The specters of Rob Ford, Sarah Palin, and Chris Christie

A question that has haunted me since Sarah Palin first set foot on the big stage in 2008 concerns what, actually, disqualifies you to lead in a democratic society. She was a values candidate: we all knew that, or at least I thought we did. As the criticisms of her came more to the forefront, it wasn’t just that people didn’t support her because they (like me) didn’t share the values she represented, but because she was rural and didn’t have a particularly fancy education (a series of community colleges and then the University of Idaho.) Her education is a lot more like the rest of America than Barack Obama’s or John McCain’s.

It’s not entirely fair to ask some of the questions I am about ready to ask, but: Chris Christie supposedly couldn’t be a leader because he is fat. (He’s also a mean son of bachelor, but that glorious factoid got revealed to the Puritans’ delight after their ‘buh buh buh…..he’s *fat*’ objections.) But lots of Americans and Canadians are tubby. Rob Ford’s a mess, he’s a *practicing* addict, and his values are repulsive to me, but…if he did manage his symptoms, the very fact that he didn’t always have his disease under control means he’s disqualified from ever being elected. But there are a lot of addicts out here, some of whom are ok, some of whom are not (at the moment) doing ok, etc.

Could you imagine if a man who did time wanted to run?

..is it the case that only Ivy-educated, Type-A’s with Hollywood teeth are allowed to lead in a democratic society?

I am confused about my own thinking because there are imperfections and flaws, and there are much more serious matters. There are a lot of child abusers out there, and that would disqualify somebody in my book pretty fast. Just because a flaw is common doesn’t mean it’s not deadly.

But it’s no good complaining about ‘those political elites’ not representing us if perfected people are the only people allowed to exist in the public sphere. Either we admit: these are elite offices that only elites may attain, or we have to allow that there are people with problems in the world–problems that $$$ and cosmetic surgery fix for the elite–but that those people with problems, too, can help us solve public problems. Would it be so horrible for us to be with Christie as he struggles with his weight? Or to understand that Ford is struggling with a disease?

#ReadUrbanandPlanningWomen2014 entry #10: Petra Doan

I first met Petra in 2002 or 2003, I’m not sure, when I was in gradual school at UCLA and my advisor convinced me to go on a field trip on Columbia, Maryland, led by the brilliant Ann Forsyth. The year ACSP was in Baltimore. Yeah. 100 years ago.

Anyway, the US was racing into Iraq, and I was in my typical mindset of waffling angst: hating unilateral military invasion unsupported by allies, deploring Saddam Hussein at the same time, and not at all sure what to think. Petra was on the tour, as well, and she was wearing a button that said “I love the Iraqi people.” It was such a thoroughly apt reflection of the one thing that I did understand about the whole situation that I immediately became a fangirl of Petra’s, and I have followed her writing and leadership at ACSP on LGBT issues ever since.

I am particularly fond of this paper:

Doan, . L., & Higgins, H. (2011). The demise of queer space? Resurgent gentrification and the assimilation of LGBT neighborhoods. Journal of Planning Education and Research, 31(1), 6-25. doi:10.1177/0739456X1039126

This manuscript examines outcomes for LGBT communities in Atlanta, using a case study and interview method. There’s a lot of material here that is interesting, and I am somewhat pressed for time here to really do it justice, but the basic premise of the article is to examine how planning disrupts and commodifies LGBT communities in metro Atlanta. They examine nine communities: five for both lesbian and gay residents, and one community, Virginia Highlands, served both groups. Gay enclaves included N. Druid Hills (best name ever), Midtown, N. Atlanta, and Midtown. Lesbian enclaves included S.Columbia-Forest Hills, Candler Park/Lake Claire, Glenwood Estates, and Decatur-downtown.

Doan and Higgs discuss how LGBT groups inhabited older suburbs abandoned by affluent whites during post-war suburbanization. There, small LGBT businesses developed and thrived. As Atlanta attempted to shake off its “poster child for sprawl” image, planning began to treat these neighborhoods as possible places for infill and change. The best part of this manuscript, for me, is the content analysis of the plans for these neighborhoods, along with the critique of the zoning decisions. In plan after plan, agencies just couldn’t deal with the LGBT residents of those communities even in a discussion of the demographics of the area. It’s not as though we need anybody to arrive a at some essential “well, gay people live here so we have to plan gay” moment; just the fact that the plans would not mention the possibility that difference existed in these neighborhoods, let alone that LGBT men and women central to the identity of a place, demonstrates that planning wasn’t ready to talk about LGBT places as places. Another, particularly sad example includes zoning decisions that threatened landmark LGBT businesses, including Outwrite Books and Charis Books, through zoning for big box stores to serve new, affluent, hetero residents.

(Outwrite books closed for good in 2012, which is a pretty long time to hold out, but still sad. And even sadder knowing that it was forced out of its original location. Charis books lives on.

The desire to bring affluent, middle-class families back to downtown and interior suburbs (I’m not sure it makes sense to talk about ‘rings’ for Atlanta any more than it does for LA) subsequently has dispersed LGBT residents throughout the region, with the impression, for some, that these enclaves became less supportive environments. Nonetheless, interviewees still long for shared life and community; it’s not as though “everybody is so tolerant you can live anywhere” and that’s why LGBT residents are dispersing. Instead, it’s that many, particularly young LGBT renters can’t afford to live in these neighborhoods anymore. When unable to afford the longstanding LGBT enclaves, respondents discuss their desire for diverse environments and affordability–a preference that leads them to African American and mixed neighborhoods where racial tensions arise where some of the hardest hit are people of color priced out of those markets as well.

A key point for me in this manuscript was how central LGBT businesses are to possible preservation efforts. I know very little about historic preservation, so perhaps this point is less impactful than I think, but it was eye-opening to me to see just how pivotal these businesses were.

Go read, go read, go read, my friends.

The oldest (?) man in New York City and its effort to become elder-friendly

HT to Micheal Leddy at Orange Crate Art.

The New York Times has a article about Carl Berner, believed to be the oldest man in New York CIty:

At 108, Still Pulsing With Vigor – City Room Blog – NYTimes.com

If you navigate the page, you’ll find a story from last fall about Bloomberg’s effort to make NYC friendlier for the elderly. The best initiative in my book? The taxi and van voucher. That could really make a big difference in the lives of the seniors as they get somewhat less able to walk in NYC’s crowded streets. I know: bad me, advocating for cars. But taxis are among the most significant and most overlooked services for those without personal cars, as taxis can fill up the gaps in service hours or spaces where transit doesn’t go. And trust me, as a bus rider, taxis gives some relief to walkers and transit riders on bad days.

So much for The Pogues’ claim that New York is “no place for the old.”



Early influences in social inclusion: Bella Abzug

If there was one thing the old German misogynists in my family loathed when I was growing up, it was a mouthy woman. But a mouthy woman Democrat? That they could get behind.

Bella was one of my earliest role models, the sort of woman who taught me how not behave. It’s great to see book about her–finally. Here’s a podcast:

Podcast: Hats Off to Bella Abzug – City Room Blog – NYTimes.com