Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Making Building Great?

Rendering of proposed boarder wall
Hello Everyone:

It is Wednesday and time for the Blogger Candidate Forum.  Today we are going to look at what kind of building spree President-elect Donald Trump.  Over the course of the campaign, PEOTUS Trump began his campaign with the announcement that he plans to build a wall along southern United States boarder and getting Mexico to pay for it.  Not just any wall, ...a great wall.  He made this pronouncement in the lobby of the Trump epicenter, the gilded Breccia Prenice marble.  Bragging to the assembled press,

Nobody builds walls better than me, believe me.  And I'll build them very inexpensively.

The Guardian's Oliver Wainwright recently speculated on what we can expect from the developer-turned-President of The United States in his article "Trumpitecture: what we can expect from the billionaire cowboy builder."  Will we see more gilt and marble buildings? Shall we have a look.

Trump Tower from street level
New York City, New York
  Oliver Wainwright comments, "The billionaire real estate tycoon and president-elect has made a career out of building inexpensive walls and filling them with very expensive apartments."  However, an impenetrable wall, intended to keep out drugs, crime and rapists, accentuated with a big beautiful door, is in the works.

During the course of the campaign, the American public was treated to blustery policy announcements with little detail.  Said wall grew in height along with his swelling campaign-from 30 to 55 feet; the budget also ballooned from $8 to $12 billion.  Independent budget estimates put the cost of the wall closer to $25 billion and require three times the amount of concrete used in Hoover Dam.  Not that is an issue for PEOTUS, who insisted that his wall would have

beautiful everything...just perfect.  Maybe someday they'll call it the Trump Wall.  So I have to make sure it's beautiful, right?

Since his election victory, his plans for a beautiful wall have been scaled back to a fence.  Mr. Wainwright opines, "If it's anything like the other edifices that bear his name, in 20ft high bronze letters, beauty might be be stretching it..."  The shiny golden surfaces that telegraph luxury masks a dubious product.

The lobby of Trump Tower
New York City, New York
Oliver Wainwright quotes late-The New York Times architecture critic Herbert Muschamp's criticism of PEOTUS's self-name Towers, "Trump's towers,"

don't quite register as architecture...[but instead stand as] signs of money, status, power [like the] diamonds, furs, yachts and other token of the deluxe life enjoyed in Marbella.

The thing that Mr. Muschamp found objectionable about PEOTUS's tastes was not the

  desire for attention, for the best, the most, the tallest, the most eye-catching [but] his failure to realise these desires creatively in the architectural medium.

For the man who carried on about building big beautiful structures, the thing has turned as yuge as he promised.  Let us have a look at some examples.

The Commodore Hotel
New York City, New York
PEOTUS Trump's first Manhattan project, completed in 1980, rehabilitating the Commodore Hotel, a grand brick and limestone hotel, set the standard for future developments.  The hotel, built in 1919, was cocooned inside a shell of chrome, bronze (or gold depending on the time of day), ornamenting it with the "sparkly signifiers of glitz and glamour."

Mr. Wainwright writes, "Just like his policies, Trump's real estate projects are often characterized by bold claims that don't quite stand up-beginning with their height."  He points out that PEOTUS frequently inflates the height of his buildings: "the '90-storey' Trump World has 72 floors, while apartment in Trump Tower begin at 'floor 30,' despite there just being 19 commercial  stories below them."  The president-elect said, quite proud of his marketing magic trick,

They like to have apartments that have height, the psychology of it.

Trump International Hotel and Tower
Chicago, Illinois
 The Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago, Illinois was intended as the tallest building in the world when plans for it were announced in 2001.  However, in the wake of 9/11, it was quickly scaled back-despite PEOTUS's bluster about not being cowed by the terrorists.  In a sharp elbow to the ribs, Mr. Wainwright writes, "It now stand like a stunted Mini-Me version of Dubai's Burj Khalifa (designed by the same architect) at less than half the height of its Arabian cousin."

To compensate for its shortcomings, PEOTUS attempted to make up the difference with the size of his sign, his name spelled out in back-lit stainless steel letters that stretch out half the length of a football field, sprawling across the 16th floor.  Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel called it tasteless and went about changing the city's sign regulations to prevent repeat vulgarity.  The serial tweeter that he is, PEOTUS was quick to defend his creation.  Quoting the tweet, Mr. Wainwright writes,

Before I bought the site, the Sun Times had the biggest, ugliest sign Chicago has ever seen...Mine is magnificent and popular. 

Magnificently large and unpopular

Trump Tower
Istanbul, Turkey

The popularity of theTrump brand-a euphemism for "Superior Quality, Detail and Perfection," according to the company website-has taken a real beating during the long presidential campaign cycle.  In Dubai, where the Trump organization is currently building a golf course, a large billboard featuring PEOTUS swinging a golf club was removed following his announcement to ban Muslims from entering the United States.  Sales of his home decor line (really?) were also suspended.

Istanbul, where twin conjoined titling Trump towers loom 150 meters over the city, prompted President Tayyip Erdoğan to declare that,

the ones who put that brand on their building should immediately remove it.

Before President Erdoğan made his comments, the $300 million development did not provide the return investors were promised.

Trump Tower hotel
Toronto, Canada
The litany of inflated expectations, followed by legal give and take, are repeated around the world.  Oliver Wainwright reports, "The Trump Ocean Club in Panama was plagued by delays. By the time the...edifice was completed in 2011, there was a glut of high-end apartments, so prices were slashed and management company, claiming it exceeded budgets and used its fees to cover hotel costs."  PEOTUS is currently seeking $75 million in damages.

The Trump Tower hotel, topped with a reference to the man himself-also opened lated and entered a market flooded with five-star hotels.  It was the subject of a lawsuit brought by buyers who claim they were mislead by marketing materials; a local developer is trying to remove the Trump name from the project.  Lesson in each case, never take a person at his word and always read the fine print.

Trump SoHo
New York City, New York
The story remains the same in PEOTUS's hometown of New York City, where he uncharacteristically settled a lawsuit initiated by the buyers of his $450 million SoHo development.  The buyers claimed "that they had been defrauded by exaggerated claims."  Naturally, PEOTUS admitted no wrongdoing.  Citing The New York Times, Oliver Wainwright reports, "a separate lawsuit stated that the project was 'developed with the undisclosed involvement of convicted felons and financing from questionable sources in Russia and Kazakstan.'"

The litany goes on, from Rio de Janeiro to Azerbaijan, where plans for more Trump towers have encountered obstacles and recent records reveal that his controversial golf course in Scotland have posted losses of nearly £26 million.  In short, President-elect Donald Trump may not be the great deal maker that he fancies himself to be.  What does feel like to be on the wrong side of his supposed fantastic deal making skills.

Trump National Golf Club
Photograph by Peter Oberc LLC
New York

To get an answer to this question, Mr. Wainwright spoke with architect Andrew Tesoro, who was commissioned to design the Trump National Golf Club in upstate New York.  The process left Mr. Tesoro on the edge of bankruptcy.  He was motivated by PEOTUS's famous enthusiasm and the scope of the project quickly tripled in size-along with the attending workload-but additional compensation did not follow.

By the time the golf club was completes, Mr. Tesoro amassed unpaid invoiced totaling $140,000.  After endless requests for payment and meetings with Trump associates, Mr. Tesoro finally met face-to-face with PEOTUS, who supplied "...a textbook lesson in Trump's trademark cocktail of charm and ruthlessness."

Andrew Tesoro said,

He told me that we built the most spectacular clubhouse in the world...I was the finest architect he'd ever met, he was going to make this this project the best-known building of its type in the world, the next project was going to give me the opportunity to recoup any money that'd lost-and, just because I'm such a nice guy, he was going to offer me $25,000 to go away.

Andrew Tesoro initially declined the offer so PEOTUS's attorney got involved.  Mr. Tesoro continued,

The attorney told me quite direct that, if I sued, I would probably get all the money I was owed, but that it was his job to make it take so long and cost me so much, that it wouldn't be worth it.

AJA Infrastructure onpage
This raises questions of how PEOTUS plans to run his proposes $500 billion project, something that has construction companies dreaming of tax credit driven contracts.  In his victory speech, President-elect Trump declared,

We are going to fix out inner cities and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals...We're going to rebuild our infrastructure, which will become, by they way second to none.

The spineless American Institute of Architecture was quick to pledge its support for the new administration, writing "that its 89,000 members 'stand ready to work' with Trump on his grand building plan."  As it turned out the AIA forgot to consult with its 89,000 members, many of whom rightly pointed out that the incoming president's bigoted statements do not square with the AIA's "diversity and inclusion" (dubious) goals.

The Architect's Newspaper, pointed that architects "who contribute to the 'proposed border wall or its attendant detention centres, federal and private pensions, and militarised infrastructure' would be perpetuating inequality and the 'racist patriarchy of Trump's ideology.'"

In an open letter to PEOTUS, architect and critic Michael Sorkin wrote,

Trump's well-documented history of racial discrimination, tenant harassment, stiffing creditors, evasive bankruptcies, predilection for projects of low social value-such as casinos-and his calculated evasion of the taxes that might support our common realm are of a piece with his larger nativist, sexist, and racist political project...

Mr. Sorkin concludes:

We call upon the AIA to stand up for something beyond a place at the table where trump's cannibal feast will be served.  Let us not be complicit in building Trump's wall but band together to take it down!

Since then, the AIA has issued a gutless video apology, admitting their statement was "tone deaf-" while making sure it stocks up on the latest security fencing and gilded glass catalogue.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Would It Help If Museums Were Free?

Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Los Angeles, California
Hello Everyone:

Winter vacation is upon us and it is time for getting together with family or just going off on your own.  If you are like yours truly, you tend to prefer solitary activities.  One of Blogger's favorite solo adventures is a trip to the museum.  Naturally.  However unless you are a member of a museum, the cost of admission can be prohibitive.  When you factor in a trip to the snack bar and the bookstore, that nice trip to the museum can be almost as much as a trip to the movie theater.  Consider this, what if admission to your favorite museum was free?  This is the subject that Jessica Leigh Hester ponders in her CityLab article "Why Free Museums Matter."  Ms. Hester's thesis is that free admission to museums would help remove their aura of exclusivity.  Ms. Hester lovingly describes her own experience of attending a retrospective of the work of J.M.W. Turner, James Whistler, and Claude Monet.  Theoretically, museums are for the public to come and spend time communing with great works of art.  Museums also need to be a reflection of the community they serve.  Further, they need to reach a larger audience that cannot come in person for various reasons.  However, cultural institutions in the United States are trying out unique solutions to remedy the issues of accessibility.  

Smithsonian National African American History and Culture Museum
Washington D.C,
In an effort to generate more excitement  and passionate relationships between artwork and its audience, over 1,200 museum annually open their doors, once a year, as part of Smithsonian Museum Day Live.  Institutions from coast to coast offer free tickets for one applicant and one guest, reserved in advance.  Ms. Hester writes, "Museum Day is just one prong of an ongoing campaign to chip away at the stigma that museums belong to some of the people, and others."  Many cultural institutions are struggle to shed the veneer of inscrutability and preconception that visitors should possess specific knowledge in order to gain entry into this rarefied world.

The Whitney Museum new building
New York City, New York

At the dedication of the new Whitney Museum in 2015, First Lady of The United States Michelle Obama spoke on the ambivalence of accessing cultural spaces is split along racial and socio-economic lines.  Data from the American Association of Museums reveals that, nationally, "only 9 percent of visitors are minorities."  Essentially, non-Caucasian visitors, Mrs. Obama said, may feel particularly uncomfortable standing beneath marble atriums:

You see, there are so many kids in this country who look at places like museums and concert halls and other cultural centers and they think to themselves, well, that's not a place for me, for someone who looks like me, for someone who comes from my neighborhood.  In fact, I guarantee you right now, there are kids living less than a mile from here who would never in a million years dream that they would be welcome in this museum.  And growing up on the South Side of Chicago, I was one of those kids myself.

The de Young Museum
San Francisco, California
Equal access to museum collections is of great importance as museum visits become less frequent for school children,  Ms. Hester reports, "As strapped school systems work to adhere to curriculum requirements amid budgets with little wiggle room,"

the museum trip, once a feature of every New York City student's experience is becoming endangered,

Kim Kanatani, the director of education at the Guggenheim Museum told The New York Times.

Ms. Kanatani related to The Times that she and her co-workers noted a drop in school tours booked throughout the city.  This pattern was also noted in other parts of the country.  Case in point, in the 2010-11 school year, half the U.S. schools eliminated field trips according to a survey by the American Association of School Administrators.

The Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
Bentonville, Arkansas
The Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, Arkansas found a solution to this troubling trend.  When spaces for museum school tours do become available, the demand often outweighs supply.  When The Museum opened in 2011, an endowment enabled it to operate school tours for free.  The response was overwhelming, 525 schools applied for a free tour, in hopes of bringing more than 38,000 students-more than The Museum was able to accommodate.

Jessica Leigh Hesters notes, "Free entry isn't a cure-all.  Slicing the price of admission, for instance, doesn't solve the problems that spring from limited transit options or crunched schedules that don't allow much meandering."  Blogger has experienced those issues in the past.  To solve these problems, museums have taken their collections on the road.  Under the direction of a $2 million grant from the Knight Foundation, the Detroit Institute of exhibits replicas of works in their collection throughout Michigan communities,  This past summer, seven of those works were on view at public libraries and parks in the Orion Township.  There are similar programs in Miami and Philadelphia.

Detroit Institute of Arts
Detroit, Michigan
Another solution to the time and lack of transit option problem is leveraging a museum's digital footprint.  Other institutions are using their online presence to connect with audiences who cannot come to the museum in person.  For example, "Kimberly Drew, the social media manager at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, who also runs the buzz worthy Tumblr Black Contemporary Art, has grown the behemoth institution's online presence and turned up the volume about gaps in the museum's collection."  The result is an extended conversation that engages patrons across the digital universe.  Ms. Drew told Lenny,

Only a third of our Facebook likes are from people in the United States, and even a smaller percentage is in New York...Our community is not geo-specific,  It's built around language that's inclusive.

Art Institute of Chicago
Chicago, Illinois
Some doubt that free museum admission is the only and or effective solution to increasing attendance.  There is concern that reducing the price of admission will eventually lead to a diminishing bottom line.  Ms. Hastings writes, "However,, one museum director told Fortune that a typical institution only pockets about 4 percent of its yearly revenue from admissions-larger chunks come from endowments and fundraising."  Last year, about a third of the institutions in the American Alliance of Museum Directors offered free admission and about 5 percent listed suggested rates.

Free admission does work.  Museums that altered their admissions policies noted a change in visitor patterns.  "Attendance doubled after fees were waived to England's national collections in 2001, reported the director of London's Natural History Museum to The Guardian."  When the Dallas Museum of Art eliminated its $10 admission fee, annual attendance grew from 498,000 to 668,000 and the museum saw a 29 percent uptick in minority visitors, reported Fortune.

In one respect, museum are static: permanent collection are not in a chaotic state of flux and the history they present spans the millennia.  Art, in all of its glorious genres, is a moment in time as seen by the people who lived in cultures committed to canvas, stone, paper, clay, or photograph.  In the digital age, museums are increasing their accessibility via the social media.  Their Instagram feeds regularly feature images from their collections with ample opportunity for comment.  Museum Twitter feeds allow patrons to decide on the contents of crowd-sourced exhibitions.  The point here is the social media allows for a more inclusive conversation.  Free admission is a good start, greater online presence is another way to make museums more accessible to all.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Blogger Candidate Forum: Uplift Or Destruction


PEOTUS on the campaign trail
Hello Everyone:

Time for the weekly cold-free edition of the Blogger Candidate Forum.  A quick program note, thanks to your response to the insider's view of the American elections, yours truly will continue this weekly in the new year.  After all, if President-elect Donald Trump's campaign and transition process are indication, the next four years should be a wild ride and someone has to give you a look inside.  Speaking of wild rides, today's subject PEOTUS's understanding of the words "urban renewal."

Those two words-urban renewal-produce shudders among contemporary historic preservationists, urban planners and designers.  They evoke images of long term residents of low- and moderate income residents forcibly displaced to make way for city bisecting highways, monolithic apartment towers, small businesses replaced bland boring boxes masquerading as office buildings.  Fortunately, we have moved on from the days when New York City "master builder" Robert Moses and the godmother of modern planning and preservation Jane Jacobs battled over the future of their city.  Today, we have a president-elect who plans for urban revival (a more benign phrase) harken back to the bad old days.  Emily Badger's recent Upshot column, "Why Trump's Use of the Words 'Urban Renewal' Is Scary" for The New York Times, an analysis of what PEOTUS Trump proposes for American cities.

POTUS-elect at a campaign rally in Charlotte
Charlotte, North Carolina
Two weeks before his surprise electoral victory, PEOTUS Trump spoke at a Charlotte, North Carolina rally in which he outlined his plan for African Americans in cities.  The speech titled, "New Deal for Black America," in which he proposed a series of idea that promised greater school choice, safer communities, lower taxes, and better infrastructure.  The document, which can be viewed at, is a ten-point plan is subtitled "A Plan for Urban Renewal," is as close to an actual proposal for urban America.

HUD Secretary-designate Ben Carson
The troublesome nomination of Dr. Ben Carson to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development was the product of conversations between Dr. Carson and PEOTUS.  Specifically PEOTUS said they talked at length about my urban renewal agenda.  Allow Blogger to digress for a moment, Dr. Carson is a brilliant neurosurgeon.  He would be the person yours truly would want cutting open my mother's skull.  However, he is not qualified to head this cabinet-level department.  Despite his stellar accomplishments, Dr. Carson is a medical professional, not a public health professional.  These are two separate fields.  Further, he has publicly admitted that he is not qualified to run a cabinet-level department.  That said, we will see in January, what the Senate hearings for cabinet nominees reveal.  Back to the post.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt and The New Deal
Emily Badger writes, "HIs language has an odd ring to it, not solely for marrying Franklin D, Roosevelt's New Deal with the post-World War II era of urban renewal.  If Mr. Trump was reaching for a broadly uplifting concept-renewal-he landed instead on a term with very specific, and very negative, connotations for the population he says he aims to help."

Academics and a majority of city dwellers, urban renewal is remembered for its wholesale destruction of ethnic communities, entire neighborhoods were demolished to accommodate housing, highways, and civic projects.  You may ask "what is wrong with that?"  

Allow Mary Pattillo, a sociologist at Northwestern University to explain, This is a loaded phrase.  Ms. Pattillo suspects that the plethora of PEOTUS's comments, on the campaign trail, regarding "inner cities" and African Americans were directly time at Caucasian audiences.  However, it appears less likely that he is repeating his comments and subtly communicating that his urban initiative will really benefit poor minorities.  Ms. Pattillo told The New York Times:

We have no clue...There's no way to know how much he knows,how well-informed he is, how strategic he's being, if he's being off-the-cuff.

Emily Badger likens this to the rather strange phone conversation PEOTUS Trump had with the President of Taiwan.  She writes, "Is Mr. Trump knowingly or accidentally embracing historical conflict?  The answer depends, in part on how much we think Mr. Trump,...knows about the history of the conflict over the shape of the American city.

Southwest Urban Renewal area
The term "urban renewal" has its origins in the Housing Act of 1954; its 1949 predecessor referred to the same policy as "urban redevelopment."  According to these laws, "...the federal government gave cities the power and money to condemn 'slum' neighborhoods, clear them through eminent domain, then turn over the land to private developers at cheap rates for projects that included higher-end housing, hospitals, hotels, shopping centers and college expansions."

Following the 1956 Highway Act, this process displaced communities to open up land for urban thoroughfares.

The intended goal of urban renewal was the elimination of poor, deteriorating neighborhoods while increasing tax revenues, stimulating private investments, attracting middle class residents and shoppers back to the city.  It was half of what Ms. Pattillo calls "the federal government's schizophrenic policy at the time: As the government was incentivizing middle-class whites to move to the suburbs, it also invested heavily in trying to rebuild central cities to draw them back in."

Hyde Park A & B
Urban renewal was promoted as progress.  Lawrence Vale, a professor of urban design and planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology told The New York Times:

A lot of the emphasis in urban renewal was on the 'new' part of renewal-that this was a way of moving forward.

Be that as it may, progress came at the expense of the bulldozed communities.  The hoped for middle class families and shoppers did not return to the cities-at least not for decades.  Sociologist Herbert Gans wrote in 1965 that the program was a method for eliminating the slums in order to 'renew' the city rather than a program for properly rehousing slum-dwellers.

Urban renewal was essentially about places, not people-the people in the path of redeveloping said places were frequently displaced to other slums or unaffordable housing.  Rarely were they welcomed back to what replaced their homes.  Mr. Gans wrote, "And less than 1 percent of all federal spending for urban renewal between 1949 and 1964 went to relocation."

Herbert Gans

The now retired Mr. Gans responded to this last statistic:

That gives you a sense of what this thing was all about,...Saving cities in an era of suburbanization and declining tax rolls was more important to the federal government than helping poor people.

During this period, "...four units of low-income housing were destroyed for every one new unit was built."  Further, over two-thirds of the displaced were African American or Latino, a trend that was clear in 1963, when writer James Baldwin stated "urban renewal 'means Negro removal.'"

In the early sixties, the chorus of critiques of the policy grew.  Jane Jacobs's seminal The Death and Life of Great American Cities disparaged the social networks torn asunder by urban renewal and the bland boring megaliths built in their places.

Herbert Gans studied the ethnic Italian West End of Boston wrecked by urban renewal.  His 1962 book, The Urban Villagers, reveal "that looked like a 'slum' contained a vibrant community of multi-generation families who considered their neighborhood a good place to live."

Boston's West End during urban renewal
Yet, the urban renewal process continues.  Psychologist Marc Fried, studying the same community, documented the severe grief experienced by the residents after they lost their homes.  They served what Columbia researcher Mindy Fullilove elegantly named "root shock."  She argued, "Pull people from their communities,...and they experience trauma unlike what happens when you uproot a plant."

The urban renewal era continue into the early seventies, after which a host of alternative ideas followed: Community Development Block Grants, "enterprise zones," and "promise neighborhoods."

What remained was lingering suspicion-the name was irrelevant-of public and private-developer proposals for lower income and minority communities.  Ms. Pattillo said,

There's no question that skepticism, that wariness, that worry is palpable,...Who are they doing it for? is what you hear.  when the alleys get pave, when a new store gets built, who are they doing for?

The federal government is already one of the least trusted institutions without the phrase "urban renewal."  Mr. Vale continued:

When I talk to people about contemporary redevelopment of public housing in certain cities, the words they use are, "We don't want another round of urban renewal in our neighborhoods"...Even though it's a long time ago, I'm struck by how frequently people who are being impacted by changes they don't want to see in their neighborhoods will evoke that earlier era.

It will be interesting to see what the incoming Trump administration has in store for the African American and Latino urban communities.  Even more puzzling will be how Dr. Ben Carson, if confirmed by the Senate, will lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development.  Stay tuned.


Tuesday, December 20, 2016

A Surprising Look At How Gentrification Affects Racial Boundaries

Gentrification boundary diagram
John Donges/Flickr
Hello Everyone:

Today we are going to return to one of our most talked about subjects, gentrification.  Did you think Blogger would say Donald Trump?  Tomorrow.  For today's chat, yours truly reached into the the archives and pulled out an article by Ryan Biggs, for Citylab, titled "When 'Gentrification' Is Really a Shift in Racial Boundaries."  It is an insightful analysis of a study conducted by Jonathan Tannen on how neighborhoods change in the one hundred largest American cities.  As this blog has observed in the past, gentrification is an agent of change, for better or worse.  The results of the study surprised Mr. Tannen.

As a boy growing up in the gentrifying Caucasian enclave of West Philadelphia, Mr. Tannen was aware that fellow Caucasians rarely crossed 49th Street.  This was the invisible line that divided the neighborhood from the predominantly African-American areas in the eighties.  Mr. Biggs writes, "The diverse coalition of delegates who attends the Democratic National Convention...may not have realized they were visiting one of the most segregated cities in the U.S." Mr. Tannen spent six years at  the Princeton University Office of Population studying this phenomena.  The result was his doctoral dissertation, Measuring Cities' Internal Demographic Change as the Movement of Emergent Boundaries. (; date accessed Dec. 20, 2016)  His dissertation revealed what he had long suspected: "...that the invisible line of segregation can be as real and hard as the bricks of any rowhome."

House on South 49th Street
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Jonathan Tannen told CityLab:

I wanted to see if I could measure lines between regions with very different racial characteristics.

Mr. Tannen used a computer program to seek out racial borders, like 49th Street, the 100 largest cities in the United States.  However during the course of his research, he discovers something else that surprised him: "As more suburban whites move back to urban areas, old racial lines were moving, and spreading outward.  But the neighborhoods themselves weren't desegregating."

Just the opposite, they were resegregating.  Mr. Tannen continues,

You're not seeing this historically black area becoming fiver percent white over ten years and then ten percent white over ten years...Philadelphia overall is becoming less white.  But there are pockets of predominantly white regions that are expanding.  And the blocks along those boundaries are flipping very quickly from a racial standpoint.

49th Street streetscape
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Jonathan Tannen reached his conclusions by inputting census data from 2000 to 2010 into a Bayesian modeling system to find out if the computer could ascertain racial boundaries by itself.  The computer revealed that in Mr. Tannen's own neighborhood, the 49th Street dividing line move a full two blocks west during the study period.  Thus, instead of desegregating, the formerly African American blocks became nearly all Caucasian.

These revelations about the characteristic of racial "boundary movement" could lead produce some stark conclusions, "...especially in the context of the limited body of academic research into the process behind neighborhood change."  Mr. Tannen, now a researcher for the Philadelphia analytics firm Econsult, told CityLab:

One of the arguments is that gentrification can't be that bad if it serves to desegregate urban areas.  And we have a lot of evidence that segregation is bad...But if gentrification continues to happen by boundary movements, then that means the block level is never going to desegregate

Philadelphia's gentrifying neighborhoods 2000-10 screen shot
Jonathan Tannen
Similar boundary movements were present in the majority of the largest American cities examined by Mr. Tannen.  These cities included: Chicago, New New York, and Boston.  Interestingly, and possibly discomforting for supporters of walkable urbanism, the trend only appeared in older, denser cities.  In auto-centric cities, like Los Angeles,  gentrification was more diffuse and racial boundaries less visible.  Mr. Tannen told CityLab:

Gentrification by boundary movements really relies on a walkable city...It;s this idea that white households are moving in just on the other side of the boundary, to be able to walk across it and be part of the white already gentrified region.

Incoming white people in older cities are moving to areas that around other white people.  They're saying "Oh, if I live here it's somewhere I can afford, but it's also close to [a bar] that I like."  That process didn't exist in places like Los Angeles.

Ryan Biggs makes this disclaimer, "To be clear, his findings don't suggest that gentrification is making segregation worse."  Mr. Tannen continues:

Daytime traffic in West Philadelphia
 Looking at racial data, it's not that these gentrified regions are one hundred percent white, they're actually very diverse for the country.  So in some respects, looking at the country as a whole, the city looks less segregated...You have 85 white clusters replacing 97-percent black clusters.

Jonathan Tannen admits that his work is limited- it cannot quantify movement between an affluent neighborhood to a nearby work-class neighborhood.  More important, it can deduce where the long term African American resident, who were living in the gentrifying neighborhoods, are going or the reason they are leaving.  He said:

People start studying gentrification thinking they will be the ones to find the discrimination and the injustice in it.  But these studies often end up complicating those ideas...Displacement largely doesn't happen.

Commuter train in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

A recent study by the Pew Charitable Trust, Gentrification and Neighborhood Change in Philadelphia (; date accessed Dec. 20, 2016), supports "...that the type of gentrification or neighborhood change described in Tannen's work is actually rare."  This analysis concluded  that only fifteen of Philadelphia's 372 census tracts underwent gentrification over the same ten-year study period.  A report issued by the Federal Reserve titled, What Have We Learned About The Causes of Recent Gentrification, also focused on Philadelphia, observing that "..displacement caused by gentrification is even rarer, and non-gentrifying neighborhoods often lost existing residents even more rapidly than gentrifying areas.  (; date accessed Dec. 20, 2016)

Jonathan Tannen believes that his findings are proof that "people are self-segregating and it's unclear what policy solutions could address their problems."  Further, "Cities could start by being more mindful about the kinds of economic development projects they pursue along obvious racial borders,...due to their sensitivity to extreme racial change."

Ultimately, how cities can best approach the prickly issues of segregation and displacement cannot be remedied by on study.  However, Jonathan Tannen's dissertation does, in part, answer the question of why gentrification can feel like a major issue even though it is not that common.  Specifically, Mr. Tannen told CityLab:

My work speaks to why that disconnect exists.  Why can it feel to residents of cities that gentrification is real and it is extreme, even as the pew study is correct in showing that the city as a whole is less white?  How can those both be true?...The boundary movements are an important part of that story-that gentrification is extreme to very small parts of the city.  And where it happens, it happens very sharply.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Why Donald Trump Won The Rust Belt

Voters at Trump for President rally
Hello Everyone:

It is for the weekly edition of Blogger Candidate Forum.  Sorry for the lateness, yours truly has been suffering through a cold.  Blogger is better and ready to write.  Before we get started on today's subject, President-elect Donald Trump's success with Midwestern and Rust Belt city voters, yours truly would like to comment on the investigation on whether the Russians did or did not interfere with the American elections.

 Blogger is deliberately using neutral language because a full on investigation has not been launched.  President Barack Obama has ordered a report on the matter be readied for him before he leaves office on January 20, 2017.  There are a lot of questions that need to be answered.  First, what was the purpose of hacking into Democratic and Republican party email?  Second, who authorized it and how high up in the command chain did it go?  Third, would it make a difference now, after the elections?  Did POTUS-elect Trump know and or was anyone in his campaign involved?  Did the POTUS-elect or anyone else in his campaign stand to benefit from access to private emails?  Finally, what does the law say in this matter?  Regardless whether you believe that the Russians deliberately interfered with the American elections or not, you have to admit that it has tainted the POTUS-elect's victory and will continue to do so.  What remains to be seen is what will the POTUS-elect and the Republican controlled Congress do with the results of the report and subsequent investigation.  Now on to today's subject.

The Electoral College map
The November 8 Presidential election was notable for a lot of things, chiefly, for the way Mr. Trump pierced the once impenetrable "blue wall" in the Midwestern and Rust states.  The Midwestern and Rust Belt cities: Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee, and Madison have been traditional strongholds for the Democrats.  These urban centers have the advantages of population density combined with the right urban demographics that skew them blue.  This was enough to counterbalance the rural Republican voters in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin.  However, something happened along the Democrats march to victory in their traditional strongholds.

Donald Trump, Republican candidate for President of the United States happened.  Andrew Small writes, in his CityLab article "Trump's Rust Belt Bet," "But as my colleagues Linda Poon and George Joseph write, Trump rammed through the Democrats' 'blue wall' in this part of the the United States." The POTUS-elect successfully barreled through the vaunted "blue wall" by increasing turnout in small and mid-sized former industrial cities , which chipped away at the margins produced by those in the bigger cites.

Trump vs. Clinton Field Office Locations

The number and location of Clinton field offices

The number and location of Trump field offices

With some information provided to CityLab by Joshua Darr from a previous FiveThirtyEight post, Mr. Small was able to map out both campaign's field offices in the Rust Belt.  The above maps are courtesy of the Public Broadcast System and give us a clear picture of each campaign's targeted areas.    The map on the right indicates the locations of the Trump campaign field offices.  Notice how the majority are in small and mid-sized cities.  The map on the left presents the location of the Clinton campaign field offices.  Pay attention to how they are focused on the East Coast and traditional Democratic states; primarily in the larger cities.  This is just a snapshot of where the field offices existed.  Mr. Small tells us that to genuinely understand the the difference in POTUS-elect's strategy, "it's helpful to compare it with Mitt Romney's presence in Pennsylvania in 2012."

Side-by-side comparison of the number of campaign field offices
Romney Campaign Pennsylvania Field Office in 2012

The ever resourceful Blogger found a terrific map, courtesy of FiveThirtyEight, that presents a side-by-side comparison of where presidential campaign field offices were located in 2012 and 2016.  Look at the map on the bottom left hand corner; where former 2012 Republican nominee former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney opened his field offices.  Focusing on the state of Pennsylvania, we observe that his campaign did have offices in medium sized cities such as Harrisburg, York, Lancaster, Allentown, Wilkes-Barre, and Scranton, but as Mr. Small points out, "...for the most part they clustered in and around Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, where suburban voters were believed to be the crucial swing vote."

Trump Campaign Pennsylvania Field Offices in 2016

Look at the map on the bottom right hand  side, showing where the Trump campaign field offices in Pennsylvania were located.  Essentially, POTUS-elect turned counties with medium sized cities.  For example, in Erie County, the margin of votes tighten from 17 percent in favor of President Obama to a minuscule 2 percent between Secretary Hillary Clinton and Mr. Trump.  In Luzerne County, which encompasses Wilkes-Barre ballooned from a 5 percent margin of victory for the the current president to a nearly 20 percent advantage for POTUS-elect.

Election map of the Rust Belt states
Donald Trump's margins also grew in counties that include the smaller cities of York and Reading, while Democratic margins in Lancaster and Harrisburg shrunk.  In 2012, President Obama held a 27 percent lead in Lackawanna County, which includes Vice President Joe Biden's hometown of Scranton.  This dropped to a tiny 3 percent for Madame Secretary in her battle against Mr. Trump.  Together, those margins gave Madame Secretary thousands of fewer votes than the President and awarded Mr. Trump more votes than Governor Romney.  The precinct totals indicate Madame Secretary won in counties that were more urbanized while Mr. Trump won in the more suburban and rural counties (; date accessed Dec. 14, 2016)

2016 Election map for Pennsylvania
CityLab spoke with Richey Piiparinen, the director of the Center for Population Dynamics at Cleveland State University, regarding the role of regional demographics played in sending Mr. Trump to the White House.

CL: What did everyone who was surprised by the election result miss about cities in the Rust Belt?

Piiparinen:  Deindustrialization started 1960 and 1970, so it's tough to say that it was the backlash from deindustrialization that brought Trump to the presidency.  I know that's the common narrative out there and to some extent it's true, but when you look at the fact that half of the people didn't vote who are registered in this country, and then the vote is split 25 percent apiece between the two candidates, you get a sense there's a few things going on.  One was the 'change' candidate and people wanted change.  Trump represented that.

Now, that does tie into the economic backlash against neoliberalism, or corollary with deindustrialization there is the ramifications when a place like Cleveland moves forward into the knowledge economy, with many skilled and prepared, and many not.  So we see this this bifurcation that has been going on in knowledge economy centers like the 1960s a, and Pittsburgh did it in the '90s.

Finally there is a racial component, or 'whitewash,' and that is partly an effect of eight years of a black president.  You see this playing out in exurban turnouts...where Republican support increased.  So it was really the confluence of the patchwork of white votes that he got for varying reasons  that pushed him over the edge...

Trump support map
CL: Republicans expanded their base in these states from rural areas all the way up to mid-sized cities.  To what extent are these kinds of cities simply not experiencing the growth and expansion association with the global, knowledge-based economy?

Piiparinen:  The question is, do we want young creatives to concentrate in a few places on the coasts?  This is Enrico Moratti's idea: let's get all the young creatives in the most productive parts of the country.  Let's figure out affordability so we can produce in San Fran, we can produce in New York City,...if we don't, then overall growth will stagnate.

But need to take into account how political power is doled out in America.  Because if progressive vote are clustered geographically in a few places in a few places, then the power of the vote is lessened.  A thousand votes in Ohio have ten times the impact of a thousand in Brooklyn.  And so when you have such a divided nation, you have a loss of representation and an increased likelihood of an extremely reactionary American policy forward that's not going to do well for economic productivity from a policy stand point.

Youngstown, Ohio

CL: Where do you think the national conservation needs to go to bridge this disconnect between positive global trends, and what people in these smaller and mid-size communities feel in their daily lives:

Piiparinen: There's the realistic look at what's going on macro-economically, and then there's the nostalgic look.  Unless we look at that clearly, then we're going to end up with Donald Trumps.

In the late 1800s in the agrarian economy, 80 percent of the country was employed in agriculture.  Today that's 2 percent.  Does that mean we don't make food, or we don't eat?  No.  It means that economic era matured and became automated and became its most efficient.

Next is that industrial era.  The proportion of American employed in mining, construction, and manufacturing peaked in 1960 around 40 percent.  It will likely be five or so percent going forward.  Now that doesn't mean we don't mean we don't make things.  Manufacturing output is near all-time highs.  It means the industrial economy is maturing, like the agricultural economy before it.

So yes, the problem is the disconnect between the "two Americas" in relation to dislocated workers.  What do we do with labor that we once needed not too long ago?  What do we do with the labor that we once needed not too long ago?...And of course in places like the Rust Belt the glut of labor is still pretty acute.  Cleveland's population peaked in 1950.  It did so because it had a macroeconomic reason to support a large population of factory worker en masse again.  Our macroeconomic reason now is in life science research and that doesn't fill up factories, and it doesn't fill up the suburban homes or inner city neighborhoods, and it doesn't provide upward mobility at scale.

Flipping the Rust Belt

CL: And it requires education and training, things that shift slowly rather than in the immediate aftermath of job losses.

Piiparinen: And that's why Obama's plan to make community college free is right on.  Because you're either going to train people for the new economy and spur innovation and knowledge, or you're not going to do that.

You have to keep in mind America's comparative right now is to produce knowledge.  It's no longer to produce trinkets.  Rwanda is receiving low-skilled factory from China now.  China's going through the transition from industry to services that we've doing since 1950s and 1960s.

CL: So many of the factors of openness and diversity that make cities vibrant places economically seem to cluster in large cities.  When you have smaller or mid-sized cities that don't manage to attract those qualities, does it wall those kind of positive gains?

Piiparinen: Our political system doesn't match up with the economic idea that you can just have a "spiky world" of productivity that can carry the day for the country.  Because there's problems with having spiky world, affordability problems but there's also political problems.  Political power is controlled and disseminated differently than economic growth differently than economic growth, and for a while each have existed on separate rails.  Middle America is still powerfully  a political battleground, but less so an economic powerhouse.  The void in between produced President Donald Trump.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Saving Cuba's Architectural Gems

Teatro América
Havana, Cuba
Hello Everyone:

The recent death of former Cuban leader Fidel Castro and the restoration of ties between the island nation and the United States has many Cubans and Cuban-Americans pondering the future.  One of the question marks in the nation's future is its architectural treasures.  Cuba is home to a real treasure trove of modern architecture.  Patrick Symmes of the Smithsonian Magazine recently traveled to the nation to report on "Havana's Hidden Architectural Gems."  The challenge of these architectural gems is ongoing maintenance.  We begin our tour of Havana's Architectural Gems at the Teatro América.

Interior of Teatro AméricaHavana, Cuba
Patrick Symmes stopped by the Teatro América, to watch a dress rehearsal of the musical Victor/Victoria.  In the middle of the rehearsal, a piece of plaster fell plummeted down from the ceiling, scattering frightened dancers in every direction.  The falling plaster is just one of the many things that artistic director, Jorge Alfaro Samá, has to contend with.  Mr. Alfaro Samá airily dismissed the incident as nervously giggling dancers returned to the stage.  Mr. Symmes writes, "Entire buildings collapse all the time in Havana, so losing a patch of wall or ceiling is routine, even in of the city's most cherished and popular venues...."

Ceiling and staircase
Teatro AméricaHavana, Cuba
Offstage, Messrs Alfaro Samá and Sommes moved to a quieter location to continue their chat.  The theater opened in 1941 evokes an ocean liner.  The soaring interior features: a "marble lobby,...twin sweeping sweeping staircases and at balustrades..."  The curved lines, floor mural of the zodiac signs, soft corners, sumptuous art deco ornament combine to evoke an elegant cruise ship.

Falling plaster, according to Mr. Alfaro Samá, "...was typical of Cuba."  He is determined to restore the theatre to how it was in its gold age, however, the theater needs more than just a few  repairs.  The space is frequently booked, leaving almost no time for proper restoration.  Mr. Symmes reports, "Maintenance of a public building is the responsibility of bureaucrats outside the theater anyway."  Mr. Alfaro Samá adds,

I've worked here 18 years, and in that time we learned to work around problems.

The company has repeatedly patched ceilings and walls.

Patricks Symmes observes, "In more than two decades o reporting in Havana, I've grown accustomed to visual signatures o the city: grimy old buildings, rattletrap cars, little that is new or bright.  But that is only on the surface; in Cuba, there is always an inside, a life of interior spaces, an this especially true amide the city's hidden gems of architecture."

Teatro America from Galiano Street
Havana, Cuba
Teatro Americá is a treasure hiding in plain sight behind a drab curtain of concrete on Galiano Street.  When the theater opened its doors, this section of Central Havana was the commercial artery of the city and marble promenades contained the names of long gone department stores.  Galiano is still chaotic but walk inside the theater and it is like you are in a museum dedicated to Cuban architecture.  Patrick Symmes waxes prosaic,

"There is no city in the world so layered with hidden beauty.  Yet today, as Havana opens to the world, it is also poised at the edge off collapse."

Mr. Symmes retured to the city in March of this year to get the answers to his questions:

"Can a place long known or its decay become dedicated to preservation?  What can be done to protect its architectural legacy?  And that be accomplished while also meeting the growing off Cuba's hard-pressed and ambitious people?"

First lesson: Watch out for falling chunks of plasters.

Havana, Cuba
Havana is a fairly easy to navigate, bordered by the sea and separated from its suburbs by a river.  Shall we take a quick tour of the city?  Old Havana was established in 1519 and spreads out the Plaza de Armas, the civic space of the motherland, Spain.  From the harbor is its modern equivalent Parque Central district, watched over by the National Capitol building, whose design is based on the Parisian Panthéon.  Continuing on our tour, we stop at the elegant faded fin-del-siglo apartment blocks Centro, followed  by the Vedado business district, dominated by Welton Becket's 1958  Hilton Hotel, renamed the Hotel Habana Libre.    Moving ahead to the modern day Playa suburb and the straight-line Agenda Quinta ("fifth avenue"), decorated with the ornate mansions of old money Cuba.

Russian Embassy in Havana, Cuba
Emblems of communist rule are evident-the tower of the former Soviet Embassy in Miramar, or Revolutionary Square-have their place.  Raúl Rodríguez, a Cuban architect-in-exile put it this way:

...Havana is a library of architecture...Every style is well represented there, and the reason for its main is the tripartite culture-African, American, European.

From the beginning the city featured a mix of period styles: medieval star-shaped forts, shaded Moorish colonnades, Greco-Roman columns, French landscape design, and the landmark Malecón seawall built with the assistance of the U.S. Army Corps o Engineers.  Former Bauhaus architect Walter Gropius paid a visit to Cuba in the forties and the influx of Columbia University trained architect helped make the city an architectural cross roads.

The layering continued through 1958, with scant gestures since then, specifically the National Art Schools in Cubanacán.  It was in this suburb that a collective of Cuban architect transformed a private golf course into a sprawling campus of rehearsal halls, terra-cotta painting studios, and classrooms.  It was a utopian ideal of social progress but by 1965, the dream collapsed, abandoned to the jungle.  Now partly reclaimed, it struggles badly, in spite of leaking roofs, but it remains actives.

The National Arts School
Havana, Cuba

Raúl Rodríquez is understandably proud to this extensive historical catalog.  He is also critical about what has not happened since.  Washington D.C.-based Gary Martinez described the stagnation,

There's a crust that has age o time over the entire city.

Mr. Martinez has visited Havana or 15 year, studying its public spaces.  Mr. Symmes asked him question that every visitor has:  "What makes Havana-dirty, impoverished, dilapidated-so seductive?"  Mr. Martinez replied,

The decay.  The texture.  The colors.  The seemingly random organization of building.  There's nothing quite like it.

Gary Martinez described discovering an old theater with a retractable roof.  He assumed, based on its appearance that it was abandoned.  However, he and his companions sound men repairing cars in the former lobby.  Moving further interior, they came upon a dance group training onstage.  Thanks to haphazard repairs, the roof is still retractable-sometimes.

Hotel Nacional
Vedado, Havana, Cuba
Patrick Symmes also experienced that strange surreal feeling-auto repairs in a old theater lobby.  The best way to describe it is a dissonance between the outside and the inside. Think watching baseball on a flat screen television inside a richly decorated 19th-century building.

Elmis Sadivar, the matron of a household Mr. Symmes dropped in on in Calzada del Cerro, described the situation,

The government said it would get the tiles we need ["to maintain the historic character o building] but it never comes.

The family cannot afford to make repairs themselves.  She added, A bag of cement costs half a month's salary.

Havana Museum of Decorative Arts
Patrick Symmes reports, "Yet the revolution has treated some of its treasures with great care.  These include homes confiscated from wealthy exiles in 1959, many of them parceled out as embassies and cultural centers.  The revolutionary government transferred the contents of those official buildings and Cuban embassies, as well as to small museums , including the Museums of Decorative Arts in Havana."

The Museum is located in the 1927 home of José Gómez Mena, whose sister María Luisa was a socialite and patron of the arts.  Mr. Symmes visited the museum to ask technical director Gustavo López about their shared love of art deco architecture.  Mr. López was quick to point out that the American style of art deco is prevalent in Cuba, but not unique; it is found in Florida and New Zealand.  The Colonial architecture is considered the jewel.  These jewels are in Old Havana, the protected part of the city.

Old Havana
Havana, Cuba
Old Havana is a maze of narrow streets and centuries-old forts, have been sparred from ruin because, according to Mr. López,

It had good luck to be inside the jurisdiction of the city historian.

Mr. López is referring of Eusebio Leal, the well regarded official.  Mr. Symmes writes, "Leal was given unprecedented authority in the early 1990s to rebuild the entire district, serving as its de facto mayor and renovation tsar."

One example of Mr. Leal power and methods can be seen in the Plaza Vieja ("Old Square").  As the name implies, it is the oldest of Havana's original five plazas.  Describing his experience with the Plaza in the eighties, Mr. López said,

I remember as a student climbing over mounds of of rubble there,...You had to be careful.

Panorama of Plaza Vieja
Havana, Cuba
Stock Photograph
Eusebio Leal was tasked with creating special tourism companies, which re-used income for new renovations, in turn resulted in more tourism revenue.  It can be a slow process-in one neighborhood, Mr. Symmes observed Cuban workers take over a decade to renovate the Parque Central, the district's main hotel-the improvements are undeniable.

Patrick Symmes first experience with Plaza Vieja was in 1991.  He writes, " was a wreck of marshy sinkholes and collapsing buildings, the houses all around it apuntadas or 'on points,' and braced against collapse."  Today, the Plaza is a place bustling with tourist activities and ordinary Cubans going about their daily lives.  The dense surrounding blocks are home to long-term residents.  Raúl Rodríguez opined of Mr. Leal,

Against wind and tide, he's done it...He is a hero even to Cubans who left Cuba.  What he has done is going to outlast him and us.

Grabado Plaza Vieja Calle Inquisidor e/Muralla y Tenienta Rey

However, Mr. Leal's work is focused on Old Havana and the some of the oldest historic outside it.  The majority of the surrounding city, budgets for architectural is not quite as generous and do not really generate tourist revenue.  Mr. López sighs,

Leal's team has more resources; they have their own methods.

Club Náutico
Max Borges Recio, 1953
Havana, Cuba
Without resources or personal interest, some of the beautiful architecture has gone to ruin.  One stunning example is Club Náutico, the prestigious old beach club in the Havana suburbs.  The Club is composed as a series of overlapping shells; designed by Max Borges Recio in 1953.  The same architect who designed the Tropicana Club.  Mr. Symmes reports, "The facility has been corroded by sea spray, huge problem on the waterfront."

Other spectacular buildings have been lost to this type of corrosion, included the waterfront amusement park in Miramar called, strange as it sounds, El Coney Island.  The carousels and small Ferris wheel that once faced the seaside pavilion have rusty.  In 2008 Chinese investors replaces with a concrete amusement park dubbed Coconut Island.

In 2013, Cuban arts reporter Camilo Valls told Mr. Symmes about a beautiful old Moorish theater whose iconic bronze doors were looted.  Three years later, Mr. Valls has given up hope: The threatened buildings would soon completely disappear.  He then described the new Cuban vernacular that he dismissed a "kitsch style."  This is the horrifying tendency to remove historic feature and replace them with nouveau riche displays.  The trend is to toss out "old" light fixtures and install made-in-China replacements and flat-screen televisions.  Gustavo López told Patrick Symmes,

There will be a disaster if we don't have norms.

The López Serrano Building
Ricardo Mira and Miguel Rosich
Havana, Cuba
One building that exemplifies the risks is the López Serrano Tower in downtown Havana.  Patrick Symmes writes, "In 1932, the 14-story apartment building was the tallest structure in Havana, an emblem of modernism that evoked Rockefeller Center."  The building still has a great skeletal structures-"...the ziggurats and shafts of the building, by Ricardo Mira and Miguel Rosich-make it a kind of vertical art deco-..."  Upon approaching it, Mr. Symmes laments, "...I saw how badly it had aged."  The grey concrete is badly stained and the wooden window frames are cracked with random pieces of glass punched out, replaced with cardboard.  Air conditioners and make-shift clothes lines clutter the tight spaces overhead; rain seeps through, running down the façade.

Journalist Sarah Vega, who lives in the building, explains,

Five hundred and forty-five windows of real wood...

Ms. Vega made a short film, Deconstruction, about the building's history which was designed to emblematic of Cuba's aspirations toward modern society.  The front doors are bronzed bas reliefs that still shine and visitors move through a marble lobby toward twin elevators, separate by a bas relief by Enrique Garcia Cabrera titles Time.  An art deco clock crowned the futurism infused relief before it was stolen.  The ceiling light fixtures are wired shut to prevent theft.

Elevator lobby of the López Serrano Building
Yadira Montero
Havana, Cuba
The López Serrano was intended for Cuba's more affluent citizens, but the rooms were small-the typical customer also owned a country home.  Patrick Symmes writes, "The 1932 bylaws even banned children-which was possible because this building was the country's first co-operativbe apartment corporation, emblematic of Cuba's turn toward an urbanized society."  Progressive, it was not-the very same bylaws also banned African-Cubans from purchasing apartments-but López Serrano was associated with one of Cuba's greater hero, the reformer Eddy Chibás, who had offices on the top two floors.  In the 1940s, Mr. Chibás rowed against corruption and dictators from an office.  He later shot himself while hosting his radio program, the suicide-protest was commemorated by a plaque on the front doors of the buildings.

In 1959, the rich fled in advance of Fidel Castro and the needy moved in.  Ms. Vega enthused that the vacated apartments and houses across Cuba were given to the poor.  However, she noted, the residents were concerned about the culture change, many of the new residents unconcerned about the building's history or preservation.  It is an insidious problem, Gustavo López adds,

People often don't know where they are living, when it was built, if it was a famous architect...If you don't care for what exists, it disappear.

During the desperate economic times in the nineties, some of Ms. Vega's neighbors began selling off the deco fixtures, including the original toilets.  It was the same period that the clock disappear.  Sarah Vega acknowledge the building's problems,

It's not just money...It's lack of knowledge.

López Serrano staircase
Havana, Cuba
As with many preservation efforts in Cuba, officials had good intentions but poor execution.  Patrick Symmes reports, "Distant bureaucrats with scarce resources oversaw the building, making sporadic and only partly effective repairs-the massive front doors were refurbished, but when new elevators were installed, workers trimmed away marble detailing to make them fit."  For decades the government promised to repair the original windows but finally gave up.  The residents would have to foot the bill, That costs a lot of money, said Ms. Vega, We can't afford it.

Perhaps the biggest threat to the López Serrano is the fact that no one really owns it.  The Fidel Castro government nationalized ownership of all apartment buildings in 1959 but ten years ago, it scaled back on this policy and returned ownership of apartment buildings to the residents.  Be that as it may, the government still has the responsibility to maintain the shared public spaces and exteriors.  That feasible in high-priority places like Old Havana, but for the rest of the city, decay is the rule.  Mr. Symmes observed, "Many buildings look substantially worse now than when I first arrived in 1991.  An astounding portion of the city's buildings are roofless wrecks.  No one is truly in charge."

López Serrano roofline
Havana, Cuba
The building's ziggurats indicate a difficult future.  If the residents-the more enlightened-are incapable of preserving their building, what about the remainder of the city or, for that matter, Cuba?

Strangely, there is some hope in Cuba's weakened economy: " a land with little money but plenty of skilled craftsmen, simple forms of preservation are often the best option."  Wealthy foreign developers are not allowed to take over whole neighborhoods, yet as Cubans slowly earn income, renovations can take place a little at a time.  Part of a building can be converted into a restaurant, a house becomes a hotel, and without a master plan, a block and the historic fabric of a district are maintained.  Creeping "Kitsch style" could be held at bay by strengthening Cuba's historic preservation laws, particularly for iconic structures.

Architect Gary Martinez prefers the piecemeal approach.  Large swaths of Havana are fallow, buildings are either underused or abandoned.  Mr. Martinez said, let people fix them up, slowly, on their own.  His business partner Tom Johnson added, that it con almost infinitely accommodate small changes.

The restoration of ties between the United States and Cuba foretell of big changes.  The Cuban government is soliciting investment in order to rebuild the port of Havana, with much needed housing on one side of the harbor.  Patrick Symmes writes, "Just as Eusebio Leal has been able to preserve the residential character of Old Havana as he rebuilt it, others should be empowered to extend that model to other parts of the city.  The challenge is to accommodate the next Havana, even while preserving all of the previous one.