Metro staff (very kindly) offered to help me get data

I should have posted this sooner, as Metro staff reached out to me the same day as I posted about how difficult I found working with them data-wise in the past, to offer to help me obtain the data I need, at least for the visualization I have been noodling. WordPress has been acting up, and honestly I’ve been so damn depressed this summer I haven’t done much of anything besides read the Mueller Report (which did nothing for my depression) and watch tv.

Metro’s library staff have always been great, but maybe my difficulties with Metro and data has always been that I don’t know the right contacts. Whenever I am dragged over there for a meeting, I feel like it’s usually with some damn boss of something or other, and 1) they probably haven’t touched data in years 2) they aren’t really interested in any data that doesn’t pertain to their immediate management goals.

So we’ll see how this works out.

What role can the data politics at LA Metro play in worsening, or bettering, its trajectory?

I don’t have much to do with LA Metro for the most part, and it is because they are, simply, a closed shop and thus not generally worth engaging with as a researcher. I’ve had people reach out to me to be on this or that advisory board, which is nice and might have been a way for me to work my way into a more trusting relationship. However, those types of arrangements can also be a major, uncompensated time sink for academics, and I’ve always thought that spending time going to meetings at Metro were, in the minds of Metro staff, a one-way street for information from them to me.

It’s possible Metro staff just don’t like/trust me, which is understandable. Lots of people don’t, and the type of research I do (justice-related) could be potentially threatening, especially to an agency that spent years dealing with a civil rights consent decree.

That said, there are many, many transportation researchers in LA who are much nicer and less prone to whistle-blowing or simple lack of discretion than I am, and I don’t see them doing that much with Metro or Metro data, either.

I don’t blame them, per se. Dealing with the press in a major metropolitan media market is a giant headache, and agency staff can find themselves involved in both a personal and professional firestorm of criticism for things that they had little ability to influence.

However, that data and information hoarding has pretty big consequences for innovation and study. Yes, there are really brilliant people at Metro, and I’m sure they are doing some pretty cool analyses, but if they are, they are pretty quiet about it. Not engaging with researchers means you lock out people who spend their time on the cutting edge of all types of research, and that means yes, you control the information about your service, but it also means you don’t have independent voices attesting to fact that you are doing something well when you do do something well, nor do you benefit from new ideas they bring if they also find fault.

I briefly engaged with Metro via a Metrans project than Gen Giuliano put together, and it was one of the worst research experiences of my life.

It all culminated in a meeting with USC’s asshole lawyers that boiled down to LISA YOU MAY DO NOTHING WITH THE DATA WITHOUT METRO’S PERMISSION, NOT ONE KEYSTROKE DO YOU UNDERSTAND? One of the lawyers said to me that the entire point of the meeting was for them to impress upon me what the terms of the contract were, not for me to talk or ask questions. I left that meeting feeling like a criminal instead of a researcher. It’s like…um, this is a potentially transformative research project and….nobody, not the university, not the agency, nobody but me wanted it to be.

I bugged out of that project as quickly as I could, which, given that they didn’t actually want us to do any research that didn’t contribute to the agency’s propaganda, suited them and me, and I’ve never looked back. Since then, I’ve watched them screw over PhD students by running out the clock on data requests and other shenanigans that suggest they haven’t changed much.

For years I’ve wanted to do a little animation that illustrated passengers delivered via buses and trains that arrive at USC throughout the day to show how important transit is to the USC community. Can I make it? Nope. I probably could get the hourly passenger boarding & alighting data for buses if I pushed, I’m sure, but for the trains? Gad, bring up train patronage data and you’ll get abundant explanations about how those data just don’t exist because….because….because…um…

Now maybe weekday hourly averages by stop in my hands would be a disaster for the agency but I doubt it. Instead, such an animation would bring service to life and communicate something different about the incredibly difficult thing Metro has to do every day: deliver service in a built environment not oriented for transit. It’s advertising for all practical purposes.

All this secrecy was fine and functional in the Golden Era of Ballot Box Measures, where Metro’s bread was buttered readily by voters who could and would vote based on a vision. But after investing a lot, Metro now sits in the unhappy position of trying to show efficacy when passenger counts are falling. Metro could use some new perspectives, and it’s hard to get those when the default seems to be view data use among those outside the agency as a public relations threat. Maybe they are really better off keeping their data to themselves and a few contractors, but it’s hard for me to see how that contributes to a thriving conversation about what the service does among broad audiences.

No innovation can happen in public housing ever, never ever because

….public houing is like all social policy and no innovation is possible in social policy of any ilk ever because social policy is social policy and as we all know, social policy is bad on its face.

I am extra crabby because I’m having biopsies done and they hurt like a mother, but yesterday I finally deactivated Twitter forever because once again, I got sucked into the same conversation I have been having since 1995 and I’m sick of it.

This conversation goes like so:

Me, somebody who teaches social policy and thinks about it all the time: I think we could use some social policy here to make people better off in this instance.

Some economist who thinks about social policy every 10 years: “BUT THAT’S INEFFICIENT BORK BORK BORK.”

All the smartest policy boys in the room: ” It didn’t work very well in this instance and as we know, that one time represents always and forever what social policy can be, whether it’s rent control or community land trusts or any policy that doesn’t begin and end with “get rich white people things.” BORK BORK BORK BORK bork MOAR SUPPLY LET’S TALK ABOUT SUPPLY YOU FORGOT TO CENTER YOUR EXISTENCE ON MY PET POLICY LISA WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?

And I try to say that no, we should learn from bad implementations in prior decades, and what we might do instead, but I can’t be heard over the BORK BORK BORK BORK and pants wetting that public policy isn’t entirely focused on giving things to rich white people.

And then I get tired and give up because firehosing social policy is practically an Olympic sport among US economists and economist wannabes.

Yesterday’s topic was me DARING to suggest that we might want to use some public housing in high amenity areas. WHAT LISA? PUT HIGH-RISE WAREHOUSING UP HAVE YOU NOT LEARNED OF ALL THE CHILDREN POISONED BY New York PUBLIC HOUSING? CABRINI GREEN? PRUITT IGOE? DO YOU HAVE NO SOUL? NO BRAIN?

Look, the US chooses to be bad at delivering public housing the same way it chooses to be bad at delivering public transit and public schools, except when it doesn’t choose to be bad at those things (i.e., well-to-do places.) So spare me the grand policy-tool-by-policy-tool insights on how certain policy tools “don’t work” because I’ve heard them all, and none of those are credible in a world when we’ve had 50+ years of tax cuts for rich people, one after another, with tax cuts being a policy that never gets the same firehosing or skeptical treatment as the mere mention of social policy, even though our tax cut commitments have been a) expensive and b) not particularly effective at anything besides further enriching a global class of billionaires who only think about *really feasible* policy things like terraforming Mars for their people and letting the rest of us burn, unlike the pipe dream of a carbon tax or having some publically owned housing units that don’t suck. (Unless you are Jeff Epstein who gets to use his bajillions to buy an orgy island and produce child porn. Thank God the gummint didn’t take too much of his precious private hoard and deprive the world of all that utility.)

So here’s the actual idea: in very expensive, high-amenity locations, the cities just purchase units in new buildings at cost for allowing the developer additional units, and the city retains the units. So you apply for 70 units, you sell 10 to the city, you get 80, and the city rents their units at affordable rates to people they want in residence there: teachers*, police, seniors, etc. (I have an argument for the seniors I’ll post up another day; it boils down to: expecting seniors to downsize if it means they leave their community means that a lot of them are not going to and are going to rattle around in houses too big for them.)

And no stupid nonsense about poor floors or poor doors or keeping those residents from the amenities of the building, FFS. This is a mixed-income building, period. And the developer is out of everything once the sale is done.

Do I think this is as cost-effective** as vouchers? Not even close,, but as useful as vouchers are, they don’t do everything, and there are two things that I’d like to think about with my idea: First, retaining people who really should live locally in markets where they are getting pushed out. Second, letting cities cash in on real estate the way everybody else does. Property taxes are the END OF THE WORLD, apparently, but cities could benefit from having a portfolio of holdings they can borrow against and sell the way everybody else does since ALL THE SMART POLICY BOYS tell me that land value capture is IMPOSSIBLE and now is not the time to discuss such infeasible things.

And frankly, I fail to see why disastrously underfunded voucher programs are A MIRACLE while disastrously underfunded public housing is A TERRIBLE SIN instead of being two sides of the same problem, which is the “disastrously underfunded” part. Vouchers and publically owned units, yes, house people, but with two really different secondary aspects: helping people stay in a place or helping people achieve mobility, both of which strike me as good ideas depending on the need. Yes, you can use vouchers to keep people in place, but I don’t think that’s by default easier or cheaper to do with vouchers, not when the full cash flow is factored in. And I actually dream about public policy that treats people who need help with housing, including black women and their little ones, like actual people who are welcome and necessary instead of a problem that we are trying to solve on the cheap and keep away from the rest of us.

I think that until we resolve that last sentence, any policy approach is going to be plagued by half-assed attempts at everything, from 10+ year waits on vouchers to public shelters that become death traps.

*Cities could also start paying teachers proper salaries instead of screwing them, either way works for me.

**Cost effective strikes me as a better term than efficiency to describe situations where public policy has a multi-faceted goal and captures the idea that we might be able to attain that goal at a lower cost using more cost-effective tools. Efficiency arguments tend to include the goals themselves in my experience.

Closing out Pride Month, a few words to my @USCPrice 2SLGBTQIA students and colleagues

Price is not very good about celebrating Pride. I think it may be because the school year ends in May, and all of us, administrators included, scatter to the four winds and it’s hard to get anybody to focus on anything USC-related. We also had a busy year this year with the 90th anniversary and multiple retirements.

That is no real excuse, and this Pride month was a big one, with LA turning out with so much pride everywhere that it made me joyful.

And it is the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. It’s entirely possible to focus too much on one event in queer history, but Stonewall mattered, a lot, leading to the first gay rights march in NYC.

The Shoah Foundation at USC did a *great* job this year with one beautiful blog post after another that deserves a shout-out, and my new scholarly home at USC, USC Dornsrife, tweeted out a lovely message with this super-cute graphic:

Whatever the reasons that Pride month got away from us at USC Price, I wanted to echo the everyday sentiment from Dornsrife for my Price students and colleagues: we love you as you are, all day every day. You are a credit to USC and we are so proud of you. We are lucky to have you here, and you amaze us with your accomplishments.

ACSP: Let’s call the whole thing off?

After my last post, friend and fellow scholar Rolf Pendall asked me a pretty good question, which is: can we really justify having a big yearly conference at all, granted the climate effects of all that travel and the disadvantages big conferences have for many scholars, including myself, whose social anxiety makes most conferences rather torturous.

Rolf suggested smaller regional conferences, which is an interesting idea. Riffing on that idea, I thought about maybe doing topical conferences–a symposium on planning theory, for example.

There are some advantages to smaller conferences, even if I don’t necessarily think they would have much climate benefit. (Maybe I am being dense here but I think shorter trips are likely to add up to roughly the same, and I suspect plenty of scholars would want to attend more than one conference under a new, more distributed conference strategy. )

One major advantage would be that smaller conferences would be shorter and easier for parents to manage and for junior scholars to afford–we could probably manage most tracks at ACSP in two days if we separated them, instead of how ACSP demands about a week-long commitment from administrators, from those who have put the radical planning sessions prior to the main event, and a person can wind up staying a pretty long time at ACSP if they moderate a session on Thursday and their presentation is Sunday. Two days is about $400 to $800 savings in hotel and childcare costs over what can happen with ACSP scheduling now. Lots of people fund travel out of their own pockets, and this savings would be significant.

A smaller conference wouldn’t help me much in terms of my social anxiety, as mine kicks in for any group, big or small. Leaving my house is an effort, so it doesn’t take much to put me off going to anything anywhere at any time. I probably get to ACSP once every three years, and perhaps the right answer anyway: for those of us who just don’t do well in social contexts, emphasizing conference participation less than we have in the past for hiring and promotion would likely be better. I’ve always tried to be useful as moderator, giving feedback particularly to more junior participants on their manuscripts, but I can say I only twice had a moderator do the same for me in twelve years of ACSP.

We could also try timing the conference differently: we could do the big national conference every other year instead of every year. Smaller conferences create new organizing burdens that currently get covered by the bigger conference staff and host universities.

That strikes me as a pretty good suggestion, too, but it shares the same drawback as distributing to regional or topical conferences: ACSP matters for job seekers a great deal. I’m pretty sure I have never succeeded in impressing anybody at ACSP, but that’s just me. We have tons of job networking going on, and if you finish your dissertation and graduate during an “off” year, it would change your prospects quite a bit, and adding an extra year of potential unemployment is way hard on young scholars.

The possibility I like, but the organization wouldn’t, is trimming down the yearly conference to two-three days at most. This involves a lot more work on the part of the organizers, but I do like the idea. Instead of evaluating abstracts, we could limit submissions only to people who submit completed manuscripts by the submission date, we review those manuscripts, and we take the best by tier: by tenured, nontenured, graduate student, giving priority to junior scholars. ACSP wants participants and registration fees (and how else does it pay the bills), but all that leads to a very large conference with a lot of partially baked ideas which may not benefit from feedback anyway, and that don’t reflect all that well on the person giving the presentation.

What idea do you like? Or is there a different one we should think about? I like “planning theory bad mammajama symposium” where I only invite people I like, but I suppose it’s not all about me, more’s the pity.

I don’t know how to have an ethical ASCP, but it’d be awfully nice to figure it out

Those of us who have been around awhile have been through the mill with ACSP more than once on controversies about conference location and the political/cultural environment of the conference. ACSP has relocated the conference before in response to constituents’ legitimate demands that we respect NAACP travel boycotts, and now we’ve had a similar problem with an upcoming conference hosted by Clemson. I haven’t been privy to decision-making that went into either awarding the conference to that location or in the demands the decision be reviewed. SC has been active in anti-trans legislation, and we have to ask questions about what it means to bring dollars to places that do that.

I did take the survey that ACSP sent out asking for reactions and reflections, and the survey was hard for me. I really don’t know what I think. All I have is: I want to have conferences in places where my trans friends and friends of color are treated with the respect and decency they deserve. Unfortunately, I can’t think of many places, included my beloved California, where that’s really, genuinely true.

I am sympathetic to the argument that travel boycotts just hurt working people in the state who have very little influence on the policy process. But I have to rejoin, how much *benefit* do working people get from business anymore? I mean, it feels a little like corporations just take all the profits from everything and the only thing you do by boycotting a place with lousy policy is save those working at the Motel 6s for shitty wages already some work having to deal with you. That doesn’t strike me as all bad, necessarily, especially if the preprondance of benefits from labor get captured by elite interests while the preponderance of the work falls to the laborer.

For the most part, I basically think we should just do whatever Planners of Color Interest Group and the Queer Planning IG)* tell us to do and go with that.*

We recently got an email from ACSP outlining the responses to the survey and the costs of changing course on the conference location at this point, over $300,000. And that’s the part of this discussion that rubbed me the wrong way. By disclosing that number, it creates transparency, but it is also very likely to put a great big ol’ thumb on the decision scale among ACSP member cis- faculty who aren’t 1) aren’t likely to experience potentially life-threatening violence at the hands of the police themselves and 2) not particularly tuned into why trans faculty would like us to stay in safe(r) locations. Certainly, plenty of cisfaculty understand these things and support their trans colleagues brilliantly, but are they the norm at ACSP?

To wit, ACSP has a major financial interest in staying the course, as it did last time this came up, and that cost itself becomes a reason to stay the course. But we’ve been through this before, and the costs are high, so the question for me arises: why do we keep granting conference bids to places that are going to be a problem? Ok, maybe we can’t predict it, but…we should., right? We’re planners. All this comes down to how we need to get more diversity on that ACSP board. It’s one thing to get blindsided by a legal changes and another to ignore the last four years of bathroom wars, and this latter here is more likely to happen when the board doesn’t have somebody who is likely to raise these issues, and concomittantly, other board members who will support and back up anybody who raises the issue (instead of, as in my life, just ignoring them.) otherwise we are in a forever cycle of award bid, make plans, “discover” the problems, welp, can’t change the locale because it’s so costly.

Another, confounding problem is simply that some of our very finest planning programs are in states that seem hell bent on writing the rottenest abortion legislation possible so that whatever “compromise” makes its way out of the rubble they hope to make out of Roe and Casey boils down to all women must wear mannacles and attend Liberty University and any trans men will be stoned in the public square. Georgia Tech, Clemson…boatloads of excellent programs in Texas…

The bottom line for me is that I just don’t want to go to places with state legislatures doing these things. I don’t want to go Florida OR Texas (great planning programs) because of their gun craziness, and I don’t want to go to these places where women just don’t seem to matter.

*I do not think it’s a interest group yet. My perspective is the women’s interest group should do a good job of standing with and advocating for our queer colleagues and our colleagues of color, but the organization has been uneven on that, and groups deserve their own places and their own voices, so I have made it into an interest group in my own mind. Making it formal does create a potential service and leadership tasks for our queer colleagues, which sucks, too, so I can also see why keeping it less formal makes sense too. )

Research saves me from burnout

It’s been quiet around here because I just haven’t had much to say and not much time to say it. I spent most of May in gorgeous Croatia, a place that more than merits your travel dollars and time. We had a great time. Here’s a map and some photos:

It has been a long time since I’ve taken any real time away, and I’ve been burned out. I’ve tried to stay on top of classes, work with my PhD students, and try to get research in. I haven’t. I’ve had no focus and no desire to do anything. Part of it is learning to deal with the lupus. It does makes you tired.

It turns out that the last thing I really needed to stay away from research. I went to Croatia to attend a bioethics symposium, and I went through my usual angst and anxiety, hating presenting, etc. But I had a wonderful time. I took notes all day! I encountered terrific ideas about AI and ethics, why we shouldn’t make robots look like people, and I met one of my student’s brothers. And I was energized and interested.

I’m dead tired from the travel, but I have all sorts of appointments lined with students and a tentative work plan for my own research.

Check my thoughts/principle/idea: I am not going to agree to do uncompensated teaching any more

I work pretty hard to be a good mentor, both inside and outside the classroom, and in general I enjoy getting to know students and colleagues through workshops and whatnot that I am often asked to do, but I am inclined to start to say no when asked to do uncompensated teaching. Figuring out what a “reasonable” amount of service to do is a perpetual struggle, especially for women and faculty of color, and it’s too easy to say yes to teaching.

Why say no? For one it does eat up time. And just like writers and artists who want to draw a line at doing uncompensated work for “exposure”, free teaching strikes me as a way to devalue the very real work of teaching well..

Moreover, the “free teaching” requests that come out of USC benefit the institution. I love having pipeline programs and getting diverse students interested in things, but you know, I never have any grace or leeway granted to me regarding my teaching duties. One enrolled student short of the cutoff for a TA? Sucks to be you, no TA. By some weird kink we have 2 credit hour classes that fit with with nothing else and burden junior faculty with more course preps? The fact that some really nice faculty member 30 years ago once taught two sections of that for 2 hour credit means that you have to do so, too. Sucks to be you, you owe us the other 2 credit hours come hell or high water. Or take a pay cut. Up to you.

Given that institutional rigidity, why exactly should I teach for free as a service task? No matter how minor the actual teaching task?

I haven’t thought this all the way through, so I’m interested in opinions. Not ones that start out “Look, bitch from hell, you are worthless at your job because I hate women but here’s a bunch of pretexts as to why this comment isn’t really about that…”

Instead, happy to hear real ideas: should I do this as somebody who is institutionally protected as a means to say to administrators “dammit, teaching is our bread-and-butter and it deserves compensation” or does my stance somehow make things harder for adjuncts and contract faculty to do so as well? I 100 percent support them in setting the same limit.

I have a serious question: why does Joel Kotkin get to be considered “an important urbanist” but I don’t?

I admit, to no small degree, I likely ask this question out of a bruised ego, but my ego or not, I think this question is enlightening.

I asked this question to Manuel Pastor a few weeks ago when I interviewed him for the podcast. Now, Manuel is one of the greatest, if the greatest, scholar I know. *He* is an important urbanist. It took USC way too long to get its poop together and start heaping him with endowed chairs and university titles, but it finally did, and it’s way well-deserved. ( Please do pick up Manuel’s book and listen to the podcast if you get a chance because it’s a very nice, unwonky policy/politics book from an excellent policy scholar. Oh and you can watch Manual talk about it here. )

Manuel called Kotkin “an important urbanist” in his (otherwise excellent) book, State of Resistance, and I called him out on it, and it got uncomfortable even though Manuel is one of my favorite people in the world, and I think most of the time he likes me, too (not always an easy or pleasant thing.) Bugging him about it wasn’t particularly nice.

But when genuinely, authentically important scholars like Manuel validate people like Kotkin as important, I die a little.

Manuel didn’t have a good answer to this “Why are you calling Joel Kotkin important” question, and I think it’s because Manuel’s very fast brain, in mid-interview, made the connections that I see, only after he couldn’t do much about it: Kotkin gets to be important because he gets published in various media outlets and the rest of us validate this. Why? He’s a white male contrarian who writes decently well, and self-appointed contrarians get to be treated seriously because Americans love “balanced” things in an uncritical way because it allows us to substitute virtues like “listening to both sides” as an end in itself instead of a means to “a resolved, deliberated course of action.” The former allows us to feel like good, nice people without having to deal with the latter’s hard work of rhetoric, conflict, sacrifice, and rigor.

You can make a really good living exploiting this tendency (see Brooks, David). Much more seriously, if you are one of 4,000 scientists who are like, yep, we’re cooking planet with likely disastrous consequences, you have a 1/4000 chance of getting the call to comment when a reporter from the NYT calls. If you are 1 of 20 scientists willing to say anything, no matter how factually or morally wrong, to feather your own nest, your shot is better at being a “singular” expert in the NYT. Journalists seek “balance.” If other university administrators reward media hits as much as USC has done (learning the hard way that not all publicity is good publicity), the latter strategy has real merits for becoming an “important” scientist without having to do any real work.

I see Kotkin the same way. Why be one of the 12,000 urban scholars who agree that infill is a good idea when you can stand up for suburbs which, btw, are in general growing and many doing fine without you? Deploy finger guns here.

Normally, I can stand this stuff. Even relatively superficial contrarianism like Kotkin’s “if a New Urbanist says one thing I’ll say the opposite” strategy can help us think more rigorously if good critical scholars pull apart the trolling and see what kind of weaknesses there are in things around which a consensus has formed. I’ve generally told people to hold their fire, don’t get too wound up, the noisy world of pundits is full of fluff, and the more attention you pay to dumb stuff, the bigger platform you give it. And there’s always work to be done empircally examining various claims among the dominant paradigmers and the contratrians.

Kotkin’s recent garbage essay in the Daily Beast, is, however, a bridge too far. And I’m not linking to it because not today, clickbaiters. Here, Kotkin wants us to understand the American, European, etc baby factories (aka women) are a problem, speaking just demographically, natch, except among those EN-VI-RO-mentalists who see procreation as a practically a sin. Why, employers gotta scramble for labor! And of course immigration isn’t an answer because those people are all uneducated and poor and competition for US’s own uneducated and poor people. They aren’t sending us their best! Instead, baby factories should flip to “on.”

Kotkin just keeps repeating this “immigrants can’t be the answer, it must be the baby factories” claim over and over and over in this painfully long exercise in bad thinking. Why is immigration just an impossible way to have young laborers join an economy? Wait for it: “immigration upsets people.”

Gee, the rest of us hadn’t noticed that, Joel. Thanks.

This is the level of insight it takes to be “important”? This is rewarmed 1980s demographic thinking and FoxNews-level xenophobia provided a gentler intellectual cover. Stahhhhhhp. No wonder the rest of us are fed to the teeth with old dudes telling us how great they are when this is the game they bring. We’re bored.

And we should be.

#MuellerReport text mining

My student Herri Gulabani (gulabani@usc.edu) and I nerded out during class the day that the Mueller Report dropped. Herry basically used a set of scripts that I gave them earlier in the semester for analyzing tweets about bike subscription services in New York and Minneapolis. I’m putting us both as creators because of that, and because I want to be able to make sure that I get the pushback in case any of Donal Trump’s fascist followers decide to make an issue of it at USC.

Here are probably the most informative graphics (and my personal favorite) from Herry’s exercise:

We did this with retweet and tidyverse.