Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Hybrid Firms


Hello Everyone:

When is an architecture studio an urban design studio and when is an urban design studio an architecture studio?  Now before I confuse you even more, let me clarify.  In a recent blog post for Planetizen titled "Architecture+Urbanism: Both/And, Not Either/Or," Anna Bergen Miller looks at the New York City-based firm WXY Architecture+Urbanism (http://www.wxystudio.com) which is an architecture and urban design studio.  Ms. Miller reports, "The trend to interdisciplinary design has both practical and philosophical roots."  From a practical point of view, a combination of short-term planning commissions and long-term architecture commissions can keep a firm busy for a while.  From a philosophical perspective, both the designers and clients appear to be ready to break from the traditional definitions of architecture and urbanism.  Rather, a firm like WXY Studio tries to integrate technical planning expertise with the idea that good design has social currency.

The Visitors Center at the Museum of Jewish Heritage
WXY Studio
New York City, New York
Since its founding in 1998, WXY has taken a non-traditional approach to problem solving in the built environment.  According to founding partner architect Claire Weisz, "We're always interested in the buildings and the space between buildings."  One of the firm's first commissions was the Visitors Center at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City. The Visitors Center was designed in the aftermath of 9/11, as an experiment in post-9/11 public space.  On firm's website, in the Featured Projects link, "The design challenge of this project were to complete the design and construction of a small space within three month to coincide with the Museum opening..." (http://www.wxystudio.com/featuredprojects).  Ms. Weisz continues, "Our first commission was to plan or the new security landscape...[It was] both architecture and infrastructure."

Model documentation for affordable housing
Westchester County, New York
Photograph courtesy of WXY Studio
In 2011, the firm hired urbanist Adam Lubinsky as a managing principal.  This coincided with the increased planning work that WXY was taking on.  According to Mr. Lubinsky, "Even though the office was starting to more planning work, [Weisz] needed someone to drive that side...We really didn't know quite where that would go [but now] we're almost 50/50 designers and planning."  Further, "sometimes pure planning or architecture, sometime a mix-but the mixes can be different."

Some of WXY's recent projects highlight the synthetic effects of the the designers different backgrounds.  One example is in Westchester County, New York.  The firm was tasked with the job of developing affordable housing in the of a lawsuit settlement won by the Anti-Discrimination Center.  James E. Johnson, the appointed federal monitor, was charged with overseeing the project and called on WXY to assist the residents in looking at affordable housing in a new light.  "The challenge is: how do you do something that's going to get people to think differently about this stuff," asked Mr. Lubinsky.  Mr. Lubinsky continues, "We talked a lot about the value of design.  We really struggled with this idea of design as something that you could get people to appreciate it."  True, good design is an art form worthy of appreciation.  WXY held a series of public forms for Westchester residents with the physical model built using the spatial-planning program Tygron.  Mr. Lubinsky adds, "What this allowed us to do was look at design opportunities relative to the site, but also provide this immediate planning feedback...That was a real disruptive moment."  Good or bad disruptive moment is unclear.

Cross Section of Queensway
Borough of Queens, New York
Photograph courtesy of WXY Architecture+Urban Design
Dianstudio Architecture+Landscape Architecture
Currently, WXY is working on the The Queensway, a 3.5-acre park built on top of an abandoned rail line in the borough of Queens, New York.  Collaborating with Dianstudio Architecture+Landscape Architecture, WXY is concentrating on using specific design gesture to acknowledge the concerns of the property owners next to the site.  "In this context, it's a visioning process, and it's also a planning process, but what's really starting to make it work is the design attention to detail, which planners don't necessarily [look at]," says Adam Lubinsky.  The implementation of landform mounds, plantings, and fences act as buffers between the public park and private homes.  On the whole, the Queensway "has really been a planning process: what's the economic development potential, what are the parking challenges?" queries Mr. Lubinsky.  "But what's really going to make the project work is the attention to detail and specificity.

East River Blueway Plan
Brooklyn Bridge Beach
Photograph courtesy of WXY Architecture+Urban Design
WXY Studio recently received an American Institute Honor Award for the East River Blueway, which enhances, the East River with waterfront access, place making, storm and flood water management. The latter could come in handy in case of, heaven forbid, next superstorm.  "In a way it positioned design as being many voices," says Claire Weisz because it evolved out of a collaboration between WXY, two landscape architects, a graphic designer, and an environmental designer.  "This diversity of of design voices is really important to planning because it allows there to be lots of things experienced at the same time."  Ms. Weisz characterizes her firm's interdisciplinary approach, "We think the future of design and planning, which is, with all the data that's out there, there's more people and firms needed in interpreting the data in a design sense."  Further, "We really think we want to be at the forefront of making this data socially relevant and culturally relevant."  Adam Lubinsky picks up the conversation thread, "We definitely want to pursue architecture projects, and also pure planning projects, but also finding these special moments where they really come together."  Once the data is interpreted, how it gets applied to everyday life is the real task.  Further, what happens when reality deviates from the data?  These and many more questions will be up to firms like WXY Studio to figure out.

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Monday, April 28, 2014

Economic Development at The Beach


Long Beach, California
Hello Everyone:

I recently came across a very fascinating opinion piece by Eric Gray in the Long Beach Post titled "Why the City of Long Beach Should Reinstate it Economic Development Department."  It caught my attention because I did my undergraduate work at California State University, Long Beach so I've maintained an interest ever since.  Long Beach is one of those Southern California cities that's part laid-back beach community and part urban core. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Long Beach is currently the thirty-sixth largest city in America with an estimated population of 462,257 people.  It is larger, population wise, then Atlanta, Georgia (443,775) and Miami, Florida (413,892).  Yet for its size, Long Beach has at high unemployment of 11.2%.  This is troubling to Mr. Gray because he believes that establishing an Economic Development Department could help ease unemployment, spur job growth, and revitalize neighborhood while simultaneously creating investment for the the city through sales tax revenues and increased economic activity.  Further, Mr. Gray asserts that this department could start off with a small but effective staff and grow as needed leveraging the current Economic Development, which is currently inactive.

The Pike
Eric Gray identifies a few key roles a proposed Economic Development Department could play:

* Identify high growth industries that the city could benefit from such as technology, creative fields, green economy, and healthcare.

* Implement effective strategies and incentive in order to recruit organizations of all sized to relocate to Long Beach.

* Serve as a liaison between City Government and the Business Improvement Districts and Business Community organizations.

* Create strong non-political partnerships with the Chamber of Commerce with the goal of creating a more business friendly city on common ground.

* Establish a Music Economic Development Division to foster the local music scene.  May I also suggest an fine arts component.

* Search for ways to continue activating the waterfront with new recreational activities that residents could enjoy.

CSU, Long Beach my alma mater
In his not so unbiased opinion, Eric Gray points out the numerous assets that make Long Beach a great place for a start or established organization.  I would like to shamelessly insert a plug for California State University, Long Beach (http://www.csulb.edu), the flagship Cal State school and a fine place to get an education.  Long Beach is the largest Pacific coastal city conveniently located between Los Angeles and San Diego.  The sunny Mediterranean-like climate with low precipitation.  It's home to the Queen Mary, a lovely Downtown skyline, historic neighborhoods, farmer's markets, mass transit, evolving small business districts, numerous events, parks and the waterfront.  The website walkscore.com rates Long Beach as the eleventh most walkable city in the United States.  Long Beach is the nineteenth most bike-friendly city in the United States with a growing biking infrastructure, according to bicycle.com.  Mr. Gray touts the fine dining and cultural activities the City of Long Beach.

Downtown Long Beach
Eric Gray notes that Long Beach actually had an Economic Development Bureau Manger for many years.  Said manager and bureau were shuffled about the different departments over. For this op-ed piece, Mr. Gray interviewed former Economic Development Bureau Manager, Robert M. Swayze.  By posing a series of questions he felt were important, Mr. Gray sought to gain insight into way Economic Development is so crucial to a city.  Excerpts follow:

EG: When did you serve as Economic Development Bureau Manager?

Robert Swayze: I started February 2005 and Left in August 2011

EG: Why do you think an Economic Development Department benefits a city?

RS: We've undergone an enormous economic restructuring over the past 25 years...In 1990 there were over 813,400 manufacturing jobs in Los Angeles County [where Long Beach is located]; now, there are less than 355,000.  Job formation in an information-and technology-driven economy has changed...We operate in a rapidly changing world.  In this environment, economic development is crucial development is crucial for any jurisdiction.  It will never be a city's core function-the core function of  municipal governments have a "public" as part of their name...a health economy is crucial to the well being of any city.  In today''s very competitive environment, cities need to invest in economic development.

The Queen Mary with the Spruce Goose hanger
EG: What duties did you perform as an Economic Development Officer?

RS: The duties evolved.  When I started with Long Beach, the Economic Development Bureau was part of the Community Development Department, which included redevelopment and neighborhood services...Originally, we were responsible for business assistance, enterprise zone, business attraction and retention, marketing, commercial and industrial lending and special projects.  We added cultural...in 2008.  The portfolio narrowed as Community Development was restructured and staffing for the Economic Development Bureau was reduced...

EG: What accomplishments to you achieve while on staff?

RS:  The major ones? C-17 Red Team, reauthorization of the Enterprise Zone, retaining our auto dealers, attracting new retail, encouraging new business improvement districts and pushing arts and culture as an economic driver....

EG: What projects were you working on at the time of departure that you would have liked to see completed?

RS: I would say two projects I started working from my first day in Long Beach: better connecting LBCC (Long Beach Community College) and CSULB to the city and growing technology development.  Long Beach has terrific assets-but some have never been fully leverage.  CSULB and LBCC are enormous assets...Every year more than 8,000 students graduate from CSULB-that's an enormous advantage in today's economy that values education and technical ability.  So better linkages between these institutions and the city was always a goal...

Aquarium of The Pacific
Judy Coates Perez

EG: Why did you leave Long Beach?

RS: I was recruited by the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation to join them as Senior Vice President for Economic Development...I had worked on many projects with the LAEDC since 1991, so it was a very familiar organization to me.

EG: What has your career since working at the City of Long Beach?

RS: I served as Senior Vice President for Economic for the LAEDC in 2010 and 2011. In 2012 a number of colleagues with whom I had worked for years on various economic development and redevelopment projects decided to form a firm that would offer in-depth experience and expertise in all areas of economic development to jurisdictions, agencies and private sector firms...We formed Economic Development Results, LLC...

EG: What advice could give the City of Long Beach?

RS: : Long Beach is a great, great city...It has a tremendous portfolio of assets...One of the two biggest ports in the nation!  Everyone's favorite airport!  Three museums, symphony, opera, a ballet-and a nationally recognized aquarium!...Perhaps it's difficult to be the beta in a region-but to me, that was an opportunity...

Surfing the beach
Over the past several Long Beach, under Mayor Bob Foster and City Management, has made a myriad of cultural shifts in the right direction, vis-a-vis economic development, making it easier to do business.  The city has centralized its permit process and made good customer service a core value for all of its city departments and employees who interact with businesses.  This was a necessary step in changing the image of Long Beach being a business unfriendly place.  Temporary construction jobs were created when the airport was expanded and the new courthouse was built, all thanks to a provision to include local hiring.  Work on the Gerald Desmond Bridge and the Port Middle Harbor project has begun, all with the guarantee of local  hiring.  Living wage jobs have been created with the airport expansion.

Long Beach is one of those underrated cities in the United States and California.  It's a lovely city with many great things going for it.  If done right, Long Beach can emerge as a series rival to Los Angeles. Perhaps, other cities can take note and study what Long Beach is doing and apply it to their municipalities.  The future does look good for the famous for the Queen Mary.  What happens next remains to be seen.

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HIgh Tech Corporate Responsibility


Hello Everyone:

These days, it seems that every tech company wants our smartphone business and South Korean giants Samsung and LG are no exception.  As if the daily media assault wasn't enough, now both companies are fighting it out to see who can be the best corporate citizen.  Michael Kimmelman's recent article, "Corporate Design: An Energizer Versus an Eyesore," for the The New York Times looks at the design merits of Samsung's new American headquarters in north San Jose, California and LG's headquarters in Englewood Cliff, New Jersey and evaluates how the buildings are interacting with their surrounding environment.  After all, Mr. Kimmelman points out, "Buildings are corporate symbols and advertisements..."  According to Mr. Kimmelman's assessment of how the competition is going, Samsung is winning the good corporate citizen race.

Samsung American Headquarters
San Jose, California
Samsung's 1.1 million-square-foot North American headquarters broke ground in July 2013, designed by the firm NBBJ, and is expected to be completed by 2015.  The campus is a sleek glass mammoth-like box that references the seventies-era office park.  The building is divided into three horizontal bands, each featuring a rooftop landscaped deck. Mr. Kimmelman observes that the continuous bands riffs Norman Foster's doughnut-shaped Apple headquarters in nearby Cupertino, California with its "...big, curving atriums; here the concept is based on traditional Korean courtyard design."  The building connects to the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority System, the light
Apple Corporate Headquarters
Norman Foster
Cupertino, California
rail system that services the city of San Jose and fits nicely into the street grid.  The Samsung headquarters is also ecologically minded with its standard-issue green roof and green walls.  Its also urban-minded by Silicon Valley standards with public gardens, plazas, and a cafe near the parking garage, partially hidden by solar panels.

On the other side of the United States, LG's new $300 million, 490,000 square-foot campus is designed to rise 143 feet above the palisades of Englewood Cliffs, which have been designated a National Natural Landmark.  To give you some idea, the campus will rise several stories above the tree line.  This is quite contrary to the fact that the site is
LG American Headquarters
Englewood Cliff, NJ
zoned to prohibit any building taller than thirty-five feet high, which protects the view.  However, the company, a large contributor to the local economy, won a variance to build taller.  LG is quick to point out that the corporate headquarters is on private land, a quarter-mile from the cliffs, which earned approval from the city, Bergen County, and the State of New Jersey and that other taller buildings across the Hudson (i.e. New York) are visible.  Sounds like childish whining to me.

Recently, senior New York Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), lent his voice to the growing number of protestors of the project.  Senator Schumer, stated in a news release, "After more than a century of both New York and New Jersey working to preserve the unparalleled natural beauty of the Palisades, one company should not be permitted to sweep in and taint that iconic landscape, particularly when an alternate building plan exists."  These remarks followed a request made by Mr. Schumer to New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman to ask an appeals court in New Jersey to halt construction.  Nearly a dozen conservation groups have also filed briefs with the court as well as four New Jersey mayors representing towns near the Palisades and Englewood Cliffs.  The mayors said, "It was their 'public trust' to protect the view."

In the beginning of April, Rose Harvey, New York Parks Commissioner, pleaded directly with LG to reconsider their plans.  Four former New Jersey governors have penned separate letters to the company, noting that "the Palisades have remained a landscape of unbroken, natural beauty in a heavily developed metropolitan area" for over a century and suggested a different design.  However, LG will not reconsider their plans and shorten the building on the 27-acre site with a wider footprint that won't tower over the trees.  In a statement on its website, LG claimed, "A redesign of the building will severly delay the economic and community benefits the new building will bring to the region...New Jersey needs jobs now."  Basically, it the same old developer song and dance.

HOK, the architectural firm of record, has designed a corporate headquarters that includes an 85,000 square-foot solar array, 700 new trees and a landscaped parking.  Michael Kimmelman uses the analogy of explaining to your neighbors that the ear-splitting music blasting away twenty-four hours is made from recycled parts.  Views, especially in the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area, are extremely hard to protect.  They cross jurisdictional lines and the City of Englewood Cliffs want the LG building.  In the larger context, Americans might have to seriously reconsiders views and how to protect them.  Mr. Kimmelman speculates that the LG project will sour countless customers by destroying a cherished National Landmark.  Mr. Kimmelman muses that it might lead LG's customers to their competitor, Samsung.  That might not go over too well with LG corporate heads.  Perhaps this was part of Samsung's rationale in planning their San Jose, California campus?

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Innovation, Technology and Historic Preservation


Wayne N. Aspinall Federal Building and Federal Courthouse
Grand Junction, Colorado
Hello Everyone:

Historic preservation is, in my not so biased opinion, is one of the greenest profession around.  The major goal is the retention of the historic integrity of a building during its period of significance. Sometimes, that can be a difficult task to accommodate modern technology into an older building and still it's historic fabric.  Roger Chang posted a recent article on the Preservation Leadership Forum titled "Innovation, Sustainability, and Historic Buildings," which looks at the renovations of the General Service Administration's Wayne N. Aspinall Federal Building and the United States Courthouse in Grand Junction, Colorado and how they integrated more energy efficient systems into a historic building in a low-impact manner.

Archival image
The Wayne N. Aspinall Federal Building is a Renaissance Revival-style building, constructed in 1918 and is one of Grand Junction's most important building and architecturally refined public structures. The Federal Building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places owing to its association with Wayne N. Aspinall, an important congressional leader.  The Federal Building was rededicated in February 2013 and houses the U.S. District Courts and serve the Internal Revenue Service, General Services Administration, the Army Corps of Engineers, Department of Justice, and the offices of Colorado's federal senators.  For this particular project the GSA Rocky Mountain Region, Design-Build Partners of The Beck Group, and Westlake Reed Leskosky transformed the building into an innovative and sustainable place through the use of solar roof panels and a GeoExchange system, thus reducing the energy consumption of its occupants.  Energy usage was examined and optimized, beginning with the building's enclosure and lighting systems.  By cutting the demand for energy, the HVAC systems could be made smaller to allow for a better fit within the existing structural constraints.  Roger Chang presents the approaches that formed the foundation of the project.

The IRS Office in the Aspinall Building
Variable Refrigerant Flow (VRF) Systems

Air is the most typically used medium for cooling or heating a building.  However, fresh air has a poor relative heat capacity when compared to water or chemical refrigerant.  You can move an equal amount of energy with a one-inch water pipe than with a 14"x14" air duct.  Said pipe size can be further reduced by using a refrigerant.  In the Aspinall Building, a VRF system was installed, consisting of a modulated compressor unit that moves heated or cool refrigerant to individual fan coil units in the ceilings near the spaces they serve.  The method minimizes the amount of duct work installed in the building.  The fan coils come in multiple styles, including low-profile modules under ten-feet tall, allowing for integration into shallow soffits or within custom spaces, thereby reducing the impact on the historic integrity of the space.

Interior of Wayne Aspinall Federal Building
Dedicated Ventilation Systems

All-air variable volume (VAV) is the most commonly used ventilation system used in commercial buildings.  The amount of air brought to the individual space is regulated by a VAV box.  When a space needs more cooling, the amount of air is increased.  Multiple boxes are served by a large air-handling unit, some reaching the size of a typical living room.  A different strategy used at the Aspinall Building was not only to provide the amount of air needed to ventilate the space, and use a separate system for cooling and heating, such as a VRF system.  The result was a reduced amount of air required by a factor of factor of 3 or 4 while minimizing the amount of ductwork that wove its way throughout the buildings.  In this particular case, an old boiler shaft was used for ventilation ductwork.  Only one air-handling was used for the project, significantly cutting down the demand for a mechanical room area.

Aspinall Building solar canopy

Unlike the outdoors, the ground temperature remains a constant all year round.  The ground temperature in Grand Junction holds steady at 62°, while the air temperature can vary from a frozen 0° to a sizzling 100°.  Contemporary air condition systems either take in or reject ambient heat.   At the Federal Building, a GeoExchange system was put in place, consisting of thirty-two closed loop wells installed vertically up to 475 feet deep.  As water circulates through the loop, it exchanges energy with the ground.  During the year, the amount of heat taken in balances with the heat kept out.  The system increased the efficiency the air-based system up to two times and reduced the need for that annoyingly loud clunky outdoor mechanical equipment.  These effective technologies allowed for tall floor-to-ceiling spaces, maximizing natural daylight and preserving historic volumes.  The corridor and lobby were restored, while the mechanical systems worked in the background to maintain a level of comfort.

The mechanical room of the Aspinall Building
Reducing Energy Demands

The project architects and engineers used other energy-efficient methods to reduce the demand for energy.  One strategy was the installation of new lighting fixtures.  Typical office lighting is designed to meet current energy code with a power density of 1.0 watts per square foot.  The lighting system in the Aspinall Building is operating at below 0.3 watts per square foot, due to the installation of more efficient fixtures controlled by daylight and motion sensors.

Other changes incorporated reducing the energy demand for computers and other office equipment, which represents  about 25% of a building
s energy usage.  An average office may be designed to a power density of 1.5 watts per square foot for this type of load.  However, the Aspinall Building is operating at nearly 0.25 watts per square foot because of the installation of occupancy controlled power strips and high use of laptops, instead of desktops.

All of these changes have resulted in a decline of energy use in the building.  From March 2013 to February 2014, the Federal Building operated at an energy use intensity level of 21 kBTU/yr-gsf, before renewable energy production is factored in.  This number represents about 70% less than the a similar type of building.  Energy modeling played a crucial role in the design process, permitting the testing of energy and load reduction measures.  The design team found that insulating the existing walls of the building had the greatest result of any one energy usage reduction method.  Using a high-performance solar control film in the interior storm windows significantly reduced peak cool requirement, allowing for a smaller fan coil and ductwork sizes.

Design innovation for historic building focuses on reduction of the volume of systems, allowing the original building spatial and architectural defining features to be preserved and come to the forefront.  At the Wayne N. Aspinall Federal Building, the original thermal mass and daylighting scheme were complementary to the technology used to reduce space and energy requirement.  The result is a mutual integration of historic preservation practices and miniaturized technology making innovation at the Aspinall Federal Building possible.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Eye On You


Big Brother is watching
Hello Everyone:

Big Brother is watching you.  Literally and metaphorically.  We live in an age of constant surveillance.  Our every movements, emails, posts, tweets, texts are monitored night and day.  For the most part, nothing comes of it.  I'm pretty sure the National Security Agency has a pretty good giggle with my information.  However, how does all the data collection work at the urban level?  What happens to our anonymity when Big Brother is tracking our every coffee and bagel run?  In a blog post for the New York Times titled "How Urban Anonymity Disappears When All Data Is Tracked," Quentin Hardy looks at our rapidly disappearing sense of anonymity in the urban context.  Mr. Hardy writes, "Cities are our paradise of anonymity, a place for both self-erasure and self-reinvention.  But soon cities may fall first in the disappearance, or at least a radical remaking of privacy."

Urban surveillance infrastructure
Information about our daily innocuous  public comings and goings in urban cores can be cheaply aggregated.  Everything we do is followed by cameras and sensors, which have become increasingly common in the urban landscape. Makes you feel self-conscious.  The information gathered about your morning coffee run is stored and categorized thanks to cloud computing and bargain basement electronics.  Deirdre Mulligan, a professor at the iSchool at the University of California, Berkeley says, "People in cities have anonymity from their neighbor, but not from an entity collecting data about them...These are far more prevalent in cities."

Surveillance cameras
Recently, a company called LocoMobi announced it had bought Nautical Technologies, the license plate recognition technology from the Canadian company Apps Network Appliances.  The equipment sits at the entrance of parking lot, photographing the license plates of incoming cars.  This data goes into the cloud computing infrastructure of Amazon Web Service.  When the car exits the lot, another picture is taken and computers calculated how long the car was parked and applies the appropriate charge.  The company's co-founder predicts connecting the system to a car's navigation mechanism, enabling drivers to find and reserve nearby parking lots without all that needless driving around.  Your license plate is public information and an app for your car's navigation to help you secure a parking spaces sounds all well and find but can it help you find where parked your car when it's time for you to leave?  Oh wait, there's an app for that.

Police surveillance
Oh yes, there's something else.  Barney Pell, LocoMobi's co-founder and chairman says, "We can have so much fun with this...Imagine knowing that people who park here also park there-you've found the nearby stores, their affinities.  You could advertise to them, offer personalized services, provide 'passive loyalty' points that welcome them back to the area."  At this juncture, public data has become personal information.  Quentin Hardy compares this to the company Euclid Analytics, which uses pings when a smartphone routinely looks for a Wi-Fi antenna and to track people moving through a crowded mall.  On that last point, this could be useful for tracking shop lifters and other suspicious individuals.

Google glass
Quentin Hardy muses, "The more recording devices we put in the world, the more once-evanescent things take on lasting life."  Every word we speak is increasing recorded and given new meaning and context when analyzed.  In the past two weeks, it was reported that Google has filed for a patent to take its Google glass recording technology onto contact lenses.  This all sounds a bit to James Bond for me.  Many technologists involved with data aggregation see a benefit to a more civil society.  Mr. Pell declares, "So many of out urban problems have to do with people breaking rules and cheating systems, then disappearing."  This is true to a degree but some of the cause of urban problems has to do with more than breaking the rules and cheating the system.  He cites behaviors such as able-bodied drivers parking in handicap parking spaces with illegitimate placards or running red lights.  If this is his idea of urban ills, then we're all doing a lot better than we think.

"You are under surveillance"
Here's a troubling statement, "What happens when every secret, from who really did the work in the office, to sex, to who said what, is that we get a more truthful society, " said David Friedberg, founder and chief executive of Climate Corporation.  I say troubling because the truth is relative.  People believe what they want to believe and the facts can be manipulated in such a way that it becomes the truth.  Mr. Friedberg believes, "Technology is the empowerment of more truth, and fewer things taken on faith."  Mr. Friedberg also believes that public awareness of hidden behaviors "is a conversation that will happen."  By whose standard will we use in having this conversation about closeted behavior?  This idea that technology will allows to take its own faith allows Ms. Mulligan to say "There is an idea here that data is truth and that's not always true...You may know who is running a red light, but you don't know if there is a sick kid in the back seat, and they are racing to the hospital."  Well put.

"Eyes on the street"
 More important, the deference paid to data comes at the expense of people making actual choices about their behavior. "If you want people to act morally, you don't tell them what they can and can't do."  We all need to think about the effect on others, what should be done," adds Ms. Mulligan. Absolutely on point.  How we behave publicly and privately has consequences.  By relying on data to determine what is acceptable public behavior and what isn't, we are allowing someone else to impose their standard of morality on others. Let me qualify this by saying that if we are to be a civil society, we all have to abide by one universal standard of morality.  We know it's wrong to steal and kill but where it starts to get murky is when we so narrow that scope of morality that it becomes a method of oppression.

Issues of traditional privacy will not just be urban issues.  The nascent low-cost satellite systems will become a mirror of Earth, as close as possible to real time and at increasing granularity of a variety of data.  While assorted companies collect our public information, the Federal Trade Commission in the United States and its regulators are rapidly becoming interested in how this information is used.  On the flip side, it isn't apparent how much we all are concerned about our privacy; recently Google recently updated its terms of service deliberately highlighting the fact that it automatically scans our content, emails included.  Fortunately for the company, this has not resulted in a serious drop in usage. In this moment in time, we are all becoming increasingly aware of where we're going.  The problems arise when we don't think about the consequences.

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Monday, April 21, 2014

The Segregation of the Urban Poor


Lonesome building
Cleveland, Ohio
Hello Everyone:

Today I would like to write more about urban poverty in the United States.  Historically, the United States has always been looked at as the "land of plenty."  Increasingly, this is not the case.  According to the United States Census Bureau, an estimated 15% or 46.5 million lived below the poverty line in 2012. (https://www.census.gov)  In addition to the alarming statistic, more and more of the poor are become isolated throughout America. Richard Florida reports in The Atlantic Cities a study conducted by Sean Reardon and Kendra Bischoff which documented poor families between 1970 and 2009.  The Reardon and Bischoff study presented evidence that suggests that number of poor families doubled from 8% to 18% and shows no sign of easing up.

The rising concentration of poverty brings forth a host of problems to the attending communities. The less advantaged communities not only lack economic resources but also suffer from higher crime and drop-out rates, higher infant mortality, and higher incidents of chronic diseases.  In William Julius White's classic urban planning book, The Truly Disadvantaged, Mr. White called attention to the deleterious social impact that comes with spatial concentrations of poverty, which "include the kinds of ecological niches that the residents of these neighborhoods occupy in terms of access to jobs and job networks, availability of marriageable partners, involvement in quality schools, and exposure to conventional role models."  Thus, Mr. Florida ponders how segregated are the poor in America cities?

Concentrations of urban poverty
In the map on the left-hand side, we see the extent of segregated areas of poverty across American cities.  The dark blues areas present the places where poor households are the most isolated; the light blue show very segregated, green represents areas of moderate segregation; and yellow presents lower levels of segregation.  The map shows the metropolitan areas where the poor are the most segregated are primarily located along the East Coast from New England to the Mid-Atlantic states, across the Midwest and Great Lakes regions, and parts of Texas, Arizona, Nevada, and Colorado.  Ranking the ten largest metropolitan areas (one million or more people) where the poor experience the highest and lowest levels of segregation, the Milwaukee-Waukesha-WEst Allies, Wisconsin area sit atop the list and the Memphis, Tennessee-Missouri, Arkansas region is number ten.

Camden, New Jersey
Large metropolitan areas where the poor are the most segregated are located in the Midwest and Northeast.  Milwaukee has the highest level followed by: Hartford, Connecticut; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Cleveland, Ohio; Detroit, Michigan; Buffalo and New York City, New York; Denver, Colorado; Baltimore, Maryland and Memphis, Tennessee.  Richard Florida clarifies that many of the Rust Belt cities listed have large minority populations that have been greatly affected by deindustrialization.  When we take into account medium and smaller-sized cities, many of the places with the greatest concentrations of poverty are surprisingly college towns.  Why is this the case? Simply put, the divide is more evident.  State College, Pennsylvania (Penn State University) ranks number one in poverty segregation; Ann Arbor (University of Michigan) is number five and New Haven, Connecticut (Yale) is tenth.

Poverty banner
 On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Sunbelt and Western metropolitan areas are places where the poor are the least isolated. Four out the ten least segregated metropolitans are located in Florida: Orlando, Tampa, Miami, and Jacksonville.  Many of these locales have lower wage service economies but are also centers of the high tech industry and knowledge-based work such as: San Jose, the capital of Silicon Valley; Portland, Oregon, Seattle, Washington, and Salt Lake City, Utah.  The metropolitan areas where the poor at the least segregated are smaller regions.  Richard Florida reports that there are approximately eighty smaller and medium-sized metropolitan areas where the poor are the least isolated than the least-segregated large areas.  Jacksonville, North Carolina has the lowest level of poverty segregation, followed by: Medford, Oregon; Hinesville-Fort Stewart, Georgia; and Prescott, Arizon.

Public housing project in the United States
What are the factors that affect the levels of poverty segregation?  Charlotta Mellander of the Martin Prosperity Institute ran a basic correlation analysis between poverty segregation and key economic, social, and demographic characteristics of metropolitan areas.  What Ms. Mellander found was that the poor faces higher levels of segregation in larger, denser areas.  This segregation is closely associated with density (.54) and less so with the size of the metropolitan area (.43).  The reason for this maybe the greater numbers of very rich and very poor; density and high real estate values encourage placement according to socio-economic status.  The competition for housing is greater, thus creating higher prices which leave the poor with fewer options and leading to greater concentrations of poverty.  Poverty segregation is more evident in affluent metropolitans, since the index of segregation is positively correlated with three key factors of regional development: average wage (.46), per capita incomes (.42), and economic output per capita (.34).  The poor also face greater levels of isolation in center of knowledge-based economies.  It is also positively associated with the percent of adult college graduates (.51), a frequent indicator of human capital; the number of workers in knowledge, professional, and creative jobs (.48), and the concentration of the high tech industry (.47).

U.S. poverty
Conventional wisdom has it that places with higher levels of poverty segregation are also places of higher income inequality. Surprisingly, Ms Mellander's analysis found there only a modest relationship between the two (.20).  In short, poverty segregation is more closely associated with how affluent a metropolitan area is on the average than income inequality.  How much money people have matters more than the gap between rich and poor.  One possible reason is that people in affluent metropolitans have greater means to segregate themselves.  Since housing prices track incomes, said prices could very well leave the poor with fewer options and reinforce the separation between rich and poor.

In the United States, race is also a factor in poverty segregation.  However, Ms. Mellander found that the association between race and poverty segregation across the country is not as strong as one would think.  The segregation of poverty is positively connected with the portion of the population that is African-American (.12) and Asian (.22), but not significantly associated with Caucasian or Latino.  It is helpful to point out that this analysis does not take into account long-held connections between race and poverty on the whole, but instead the association between race and poverty segregation.  Despite the fact that race and poverty are historically linked in American cities, poverty segregation is slightly more or less depending on the overall racial characteristics of the metropolitan area.  Once again, this may indicate how the segregation of the poor is formed more by housing and location options afforded to more affluent groups.

Poverty is not just about the lack of economic resources, it is also geographically concentrated and brings with it a host of attending challenges.  One of which is that certain neighborhoods get stigmatized leading to alienations from important and necessary institutions; establishing a cycle of decline that goes on for generations.

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Restoring the Bamiyan Buddhas?


The Buddhas of Bamiyan before destruction
Hello Everyone:

One of the saddest things that can happen to a cultural landmark is destruction.  Especially if said landmark is destroyed by a dictatorial regime because the landmark is somehow perceived as an affront to the dictator's ideology.  The cultural landmark I'm referring to are the Buddhas of Bamiyan located between the mountains of Hindu Kush in the central Afghan highlands, in the Bamiyan Valley.  The Buddhas, who stood at 55 meters and 38 meters respectively,  date from the sixth to the tenth centuries CE and were carved into the Bamiyan Cliffs.  They were part of a ensemble of wall paintings and series of seated Buddhas linked together by galleries created by travelers along the Silk Road.  The caves were part of a network of chapels, sanctuaries, and monasteries, dating to the third to fifth centuries CE. (whc.unesco.org)  In March 2001, the loathsome Taliban regime dynamited the Buddhas, shocking the world. In a recent article for Art Newspaper, Sandro Martini and Emanno Rivetti report a story of a team of archeologists that have set about reconstructing the feet and the smaller Buddha. The news of this project, undertaken without UNESCO's permission or knowledge, was debated during the Twelfth Meeting of UNESCO's Bamiyan's working group, in Italy this past December.

The Buddhas of Bamiyan after destruction
A team of archeologists from the German branch of International Council on Monuments and Sites, led by Michael Petzet, the former head of the organization between 1999 and 2008, has spent most of the year rebuilding the shorter Buddha's lower extremities with iron reinforced concrete and bricks.  Franceso Bandarin, UNESCO's assistant director-general for culture describes this as, "wrong on every level."  Mr. Bandarin add, "UNESCO has nothing to do with this.  It was undertaken without the consent of the Afghan government and has now been stopped."  Andrea Bruno, the architectural consultant to the organization for the last forty years confirms that the work was undertaken "against "UNESCO's decision [taken in 2011] not to rebuild the Buddhas."  Mr. Bruno adds that the work had not begun when he visited Afghanistan last March.

Color projection of the Buddhas of Bamiyan c.10th Century CE
photograph by Arnold Metzinger
Professor Michael Petzet said that his team's funding was originally provided by UNESCO, a fact confirmed by Mr. Bandarin in a statement, "...has a contract with ICOMOS Germany to build a platform [where the smaller Buddha once stood] to protect visitors from falling rocks," but stresses that the reconstruction work was not part of the original plan and UNESCO wants to dismantle the work already done.  Professor Petzet told the Art Newspaper that he and his team "just wanted to preserve what can be preserved."  He continued, "Everything we have was discussed with the Afghan authorities: the [project] is nothing new."  On the contrary, Mr. Bandarin said that the Afghan minister of culture was not aware of the work when it was halted.

Caves near the Buddhas of Bamiyan
One of the big question is how did Petzet's team carry out the extensive project without anyone noticing?  Francesco Bandarin offers this reason, "Things like this can happen in such a remote Afghanistan province."  I suppose.  Mr Bandarin continues, "...especially since they have worked there for years before this."  Founded in 1965, ICOMOS us dedicated to the conservation and protection of world heritage sites, advises UNESCO on said sites, but UNESCO is in charge of their management, conservation, and restoration.  Experts at UNESCO have asked the central ICOMOS office to file a report with the Afghan authorities and an additional report on the issue is due to the World Heritage Committee in June.  The Buddhas once stood along the Silk Route in the remote Hazarajat region, about 250 kilometers west of Kabul.  The sculptures were carved into the side of a cliff in the Bamiyan Valley around the 6th Century CE, at the height of the Kushan empire, prior to the Islamic invasion in the 7th Century.  Despite several previous attempts t o destroy them, the Taliban brought them down with anti0aircraft guns, artillery, and dynamite.

Laser project of the lost Buddhas
At the 2011 UNESCO meeting in Tokyo, the future of the site was formally decided.  At the meeting, a number of conservation and restoration plans were reviewed, including laser projections on the side of the cliff and Michael Petzet's proposal to reassemble the surviving smaller Buddhas in its niche using metal frames. Ultimately, the decision was made to leave the niches empty.  In the May 2012 issue of The Art Newspaper, Andrea Bruno lamely told the publication, "the void is the true sculpture" and the Buddhas would be best remembered by their absence.  Further, rebuilding them could be deemed offensive to the country's Muslims (Sunni) because Islam forbids religious iconography. Yet, Mr. Bruno failed to acknowledge the fact that the local population of Shia Muslims, persecuted by the Taliban, were deprive of what little income the earned from tourists visiting the area. A UNESCO initiative plans to encourage future visitors with sponsored programs.

Stamps with the Buddhas
Since Professor Petzet's was halted, UNESCO has asked Andrea Bruno's Turin based architecture studio to supervise four related projects:

1) The largest project is a cultural center and museum dedicated to the region's rich Buddhist and Muslim history.  According to Mr. Bruno, it "goes beyond the missing Buddhas."  The building references the traditional "fortress-house" and will sit on a plateau that faces the cliff were the statues were carved.  South Korea has offered to pay for the estimated $5.4 billion work, which is expected to be completed by October 2016.

2) A hidden underground viewing chamber will be constructed at the foot of the larger Buddha.  A small replica of the statue will stand at the end of the room and visitors will be able to gaze upon the empty niche through an opening in the ceiling.

3) A bazaar, of course, is being planned along the remnants of the historic Silk Road on the promenade between the cliff face and the plateau near the proposed museum.  Good idea, should help make up some of the lost local revenue.

4) Three interconnected caves at Shahr-i-Ghulghulah, the 13th Century city in the Bamiyan Valley that was conquered by Genghis Khan, will be restored with a one million dollar grant from Italy.  Andrea Bruno is anticipating that the caves can be used to host temporary exhibitions an other cultural events.

The overarching question is should anyone have attempted to restore the Buddhas, in part or in whole, in the first place?  The Buddhist in me says no because the essence of the Buddha exists within all of us and the statues are just material manifestations.  Andrea Bruno's reason for not rebuilding the Buddhas is a very weak attempt at political correctness.  Michael Petzet's attempt at restoring the fragments of the smaller Buddhas is a nice effort but, honestly, it sounds like someone was not communicating with the right people.  Regardless the proposed UNESCO initiatives are a positive step in restoring the local economy and calling attention to a World Heritage Site.  What will come out of all these proposals remains to be seen.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Beauty and Old Places


Kykuit, the Rockefeller Estate
Sleepy Hollow, New York
Ron Blount
Hello Everyone:

It is a very beautiful Spring day and what better time than now to talk about beauty and old places.  Old places have an intrinsic beauty to them.  They have a lived-in charm that new places lack.  As part of his on-going series  of blog posts on "Why Old Places Matter," Tom Mayes looks at old places and beauty.   Today, beauty is not always the prime engine that drives preservation efforts, around the world, yet it plays a role in deciding what is deemed preservation-worthy. When queried why old places matter, Mark McDonald, the president of the Georgia Trust declared, "Because they are beautiful!"  If you do a Google search of beautiful places, chances are you'll end up with images of the Zen gardens of Kyoto or the Campidoglio in Rome. Beautiful old places are treasures around the world and are a source of national pride,  They are a testament to the experiential power of beauty.  Sometimes, beautiful places are found in the least likely places and deserve our attention.

The Dwelling Houses of Charleston South, Carolina
Alice R.H. Smith
Beauty, and the threat to it, was the main driver of early preservation efforts in Charleston, South Carolina.  In Charleston, individuals formed an arts movement, known as the "Charleston Renaissance," sought to save the pretty and picturesque.  The Morris Museum of Art's website (http://www.themorris.org) states, "Alice R.H. Smith, Elizabeth O'Neill Verner, and other Charleston artists helped inspire the historic preservation movement, awakening their neighbors to the charm and significance of the city's architectural heritage, through their images.  As a result, the city's architectural and cultural heritage became the focus of pioneering efforts in historic preservation."  In a similar vein, the San Antonio Conservation Society was established by artists who were worried about the loss of beautiful places in the central Texas city.  Around the world, it's often the artists who lead the charge to save beautiful places that are under threat.  Today, both Charleston and San Antonio are the beneficiaries of these preservations which includes economic benefits, precisely because of the concern expressed by the creative community over the possible loss of old places.

Tempietto de San Pietro de Montorio 1502-10
Donato Bramante, Rome, Italy
Beauty still is at the heart of why people care about saving old places.  Tom Mayes cites a study by Marta de la Torre and Randall Mason (De la Torre and Mason, 12, 2002) on the values of cultural heritage, "The many interpretations of beauty, of the sublime, of ruins, and of the quality of formal relationships considered more broadly have long been among the important criteria for labeling things and places as heritage."  Excellent point.  Beauty, or at least what constitutes it, is a subjective value.  To elaborate on this statement, Mr. Mayes quotes Dan Hurlin, a visual artist studying with him at the American Academy in Rome, "The primary reason to save old places is because they are beautiful, whether it's Penn Station or Fallingwater." However, Mr. Hurlin suggests that beauty is not a simple topic.  There simply isn't one overarching point of view that guides what is considered beautiful and what isn't.  Philosophers, artists, architects, planners, and poets have all spent time ruminating on the meaning of the subject for the last two thousand years. Everyone from Plato and Aristotle, Vitruvius, Edmund Burke, John Keats, Immanuel Kant, to David Hickey (Hickey, 1993) have debated the nature of beauty, redefined it, dismissed it, and rediscovered its meaning.  Is beauty found in balance and harmony?  Is it inherent or subjective?  Is beauty truth and vice versa? Moral goodness?  Awe and transcendence?  Is beauty based on perception or is it a universal concept?  You get the point, beauty is, indeed, in the eye of the beholder.  Regardless, when referring to old places, communal perception and desire for beauty generate an interest saving old places.

Sant'Ivo alla Sapienza, c. 1640
Francesco Borromini, Rome, Italy
To further illustrate his point, Tom Mayes used his visit to Sant'Ivo alla Sapienza, by Franceso Borromini, in Rome as an example of what he considers to be a beautiful old place.  The Baroque-era church interior is a tall light-filled space that plays with scale and perspective.  The form of the interior is a series of complex triangles, concave and convex curves with grey-colored pilasters and plain walls.  Mr. Mayes recalls having his eyes drawn upward and feelings of awe and amazement.  It was as if, in that moment, he was in the grandest space and the world was a wonderful place.  It is what his fellow resident at the American Academy architect Catie Newell describes as "that moment of gasp."  It's that moment we all experience when we encounter something so completely outside of ourselves that we stop dead in our tracks and suddenly feel that the universe is this big and glorious place.  Mr. Mayes writes, "That may be as close to my own subjective idea about a moment of beauty as I can get."

Tintern Abbey ruins
Monmouthshire, Wales
Ruins, like Tintern Abbey in Monmouthshire, Wales, may be beautiful for their design but it's their age that lends a loveliness to them.  Ruins have been traditionally used as examples of the sublime. The Ruins of Windsor-the monumental Corinthian columns of a long lost plantation house in Port Gibson, Mississippi have been a southern pilgrimage site for generations because of their palpable sense of "long times forgotten."  This is also true of the ruins of Barbourville, Virginia, where one can see the the burnt remains of a Jeffersonian building, destroyed Christmas Day 1884.  If you go to the social media sites, while you're checking out my pages, you can also check out the proliferation of something Mr. Mayes refers to as "ruin porn." The images posted on these pages are dedicated to presenting gritty, and haunting abandoned buildings in cities such as Detroit.  Even yours truly has posted one or two "ruin porn" pictures.  Despite this ignominious moniker, there is a certain state of elegant decay that makes these abandoned buildings beautiful.

Pennsylvania Station
New York City, New York
In his discussions with other people, Tom Mayes notes that many artists and architects, like preservationists including myself, are hesitant to talk about beauty.  The hesitancy is borne out of the difficulty of defining what exactly beauty is or even the fact that the powers that be, i.e. the decision makers, often consider beauty frivolous.  In citing Fallingwater and Penn Station, Dan Hurlin suggests that beauty can be found in different places and people's experiences of beauty often varies.  Feeling and thoughts on the subject change over time.  As any historic preservationist will tell you, the history of the field is crowded with examples of places, once considered ugly, now are thought of as beautiful.  One example are the Victorian buildings, once written off as the worst expression of a decadent era or Art Deco-commercial and hideous; industrial buildings-no architectural value whatsoever; midcentury modern-passé. Now, all of these once "red-headed architectural stepchildren" are thought of as beautiful.  The point being, is that it's always easier to rally support to save a beautiful place, regardless if it's historically significant or not, than a place that people consider ugly or dated.

Ruins of Windsor
Port Gibson, Mississippi
Tom Mayes shares that many of the passionate discussions on his opinion of beauty have their foundations in Brutalist buildings, highlighting the fact that the field of preservation is one place where concepts of beauty and ugliness are publicly debated.  Mr. Mayes expressed his surprised at the lyrical beauty of a video depicting Parkour athletes performing against the backdrop of the graffiti-ed walls of Miami Marine Stadium, a building once considered beautiful then ugly for a generation when "dated" became the new beautiful.  So it goes.

Beauty has financial as well as psychological and sociological benefits.  For example, in 2008, the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia published a study that analyzed the financial benefits of beautiful places.  The definition of "beautiful places" included a determination of historic places through listing on the National Register of Historic Place.  The authors of the reported noted that tourists and permanent residents were attracted to certain places because of an area's "special traits, such as proximity to the ocean, scenic views, historic districts, architectural beauty, and cultural and recreational opportunities." (Carlino and Saiz, 3, 2008)  Further, the authors concluded that "beautiful cities disproportionally attracted highly educated individuals and experienced faster housing price appreciation..." (Carlino, 33)

Moments of beauty, like the one Tom Mayes experienced at Sant'Ivo, are fleeting and unexpected.  Yet, Mr. Mayes opines and I agree that it's important for people to live in beautiful communities and be surrounded by accessible beauty.  It's a good value, not something to be embarrassed about and people should demand it from their leaders as did those the leaders of the City Beautiful Movement in the early twentieth century.  In England, the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environments published a series of essays on the subject in 2010 in order to engage people in the decisions about their built environments.  Matthew Kieran wrote in one of the essays,

Whatever the reasons, as the 2010 Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) study People and Places suggests, beauty is fundamental to many people's lives.  Where we find beauty varies, but we do agree that appreciating it is a deeply positive experience contributing to happiness and wellbeing.  This fact alone is enough to justify taking beauty more seriously.  And a proper understanding of what beauty is and the purposes it may serve will show why beauty should be integral to planning and policy. (Kiernan, 2010)

The staircase at Casa della Gioventu, 1933
Luigi Moretti, Rome, Italy
Old places are a key component of what makes our communities beautiful places.  Tom Mayes quotes Alan Powers from his CABE essay Beauty: A Short History, "[Preservation] was far more powerful as a means of restoring ideas of beauty in the public realm than architecture and planning of new buildings had ever been on their own.  It was also a means of engaging a citizen population in debate and decision-making about their environment." (Powers, 24, 2010)  In an interview with Sofia Bosco from FAI, Ms. Bosco told Mr. Mayes that she believed that Italians are very talented and creative because they live in daily contact with beauty.  Beauty is a powerful thing so perhaps it's high time we all get comfortable enough to talk about it.  We need to join together and demand it in our urban and rural environments so everyone can experience beauty.

Tom Mayes closes with a quote from the late President John F. Kennedy, "I look forward to an America which will not be afraid of grace and beauty, which will protect the beauty of our natural environment, which will preserve the great old American houses and squares and parks of out National past, and which will build handsome cities for our future."

To this end, Mr. Mayes invites all of you to send in pictures of places you consider beautiful so they can be posted on a pinterest board set up for this series.  When click on to the article link at the top of this post, scroll down to the comments section and send the link or tweet it using hashtag #oldplacesbeauty and it'll get pinned.

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