Still doing my station-area sketching (badly, but hey)

I’m still pretending I can do urban sketching. Regular readers of this blog have heard this a dozen times: I think it’s important for teachers to devote themselves to lifelong learning, including–especially–acquiring new skills as one advances through life. Otherwise, it’s too easy to lose to touch of how much of a struggle the initial stages of learning can be, and I personally just do not want to lose that empathy with my students.

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We are all in process.

I hope all y’all had a nice Christmas, and lovely Hanukkah, and for those celebrating, I hope you have a super Kwanzaa.

As a full proffessor, I have become a lazy slug part of the establishment, and I am displeased

Why did none of you warn me about this?

Some of you will know that I have recently been promoted to full professor. I am not really whining about that. I am whining instead about my apparent inability to be normal about anything.

Academic promotions are weird in that even once you get them, you pretty much have the same job you had the day before the promotion, only you have a different title. This is true until you have some administrative duties, which I don’t have, thank God. However, subtle things shift when you move from assistant to associate and from associate to full. The first move is a the big one; getting tenure is a big deal. The move to full professor, for me, was less fraught, and I tried to make things easy on the people around me by not focussing on it, treating it like it was no big deal, etc. I would have been sad to finish out my career as an associate, but it wouldn’t have been the end of the world as long as I was doing work that I like and believe in.

And yet.

I can feel that things have shifted around me in some way, but I don’t really understand how. It took me awhile to understand that getting tenure changed a lot about my relationships between me and my group of fellow assistant professors; we had all been working together, supporting each other, and now suddenly they had changed toward me, and one of them was kind enough to clue me in: I now how the power to vote on their tenure, and they felt like they had to tread lightly. It was devastating in a way; didn’t they know me well enough to know that I was supportive? Didn’t they know me well enough to know that I would never use a tenure vote to indulge a personal grievance? No, they didn’t, and it’s because you can never really know those things.

So I had to grow up and start to wear my new status in a way that reassured them.

I also, after tenure, had such a major physical and emotional breakdown that I couldn’t function for the month of June that year. It took me about a year to sort myself. Get started on this long book project helped save my sanity. I just felt despair at having achieved a goal. I was tired and burned out.

Now, however, after this promotion, I’ve noted two things:

1) People seem to be less nice to me than they were before; there’s been even more coming at me with “This lady says shit and I’m going to try to start an argument with her and get others to pile on” and “Your academic junk doesn’t mean shit” flung at me on social media this week than before, which is hard to believe given how much of that garbage I’ve had to put up with before.

2) I have no f***** motivation at all. I’m useless, useless, useless, useless, useless. I’ve been blogging ok. Lots of ideas there. But I owe two reviews on papers I really like. Can I get myself to write ’em? Nope. I have a book chapter due at the end of the month with a wonderful co-author. Can I get myself to even look at it? No. And I’m not skylarking or meditating upon it. I am just a lump. I watch tv. I read a fun book. I sketch a bit. I play with the dogs. I try to sit down and work and I just feel revulsion.

What is happening here?

I *hate* being late with reviews, and I *hate* being late on deadlines for other people (and the book chapter is for two very, very sweet people I admire madly–Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris and Tridib Banerjee) and WHY CAN’T I GET MYSELF TO DO ANYTHING??? The old horse won’t budge, not even for me.

Part of the problem, I think, is that USC is super-duper secretive about the case, so I guess I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished all that much. There hasn’t been a big reckoning with myself on what I’ve really done to deserve to move up the ranks. It feels more like I’ve randomly pleased some random Illuminati somewhere and they have granted me their favor.

I would prefer it if people weren’t mean to me, but I have spent enough of my career rubbing authority figures and higher-ups the wrong way on purpose (because I have a butt where my head should be) that I should be ready enough for the young turks to come at me. But the “can’t get myself to work thing” has only really happened to me twice before in my career: a) after the mass shooting at Virginia Tech and b) right after tenure. It’s scaring me, badly.

In my head, I don’t feel any different from the graduate student walking up and down the stacks at UCLA, finding books at random and reading Xenophon during the summer break when I was supposed to be reading Herbert Mohring.

But I am. That person had one responsibility; to write a dissertation. I have students, a lot of them. This new standing should enable me to help students and more junior colleagues more than I have before. That’s good, right? It has to be. There isn’t any other point to it if not.

What’s next?

Maybe I’ll watch a Lifetime movie. Sigh.

Can we mock Elon Musk but maybe stay real about transit at the same time?

So by now everybody has watched the feud between Elon Musk after his dumb comments about public transit, and transit consultant/writer Jarrett Walker, who noted (politely) that Musk was speaking from an elite perspective, and then Musk turned around and called him an idiot. Walker has made good PR out of this, as he should: consultants and writers, like academics, require building up your reputation/brand/platform in this rotten world, and being St. Michael defending transit from Musk-the-dragon is pretty good grist for that.

Between the Coates-West and Walker-Musk spats, I feel a little like we’ve been watching dude feuds all week.

I want to tread lightly because Walker doesn’t deserve the feud moniker because he’s always been pretty polite as far as I can see. But as much as I appreciate it when transit experts like Walker caution us against “elite projection,” I kind of think all of us and our love for transit itself constitutes an elite projection–not just the where and whens and hows of transit, but the idea that transit itself is all that wonderful.

Story time!

One of my favorite students of all time was an African American lady who was returning to school to finish her degree after decades of raising kids and working. I loved her; she sat allllllllll the way up front, she had tons of opinions, readily contradicted me, and never ever hesitated to make me repeat something if she missed it. (Good-o, please do that! If your professor doesn’t like it, who cares? Education is about you, not them.)

In my 245 class, which is called “The Urban Context”, I go through a bunch of standard topics and the rhythm is usually something like “Tuesday, the topic” and “Thursday, the counterpoint, details, the critique.” So one Tuesday I was going over transit, the various vocabulary that students need to start participating in discussions about transit, what urbanists hope transit can do in cities, etc.

She and I were chatting after that first class, and she gave me a tentative look. “Are we going to talk more about transit on Thursday?” She asked.

“Sure” I responded. “Transit has problems, we have a whole bunch of things that are hard to do with it, and we’ve got financial problems, service problems, a whole bunch of things yet.”

“Good. Because all you professors, you seem to love transit so much, and it makes me feel so bad to say anything because I’ve ridden transit my whole life…and” she hesitated, then went ahead, “and my brother gave me his old car when I was about 30 or so, and it was the best. The first time I was able to just drive to the laundromat instead of begging somebody for a ride, after all those years…it just felt like I’d won the lottery with that crappy car.”

We had a discussion after that: among the the things she listed about car ownership was “not having a bunch of old goats leering at my baby girl” and “getting to work in 15 minutes instead of an hour and a half.”

Musk’s serial killer comments are silly–super-elite silly. But urbanists’ devotion to transit is kind of an elite projection, to use Walker’s phrasing, too. Don’t get me wrong: I love transit, I’ve studied it, and patronized it, for decades now. But I’ve always had choices about it. Most of us in the field do, and transit is a lot different when you have the money to take a taxi when you are having a bad day or when you can afford to send your laundry out instead of dragging it to a laundromat (with your children acting up because they are both bored and tired.)

After Musk made those comments, Brent Toderian started a Twitter hashtag called #GreatThingsThatHappenOnTransit. The link is to a story about it, but please don’t stop there if you are on Twitter–go read the stories that have appeared under it. The stories are both charming and informative, and they will make you smile.

The thing is…transit is all those things, from the things my student related to the great things appearing under Toderian’s hashtag. The Hillside Stranglers did target young women who were waiting for the bus in Los Angeles.

Transit is everything human beings in cities are, good and bad, because transit itself is public. And it has its problems as a mobility service that are taking us a very, very long time to resolve. (As I pointed out earlier, we hardly need Musk to inform us of them.) I think we have to be ready to embrace that reality even as we join Walker to clap back at Musk.

Walker is a successful man who has a good Twitter following (and a very nice book; pick it up if you haven’t) in field that many, many people never think about. Musk, by contrast, can throw hundreds of people out of work with a single decision and meets with heads of state.

The dangers that men like Musk pose are so much greater than a disdain for public transit. His remarks reveal a fundamental contempt for public life, rather than private consumption, and that contempt for public life portends terrible consequences when held among political elites like Musk. That should both chasten us and motivate us.

By the LA Times’ resilience logic, we probably shouldn’t be building in Southern California at all

Ok, ok, ok before you scream at me, hear me out. Usual caveats: more housing units are important to California, etc, I don’t need you to explain Moar Supply to me.

I got kind of excited about the LA Times editorial posted up this morning because I thought the Times editorial board had finally begun to see some of the problems with basic “moar supply” line they always push. “California needs more homes, but in the right places.” Horray, I thought! They are going to point out that we should be emphasizing locations with good job access to existing transit! They are going to point out that we should be careful about how we go about changing places throughout south LA. They are…

Nah.

It’s a discussion, worthy enough, of how we shouldn’t build sprawl, fires are bad, and we really shouldn’t be building in those locations prone to flood inland (like the high desert) and, well, climate change means the coast is off-limits (whee! Our smart growth machine now has thought of an excuse to avoid putting infill near rich coastal homeowners, yay us, so that we can go gobble up neighborhoods that aren’t those in the name of good planning; rich liberals can feel better in their NIMBYism). In order to build a resilient California, the only places to build are our cities, that’s all. It’s infill, my friends. Such a surprise from the Times.

They aren’t wrong, per se, and it’s good to see planning for resilience move into the mainstream thinking about urbanism so much that it makes a big daily op-ed page.

Of course, Los Angeles has always been a sin city among urbanists for a) not being New York and b) the cars and single family housing. Changing that last bit by adding more density is a good idea, but it doesn’t solve a really fundamental issue with resilience in my favorite city:

We haven’t got any water.

We never have had any water. The indigenous people throughout the US southwest knew how to live there without much water. Our answer has been to live here like we have water when we really don’t. Putting 17 million souls in a desert (the whole region) wasn’t a good idea, and while infill makes that better per capita, good-o, I’m not sure what we get from adding more people, even with less impact per person than if we continue our sprawly ways, leads to resilience when the entire urban system sits on a very, very serious environmental vulnerability.

This is not an excuse or a rationale for us to keep building on the outskirts. It’s a practical and theoretical question about trying to build solid superstructure of resilience atop a shaky house of cards. What do you do to plan for resilience in a place that was always dry and habitable turning into a place that is even dryer and where killing heatwaves have become multi-yearly events?

So California does need more housing; should it be going in the south at all, cities or otherwise? Granted the long-term changes of Southern California which now seem inevitable and immediate, we could argue that we don’t need housing in our cities in the south at all; we need housing in the northern part of the state (which we do) and that we should put more development focus on the places in the state nearer to Oregon than Mexico. Unfortunately, they hate us about as much as Oregonians do.

I honestly don’t know. There is a dour part of me that thinks we should be trying to guide people out of and away from LA before climate turns us all into refugees. Americans may be much closer than they think to finding out what it means to be in desperate need and to see people turn away.

All this sucks.

Happy Hanukkah.

An ersatz not all white women discussion about Jones-Moore with questions about feminist Baptist theologians thrown in

I’ve been reading the material on black women and white women voters coming out the Alabama Senate race, with some drubbing thrown in for white women along with some very good writing. My problem here is that it’s not enough to think about whiteness as the dividing line–if we do that, we miss how whiteness is working in the 21st century politics and religion in ways that appear to be getting much, much worse.

Screenshot 2017 12 19 08 05 25

So that tells a pretty big story, and I’m down with that being the title as long as we get around to some particulars as those particulars are important. This nice piece from Karen Holter in Bustle explains why:

Women can’t make meaningful strides toward equality while the demographic that holds the most societal power plays for the other team. It’s time white women got their houses in order.

And this supportive tweet from Amber Tamblyn:

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Nice op-ed, good stories so far, except when I really dig into the “what will reach you part.” I don’t think economic anxiety has much to with anything related to Trump or his cronies. Maybe I’m not wise enough to know what’s really going on, but I do have to repeat what I’ve agreed with earlier: people of color everywhere are poor, and they don’t turn into Nazis into over it. Populism, maybe, but this swastika-revival bullshit is a whites-only club.

The issue I have with stopping there on the verdict with white women is, simply, that I have trouble framing this in a typical white feminist frame–white women only care about freedom for white women, etc. Because these women don’t look like women who are listening to feminists of any ilk:

Thanks for Nothing White Voters

Um, no; they look like a bunch of Sarah Palins, tho the lady in the red pants suit with her hair set giving the camera a dirty look strikes me as being awesome fun down at the beauty salon dishing on what Marla Sue and Bobby Jim got up to behind the stadium in a pickup at the last football night. They are most likely holding up “why I don’t need feminism” signs on social media.

As many of my friends and students know, I feel like part of my job as a white, feminist educator who studies and teaches on issues of injustice is to do this work of trying to educate other white people about white supremacy. I’m not perfect by a long shot and I have plenty to learn for myself, but it is my goal that absolutely none of my students, no matter what their education level, ever leave a class saying things like “race has nothing to do with cities” and “I just don’t get why Damien Goodmon is always making things about race .” (Damien is a south LA community organizer.)

But this whole “White women have to get these women on board” thing, yeah, I get ya, I just have no freaking clue how to do it, and it’s not because I’m afraid to have the conversation or that I don’t want to. I don’t have any ideas, and the one idea I do have does not seem promising. This is from the WashPo’s exit poll:

So how did believers vote in Alabama Only white evangelicals were tagged in exit polls GetReligion

I am absolutely ready to believe that there are college-educated, non-evangelical, white women who voted for Moore who might find a way to listen to why Roy Moore and his brand of violent misogyny is bad for everybody, especially black women and men, and even his unfortunate horse, Sassy. (Free Sassy!)

BUT they aren’t a big group here, not given the likely overlap between whiteness and evangelicalism and frankly that has me stumped! Hi, there, ladies of the Southern Baptist Church, my name is Lisa and I have lived most of my life in California and I’m an intersectional feminist atheist who…

Do you think I’d get that far? I don’t. I might as well start with “NaNooo, NaNoo, I am from the Planet Ork.”

This isn’t a “Lookitdem ignnerent Southern women” comment or a “We need to understaaaaand them” comment; all of us formulate our ideas, values, and identities based on our context, families, and relationships, at least in part, in addition to the cultures we consume and media, etc etc. (It’s very hard sorting how much influence any one of these factors has…). I’m just saying that if we could formulate somebody further from their social context than me, I’d have trouble imagining it.

So I guess what I am wondering is: are there feminist Baptist theologians and leaders whom the rest of us could support as a bridge? It’s so far from my field of study that I have no clue, but ideas and suggestions are welcome.

A special report for the Trump Administration’s CDC from your Auntie Lisa

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fetus, evidence-based, science-based and

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Elon Musk’s freeway-era-on-steroids anti-urbanism

By now you have probably seen Elon’s Musk’s comments on public transit. Here’s the quote as reported from Wired:

“There is this premise that good things must be somehow painful,” he said onstage at a Tesla event on the sidelines of the Neural Information Processing Systems Conference in Long Beach, California, in response to an audience question about his take on public transit and urban sprawl. “I think public transport is painful. It sucks. Why do you want to get on something with a lot of other people, that doesn’t leave where you want it to leave, doesn’t start where you want it to start, doesn’t end where you want it to end? And it doesn’t go all the time.”

“It’s a pain in the ass,” he continued. “That’s why everyone doesn’t like it. And there’s like a bunch of random strangers, one of who might be a serial killer, OK, great. And so that’s why people like individualized transport, that goes where you want, when you want.”

There is so much blog fodder here. It’s of course brought out of the woodwork every bigot who needs to whine about having to be around “homeless people shrieking” (like, OMG, that can totally kill you just like what happened at the Bowling Green Massacre). Cities themselves are assemblages of strangers with varying information about each other and different ways of being in the world. Sometimes that’s awesome, sometimes it’s a headache. We all know this.

And yeah, we understand that point-to-point transportation is a big problem for providing mass mobility services, along with frequency. We got that. We’re working on answers. One answer might to be use all the money you are planning to blow a on stupid tunnel to operate transit more frequently. Just a suggestion from your Auntie Lisa.

Musk is right, I think, about how some urbanists/progressive approach change–“the premise that good things must be painful somehow.” There has always struck me as a strong dose of Puritanism in American progressivism that tends to view any compromise from the ideal solution as sinful. Certainly, cars have gone that way among urbanists. I’ve spent so many years listening to transit advocates jerk their knees whenever anybody suggest better technology for cars with the response “Technology won’t save us!” Won’t save us from what? This mantra to me all has the same smell of speaking in tongues at a revival meeting–totally incomprehensible but deeply meaningful to those in the tribe. It’s been frustrating from an environmental policy perspective. “Hey, can we have price floors on gasoline and double-down on CAFE requirements to push EV’s?”

WUUUUUUUUUUUUT? TECHNOLOGY WON’T SAVE US, YA KNOW, YOU CAR-CULTURE ENABLER, YOU. WHAT WE NEED IS MORE INVESTMENT IN TRANSIT.

The result has been some lovely investments in transit underused because gas isn’t priced properly and an urban fleet where innovations in engine tech have gone to needlessly increasing power (bigger SUVs) and more geegaws rather than, necessarily, fuel efficiency improvements.

I can’t even imagine how different American climate inventories would be if we had instituted an aggressive price floor on gasoline in 1990, when I first read about the idea in my undergraduate environmental economics class. It probably would have changed vehicle tech for the better, and it would have changed the relative price between driving and other modes, to their advantage. Of course, technophobic transit lovers aren’t the only reason we can’t get our poop in a group on fuel and engine standards, but they didn’t help by refusing to be interested in better cars at all.

But to the larger point, I think the knee-jerk reactions to tech tend to blind us to our responsibility as urbanists–and by necessity, futurists–to evaluate technology and curate its role in society, cities, and our lives. Better car fuel technologies would never solve the problem of cars in cities, but they would help us burn less gas, and that would have been really, really nice for the last three decades. It’s possible to both want fewer cars out there AND to want whatever cars that are out there to be cleaner and safer.

Getting back to Musk, then, the big, big, big issue, among myriad smaller ones, with his idea here is that the problem it seeks to solve isn’t mobility, per se. Instead, Musk seems to want to solve the problem of experiencing the city in any way whatsoever. Perhaps this is my own bias showing–I hate leaving street level, even for subways, but at least in a subway you can people watch. What Musk is proposing isn’t a public system; there’s no way this thing stays uncongested except via exclusivity and pricing. It’s a private system, and like other systems, it will be a club for the very wealthy.

Musk’s dystopian tunnels are, like many mobility solutions, only partially about the mobility, per se. They are instead a freeway-era logic of separation, a means for the gated community and fortress-mansion dwellers to move from their private spaces to exclusive employment or entertainment venues without even having to see the rest of us and how we live. We’ve noted for years about how freeways allow people to tuck themselves away in their little suburbs and pass by the rest of us without ever experiencing the “places in-between” their home and work as real places with real human beings in them just like them. I can make a similar critique of commuter rail systems with high ticket prices.

But even with freeways, you get glimpses of the world outside your own. Yes, those Orange County noise walls are hard to see over, but even so, you catch glimpses of the big tent cities lining the LA River basin, one version of LA’s “slum*” or informal housing. In Musk’s TunnelWorld, you’d never even get that glimpse. If you travel by car from the Mexico City center (instead of subwaying) to the airport, you will see mile after mile after mile of impoverished people trying to get a toehold on economic survival in the capitol city. Handy-dandy individual pod tunnel world spares you that unsightly reminder of the way most people live in your wonderful market system.

Hell, this sounds great: you can go from your fortress-castle, where FoxNews and the 700 Club tell you all day how you’re the “best Americans” and “God’s chosen” and how we have to have a theocracy because otherwise the Blacks will rise up and demand special rights, to the airport via ELON’S TUNNEL OF GREATNESS where you emerge in a private terminal to take your private jet to another private terminal where you are once again whisked via tunnel to CANDLESTICK BECAUSE I REFUSE TO USE CORPORATE NAMES FOR BASEBALL FIELDS YOU BASTARDS where you walk in through a private entrance to your luxury box where you have a private conversation with the mayor, a senator, and another bajillionaire–you know, guys like you while your pretty young wives talk about whatever women talk about on the other side of the luxury box if the girls decided to come along tonight.

Elon, from the rest of us:

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BTW, my first point stands: the tunnels might actually be quite nice for automated freight movement. Technology is a thing; we have to do the work of thinking about how we use it.

*I don’t like using the word slum, per se, as it’s a pejorative, but I also get cranky that people won’t use the word in American contexts, like it’s something only those African or Asian cities save, instead of being willing to see the material deprivation extant in our own backyards.