Abolish DPS: Envisioning a #PoliceFreeUSC student zine

One of my wonderful students, Jody Liu, is a part of an on-campus movement to get rid USC’s security as it exists today. I support student-led efforts for either reform or abolition, as our security needs to change. Students should lead in re-envisioning security because it’s their campus and honestly I feel like the old folks (this includes me) on campus have run out of ideas. Here is the intro from one of the zine’s makers:

We’ve spent the past couple of months putting together the zine “Abolish DPS: Envisioning a #PoliceFreeUSC”, which elucidates the connections between the University of Southern California (USC) and the prison industrial complex. In particular, we highlight violent incidents that have been inflicted on the surrounding South Central communities. We then outline our vision for prison abolition at USC.

In full disclosure, my own interactions as a person with a disability with on-campus security has fallen into two categories: a) great interactions with mostly women who get that they are part of a community and b) miserable, escalated confrontations with dudes who get off thinking they are commandos by shouting at me to move faster (I can’t) or to not be where I am (you can freaking ask instead of shout, dickhead). I’d like to see campus security protect the livelihoods of the people who have made the effort to be a part of the place and find other work for the dudes who use the job to recreate the power trips they took in high school sticking the small kid’s heads in toilets.

Professor Clayton Nall (@ClaytonNall) on liberal self-interest in housing politics

UCSB’s Dr. Clayton Nall came to USC’s Price School to give a talk for the Bedrosian Center, and in it he presents some of his really good experimental work, partnered with William Marble, on home ownership and political ideology, helping us understand why people in ostensibly progressive enclaves like Berkeley can be so unwiling to allow inclusion via new housing.

I have THOTS, but let’s get you to Clayton’s excellent material first. Here is the highlight reel/trailer:

And here’s the full talk if you want to hop right on in:

Here’s my blather:

I meant to post about this really nice presentation from USCB’s Clayton Nall ages ago, but I forgot, and then Clayton piped up on Twitter over the weekend and I remembered. I was kvetching about Ezra Klein’s piece over the NYT last week about supposedly liberal California not delivering on progressive housing goals.

The most you can say about the Ezra Klein piece is that is he is not wrong about California failing to on progressive social promises, particularly housing. Lefties who exist to scold each other eat that stuff up, and thus I had this column all over my various timelines. The problem is the premise: California is not a particularly progressive place, it never has been–except as an imaginary construction for those who want it to stand for whatever abstract point they want to make about politics. CA’s early colonial politics were vicious (including indigenous enslavement); CA’s spatial politics regarding early Chinese immigrants were also vicious; CA has a long and disgraceful affection for sterilizing women from marginalized group that extended into the 2010s. That’s to name just a few obvious human rights abuses of many here. California in part brought us modern US conservatism–through John Birch, Howard, Jarvis, and Ronald Reagen. Californians routinely pass bone-headedly reactionary referenda from Prop 13 to Prop 8 to Prop 209 to last year’s damn mess, but particularly Prop 22. There are more registered Republicans in California than residents of many other states. The proper headline of any piece on CA should really be “place not particuarly liberal, except in the culture war imaginations of conservatives who hate gays and Hollywood, not really delivering on liberal ideals.”

There are some issues where Calfornia really does fall into that category; we (probably) won’t be the state drafting “If a woman has an abortion, she should be flogged to death on television on a new reality tv show” laws. And gun control. And I am grateful for those things.

California is better understood, like most of the US outside of New England, as a place where the governing ethics center primarily on exploiting land for wealth for white people. Yes, the US is a constitutional republic, and you can analyze its institutions that way, but development politics make a lot more sense if you set aside Federalist papers propaganda and just think about things from the perspective of settler colonialism, replicated again and again and again using various policies, practices, and regimes.

When you look at things that way, you have a ready explanation for why Democrats and Republicans don’t really differ all that much on their behavior regarding class politics and land development. You can scold and shame and harangue progressives about their lack of virtue if you want to, but as long as individual and family welfare is as tied to individual property ownership as it is in the US, you are going to have a struggle on your hands with home owners being way too risk averse to allow change. (This even includes things likely to put money in their wallets, including amenities like a rail station. )

Wonderful reads, 2020: Lowe (@kateontransport) and Grengs on Detroit’s Public-Private Streetcar in JPER

I reaaaaaaalllly wanted to write on this topic but I never got around to it and I am really really glad that Kate Lowe and Joe Grengs did because I think it’s an important topic: it’s clear that the primary beneficiaries of streetcar projects are the landowners that surround them. Streetcars are not easy sells in terms of mobility; they are circulators. How many car trips they actually “take off the road” is a dubious conjecture, but they are fun to ride, contribute to defining districts, and circulators are really useful in the places that have them. (Those alone strike me as good enough reasons to do them even if they do not do much to fight climate change or any of the great big goals we planners tend to attach to things.)

The Detroit example shows philanthropy directed at just such a project, and I think Lowe and Grengs are more fair and less critical than I am about treating the Detroit streetcar as mobility rather than as a simple land amenity. By most indicators, this is businesses and elites doing fairly standard philanthropy: it doesn’t alter power relations, and it’s ultimately done for their own private interests. Again, I have no real problem with that except to the degree that there has been the temptation to act like these arrangements are the future of transport finance, and as Lowe and Grengs show, it’ll take a lot of changes to this model to make it workable outside the context of this one project.

Here is the citation and the link. It’s behind a paywall, but if you ask me or the author, I suspect we can find you a copy of it:

Lowe K, Grengs J. Private Donations for Public Transit: The Equity Implications of Detroit’s Public–Private Streetcar. Journal of Planning Education and Research. 2020;40(3):289-303. doi:10.1177/0739456X18761237

Transportation agencies are increasingly seeking private sector funding, but resulting deals have implications beyond specific projects. We analyze the broader regional and equity impacts of private funding by examining Detroit’s donation-funded streetcar. Despite potential negative consequences for transit-dependent populations, the longer-term political will forged through streetcar planning has a contingent possibility to enhance regional transit. In addition to donations, the streetcar relies on public sector funds, but we found limited public influence to ensure collective transportation benefits. A federal-level actor did mandate that a regional transit agency form, but more systematic public action is needed.