure it makes sense to talk about ‘rings’ for Atlanta any more than it does for LA) subsequently has dispersed LGBT residents throughout the region, with the impression, for some, that these enclaves became less supportive environments. Nonetheless, interviewees still long for shared life and community; it’s not as though “everybody is so tolerant you can live anywhere” and that’s why LGBT residents are dispersing. Instead, it’s that many, particularly young LGBT renters can’t afford to live in these neighborhoods anymore. When unable to afford the longstanding LGBT enclaves, respondents discuss their desire for diverse environments and affordability–a preference that leads them to African American and mixed neighborhoods where racial tensions arise where some of the hardest hit are people of color priced out of those markets as well.

A key point for me in this manuscript was how central LGBT businesses are to possible preservation efforts. I know very little about historic preservation, so perhaps this point is less impactful than I think, but it was eye-opening to me to see just how pivotal these businesses were.

Go read, go read, go read, my friends.

Cliven Bundy, sociologist

Clive Bundy, the rootingest-tootingest-shootingest big hero of the week because he can’t make a go of his ranch without grazing handouts from all the rest of us had some real insightful things to say about the abuse of public subsidy in the NYT:

so Mr. Bundy used the time to officiate at what was in effect a town meeting with supporters, discussing, in a long, loping discourse, the prevalence of abortion, the abuses of welfare and his views on race.

“I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro,” he said. Mr. Bundy recalled driving past a public-housing project in North Las Vegas, “and in front of that government house the door was usually open and the older people and the kids — and there is always at least a half a dozen people sitting on the porch — they didn’t have nothing to do. They didn’t have nothing for their kids to do. They didn’t have nothing for their young girls to do.

“And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?” he asked. “They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.”

One really needn’t make things THIS easy for the liberal lame stream media.

Heaven forbid USC administrators deal with protesting students, but construction can destroy my class all spring!

So USC administrators who spend roughly 900 billion percent of their time fretting about faculty images and the university’s self-mythologizing got us in the LA Times today for calling students’ parents….because the students were protesting noisily. ERMERGERD. Students. Protesting. On behalf of textile workers in Bangladesh.


Never mind that my 245 class has been subject to constant screeching noise, bone-jangling vibrations, and retch-inducing stench for three months. OH NOES. That is in pursuit of a Greater Cause. (A giant building for its new elite centers.) No, nothing worth worrying about here, just the student learning environment. Nothing earth-shattering like administrators who would rather not deal with students who have a social conscience and want to make a difference.

And don’t give me any crap about how it’s not ok for students to protest. They’re young. If you don’t stand for things when you are young, even if it isn’t appropriate or palatable or feasible, then heaven help you. They tried to have voice. I don’t care if you don’t like how they choose to exercise that voice or not. We are a university, not a corporate headquarters. Or…?

I’m mad at you people. Get it together. Everybody everywhere in the US does a horse laugh every time we wind up in the paper for this kind of neocon nonsense. You want to be a top-ranked university? Stop losing your crap FOR EVERYBODY TO SEE every time some students think for themselves and something gets a little messy.

God. Why I even gotta say this???

Howlers in Vishaan Chakrabarti’s NYT op-ed on cities

In general, I’m all for planners and architects and their “Cities are awesome with awesomesauce” messaging. Cities are wonderful. Cities are sexy! Cities are infinitely many more times better than suburbs! Suburbs are just full of fat jobless losers bringing all the cool people down and ruining the environment. Suburbs, in fact, are ruining America.

Ok? Now that I’ve joined the zeitgeist and proven that I’m not one of those Joel Kotkin types that all the cool urban kids revile, can we talk about numbers?

Vishaan Chakrabarti is an associate professor of architecture at Columbia, so I don’t feel bad picking on him, but several of my students have circulated his NYT Op-Ed and it makes me rather sad. His recent Op-Ed notes that cities are growing (most are) and now full of those fab millenials, families, and retirees alike. There are many howlers in the article, but this one is a serious problem:

A staggering 90 percent of our gross domestic product and 86 percent of our jobs are generated in 3 percent of the continental United States, namely our cities.

Where did these numbers come from? The Bureau of Economic Analysis releases GDP numbers by metro region, not by incorporated areas (cities) as far as I know. Where did he get this number? I have no idea because he doesn’t tell us.

I’m pretty sure that’s not his research, and it’s not ok to throw around those numbers without telling us who actually produced the information, even in an Op-Ed. I think it’s a misquote of a Brookings report that came out of a few years ago or from Ed Glaeser’s book, but I could be wrong. You say “According to a recent report from researchers at….” and move to your point. Even if that is Chakrabarti’s own research, his book, or his team’s research, he should tell us where the info comes from.

It IS true that MSAs are the engines. You can download the data from BEA and show that: Total US GDP is 15,566,077 (millions of chained $$$$2005); the amount of that which comes from MSAs is $12,206,566 (millions of chained $$$2005). So that’s some nice trillions there. But that percentage is about 80 percent, rounding up. Cities are part of metro regions, so how cities can be producing 90 percent of GDP while regions are producing only 80 percent is confusing. I don’t get it. Am I missing something? I am using real GDP adjusted for inflation. Anybody seen the 90 percent number?

I’m too lazy to look up the jobs numbers, but I suspect there is a similar problem there (e.g. conflating metro regional numbers with “cities”.) But at least you could get employment numbers by zip code rather than by MSA.

But I have an intellectual problem of traducing suburbs and then incorporating their portion of GDP into the argument for why cities are so much better than suburbs.

Chakrabarti throws around a lot of assertions about what millennials want, how cities are centers of support for marriage equality, etc etc….and I’m pretty sure that information comes from Pew and other sources. Given how poorly Chakrabarti presents the economic growth numbers, I’m not buying these assertions either.

Howlers and failing to discuss his sources notwithstanding, Chakrabarti wants to know why are we subsidizing those terrible suburbs?

Because most voters live in suburbs. That’s why:

Total population 2010 by incorporated area to MSA

Screenshot 4 21 14 3 09 AM

And while cities are growing, suburbs are growing, too, and in many instances, at a much faster rate than central cities, even still:

Share of metropolitan growth 2000 to 2010

Screenshot 4 21 14 3 07 AM

I’m not sure I handled the Chicago pop loss properly in these calculations (It’s 3:10 am, by my excuse, and I’d welcome somebody to check the numbers), but you get the idea here. This is all metro area growth, and while most cities did grow–and Chakrabarti is right, that’s good news–their suburbs did as well or better than they did.

Now, we can argue causation. Subsidies might prompt people to move to suburbs, which might explain these numbers. Or it might explain why it’s so difficult to shift those subsidies. Or it might suggest a political economy of people who get the subsidies they want. But if we are just counting voters, there’s your answer. It also doesn’t help that downtown voters’ participation rates are lower than those in suburbs, generally. (See Jeff Seller’s new book).

I dunno. In general, urban op-eds make me happy. And in a world where people seem to believe whatever the hell they want to believe (climate change is university conspiracy designed to control us; Obama is a Muslim after our guns; General Motors ruined our jolly streetcars),the sloppy thinking in this Op-Ed maybe just advances the cause we all have in helping people understand that cities are important, because cities actually are important, and not unrelatedly, those of us who study cities want people to realize how important cities are and, by extension, how important we ourselves are, for being big-a-time experty-experts on them.

The other part me of just thinks this type of stuff makes urbanists look innumerate or like con artists. Check the numbers. Then double-check them. Then explain why, in polycentric post-city metro regions, we need cities to stand out. There’s an argument to be made for strong, amenity-rich centers even in major metro regions, and it has been made. Just not here.

#ReadUrbanandPlanningWomen2014 entry #9: Ann Markusen

So Ann Markusen is a professor at the Humphrey School at the University of Minnesota, and she is the director of the Project on Regional and Industrial Economics.

I knew that I was going to include Ann Markusen in this discussion because she was an early influence on me. I came to planning from economics, and this does a lot of things to color your viewpoint, but one of the things it does, depending on how you were trained, is to make you perpetually skeptical of economic development. “Transfer effects” you sniff. Human capital development, you’ll buy. Place-based efforts? Eh. Transfer effects that foster either gentrification or throwing good money after bad.
You then view the people who foster such practices as well-intended ninnies who don’t get they are encouraging destructive competition between places and subjecting their own to winner’s curses.

This is wrong, but you don’t get to be the sort arrogant old person I am without being an arrogant young person first, and so this dialogue of sorts rummaged through my brain quite a bit in my classes about economic development at the University of Iowa when I was a master’s student. I did have excellent instructors there, Alan Peters and Heather MacDonald, who have since moved to more tropical environs, as anybody who lives in Iowa for too long really owes it to oneself to do.

All those self-indulgent reflections aside, Ann Markusen’s writing and thinking blasted into my lack of interest in economic development in the mid 1990s. Like Heather and Alan, her writing was, simply, too smart and interesting to ignore. And she did it to me twice. Once with economic development as an overall concept, and then again with arts and culture as part of economic development.

I have generally read everything of Ann’s that I have encountered since 1992 or so, but I know her only in passing. This paper appeared last year (2013) in Work & Occupation. The cite:

Markusen, A. 2013. “Artists Work Everywhere.” Work & Occupations. 40: 481-495.

This is a policy brief, and it aims to examine where artists live and their migration patterns. This is one of those papers that isn’t going to make anybody excited over methods or data; it’s just a report that gets people think differently than they tend to about artists and where/how they live. From La Boheme onward, we’ve had a very particular image of what artists are: young dreamers, struggling to make it in a big market and living, loud and proud, in splendid squalor in the middle of the most romantic downtowns out there: Paris, London and, of course, New York.

Using PUMS data, Markusen demonstrates that this image is a bit off.* There is a sizable number of artists over 65 working in many industries and living about as far outside of bohemian artist garrets as one possibly can. And even in the arts supercities (LA and New York), plenty of artists live in the suburbs in those regions.** Markusen uses location quotients, with caution, to note that LA and New York do have more as a share of total employment than other metro areas, in general, but that those two metro areas only have a little over 10 percent of all those employed in arts and culture industries. They report that second-tier metros like DC, Boston, Seattle, Minneapolis, San Diego, and Miami also have higher shares than the national average.

The more interesting story concerns migration and reverse migration among artists. Migration to and from supercities for artists splits by type of artist and by age. Up to about age 35, artists flock to the supercities. Artists over 35, when they move, tend to move away from the supercities:

Qualitative work and case studies suggest that many reverse migrants, especially visual artists and writers but also musicians, are seasoned, successful, midcareer people who have both gallery represen- tation and publishers in arts market cities or who can travel to act or perform anywhere. Two well-documented cases—New York Mills (MN) and Arnaudville (LA)—involve visual artists who not only chose to live in small towns for amenities, affordable quality workspace, and family reasons but also brought skills that transformed their towns and communities. Painter John Davis bought a roomy farmhouse and barn in rural New York Mills, many hours from a major metro, to paint in peace, and ended up spearheading the creation of the New York Mills Regional Cultural Center (Cuesta, Gillespie, & Lillis, 2005; Markusen & Johnson, 2006). Painter George Marks returned home to the tiny hamlet of Arnaudville to care for his dying father and stayed to lead a revitalization effort using visual art, Cajun music, and French language


Paint in peace? What the heck? Hasn’t he read Ed Glaesar? Doesn’t he know that he can only be innovative when he’s got 18 million other people yakking on their cell phones around him?

So some artists move to supercities, find a market and representation, and get their brand established, then move out when they can, probably to paint in peace and not pay out the nose for apartments they have to share with roommates and mega-rats. Or just to go back home, a call I hear now and then myself.

Musicians are the most dispersed of the artists, which I think is very interesting, though I have to admit: I know a lot of studio musicians in LA who live in the Valley. I need to think about this one. And that’s the point. Markusen always makes me think.

*But the fantasy is still pretty cool, except for the dying from TB part, even if that makes for pretty great opera:

**Squalid garrets I suspect are much less fun when Placido Domingo is not your roommate.

JAPA needs to change its book review format

There, I said it.

750 words is not enough to engage in an intelligent discussion of a book-length work. Either planners read and take books seriously, or they don’t, and 750 words suggests no, we don’t take books seriously. As a result, most book reviews wind up sound churlish, amateurish, or like the reviewer didn’t bother to read the book. And I strongly suspect that many reviewers do not read carefully as they know they can slough through 750 words of careless skimming.

Just for two instances:

I have a great deal of respect for Emily Talen, but the limited scope of her book review of Paul Knox’s makes it sound like she’s on some ideological rant instead of reviewing. I *know* Talen has intellectual reasons for calling out Knox here, and I would actually like to read her reasoned argument, instead of what she can cram into 750 words. I know in general her normative positions on planning models and cities; I’d like to see her take on the particulars of that book. You can only really do that in a review essay and higher expectations.

BTW, my own reviews for JAPA are pretty lame, too, given the 750 word format.

There is a a market for serious, long-form reviews on urban ideas, and that gap currently gets addressed in the major book review publications–London Review of Books, New York, Los Angeles, etc. While those are wonderful, it means that few planners are famous enough to get to the nod. Instead, it’s the same people: Mike Davis, David Harvey, Witold Rybczynski, Richard Florida. And the world hears enough from those guys.

#ReadUrbanandPlanningWomen2014 entry #8: Kaisa Schmidt-Thome

(not terribly well proofed as I want to get jump-started on my reading and writing again)

So for this week’s entry (actually last week’s, but I am behind, and I’ve decided not to sweat it. I’ve had my own papers to finish last week), I selected:

Schmidt-Thome, K., & Mantysalo, R. (2014). Interplay of power and learning in planning processes: A dynamic view. Planning Theory, 13(2), 115-135. doi:10.1177/147309521349030

I do not know Dr. Schmidt-Thome or Dr. Manytsalo at all. Here is Dr. Schmidt-Thome’s page, where she is listed as faculty at Aalto University. I just happened upon this manuscript when I was catching up on reading Planning Theory, and I liked the paper a great deal. There’s a copy available for download on her page.

So one of the persistent problems we have had in planning theory (and everywhere else) is dealing with power. One take, which thinks about “empowering” communities or individuals, tends to underplay the role that structural differences in power plays in maintaining existing practices. A lot like my problems with Sandberg’s Lean In–well, women would do better in the world if they just asserted themselves. Yes, but they would also do better if people stopped expecting them to do all the work all the time and rewarding men simply for being male. Power taken up from the structural direction causes us problems, too, unless you are of the “we’re doomed” mindset: structural theories of power and how it works often do not help us see how to function within those structures with any real level of agency. Planners can be stooges of big institutions, or failed revolutionaries, and little more in hard structural approaches.

This manuscript helps us out of that problem by examining two, complementary ways of thinking about power. One comes from Lukes’ Power: A Radical View and the other from Bateson Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution, and Epistemology. Lukes developed a “third dimension” of power that describes the capacity of individuals within structures to exert influence in key ways; Bateson develops a similar concept to the “Third dimension” of individuals within ecology, where power moves throughout a system, back and forth, and to and fro. From there, Schmidt-Thome and Mantysalo draw on the work in planing theory from Patsy Healey to develop a model of learning that reflects ways to crack into “power over” represented in structures. It’s a three-level concept: learning I is what they refer to as “trial-and-error” learning undertaken so that individuals within contexts begin to suss through what is true about the situation. This type of learning changes power over situations as it enables individuals to move to Learning II whereby they change the system simply via understanding it and, thus, changing the capacity of institutions to set the terms of the discussion unchecked. Level III is where the action is: it occurs when the practices embodied in I and II lead to understandings that can’t be reconciled within those levels and require a transformation in conception among learners about selves and systems.

Schmidt-Thome and Mantysalo then illustrate their understanding of learning via looking at the agonistic planning around the high speed rail station in Stuttgart, GR. There has been quite a bit written about this case study from one of my colleagues, Deike Peters, and it’s nice to see people writing about that case from multiple perspectives. Here, the authors trace the social learning aspects of the opposition in such a way that you can see how power shifts via learning across the three levels they discuss. A useful contribution, indeed.