In defense of Rory’s unprofessionalism: stop listening to the noise and go back to work

So I am feeling a need for a palate cleanser in my head after last week’s frankly traumatic writing. So let’s talk, months too late, about the Gilmore Girls revival, which I finally watched. AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT.


In addition to consuming the miniseries, I also consumed the volumes of criticism surrounding it, in particular the problems that many (including me) have with the show’s problems with race, body shaming, etc. Those were on full display: after all, those problems were there in the original show, too; they just weren’t perhaps as obvious.

In the revival, Rory is a mess, there is no other way to put it, and many writers have jumped all over it.

In the commentary I’ve read, however, even more ire has gone towards condemning Rory’s lack of professionalism on display. Here, the problems just keep coming. She thinks she has lined up a biography project of the feminist politico Naomi Shropshire (played brilliantly by Alex Kingston. Can I look like her? No? I have to be boring? FIIIIINE.) Rory had written a very well-received piece on Shropshire that got into one of the pillars of “Frack yah, ya made it” in US journalism: the New Yorker. She puts perhaps too many eggs in her basket based on this success. Doing a longer project with Shropshire is a problem because the woman is nuts and, perhaps worse, she is indecisive. “Let’s make it a children’s book,” Naomi suggests at one point. Anybody who does’t feel sorry for Rory at this point (hilarious though it is) has never done a research project.

Now I don’t know about you, but I have totally been there professionally: a position where you hit a home run, and then you think the next at-bat should be easier. And it’s not easier. It’s so not. If anything, it’s worse because more people are watching, the stakes are higher, and you’ve proven you can do it once. You should be able to do it again and again, right?

I’ve also had projects that couldn’t jell simply because every time I met with the client, they wanted something different. It’s madness, and it can happen to anybody.

Rory also makes terrible mistakes in two pitch meetings. She pushes to get herself a meeting at Vanity Fair, where she really doesn’t have any ideas. So instead of pitching, she picks up a project of theirs: profiling people who stand in line. It’s not inspiring, and she doesn’t have the fire in the gut she had when she was a kid at Chilton and could turn a story about new paving in the parking lot into an environmental elegy. She falls asleep interviewing a informant. She sleeps with another informant. She never finishes the story, squandering her chance to make an impression at Vanity Fair.

She also flubs a meeting with an upstart website named after its narcissistic young founder. This founder is a wheeler-dealer, mover-shaker type. She pursues Rory, flatters her, practically acts like Rory is her #1 priority. Rory, after the New Yorker piece, rather feels like this isn’t her gig; it’s too little-known, but then she gets desperate and takes the meeting, only to find that Young Upstart expects Rory to pitch something and sell herself–after months of being pursued. Rory is wrong-footed, and she blows it. And the Upstart blows her off. Worse, Rory starts an argument, cementing her bad impression.

Again, been there. There are tons of times in my career where I thought I was doing the other person a favor and where they thought they were doing me the favor, and I wound up on the wrong foot. Yes you should also show up everywhere in a professional context perfect and 100 percent ready to go. If you can manage that, you are probably too much of a winner in life to be wasting your time reading this blog.

More importantly, I think many, many creative people become…creatively dry. Becalmed. I certainly have, and that’s what I saw in these struggles more than a simple lack of professionalism. In the constant “what have you got for me now” demands of writing and journalism, content purveyors are like hungry baby birds never satiated. Content creators do run dry, at least at various moments, and they get tired.

Rory is a crossroads in the revival, and I have to say, I liked it very much. She is pushing 40. She’s had a lot handed to her in her early life. She came from wealth and privilege, and even if her mother did walk away from it, the wealth was always there to draw on when they wanted it. She was very, very pretty. She was bright and worked hard.

And at some point, none of those things guarantee that the home runs will keep happening as you meander towards middle age in a very, very competitive, star economy like contemporary journalism. She is feeling washed up, instead of what she is: tired and confused.

We don’t know what Jess is doing in the revival; I hope he’s still doing small-house publishing because once again, he proves to be a wonderful creative mentor, and effective creative mentors are really really hard to come by. He tells Rory to stop listening to the noise, stop worrying about whether she is a failure or not, and go back to work.

And she does. And then the ideas come.

It is very, very easy to get lost listening to the noise. Don’t blame yourself for getting lost in it. What matters is what you do when you do get lost and confused. I think some people give themselves over to it: somebody more interested in fame than doing meaningful work than Rory would have gladly done some cutesy, meaningless puff piece on people who wait in line. Sometimes, you do those pieces to keep the wolves off the door, and you just suck it up and do it. Too much of that, however, hollows you out. And one man’s meat: somebody else might have really had an insight on the line-waiters piece and really done something with it Rory couldn’t.

There is a strategic balance between taking care of business as a creative and taking care of your creative self. That balance differs for all of us, and you can very, very easily fall out of that balance. Having a creative life worth living, to me, means finding and occupying the balance that feels right, and it definitely means not beating yourself up when things get out of whack.

Tyndall is a symptom as well as a cause for why President Nikias should go , Mr. Caruso

The LA Times has another article on President Nikias this morning, and I guess I want to spend a little time connecting the dots for people who don’t understand why some of the faculty are asking President Nikias to step down. At our faculty meeting yesterday, I had a similar problem. One of my colleagues focussed on what did Nikias know when, and whether a health services CEO would be held accountable for predatory practitioner.

This seems to be what dominates the minds of some BoT, too.

Caruso said in a brief interview with Times columnist Steve Lopez that he was still trying collect all the facts regarding Tyndall.

“I need to understand what happened, why it was never fully reported and why his conduct was able to continue for so many years,” Caruso said. “I know enough to know I don’t have all that I need to know.”

I don’t know exactly what Caruso would need to know here in order for things to be clearer. We aren’t holding President Nikias responsible for all 25+ years of abuse conducting by one individual. We are holding him on the hook for the 13 years in which he was president and provost who possessed a top-down, imperious, “I don’t care how you get ‘er done just get ‘er done” attitude that left a bunch of us shouting into a void when we reported these things.

Everything you need to know about why the reports didn’t get to the top is right in the Times article:

The trustees came under criticism at a heated forum Wednesday that ended with the faculty senate voting to call on Nikias to resign. Some speakers said it seemed the Board of Trustees answered to Nikias instead of the other way around.

“The main problem is this institution does not have a Board of Trustees. Max has a Board of Trustees,” one faculty member said, to applause and cheers.


Professor Gary Painter, who voted for Wednesday’s resolution as a senator for the Sol Price School of Public Policy, said the board and Nikias have become increasingly remote from faculty, students, staff members and others at the university.

“One of the issues the senate is grappling with is the fact that over the last decade or so there has been a greater and greater disconnect in governance between the president and the Board of Trustees and the rest of the university,” Painter said.

So I advise several student groups that have written letters to the Board of Trustees weighing in. They can’t figure where to send their ideas and concerns.

The Price faculty council penned a letter. We can’t figure out where to send it. Maybe we should have them send the letters to the LA Times?

And thus:

USC Provost Michael Quick said that the university’s senior leadership had not learned about the complaints against Tyndall until 2017. The university, in a secret deal last summer, allowed Tyndall to quietly resign with a financial payout.

Golly, our leaders just didn’t know. Of course they didn’t. In order to get their attention, the case had to involve a guy who got his jollies allegedly (cough) slicing young women with a scalpel and causing them pain during their pelvic exams.

Can you imagine just how toxic an environment can get for women and people of color when THAT GARBAGE takes THIRTEEN YEARS to get the attention of the people with power in an organization? Think about how much undermining, meanness, bullying, and abuse has gone unreported and undisciplined (and thus was encouraged) and ignored in that time.

If you need some more stories, I got ’em.

BTW, don’t tell me the President has a plan. The President has a plan that would further insulate him from the faculty. This is not the leadership we need.

Women’s crappy health care and meetings I shouldn’t have to attend

So manly men will likely read this piece and wonder “God, what does this woman want, anyway? She’s so emotional, that’s why women can’t be in charge.” (But guy who goes on a killing spree because a girl wasn’t nice to him, totally an outlier among men. Until, you know, tomorrow when another one goes to a school to shoot women, or today when a domestic abuser kills his wife or child in a temper tantrum.)

This story last night broke me. Trigger warning for survivors: it’s bad.

It occurred to me yesterday that one reason USC’s terrible health service provider went along predating on young women is, that along with institutional indifference, women’s care sucks, period (also due to institutional indifference). Women do not expect good treatment, at least not enough, at doctors. Our breasts are ogled and groped as well as smashed because “science.” You just can’t diagnose anything about our girlie parts without ramming stuff into them, and that stuff needs to be cold metal or the size of a toilet plunger. If men had pelvic exams, there would be an app for that by now.

So it is a little hard to tell the difference between abuse and care when it comes to women, but there is nothing “natural” about it even if examinations are vital, and in the case of USC’s sadistic doc, the abuse is obvious. I don’t know how his colleagues kept from running him down in the parking lot.

My heart is broken.

Abuse continues, all along the line. Every time we go through this at USC , my emotions come into a jumble as I remember all the crap I’ve experienced over the years.

I feel like USC for me has been an endless cycle of this stuff, with this revelation at student health the most egregious.

Yes, I am still awake because I am still pissed. This is my life, on endless repeat.

ME: hey, let’s object to and fix this sucky thing that USC just did to women.

USC: do you really know it’s sucky? After all, it mightn’t not be sucky? We’re Men You Know and We Men Know. Can you PROOOOOOVE it’s sucky? After all, we dudes don’t see anything sucky with it. Innocent until proooooven guilty you know. We can’t be bothered to change our norms so if you don’t have Matlock/Perry Mason levels of courtroom proof that you should be treated differently, we should ignore this problem and get mad at you for bringing it up.

Me: Oh, FFS. Maybe join the 1960s or so? I know the 2010s is a big leap, but maybe push yourself past the 40s?

USC: Watch your tone, be civil, bleh bleh bleh

Me: Growls and returns to my West Adams lair, blogs passive aggressively.

USC does something sucky towards women.

ME: hey, let’s object to and fix this sucky thing that USC just did to women.

USC: do you really know it’s sucky? Can you prove it’s sucky? After all, what about the men? They might break if they are told not to do stupid shit that is obviously, painfully unprofessional? The burden of proof is on you, you know? And how are you using your research time these days, young lady?

ME: Shakes fist at sky, returns to lair.

USC does something sucky towards women.

ME: don’t….just don’t….don’t…..

USC: Can you come to a meeting with fully all the dudes on the faculty that have prompted just about all the complaints you have (unjustly) fielded over the years to discuss this so that all the dudes driving everybody nuts can decide what ought to be done about all the dudes driving everybody nuts?


So now I am being called to a meeting with the dudes, even though I am on a 9 month contract and this time is meant to be mine.

If I do not go, I let women down. If I do go, I will have to listen to men neither trained nor empathetic enough to know why the gyno doctor isn’t an “isolated problem.” Given a choice between hitting my head against that wall more and having one of my toes cut off with a bolt cutter, I would need to ask which toe.

Misogyny is endless. Endless.

(3…2…1….cue Twitter comments like “oh, I think your point would be heard so much better if you moderated your tone. You don’t want to be shrill…endless…endless…endless.

An Open Letter to the #USC Board of Trustees on Believing Women

Dear Board:

In general, I have not commented at length about the individual cases, as I don’t have firsthand knowledge of them, nor have I examined evidence. You all seem to think this is about an incident or two, which is why you dismissed our heartfelt plea with “Give Nikias a chance to fix it.” After all, he chucked a plan at us yesterday.

As a planning professor, I love plans. And yes, there are some good things in that plan, but take it from me, who as practitioner saw many a plan made only to die on the vine: plans to create more just conditions are only useful when those with power are committed to the well-being of people they lead.

This is not a commitment that President Nikias has ever espoused as a leader. He has been focussed externally. He has emphasized rankings, winning, status, and more winning. That was exciting and effective while we were building, but we should see now that it had a dark side to it, too.

Its dark side is that sexual abuse was beneath the gaze of those in power at USC. President Nikias and you on the BoT seem to think that abusing women on campus can be fixed with a few tweaks here and there. I can’t blame you: one of my own colleagues likened the abuse of women at USC to “fixing a pothole” in a the LA Times yesterday. Really? Sexual abuse is like a pothole? The ignorance on display is staggering.

What has happened at USC is not a series of a few, isolated, unfortunate events, like potholes. These disclosures are a disaster, more on par with Hurricane Katrina, and I doubt we have reached high tide yet.

I was in a meeting with funders yesterday. Guess what they wanted to talk about? Not my project, that’s for sure. I am fielding question after question from students who had been thrilled to be admitted here and now regret turning down UCLA or Berkeley to come here. As a faculty member, my job serving students and doing funded research becomes nigh on impossible as long as we have scandal after scandal after scandal. As a donor, albeit not an important one, I don’t want my money feeding lawsuits and gropers instead of students.

At USC, I myself have experienced firsthand what can only be described as an environment uniquely toxic towards women. While misogyny is everywhere, my experiences with gender discrimination at USC have been especially bad.

I have tried to serve as an advocate, buffer, and oasis for students and nontenured colleagues and staff in that mess.

When I appealed to authority, I was told to ignore it. I was told junior faculty are to be seen and not heard.

Year after year, I cajoled. I educated. I fought. I was scolded for my “tone” and to be “civil” when my frustration with bad treatment of female graduate students boiled over.

I got very, very tired.

I shouldn’t be spending my time on this when we want to be the best university in the world.

My story is one of dozens I have heard over the years, and it is certainly not the most egregious. We have not hit bottom yet, I suspect, with what is g oing to come out in the media.

So for all the protesting from these administrators they “knew nothing” about this or that, it’s because they chose to know nothing about the problems of the people they led. The organizational structure at USC ensures they will hear nothing.

When that’s the environment you create, the only recourse desperate and abused employees have is to go to the LA Times.

USC requires another transformation at this point. Can President Nikias do it? I admire President Nikias tremendously. He has been a bold, audacious, and effective leader on multiple fronts during his tenure. He is a remarkable scholar in his own right.

But I don’t think he has the skills and mindset for this particular institutional challenge. President Nikias has never espoused an interest in the inner workings of the university he’s represented. He has excelled at external relations. He’s instructed his deans to spend their time on external relations. He likes to mix it up with the wealthy and famous, and he’s done all of these things in service of enriching the institution. I understand and appreciate that.

Many, many leaders are suited for one challenge and not another. There is no shame in this, not really, if the result is greater growth. Personal loyalties notwithstanding, we need a president who thinks about employees and students now, not just their successes, but their struggles here, too. I agonized over signing the letter to you yesterday because I love USC, and I do not want to be disloyal. Protecting a president is not the same as protecting the institution, and our goal, including his, should be the latter.

Los Angeles, gondola talk, and Sophronia

Ok, this is going to be one of those somewhat contrarian posts that whiners attribute to trolling, but I assure you, I am sincere.

I suppose the gondola idea has gotten sufficiently mocked that I probably shouldn’t bring it up again, but I want to talk about fun transit and Los Angeles. For those of you blessed enough to not be in Los Angeles’ urban political soup, the idea came from former Dodgers owners to create a airborne gondola from Union Station to Dodgers stadium. It’s a bad idea for mobility: Gondolas, funiculars, sky rides–all these things are pretty low capacity, and stadia events all have terrible peaking problems where lots of people leaving at the same time clog up systems around the stadium. A gondola would be a mess. Anybody who has ever been on BART after an A’s game cheek-by-jowl can attest to the problem.

Andy and I are going to see the Dodgers tonight, and we’re driving…in our convertible Beetle. That car is so fun to ride in, it’s not even funny.

And that’s what I want to talk about. Los Angeles has the tendency to be…no fun…except for cars. And transit riders deserve some fun, too.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve bus surfed, sliding down the center aisle of a bus, when I was young. I still sit in the bendy bit of the extended buses so I can slide around with the little kids also enjoying the bumps and slides. Walking is often fun, and biking is terribly fun, but both are more fun when one doesn’t have to fear getting squished by a car.

A gondola going *somewhere* in LA could be a gorgeous experience. It’s impossible to take in all of LA from any view, but I’d hazard the very best view of LA is on Mulholland Drive. So to see the city from anything other then ground level, you have to drive, or take an airplane. Again, don’t get me wrong: there are some great views of LA from the Getty, from the Griffith Observatory, from Baldwin Hills, from Mt. Lee, etc. But those require you to be able-bodied, save for the Getty and Griffith, and except for Baldwin Hills, all those show you one part of LA–mostly the north and west sides.

East LA is really, really lovely, especially in the morning light, and the only place I can think of to see it is from the top of the City Hall (did you know there is an observation deck there?) And you won’t see it at dawn. Are there other East and South LA vistas I’ve missed? Let me know.

My point is that streetcars and gondolas are often treats more than workhorse systems, and expensive treats, I grant. My students are much harder on all these things than I am, and I think part of that is a somewhat Puritanical approach to planning for transit in LA. I suppose they are right: the “thou shan’t have any gondolas until you have completed a world-class commuter rail system” approach, ie “No desert until you have eaten your broccoli.” (yech) People can be so serious and scolding about cities, especially about whimsical things or cute things, when we face so many real problems, like traffic deaths and homelessness, that need to be solved.

But I guess I think that smiling and fun in cities are terribly important; what’s the point of saving lives if those lives are meant to be lived at work, in uniforms, the everyday? Why can’t the everyday be delightful? (Again, I often find delight on bus, but … it’s not inherent to the experience.)

Which brings me to one of the most insightful (to me) parts of Calvino’s Invisible Cities: Sophronia. All of Calvino’s cities are named after women (that’s interesting in and of itself), and Sophronia is no different. reports that Sophronia as a name”:

fem. proper name, from Greek sophronia, from sophron (genitive sophronos) “discreet, prudent, sensible, having control over sensual desires, moderate, chaste,” literally “of sound mind,” from sos “safe, sound, whole” + phren “midriff, heart, mind”

Discreet, prudent, sensible. Calvino’s Sophronia is made up of two halves. One half is a carnival, with a circus, rides, and delights. The other half is full of banks, clocks, and regimentation. Calvino’s narrator, Marco Polo, tell us:

One of the half-cities is permanent, the other is temporary, and when the period of its sojourn is over, they uproot it, dismantle it, and take it off, transplanting it to the vacant lots of another half-city.

But Calvino always make you think, and the city that stays is the carnival, not the workaday city. Instead, the later is pulled up, concrete and all, and goes off to travel, only to return a year later.

What a city that would be. It reminds me of Gordon Lightfoot and his Pony Man, whose ponies live on candy apples instead of oats and hay.

Are the libertarians right about urban police contracting?

One of my favorite colleagues, Peter Gordon (economist), edited a very interesting book a few years ago with David Beito (historian) Alex Tabarrok called The Voluntary City. There are parts of this book I like a lot. It’s thought-provoking.

I’ve been mulling over ideas about policing since Price’s Black Lives Matter event last year. One of the panelists, I believe it was the gentleman from ICAN, suggest that police reform was futile. We should just eliminate the police, as policing traditions in the US, combined with US laws, are racist from the root all the way down the vine.

The idea lodged with me, and it’s become more important in my thinking since the rise of ICE with President Trump, and how quickly they sought to take advantage of their political salience (granted by himself) to expand their methods and hegemony. James Buchanan would be impressed. Monopoly control over the use of violence selectively empowers institutions like police forces to use their societal power to protect themselves rather than protect society. Now, I get it. There are great police officers. I have some in my class–like, literally, Superman levels of service commitment and moral decency. (Love you guys).

The Voluntary City has a section on contracted police forces in history. They are a bit romanticized; hiring poorly trained, profit-seeking security forces can wind up in a very dystopian place; that is, in fact, some of the legacy of police forces in the US remaining from slave patrols. The Progressive Era notion was that we clean up police forces and bureaucracies through training and codes of conduct.

Yet, I can kinda see a 21st century version of contracted security. Tied to specific neighborhood associations, we would very likely not have police unions as they are, which as much as it hurts me to say it, do quite a bit of harm even as they work to protect their members (I say this will a heavy heart: police officers as labor deserve protection, too, but let’s get real. I believe in tenure, too, but I know people who abuse it even if I don’t think I do (and lots and lots of my colleagues don’t.) Bad apples and incompetents are everywhere. Wally from Dilbert wouldn’t be funny if he weren’t so readily identifiable and true, and those bad apples and incompetents can cause a great deal of harm to everybody, including their fellow officers.)

It could also break the chain of loyalty and reciprocity between District Attorneys offices and police forces. When they both work for City X, those ties are mutually reinforcing and detrimental to those who seek justice for police homicides. But if it’s DA from City X and Officer from Neighborhood Association Q, that’s a potentially different story. I know there would be politics and wealth involved, always are, but let’s just keep thinking for a second. I’ve always wondered why local DAs were in charge of police homicides–makes no sense. Take it to the federal level and give everybody a (slightly more) even field.

The OTHER thing that might change could be cities handing out multi-million dollar settlements to families of police homicide victims. That’s comparatively financially painless to the people dropping a dime on somebody like Eric Garner. It spreads the costs across millions of people, and the cost disappears into the comprehensive ocean of municipal insurance and budgets. With small neighborhood associations, those settlements would *hurt* all but the richest locations. You’d get a lot less interested in violent enforcement for stupid crap like some guy selling loosies if you are really on the hook for how your agent handles the situation.

Of course, it’s likely that some places would be able to afford well-trained, elite officers and other places couldn’t. But in places that can’t, you could imagine that they might develop talent among their local group. And even if rich places kept their officers to themselves, they wouldn’t send them rolling all over impoverished neighborhoods based on broken windows ideas. (They won’t pay to police elsewhere). If police really do do more harm than good in Black communities, then it wouldn’t be a tragedy if rich places hired their police and left impoverished places to police themselves and work with their own people. (What would Hobbes say about that??)

It’s of course a big question whether the police do more harm than good in various neighborhoods, and I do not have the answer, I’m afraid. On the one hand, I could see the libertarian contracting approach promoting a dystopian hellscape, similar to where we start with Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower.

But what if Rousseau is right instead of Hobbes?

Before anybody accuses me of trolling or bad faith (one of my pet peeves) you should probably grok the point of this blog: to think through ideas I may or may not really get, to sort arguments, to explore data, etc. I’m sorry: I see multiple sides to just about every issue (except abuse), wrought by a good education and critical mind. I’m not trying to make you change your mind. I’m trying to share thoughts. Dispense with them if you don’t find them useful.

The daughters of USC

I opened my email yesterday to a message from the president of my university explaining that our university would be in the LA Times, once again, for yet another instance USC failing to protect the women who study and work here from abusive employees. I have to link to the story as a matter of public accountability.

The letter that President Nikias shared disclosed what I think were his sincere feelings of sadness and regret about the doctor’s conduct and the university’s lack of action. I won’t quote the letter as I don’t think it’s appropriate to share it beyond the university, but one thing stands out: President Nikias referenced how he “has two daughters”–the perpetual call of the world for why one might care about women and their abuse in the world and the institutions we create in it.

It’s not strictly a bad sentiment, and I don’t want to be language police beyond pointing out the problem that President Nikias’ daughters are not germane to the point at hand, which is that he leads a university that now has a well-proven record of abusing women. I’m glad he has these daughters, I am glad he loves them and wants the very best for them, and I, too, wish them all, including the president, every happiness in life. It’s very sweet, in fact, but it is also a reflection of how very brilliant, very educated, and very well-meaning people often do not have the training really needed to name and confront the toxic environment for women at USC. My time in social work learning competencies around racism and sexism have helped me so much.

To wit: we could have a woman who is an orphan, who has no friends whatsoever, who will perhaps never accomplish anything of particular social value in any way….and she STILL should not have to experience abuse. Ever. At the hands of her parents, a physician, strangers lurking in parking garages, home invaders, professors, bosses, co-workers, or random travelers from 28th century Poland. Ever. She has inherent value as herself that should be inviolate.

That’s the deal. That’s what we should expect from ourselves. As it is, our systems–far beyond President Nikias or what he does or does not say or what he can and cannot do–wrap abusers up in cotton wool and leave women isolated, abused, and disregarded. After all, these events started long before any of our current administrators stepped into their roles.

The doctor in question created problems for his colleagues; regardless if individual patients liked him or not, the health center wound up with months and months of backlog for appointments with the health service provider who wasn’t him, and now he has dealt yet another, horrible blow to the reputation of a university that a whole big bunch of us–from the generally outstanding faculty to the fantastic students –are killing ourselves to make the very best it can be because we believe in this place.

And he got a severance package. And he sued and got a settlement. And he will probably get more green for more lawsuits for reinstatement or whatever among the infinite paths of comfort, gain, and protection abusers have while the rest of us actually doing our jobs at the university face hiring freezes and wage stagnation and staff cuts because the world simply won’t believe chaperone after chaperone after chaperone who raised concerns.

I feel like a bad team member writing about this. As I said, I believe in this place. I try to hit the ball out of the park every time I walk into a classroom because I believe higher education matters. I have tried to be a credit to this place and the people who have supported and believed in me. But if writing in this manner gets me fired, ok; I am thinking about quitting anyway. I have always wondered if I did more harm than good with my presence and work in higher education. As a matter of faith, I hoped that it was. I am no longer sure this institution merited that faith. What’s the alternative? Becoming a hermit in rural Oregon? (Don’t worry Oregonians; this is one Californian who is unlikely to darken your doors.) Another university? Misogyny is everywhere.

I honestly don’t know anymore. I had so many answers when I was young. Now I feel like I don’t have any.

Fair share housing “burdens” and putting teeth in RHNA

Brilliant friend Matt Palm (who just won an Early Career Paper award for being brilliant for this nice article in JAPA is always trying to get me to see the potential value of Regional Housing Needs Assessments and/or using those as a means to get cities actually moving on approving more housing unit developments. I’ve assumed Matt was right, and I haven’t really thought about it until I got to reading Scott Weiner’s SB 828. Some combination here might be a nice workaround for the “loss of local control” concerns raised during the SB827. The idea is something like this:

  • If you approve housing commensurate with your estimated RHNA needs, then fine, you retain local control. The state generally stays out of your business.
  • If you don’t start approving housing to match what you identified in your RHNA, then the state steps in to upzone and you lose local control.

This way you retain local control up to a limit–that limit being the ability to exclude. Except for excluding other people, there’s all sorts of local control possibilities. The state doesn’t tell you where or how to up zone; it just enforces a unit quote based on growth needs. If cities behave prudentially, they retain the ability to decide where that growth goes. If they don’t, they lose that ability, at least for a bit.

This seems to be the direction that Weiner has been trying to go with SB 828, which includes the provision in the housing general plan element that cities must identify locations where new housing units can go and steps the city can take to move forward with those projects.

Putting some teeth in RHNA enforcement strikes me as a nice idea, except for how much reliance general plans have local voluntary compliance and the ways people can subvert them. As it is, cities seem to just go “aw, shucksy darnsy, we didn’t meet our goals”, as this story from the Bay Area Beacon suggests. Putting some teeth in the RHNA process could change the environment quite a bit for cities. (If you don’t meet your RHNA, you don’t get state $$ for…anything. MUHAHAHAHAHHAA.). (I recently got accused of trolling with this blog. There you go.)

My colleague Dowell Myers has suggested that cities will likely face “fair share” backlash from neighborhoods, and I think he is probably right. Fair share covers the idea that you have this need for local development, and the city allocates the overall need to various neighborhoods based on some allocation practice that attempts to spread the responsibility for new housing around.

Matt Palm and Deb Niemeier discuss in the paper cited above why “fair share” may not really be the best way to be allocating new housing. Plunking down apartments of low-income people in Malibu might serve a general idea of making Malibu take its lumps with everybody else, but except for school quality and beach amenities, it’s not really a great place to people. It’s not well served by transit, and it’s not particularly job-rich. It’s a better idea to put people near services they need even if the practice does allow wealthy enclaves to skirt their social responsibilities.

The other reason I’ve never liked “fair share” is simply that it suggests that housing is a burden–that new people are a burden–and I don’t think that is a healthy or just way to think about human beings whose only known fault is that they haven’t arrived in a location yet.

The Journal of the American Planning Association is looking for a new editor, y’all!

A dose of your daily trolling, this came out last week. Nominate yourself or somebody you think would be good!

Dr. Sandra Rosenbloom soon will complete her term as editor of JAPA, the official journal of the American Planning Association. Dr. Rosenbloom has guided JAPA since 2013 with great dedication and expertise (editor’s note: yay Sandi!)

JAPA was founded in 1935 and publishes peer-reviewed, original research and analysis useful to scholars, practicing planners, planning students, and others with an interest in the planning profession. JAPA aspires to bring insight to the future of planning, to air a variety of perspectives, to publish the highest quality work, and to engage readers.

Responsibility for the content of JAPA will rest entirely with Editor, Associate Editors, and Editorial Board. To serve as JAPA’s next Editor, APA seeks an individual who will ensure that the highest quality and most relevant research is published in JAPA, for the benefit of scholars and planning in all practice settings.

The applicant must be a respected and accomplished thought leader who maintains an awareness of emerging areas of research and planning practice; is energetic, with excellent organization and interpersonal skills; dedicated to building JAPA as an innovative and valuable resource for the broad planning community, bridging scholarship and practice. Successful applications will be a faculty member or researcher at a university or will have significant past experience in such a role. They will also have experience as an editor, associate editor, editorial board member, or productive reviewer for a peer-reviewed journal; have a record of published articles in scholarly journals; and be skilled at helping authors communicate their work in clear and readable prose.

The Editor will also work collaboratively to ensure the JAPA meets the strategic goals of APA, reporting regularly to the APA Board of Directors on the performance of the journal, participating APA Board meetings at least once annually as a non-voting ex officio member, and working with the APA staff, officers and the journal publisher to remove any issues related to the publication of JAPA. The applicant must be comfortable working with electronic technology and will be supported by a professional Managing Editor employed by APA.

The successful candidate will assume the position of Editor officially beginning January 1, 2019, after an orientation and transition period in late 2018. The term of the editorship is five years. (2019-2023).


Interested individuals should submit an application no later than June 22, 2018, to include the following:

  • A curriculum vitae; and
  • A succinct letter of interest and qualifications, addressing how the candidate will accommodate the time demands of editing JAPA, and where necessary, a description of any approval/support expected from the candidate’s institution to engage in an employment contract with APA.

Candidates whom the Search Committee wishes to interview will be asked to provide the following:

  • Names and contact information for three references; and
  • A vision statement of 700 words or less for the next five years of publication of JAPA.

Items of specific interest to the Search Committee include applicants’ thoughts on:

  • Increasing the number, quality, and relevance of submissions
  • Proposed approach for addressing the mission of the journal to reflect diverse audiences within the profession, including scholars, practicing planners, students, and others with an interest in planning
  • Communication and outreach to the broad planning community

Applications and/or questions for the Search Committee should be submitted by email to Harriet M. Bogdanowicz, MBA, CAE, Chief Communications Officer ( Applications must be received by June 22, 2018. lf you would like to nominate someone for consideration, please provide that person’s name and contact information, plus a brief statement of your reasons for the nomination, no later than May 31, 2018.

APA has established a JAPA Editor Search Committee, comprised of the following members:

  • Cynthia Bowen, FAICP, Chair, APA President
  • Dr. Asha W. Agrawal, San Jose State University
  • Dr. Karen D. Chapple, University of California, Berkeley
  • Kurt E. Christiansen, FAICP, APA President-Elect
  • Glenn E. Larson, AICP, AICP President
  • Rodger H. Lentz, AICP, APA Treasurer
  • Dr. Rachel Weber, University of Illinois at Chicago

The Search Committee is using the services of a leading publishing consultancy to review applications for telephone interviews. A small number of finalists will be selected for final interviews, which will occur with the Search Committee in late July. The Search Committee will then make its recommendation to the APA Board of Directors. Once the Board of Directors has voted, the successful candidate will be offered the position. All candidates will be notified within 10 days of the Board’s decision.

Urbanist, urbanism, urban planning

BTW: Forgive bad proofing. I’m off to commencement today and should probably not look like an unmade bed when I get there.*

I recently had a friend from my old Masters’ program in planning (UIowa; Go Hawks) ask on my Facebook page: what’s an urbanist? I was going to answer on Facebook, but then I realized I developed a vocabulary around this strategically because of the way I teach my intro class on cities.

Urbanism for me is an analog to humanism; it’s an interest in human affairs and activities in cities. It covers a big tent in scholarship. Academic urbanists, too, come from big group from scientists, social scientists, and humanists theorists thinking about cities and space. There are plenty of urbanists out there who aren’t are academics, just like I am interested in the classics but not a professional classicist. I tuck “urban studies” here into “urbanism” the way I’d put gender studies into humanism.

One of the big influences on me was Louis Wirth’s “Urbanism as a Way of Life.” (In fact–yes, I’m going to say it out loud; I find this short piece much more profound about the nature of cities than Life and Death. There, I said it. Here the comments come: “Have you ever read Jane Jacobs? Actualleh”….blargh. Look at them both. Wirth manages to get at large portion of what takes her 100 pages, without taking cheap shots at anybody or romanticizing self-organization. Relax. Life and Death is a wonderful book. It’s just overly long and I swear people revere it more than they read it anymore, and that bugs me.)

Anyhoodily, urbanism is a way of life, to some degree, but it’s so many modes and ways of life I don’t find that definition terribly useful beyond introducing the idea that city life is generally a life lived among many strangers. That is a profound change in the human condition, but it doesn’t help students understand the wide range of academic thought that has gone into trying to suss out those changes in the human condition and what those mean for individuals and groups in cities.

Defined in this way, we have a lot of wonderful urbanists at USC, for example, in addition to the planning faculty: urban economists like Richard Green, Jorge de la Roca, and Christian Redfearn all fall readily into the category.

I prefer to treat urban planning as a subset of the big category, as an activity and as a profession focussed on intervening in the material form and (thus) social life of cities. Plenty of urban anthropologists are out there doing work that can inform planning, but they don’t necessarily get up in the morning with the specific purpose of trying to make neighborhoods and places nicer. Some might, and in the sense that they advocate for their preferences and interests on the subject, they engage in urban planning even if they are not urban planners per se.

So that’s how I use the terms.

*Who am I kidding? I always look like an unmade bed no matter how hard I try.