Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Blogger Candidate Forum: Are "Big Liberal Cities" Too Small?

Special Election 2017 results, thus far
Hello Everyone:

Time for the weekly installment of Blogger Candidate Forum.  Before we get started on today's subject: liberal cities, Blogger needs to comment on a couple of things.  First, in the wake of the horrific Grenfell Tower Fire, a petition was posted on, banning the use of foam insulation.  Please go to this link and add your name to it.  Second, yesterday there was a special election to fill the Sixth Georgia Congressional district.

 Republican Karen Handel bested political newcomer Democrat Jon Ossoff in the race to fill the seat vacated by now Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price by a slender 3.8 percent.  This follows closely similar defeats in Montana and Kansas, where Republicans held on to hotly contest districts.  While the Red Team celebrated, the Blue Team  was left crying in their beer (literally and metaphorically).  What went wrong?  In Blogger's own humble estimation, the Blue Team made these elections a referendum on President Donald Trump, the absolutely wrong approach.  The right approach was "the economy stupid."  Voters wanted to hear why a Democrat-controlled Congress would be better for the economy, healthcare, immigration, national security, et cetera than a Republican-led Congress.  Quit making everything about POTUS and start focusing on the real issues that voters want to hear about.  Give voters a real reason(s) to pick you, not another round of POTUS and Republicans are Satan's emissaries on earth.  Alright, Blogger is done in the Speaker's Corner, now on to why big liberal cities are not big enough.

New York City skyline
Photograph by Lucas Jackson/Reuters
One of the things that truly make America great is its big cities.  They are the mechanisms that drive the economy, spur innovation and creativity.  They are also the places that lean heavily toward more liberal politics.  This is why, according to Richard Florida in his CityLab article "The 'Big Liberal City' Isn't Big Enough," says that New York Times columnist "Ross Douthat's suggestion that we break up America's 'big, booming, liberal cities...' has set off a firestorm among urbanists."  In his March 25, 2017 opinion piece, Mr. Douthat writes,

We should treat liberal cities the way liberals treat corporate monopolies-not as growth-enhancing assets, but as trusts that concentrate wealth and and power and conspires against the public good.  And instead of of trying to make them a little more egalitarian with looser going rule and more affordable housing, we should make like Teddy Roosevelt and try to break them up.  ( March 25, 2017, date accessed June 21, 2017)

Portland, Oregon skyline
Photograph by Randy L. Rasmussen/The Oregonian/2013
  Ross Douthat's argument is centered around Will Wilkinson's must-read Washington Post editorial on how cities really make America great.  Mr. Wilkinson's posits his column as a "thought experiment, calling it the latest 'installment' in his series of 'implausible, perhaps even ridiculous proposals.'" (; March 17, 2017date accessed June 21, 2017)

Those of the urbanist persuasion were all too happy to mock these implausible, perhaps ridiculous proposals. City Observatory's Joe Cortright put it best,

What this misses is that cities actually create value through increasing returns, what economists call agglomeration economies.  People in cities are more productive, more innovative, and have higher skills because they live in cities.  Absent cities, the innovation and productivity upon which these industries depend for their success, they simply wouldn't exist.  (; March 28, 2017; date accessed June 21, 2017)

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Economist Edward Glaeser told the Washington Post:

...Cities enable workers to search over a wider range of firms, and to hop from one firm to another in case of a crisis.  they enable service providers to reach their customers, and customers to access a dizzying range of service providers.  Perhaps most importantly they enable the spread of ideas and new information.  (; March 8, 2017; date accessed June 21, 2017)

Richard Florida notes, "Relatively speaking, however, America's cities and metro areas are not that big a fraction of the U.S. economy, compared to cities in other parts of the world."

"Metro Share of National GDP"
Taylor Blake/Martin Prosperity Institute

The map of the left was generated by Mr. Florida's colleague, Taylor Blake, at the Martin Prosperity Institute.  Mr. Blake used data from the Brookings Institution's Global Metro Monitor, which presents the share of national output (GDP) based on a sample of large metropolitans around the world.

In the United States, New York City "generates 8.3 percent of GDP, Los Angeles accounts for 5.2 percent, Chicago generates 3.2 percent, Houston covers 2.8 percent, Dallas and D.C. each produce 2.5 percent, and San Francisco and Boston kick in 2.1 percent each."

By comparison, Toronto accounts for almost a fifth-"18.5 percent of Canada's GDP, Mexico City generates 22.5 percent of Mexico's economic output.  Tokyo, London, and Paris churn out 30 percent in Japan, England, and France respectively; in Sweden, Stockholm accounts for 36 percent of GDP.  Tel Aviv is responsible for 48 percent of Israel's economic output and Seoul generates more than half of South Korea's GDP."

If anything, it really does not square with President Trump's doom and gloom perception of American cities.  Quite the contrary, Mr. Florida believes that U.s. cities should be bigger in order to optimize productivity benefits that result from clustering and agglomeration, "while balancing the costs of congestion or the other economic externalities from running a city."

Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel
All of these statistics and anecdotes help bolster the case for why cities are great, they mean very little in the suburbs, medium- to small-cities which have not experienced the same type of productivity benefits as the liberal big cities.  These are the very places where the Trump campaign found attentive audiences who wanted to hear someone speak directly to them about the very issues that affected their daily lives: healthcare, crime, the economy, taxes, et cetera.  Thought experiments, like the one Ross Douthat conducts, can be fun but the Trump doctrine is "dangerously anti-city."  In reality, "If we are to overcome economic stagnation, generate new innovations, improve productivity, and create new and better jobs, the United States needs even bigger cities-and they need to be both more affordable and more inclusive."  One more thing, if the Democrats want any hope of re-capturing Congress in next year's mid-term election, they will have to formulate a platform that refutes President Trumps anti-city doctrine and not on President Donald Trump.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

More To Come?

Finsbury Park aftermath aerial
London, England
Hello Everyone:

As we were chatting about the tragic Grenfell Tower Fire another terrible event was unfolding in London, England.  On June 18, 2017, a driver plowed a van into a crowd Muslim worshippers leaving the Finsbury Park Mosque, killing an elderly man who suddenly fell ill, and injuring 10 people.  Initial reports quote the driver shouting I want to kill all Muslims.

The latest terrorist attack (yes, that is precisely what it is) could have been far deadlier had the crowd not pinned the attacker down, and an imam from the Muslim Welfare Center, protected him until the police arrived to arrest him.  The attack is another terrible blow to London, a city already facing one of the toughest summers in recent memory.  To make matters worse, temperatures are hovering near 90 degrees and the political order is teetering on the brink.  And the summer has barely begun.

Finsbury Park on a regular day
London, England
Today, Blogger would like to take a look at the turmoil roiling through London.  Our guide once again is Feargus O'Sullivan's CityLab article "London's Summer of Discontent."  London is rapidly becoming the stage for a collision of political instability, man-made catastrophe, and acts of terrorism.  The Grenfell Tower Fire last week, with a death toll reaching 79, so far.  The fire was likely caused by recent applied flammable exterior material.  The devastation left an extremely late wake-up call to the powers-that-be of the dysfunction and neglect of low- to moderate-income Londoners, the very ones that live in the tower, are treated.  One of the bloody awful effects is underground service along the the surface line, running past the burnt out hulk, has partly cancelled out concern for falling debris landing on the tracks.

Finsbury Park Mosque
London, England
This latest act of vehicular terrorism in the north London borough comes hot on the heels of another act of vehicular terrorism that killed eight people at the London Bridge, after ISIS followers drove into a evening crowd before going on a stabbing rampage.  It comes less than a month after 22 people were killed in a bombing at a concert in Manchester.  In all, the Finsbury Park is the fourth terror attack in the United Kingdom in three months.

Feargus O'Sullivan observes, "It's not just these horrors in themselves that are taking a toll.  Keep Calm and Carry On may have become a terrible cliché, but when trouble comes, it's what people do here...But after Grenfell, it's also the failure of the government's response, both national and local, that it making people sick to the stomach."

PM Theresa May and Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn listing Finsbury Park

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn recently spent time at the fire scene, speaking with survivors and volunteers.  Prime Minister Theres May made a short visit to the site, speaking with emergency service workers only, avoiding the victims and media, in a futile attempt to avoid being heckled.  The PM's visit also raised questions about her political future, ones that a private meeting with survivors at 10 Downing Street, days later, failed to answer.  "But while the evasion and chaos of her response has seen Grenfell Tower disaster dubbed 'Theresa May's Hurricane Katrina' in its irrevocable damage to her public standing, she isn't the only political figure in the firing line."

Chief of Staff Gavin Barwell
Prime Minister May's chief of staff Gavin Barwell is also under fire for sitting on a report on the tower's fire safety.  The wealthy Conservative-held Kensington and Chelsea Council, where the Grenfell Tower is located, is being raked over the coals for the poisonous mix of incompetence, indifference, and inaction.  Mr. O'Sullivan reports that unbelievably, "Desperately needed offers of help, such as emergency accommodation for victims, were apparently turned down by down a council that has long been the target of of complaints overs its apparent lack of concern for poorer residents."    Emergency housing has been left to loosely organized local volunteer relief efforts.  In the meantime, the agonizingly slow drip of actual confirmed casualties has been considered by many as an effort to muffle public outrage.  This anger came to a head on Friday when locals gathered outside Kensington Town Hall, some actually forced their in, to protest the council's alleged evasions and contempt over Grenfell.

The Queen's Speech to Parliament 2013

 Although London and Manchester have been rocked hard in recent months, the large, dark cloud of crisis and tension has spread across the country.  Mr. O'Sullivan reports, "May's Conservatives unexpectedly failed to gain a majority in the June 8 election, forcing it to seek an electoral partner to prop up a minority government.  It's only choice was Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party, a Protestant fundamentalist grouping with a history of paramilitary association and values that are completely out of step with modern Britain..."  This political partnership is so tenuous that PM May has put off Queen's Speech, which traditionally opens a new government and, in an effort to mitigate the risks of a future vote of no-confidence, cancelled next year's speech as well.

   Adding more kindle to the fire is Brexit.  Today is the first day of negotiations for Great Britain's divorce from the European Union.  PM May's government hoped to present itself as a secure and stable force with solid mandate from the British voters.  A year after vote, a strong and stable government with a rock-solid mandate from the British voters is hardly the case.  In fact, the opposite is more accurate.

One of the many things yours truly loves about Britons is their ability to find a silver lining amid the gloom.  Feargus O'Sullivan reports, "Kensington's newly elected MP suggests that the Grenfell Fire is tentatively starting closer relations between the rich and poor of Kensington."  If you go, you can watch a short video of an Anglican bishop, an imam, and a rabbi-communities with congregations in Finsbury Park-join together in a show of solidarity.  Something that reminds the world that no matter what happens, no matter how hard the United Kingdom is hit, the people will ultimately get up and work together to cope with the shocks.

One question that comes to Blogger's mind and probably the minds of many Americans, is can a rapid succession of terrorist attacks and a disastrous fire happen in a major American city happen in the near or distant future?  Hard to say.  Americans, like their British cousins, have a wonderful sense of community.  When faced with adversity, we can work together to heal.  However, in this politically high voltage time, it feels like our differences make that that sense community hard to come by.  Even worse, the powers-that-be, enabled by their media outlets like to exploit those differences.  However, yours truly firmly believes that underneath it all we are all Americans, regardless of the circumstance of our birth.

Do you just hate when this happens?
Finally, the British being British, have found a way to laugh in the face of all these blows.  When the New York Times headline blared London was "reeling," it got people laughing in disbelief, "given that actual mood in the city was  a defiant flippancy that Londoners default in a crisis."  It also provoked a hilarious twit storm with hashtag #ThingsThatLeaveBritainReeling.  A lesson for us all.  London is still reeling, everything even humor has its limits.  Is there more in the future?

Monday, June 19, 2017

London's Housing Crisis And The Grenfell Tower Fire

Grenfell Tower fire
London, England
Hello Everyone:

The terrifying scenes of a 24 Grenfell Tower in London went up in fast moving flames on Wednesday, June 14, 2017.  The public housing tower was home to about 600 people in the city's West end.  Thus far, the death toll has risen to 79 people with the possibility of more.  Exacerbating the recovery process are concerns over the stability of the building's hulking remains.  Truly terrifying to conceive of.

Feargus O'Sullivan writes, in his CityLab article "Did London's Housing Crisis Help Spark a Fatal Blaze?" "As the tower continues to smolder, a truly awful story is coming into focus.  It's not just the grim news that people have died and hundreds more are suddenly homeless.  It's also that tenants of Grenfell Tower have been warning of unsafe conditions for years."

Police cordon at the Grenfell Tower Fire
London, England
A chilling blog post from the resident association:, dated November 20, 2016 warned:

It is a truly terrifying thought but the Grenfell Action Group firmly believe that only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord...and bring an end to the dangerous living conditions and neglect of health and safety legislation that they inflict upon their tenants and leaseholders.  (; November 2016; date accessed June 19, 2017)

Remains of the Grenfell Tower
Grenfell's landlord is the Kensington and Chelsea Tenants Management Organisation, a non-profit company overseeing the refurbishment and maintenance of the Tower.  The Tower is owned by the borough of Kensington and Chelsea-London's wealthiest borough.  Mr. O'Sullivan reports, "In a trend now typical across London, the borough contracted KCTMO to refurbish the tower, in part to increase the number of apartments available for private rent or sale."  The shocking result of this work left the Tower with just one staircase and exit.  Even more shocking is that management failed to keep that lone exit clear.  Despite the residents' protests about this and other safety issues, the management turned a deaf ear.

Grenfell Tower Fire Action Plan
Mr. O'Sullivan continues, "Early reports suggest that the fire spread so fast thanks to newly installed thermal cladding on the exterior."  In an article in today's New York Times, David D. Kirkpatrick writes, "In the aftermath of Britain's deadliest fires in the decades, two senior officials sought to deflect blame from the government over the weekend that the type of building material believed to have spread rapidly up the 24-story Grenfell Tower had been banned under national fire safety regulations." (; June 19, 2017; date accessed June 19, 2017)

However, in the very next paragraph of Mr. Kirkpatrick's article, "But experts on British fire safety rules that the material, used as exterior cladding, in fact complied with regulations.  Other countries, including the United States, have placed stricter restrictions on how such materials can be used, but Britain had not done so, they said."  (Ibid)

The alarm system was also functional, albeit on a floor-by-floor basis, and even more strange, residents were instructed that "if a fire occurred, they should remain in their homes."

Firefighter reviewing Grenfell Tower Fire victim tributes
Feargus O'Sullivan observes, "This wouldn't necessarily be bad advice if the building were fully fireproofed and adapted to ensure that fire doesn't spread from floor to floor."  However in this case, the fire moved so quickly that this advice left more open to harm.

Even more unfathomable, is the official response to the persist, well-documented complaints from the tenants.  Residents began posting protests about KCTMO on the resident association blog, prompting the management company's lawyers to send letters demanding the post be removed.  A BBC interview with residents makes very clear that the tenants were either ignored or threatened by contractors when they voiced their concerns.  (; date accessed June 19, 2017)

Those unheeded protests have left residents homeless and a growing casualty list.

Grenfell Tower in flames

"The spectacular nature of the fire may be a one-off, but the conditions that made it possible are not.  A 2011 report, published in The Guardian, titled "Social housing blocks 'unsafe in fire,'" Peter Walker wrote,

"Three-quarters of all social housing blocks are potentially unsafe in a fire, according to a survey questioning managers responsible for ensuring buildings are properly maintained."  (; July 18, 2011; date accessed June 19, 2017)

The situation was made worse when many former publicly owned units were placed in the private market, as part of a Right to Buy plan.  "This allowed long-term public housing tenants to buy their apartments at a discount, and many quickly re-sold at a mark-up soon after.  As a result, the most desirable projects ended up in part-private ownership."

There is an obvious political element: "In recent years, the state and availability of public housing has been one of the hotly contested issues in Britain-especially in London."

This is London's current white hot issue-the chronic housing shortage.  Feargus O'Sullivan describes the city: "Most of London is built at fairly low densities, but planning laws and organized resistance by suburbanites have made it very difficult to build enough new housing in the more spacious out boroughs."  By comparison, inner-city building projects are fairly easy to redevelop because the site is publicly owned.  These sites have been specifically targeted for densification projects, rebuilding, and in-fill construction.

Man presumed dead in the fire is brought to safety and alive

Redevelopment projects like these are particularly attractive to boroughs in need of revenue to help them manage severe government imposed austerity cuts.  Like any potentially gentrification project, attracting buyers to said properties, the boroughs can generate revenue and attract wealthier residents who  pay greater taxes and do not use quite as many public services.  Redeveloping or rehabilitating public projects translates into boroughs and developers seeking out additional revenues by adding more private homes to the private market-"affordable" homes, below market rate, still generate revenue.

Grenfell Tower Fire victims
Therefore, to maximize profits, there's an urgent need to remove low- to moderate-income tenants to make room for more market-rate apartments.  Homes that previously housed these tenants are left empty, "while public tenants can be offered a flat fee to clear out and never return (in some cases without fully understanding that the money offered bars their right to return)." Evictions increase as the property management companies initiated zero-tolerance policies against rent arrears.  It is eviction by attrition-the number of public who retain the right of return to the rehabilitated apartment is whittled down.

Grenfell Tower before and after the fire
In some instances, the rehabilitations involves a complete take down of the building.  The work done on the Grenfell Tower involved playing around with the internal floor plan to accommodate additional units, "a process that may have compromised the tower's fire safety by breaking down the previous controls that might have prevented fire from sweeping from floor to floor."  The new cladding, is consistent with an approach that superficially improve a building's appearance to make it more attractive on the private market place, neglecting more important structural deficits not immediately apparent to the viewer.  Mr. O'Sullivan speculates, "If Grenfell Tower hadn't been rearranged to create more apartments and re-clad to make it look newer, there's a chance it would still be standing intact."

The Grenfell Tower tragedy will most likely have serious repercussions, arriving right on the heels of a snap election called by Prime Minister Theresa May.  The "shellacking" of the Tory government has PM May signaling an end to the austerity policies that led to systematic neglect of public infrastructure.  The Kensington-Chelsea borough, where the fire took place, overwhelmingly voted Labour.  In an ironic twist, the borough is also one of the richest in the world.

What makes it tragically ironic is that the reports of neglect, the threats, and indifference by the Conservative leaning local council toward low-income tenants is acutely bitter in the face of the incredible wealth of the area.  At the national level, "the media has already noted that Theresa May's new chief of staff sat on a report that exposed serious  concerns about the fire safety of residential towers."  Feargus O'Sullivan adds, "But it would be inaccurate to present Grenfell Tower's neglect as a Conservative issue alone."  He rightly notes that most of the inner London boroughs are Labour party constituents, reporting similar experiences of displacement and gentrification.  This is a powder-keg issue in London, with activist warning that a major crisis is looming in the horizon.  The Grenfell Tower Fire brought this to forefront in the worst possible way.  

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Blogger Candidate Forum: Red State Blue City

United States Capitol Building
Washington D.C.
Hello Everyone:

It is time for the weekly edition of Blogger Candidate Forum.  Before we get started on today's topic: Red State Blue City, a word about current events.  Last Thursday's Senate testimony by former FBI director James B. Comey was quite the spectacle.  For nearly three hours, the Senate Intelligence Committee listened to and questioned Mr. Comey on whether or not he felt pressured to drop the investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn's interactions with the Russians.  The biggest revelations: Mr. Comey leaked non-classified memos to the press in hopes of getting an independent counsel appointed to oversee the investigation (done) and the White House lied about his dismissal.  This was followed by yesterday's testimony before the same committee given by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who appeared to convienently suffer from a memory lapse.  Not looking too good for the White House.  One more thing, best wishes for a full and speedy to Louisiana Representative  Steven Scalise and the brave Capitol police officers.  The Congressional Democrats are hosting a unity dinner this evening better get to know their colleagues on the other side of the aisle.  Sad that it took a shooting to knock some sense into Congress.  Alright, on to today's subject.

Red State Blue City
Today's shooting, at a baseball pitch where the Congressional Republican team was practicing for a charity game, was committed by a person extremely distraught over the election.  The horrific event serves as another reminder of the deep political divide that led to the election of President Trump.  This divide is further heightened in typically economically prosperous cities and urban counties-usually run by Democratic mayors-and state governments where Republicans control one or both legislative houses; or the governor's office.

 In his POV column for CityLab, "Red State/Blue City Isn't the Whole Story," Bruce Katz writes, "Increasingly, these electoral divisions are spilling over into open warfare as meddling states attempt to preempt or circumscribe the ability of their cities to reflect the views of their own residents.  It is a riff on the two sovereigns-the office of head of state can be delegated to several people (i.e. governors  who administer over territorial matters); a governor can delegate jurisdictional authority to several people (i.e. mayors).  Herein is where the conflict lies.

High rise buildings in Houston, Texas
Photograph by Mike Blake/Reuters
In a lot of states, the power struggle goes beyond the usual white hot cultural issues like transgender rights, guns, and abortion to the subject of basic economic competitiveness like affordable housing-a very big issue in California.  On February 22, 2017, the National league of Cities released a report that outlined preemption laws aimed at local minimum wage laws in 24 states, prohibiting local broadband services in 17 states, and curtailing jurisdictional regulation of ride-sharing in 37 states. (; date accessed June 14, 2017)

Mr. Katz writes, "Advocates of local control and the progressive resistance are rightly bringing attention to state-local preemption, but that focus gives on a partial picture of the complex structural relationship between the states, their localities, and their citizens."  This relationship is the forgotten part of federalism, which is often viewed as a conflict between Washington and the states.

The I-65 intersection the I-20/59 in Birmingham, Alabama
For example, what this push-pull means that states, and Washington, are the primary providers of the nation's safety net.  Mr. Katz cites the 2012 Supreme Court decision, National Federation of Independent Business v. Seblius.  This decision resulted in "19 states deciding not to expand Medicaid."  States wildly vary their support of welfare benefits, nutrition assistance, public health, and additional income for the working, to list off a few.

The individual states also decide how to apportion federal resources, sometimes doing so in a manner that undermines cities and urban counties.  One example is the state of Alabama's decision to go ahead with a major reconfiguration of interstate 20/59-that would expand the six-lane elevated freeway to a 10-lane beast; reducing access to downtown Birmingham from three exits to one. (; date accessed June 14, 2017)  Mr. Katz notes, "Clearly, 1960s-style transportation solutions are alive and well.  This is just one way out-of-touch-state interests can preempt local know-how and disserve quality of life."

Woman photographing the harbor
As the states usurp certain privileges, they mishandle others.  Traditionally, they were the epicenters of economic development, investing public universities, technology transfer, and trade-oriented initiatives focused on increasing exports and foreign direct investment.  However, in recent years, states like Pennsylvania have drastically pulled back from these efforts, prompting cities like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh to take up the cause.

Remember during one of our discussions ("The Consequences of Being a Sanctuary City; Feb. 1, 2017) when yours truly quoted Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto, ...Cities exist at the right of the state.  Here is how: the states and state constitutions outline the fundamental rules for jurisdictional governance.  They determine the city boundaries and municipalities that fixed or flexible, curtailing not only land expansion but also the tax base.  Further, the states also determine what taxes cities can collect from their residents: "Currently 42 states constrain local fiscal authority through tax and expenditure limitation, which can sharply restrict a local government's ability to raise revenues."  Finally, the state have broad power to decide how much authority is delegated to municipal or regional governments.  They can exercise control over the quality of local economic growth through invests in primary through high schools. higher education, and workforce development.  Can you begin to understand what Mayor Peduto said about the cities exist at the right of the states?

Houston, Texas
However, once we move into the structural area, the tidy political divisions fall apart.  Try to follow along.  "Some red states have progressive governance starting points; for example, laws enabling their cities to annex suburbs and grow a robust fiscal base.  At the same time, many blue states have rules that keep cities and suburban municipalities small and weak-little boxes with limited horizons, in the memorable words of David Rusk."  (

In certain respects, red meat Texas is structurally more progressives than blue blood Connecticut.  How is this possible?  Texas's major cities have large footprints-"Houston's land mass is 610 square miles-and a broader tax base with more residents, more homes, more companies, and more consumer establishments.  Hartford, on the other hand, sits on jus 18 square miles and las a large concentration of poverty; it's literally too small to success."  Tis quite true in cities that are also state capital, like Hartford, dense with tax-exempt buildings and institutions.

Bushnell Park
Hartford, Connecticut
The realities of today requires a more comprehensive understanding of the connection between states and municipalities. Bruce Katz proposes one idea on how to start: "Convene an independent blue-ribbon commission to examine the status quo and champion reforms."

He also proposes that "These reforms should particularly focus on how cities and counties address the dramatic fiscal pressures that accompany the decline in federal discretionary spending and the rise in local pension and other liabilities." (; Jan. 18, 2017; date accessed June 14, 2017)  He points to the United Kingdom and Northern Europe as model for adapting these challenges.  "In Manchester, England, for example, community deal enable cities to move resources across siloed health and services.  In Copenhagen, public authorities like port authorities have been restructured to leverage the value of underutilized public land and buildings for infrastructure finance."  Denmark also established a negotiated budget-making procedure between state government and cities.

Bruce Katz also suggests, "Cities and localities' constituency groups could organize a commission to advance these kinds of reforms by seeking funding from philanthropy and participation by community leaders who have not succumbed to our current poisonous partisanship."  Easier said than done.

News break: the Washington Post  is reporting that President Donald Trump is under investigation for obstruction of justice by special counsel Robert Mueller.

Regardless, the United States needs to come to its senses and reclaim the center.  The forgotten side of the federal republic is a good starting point.


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

No More Black Blob

Los Angeles County Museum of Art version 3.0
Peter Zumthor
Los Angeles, California
Hello Everyone:

Welcome to a new week at  Tech gremlins not withstanding, yours truly is finally presenting the post that got pre-empted by last week's breaking current events: the current iteration of the Los Angeles County Art Museum's $600 million makeover.  In short, goodbye black blob, no more piece of bubblegum dog straddling Wilshire Boulevard, and say hello to the Inca temple.

In his recent Los Angeles Times commentary on the ongoing design process, "Here are the latest designs for LACMA's $600 million makeover, Christopher Hawthorne presents the latest scheme for the Los Angeles County Art Museum.  Never at a loss for poetic metaphors, LACMA Director Michael Govan and Swiss architect Peter Zumthor have pitched several schemes that Mr. Hawthorne describes as "...trying to seal the deal not so much with hard numbers as with poetic allusions that is sometimes inspiring and sometimes so much vapor."  Well, yes, the pickups sticks scheme-an allusion to Chinese characters-was a good one.

LACMA redesign version 1.0: the Black Blob
On Wednesday April 5, 2017, before a capacity house at the Museum's Bing Theater and in a long conversation earlier that day, both Messrs. Govan and Zumthor presented major revisions to the design.  Mr. Hawthorne observed, "As always it was just the two of them onstage, with no space for curators or artists or time for questions from the audience."

The urban context of the design has barely changed-"the massive new wing will still bridge Wilshire Boulevard, touching down on a piece of land the museums owns at the corners of Wilshire and Spaulding Avenue."  Otherwise, the current iteration vastly departs from previous schemes.

Plan sketch for LACMA version 2.0-black bubblegum
Plans for LACMA's makeover began life as black organic form (Black Flower or Blob, depending on who you talk to) spreading across the Miracle Mile site, an homage to the La Brea Tar Pits.  The current version is less organic, less snarky comment inducing, and more hard-edge, muscular, sand color concrete.  Less, "oozing oil-slick, " resembling Mr. Zumthor's 2007 Kolumba Museum in Cologne, Germany.

Typically, Messrs. Govan and Zumthor-the latter in particular-portray the changes in near mythic language.  Leaving the nuts and bolts of the project to the architects and engineers at project collaborators Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill.  Peter Zumthor functions on a more elevated rhetorical plane.

Kolumba Museum
Peter Zumthor
Cologne, Germany
Peter Zumthor told Christopher Hawthorne,

The moment I had to cross Wilshire I had to develop a different kind of urban energy...I couldn't cross Wilshire Boulevard with that organic, peaceful form.

Mr. Zumthore wistfully added,

It took me a while to sort of let go of the baby...But I think I've figured it out.  I"m happy.  It's less slick and more substantial.  Elemental.  If I'm lucky the building the building will be like some kind of an Inca temple that's always been in the sand and now they've excavated it-a really old piece that's always been there.

The Freeman House
Frank Lloyd Wright
Hollywood, California

Mr. Hawthorne thoughtfully reminded Mr. Zumthor of Frank Lloyd Wright's work in Los Angeles.  Specifically his four concrete block houses he designed in the 1920s with a similar effect.  In the cases of the Wright houses, they were inspired by pre-Columbine architecture and made from sand-colored concrete.  Personal note: they are extremely heavy to lift and very rough textured.

The Swiss architect pondered this comment.  Mr. Hawthorne noted, "The comparison must have appealed to him, because during the public lecture he referred to Wright's L.A. designs in concrete as the kind of thing he hoped to achieved." Apparently, the allusion to the modern master stuck with Mr. Zumthor because he hopes that the current iteration of LACMA might appear to have always been there and right in step with FLW's goals for Los Angeles, where he attempted to find a "timeless, indigenous, architecture as a counterpart to the flashy, richly decorated Spanish Colonial Revival buildings that were going up all over the city in the 1920s."

Interior rendering of LACMA version 3.0
Peter Zumthor
The change in color is simply a matter of cladding the exterior in tan concrete instead of black (or dark concrete) concrete.  The tan color exterior will now match the walls inside the galleries, thus "creating an enveloping and monolithic architectural experience, as is the case at Kolumba."

Peter Zumthor is quite intent on creating a museum where all the gallery walls are unfinished concrete.  No drywall allow.  He added,

Architecture is not sheetrock

The Resnik Pavilion with BCAM in the background
Renzo Piano

True enough statement.  Both Michael Govan and Peter Zumthor declared their admiration for the color of Texas limestone on the exterior of the next-door-neighbor May Company building, future home to the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences museum.  The building, designed by Albert C. Martin, Sr., also inspired the material palette of the two Renzo Piano buildings: the Broad Contemporary Art Museum and the Resnick Pavilion.  It also bears close resembles to the the color of the William Pereira buildings the museum plans to demolish to make way for the new wing.

As was the case in previous presentations, Mr. Zumthor's latest images showed the galleries where a handful of galleries and seemingly randomly scattered artwork was visible.  Mr. Hawthorne writes, "How the interior will look when it included a denser display of art-and cases, wall text and other practical additions that Zumthor nearly always leaves out of these rather gauzy images-remains to be seen."

Interior of LACMA version 3.0
Image via Building LACMA
The April presentation did give a clear and developed idea of how the galleries will be laid out and how the building will touch down on either side of Wilshire Boulevard.

Christopher Hawthorne reports, "Seven thick legs, or cores, will hold up the gallery live, lifted above ground and sandwich between horizontal concrete plates.  The upper plate will be larger than the lower one, creating a deep overhang and helping shade the galleries inside."

"Six of the cores will  be located north of Wilshire Boulevard, on LACMA.  The seventh, holding the museum's new theater, will  be on the Spaulding site, allowing the building to span the boulevard.  Two main staircases will lead up to the galleries, one on the northern edge of the building and one one on the Spaulding side."

"Two of the core north of Wilshire will include ground-level galleries.  Another, facing BCAM, will hold a restaurant."

Rendering of LACMA version 3.0 spanning Wilshire Boulevard
The interior of the main level will feature four types of galleries.  Lining the perimeter of the S-shaped structure will be "meander galleries, with floor-to-ceiling glass on the exterior side and artwork along the interior."

The spaces, which vary in depth some wide and some more intimate, will double the circulation; in certain respects the success or failure of the building will center on how they turn out.  This may feel like an exciting amalgam of gallery, public space, and viewing platform to observe Wilshire from above.  On the other hand, it circulation space could suggest a "crowded hallway where some are has been stashed for lack of proper space elsewhere."

Proposed gallery rendering for LACMA 3.0

The three other gallery-types will be housed inside the cores, shooting upward, vertically through the building.  Small "cluster" and smaller "pocket" galleries will yield to bigger taller "tower" galleries that will flood the space with natural light via "high, hidden clerestory windows. (Seen from the sidewalk or plaza level the museum will resemble a long, horizontal form with the tower galleries poking through roofline like chimneys.)"  One noticeable difference from the previous schemes,"the pocket galleries have a ceiling of folded, or pleated, concrete forms."

The combination of scale and lighting conditions-"side light in the meander galleries, electric light in the pocket galleries and sunlight filtered through the clerestories in the towers-is the for Govan and Zumthor a key to the design."

Peter Zumthor is working with artist Robert Irwin, who already installed a palm garden to the museum campus, and the office of landscape architects Olin."

Rodin Sculpture Garden with Robert Irwin Palm Garden
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Peter Zumthor told Christopher Hawthorne:

The important thing is all the green grass has to go...Shrubs, chaparral, desert grasses and colored mosaics on the plaza.

A prudent idea-replacing the sprawling grass lawn with more geographically-specific and drought resistant landscape.

The revisions to the plan, are hopeful in a number of ways, cannot alter the fact "that the design lost something fundamental when Govan made the decision to turn the building into a bridge spanning Wilshire Boulevard."  This decision was made after museum campus-mate George C. Page Museum complained that the proposed Zumthor plan was too close to the tar pits and needed to step back from the edges.  To compensate for the los square footage without compromising the proposed relentlessly horizontal scheme, Michael Govan decided the building should cross the road to the Spaulding site.

Urban Lights (2008)
Chris Burden

The result is a piece of architecture "that has a powerful relationship with the tar pits and existed entirely within a par setting, detach from the life of the street, was suddenly a kind of overpass looming over the boulevard."

Mr. Zumthor describes the new scheme as possessing a "timeless or even primordial quality, something that's always been there."  If you pay close attention to the current version, you can identify the ways it is formed by the way it crosses a busy boulevard, not timeless or something that has always been there, rather a product of contemporary urbanism.

Six of the cores are bundled on the north side of the campus because, no surprise, you cannot put one in the middle of Wilshire Boulevard.  Thank you for a statement of the obvious.

Michael Govan enthused to the capacity crowd in Bing Theater "that the building is a daring one because it's willing to break the city grid by leapfrogging the boulevard."  Be that as it may, the current version of Peter Zumthor suggests that the grid might have the last word.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Blogger Candidate Forum: #ParisAgreement

Signatories of the Paris Climate Accord
Hello Everyone:

It is time for the weekly edition of Blogger Candidate Forum.  As Blogger observed on Monday that last week was a very busy news week: the horrific act of vehicular terrorism in London and President Donald Trump withdrawing the United States from the Paris Climate Accord, which is today's subject.

Specifically, what cities can do to fight climate change without the Paris Agreement.  If you go to today's edition of The New York Times (; June 7, 2017; date accessed same day) you will find a well written opinion article by Paris Mayor Anna Hidalgo and Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto on how cities are more united than ever to fight climate change titled, "The Mayors of Pittsburgh and Paris: 'We Have Our Own Climate Deal.'"  Even the individual states are banding together to fight climate change.  Led by California (naturally) Governor Jerry Brown (the new face of The Resistance), New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, and Washington State Governor Jay Inslee, a bipartisan group of states have joined together to form the United States Climate Alliance; committed to upholding the 2015 Paris Agreement.  CityLab's Laura Bliss offers suggestions on how American cities can fight climate change in her article, "5 Ways U.S. Cities Can Fight Climate Change Without the Paris Accord."

Add caption
Laura Bliss begins with a basic truth, "President Trump's decision to pull out of the Paris climate accord could damage U.S. credibility in global diplomacy for years to come-..."  However its affect on carbon emission and the U.S.'s path toward climate-change doom, is questionable.

Federal climate action has long stalled by the great congressional puppet masters of fossil fuel lobbyists such as the Koch brothers.  The non-binding goal of the Paris Agreement is to limit global warming to 2 degrees Centigrade.  Some pundits have argued that the agreement  could be stronger after the world's second biggest emitter of carbon dioxide leaves.

Woman unloading a car
Photograph by Damian Dovarganes/AP Photo
The more pressing question: "What are the most powerful ways localities can action to make lasting reductions to their greenhouse gas emissions (GHG)?"  Ms. Bliss offers us five suggestions, adding "Rinse and repeat the first two in particular."

1. Build housing near transit

Here's a sad thought: "A 2016 BuildZoom study found that no U.S. city has kept up with increased demand for housing through development focused in dense urban cores before World War II." (; date accessed June 6, 2016).  Liam Dillion wrote in the Los Angeles Times on March March 6, 2017,

Cities where housing supply met demand only achieved that balance by sprawling outward.  (; March 6, 2017 date accessed June 6, 2017)

Essentially, as more Americans move further away from the jobs and shopping are, they are commuting longer distances, typically by var.

Reducing GHG means reducing vehicle miles traveled (VMT), which translates to American have to walk, bike, and use public transportation to work and recreation more frequently than they do right now.  For developers, it means building more and densely-packed homes near jobs, retail, and transportation options is the most effective way to make driving a less attractive alternative.  Ms. Bliss writes, "This requires a radical reset on land use practices-undoing single-family zoning and incentivizing multi-family developments-that few cities seem prepared to make.  But the stakes are higher than ever."

Upshot: Research by the Urban Land Institute has found that compact development cuts VMT by 20 to 40 percent, compare to average outer-edge suburbs.  (; date accessed June 6, 2017)

Leaders: Austin, Texas is laboring to encourage more density through zoning revisions.  Seattle is urbanizing more than any other city.

Shared mobility
U.S. Department of Transportation
2.  Create transit options people like

Here is another basic truth, public transportation requires three key elements: reliability, affordability, and efficiency.  If you do not have any of these three components, that gleaming subway or bus system is worthless.  Unfortunately, "Years of calculated disinvestment sadly mean that many urban transit systems can now be described that way, especially from the point of view of low-income residents."  Ride sharing services like Uber and Lyft bode ill for the future of public transportation's relevance in many cities.  Nor do autonomous driving cars, "which many believe will cause VMT to spike."  Public commitment to shared mobility alternatives will be crucial to lowering urban emissions.

Upshot: Public reduces U.S. CO2 emissions by 37 million metric tons annually-rough half a percent of total annual emissions.  (; date June 6, 2017)

Leaders: Los Angeles, Seattle, Houston

3. make buildings more energy efficient

One of the primary sources of GHG in the United States is electricity generation and buildings accept for almost half of energy used.  Ms. Bliss writes, "Cities with a big supply of large buildings that enforce upgrades to heating and cooling systems-through building codes. efficiency targets, financial incentives, and other tools-can shrink carbon footprints and save on energy bills."

Upshot: New York City's efforts to green its building stock are expected to GHG emissions by 2.7 million metric-tons-similar to removing more than 560,000 cars from the road.  (; November 22, 2016 date accessed June 6, 2017)

Leaders: Los Angeles, Seattle, Houston

4. Rethink driving

Roads are a valuable commodity; some cities are charging drivers a use fee that commensurates with their value thus, signaling people to drive less.  Also, increasing parking fee and eliminating parking minimums from zoning codes could induce people to drive less.  Ms. Bliss adds, "The latter could also help bring down housing costs and building energy footprints."

Upshot: London's congestion-pricing scheme cut citywide car traffic CO2 emissions by roughly 1 percent.  Stockholm saw similar gains ( date accessed June 6, 2017)

Leaders: San Francisco, maybe.  Props to the state of Oregon for testing the country's first per-mile driving fee.

The Rise of Electric Cars
5. Invest in renewables and electrics vehicles

Alex Steffen (@AlexSteffen) tweeted:

This chart's conservative.  Industries don't turn on a dime, but when disrupted they can move much faster than this.  Alex Steffen (@AlexSteffen)  May 30, 2017

Ms. Bliss reports, "Dozens of U.S. cities have now pledged to move toward 100-percent renewable energy sources, bolstered by local utilities that have invested in solar and  wind thanks to Obama-era subsidies."  President Donald Trump's plans to throw out the Clean Power Plan could put an end to these subsidies, however, decreasing costs of renewable energy generation have already surpassed predictions; municipalities (and large companies) that publicly commit to renewables can also signal the energy market that renewables are the future.

Along that line, invest in electric bus fleets and charging station of electric cars can alert automakers that "large urban markets demand cleaner drives."  Increasing the number of electric cars on the road can cut emissions-"but this has to go hand-in-hand with cleaner energy.  Plugging your Tesla into a dirty grid doesn't necessarily net gains for the environment." (; June 29, 2015; date accessed June 7, 2017)

Upshot: Converting all of New York City's public buses to an electric fleet would reduce annual emissions by roughly 575,000 metric tons of CO2.  (; date accessed June 7, 2017)

Leaders: Portlang; Burlington, Vermont; the state of California

Bonus: Fight voter suppression in the 2018 midterms

What does fighting voter suppression have to do with fighting climate change?  Laura Bliss writes, "Minority voters are more likely than whites to express concern about climate change and support policies to combat it; they're also routinely target by tactics to block them from polling booths."  Full withdrawal from the Paris Climate Change Accord will take about four years and likely to carry over into the 2020 General Elections.  Thus, any hope of electing representatives and senators with climate-friendly agendas who will push forward federal climate legislation will depend on a full-on effort to uphold the most basic act of democracy.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Puff Of Smoke

Green House Kitchen Banner
Cannabis Friendly Restaurant photo credit
Hello Everyone:

Today's post was way too good to pass up.  What makes it too good to sit in the Blogger article file?  The subject is pot.  Seriously.  You know, pot, weed, marijuana.  Specifically, how Denver, Colorado's marijuana's growers are sowing fears of displacement.  Legal cannabis growers replacing the galleries as harbingers of gentrification?  Who would have thunk it?  Let us begin with a story from Joe Eaton's Citylab article "Marijuana Growers Sow Displacement Fears in Denver."

Here is the story of Mark Sink, a fine art photographer, who returned home to Denver from New York in 1991.  Mr. Sink bought his two-story house in the Lower Highland neighborhood for $50,000 (it was 1991) with additional owner financing.  More than twenty years later, a house like his, in the now-trendy LoHi, can sell for $1 million upward.  Developers, eyeing his house, have left their business cards in his mailbox, in case Mr. Sink wants to sell.

Cannabis cultivation in Denver, Colorado
 Mark Sink, the co-founder of the city's Museum of Contemporary Art told Mr. Eaton,

First come the artists.  Then come the developers.  Then it's all over for everyone.

Sounds familiar.  Joe Eaton writes, "That has long been a familiar lament in American cities, but Denver's gentrification narrative has an herbal twist: Since 2014, when recreational marijuana become legal in the state, the arts community and other residents who rely on low rents have been feeling the economic pressure from marijuana entrepreneurs-ganjapreneurs..."  The gangjapreneurs need the same low-rent space to sell and grow their loco weed.

LivWell store manager Carlyssa
Photograph by David Zalubowski/AP

"There's an irony to this, as Sink notes."  A lot of creatives were big supporters of the 2012 ballot measure that resulted to legalization.  Mr. Sink said,

Who knew marijuana would one of the strong forces keeping us out of affordable space?

Joe Eaton writes, "The impact of legalized marijuana on rising real estate values is difficult to quantify."  Rents were already on the rise before legalization, the result of rapid population growth.  According to Zillow,

"In 2013, the typical renter in the city of Denver could expect to spend 37.4 percent of his income on rent , compared to 56.1 percent in New York County...and 48 percent of in Los Angeles County...(; date accesses June 6, 2017).  In the past decade, the Denver area has been the benefactors of an economic renaissance, "with large gains in industries ranging from high tech to mineral extraction."  The once-affordable neighborhoods carry the signs of the boom: "a proliferation of urban condos, yoga studios, and branded luxury."  Spend time in Denver for a day, you will the common refrain, "how Denver gains 1,000 citizens a month.  From 2004 to 2014, the city gained more than 430,000 residents."

The moral here: come for the jobs, come for the lifestyle, and in some cases, come for ganja.

Map of states where you can legally smoke marijuana
Since legalization, Colorado awarded over 300 licenses for Denver-based growers.  Many of the growers either lease or purchased warehouses, pushing their values up-and driving out the creative from their low-rent spaces they previously occupied.  Wow, talk about turnabout.  The creatives who once desired the square-footage and affordability of the warehouse space for their studios, have rudely discovered that the very same raw space fits the needs of dope growers.  Real estate broker and founder of Forte Commercial Real Estate Dustin Whistler said, "rents for industrial spaces have risen 40 percent since 2012.  Spaces that before legalization were all but unrentable are now going  for $10 to $12 a square foot."

Medicine Man Dispensary
Denver. Colorado
The resulting pressure related to the marijuana boom is affecting every Denver resident.  An analysis by the Denver Post concluded:

"Facilities that grow recreational pot have concentrated along I-70 corridor to the north and the Santa Fe Drive and I-25 corridors to the south,  in neighborhoods where residential and light industrial areas mix." (; date accessed June 6, 2017)

These are the areas where creatives have traditionally found inexpensive spaces to live and work.

River North Art District
Denver, Colorado
 Artist and curator Lauri Lynnxe Murphy has been working out of a renovated garage near the River North Art District for ten years.  Although her landlord has been good to her, Ms. Murphy knows her time is limited.  She anticipates loosing her lease any day.  Most likely, the loss of her lease will force her out of Denver.  She told Mr. Eaton,

You can't deny there are a good things and bad things that have come from legalization...But you can't say it hasn't caused a lot of pain.

Legalization has been good for the tourism market and tax revenues.  Denver-based market-research firm The Marijuana Policy Group concluded , "legal marijuana sales generated $2.4 billion in economic impact in 2015.  It brought 18,000 jobs and $121 million in combined sales and excise tax." (; date accessed June 6, 2017)  Adam Opens, a partner in the firm, said "he expects the 2016 numbers to be larger.  Marijuana is a Colorado growth industry...and that will likely continue, although the state may face competition  if the states legalize recreational marijuana."

Marijuana and cannabis products for sale
Mr. Orens continued, saying "the industry is given too much credit-and takes too much blame-for the economic changes in the city and the state.  He believes that increasing cost of living in Denver is the product of market adjustment; contemporary Denver has more in common with high-cost coastal cities such as San Francisco or Boston than western metropolitans.  He said,

In 2014, marijuana legalization was a national curiosity; it was the reason a lot of people came to Colorado...Now it's just another amenity like brew pubs, the Colorado Rockies, and skiing.

Interior of Rhinoceropolis
Denver, Colorado
Cheap rents are no longer a attraction and that has local creatives concerned about the long-term future of Denver's cultural scene.  This past December, the city closed Rhinoceropolis, a popular underground venue in the heart of the city's Do-It-Yourself culture, over fire code violations in the wake of the deadly Ghost Ship fire in Oakland.  The creatives who lived and worked in the there say "the 11-year-old venue was targeted as part of the transformation of the city's River North Arts District."  Stephen Herrera, an artists who lived in Rhinoceropolis and its sister venue  Glob told Joe Eaton,

The city is basically sweeping us out of the places that we create and treating us in a similar way they treat homeless people.

Glob and Rhinoceropolis are not zoned for residential use.  Mr. Herrera does not blame legal pot.  However, without the warehouses to move to, Mr. Herrera believes the "DIY arts community has been dispersed, which makes it harder for younger artists trying to break in to the scene."

Navajo Street Art District
Denver, Colorado
 This is a subject of particular interest to Chandler Romeo and her husband Reed Wiemer, who own the majority of the buildings in the Navajo Street Arts District in Northwest Denver.  Ms. Romeo and Mr. Wiemet, both artists, moved to Denver in 1980; buying their first building a few years later.  In the succeeding years, they acquired four more properties, started an art co-op that evolved into the Zip-37 gallery, and rented out below-cost space to galleries.  Among the galleries is Pirate: Contemporary Art, one of Denver's oldest galleries.  Ms. Romeo said:

We became old crappy building collectors.

Investing in real estate has made the couple theoretically wealthy.  However, rising taxes, insurances, and maintenance costs were eating into their finances.  The couple was forced to significantly raise rents to cover the costs.  Pirate and two other galleries have moved out of the area, replaced by a non-profit coffee shop.  Joe Eaton reports, "The couple says the artists understand, and they haven't lost friends."  Ms. Romeo adds, We were really concerned about that.  It is our peer group.

Denver street art
 Denver's cultural scene is not about to go up in smoke.  Mr. Eaton writes, "The city and cultural groups are floating several proposals to help artists find affordable places to work and live in Denver."  One proposal is a development that includes 90 spaces for low-income artists in the River North Art District.  However, Mark Sink is not sure that creatives can flourish on these types of official handouts; "he feels that the city and developers are selling the artists history of neighborhoods."  He said, 

It's just a big front...At $30 a square foot you are an arts district? Yeah, sure.

Mark Sink recently purchased a small vacant building outside the side the city.  He remains pessimistic about the future of Denver's cultural scene.

In 20 years, it will be, "What happened?  Where are all the cool people?