Various planning (theory) questions answered–where to begin with Marx in urban and planning theory?

I spent the last day of planning theory answering questions. Some I didn’t get to, and they were good questions, so I thought I would answer them here.

How to break into the Marxist literature? 

You could do waaaaay worse than start with David Harvey’s readalong on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gBazR59SZXkv

My favorite of David Harvey’s books: The Condition of Postmodernity and the History of Neoliberalism 

You really want to read Karl Polyani’s The Great Transformation 

Stuart Eldon’s presentation of Lefebvre is good: https://www.upress.umn.edu/book-division/books/marxist-thought-and-the-city

Everybody should read Franz Fannon just to be an educated person. 

Gen Z and mental health awesomeness (Millennials, too, maybe?)

Like culture war stuff, I generally find these generational divides to be artificial. I have a wonderful demographer colleague, don’t get me wrong, but I think so much of the intergenerational stuff of “Ok, Boomer” and whatnot tends to be about exploiting ageism to get clicks more than anything. There are selfish, awful people in every generation just like there are cool, giving, and wonderful people in each one. I cut my teeth protest with a 92 year-old Grandmother who hated nukes. (and who understood how to ally very well in that she knew one way to make the police calm the hell down was to make them arrest a 92 year-old white lady.) Yeah, there are lotsa Boomer NIMBYs but I am also seeing a LOT of twenty-something dudes at these white supremacist rallies.

So there’s the disclaimer. Like the culture war stuff, there are differences, and some of those differences are meaningful. And there is one difference that I love soooooooooooooooooooo much: my Gen Z students talk about going to see their therapists like my generation talks about going to see the dentist. I really don’t have words to describe how healthy and awesome that is.

Mental health was so stigmatized when I grew up and as we all know, that shit kills people. Now, my students are really privileged, and I don’t want to downplay the many, many barriers that many still have in being able to get treatment, let alone mention it in conversation with the assumption that they will still be respected and cared for. But the fact that anybody can do it is a breath of fresh air. I’ve been told many many times about how brave I am for being as real as I am about my own depression, anxiety, and addiction struggles and the reason I did that was so that people could feel less alone in theirs.

I’m sitting here at my desk smiling as I think about it because it makes me incredibly happy to see how many younger generations can just get what they need without having to deal with a lot of stigma and other crap.

Students are always inspiring, but this particular point is really special to me. They are a great example. Get what you need; there is nothing wrong with taking care of yourself.

Award committees can go fuck right off

Ok, I am going to admit: I am not a good loser. I could care less about 90 percent of the things, but I rather routinely put together award nominations for young scholars because getting these can actually move the needle on their promotion. Guess what? Young people never win them. It makes me furious.

This past fall, I had an experience with something that has happened to me all-too-often. I put together a nomination for call that, at the time I read the damn thing, read as “It seems pretty clear that they have written this *specifically* so that they can award it to this particular senior scholar.”

My colleagues wanted to nominate me, but then they turned around and dumped all the work on nominating me on me and I was like, screw that. If I’m going to do all this work, I’m going to nominate somebody I think is deserving and who could use the boost for tenure time. I have more than enough money and more than enough status, including awards I’m pretty sure I don’t deserve. I’m good.

I was still dubious that this one was hard-wired, but like all award nominations, this one was a fuck-ton of work, and I thought to myself “Nah, they wouldn’t put people to a fuck-ton of work if they just wanted to give so-and-so an award.”

Guess what? They handed that person the award, after making all the monkeys dance.

Of course they did. Because causing other people to do pointless god-damn work is the funnest part of the power trip, and having something to award is a power trip.

Now, I have no problem with who got it. This is a very deserving, very accomplished person whom I happen to adore personally.

Here’s how this should go, though: JUST GIVE THEM THE GOD-DAMN AWARD YOU WANT TO GIVE THEM AND SPARE THE REST OF US THE GIANT TIME SINK, MMMMMKAY?

All these damn things are the same. You write and write and write, beg people for support letters, write up the damn “brief” so that nobody on the award committee has to write that whoooooooooooooole paragraph themselves, and then the award committee gives the award to the senior scholar they wanted to give it to from the get-go.

Award committees are the same damn way. I sit on award committees because I am too weak to just say no. I am going to start saying no. This is how every single award committee goes:

  1. We are given packets and/or papers to read.

2. Guy on the committee gives us a spreadsheet we are all supposed to fill out because spreadsheets are very scientifical.

3. despite the magic of the spreadsheet, we all wind up with different, subjective assessments of the best paper/packet/whatever.

4. I usually try to push some younger scholars into the final mix for the big committee to choose from.

5. Various arguments ensue, and committee gravitates to giving the cookies to the senior scholars on the list who already have all the cookies and for whom the cookies will be a little boost to already well-fed ego.

6. I step up and make one last argument for trying to get the award to an equally good package/paper from a more junior scholar.

THEN THE EXCITEMENT HAPPENS:

7. Old dudes whine/swing their dicks around until one of the following happens (ooooooo are you on the edge of your seats? Are you?):

a) Senior scholar gets the award because I am tired of fighting with windmills. OR (DRUMROLL PLEASE)

b) Junior male scholar who DOES EXACTLY THE SAME WORK in virtually EXACTLY THE SAME WAY as obnoxious, dick-swinging dude on the committee gets the award. This will be a quantitive paper with an utterly forgettable set of regression models because the women I likely suggested probably did some LAME case study that did things like talking to other unimportant women or the poors instead of running a regression model about the poors like this heroic young dude scholar did.

IOW, you are on notice planning world: I’m done with your award committees.

Oh, and when you write your perfunctory “I’m so sorry, we didn’t even read the fuck-ton of work you put together for the scholar we didn’t give the award to” email, PROOFREAD IT so it feels less slapdash than it really is.