Monday, February 29, 2016

Look Elsewhere For Reasons

Pullman Historic District
Chicago, Illinois
Hello Everyone:

Recently yours truly has devoted some space to  Michigan State House Bill 5232, which would allow historic district designation to lapse after ten years.  The sponsor of the bill, Representative Chris Afendoulis (R-Grand Rapids) argues that it his bill is protecting property owners rights.  Opponents of the bill say that historic districts are more desirable places to live.  Today we have an article from CityLab, by National Trust for Historic Preservation president and chief executive officer Stephanie Meeks, about why historic districts are so important.  The story, "Why Historic Preservation Districts Are Crucial to Cities," argues that "Historic neighborhoods provide benefits to everyone, not just homeowners."  If anything historic neighborhoods add a unique charm and vitality that cannot be replicated.  To put it this way, historic districts provide an authentic experience that cannot be manufactured.

Central Downtown Historic District
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Across the United States, people from all backgrounds, led by the millennial generation, are choosing to live, work, and recreate in historic neighborhoods.  When they were queried about their reasons for moving to these areas, the residents frequently spoke of  "...the desire to live somewhere distinctive, to be some place rather than no place."  They wanted operable windows, exposed brick (a favorite of Blogger), and walkable communities.  They continuously words like charm and authenticity to describe what they they wanted in a place.  In essence, the majority of contemporary Americans wanted their homes and work environments to be unique-"...the kind of distinctiveness, character, and sense of place that historic preservation districts provide."

Second Avenue and Sixth Avenue
East Village/Lower East Side Historic District
New York City, New York
We should not be too surprised that historic districts are beneficial to everyone, regardless if they are homeowners.  Ms. Meeks cites the example of New York City's Lower East Side as a place that hosts millions of visitors annually, who want to experience a wonderfully intact 19th century tenement neighborhood.  Chicago's annual Pullman Historic District house tour is one of the most popular tours in Illinois, giving tourist a glimpse into George Pullman's planned community.  These historic districts and thousands like them across the country-Milwaukee Avenue Historic District in Minneapolis to Harvard-Belmont Historic District in Seattle-do more than just provide people with a place to live.  They are tangible connections to our past, living history lessons.  "The connect us across time to those who came before us."

Harvard and Highland
Harvard-Belmont Historic District
Seattle, Washington
Historic preservation districts not only connect us to our past but also tell the story of the American (or any) nation, as all its complex and diverse glory.  Some historic districts, like Georgetown or Beacon Hill, feature grand stately homes with affluent residents.  Others, like Eatonville, Florida or Corktown in Detroit, are more modest communities that have been home to generations of blue collar families.  The history within in these communities is just as important and preservation-worthy as the history in the more bold faced places.

Recently, Blogger posted an article titled "Historic Preservation As A Tool For Good" (Feb. 8, 2016), that looked at why historic preservation districts should be consigned to the rubbish bin of history.  Ms. Meeks commented, "...largely glosses over these attributes of historic districts focusing instead on the suggestion that historic preservation districts are to blame for the affordable housing that many U.S. cities are now facing, mainly because,...they thwart attempts to achieve dense neighborhoods that provide housing for more people."  This is a typical opinion among a particular group of urban economists, as Ms. Meeks continued, " is also deeply flawed, flawed a number of reasons."

Detroit, Michigan
First, older buildings are better equipped to provide affordable housing because they were designed for multi-families and uses.  This reason is precisely why, across the country right now, as we speak, "creative adaptive reuse projects are converting historic schools, warehouses, old homes, and other buildings to housing for those in need."

Second, while the affordable housing crisis gripping the country is a universal concern, eliminating historic preservation districts is not the way to alleviate the problem.  Economists such as Edward Glaser have posited that "historic districts prevent affordability by limiting tall and dense new development that could fit everyone."  However, urban planner Jeff Speck argues to the contrary in Walkable

 City, economists don't seem to have fully processed one thing the designers know, which is how tremendously dense a city can become at moderate heights.  Boston's North End, in Jane Jacobs' day, achieved 275 dwelling units per acre with hardly an elevator in sight.

Greensboro Street Historic District
Starkville, Mississippi
Blogger believes that we all agree that the lack of affordable housing in many cities is a reaching epidemic levels.  For example, the average rent in New York and San Francisco, for a one-bedroom apartment, command an astronomical $3,000 a month.  Citing Sarah Kaplinsky, senior policy advisor with the San Francisco Planning Urban Research Association, Stephanie Meeks writes,

...the greater San Francisco metro area had added 480,000 private sector jobs over the past five years, but only around 50,000 new housing units-slightly more than 10 percent of what is needed.

To make matters worse, whatever new construction that does occur tends to favor the desires of the city's elite.  Planning professor Karen Chapple succinctly put it, You can just simply make much more money building for a luxury market.

Pilsen Historic District
Chicago, Illinois
That said. it is not apparent how eliminating historic districts would remedy the situation.  Besides, there are ample ways to increase density and affordability in cities that do not involve destroying the historic fabric of our communities.  A recent blog post on the website focused on the conclusions in a new survey titled "Banking on Vacancy: Homelessness And Real Estate Speculation," conducted by Picture the Homeless.  The survey looked at one-third of New York City, revealing:

...3551 vacant buildings and 2489 vacant lots that have potential to house almost 200,000 people. (Ibid; accessed Feb. 29, 2016)

Stephane Meeks writes, "Many were vacant as a result of real estate speculation and warehousing."  San Francisco's one-space-per-unit parking requirement increases the affordable housing costs approximately 20 percent.  Housing experts have speculated that removing this parking requirement would enable 24 percent more people to buy their own homes.

Historic preservation districts are not the enemy of affordable housing, to the contrary, they have the ability to expand housing options.  A historic district demonstrates that history, sustainability, and economic development make ideal partners.  They are not the sole reason for the affordable housing crisis.  Just the opposite, historic districts are one of the best mechanisms for "preserving density and smart, vibrant growth-for affordability crisis whose origins lay elsewhere."

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Urban Beat

18th-century Vienna, Austria
Hello Everyone:

Cities are wonderful places to indulge in one's artistic endeavors.  Throughout the cultural history of humanity, painters, poets, musicians, designers, et al have flocked to urban centers to practice their art form and find inspiration.  One product of the urban fountain of creativity is modern music.  Cities such as New York, Berlin, London, and Seattle have fostered music inspired by their "the streets" or neighborhoods.  In his recent article for The Guardian, "From Berlin's warehouses to London's estates: how cities shape music scenes," Ian Wylie writes, "Yet the actual link between the music they make and the built environment where they do is generally underplayed-spoken about as a matter of mood, or a source of lyrics."  Music historian typically point to a "critical mass of musicians as being crucial to the birth of a scene:..."  A music scene could mean the classical composers of 18th-century Vienna or the Mods of 1960s London.  However, what about the city itself?  The city is just a place for musicians to gather and endlessly make music.  Although, David Bowie's residency in Berlin took this relationship to a more intimate level.

Detroit, Michigan
Kevin Chang/Flickr
Ian Wylie poses this question, "But what if a city's role isn't quite so one-note?"  This was a question that Washington Post columnist David Maraniss obsessed over, particularly in regards to Detroit, Michigan.  Mr. Maraniss said,

I was fascinated by the idea of why the musical magic happened in Detroit...What is it about some cities and civilisations that bring about these creative bursts.

During the writing of his history of Detroit, Once A Great City (, Mr. Maraniss listed the usual reasons for the rise of Motown in this city.  "First, the migration of African Americans from Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and Louisiana for factory jobs, bringing with them the oral traditions of church music, jazz and blues.  Next, the entrepreneurial genius of one family, Berry Gordy Jr and his four sisters, who created Motown and made it flourish."

Detroit's Northeast Side, 2010

As David Maraniss delved deeper into the city's economic geography, discovering that the overwhelming majority of 20th-century Detroit lived in two-story single family, not anonymous apartment towers, which made it easier for local piano makers Grinnell Brothers to deliver pianos including the one the went to the Gordy household.  Mr. Wylie, observes, "The particular construction of homes in Detroit, unlike many other predominantly black factory cities in the US, meant that they were crucial to the development of the Motown sound."

Earl Van Dyke
David Maraniss marvels, I had no idea about the role of pianos, specifically Grinnell Brothers...until I started interviewing Motown musician, singers and local historians, all of whom made the connection and said they pianos in their homes.

You become very aware of how important the piano was to the Motown sound was, for example, when you listen to Earl Van Dyke's wonderful keyboards on "Ain't Too Proud to Beg, My Guy," or "For Once In My Life."

This got Ian Wylie thinking, "if Motown owed its life to easy ground-floor access, where else has urban design shaped musical genres?"

The garage of grunge

The garage of grunge-Seattle, Washington.  Say the words grunge rock and the first thing that comes to mind is Nirvana and Pearl Jam.  Grunge's birth band was the Screaming Trees in the eighties, birthed in the garage in the back video store.  The video store was owned by the parents of Van and Gary Lee Conner, in the city of Eilenberg, outside of Seattle.  As youngsters, the Conner brothers decorated the garage with with paint, posters on the ceiling, Indian tapestries and psychedelic bedspreads on the wall.  For a period of time, it was Gary Lee's home.  Mr. Wylie writes, "When they were joined by singer Mark Lineman and drummer Mark Pickerel, the new band played a couple of small shows there."

Seattle, Washington 

Gary Lee Conner, co-founder of the Screaming Trees, fondly recalled,

The best thing about the garage was that it was it was totally isolated, like another world we had created for the band...Since it was downtown, we could make noise all night long and not have to worry about bothering anyone.

Garages are meant for parking cars or storing the holiday lights but they have also been the place that kickstarts creativity.  Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak founded Apple (fight the power) in the Jobs family garage.  Be that as it may, for the Screaming Trees, the garage  was than a practice room; "it physically shaped their sound."

The Screaming Trees
Gary Lee Conner continued,

Like most garages, ours had a concrete floor and drywall, with boxes of junk stored around the place...But the echoes and reflections from that stuff created a sound different than say, a club or a studio...The garage helped to reinforce the rawness and the energy of the music.  We never had another place like that after we moved to Seattle, but the spirit of our music never really changed.

Ian Wylie waxes prosaic, "Just listen to the soaring screech of his guitar on the band's 1986 debut album, Clairvoyance: that scuzzy, distortion-laden sound."

Twenty-five after Nirvana's landmark album, Nevermind, musicologists still wonder why grunge came together in the cities of the Pacific Northwest.  Geographic isolation was one reason: Seattle in the eighties was not the Seattle of Starbucks and Microsoft.  In fact it was about as far from the music industry centers such as New York or Los Angeles.  University of Tennessee professor Dr. Tom Bell told Mr. Wylie, There was a culture of innovation and experimentation, 'what do we have to lose?' attitude.  Of course, there is the omnipresent rain and the damp marine climate that did a much better job of persuading musicians and singers to stay indoors and practice than a parent getting after their child to do their piano lessons.  Not that the garages were dank places, quite the contrary, they were warm enough to stay in without the need for a space heater.  Not like the unheated garages of Minneapolis, which could drive even the heartiest musician away.

Canary Wharf, east view from Cabot Square
London, England
The tower blocks of grime

The shiny skyscrapers of One Canada Square in east London's Canary Wharf business district was a powerful inspiration for Dylan Mills, who grew up two miles away, on the Crossways estate in Bow.  After winning the 2003 Mercury prize the song "Boy in Da Corner, from his debut grime album as Dizzee Rascal,  Mr. Mills said, 

It's in your face...There are rich people moving in now, people who work in the city.  You can tell they're living the same way as us.

The high-rise apartment blocks of East London were the ideal location for underground radio stations that regularly featured grime on their playlists.  Pirate stations such as Rinse and Déjà Vu had a a strong enough signal to broadcast far and wide: using a 40W transmitter on tower blocks that could reach listeners within a 40 mile radius.

Grime Feature
The location of the mobile radio station were top secret, but usually found in the council estates.  Mr. Wylie writes, "'Station managers' were locked in a non-stop game of hide and seek with police: scaling balconies, leaping between rooftops, concealing transmitters inside rooftop ventilation ducts."  Real James Bond stuff.

Photographer and film-maker Simon Wheatley, who spent ten years documenting the lives of grimes musicians, added, 

These tower blocks were labyrinthine...What were the police going to do?  Search in every flat where a radio station might be?  It was all very hush-hush.  You had to make a phone call before some would come down and let you in.  Often the station was in someone's home, sometimes in their kitchen, microphone and decks next to the sink.

Over cups of tea with the musicians's mums, Mr. Wheatley observed how the urban landscape and geography of east London inspired the dark themes and music of grime.  

The time of grime was time of postcode warfare and stabbings...Territorialism meant some of these young people were scared to get a bus that would go through certain neighbourhoods.  Estates had a fortress-like physics appearance, and I was to see my photographs when heard the dark beats of grime.

Berlin, Germany
The warehouses of techno

Berlin, Germany might not have been the birthplace of techno but this genre of music has thrived in the German capitol with its abundance of abandoned spaces that easily accommodate dance parties.  Der Spiegel journalist and author of a book on the city's club scene told Mr. Wylie, "When the Berlin Wall came down, 30% of the buildings in east Berlin were empty."  

Techno in Berlin happened in ruins...E-Werk was an empty electricity factory.  Trevor was was the empty bank vault of a former shopping centre.  Planet was an empty warehouse.

Berlin, Germany
The club DJs enjoyed a sense of liberation making music in places were, previously, they would have been shot or jailed for trespassing. Ian Wylie writes, " a book by journalists Felix Denk and Sven von Thülen, Detroit DJ Robert Hood describes

"how the dark and murky clubs of post-Wall Berlin, such as Tresor, transformed techno from a fantasy-based electronic sound to a more reality-based sound- more brutal and assertive, as local DJs began intensifying the speed and abrasiveness of the sound into something harsher, more hardcore."

Tresor founder Dimitri Hegemann believes that the 100cm (39.37inches) of the his subterranean club played a part in the harsher sound.  Mr. Hegemann told Mr. Wylie,

The sound was really hard and deep.  The room was not too big and the ceiling not too high, so that the sound waves had no time to distort...It sounded clear, but everything was analogue.  Other club owners began checking our sound systems to do the same.

David Bowie
The cavern-like cold-war era warehouses of Berlin also became studio spaces for artists and musicians.  David Bowie recorded most of his Berlin trilogy: Low, Heroes, and Lodger at Hansa studios in the Kreuzberg in west Berlin. A short distance from the Berlin Wall, Hansa was nearly isolated building, riddled with shell-holes, most of the windows bricked up.  From the control booth, Mr. Bowie and producer Tony Visconti had a clear view over the Wall, looking directly at the Russian guards in their gun turrets, who returned the gaze through their binoculars.  David Bowie's West Berlin, marooned inside East Germany, was a city cut off from its world, art and culture, dying with no hope of retribution.

When Mr. Visconti returned to Hansa in 2015, he related how the city informed those recordings,

The danger created the sound...I've heard records made here afterwards, and they didn't have that impending doom.  When we came here [to record], we knew what we were doing.  When you record a group of musicians, you're not only recording the music, you're recording the environment.  And Berlin was the perfect place.

Bronx Tower
Sedgwick Avenue
Bronx, New York
The community centres of hip-hop

If there is one genre of music that gives a loud shout out to the streets, it is hip-hop.  However, according to Fordham University professor of history and African-American studies Mark Naison, hip-hop is really a product of the community centers.  Prof. Naison told Ian Wylie,

New York was the one city where public housing was not abandoned or knocked down or allowed to deteriorate even during the worst years of arson, disinvestment and deindustrialisation...And more of the early hip-hop jams took place in the community centres than than on the streets.

Afrika Bambaataa
The housing projects had community centers, staffed by social workers.  Many of the centers sponsored talent and dance shows where bands and DJs could perform.  The centers were also bridges between the generation and the communities, giving young artist the opportunities to rhyme over beats, to perform with Rhythm and Blues singers, Latin and Funk bands "who kept alive older traditions of instrumental and lyrical virtuosity, agrees Naison."

One example is DJ Kool Herc, who premiered his first jams in the Sedgwick Avenue community center in west Bronx.  The legendary Afrika Bambaataa held his first parties in Bronx River Community Center, kickstarting hip-hop in his part of the Bronx.  The Bronx is far from the glitter and glamour of Manhattan or the too cool for you Brooklyn.  It is a place where many people tenements or high-rises where air conditioner was unaffordable, therefore, public spaces became a better option to gather.  This is especially true during the summer month, with doors and windows opened wide to let some cool air in.  Whatever music was being played or performed, it was shared by the whole neighborhood.

Music, in all its glorious genres, is the soundtrack of our environment.  Whether its techno, grimes, hip-hop, the Motown sound, or Grunge, music is the reflection of where we live.  In Los Angeles, the surfers of the fifties and sixties provided inspiration for the Beach Boys.  Laurel Canyon inspired the singer-song writers of the seventies.  Music reflects where we live at a moment in time.  That is a beautiful thing.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Blogger Candidate Forum: Bernie Sanders

Senator Bernie Sanders 
Hello Everyone:

It is Tuesday, which means it is time for Blogger Candidate Forum.  The presidential election cycle just keeps getting more interesting by the minute.  The big shock over the weekend was the announcement that former Florida Governor and onetime Republican nominee leader Jeb Bush was suspending his campaign.  Blogger was quite certain that he would be the GOP standard bearer in the fall but Mr. Bush was simply out of step with the constituency.

  Today, we have the second of our two Democratic would-be nominees, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.  Senator Sanders has certainly generated a lot of excitement across the United States with his progressive message.  The Senator calls himself a "Socialist Democrat."  What does that mean in 2016?  More important, how does being a Socialist Democrat translate into real-life policy.  Today we are going to explore Mr. Sanders's position on some key issues that will be integral to the election.  Let us see if we can feel the Bern.

Senator Sanders was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. Following graduation from the University of Chicago, Mr. Sanders moved to Vermont, where he worked as a carpenter and documentary filmmaker.  In 1981, he was elected Mayor of Burlington.  As Mayor, Mr. Sanders work and his administration focused on affordable housing, progressive taxation, environmental issues, child care, gender equality, youth programs, and the arts.  Mr. Sanders was later elected to the House of Representatives and later to the Senate.  In 2015, he was tapped by the Democratic party leadership to serve as the ranking member on the Senate Budget Committee.  Senator Sanders lives in Burlington with his wife Jane, has four children, and seven grandchildren. (

"The 1% Share of Pre-Tax Income"
Income and Wealth Inequality

Income and wealth inequality is one of the key issues of the 2016 Presidential elections.  While Secretary Hillary Clinton pledged to "Give working families a raise and tax relief that helps them manage rising costs."(  To achieve this goal, Ms. Clinton has pledged to "create well-paying jobs and increase take home pay through infrastructure investment, clean energy, scientific, and medical research..." (Ibid)

The Sanders campaign has posted a thirteen-point plan targeted to reduce income and wealth inequality.  Some of the highlights include: demanding that the wealthy and large corporations pay their equal share in taxes through a progressive estate tax on the 0.3 percent of Americans who inherit in excess of $3.5 million.  Increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 an hour by 2020.  Sign the Paycheck Fairness Act to ensure that women are paid the same wages as their male counterparts.  Make university and college tuition free throughout the United States.  Expand Social Security by lifting the cap on taxable income over $250,000.  Guaranteeing healthcare for every citizen by expanding Medicare for all single-payer plans.  Requiring employers to provide at least 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave.  Enacting universal childcare and pre-kindergarten programs. (

Gavel with American flag
 Racial Justice

It seems that in contemporary times, the phrase "equality before the law" is just mere words.  It sounds cynical but the sad fact is African-American are twice as likely to be incarcerated and four times as likely to be subject to use of force by law enforcement.  The Sanders campaign uses the term Racial Justice as a catch-all for what they have identified as "the five central types of violence waged against black, brown, and indigenous Americans: physical, police, legal, economic and environmental."  (Ibid)  Blogger would like to note that each of these categories might work as stand alone or as a subheading within other issues.

In addressing physical violence, Mr. Sanders also advocates the demilitarization of our police force, investment in community law enforcement, the gathering of data on police involved shootings, and federal funding for body cameras.  Political violence, according to the Sanders campaign, means the systemic disenfranchisement mostly minority men and women because they do not possess a valid identity card (driver's license or state id card), unnecessarily long waits to cast a votes, or loss of franchise because of prior felony conviction.  To address these issues, Mr. Sanders advocates: the re-enfranchisement of felons who have paid their debt to society, restore the "pre clearance" formula in the Voting Rights Act, and end the systematic purging of minority-community names from the voting. rolls.  The Legal Violence section makes similar points that the Clinton campaign makes regarding the likelihood of African-Americans being stopped by police and incarcerated.  The Sanders campaign pledges policy that is similar to the Clinton campaign: ending privatized prisons and reform mandatory minimum sentences.  The final two sections, Economic Environmental Violence   seem to repeat what was said in previous sections.

Melting globe
Photograph by GB Times
Combating Climate Change to Save the Planet

Despite what some may say, climate change is a very real and devastating problem.  We have already experienced the affects of climate change through more intense storms, droughts, and floods.  The Sanders campaign has laid a out five different policy initiative designed to tackle the growing crisis.  As president, Mr. Sanders has pledged the following: "Reclaim our democracy from the billionaire fossil fuel lobby.  Accelerate a just transition away from fossil fuels.  Invest in clean, sustainable energy.  Revolutionize our electric and transportation infrastructure.  Lead the international community to solve climate change and prevent international conflict."  (

Social Security card and American Passport
A Fair and Humane Immigration Policy

The United States of America is a nation of immigrants.  Mr. Sanders makes a proud point of being the son of an immigrant.  Yet, given the anti-immigrant rhetoric it seems that the United States has pulled up the welcome mat, locked the door, shut the windows, and turned out the lights.  Blogger firmly believes that there needs to be fair and just immigration reform.  Secretary Hillary Clinton has pledged to enact "comprehensive immigration reform to create a pathway to citizenship, help keep families together and close private immigrant detention centers." (  Ms. Clinton has also pledged to defend President Barack Obama's executive order delaying the deportation of DREAMers and the parents of Americans and lawful residents.

Of elected president, Mr. Sanders offers the following policy initiative: "Allow immigrants to purchase health coverage under the Affordable Care Act...Employ humanitarian parole to ensure the return of unjustly deported immigrants and unity of broken families...Issue whistleblower visas for workers who report abuse and employer violations...Regulate future flows via a reformed visa system and reworked trade agreements...Dismantle inhumane deportation programs and private detention centers"  (

"Health care reform?"

Medicare for All

Access to quality affordable health care is necessity for every person.  However, it seems like something simple like a wellness examination feels like a mission impossible for most Americans who do not have private or employer provided insurance.  As First Lady of the United States, Hillary Clinton championed health care reform and as President, she promises to continue and expand the Affordable Health Care.  Mr. Sanders pledges to implement a single-payer national health care plan.  The Sanders campaign offers a nine-point plan: "...ensure all Americans can access the health care they need regardless of their income...get our runaway health care spending under control by eliminating waste and focusing on our patients...streamline our health care system to provide the best health care to all patients..."  (

"Wall Street Reform First"
Reforming Wall Street

Reforming Wall Street, the American financial center, is a central theme in the Sanders campaign.  According to the campaign website, "The six largest financial institutions in this country today hold assets equal to about 60% of the nation's gross domestic product.  These six banks issue more than two-thirds of all credit cards and over 35% of all mortgages.  They control 95% of all derivatives and hold more than 40% of all bank deposits in the United States."  (Ibid)

As president, Mr. Sanders pledges to implement a nine-point action plan to reform financial institutional practices, based on his prior initiative in Congress.  Among the highlights are : "Introduced the 'Too Big to Fail to Exist Act," which would break up the big banks and prohibit any too-big-to-fail institutions from accessing the Federal Reserves's discount facilities or using insured deposits for risky activities.  Led the fight in 1999 defending Glass-Steagall provisions which prevented banks...from gambling with customers' money...Supports capping credit card interest rates at 15%..." (Ibid)

These are just some of the highlights of the Bernie Sanders campaign.  Once again, Blogger refuses to make any final comment on the candidate until she is completely finished with the series.  Once again, Blogger's final opinion will be rendered in the voting booth.  Yours truly urges everyone to go to the candidates's website and study their positions.  To check out Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, please go to  Also, please make sure you check with your state's Secretary of State for information about the primary and general elections.  Next week, we cross the aisle to the Republicans.  

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Why We Need Historic Districts, A Follow Up

East Ferry Avenue Historic District
Detroit, Michigan
Hello Everyone:

'Tis the season for politics and all things politico are on Blogger's agenda.  In this case, a follow up to a story a recent story, "Historic Preservation As A Tool For Good" (Feb. 8, 2016)  on a pair of bills before the Michigan State Legislature-HB 5232 and SB 720-that would eliminate historic district status for neighborhoods throughout the states.  Representative Chris Afendoulis, a Republican from Grand Rapids and sponsor of the bill, calls it A modest target little bill.  Today, we follow up on the story with opinion article from the Editorial Board of the Detroit Free Press titled "Leave Michigan's historic districts alone."  The Editorial Board does not support the bills and would like to seem them die in committee.  Let us find out what the Free Press has to say on the matter.

Broadway Avenue Historic District
Detroit, Michigan

This "modest targeted little bill" would affect 78 cities in Michigan that have at least one historic district.  Historic preservationists "estimate 20,000 homes lie within such districts."  Taken in context to a state with a population of 9,909,877 people ( that is not a lot.  Not exactly a modest proposalThe bill was introduced in the statehouse in Lansing on January 23, 2016 would, according to Nancy Finegood of the Michigan Preservation Network:

...result in a lot of districts being eliminated and municipalities simply can't afford to go about all these steps in setting up districts...It would be a huge hindrance in maintaining and creating historic districts. (; Jan. 30, 2016; accessed Feb.17, 2016)

Rep. Afendoulis (R-Grand Rapids Township) counters,

Our bill to modernize a law written 45 years strikes the right balance between protecting private property owners' rights and historic preservation...This will help many communities maintain their historic identity, while ensuring private property owners have a greater voice. (Ibid)

Honolulu House
Marshall Historic District
Marshall, Michigan
The bill is currently in committee and essentially take apart the historic district system, first implemented in 1970.  The Editorial Board writes, "If these bills become law, any neighborhood currently designated a historic district would lose that status after 10 years.  In the system envisioned by the bills' authors, residents of current historic districts would have to reapply every 10 years, earning approval  from both a majority of homeowners,  but also a majority of voters in a city-wide election."  Not very efficient is it?

No, in fact Amy Elliot Bragg, the president of Preservation Detroit told the newspaper that the proposed legislation is,

...actually about making it so difficult to establish a historic district that nobody in their sane mind would do it.  In a February 6, 2016 article by John Gallagher, "Bills threaten local historic districts in Michigan," Suzanne Schulz, planning director for the city of Grand Rapids said,

You're always trying to stabilize these areas and provide some level of confidence for the homeowners and business owners that when they invest in an area, their investment will be preserved.  (Ibid; Feb. 6, 2016)

Highland Park Historic District
Highland Park, Michigan
You may wondering, "Don't homeowners have a say in whether or not their neighborhoods should be designated or not?" Yes, typically they do however, as the Editorial Board observes, "..when coupled with the eventual elimination of historic districts sans a city-wide vote--a tremendously and costly burden for historic district homeowners--the end result would likely be a state free of historic districts."  Further, "Historic district status preserves the unique char of our oldest neighborhoods, ensures that significant historic homes and buildings can't be demolished or renovated past recognition, and bars new construction inconsistent with the neighborhood's character.

In an interview with John Gallagher, Rep. Afendoulis called his proposal ...a common sense way to address these concerns.  Rep. Afendoulis also told Mr. Gallgher that he acted out of concern for property rights, citing that residents of historic districts cannot remodel their homes because of restrictions in PA169, which created historic districts in 1970.  His bill would loosen the requirements, imposed by historic districts, that homeowners must maintain the historic fabric of the neighborhood.  Further, it would take power away from historic commissions and put it in the hands of local politicians who could freely disregard historic stands for any reason. (Ibid)

Leland Historic District
a.k.a. Fishtown
Leelanau County, Michigan
However, residents of historic district do benefit from higher property values more than residents of non-designated neighborhoods.  Case in point, historic districts in Rep. Afendoulis's constituency-Grand Rapids Heritage Hill-Detroit's Indian Village and Lafayette Park are among the most stable communities in these cities.  In short, there is a cost to every benefit.

Accord to Amy Elliot Bragg, the proposed initiative would,

...make the local legislative body the repository of authority in a historic district, a process...could be burdensome in a city like Detroit, where there are more than a hundred historic districts.

The Detroit City Council recently passed a resolution formally condemning Rep. Afendoulis's bill.

Yorktown Historic District
Detroit, Michigan

Rep. Chris Afendoulis says he is troubled by the way new historic district boundaries are drawn, some homeowners become part of such district without their consent or knowledge, or are not duly informed during the home purchase that the property is subject to restrictions.  It seems a little hard to believe that the above situation frequently arises.  Blogger agrees with the suggestion of the  Free Press Editorial Board for kinder legislative remedy that would provide resolution while leaving Michigan's state historic district in place.  Ms. Bragg said,

...that the process neighborhoods pursue to achieve historic district status is prolonged and requires community input and approval--and some neighborhoods with historic significance choose not to pursue or complete the process.

Remember, preservation is voluntary.

The Editorial Board believes that "...there's the hypocrisy inherent in this proposed legislation.  While claiming concern with individual property owners' rights.  Afendoulis and his cohorts would trample the significant efforts individual property owners have undertaken to win historic for their communities."

No doubt there will be more to say on the subject, especially in this election year.  Keep your eyes out for more information on this blog and in Blogger's social media pages.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Blogger Candidate Forum: Hillary Clinton

Map of Presidential Primaries and Caucuses 2016 by month
Hello Everyone:

It is Presidential Primary season in the United States.  The primaries and caucuses are that quadrennial exercise that decides who will be the Democratic and Republican flag bearers in the November 8, 2016 General Elections.  For those you, like Blogger who live in California, we go to the polls on June 7, 2016.  (  For everyone else, unless you live in: Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada, please check with your Secretary of State's website for more information.  In the spirit of keeping all of you informed, Blogger would like to begin a weekly multi-part series on each of the nominee candidates's positions on issues that have direct bearing on our cities like: the environment, criminal justice reform, health care education, and the economy.  With that in mind, yours truly would like to begin with the Blue Team (Democrats). First up, Madame Secretary Hillary Clinton.

Hillary Clinton
Hillary Clinton has been a practicing attorney, activists, law professor, served as first lady of the United States and the State of Arkansas, and Secretary of State in the first President Obama Administration.  Ms. Clinton is also a polarizing figure who has come under fire for her handling possibly classified emails during her tenure as Secretary of State and her response to her husband, former President Bill Clinton, extramarital affairs. While yours truly firmly believes that Ms. Clinton must fully address these issues as long as she is a candidate, this is not the space to do so right now, Blogger would prefer to summarize Ms. Clinton's positions on certain issues.  Let us begin with climate change and clean energy.

Wind Farm
Brazos, Texas
Climate Change and Clean Energy

Clean air and clean water are not privileges, they are rights.  Critical to American progress is sustainable, dependable, renewable energy sources.  Hillary Clinton pledges to make the United States the "clean energy superpower of the 21st century." (  In order to accomplish this task, Ms. Clinton has laid out the following goals: generate enough renewable energy to power every American home by installing half a billion solar panels by the end of her first term.  Reduce energy waste in schools, homes, hospitals, and offices and "make American manufacturing the cleanest most efficient in the world."  (Ibid)  Third, reduce oil consumption by a third through cleaner fuels and more efficient vehicles and boilers.  Ambitious plan.

Criminal Justice
Criminal Justice Reform

We live in the era mass incarcerations, private private prison, and mandatory minimum sentences that, at times, do not fit the crime.  Although the United States accounts for 5 percent of the world's population, we incarcerate 25 percent of the global prison population. (Ibid)  Statistically, African American men and boys are more likely to be stopped by police, convicted of crimes, and receive longer sentences than their Caucasian counterparts.  This is not right.  As president, Ms. Clinton has pledged to "End the era of mass incarceration, reform mandatory minimum sentences, and end private prisons.  Encourage the use of smart strategies-like police body camera-and end racial profiling to rebuild trust between law enforcement and communities.  Help formerly incarcerated individuals successfully re-enter society." (Ibid)

"The economy in 50 words or less"

The Economy

Although reports say that the American economy is improving, many are still finding it difficult to make ends meet.  As president, Hillary Clinton intends to "Give working families a raise, and tax relief that helps them manage rising costs."  Ms. Clinton has pledged to create well-paying jobs and increase take home pay through infrastructure investment, clean energy, scientific, and medical research that promotes a stronger economy and growth.  Finally, as president, Ms. Clinton has promised to close the cooperate tax loopholes that allow the more fortunate to get away with paying less than their fair share.

No guns

Gun violence prevention

The Second Amendment to the Bill of Rights guarantees the right of every American to bear arms.  However, does that include the severely mentally ill, individuals with a history of violent crimes, or terrorists?  Hillary Clinton has long argued for sensible gun control.  Therefore, if elected, Ms. Clinton will: increase background checks on the pool of potential gun owners and close loopholes in the current system.  Insist on accountability for irresponsible dealers and manufacturers.  Finally, work to keep weapons out of the hands of terrorists, domestic abusers, violent criminals, and the severely mentally ill.

Prescription: Health Care Reform

Health Care Reform

As the First Lady of the United States, Hillary Clinton championed health care reform.  Although it was defeated, Ms. Clinton continues to advocate for health care reform.  As president, she will continue the Affordable Health Care Act (Obamacare), building on it to  alleviate consumer out-of-pocket expenses.  In the interest of full disclosure, yours truly has medical insure through ACA.  Ms. Clinton promises to toughen up on rising prescription drug prices, holding the pharmaceutical companies accountable so they make their money through research, not increasing the costs.  Finally, protecting a woman's access to reproductive health care.

Passport immigration stamp

The United States has had a prickly relationship with immigrants.  In this election cycle, immigration is absolutely one of the hot button issues of this election.  The system is broken and it is in serious need of repair. Thus, as president, Ms. Clinton pledges to enact "comprehensive immigration reform to create a pathway to citizenship, keep families together and close private immigrant detention centers.  Defend President Obama's executive actions to provide deportation relief for DREAMers and parents of Americans and lawful residents, and extend those actions to additional persons with sympathetic cases if Congress refuses to act."


Safe and strong bridges and roads are the backbone of the American economy.  They help bring goods and services to the market place, transport people from one point to another, and are the primary mechanism for a prosperous future.  As president, Hillary Clinton promises to increase federal investment by $275 billion over a five year period.  "Create a $25 billion infrastructure bank to support critical infrastructure improvements.  Harness public and private capital to fix and build new roads and bridges, expand public transportation, give every American access to broadband internet..."

Construction workers


Labor unions are an integral part of the American workforce.  They represent the interests of a broad spectrum of workers ranging from the working class (those who work with their hands) to teachers and flight attendants.  Hillary Clinton pledges to "Strengthen unions and protect worker bargaining power.  Raise the minimum wage and strengthen overtime rules.  Support working families through equal pay, paid family leave, earned sick days, fair schedules, and quality affordable child care."

Racial Justice Sunday

Racial justice

We live in the time of #BlackLivesMatter.  As a nation, we cannot continue to tell ourselves we live in a post-racial society because we have an African American president.  Racial justice will be another key issue in this election year.  If you want further proof, look at all the controversy surrounding Beyoncé's segment at the 50th Super Bowl Half Time show.  To address this matter, Hillary Clinton intends to: "End the era of mass incarceration.  Protect immigrants' rights and keep families together.  Defend every American's right to vote."

American farm house
Melissa Johnson/Flickr
Rural communities

With so much emphasis on expanding urban centers, it is easy to forget that the United States is composed of rural communities from sea to shining sea.  These communities suffered greatly during The Recession and are still struggling to recover.  As president, Hillary Clinton will: "Strengthen rural economies by investing in infrastructure and expanding access to credit and venture capital. Rain agricultural production and profitability for family farms.  Promote clean energy leadership and collaborative stewardship."

Butcher shop
Small businesses

Small businesses are a vital part of a community.  They provide a sense of continuity and build relationships between the owners, workers, and patrons.  Historic preservationists (including yours truly) have long advocated the need to small business as part of what makes a community attractive and desirable.  However, owning and operating a small business can be a daunting task.  Hillary Clinton proposes launching an national initiative to break through the bureaucracy holding back small businesses.  "Provide targeted tax relief for small businesses and simplify tax filing.  Give small businesses-in particular, minority and women-owned business-more access to financing and new markets they need to grow."

These are just some of the issues that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has taken a position. (  Yours truly urges each and every one of you to go to the candidates's websites and study the issues.  Blogger is refraining from an opinion on the candidates and their platforms until the series is completed.  Next Tuesday we will look at Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.  Of course, Blogger's final word will be spoken at the ballot box.  

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

A Cup Of Long Beach History

Koffee Pot Cafe
Long Beach, California

Hello Everyone:

Let yours truly start with an apology about not posting yesterday.  Unfortunately, Blogger had to deal with an incredibly rude person who soured Blogger's session.  Yours truly has a multi-part Presidential Election post planned for the coming weeks.  It should be an exciting series.  Now onto today's subject: architectural remains found in the roof of a cafe.

Blogger would like to thank Sara Delgadillo Cruz for sending the article "Remain of Victorian-Style Home Found in Roof of Koffee Pot Cafe," by Jason Ruiz, for the Long Beach Post.  The story is from two years ago but it is a nice story about a cafe that was once designated for demolition, then save by the discovery of a Victorian-style house in the roof.  Blogger was quite surprised by this and thought it would be a great story.

The Hot Cha/Koffee Pot Cafe c.1980
Photograph courtesy of California Crazy
Jim Heimann and Rip Georges
Long Beach, California
The Koffee Pot Cafe was once considered a public nuisance, by the city of Long Beach, if the the owners did not rehabilitate the building considered "substandard" for landmark status. (  However, thanks to the non-profit organization We Are The Next ( the beloved cafe lives to pour another hot cup of coffee.  The Long Beach, California-based organization spearheaded efforts to save the now 84-year-old percolator-shaped coffee emporium.  Their initiative was given an extra shot of espresso by the discovery of the remains of a Victorian-style home on the roof.

The Koffee Pot, also known as the Hot-Cha Cafe, is one of the last remaining examples of programmatic architecture.  Work on the rehabilitation project began in the Summer of 2015, when the WATN team shepherded the current owners, Long Beach Development LLC through the City of Long Beach Cultural Heritage Commission application process.  Once approval was secured, the owners began work on the exterior, restoring it to its former caffeinated glory. (Ibid)  The project has been extremely challenging but worthwhile and yielded plenty of surprises.

Full view of Victorian-era house inside the cafe

The remains of the house were unearthed by organization and their partners Salvage Division and Pro Enterprises.  Jason Ruiz writes, "The foundation of the  building located at 951 East Fourth Street seems to have been built on the skeleton of an old home, meaning the Koffee Pot's-originally known as Hot Cha-may date back to the early 1900s or earlier according to We Are The Next Executive Director Kate Rispoli."

In a statement released by WATN, Ms. Rispoli said,

We are all baffled by this incredible find...Reintroducing this unique artifact as a fixture in the building moving forward will provide a sense of place and history and will return a lost gem to Long Beach.

Rainbow colored shingles
We Are The Next acted as the applicant's representative to the Cultural Heritage Commission, created a detailed preservation plan for the exterior, acted as construction managements, and did community outreach. (Ibid)  This was similar to the work the organization did when rescued the Southern Pacific Railroad Depot and the original Taco Bell (Taco Bell Numero Uno) from demolition.  In the case of the train depot, WATN was able to relocate Long Beach's last remaining train station from its location on Magnolia to the future Willow Springs Park.  Taco Bell Numero Uno was also relocated to a temporary site in Irvine, California and is currently waiting for a permanent location.

The underside of the roof gable

The preservation team believes that the rainbow-colored shingles were originally exposed in the cafe "...because the roof rafters that now support the coffee spout were painted to match the home's rainbow layout, which would've only been visible to patrons on the inside."  The spout was added in 1932 but the house's address, located on part of the site, dates back to the twenties.  The statement goes onto say,

Builders of the Hot Cha Café most likely used the frame o the existing residence as the frame for the restaurant to save costs during the Great Depression...The reason for retaining the upper portion of the home's primary façade is unknown.

The false ceiling that kept the rainbow shingles hidden from view is believed to have been installed after 1932.  The Long Beach Development LLC is planning to work with future tenants of the building to remove the false ceiling and once again expose the turn of the twentieth century architecture.  The cafe has been home to a variety of businesses since being vacated in 2010, the most recent business was a medical marijuana dispensary.  During the eighties, it was a barbershop, and before that a coffee emporium.  One potential future inhabitant could include the resurrection of the Koffee Pot, one cup at a time.