Tuesday, December 31, 2013


JOHN TAYLOR YEAR-END MIXTAPE 2013 by Manimal VinylCheck out this seriously funky play list to get your year off to a great start.

New Year Post

Hello Everyone:

Happy New Year.  This has been quite a year for our cities and 2014 is looking like another big year in the urban landscape.  As always, your truly will endeavor to bring you fascinating topics in architecture, historic preservation, urban planning and design.  I hope you've enjoyed reading the blog as much as I like writing it.  I can't wait to bring you more observations in the coming year.  In the meantime, be happy, be healthy, be prosperous, enjoy your parties safely and sanely.

Happy New Year

Monday, December 30, 2013

Making Over Urban Los Angeles


Downtown Los Angeles, aerial view
Hello Everyone:

I hope holiday is going well and your getting a chance to spend it with the ones you love.  I noticed that in a span of a week, we've increased page viewership to 5420.  Do you thing we can do 10,000 by April 1, 2014?  I think we can.  Today's topic, creating a new identity for the city of Los Angeles, comes to us from a recently published essay by Christopher Hawthorne.  In his year-end essay, considering the future of Los Angeles' urban identity, Mr. Hawthorne looks at the direction the "City of Angels" is headed in for better or worse.  Mr. Hawthorne looks at urban trends that took center stage in the past year and their impact on the city.  In a side-bar piece, which you can read later, Mr. Hawthorne looks at the best and worst architectural moments of 2013.  In the meantime, let's look at how, once again transportation is reshaping the geography of Los Angeles.

1935 Map of Los Angeles
The revolution tentatively began in 2005, when Christopher Hawthorne arrived in Los Angeles and the first phase of the Gold Line, the light rail line traveling from downtown to Pasadena had just opened and construction on the Expo line hadn't begun.  James Hahn, the mayor at the time, was ending a largely uneventful single term as mayor.  Measure R, the transit tax that would make over the city, was four years in the offing.  The celebratory CicLAvia ride through the open streets of Los Angeles was six years away from its debut. The stage was set for the trends that would emerge in 2013.  This past year saw high-level debates over the future of the L.A. River, new parks in Santa Monica and downtown, blockbuster exhibitions at the Getty dedicated to Southern California's architecture and design heritage, the election of Council member Eric Garcetti to mayor and his early initiative, historic preservation wins in Beverly Hill (a preservation ordinance) and elsewhere, forward movement on a planned subway and light-rail lines, and expanded Union Station.  These signs of progress, all contributed, this year, to the feeling that Los Angeles crossed over into new civic territory.

The L.A. River
When I bring up the L.A. River in during dinner conversations, the response I get is "L.A. has a river?"  Yes, it does and it's more than "literally a puddle on slab of concrete" as one person Christopher Hawthorne follows on Twitter recently did.  However, this rather unattractive, highly-engineered body of water that slices through the heart of the city has real potential.  As Los Angeles continues to spread out, finding room for parks is getting tougher and more expensive than before.  The big attraction of the river is that it qualifies as a linear park on a massive scale, already in public hands, awaiting discovery.  Mr. Garcetti, who took office in July, made the river an early priority, lobbying the Army Corps of Engineers to support a $1.1-billion plan.  This plan was one of three options under consideration to remake the eleven mile river.  In the interim, he launched the Great Streets initiatives in October, with the goal of using improvements to forty streets around the city to open more for cyclists and pedestrians, or in the words of the mayor, "activate the public realm."  While the Great Streets initiatives needs some improvement, it's place to start.

Sunset Boulevard
Nevertheless, the Great Streets initiatives points to a new emphasis on urban design at City Hall.  It suggests the concept, clearly laid out in Christopher Hawthorne's fascinating series of article on Los Angeles' great boulevards, the city's major streets are returning to the heart of civic life, something that has recently gained political traction. Almost every demographic trend implies a move toward a public future is in the making. This trend, according to Mr. Hawthorne, is irreversible and demonstrates that Los Angeles is no longer interested in just building freeways or single-family houses, the twin pillars of the twentieth century.  To further buttress this point, a recent Harvard study reported that Los Angeles has a higher proportion of renters-52%-more than any other metropolitan area in the country.  While some live in single-family homes, most live in apartment or other multi-family buildings, which comes  with increased density and mass transit.

Los Angeles urban sprawl
On the whole, native Angelenos are driving less and using transit more, according to other new information.  For example, ridership on the Expo Line jumped 38% between August 2012 and August 2013, passenger numbers that weren't expected until 2020.  If you take bus routes, Angelenos take more trips using mass transit than New York or Chicago, not to brag or anything like that, but we may soon overtake Chicago.  Los Angeles teens and twenty-year olds are falling in line with thinking across the United States that owning a car is more of nuisance than a ticket to independence.  My how times have changed.  A measure to extend the Measure R sales-tax hike will likely make an appearance on the 2014 or 2016 ballot, it passes as predicted, it will accelerate work on the region's most important transportation projects.

L.A. Live
 In the course of remaking Los Angeles' identity, there will be potholes along the way, u-turns (couldn't resist the transportation metaphor), and the inevitable lawsuits to block subway tunnels and skyscrapers, those signifiers of urban life that appeared a century ago.  There will also be hemming and hawing over bike lanes and anxiety over the fact that drivers and homeowner, pampered poodles for so long, have suddenly become a persecuted class.  Fear not, it's getting easier to view the opposition for what it is, a group of individuals who have benefitted for a long from generous policy-think the notorious Proposition - and are accustomed to setting the political agenda.  These are the people who helped create the urban condition that we're all now quite anxious to fix.

Happy New Year my friends, fans, followers and fiends.  We'll talk more tomorrow.

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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Holiday Cheer

Hello Everyone:

I'd like to wish all of you a happy and healthy holiday.  Over the past year, we've had a chance to contemplate twenty-first century urban life.  It is a rich subject that will, no doubt, keep us talking for a long time.  As we celebrate (or not) the winter holidays, we need to stop for minute and consider the place we choose to live.  What makes it unique?  Why do we live where we do?  How does it meet our needs?  Every place is unique and where we live,my choice or by circumstance, some how reflects who we are as people.  Wee should also consider the people who populate the places we live.  They are a reflection of ourselves, be it a hedge fund executive or the homeless person.  These individuals are a vital part of our urban experience.  They help make each place unique.  There is no one model for what a place should be.  To force a template onto every place is a asking for trouble.  I hope you'll all enjoy your time with your loved ones and try to stay sane.  My holiday wish for all of you is good health, your lives be shared with people who love you unconditionally, good times, good cheer, and all your wishes come true.  I'll be back in a day or two.  In the meantime, be well.


Monday, December 23, 2013

Just A City For The Wealthy?


Hello Everyone:

In the rush to congratulate you for your strong support of this blog, I forgot to ask to spread some holiday joy to a few very worthwhile causes: Road Recovery (http;//www.roadrecovery.org), the National Trust for Historic Preservation (http://www.preservationnation.org), and your local food bank.  Each of these organizations could really use your help in continuing the good work they do.  Thanks.  Now onto to today's topic, "Backlash by the Bay."

The city of San Francisco from the bay
The city of San Francisco is one of my favorite cities in the world.  It's got the right blend of West coast casual and East coast urbane.  It's one of California's oldest and definitely most eclectic cities.  San Francisco has also become home to the high-tech industry, which is moving north from its traditional home in the Silicon Valley.  This has been both good and bad for the "City by the Bay."  No I will not start quoting that ubiquitous Journey song, although I do like it. The good is the introduction of a younger, more vibrant energy who work in the companies and have the disposable income.  The bad is that younger vibrant energy who work in the companies and have the disposable income.  In her article for the New York Times, "Backlash by the Bay: Riches Alter a City," Erica Goode and Claire Cain Miller look at how the high-tech march north has altered the quirky character of San Francisco.

Trolley car
The anger was building and reaching a boiling point.  When did the backlash reach its tipping point?  The moment when the resentment toward the techocrats who were driving up housing and threatening to alter the city's bohemian identity came this past August in the form of a response posted by Peter Shih, a start-up founder.  Mr. Shih listed ten things he hated about San Francisco.  Not a good way to make friends with the neighbors. The backlash was immediate and very public.  Wisely, Mr. Shih deleted the post and apologized.  San Franciscan do have their pride.  As the center of the technology industry shifts north, from the Silicon Valley in the south, it brings with it the energy and capital to San Francisco.  When Twitter began offering stock, it created an estimated 1,600 new millionaires.  The income disparity has widened causing housing prices to soar and the appearance of cranes-the building variety.  For better or worse, the tech workers have been targeted for blame.

City Lights Bookstore
The resentment festers everywhere and at the symbols of the high-tech industry.  The fleet of Google company buses ferrying workers to the Mountain View, California campus and back, the sight of tech-heads buried deep in their laptops sitting a posh coffeehouses and the sleek cars that carry them around bar hopping.  In October, two tech millionaires opened the invitation only, $2,400-a-year club the Battery in a renovated factory in the Financial District.  The critics see such sights as symbols of a city losing its diverse culture-artists, families, and middle-class workers who can no longer afford to live in the city.  I need to stop and point out that this isn't a recent trend, the shrinkage of affordable housing.  This is something that started in the nineties and has ebbed and flowed.  On the day Twitter's stock went public, protestors gathered outside the company headquarters carrying sign reading "People not profit" and "We're the public, what are you offering?"  As longtime residents are being forced out, landlords and speculators jockey to take advantage of the infusion of money.

San Francisco's Chinatown
One example of a longtime resident being forced out is Mary Elizabeth Phillips, a 97-year-old retired accountant.  Ms. Phillips is fighting eviction from the rent controlled apartment, where she's lived for almost fifty years.  If Ms. Phillips is evicted, she will have to move in April, not long after her ninety-eighth birthday because the landlords want to sell the units.  The neighborhood around her has changed.  The auto dealership across the street is now a luxury apartment complex.  "I can understand it from an investment standpoint," Ms. Phillips said of her landlords' actions.  "But I don't think I'd ever be that coldblooded about this."  Here, here.  While the technology boom begot hostility, it also brought San Francisco tangible benefits.  Mayor Edwin M. Lee credits the technology sector with helping pull the city out of the recession, creating jobs, and feeding a thriving economy that's making cash strapped cities across the nation jealous.

Lombard Street
According to Mayor Lee, the industry is "not so much taking over but complementing the job creation we want in the city."  However, civic officials have to deal with the issue of squeezing in more people into already tight forty-nine square miles that is San Francisco.  The housing shortage is the driver of the hostility aimed at tech workers.  To put matters into perspective, San Francisco has the least affordable housing stock in the United States, 14% of homes are accessible to middle-class buyers, according to Jed Kolko, chief economist at trulia.com.  The median rent is also the highest in the nation, $3,250 a month for a two-bedroom apartment.

"Affordable housing projects are constructed, and the money set aside for that purpose is used, but the demand is just far greater than what can be supplies," says Fred Brousseau of the city budget and legislative analyst's office.  Evictions under state law allows for landlords to evict rent-controlled tenants if they plan to convert a building for sale have more than tripled in the past three years, as they did in the first tech boom.  For Yelly Brandon and Anthony Rocco, the obstacles to finding housing became apparent when spent two months looking for an apartment.  At open houses, they were competing with techie who offered more than the asking price and cash up front.

Fort Mason Building 201
The infusion of wealth is also changing the tone of the neighborhoods.  Fort Mason, a renovated military post on the the bay has been dubbed "Frat Mason" for its twenty-something "tech bros-" tech company salespeople, marketing employees, and start-up founders who moved in to the luxury apartments.  However, nowhere is the change more evident than in the Mission District, once a working-class Latino neighborhood, now an enclave of the tech elite.  Evan Williams of Twitter and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook have bought homes in the community.

Mission District mural
Ingrid Taylar
Longtime residents of the community complain that the high-end apartments, expensive restaurants, exclusive boutiques are crowding small businesses. They also complain about the tech workers who treat the Mission District like a bedroom community.  The workers board buses everyday and return in the evening to drink and dine on Valencia Street.  Also, there are complaints about some of the intangibles: insensitivity during daily public interactions or a disregard for neighborhood traditions.  One example was the annual Day of the Dead celebration, intended to be solemn but turned into a rowdy affair.  "Some of the people in the stores that I knew, they are good people and nice people, and I see them get evicted and then the people who move in there are not as nice," said Rene Yañez, artist and co-founder of Galeria de la Raza in the seventies.  Mr Yañez and his partner, who is battling cancer, are fighting eviction from the apartment they occupied  for decades.  Evictions in the Mission District are higher than in other part of the city.

Union Square
"They are not only expelling the homeless and the gangbangers," says Guillermo Gómez-Peña, a performance artist.  "They are also expelling the performance artists, the poets, the muralists, the activists, the working-class families-all these wonderful urban tribes that made this neighborhood a very special neighborhood for decades."  Mr. Gómez-Peña predicts, "One day, they will wake up to an extremely unbearable ocean of sameness.  Some tech companies try to give back.  Salesforce donated millions of dollars to the public schools and Twitter, which declined to public comment about its affect on San Francisco, is providing lawyers to help fight evictions in exchange for tax breaks from the city.  However, according to many people, the city government bears the brunt of responsibility.

San Francisco skyline at night
"There has to be some kind of public support to make sure you don't just have a city of the very wealthy, but people to make the city run," says Kevin Starr, professor emeritus of history, policy, planning, and development at USC.  "You can't have a city of just rich people," adds Mr. Starr.  "A city needs restaurant workers, a city needs schoolteachers, a city needs taxi drivers."  Well said Kevin Starr.  Mayor Edwin M. Lee claims he has a strong commitment to affordable housing-the Housing Trust Fund, which will provide $1.5 billion in affordable housing over the next twenty years.  Mayor Lee concedes, "Wholesale evictions [are] not good for the city.  We have to figure some things out."  Returning to Peter Shih, the angry response was a lesson learned.  As a form of penance, Mr. Shih has augmented his work with his company Airbrite by volunteering at homeless shelters.  Mr. Shih admits, "What I did was wrong, I feel like the changes the tech scene has made to San Francisco have made people very angry and I was caught in the cross-fire."

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Fourth of July fireworks
Hello Everyone:

Un-freakin'-believable?! We made 5,000 before the end of the year.  You all stepped up to meet the challenge and surpassed it.  I'm so proud and humbled by all you.  I stand deeply grateful to all of you for your support this past year.  Your response is amazing and for this and much more, I thank you.  I promise to continue bringing you interesting topics on architecture, historic preservation urban planning and design.  I will do my best to keep it relevant and timely.  Your faith in this blog is more than ample reward.  With much love and gratitude,


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

How Much Do We Know About The Connection Between Cities and Public Health?


Hello Everyone:

I can see the 5,000 page view mark off in the horizon, can you?  We're getting really close to our goal, so now is not the time to slack off reading.  I'm still writing and I need you to keep reading. While you're at it make sure you check out Road Recovery (http://www.roadrecovery.org), the National Trust for Historic Preservation (http://www.preservationnation.org), and your local food bank.  These organizations could really use your support this time of the year.  Please do what you can, thanks.

New York City
Is there a link between the way our cities are planned and public health?  If there is a link between the two, how much do we think we know about the connection between urban planning and public.  In a post for The Atlantic Cities, "We Don't Know Nearly As Much About the Link Between Public Health and Urban Planning As We Think We Do," Emily Bader reveals that what we think we know about the way our cities affect our health isn't nearly as much as we think we do.

Chicago Skyline
In the mid-nineteenth century, how we lived affected the way we got sick.  It was also the moment in history when scientists and civic officials first discovered the connection between overcrowded, unsanitary housing and cholera, tuberculosis, and yellow fever.  In the mid-nineteenth century, urban planning and public health were, for all intents and purposes, one and the same.  Since then, the two fields have moved off in different directions.  However, there is a growing concern that communities we've already built-with highways, where few people walk, lack of food access, et cetera-are moving us towards obesity, heart disease, and asthma.  According to this rationale, good architecture and planning should encourage us to walk more.  It has the potential to mitigate  pollution and highlight the specific need for amenities such as parks and bicycle lanes in communities with the worst health outcomes.

Denver, Colorado
A new decade-long project from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Center for Advanced Urbanism and the American Institute of Architects is predicated on this idea.  Robert Ivy, the chief executive officer of the AIA wrote in the introduction to the study, "The State of Health + Urbanism" from MIT:
When Americans think of health, we instinctively see in our mind's eye the medical profession and the hospitals and clinics in which they treat illness.  We usually do not think of architects and other design professionals.  But what if we invited designers to help us reinvent aspects of preventative medicine?  What if we adopted design strategies that lead to a less sedentary lifestyles?

Downtown Los Angeles
This is one of the most compelling challenges facing planners and architects in the twenty-first century.  The connection between urban planning, architecture and healthier lifestyles is not exactly something that is new for this century, it's just getting more attention as global urban populations grow.  The MIT study reports breaks down many of the assumptions that have become part of the way we think about the link between health and cities-walkable cities are healthier than auto-centric suburbs, car are the primary cause of spreading waistlines, too much fast food and not enough fresh fruit is the cause for inner-city obesity.  The MIT study points out that American life expectancy has increased at the same time as the proliferation of the car since 1950.  Granted many inner cities actually have higher obesity rates than the suburbs and inner-ring suburbs have some better health outcomes.  However there is no evidence to suggest that sprawl causes obesity.  In fact, there is some research that suggests that people who are already obese, chose to live in urban sprawl.

The sounds almost contradictory, no evidence to suggest that sprawl causes obesity, yet already obese people live in urban sprawl.  It makes no sense to yours truly and leads me to wonder if Emily Badger actually read and interpreted that portion of the MIT study correctly.  I'm not suggesting that obese people move from of sprawling locations and to more walkable cities, what I am suggesting is that I don't think living in a spread out community was necessarily a choice.  I think part of it has to do with circumstance.  Choice of where to live is part of the situation but growth and expansion of a community is a factor of the organic development of a place.  Some of the determinants of sprawl include: demographics, job/entrepreneurial opportunities, education opportunities, availability of land, location, transportation, cultural and social institutions.  Whether or nor they happen to be in close proximity to a person's residence is random.  Further, it is up to the individual to decide whether he/she opts to take advantage of a local park or not. Thus, I don't think that Ms. Badger fully clarified her statement, "There's no evidence to suggest that sprawl causes obesity, although there is some research arguing that people who already are obese opt to live in sprawling places."

Downtown Baltimore
Emily Badger reports, "Evidence of direct causation is scant [presumably sprawl causes obesity] throughout this entire field (in part because the determinants of what makes us healthy are so complicated)."  This implies that sprawl may be a factor in the rate of obesity but not the only factor.  She also criticizes the data on food-deserts, calling it "particularly weak, as is research showing that ubiquitous fast food causes diabetes."  Let's clarify something here,  One fast food meal, once in an odd while does not cause diabetes.  Daily consumption of fast food coupled with a sedentary lifestyle, stress, and lack of can lead to diabetes and other chronic diseases.

The St. Louis Arch with the city in the background
Further, the MIT study critiques a number of current projects in eight American cities that appear to be predicated on the assumptions stated above. The report questions the strategy used in the city of Los Angeles, California to build more transit-oriented development.  While it doesn't question the city's need for more transit (it most certainly does), what the report points is that in creating more TODs, the program could actually result in moving people into more polluted transportation corridors-trading one health problem for another.  Another issue the report has is the city of Chicago, Illinois' plan to build seventeen more grocery corridors in low-income areas.  On the surface, it sounds like a great idea but the MIT study dismisses it "...as an oversimplified solution to intractable obesity that will do little to dent it."  That sounds harsh.  A new grocery corridor should be part of a multi-pronged approach to combating "intractable obesity."  The people who assembled this report should realize that sometimes the "oversimplified solution" can work.

Cleveland, Ohio
The MIT study also takes aim at the city of Atlanta, Georgia's BeltLine project "...for failing to consider the increased traffic pollution that people using its trails and parks would be exposed to."  What would the writers of this report have people do?  Not use the trails and parks.  That makes (no) sense, the writers of the report seem to encourage the building of more green space, as long as people don't us it.  The study concludes, " In order for the BeltLine to function as a 'green lung'...vast new green space will be needed around the old rail line.  That is economically and politically unfeasible in an area of higher density and land locked real estate."

Boston, Massachusetts
Emily Badger reports, "A recurring thread throughout the report is one of humility: We don't as much as we think we, and there are certainly no silver-bullet design solutions for systemic public health problems."  That is a point your truly could definitely agree with yet, from the tone of some the report's critiques one would think that the study's authors have all answers.  Quoting MIT's Alan Berger, Casey Lance Brown, and Aparna Keshaviah:
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a minimum of 150 minutes of aerobic activity each week.  That regimen will not be met through increase stair climbing instead of elevators and slightly more walking between parking lots and office buildings.  These examples point to the need for reliable, meaningful research on ways to have design more effectively impact urban health.
Well, yes, of course just climbing stairs instead of taking the elevator or walking a greater distance from the car to the office isn't going to meaningfully impact public health.  Instead of a humble tone in the report, I would suggest a lot hand wringing by the team.

It's not to say that urban planners and public health officials should not stop trying to find solutions to ongoing issues.  In the eight case studies cited by the report, the authors also offered recommendations for alternatives to the BeltLine  or how Chicago could consider its health inequities beyond food deserts.  Ms. Badger suggests that now would be a good time to stop and assess what we can prove before we toss out the old idea that cities are unhealthy and replace it with new ideas such putting hiking trail everywhere, including near a freeway.  Is there a  connection between the way our cities are planned and public health?  The solution lies in a multi-faceted approach that incorporates good and smart design and policy.

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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Problem of Urban Blight

http://www. nytimes.com/2013/11/12/us/blighte-cities-prefer-razing-to-rebuilding.html?_r=0

Blighted Baltimore
Hello Everyone:
As American cities across the Northeast and Midwest struggling to regain their footing, a new and somewhat disturbing trend has emerged, cities such as Baltimore, Maryland preferring demolition to rebuilding blighted areas.  I say disturbing because each demolished home represents another loss in the affordable housing stock.  It light of the fact that urban homelessness is expected to rise in the coming year, this trend is, indeed, very disturbing.  However, as Timothy Williams reports in his article "Blighted Cities Prefer Razing to Rebuilding," for the New York Times, cities such as Baltimore and Detroit have lost chunks of their populations and have turned to bulldozing whole city blocks as their key to salvation.  Why is this happening?  Despite the well-publicized love by young professionals of once struggling parts of New York, Seattle, and Los Angeles, for many cities, demolition has become a form of creative urban planning.

Blighted neighborhood in Cleveland, Ohio
"It is not the house itself that has value, it is the land the house stands on," says Sandra Pianalto, the president and chief executive of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland.  "This led us to the counterintuitive concept that the best policy to stabilize neighborhoods may not always be rehabilitation.  It may be demolition."  Yours truly agrees because it's not always possible or practical to rehabilitate a building.  By the same token, it may not be not be cost-effective to take down a building.  Large-scale demolition is well-known in Detroit, but it is also going on Baltimore, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Buffalo, and other cities at a cost of more than $250 million.  Civic officials are tearing down ten of thousands of abandoned buildings, most are habitable, in an effort to stimulate economic growth, reduce crime and blight, and increase environmental sustainability.

Abandoned neighborhood in Detroit
A recent Brookings Institute study reported that between 2000 and 2010 the number of vacant housing units increased by 4.5 million (44%).  In addition, a report by the University of California, Berkeley determined that in the past fifteen years, 130 cities, most with relatively small populations, have dissolved themselves, more than half the total ever documented in the United States.  These grim findings are, partly, the result of how ongoing challenges former manufacturing centers, such as Detroit and Cleveland, have fundamentally altered the discipline of urban planning which has traditionally been based on growth and expansion.  Presently, it's about divestment patterns that determine which depopulated neighborhoods are worth saving and what should be taken down. Other determinants includes economic activity, transportation options, infrastructure, population density, where the residents might be best relocated.  Another solution dealing with vacant land is returning abandoned urban areas to forests and meadows.  Relocating residents is always problematic because people establish roots in a community.  Sometimes these roots go back decades and asking people to sever long-times ties with a community is like asking someone to cut off a limb.

Blighted neighborhood in Buffalo, NY
"It's like a whole new field," says Margaret DDDewar, a professor of urban and regional planning at the University of MIchigan, who helped plan a land bank in Detroit to oversee the city's vacant properties.  In total, more than half of country's twenty largest cities lost at least one-third of their populations.  Since 2000, a number of cities: Baltimore, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Buffalo, have lost 10% of their population; Cleveland lost more than 17% of its population.  Detroit, which recently had its bankruptcy approved in federal court, heighten depopulation anxieties in other postindustrial cities.

Demolishing a blighted neighborhood in Cincinnati, Ohio
"In the past, cities would look at buildings individually, determine there was a problem, tear them down and quickly find another use for the land," says Justin B. Hollander urban planning professor at Tufts University.  "Now they're looking at the DNA of the city and saying, 'There are just too many structures for the population we have.'"  Case in point, Cleveland, whose population shrunk by 80,000 people during the last ten years to 395,000, spent $50 million in the past six years to raze houses, which cost $10,000 to demolish, when compared to the $270,000 it cost annually to maintain.  As I've previously said, sometimes it's more cost-effective to take a building than maintain it.

Demolished building in Pittsburgh, PA
Since 2000, some Cleveland neighborhoods in have lost up to two-thirds of their residents.  the up side of all this doom and gloom is that some of the vacant lots are home to more than 200 community gardens and farms, zones for urban farms that allow people to keep real pigs, real sheep, and real goats.  This reminds of a former neighbor that used to keep chickens in the back yard. I kept thinking those chickens would look better on a plate.  Don't hate me, please.  I digress.  A vineyard has even been planted.  Two miles northwest of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri, which has at least 6,000 vacant lots, is an uninhabited deciduous forest where there once was a sprawling 74-acre housing development before the city razed it because too few people lived there.  Another sort of silver lining is the city of Philadelphia, which has 40,000 abandoned lots, has promoted the benefits of low-density living by allowing people in mostly vacant neighborhoods to spread out to the next lot.  The city has been looking at a plan to sell $500 leases to urban farmers.  One example, Greensgrow farm, which was built on a former Superfund site, sold $1 million in produce in 2012.  Urban farms have potential as a solution to the hunger issue currently plaguing our cities by growing produce for sale at farmer's markets or through co-operatives.

Blight in St. Louis, Missouri
Back in Baltimore, the city has begun to turn over vacant lots to hobby farmers.  For example, Boone Street Farm, hemmed in by abandoned row houses on a slender eighth of an acre, is finishing its third growing season of tomatoes, spinach, sweet potatoes, and other produce in the Midway neighborhood. The crops are sold to restaurants, farmer's markets, and delivers $10 boxes of crops weekly to members of its community supported agricultural program. (Yeah!)  However, as Baltimore continues to bulldoze thousands of vacant houses, the city and other cities in similar situations, continue to seek new people.

"I'm trying to grow the city, not get smaller," says Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake in reference to the idea that the city could get by with a population of 500,000-600,000 people.  "I"m not the first to say that a city that's not growing is dying," continued Mayor Rawlings-Blake.  The Mayor has a goal of attracting 10,000 new families to the city in the next years and is reaching out to immigrants, the gay and lesbian communities (Maryland does allow same gender marriage), and Orthodox Jews who might be interested in buying newly refurbished three-story row houses that the city is selling for as low as $100,000.  Personally speaking, I've visited the city a few times and never understood why it hasn't caught on like it should've.  It has a lot to offer in terms of social, economic, and cultural institutions.  The cost of living isn't as high as other parts of Mid-Atlantic region.  It's a rather nice city for families and singles.

Youngstown, Ohio
Youngstown, Ohio is one city that taking an different approach to dealing with the fact that urban population shrinkage does not mean the other problems go away.  Once a bustling steel-town, Youngstown had a  onetime population of 170,000, now down to 66,000 and is seeking to head off total collapse by tearing down thousands of abandoned houses, 3,000 thus far and averaging ten per week.  However, while the city had planned on a stable population of about 80,000, more than 1,000 people move away each year, leaving behind an additional 130 vacant homes in addition to the 22,000 empty properties and structures.  Four thousands of these homes are in perilous conditions but demolition costs $9,000 and the city has yet to decide whether or not to close the nearly abandoned neighborhoods to try to save money.  "It's almost anti-American to say our city is shrinking," says Heather McMahon, executive director of the Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative, a Youngstown community group.  "But if we're going to survive as a city and not go bankrupt like Detroit...we're going to have to figure out something," adds Ms. McMahon.

Just what something is needs to take a multi-pronged approach: attracting new business, government investment, community activism, and so forth.  Also, that something has to be tailored to the city.  Just because a plan works in Baltimore doesn't necessarily mean it's going to work in Youngstown.  Each city is different and has different needs.  In the meantime, a solution still needs to be found.

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We Don't Know Nearly As Much About the Link Between Public Health and Urban Planning As We Think We Do

 Find out what's making us sick.  Then read the blog post. We Don't Know Nearly As Much About the Link Between Public Health and Urban Planning As We Think We Do

Monday, December 16, 2013

Homeless and Hungry for the Holidays


Hello Everyone:

I see we're getting closer to our goal of 5,000 pages by midnight December 31, 2013.  This is a goal we can make but I need you to keep reading so let's get moving.  The clock is ticking.  It's already December 16 and we're about 175 page views away from our goal.  While you're showing this blog some love, make sure you show Road Recovery (http://www.roadrecovery.org), the National Trust for Historic Preservation (http://www.preservationnation.org), and your local food bank how much you love them and the work they do.  Thanks.

Chicago skyline
With Christmas, Kwanzaa, and New Years breathing down our necks, it's time to take a look at an extremely important subject, hunger in America. The United States is often referred to as the "land of plenty" with it's abundance of land to grow food. However, this may be just a hollow title.  Despite the fact that the jobless rate is at it's lowest level in five years, the stock market has surpassed its pre-recession levels, these economic advances have not yet effected the urban poor. In his article for the Los Angeles Times, "Homelessness, hunger, climbing in U.S. cities, mayors' survey says," Matt Pearce reports that hunger and homelessness in major U.S. have not only increased but are expect to keep going up, according to the latest U.S. Conference of Mayors survey of twenty-five large and medium sized urban areas.

Cleveland, Ohio
Last year, the national poverty rate was 15%, still very close to the national poverty rate during the Great Recession, 15.1%.  According to Mayor Helene Schneider of Santa Barbara and co-chair of the organization, "We anticipate that problems related to unemployment and the slow national recovery would be reflected in the survey cities and they were."  Officials tasked with the survey expressed concerns about recent cuts to food stamps by the anticipated congressional budget deal, which does not renew benefits for long-term unemployment.  Those benefits were extended through Christmas.  Mayor Schneider continues, "Despite the budget problems we all face, every level of government has to [focus its resources] so solving these problems."

Los Angeles urban sprawl
Among the twenty-five cities survey include Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Dallas, chicago, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C, all reported a three percent increase in overall homelessness and half of the cities in the survey expect the number of homeless families to increase in 2014.  On a typical night, more than 20,000 people sleep on the streets of Los Angeles and almost 2,000 are in tact families or children living on their own.  Homelessness in Los Angeles has increased by 26% since 2012 and 16% of the city's homeless were turned away from housing help.  The city of Chicago reported an 11.4% increase in homeless families, with requests for emergency food assistance up six percent.  City pantries had to cut back on the amount of food given out to the hungry.  Homeless shelters have been increasing the number of people per room in order to meet the growing demand.

Downtown Philadelphia
Civic officials around the nation point to the lack of affordable housing as a factor in the continuing homelessness.  The ironic thing is that 19% of urban homeless adults survey had jobs, including 22% of those queried in San Francisco.  I say ironic because you would think that if one has a job, one could afford some sort of modest housing.  This is not the case.  According to Paul Ong, the director of of the Center of the Study of Inequality at UCLA's Luskin School of Public Affairs, "The housing market is such, particularly over the last few years, that shelter is taking a large chunk of what money they have.  To illustrate the point, between 2007 and 2012, the median earning for Americans has increased five percent , while rents have gone up 12%.  The result is a squeeze, said Mr. Ong.  "You can't pay for shelter and you end up being homeless.  Or if you continue to live in the apartment, you have less available to you in terms or you end up relying on other sources of food for your family."  Catch-22 situation don't you think?

Denver, Colorado
The one bright spot in all this doom and gloom is that the great majority of cities report gains in getting homeless veterans off the streets and into housing.  According to the Department of Housing and Urban Affairs the national rate of homeless veterans dropped by 24% between 2010 and 2013.  "We've seen success across the country...Now we must invest in solutions in staying that course," say Laura Green Zeilinger, deputy director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, pointing to a federal plan to end veteran homelessness by 2015. A quick perusal of the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs website reveals a wide variety of services available to homeless veterans and those who help them.  The number of veterans benefitting from the DVA's program to end veteran homelessness has not been quantified yet, however if you'd like more information please go to http://www.nchv.org and click on the "news and media" link.

Boston, Massachusetts
Some of the 2013 statistics on hunger were grim: 21% of people needing emergency food aid didn't get it, and all but four of the cities surveyed reported an increased need.  The exceptions were Santa Barbara, Nashville, Plano, Texas, and St. Paul, Minnesota.  Overall, the demand for food aid increase by seven percent, and in all but the city of Dallas, that number is expected to increase.  "The hungry and homeless issue continues to be with us," said Tom Cochran, chief executive and executive director of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.  "We are very concerned that before budget cuts take place, the mind-set of Washington does not understand what is happening in our neighborhoods and cities large and small across America."  True enough.

Is there an end to hunger and homelessness in the "Land of Plenty?"  I don't think that there is a single neat answer to this question because as long as we have people in power who hold acting in the best interest of American people hostage we will never see that "Land of Plenty" myth come true.  What is needed is a change of culture in the hall of Congress that understand what it means to be out of work and/or struggling just to get by.  We need politicians to understand that cutting benefits is not going to motivate an unemployed person to get a job.  Conversely, a homeless and/or hungry person, is able bodied, should be required to participate in a job training program or be enrolled full-time in a degree program.  Hunger and homelessness can be a thing of the past but it takes real work and understanding.

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Wednesday, December 11, 2013


http://www.placemakers.com/2013/11/18/richard-florida-on-tech-talent-and tolerance

Richard Floria
Hello Everyone:

In yesterday's post, ""Blame The Artists?" I mentioned Richard Florida and his theories on the creative class. Today, I'd like to elaborate a little more on Mr. Florida, what he means by the creative class and how technology, talent, and tolerance are essential to fostering said group of people.  The starting point is an article posted by Hazel Borys in Place Makers about a luncheon put on by the Winnipeg Chamber in mid-November.  Ms. Borys found Mr. Florida's talk about using technology and talent to instill creativity in all people inspirational.  Richard Florida's theories on the creative have inspired many a urban planners and developers to create, for better or worse, arts districts in their cities as a mechanism for renewal and development.  However, what is it about Richard Florida, other than his obvious good looks, that planners and developers find so fascinating?

The Rise Of The Creative Class
Let's start with who exactly Richard Florida is.  Richard Florida is an urban theorist, the Director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management, Global Research Professor at New York University, and the founder of the Creative Class Group (http://www.creativeclass.com), which works closely with governments and companies around the world.  The CCG's mission is empowering communities, organizations, and people in order to tap into their innate creativity to achieve prosperity and well-being.  Mr. Florida is best-known for his 2002 book The Rise of the Creative Class, which he examines the forces that reshaped global economy, geography, work, and our way of life.  Through a blend of story-telling and mountains of research, Mr. Florida traces, seemingly unrelated motifs of change in American society-the growing role of creativity.  In the ten years since the publication of his book, humanity has experienced world-shattering events, the aftermath of 9/11, the collapse of the tech bubble, and the financial meltdown of 2008.  While any one of these events could have derailed the growth of creativity, instead, they became more entrenched in the United States and across the globe.

The Creative Economy
Who are the creative class and what role to they play?  Richard Florida defined the creative class as a socio-economic group that act as the key agent of economic development in the United States.  According to Mr. Florida, they make up about 30% (40 million) of American workers who he divides into two broad categories based on the Standard Occupational Classification System.  One group is the Super-Creative core: made up of 12% of all U.S. jobs.  It includes a wide range of jobs, some not ordinarily conducive to creativity such as engineering and computer program, along with art, design, and media workers.  Mr. Florida considers the 12% to be "fully engaged in the creative process." Their primary task is to be creative and innovative, creating commercial and consumer good.  According to Mr. Florida, "along with problem solving, their work may entail problem finding."  The second category is the Creative professional.  These individuals are part of the classic knowledge-based profession such as health care, business and finance, the legal profession, and education.  According to the book, they "draw on complex bodies of knowledge to solve specific problems," using higher degrees of education to accomplish the job.  In addition to these two groups, there is a smaller group called "Bohemian," which include the Creative Class.

Even fruit can be creative
Back to Hazel Borys' lunch with Richard Florida.  Currently, the creative class numbers 35% of the North American workforce, generating over half the Gross Domestic Product, and it's still growing.  In some neighborhoods, the creative class make up an overwhelming 90% percent of the workforce.    Ms. Borys points out that these neighborhoods are walkable communities.  Quoting Mr. Florida, "What we are living thru is the failure of the suburban growth model...the primary reason for the global financial crisis."  The segments of the economy that generate the most wealth are business and management, science and technology, banking and finance, and arts and culture.  Ms. Boryss asks, "Is the city you live in nurturing technology, talent, and tolerance.  Are these sectors thriving in your community?"  She cites that openness is the key to Canada's success and tolerance is the proverbial canary in the coal mine.

Rise of the Creative Class
The re-industrialization, as opposed to de-industrialization, is the totem of creative places. It depends on, not only CEOs and MBAs, but also on the intelligence of workers being empowered and celebrated.  The more creative a workforce-in a factory setting and design studio-the more likely they are to demand nearby, round the clock places to live and work. In a statement of the obvious, it's not the machines that make a factory great, it's the creativity of the workers.  Ms. Borys uses a bit of labor Darwinism, one group gets ahead, while the other falls behind.  Adapt creatively or parish.  In the post-World War II years, industrial jobs were held up as good jobs.  Now the challenge is to make every job a good job.  Hazel Borys asks, how do we move from a creative class to creative culture?

"Create Here"
Richard Florida, "Creativity isn't a theory about hipsters and the latte set.  The key driver of a resilient economy is the same thing that binds us as humans-our shared creativity."  About 100,000 people in Winnipeg are part of the creative class.  The city boasts the highest concentrations of musicians on the planet, and most can be found performing in the streets.  Approximately 250,000 people are part of the service economy, some with precarious employment.  What enables the service sector is getting more creative, which drives wealth both in the domestic and civic levels.  Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos wrote in his book, Delivering Happiness, why he moved from his office in the suburbs to downtown Las Vegas was an act of place making, that enabled his workers in a very service-oriented city, to be more creative.  The point was that Zappos didn't build another corporate campus, the rebuilt a city, different from Silicon Valley.  Zappos isn't the only company that moved back downtown: Google in New York City and Twitter in San Francisco.  Cities are the creative furnaces and the most opportunistic firms are stoking the fire.

Big thinkers, big ideas
Richard Florida, "The creative revolution is complete.  The urban revolution-the way of life revolution-is just beginning."  The venerable Jane Jacobs once said that companies make things more efficient and productive, but the source of innovation is our cities. Urban innovation doesn't spring from sprawling suburbia or ivory towers but from interaction on the streets.  The late Ms. Jacobs felt that new ideas needed old buildings and innovation requires a melange.  Reuse, repurposing, and redevelopment of historic building stock is essential to competing with global cities (Yeah!). The quality of a place-i.e unique territorial offerings-is a contemporary advantage for cities.  Said quality of a place requires a balance of natural and built environment where all the magic happens.  Great cities are on a hierarchy of meeting human needs: 1) Safety and security; 2) Economic opportunity; 3) The ability to be engaged with equality; 4) Placemaking.

What conclusions can we draw from this?  One conclusion is creativity is about people.  It's about tapping into innate talent and bring out by giving them the tools to do so.  Another conclusion we can draw, is that place is a factor in creativity.  Some places, in this case urban settings, are more conducive to creativity because they have the resources available.  Interaction in urban settings is a part of the idea of place making.  Interaction can take place between individuals or between one individual and an object or property.  It's what a person takes away from that interaction becomes part of the creative process.  Can creativity take place in non-urban settings?  Maybe, but the key ingredients, place making and interaction are missing.  Creativity is about engagement with the world and the individual; affecting the way we do our work.  In a creative environment, we grow and produce things in limitless ways.

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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Blame The Artists?


Hello Everyone:

I noticed today that we're edging closer to our goal of 5,000 page views by the end of the year.  Yeah. Keep it up, I know we can make this goal.  While you're at it, don't forget to show some love for Road Recovery (http://www.roadrecovery.org).  They're a great organization dedicated to helping young people with addiction issues.  Thanks

The High Line
Chelsea, New York City
"Are artists to blame for gentrification?"  This is the question that Ben Davis of http://www.slate.com asks readers to consider.  Would famous New York/Brooklyn neighborhoods SoHo, Chelsea, and Williamsburg have gentrified on their own?  As you wander through the Chelsea art district and your attention might be on the sheep, not the mega-galleries.  Yes, that's right, sheep, as in wool and lamb chops.  The gas pumps that used to stand at the Getty (oil) station on 24th and 10th street are half buried in something that resembles a neatly fenced in green pasture. Herded in this seemingly out-of-place pasture, is a flock of adorable sculptural sheep.  Fooled you for a minute.  It's a little soft-core surrealism, perfect for an Instagram moment and could easily be mistaken for a whimsical public art installation.

Chelsea stoop
Chelsea, New York City
Only thing is that it's not what you think it is. Yes, those animal sculptures are sheep by the late French sculptor François-Xavier Lalanne.  "Sheep Station," the title of the pop-up installation was executed with the help of the sculptor's dealer, Paul Kasmin.  However, this surreal New York City moment was the idea of Michael Shvo, once referred to as New York's "most successful" and "most hated" real estate broker by New York magazine.  Many of these fluffy "sheep," half from Mr. Shvo's personal collection-his wife has publicly taken Instagrams of herself in sexual positions on the "sheep"-as some sort of publicity stunt to prop up her husband's proposed luxury residence development plan he has for the "pasture."

Chelsea Market
Chelsea, New York City
Art and real estate speculation are not exactly two things that you use in the same sentence, it's something that requires some real thought.  Currently, there are three conflicting issues merging to make putting art and real estate speculation a big topic for art-watchers and urban policy makers.   The first is enthusiasm which developers like Mr. Shvo have for promoting their schemes by associating it with art installations.  Not feeling this one.  Next, is the role of art as an engine for economic development, which has become the preferred talking point for government agencies and arts nonprofits looking to justify funds for cultural programming in frugal times.  The third topic is artist angst when they're made complicit in pushing out low- and moderate-income communities-then being turned out themselves-as in the uber-hip New York neighborhood Bushwick or the Peckham district in London (see The Guardian 8/30/13 http://www.theguardian.com/uk).

SoHo street
SoHo, New York City
The current story line in newsrooms, think tanks, studios, and galleries is art is the vehicle for urban transformation.  However, according to Ben Davis, this is wrong or, at least, presented the wrong way. The classic case study of artist-led gentrification is SoHo.  In the sixties, soon after the term gentrification was coined by British sociologist Ruth Glass, experimental art maven George Maciunus took the lead in converting SoHo, a former industrial and light manufacturing district for a mostly Puerto Rican and African-American workforce, into artist cooperatives and live-work spaces.  This sparked the final conversion of the neighborhood into a picture-perfect boutiques and up-scale restaurants.  Civic leaders were so excited over what they saw, that they wanted to do the same in their own cities, the magic power of art used to in the service of urban renewal.  I'm thinking Downtown Los Angeles in the eighties and nineties.

Cobblestones on Mercer Street
SoHo, New York City
From outward appearances, SoHo seems like a clear cut case, right?  In 2012 the Brookings Institute and the National Endowment for the Arts published a book called Creative Communities: Art Works in Economic Development.  In this book, urban policy analyst Jenny Schuetz notes that even in the most detailed studies of SoHo's gentrification process doesn't prove that it would not have occurred with help from the creative community.  To answer the question whether or not gallery clusters jumpstarted transformation.  Ms. Schuetz examined every city block to find evidence of accelerated development in the years following the opening of an art gallery.  Her conclusion was the difference was minimal.  That's not to say that development didn't happen.  The galleries were not the major "casual agent" they're often made out to be, they arrive in neighborhoods already in the process of change.  Ms. Schuetz concludes, "These results suggest that galleries might not be the most effective or efficient target for economic development."

Pocket parket
SoHo, New York City
Jenny Schuetz does leave open the possibility that other types of amenities such as museums or other cultural venues might be better suited for development.  The oft-repeated story is it's not the galleries, but the young (mostly Caucasian) "creative types"who first move into an "abandoned" (read where the poor minorities live or work) and lure the more affluent in with vegan restaurants and charming "bohemian" outfits.  These "creative types," who come across like something out of the movie Moulin Rouge-glamorous but poor-are amenable to unconventional living spaces and in need of spacious studios.  These individuals are seen as a type of neutral middle-class, somewhere between the disenfranchised they're slowly pushing out and the more elite classes.  This the gospel according to urbanist Richard Florida.  Once again, the causality of this phenomena is subject for debate-are these funky bohemians the engine of development or do cities with extra money simply manifest funky bohemian scenes?  Again, suggesting that art is the agent of urban renewal is misleading.  Mr. Florida broadly defined the creative class, that it covered about thirty percent of the working population including those occupations that aren't exactly conducive to artistic license.  His "super-creative core," whose tendencies were alleged to play the lead role in "reshaping our geography, spearheading the movement back from outlying areas to urban centers and close-in walkable suburbs" actually encompassed twelve percent of workers and still included stereotypical non-creatiive types: doctors, lawyers, accountants, scientists, et cetera.

Williamsburg stoop
Williamsburg, Brooklyn
The frequent examples of artist generated gentrification of the East Village and Williamsburg are so used that it's easy to forget that are a number of other New York neighborhoods that have gentrified without the help of said funky bohemians.  At the moment, the epicenter of the Lubavitcher Hassidism, Crown Heights, is experiencing a revival and the creative class is nowhere to be found just your typical white professionals looking for a nice affordable to live.  Same goes for Harlem, which is experiencing rapid gentrification.  Even Flushing, Queens gentrifying.  In Flushing, Jefferson Mao argues in his essay "On Gentrification in an Unhip Place," that it's the wealthy Asian immigrants that are leading the way.  The point here is in the often bitter saga of neighborhood redevelopment, more depends on the larger forces average area income, social stratification, real estate speculation, and rent policy then the power of art.  This would explain why the current trend of rebranding declining places as "cultural destinations" and jerry-rigging economic development doesn't work out.  The financial crisis spawned a new line of thinking that decline, in some places, can't be stopped and it would be pointless to try.  This leave decidedly unhip cities such as Elmira, New York out on their own.  In the interim Richard Florida has disassociated himself from initiatives inspired by his theories such as Michigan's "Cool Cities" project.  Without a larger source of economic support, art cities are left hanging.

East Williamsburg
Williamsburg, Brooklyn
The opposite is places in New York with their hyper-drive real estate market, artists aren't the agents of change.  Even in the increasingly uncool Williamsburg, the amazing transformation it experienced over the last decade was the result of very conscious, hotly debated zoning regulations not just because of the rising art scene, including a far-reaching and disgraceful failure by city and private developers to follow through on any and all commitments on affordable housing.   "To be honest, artists are the least of our worries," says Miguel Robles-Duran, director of the graduate program in urban ecologies at the New School who authored a study on Bushwick. Developers have seized on the presence of artists as a market ploy, mainly in service to their goals.  "The current system is designed to make this happen," says Mr. Robles-Duran

Greenpoint, Williamsburg resident
Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Finally, it is possible for artist to move into an are and not completely upend the existing community.  "I repudiate the notion that artists are the shock troops of gentrification," wrote researcher Anne Gadwa Nicodemus in her study of artistic communities in St. Paul, Minnesota.  Ms. Gadwa Nicodemus claims, "The neighborhood is more racially and ethnically diverse than before the artist spaces and, better or worse, still has quite high poverty levels."  In Bushwick, Miguel Robles-Duran and his associates plan to call attention to rampant development, even as the artists are being pushed out, through the bilingual media.  Artists, by nature are exhibitionists.  Drawing attention to themselves is part and parcel of the profession.  Thus, it would stand to reason that developers would use that character trait to call attention to their projects.  Gentrification isn't a lifestyle, it's about creating an aspirational lifestyle in the guise of rising living costs.  Baaah

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