Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Blogger Candidate Forum: Monumental

http://www.citylab.com

Hello Everyone: 

It is Wednesday which means it is time for the weekly edition of Blogger Candidate Forum. Today, rather than continue to focus on Charlottesville, Virginia, Yours Truly would like to talk about something different, albeit related, topic: the removal of Confederate monuments.  Before Yours Truly launches into today's subject, a word or two ( three, four, five dozen at least) on President Donald Trump's impromptu and chaotic news conference at Trump Towers in New York City.  

Mr. Trump you showed your true colors.  You notice that Yours Truly does not refer to POTUS by the proper honorific, Mr. President.  This is intentional.  This is a title that is earned through a demonstration of political and moral leadership.  Over the past nearly seven months POTUS has done neither one.  Your response to the disgusting and horrific events in Charlottesville are the proverbial icing on the proverbial cake. By defending the white supremacist groups and attacking the counter protestors, you showed the entire known solar system exactly the kind of person you are.  You are the kind of person who is not above defending groups that advocate violence and hatred when it suits your purpose.  In your prepared statement on Monday, you said racism is evil.  Do you believe it?  Do you believe that a Confederate monument is symbolic of a society based on the kidnapping, subjection, and exploitation of human life?  Do you believe that the policies you and members of administration and Congress support perpetuate racism and bigotry today?  Mr. Trump, if you want earn the title of Mr. President, you need to act like it.

Alright, Yours Truly has had her say.  On to today's subject: how the city of Baltimore quietly removed its Confederate monuments overnight.

The city of Baltimore is a beautiful city in the state of Maryland.  Yours Truly does have a slight biased toward the city having visited it a few times.  The city, named for Charles Calvert, Lord Baltimore, is lies at sort of a half way point between the former Union states (i.e. the North) and the Confederate states (i.e. the South).  During the Civil War (1861-65), Maryland fought on the Union side and Baltimoreans waivered between the two sides.  The city is also home to multiple Confederate monuments (http://www.baltimoresun.com; Aug. 16, 2017; date accessed Aug. 16, 2017) thanks to efforts of wealthy patrons with Southern sympathies (http://www.cdn.knightlab.com; date accessed Aug. 16, 2017).  In today's edition of the online journal CityLab, David Dudley looks at how the city quietly removed those statues in his article "How Baltimore Removed Its Monuments Overnight."  Mr. Dudley writes, "After years of debate and deliberation among city leaders, preservationists, historians, and activists about what to do with the city's trove of CSA [Confederate States of America]-themed statuary, the move by Mayor Catherine Pugh to remove all four of theme at once overnight offered a sudden and unambiguous resolution."

The removal operation had a cloak and dagger element to it.  The operation began under the cover midnight and was completed before the sun rose.  Mayor Pugh and group of reporters watched as team of workers, surrounded by police, used a crane to pick up "the largest of the monuments-twin equestrian statues of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson that have stood in Wyman Park, steps from the Baltimore Museum of Art since 1948..."

The equestrian statues and  other statues were just removed.  No fanfare, no protests, no violence, nothing.  They were just hoisted off their base.  What greeted early morning joggers at a small park across the street from Johns Hopkins University was a polished granite base, missing a statue.  The MIA statue was of Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, the Maryland-born judge who authored the 1857 Dred Scott decision.  It an other Jim Crow-era monuments were pulled up and simply hauled way.  Baltimoreans woke up to the headlines that this long festering "controversy over racially inflammatory artifacts was simply over"

David Dudley reports, "The Lee-Jackson memorial had been squarely in the crosshairs of local activists for many years."  In September 2015, former Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake appointed a commission of academe its and officials to review the city's four Confederate monuments, following the shooting deaths of nine African Americans in the Mother Emmanuel Church in South Carolina.  The commission recommended removing the statues.  The monuments included: the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors monument on Mount Royal Avenue, the Confederate Women's Monument on West University Parkway, the Roger B. Taney Monument on Mount Vernaon Place, and the Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. Stonewall Jackson Monument in the Wyman park Dell (http://www.baltimoresun.com; Aug. 14, 2017; date accessed Aug. 16, 2017).

Initially, the commission recommended getting rid of the Taney and the Lee-Jackson statues; posting a sign next to the other two to provide historic context.  Mayor Pugh expressed frustration that the process was not further along, noting that former Mayor Rawlings-Blake had the commission's report on her desk for nearly a year before leaving office.  Mayor Pugh told reporters that she planned to go further than the commission concluded.  She said, We're looking at all four of them. (Ibid)

The move was not without pushback.  Carolyn Billups, the former president of the Maryland chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy argued that the city should spend their money on other things.  Ms. Billups said,

The were all put up with an honorable intention...They were not erected as a show of racism. (Ibid)

Carolyn Billups vowed, if necessary, she would try to prevent the removals.  She told reporters,

I'm not sure if it's practical to chain myself to it, but something has to be done along those lines...I'm serious about spending days, weeks, whatever it takes to defend the monument."  (Ibid)

On Monday, August 14, 2017, Councilmember Brandon Scott introduced a resolution to have the monuments destroyed.  The fifteen member city council unanimously voted in favor for the resolution but not before there was some debate.  Councilmember Eric T. Costello said, "he wanted the monuments gone but believed destroying artworks goes down a dangerous path." Council member Ryan Dorsey argued they all should be destroyed: The very least we can do is destroy the symbols we have of oppression. (Ibid)

While the Baltimore City Council was debating destroying versus simple removal, the activist collective Baltimore Bloc tweeted that they were organizing a group to take matters into their own hands.  This tweet followed the successful toppling of a statue in Durham, North Carolina on Monday.  (http://www.twitter.com/BmoreBloc; date accessed Aug. 16, 2017).  The collective announced that they planned to take action at 6pm today (Eastern Standard Time).  However, the city beat them to it.  By the wee hours of the morning, the Lee-Stonewall equestrian statues were consigned to the history books.  In their place was an empty, graffiti-cover base; standing next to it was and anti-racist statue called Mother Light saluting the plinth with a raised fist.

David Dudley writes, "It's not yet clear how Baltimore's skillfully executed night raid on the Lost Cause fits into the larger and still-unfolding national crisis triggered by the Charlottesville crisis and President Trump's unsettling embrace of white nationalism."  For many the sole question is: "What took so long?"  Baltimore is a majority African American city in a Union state.  Republican governor Larry Hogan released a statement supporting the removal of the Justice Taney statue from the statehouse property in Annapolis. (http://www.washingtonpost.com; Aug. 15, 2017; date accessed Aug. 16, 2017) From a political perspective, Mayor Catherine Pugh's preemptive striking was a no-brainer.  Mr. Dudley adds, "The fate of memorials in cities and towns in Southern states is likely to be resolved more contentiously."

Locally, the night time toppling of the statues brought good news to a city weary from  the constant stream of violence.

The swift, peaceful, and lawful way the removal was executed-all the necessary permits in hand-"served as a desperately needed demonstration that the civic compact was not hopelessly broken.  Baltimore City Paper reporter Brandon Soderberg report this morning that the crowd was in a partying mood.  Mr. Soderberg wrote, 

...Even the police seemed to be in the mood.  Capt. Sean Patrick Mahoney of the Baltimore Police joked with the crowd and warned them to be safe.

"Take selfies," he said.  "Enjoy it, all right?  But be very careful, once that thing starts moving, start taking a walk for me, will you?"... (http://www.citypaper.com; Aug. 16, 2017; accessed same day)

For once, the Mayor, City Council, and Baltimoreans were all in agreement.  Lest you think this was all done ad hoc, there was a plan, professional were hired for the job, and best of all no got hurt.  For a city that has frequently signified urban dysfunction, "this was an effective display of municipal competence, proof that we are, despite everything, a governable community."  Yours Truly always believed that Baltimore was way better than the media depictions.  Now we have proof.  Way to go Charm City.

Baltimore defied its troubled history in another way.  Removing a statue or statues is an anomaly for a city once famous for building them.  In the 1830s, Baltimore earned the nickname "The Monumental City," for its enthusiasm for memorial creating. (http://www.baltimoresun.com; Aug. 15, 2017; date accessed Aug. 16, 2017). Indeed, no sooner had the smoke cleared from the battle of Fort McHenry, Baltimoreans set about fund raising to build a War of 1812 battle monument. (http://www.wikipedia.org; date accessed Aug. 16, 2017). In 1815, the city began construction on the 178-foot-high Washington Monument, the first national tribute to George Washington.  Baltimore residents like to boast that it pre-dates the Washington Monument in D.C.  More recently, the city has commissioned statues of the late Justice Thurgood Marshall,former Mayor William Donald Schaefer, Yankees baseball legend Babe Ruth, and native son Frank Zappa.  Monument making is something that Baltimore does really well.  Now there are new places to put them.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Big Data And Historic Preservation

http://www.citylab.com

Hello Everyone:

Today we turn from the horrific events in Charlottesville, Virginia and President Donald Trump's rather pathetic efforts to condemn white supremacist groups to something somewhat related to the matter: "How Do You Measure the Value of a Historic Site?" reported by Linda Poon in CityLabHow do you gauge what a site means to people?  This is of particular importance as cities continue to grow and historic properties come under threat.  Ms. Poon looked at how Tiong Bahru, Singapore's oldest housing estate.  Tiong Bahru was first built in the 1930s and is still home to the city-state's first wet market (http://www.singapore-vacation-attractions.com date accessed Aug. 15, 2017) and the last standing World War II air raid shelter.  The good news is that, thus far, it is one of the few neighborhoods that have not been completely consumed by high rises.  The bad news is that encroaching gentrification-cafes and trendy boutiques-has made it its presence felt.

Ms. Poon reports, "Tiong Bahru is an example of the the tension between historic preservation and economic development on the small island of 5 million people." Singapore is the epitome of modernity with its gleaming skyscrapers, multi-colored lights flickering in the night sky, and the kind of eye popping architecture that other cities fantasize.  (http://www.reuters.com; date accessed Aug. 15, 2017). The landscape is in a state of constant change in order to accommodate new demands, barely leaving room for older buildings.

Even historic cemeteries are not sparred.  Mimi Kirk reported in CityLab that historic cemeteries are being dug up to make room for new constructions (http://www.citylab.com; Apr. 24, 2017; date accessed Aug. 15, 2017).  National libraries and theaters are giving way to highway projects and new apartments-"all in the name of progress."  Nanyang Technical University complexity scientist Siew Ann Cheong told Ms. Poon,

We can still remember the thing we did as kids, but there's no physical substance that we can anchor those member to

Singapore's government has never been a fan of historic preservation and whatever efforts to conserve physical objects of its past have become mired in politics.  Ms. Kirk reported when Singapore's former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew (1959-90), not a preservation fan himself, passed away in in 2015, "...his will called for the demolition of the colonial-style bungalow he had lived in since 1945." (Ibid)  LKY told a gathering of journalists in 2011

If our children are unable to demolish the house as a result of any changes in the law, rules or regulations binding them, it is my wish that the house never be opened to other except my children, their and descendants...(http://www.straitstimes.com; Apr. 13, 2015; date accessed Aug. 15, 2017)

Currently, the house is at the center of a bitter and politically fueled family feud.

Lost among the debates is a more constructive constructive conversation over the actual cultural value of a place and its preservation worthiness to the Singaporeans.  Mr. Cheong and his colleague, historian Andrea Nanetti, believe they have found a science-based strategy to assessing historic-cultural value.  Linda Poon reports, "Their method is rooted in complex theory, the study of system comprising interacting parts and whose behavior is hard to predict and, therefore control."  Their approach is called SHIFT-Sustainable Heritage Impact Factor Theory-"and they believe it can give cultural value its due in often-messy debates over preservation and redevelopment."

As we have seen in the ongoing debates over Confederate monuments, cultural value is a subjective matter, measure by human experiences.  Messrs. Cheong and Nanetti believe "...politicians and urban planners often focus too much on physical space."  However, heritage conservation should be considered a complex system composed of old and residents-"interacting with each other, the landscape, and the surrounding landmarks."  In a paper, Sustainable Heritage Impact Theory (SHIFT): A complexity framework for heritage assessment and planning (http://www dr.ntu.edu.org; 2016; date accessed Aug. 15, 2017)  they describe their theory, heritage is also a constantly evolving network:

This complex network evolves with time, as old agents are removed and new agents are added.  Existing links between agents can also be removed, and new links added.  As these social changes are happening, we can also have the removal of old landmarks and the addition of new landmarks.

The central thesis is "urban planners and leaders need to evaluate the tangible aspects (the physical buildings or sites), the intangible elements (human-to-human interaction), and the natural surroundings."  Specifically, it is these patterns of interaction and how they spread across the city, changing from one generation to the next.

How do you gauge the strength of these interactions over time and forecast how certain development projects might impact them?  First step is to study the abundant and available data.  Mr. Cheong told Linda Poon,

What we are trying to measure here is the depth of connection between the people and the [customs] and places...If we value this particular building, how much do we value it?  The natural way of measuring that would be to see whether people write or paint about this.

Or post and tweet about it (you know who you are).

The incessant posting and tweeting is useful in the initial analysis of how frequently a site is featured in the social media.  The initial analysis also looks how often a site is featured in traditional media as well. It is not just about how many likes, it is also about analyzing the quality of each platform.  "A painting take more time to make than an Instagram photo, so the two would rank differently in the evaluation.

Siew Ann Cheong acknowledges the limitations of this method.  "A cemetery may not exactly be an inspirational backdrop for art despite its cultural significance by other measures, and it would have the abundance of data for,...a national monument."  The plethora of tourist photographs of a historic-cultural site may not accurately reflect what the host community wants.

Mr. Cheong admits he does not have a method for correcting the limitations.  Additionally, there is a lot of revealing data that has not been completely collected, such as statistics about demographics cross sections or local tourism.  Optimistically, the researchers say "it's not too late to start now."

This is only a small part of a bigger conversation that needs to happen before the developers plunge ahead with a project.  Ms. Poon writes, "At the very least, thinking of heritage and cultural significance in this framework brings out the questions that need to be asked:  What stories need to be told to highlight a historic site's significance, and how they weigh against the need to build new towers?"  Rather than leveling an entire town for a new development, are they specific areas that should be preserved?  Further, if a proposed development moves forward, how can it be put up in a manner that does not disrupt the historic fabric of a neighborhood?

This strategy also lays the foundation for a less politicized historic preservation process and more of an issue for big data.  Andrea Nanetti told Ms. Poon,

Our point is: how can this evaluation become machine readable, and thus potentially empowered by artificial intelligence and other computer tools?...The most important thing is to put on the table data and information in a way that decision makers can foresee part of the consequences in taking one decision or another.

Siew Ann Cheong and Andrea Nanetti hope to test their method in Singapore.  However, because of the politically sensitive nature of the city-state's heritage conservation policy, they will conduct their test in Oman with hopefully good results.  

Could this be be applied to American historic preservation policy?  Possibly.  It certainly would engender slightly less heated debates over what is preservation worthy.  Thinking about the events in Charlottesville, Virginia and the ongoing calls to remove Confederate monuments.  Yours truly wonders how this big data approach to heritage conservation would work and what the response would be.

 


Monday, August 14, 2017

The War On Public Space

http://www.citylab.com


Hello Everyone:

This has been quite an eventful summer because once again, current events dictate the day's post.  The images coming from Charlottesville, Virginia were disgusting and horrific.  A torch light parade by white supremacists, chanting racist slogans, a man plowing his car into a crowd of counter protestors, injuring 19, killing Heather Heyer and two state troopers.  We have the image of President Donald Trump offer a rather pathetic condemnation of the events, leaving members of his administration to explain what he meant by violence on many sides. Then there was this morning's press conference, where POTUS came off like a schoolboy being forced to give an apology for something he did while persistently not condemning white nationalism.  Too little, too late. Yours truly is struggling to maintain something that resembles composure in the face of it all.  Rather than spend an entire post venting anger and disgust, Blogger prefers to take a look at the urban aspect of this horrifying event.

Public space is the great market place for democracy.  It is also a scary place for the free exchange of idea.  The ramifications of an increasingly visible white nationalist movement (http://www.theatlantic.com; Aug. 12, 2017; date accessed Aug. 14, 2017) are far reaching-for conservatives that offer them refuge, for liberal Charlottesville the scene of torch rallies, the victims of racism and bigotry.  (Ibid). Kriston Capps, in his CityLab article "White Supremacists Are Waging a War Against Public Space,"The idea of the public square is under attack.  and he extremist alt-right is waging a campaign to shut public the square, using both violence and intimidation, especially under open-carry laws."

The concept of public space as a public fora evolved in 19th century Great Britain.  "In 1866, United Kingdom Home Secretary Spencer Walpole banned the Reform League from hosting a universal manhood sufferage rally in London's Hyde Park."  Undeterred, the Reform League argued that Hyde Park was neither public or crown property.  The Home Secretary was equally undeterred, engendering rioting and on the third day of violence, "some 200,000 people knocked down the gates and stormed Hyde Park."  A mosaic memorializes the Hyde Park Railings Affair at the feet of the so-called Reformers' Tree, which burned down during the riots. (http://www.royalparks.org.uk; date accessed Aug. 14, 2017). The charred remains serve as a reminder for the right to assembly.

Don Mitchell, the author of The Right To the City: Social Justice and the Fight for Public Space, told Mr. Capps,

Thos rights we take as 'immortal,' such as the right to assemble in and use public space, are not only relatively new, they are always hotly contested and only grudgingly given by those in power...Always hotly contested: rights over and to public space are never guaranteed once and for all

This latest act of vehicular terrorism is taken from the IS handbook-and Saturday's act of terrorism was the first on American soil.  Following the same game plan, the perpetrator drove a muscle car into the Charlottesville Downtown Mall, with the express purpose of inflicting maximum damage.  Mr. Capps reports, "Charlottesville's Downtown Mall is one of the most successful pedestrian malls in the country, a core feature of public life in the city. It is one of the few car-free pedestrian malls in America that has lasted for decades."

A quick history of the Downtown Mall.  The Mall was designed by Lawrence Halprin, the landscape architect responsible for the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington D.C. and that Mecca of Chocolate Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco, California, as well as other many much loved public spaces.  The Downtown Mall began its life, in 1973, as part of a urban revitalization program. Businesses were fleeing the city center and Charlottesville stepped up with a grand overture to the downtown's fortunes around.  It was successful.

Kriston Capps writes, "Charlottesville's Downtown Mall has been the site of regular protests since last year, when the city declared its intent to remove a Confederate statue celebrating Robert E. Lee."  White supremacists, across the spectrum from the KKK to the Proud Boys, descended on The Mall to show their support for the statue-the rallies have witnessed an increasingly large counter protests.  Blogger has to interject at this point.  

Yours Truly has long advocated keeping the symbols and places that remind us of our dark evil history.  In this case, Blogger supports the removal of symbols of the Confederacy because the reminders of a way of life predicated on the human suffering and exploitation.  These artifacts, while useful as teaching tools, do not belong in the public sphere as an ever present reminder of the racism and bigotry that fueled the Confederacy and sadly, continues to this day.

The "Unite the Right" rally, this past weekend, was in one respect about public space.  Mr. Capps writes, "It's organizers aim to defend a statue that affirms their his history, one that affirms white supremacy as official power."  ((http://www.theatlantic.com; Aug. 13, 2017; date accessed Aug. 14, 2017; posted on Blogger's social media pages today). The choice of park-Emancipation Park-was very deliberated, one "the city deemed unsafe for a white supremacist rally."  Fascinating.  The organizers of the rally.  The day before the rally under the Robert E. Lee statue was scheduled, a federal judge issued an injunction permitting the Unite the Right rally to be held in the park.  The decision was made late Friday evening after a two-hour debate and a 30 minute meeting between U.S. District Court Judge Glen E. Conrad and lawyers for rally organizer Jason Kessler, the city of Charlottesville, and downtown businesses.  (http://www.dailyprogress.com; Aug. 11, 2017; date accessed Aug. 14, 2017)

That is the basic explanation for why this park in this city.  The organizers framed their argument as a protest rally about a statue in a park.  Yours Truly is sickened over the way the rally organizers co-opted a typical preservationist argument as a premise for hateful assembly.  However, as Mr. Capps puts it, "But the alt-right's fight is also with public space.  Fascism rejects the free flow of speech and ideas.  It is an attack on the public sphere."  The proof is in the pictures and news accounts from Saturday.

Imtimidation is also a form of attack on the public fora.  Thirty-one states have open-carry gun laws and depending on which state you live, you must have a license or concealed handgun permit.  Virginia is one of those 31 states that permit open-carry for anyone 18 years-old and over with a license or CHP.  The far right takes advantage of these laws to hill free speech.  Representative Tom Perriello (D-VA) tweet a video of a private militia member, dressed as a national guardsman, hired to protect the Unite the Right rally and provoke confrontations.  (http://www.twitter.com/tomperriello)

Sadly, lawmakers in open-carry states have abdicated their law enforcement responsibilities to these individuals.  Open-carry rights do not extend to African-Americans, at least not in any safe or meaningful manner, thus any debate between minorities trying to make through the day without being shot at and Caucasians trying to suppress them is moot.  Open-carry is a contradiction of the concept of public space and free speech.  Therefore, a public space is not possible in open-carry states.

As with the vehicular terrorist attacks in London and Nice, public space are ripe targets because they are purposefully designed to be broad, open spaces, accessible to large numbers of people for a variety of purposes.  Interestingly, a vehicular assault in May in New York City's Times Square-the most visible public space-raised fears of a terrorist attack.  Really, the driver was under the influence of drugs and was suffering from serious mental problems.  One person was killed and 22 were injured.  The crash would have been ar more lethal had there not been anti-ram steel security bollards that prevented the driver from doing more damage (http://www.citylab.com; May 18, 2017; date accessed Aug. 14, 2017). 

Would those bollard worked in Charlotte?  Absolutely not.  Kriston Capps writes, "Those bollards wouldn't work on 4th Street in Charlottesville, which is open to traffic and crosses the pedestrian mall.  The problem in Charlottesville was not a design problem, but a philosophical one."  Racism, bigotry, and fascism co-exist, to a far lesser extent, with the public fora.  They cannot be weighed equally with other philosophies in considering how to guarantee the First Amendment right to lawful and free assembly.  The are an attack on a key feature of democracy itself.

Blogger would like to add this thought.  The was a brilliant editorial posted on Saturday in the Miami Herald, written by Leonard Pitts, Jr. (http://www.miamiherald.com; Aug. 12, 2017; date accessed Aug. 14, 2017).  The editorial, "Why Did Charlotte carnage happen?  Because we lie to ourselves."  We lie to ourselves when we say racism, bigotry, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, et cetera do not exist.  We lie to ourselves when we refuse to engage in any meaningful discussion on the subject.  When we refuse to condemn it out loud.  We can shout all the slogans we want, wave signs, come up with clever hashtags but until we confront it, all of our words are hollow.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Blogger Candidate Forum: What The Mayors Can Do

http://www.citylab.com


Hello Everyone:

It is a beautiful and warm Wednesday which means it is time for Blogger Candidate Forum.  Before we get going on today's topic: the proposed transgender military ban, a word about the escalation of tensions between North Korea and the United States.  Honestly, it is like watching two bullies trying to provoke each other from opposite ends of the schoolyard.  President Donald Trump is making things difficult with fiery and furious extemporaneous comments that surprised everyone. White House also has not provided any clear diplomatic direction.  Fortunately, cooler heads at the State Department; Secretary Rex Tillerson invited the North Koreans to sit down for talks.  The question becomes is this a political ploy by POTUS?  Scary thought, two thin skinned world leaders with nuclear codes, thumping their chests at each other.  Another scary thought is a president tweeting out policy.

This brings us to today's topic: what American mayors can do to resist POTUS's recent policy tweet, permenantly banning all transgender people from the U.S. military.  For the record, Blogger is opposed to this proposed ban.  POTUS tweeted that the reasons for the ban is transgendered people would compromise readiness and the increased medical costs.  Wrong on both counts.  The Rand Corporation did a study on the impact of transgendered people in the military; their presencewould have minimal impact.  (http://www.rand.org; June 30, 2016; date accessed Aug. 9, 2017). However, what does this have to do with American cities?  

This is the question Alastair Boone considers in her CityLab article "The Power of American Mayors to Resist Trump's Transgender Military Ban."  The proposed ban caught everyone, including Secretary of Defense James Mattis and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  Ms. Boone quotes Axios reporter Jonathan Swan, who cited an anonymous Trump administration official who said that it was "...cultural move designed to force Rust Belt Democrats to take to a potentially  unpopular position defending transgender soldiers,..." (http://www.citylab.com; July 26, 2017; date accessed Aug. 9, 2017).  Yet within milliseconds of POTUS's early morning tweet storm, several mayors were ready to take the anonymous official at his word, "...including several in the Rust Belt."  The mayors made it extremely clear that they welcome transgender people POTUS may summarily dismiss from the armed forces.

Never at loss for words, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel said "that president Trump has come down on the wrong side of history," reminding his constituents that July 26, 2017 was the 69th anniversary of Preisdent Harry S. Truman's decision to integrate the military.  Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barret declared his support for any American who chooses to serve in the military.  Mayor Lovely A. Warren issued a fantastic response:

It seems like our country has been transported back in time with Neanderthal policies coming out of the White House. Donald Trump's attack on transgender service men and women is just latest affront to equality emanating from Washington.  In Rochester we stand with and we stand up for our neighbor's.  Transgender citizens and all citizens are treated equally in this city...(http://www.cityofrochester.gov; July 26, 2017; date accessed Aug. 9, 2017)

In the bright red state of Arizona, Phoenix Mayor Greg Staton used the occasion to remind his fellow Arizonians that the city immortalized by the great Glen Campbell song, "By The Time I Get To Phoenix," that his city implemented transgender inclusive healthcare.

In the equally bright red state of Texas, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg issued this statement on the transgender ban:

It's certainly discriminatory.  I question its constitutionality.  The notion that one's gender is in any way connected to patriotism and service to the country is totally offensive.  (http://www.mysanantonio.com; July 26, 2017; date accessed Aug. 9, 2017)

Former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro tweeted:

Everyone who wants to serve and is qualified to serve should have the opportunity to do regardless of gender identity.  (Ibid)

San Antonio is home to three military bases and is deep in the heart of a state that is currently trying to limit access to public toilets for transgender residents-a bill that Mayor Nirenberg testified against in early July.  (Ibid)

Alastair Boone reports, "Several mayors of sanctuary cities also came forward to oppose the president's new ban.  In these cities, which are already fighting the Trump administration to protect their immigrant residents, many officials have taken measures to protect their transgender residents as well."  For example, in 2016 New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio initiated an advertising campaign that "affirmed the legal right to use bathrooms consistent with gender identity in New York City."  In responding to the President's twit fit, Mayro de Blasio tweeted his praise for transgender service personnel past and present.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh called it shameful and un-American to deny people the opportunity to serve their country because of their gender identity.  Across the Charles River in Cambridge, Mayor Denise Simmons tweeted "that the ban works against fostering the kind of inclusive country that many have spent their lives fighting for."  San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee has been a long time supporter of LGBTQ rights.

Back to the state of Texas, New Hope Mayor Jess Herbst tweeted, "...President Trump's ban contradicts his campaign platform of supporting the LGBTQ community."  In February, Mayor Herbst came out as Texas's first openly transgender mayor.  Really Mayor Herbst, did you actually think that POTUS was a true supporter of the LGBTQ community?  

The escalation of rhetoric between the United States and North Korea comes on the heels of the proposed ban on transgender military ban.  It is fascinating to think how many transgender people are capable of stopping an attack on the United States and its territories.  As mayors voice their opposition o the proposed ban, it would bode President Donald Trump well to let the members of the Congressional Armed Services Committees, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and The Pentagon to conduct a thorough study on the impact of transgender service personnel.  For now, as long as we have two national leaders thumping their chests at each, we need every able person regardless of gender identity.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Size Does Matter (When It Comes To Skill And Talent)

http://www.citylab.com


Hello Everyone:

Does size matter?  Okay, before you start getting all sorts of thoughts in your heads, allow Blogger to clarify the question: does size matter when it comes skills and talent?  This is the question that Richard Florida ponders in his CityLab article "When It Comes to Skills and Talent, Size Matters."  It is no surprise that the glamour cities: Los Angeles and New York are larger than life magnets for finance, media, entertainment, and creative industries.   While knowledge and tech cities like: San Francisco, Boston, Washington D.C., and Seattle have greater than average concentrations of talent, technology, and knowledge industries.  Mr. Florida writes, "Just 20 metros of 360-plus metros across the country have fully formed knowledge and creative economies, as a new kind of winner-take-all urbanism defines our economic landscapes." (http://www.citylab.com; May 28 2015; date accessed Aug. 8, 2018)

However, what are the reasons behind this new and increasingly unequal skill and talent landscape?  The reasons can be found in a new study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, titled The Comparative Advantage of Cities, written by Columbia University and University of Chicago economists Donald R. Davies and Jonathan I. Dingel. (http://www.nber.org; date accessed Aug. 8, 2017). The study is a deep dive below the surface of why the glamour, knowledge and tech hubs are outsized magnets for workers with skills and talent.  Mr. Florida reports, "It focuses on two measures of skill-one based on level of education and the other based on the occupation and kind of work people do."  Although most economists typically gauge skill or human capital by level of education, Mr. Florida argues that "...occupation provides a more refined measure of actual relevant workplace skill."  The study examined the skill spread across 270 metros, 9 levels of education, and 22 occupational categories (eg the STEM professions, Social Services, Custodial) across 19 different industries (eg educational services, health care, or manufacturing).  Here are a couple of important points.

Educated people gravitate to bigger cities and metros

The study revealed that talent and skill, without a doubt, are concentrated in larger cities and metropolitans. In essence, the larger cities are magnets for better educated people, typically with graduate and professional degrees.

This pattern is true for those with high school diplomas, bachelor degree, those with advanced and professional degrees, that "makes up more than 85 percent of population. Only at the extreme tails of the distribution, with people with less than a high school education or a Ph.D, does the relationship between weaken."

Why is this the case?  The study points to several reasons for this: larger cities and metropolitan areas are the epicenter of large concentrations of unskilled immigrant labor (Mr. Florida notes, "U.S.-born people with less than a high school degree are less likely to live in big cities."). Yet, larger cities and metropolitan also have great concentrations of poverty and disadvantage.  But larger cities offer better pay and opportunities, and social services for lesser-educated demographic groups.

Conversely, "larger cities have smaller-than-predicted concentrations of the most highly educated Americans-..."  This trend is driven by the spread out locations of professors and middle- and high-school teachers.  While colleges and universities are located around the United States, academic jobs are hard to come by.  Academics, like workers in every profession, go where the jobs are: Mr. Florida recalled holding professorships in Buffalo (SUNY Buffalo), Columbus (Ohio State University), and Pittsburgh (Carnegie Mellon).  Other than academia, Ph.Ds in other professions and industries are more geographically concentrated.

High-skilled occupation and industries concentrate in bigger cities and metros

The plethora of research demonstrates that the "...U.S. Labor market has become more homogenous and spread out across places."  The studies concluded that "...this dispersal of job opportunities-that fact that people can get the same sorts of jobs in most places-is a significant part of the decline in the number of Americans who are moving around."  (http://www.citylab.com; Feb. 2, 2017; date accessed Aug. 8, 2018). Be that as it may, "...that belies the fact that the most high-skilled and high-paying jobs, and the most advanced, highest value industries are strikingly concentrated and geographically uneven."

If you click on the (http://www.citylab.com; July 6, 2017), you can check out "Industries' population elasticities and skills intensities" chart generated by Donald Davis and Jonathan Dingel for NBER.  The chart compares the skill levels of 19 industries (the X axis) to population movement-ie workers's tendencies to relocate to bigger metropolitans (the Y axis).  If you pay close attention to the upper right-hand corner of the chart-you can see the industries that both highly skilled and geographically concentrated: eg finance, technology, and company management.

Richard Florida reports, "Overall, we see a similar pattern across entire industries."  The largest industries attain their maximum size in New York.  There are three exceptions: manufacturing (second largest Los Angeles), mining (10th-largest Houston), and forestry, fishing, hunting, and agriculture (13th-largest Seattle).  In general, what the chart presents "is that higher-skilled industries tend to pull from larger places, rather than demonstrating a kind of specialized form of industry."

Another chart, also viewable at http://www.citylab.com; July 6, 2017, makes a similar comparison, this time the occupations provide a snapshot of where the talent is (as opposed to specific industries).  "This chart compares the skill levels of 22 key sets of occupations (along the X axis) to the population elasticities-in other words, their tendency to locate in bigger metros (on the y axis)."  Once again, pay attention to the upper right hand corner of the chart-presenting which occupations that are both highly skilled and geographically concentrated.

Staying on the upper right hand corner of the chart, we find the computer and mathematical professions-are the foundation of the STEM professions: i.e. computer science, software, artificial intelligence, and machine learning industries.  Also in that quadrant are architecture (yay), life science, arts and entertainment, sports and media, legal, financial, and business occupations.  In short, "highly skilled occupations that make up the knowledge, professional, creative class."  Coincidentally, they are also the very professions that are not only concentrated in larger metropolitan areas, but  also power innovation and economic growth across the metropolitans.

This brings up the question, "What kind of occupations are more spread out?"  Taking a look at the highly skilled professions, we find that education and library occupations, health care workers, and community and social services are the among the more portable professions.  Essentially, "the eds and meds" professions follow the population.  Among the less-skilled professions: fast growing jobs in food preparation and service, healthcare service support, and traditional working class jobs in production (i.e. factory work), maintenance, construction, and transportation follow the population.

No surprise that the study concluded that "highly skilled occupations are overwhelmingly located in large metros. As the authors point out, 19 of the 22 occupations attain their maximal size in New York, while Los Angeles leads in production (manufacturing) and San Francisco leads in architecture and engineering."  Fresno, the capital of California's heartland, leads the way in farming, fishing, and forestry.

What can we take away from The Comparative Advantage of Cities, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research?  The take away is a "new shift in our economy where the larger cities with big pools of high skilled talent garner extreme concentrations of industries and occupations."  This is the driver of the winner-take-all urbanism and growing geographic inequality of winner and loser cities and metropolitans of today.




Monday, August 7, 2017

Does Community Mean The Same Thing In The 21st-century?

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Hello Everyone:

Welcome to a fresh week on the blog.  Yours truly hopes you all had a lovely weekend and ready for the week.  Today we are going to look at how the meaning of community changed in the 21st-century. Megan Garber writes in her CityLab article, "What Does 'Community' Mean?," "For much of the 20th century, if you asked someone to define 'community' they'd very likely give you an answer that involved a physical location."  The concept of community is generally derived from a one's place, literally one's place within the greater world.  In the millennium, the social media has upended the conventional definition of community.  In the present day, the basic conception of community implies "...something a once farther from and more intimate from one's home: one's identity."  The Oxford English Dictionary sums up the word, A body of people or things viewed collectively.  Thus, the concept of community in the 21st-century is less something that you fit into and more something you choose to be part of.  The choice you make is predicated on a shared sense of interests, circumstances, and affiliations.  Think about all the social media sites you click onto.  Blogger is most definitely part of this new definition of community.  The new definition of community have become a more active concept, rather than a passive.  Let us take a look at this phenomena.

According to Bill Bishop, the author of the book The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded American Is Tearing Us Apart (http://www.indiebound.org; date accessed Aug. 7, 2017), this shift in semantics is more descriptive of the greater metamorphis of American life.  It describes the rise of the individuals as the driver of cultural; the decline of institutional power.  Mr. Bishop told an audience at the annual Aspen Ideas Festival, co-sponsored by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic,

It used to be that people were born as part of a community, and had to find their place as individuals.  Now people are born as individuals, and have to their community.

The explosion of the social media has laid bare the changes within the facets of American culture, politics, and other institutions.  Mr. Bishop observed, "Marriage...is today commonly conceived less as a semi-sacrificial commitment-forsaking all others-and more as a means to deeper personal fulfillment."  Journalism, usually presented in the second or third person, now is presented in the first person, either explicitly or implicitly, comes across as more trustyworthy than institutional.  In the business realm, the readiness to break the rules (i.e. "radical creativity") is prized over the ability to fit in.

Bill Bishop noted,

I'm not saying any of these are or bad...It's just a switch is perhaps most obvious in electoral politics.

Something Mr. Bishop posits has become 

...less about issues now than it is about asserting one's identity.

You could also make the case that the reverse is true: "...the issues are entirely about identity and vice versa."  What is apparent, is that the concept of "identity"-the word rapidly increased in usage in the second half of the 20th century- is changing our perception of "community." (books.google.com; date accessed Aug. 7, 2017)

The response to changing communication techonologies, according to Mr. Bishop, is the key mechanism for this shift.  If you look closely at the communities on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, et cetera, what you will notice is the emphasis on "...identity through a combination of consumption and perperfromance: On Facebook, for example, one's favorite music and favorite's news sites and the memes and jokes one shares suggest, in the aggregate, not just what they like, but who they are."  That has Blogger wondering what her shares and likes suggest about who she is.  Regardless, the SMS, as an information sharing platform, take on the gate keeping role once played by mainstream media.  Friends, fans, and followers override anonymous organizations.  Familiarity takes precedence over expertise.  This may explain why it seems that the very institutions and people we once trusted are now under attack.  Megan Garber opines, "The digital world has both allowed for and ratified a culture of extreme individualism."  With regards to information, Mr. Bishop succinctly summed it up, I get to decide what's true or not.

What does this mean for the United States, "as a collection not just of individuals, but also of communities?"  Alain Ehrenberg, in his book The Weariness of the Self (http://www.goodreads.com; date accessed Aug. 7, 2017), explains this sense of foreboding.  Mr. Ehrenberg observes how "psychologically exhausting it can be to be so constantly self-reliant."  Bill Bishop notes, we're not capable of doing that kind of self-construction every day.  Mr. Ehrenberg argues that "...identity construction,...,is at the root of things like depression, drug use, and even suicide."  Stated in this manner, "'identity' as a concept might, paradoxically, prove a challenge to American individuals."

There is some hope amid all this gloom-"identity is also politically empowering.  'Community,' in the transcendent sense of the word, is empowering."  Bill Bishop argues that "The culture of individualism..may bring Bowling Alone-style (http://www.indiebound.org; date accessed Aug. 7, 2017) sacrifices of social capital in physical communities; it can also bring with it, however, a different kind of social capital: one in which the individual person, rather than group, is primary."  This new concept of community is closer to what the Founding Fathers envisioned for the United States: "a people who were united not just by mutable circumstance, but also by shared values-is realized."  The Oxford English Dictionary notes that the word "community" is rooted in the Middle French communite.  Originally, the word may have come to mean a body of people who live in the same place, however, it meant something more simple and powerful, joint ownership. 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Blogger Candidate Forum: Bipartisanship For Housing?

http://www.citylab.com


Hello Everyone:

#BloggerCandidateForum is back from an enjoyable beach trip and ready to go.  After the spectacular collapse of the Senate's effort to wholesale repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), The Forum noticed a whiff of bipartisanship in the air.  It seems that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has decided that reaching across the aisle to his Democratic counterpart and try to stabilize the healthcare insurance market.  This may work better than just getting rid of ACA without anything to replace it.  The Forum will keep its eye on the matter.  The renewed spirit of bipartisanship may be a subtle rebuke to President Donald Trump and his incendiary ideology and chaotic administration.  Can the spirit of bipartisanship extend to other hot button issues, like affordable housing?

This is the question that Kriston Capps considers in his CityLab article "A Bipartisan Fix to the Housing Crisis?"  Interesting idea.  Instead of large-scale building program to add more units into the market, the members of Congress could work together to achieve stability in the housing market and preserve existing units.  It could work.

Kriston Capps reports, "In 2015, a quarter of renter households in the U.S. paid more than half their incomes toward their rent."  This is one of the defining statistics that characterize the affordable housing crisis, "a slow-motion catastrophe that, by. 2025, may consume 15 million Americans."  Amid the chaos of the healthcare debate, the Senate Finance Committee staged a hearing to figure out a strategy.

Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), a member of the Finance Committee, said during the hearing,

Several people mentioned the 25 percent increase in renters over the last 10 years...That is just unbelievable to me-unless you stop and think about the implosion of the economy during that time period,and realize, yes, those who ere on the last rung of the ladder literally fell off the ladder.

The hearing was centered on a bill proposed by Senator Cantwell, intended to jumpstart new affordable housing investment and construction.  The bill, S.548-the Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act of 2017 (http://www.congress.gov; date accessed Aug. 2, 2017)-"would expand and reshape the Low Income Housing Tax Credit, which is responsible for 90 percent of new low-income housing built in American today."  If passed, it would create or preserve 1.3 million affordable housing units over a decade, approximately 400,000 above the current projects.

The Bill was introducact ed Senators Cantwell and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) last year, the Affordable Housing Credit Improvement enjoys the supports of more than 2,000 housing organization from all fifty states.  More important, it enjoys an increasingly commodity: bipartisanship.  Some of The Bill's eleven sponsors include: Republican Senators Dean Heller (NV), healthcare heroes Lisa Murkowski (AK) and Susan Collins (ME); Democrats Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (NY), Senators Cory Booker (NJ) and Patrick Leahy (VT).  Not many bills can brag about that.

CityLab recently sat down with Senator Cantwell to talk about affordable housing, political baseball in Senate, and the ways Seattle and Spokane get the job done.  Below are excerpts from that conversation.

CL: First things first: The Affordable Housing Improvement Act changes the name of the current credit mechanism, the Low Income Housing Tax Credit.  Why the change in the frame?

Senator Maria Cantwell: Part of the issue is that, in this moment, affordability is ripe in everyone's mind, but they don't know how it's affecting everyone.  There's a huge increase in the population that no longer is paying less than 50 percent of their income in rent-they're paying more than 50 percent in rent...If we want to address the demographic shift, we're going to have to do something increasing the tax credit.

CL: Can you explain the 50 percent basis boost, and how will that add to the value of the affordable housing credit?

SMC: In simplest terms-...-there are a lot of people who've gotten a lot richer in America, and are a lot of people who've gotten a lot poorer in America.  Those people who have lost out are now struggling with paying for housing.

Understanding the lack of supply and the shift in demographics is key to trying to figure out our way out of the situation.  One of the things that's most important to understand is this 90 percent issue.  The majority of affordable housing is built with the tax credit.  If you're not going to increase the tax credit, I don't know how we're going to build anymore...Amazon (http://www.npr.org; date accessed Aug. 2, 2017) and Paul Allen (http://www.usatoday.com; date accessed Aug. 2, 2017) in Seattle are trying to help...we're not going to get through this without increasing the tax credit.

CL: The bill aims to prohibit local approval, or really, disapproval, over where affordable housing credits can be used.  Can you discuss this problem and what's the bill solution 

SMC: It doesn't really prohibit it.  It basically says, if zoning allows it,it should take place.  The issue isn't whether locals still get to say.  It means they can't X it out once they've already approved it.

CL: So a housing credit can't be overturned when say, a neighborhood decides they don't want that affordable housing to be built there?

SMC:  [Neighborhoods] can't be a veto on something that already has zoning approval.

CL: Signals from the Republican leadership in Congress that they plan to dramatically ct the corporate tax rate have already diminished the value of housing tax credits. (http://www.citylab.com; Jan. 27, 2017; date accessed Aug. 2, 2017).  Will expanding the basis for the affordable housing credit work if Congress cuts the tax rate 5 percent to 20 or 15 percent?

SMC: ...I don't know how to predict what's going to happen with tax reform or the twists and turns in legislation.  I just know that by 2025 we're going to seen an even larger number of Americans in this situation-15 million...Clearly, there are discussions of tax reform that do suppress this.

CL: This bill describes "difficult-to-develop' areas, with a focus on Native American populations.  Is that a new category a new addition with this bill, or a change in the tax credit program?

SMC: ...You could have projects that are brought to the state commissions by Native Americans, and there are projects that have gotten approved.  This language allows for more flexibility and a higher rate of those projects being built.  I would...invest even more, just because we have such dilapidated conditions in parts of Indian Country, and this is what it would do push that forward and stabilize a lot of communities...

But , when you have this much demand, what's happening at the local level is that you have [for example] the YWCA pitted against the downtown mental health association-you're just pitted against a lot of people.  It's very hard to make this small amount of capital work across so many groups.  This is just one way of making sure those rural areas and more outlying are keep getting investment.

CL: Do you think the affordable housing credit basis should be expanded even further?

SMC: ...400,000 units would take care of maybe 20 percent of the problem.

CL: So there's more work to be done in expanding this credit?

SMC: I'm very convince this is a very big problem that is costing us money.  We're spending the money...

And if we could do so more cost effectively, then we also could give a boost to the economy because the housing investment and the development is a boost and a job creator in and of itself...you're helping put theses individuals on a better par with their income and opportunities for the future, too...

I was just home this past weekend, and somebody said to me at one of our forums, "My gosh, we could be so go-go, if we just had health care and housing."  This was in southwest Washington where the risks is so real...The other Barrie's to us, and challenges we face...don't seem so real or challenging.  My constituents...are fretting about how you take a population and make sure they get access to health care and housing.  They're like "If we take of these things, we're off to the races-..."

To me, on housing, we could do even more.  I'm just trying to be cognizant of where our colleagues are and how much they're willing to do.  The exacerbation of the problem is something peopl should not ignore...every one of my colleagues sees that when they go home and they walk around their states.  They hear about it in one form or another.

CL: In contrast with the health-care bill process especially,this affordable housing bill does seem to have a lot bipartisan support.  How close is this bill to being something workable that can go before the Senate?

SMC: The program itself has had bipartisan support for decades...we have something that we know is a known, bipartisan program that people believe in.  The question is, ca we deal with this problem?

I actually think [senators] see it a lot.  They just didn't know what was causing it, or they didn't know the numbers.  We were trying to get them to understand, this has been a huge shift in a 10-year period of time,both on the lack of production and on the increase in the population that has fallen out of affordability...It's only to get worse by 2025, and we're not going to get out of it, unless we do something.

In that regard I feel we made some good progress in getting people to understand that...

CL: I wonder though, with comprehensive tax reform looming in the future-which we know is a priority, even if we don't know when or if Congress will come to it-can a tax bill like move forward when there is a much larger tax to be settled?

SMC: I had a chance to meet with the Vice President [Mike Pence] earlier in the year, and I told him about this proposal.  He said, "Maybe that's something that can into tax reform."  I said, "With all due respects, Mr. Vice President, I believe in base hits..." Having a base hit is a good start to get where we need to go.

CL: This question is more philosophical.  I want to ask you how many think the incentive should be structured. Do you try to design the credits to only serve the most vulnerable families first-the extremely low-income households making below 30 percent of area median income?  Or should the incentive be staggered to build some new affordable housing at different income levels from the start?

SMC: The challenge is, right now we feel like the states have a very good framework for dealing with he problems.  We want them to figure out those issues and [we want to] not be as prescriptive at the federal level.  We do want people to understand the current emerging need of the very lowest sector.  In the state of Washington, we've seen great success here...

I'm very proud of Seattle.  I've seen unbelievable projects in downtown Seattle...Seattle has huge issues right now-huge.  I would want them to have as much flexibility as possible to deal with that population the way the want to.

Spokane might deal with a little differently...There's a big project that was just finished in Spokane. They took a dilapidated hope that ad been a landmark in the downtown area and turned it into a affordable workplace housing. (http://www.taxcreditcoalition.org; date accessed Aug. 2, 2017) It's different than what would happen in downtown Seattle.  They have a facility [downtown] dealing with the senior population with mental-health issues.  They wanted it to be right downtown, close to health care and other resources.  You got to give the cities a little flexibility, and use the state commission to figure out what they want to do.