Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Twisted Anti-Gentrification

http://www.theguardian.com; October 18, 2017

Hello Everyone:

Happy Halloween and Day of The Dead to one and all.  Yours Truly thinks that real life is scary enough, so why not take the day and celebrate.  Okay, celebrate even more than you plan to.  If Halloween or Day of The Dead is not your thing, then feel free to indulge in as much candy and as many scary movies as you can handle.  Personally speaking, just pass the candy bowl and Blogger will be happy.  Alright, now on to something genuinely scary: gentrification.

Gentrification is scary because it means change.  Change is always scary, especially if it is your neighborhood.  Perhaps no place in Los Angeles is experiencing rapid change than Boyle Heights.  Rory Carroll reports in his The Guardian article "Are white hipsters hijacking an anti-gentrification fight in Los Angeles?" "The Los Angeles neighbourhood of Boyle Height has become a landmark battleground [Ibid; April 19, 2017; date accessed Oct. 31, 2017] against gentrification [Ibid; Oct. 2017], a contest widely seen as pitting working-class Latino activists against an influx of white-owned galleries."  However, what happens when the very people, the anti-gentrification movements are aimed at, hijack these movements for their own purposes?  This is the question that Mr. Carroll considers.

First, a little context to help us understand the situation.  The Boyle Heights defenders have used a wide array of tactics to harass and drive out the "art colonists."  Controversial strategies such as: rallies, threats, boycotts, breaking windows, and vulgar graffiti have been deployed with some success.  Protestors were able to drive out the Pssst Gallery and others have either cancelled or moved events.

For example, film maker and the writer of I Love Dick, Chris Kraus (Ibid; May 29, 2017; date accessed Oct 31, 2017) was recently forced to cancel a reading of her book at the 356 Mission gallery after activists threatened to disrupt the event (laweekly.com; Oct. 5, 2017; date accessed Oct. 31, 2017).

Managing editor of Ms. Kraus's publisher Semiotext(e), Hedi El Kholti, told the L.A. Weekly,

In this climate of harassment and online trolling, there'd be no point trying to have a conversation between Bruce Hainley and Chris Kraus about biography, fiction, and historiography...Defend Boyle Heights has promised to disrupt it (Ibid)...Bullying and intimidation are opposed to the very values of the work we publish. 

Boyle Heights, the birthplace of the Chicano movement, has become the case study model for anti-gentrification activists throughout the United States and Europe.  However, there is a twist to in Boyle Heights' anti-gentrification movement.

Rory Carroll reports, "There is, however, an overlooked twist: some of the most radical members of the Boyle Heights resistance are white artists, most of whom do not appear to live in the neighborhood."  Rather, these more radical members are using the "Defend Boyle Heights" banner "to attack former friend and colleagues in LA arts community."  Still others have targeted Latino artists and the not-for-profit organizations in the community, "accusing them of shills for invading capitalists."

These battle lnes have gone unnoticed, distorting the traditional anti-gentrification narrative and put the spotlight on a group of mostly Caucasian artist and other perceived outsides who have stitched political-and personal-agendas onto the anti-gentrification banner.

Joel Garcia, the program director of Self Help Graphics and Art (selfhelpgraphics.com; date accessed Oct. 31, 2017), told Mr. Carroll,

You have white guys telling a brown guy from the projects what to do in the community he grew up in"

Self Help Graphics and Art is a visual arts space that promotes Latino and Chicano artists however it has been accused of "collaboration with the galleries.

Irene Pena, who runs a community garden, said "outsiders infiltrated and took over her project.  They falsely claimed...that grant money from the University of Southern California (usc.edu) would lead to evictions..  Incredulous,

Who are they?  And why do they think that it's their right to come into Boyle Heights and attack people and organizations that serving the community?

Indeed.  There is more.

Steven Almazan, the former outreach chair of the Boyle Heights neighborhood council, was equally incredulous.  He said to Rory Carroll,"...outsiders were vocals in a campaign against a hipster cafe which has twice been vandalized.  Mr. Almazan said,

I found it kind of strange to hear people not from the neighbourhood speaking for the people of Boyle Heights."

However, there is a genuine sense of  urgency-"families are being evicted; other are facing big rent hikes-" silence criticism from local activists with tenuous connections to the area, but are perceived as energetic and savvy.

Rudy Espinoza the executive director of the Leadership for Urban Renewal Network (lurnetwork.org; date accessed Oct. 31, 2017, said,

A lot of them have contradictions that we know about but [we] chose not to say anything.

The non-profit organization has also been targeted by activists.  The reason was "...to avoid division and not undermine their effectiveness in raising awareness about the housing crisis."

Boyle Heights is a predominantly Latino community, situated across the L.A. River from the luxury lofts and skyscrapers populating the downtown.  Surging prices have resulted in displacement in Latino communities throughout East L.A., heightening fear that Boyle Heights could be next.  The arrival of the galleries and cafes established a sort of beachhead for developers to swoop in.  The mariachi musicians that congregated around Mariachi Plaza have already been priced out of home (latimes.com; Sept. 9, 2017; date accessed Oct. 31, 2017)

Nearly all the stakeholders agree that gentrification poses an existential threat to residents, in particular for renters.

the strategies and alleged motives of some of the activists have been problematic, raising the question "who speaks for Boyle Heights?"

'A racist critique'

Angel Luna, a local activist from Boyle Heights, dismisses any thoughts that outsiders hijacked the resistance.  He said,

That's a racist critique because it makes invisible the labour of people like myself.  To assume we're controlled by a group of white people is racist and offensive.

Mr. Luna added "The struggle was based on class, not race, and Defend Boyle Heights (@defendboyleheights), a coalition of radical groups, benefited from a wide from wide membership, including people not necessarily from the area:

The gentrifiers and alt-right agents are afaid of a diverse movement building.

Rory Carroll asked Angel Luna if some of the Caucasian artist brought their own agendas to the resistance.  Mr. Luna considered this,

That's a fair way to put it.  But I'm afraid of feeding this racist idea that white people are at the centre of this movement. 

Several of the well known protestors have or had connections to the gallery owners and artists caught in the crosshairs.

One such protestor is Kean O'Brien, an artist who taught a course on Decolonization and Deconstruction at California State University, Long Beach and a former close fiend of Jules Gimbrone and Barnett Cohen, the founders of the non-profit gallery Pssst.  When the friendship soured, he joined the campaign against the gallery.

In an email to Mr. Carroll, Mr. O'Brien wrote,

Those were my colleagues and friends that were making these big mistakes and causing displacement...It is very unfortunate that I lost my friendships with Jules and Barnett...however, I stand proudly in the position I have taken on art washing and will continue to challenge my colleagues, graduate school professors and friends as they participate in displacing people from their homes with their art careers.  Our art careers are not worth more than people's right to housing."

Messr. Gimbrone and Cohen shuttered the gallery in February, citing the "constant attacks" and "highly personal harassment" by the anti-gentrification activists as the primary reason (latimes.com; Feb. 22, 2017; date accessed Oct. 31, 2017).  Mr. Gimbrone declined to speak to Mr. Carroll, saying "he was 'still processing all that happened.'"

Rory Carroll reports, "Several artists and gallery owners, speaking anonymously, cited other cases of former friends and colleagues who now picketed their exhibitions and assailed them on social media."  One of the anonymous sources said,

It's all weirdly interconnected in their own art career.  It's about take-downs.

Sounds more like a severe case of professional animosity.

Guadalupe Rosales, a successful artist with close ties to Boyle Heights who exhibited her work at Pssst, had her car vandalized and was trolled on the social media.

Ms. Rosales declined to comment for the article on who targeted, saying only in a joint statement with Matt Wolf, the director of a film about her, "that the situation in Boyle Heights was much more nuanced and complex than the community versus the galleries."

Gallery sources provided documentation of individual artist who sought their representation before turning on them via anonymous social media accounts.  Essentially, galleries that declined to exhibit a particular artist or artist, for whatever reason, found themselves the object of a harassment campaign. when The Guardian confronted two of the alleged troll, one declined to respond, the other denied any wrong doing-i.e. both hiding behind the safety of their screen names.  Further, The Guardian could not verify their online participation in the campaigns so did not name them.

The anonymous Facebook page Defend Boyle Height from Boyle Heights (@DefendBoyleHeightsfromBoyleHeights), has focused on the role of Ultra-red, a small arts collective that promotes cultural and political struggle.

One poster, speaking on the condition of anonymity, citing fear of retribution, told Mr. Carroll,

It's people who are looking for a pressure point to bring about revolutionary change.

Person X said "he attend Defend Boyle Heights meetings to help combat gentrification but recoiled at the influence of the Ultra-red 'quartet.'"

The "Ultra-red quartet" is a reference to Elizabeth Blaney, Dont Rhine, and Walt Senterfitt (all Caucasian), and Leonardo Vilchis, who is of Mexican ancestry.  The four are also active in Union de Vecinos (uniodevecinos.org; date accessed Oct. 31, 2017), the L.A. Tenants Union (latenantsunion.org; date accessed Oct. 31, 2017) and Boyle Heights Alliance Against Artwashing and Displacement (@BHAAADCoalition), offshoots of the Defend Boyle Heights supports base.

Dont Rhine is a faculty co-chair at the Vermont College of Fine Arts and not a resident of Boyle Heights.  Mr. Senterfitt is an AIDS research with a Yale Ph.D who recently moved to the community.  Ms. Blaney and Mr. Vilchis have been active in the community for decades.

The quartet have lectured and presented talks on gentrification, most recently at a Museum of Contemporary Art panel this past June (moca.org; June 1, 2017; date accessed Oct. 31, 2017).

Ms. Blaney was the only member of the quartet available to speak to Rory Carroll.  She told Mr. Carroll, "...the threat to Boyle Heights justified robust tactics.  Specifically,

People's basic need for shelter is being taken from them.  That's an act of violence.  It's a struggle of survival and self-defence.  All different kinds of strategy are open.  I'm not condoning smashing windows but I understand where it's coming from."

The quartet are not implicated in any act of vandalism.  Given Ms. Blaney's above statement, "All different kinds of strategy are open," it infers that they tacitly approve of smashing windows.

Elizabeth Blaney down played the role of white activists.

It's racist to imply that Latino members of the community can't think for themselves and are brainwashed by a group of white people.  It's ludicrous and insulting to all they're doing.

She continued, "...all those targeted by Defend Boyle Heights were gentrifiers or enablers."

What would you call white artist outsiders co-opting a Latino anti-gentrification movement to get back at galleries that refuse to exhibit their work?  Ms. Blaney is right, it is racist to infer that Latino members of a community are unable to think or organize for themselves.  

Joel Garcia of Self Help Graphics and Art denied being an enabler or gentrifiers accused the group of making false statements to enhance their legitimacy.  He said,

Our existence here threatens their validity to being social practice artists.  We embody community arts practice. These artists are trying to usurp that.  Attacking Self Help Graphics legitimises them-it has everything to do with their professional positioning.

Joel Garcia may have a point.

Monday, October 30, 2017

The Housing Racial Gap

http://www.citylab.com: September 22, 2017

Hello Everyone:

Blogger is back from the air conditioned undisclosed location and happy to report that Autumn has finally arrived in Southern California.  Yay.  Blogger's return coincidences with a very busy news.  First and foremost, the big news of the day is indictments in Russia.  Special Counsel Robert Mueller has obtained indictments against former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, his associate Richard Gates, and foreign policy advisor George Papadopoudolos on charges of lying to Congress and money laundering, acting as a foreign agents, and failing to disclose foreign accounts.  Mr. Papadopoudolos pleded guilty to the charges against him.  All three have turned themselves in, denying the Galaxy of "perp walk" pictures.  The White House's whole "the-Democrats-Hillary Clinton-were-colluding-with-the-Russians" defense is falling apart brick-by-brick. 

 Second viral Internet story of the day; this one involving Kevin Spacey, the fictional President of the United States.  Yesterday, Star Trek: Discovery actor Anthony Rapp accused Kevin Spacey, "President Francis Underwood" on the Netflix crown jewel House of Cards, of trying to commit statutory rape in 1986.  Mr. Spacey was 26 and Mr. Rapp was 14 at the time.  Today, Mr. Spacey issued something that resembled an apology, saying he could not recall the incident and-the bombshell-admitted to being a homosexual; something that was an open secret.  The problem with his sort-of apology is that he fell back on the old stereotype of homosexuals-as-paedophiles.  Wow, that is definitely a new one for Yours Truly, using your sexual orientation as an excuse for your hyper-active libido.  Unbelievable.  Was it coincidence that Netflix used this moment to announce that House of Cards was ending after next season?  Stay tuned.  Now onto the Racial Wealth Gap.

Does housing make the racial wealth gap greater?  This is question that Joe Cortright, the director of City Observatory, asks in his article printed in CityLab "How Housing Intensifies the Racial Wealth Gap."  It is a fascinating subject to ponder, one that Emily Badger wrote in her article, "Whites Have Huge Wealth Edge Over Blacks (but Don't Know It)"  in The New York Times (nytimes.com; Sept. 18, 2017; date accessed Oct. 30, 2017).  Ms. Badger reported on a new study that demonstrated "...just how much Americans (especially white Americans) underestimate the gap in the economic ththathacircumstances between black and white families."  

The Times article is based on the study from Yale University's Michael Kraus, Julian Rucker, and Jennifer Richeson, titled Americans misperceived racial economic equality (pnas.org; date accessed Oct. 30, 2017).  The study is a comparative analysis of perceptions of earnings, income, and wealth gaps between Caucasians and African American with information from the Census Bureau.  Mr. Cortright reports, "The headline finding is that the average respondent thinks that black wealth is about 80 percent of whites; whereas Census data suggest that black wealth is about 5 percent of whites."

Let us take a closer look, for a moment, at the issue of wealth disparity. Mr. Cortright writes, "While we have multiple measures of income, we actually have relatively few measures of wealth of American households."  One survey taken by the Census Bureau ("Survey of Income and Program Participation, SIPP) focuses on the questions of financial holdings and debts.  Another survey conducted on a triennial basis ("Survey of Consumer Finance).  This survey asked more specific questions about investments, banking activity, credit, automobiles, home ownership, and related matters.  Mr. Court right points to a "...terrific analysis by the Federal Reserve's Jeffrey Thompson and Gustavo Suarez entitled "Exploring the Racial Gap Using the Survey of Consumer Finances" (federalreserve.org; date accessed Oct. 30, 2017).

City Observatory plotted the information from Messr Thompson and Suarez's survey for the period 1989 through 2013 to track the median net-worth of African American and non-Latino Caucasion households.  The date is presented in 2013 dollar amounts.  The red line on the chart, accessible at  http://www.citylab.com; September 22, 2017, represents the net worth of African American households , the blue line signifies non-Latino white households (amounts on the left axis), the gray bars corresponds to median net worth of African Americans "as percentage of the median net worth of non-Hispanic white household (measured on the right axis).

Joe Cortright points out a couple of observations: "First: as of 2013, the net worth of the typical household hadn't rebounded to pre-recession levels."  This observation held for both surveyed households.  Next: "But the decline for black households was proportionately greater than for whites.  The median net worth of black families fell 42 percent from $19,200 in 2007 (on the eve of the Great Recession) to $11,100 in 2013.  The median net worth of white families decline as well, by only 27 percent, from $183,500 in 2007 to $134,100 in 2013."

Second observation: "as we look back at the longer historical record it, was quite clear that during the 1990s in particular, black households were actually closing the wealthy gap with their white counterparts."  For example, in 1989, the average African American household had a net worth than was only 5.6 percent of the typical Cauaasian household.  However, by 1998, African American households' net worth was 16.3 percent of Cauasians.  African American households treaded water around the turn of the millennium, early naughts, and seriously lost ground relative to their Caucasian counterparts during the Great Recession.  "Today average black wealth stands at just 8.3 percent that of whites (This figure is slightly higher than the 5 percent reported in the The New York Times story; excluding the value of owner-occupied home, the SIPP [census.gov; date accessed Oct. 30, 2013] reports that black wealth is about 5.3 percent that of white households in 2013)."

How do you explain this?

Some of the reason for this disparity is connected to the housing market, housing policy, the housing cycle.  Households with good access to credit before the housing bubble burst were in good position to take advantage from the spike in housing prices-Mr. Cortright adds, "and note that white net worth outpaced black from 2001 onward." Mr. Cortright explained in a post on City Observatory (cityobservatory.org; July 18, 2016; date accessed Oct. 30, 2017), "Homeownership: A failed wealth-creation strategy," "low income households generally, and households of color in particular tend to suffer from bad market timing: buying a home later in the housing cycle (when prices were higher) exposed them to more risk when housing markets collapsed."  Further, housing represent a larger portion of the net worth of low-income households and households of color, thus when housing prices plummeted, they were more adversely affected than the average Cauasian households ("which had a much more diversified wealth portfolio").

Joe Cortright notes "There's also an important spatial bias in black household homownership.  Black households tend to buy and own homes in neighborhoods with greater price volatility, especially on the downside."  The real estate website Zillow posted a good article written by Skylar Olsen, titled  "A House Divdided-How Race Colors the Path to Homeownership" (zillow.com; Jan. 15, 2014; date accessed Oct. 30, 2017) which demonstrated how the bust in the housing market generated sharper and more prolonged declines in home prices for households of color than for their Caucasian counterparts.

The point is "...while it's certainly true that white households have a huge (and widely under-estimated) edge in wealth, it's not the case that we have not made progress."  The nineties stood out a period in which the wealth of of African American households significantly increased relative to Caucasian households.  Mr. Cortright observes, "What's remarkable is that the housing bubble and the Great Recession essentially erased all of the relative gains in black household wealth from the 1990s."  The lesson of the past two decades appears to be "encouraging greater homeownership is not just ineffective in reducing the racial wealth gap, but is actually counterproductive" (cityobservatory.org; July 19, 2016; date accessed Oct. 30, 2017).

One final observation: "As startling as the wealth gap is between blacks and whites, its even sharper between owners and renters."  According to Census Bureau data, "the median net worth of a homeowner in the United States was $199,600.  The median net worth of renters is $2,200, barely 1 percent of that amount." (census.gov; date accessed Oct. 30, 2017).  The disparity between owners and renters speaks volumes to the policy iniatives and preferences for homeownership as an investment (cityobservatory.org; Aug. 22, 2016; date accessed Oct. 30, 2017).  However, it also demonstrates "that we have little if anything to offer in the way of a wealth-building strategy to the 33 to 40 percent of the nation's households who ren their homes."  Taking into account the financial risks of homeownership for those of modest means, Mr. Cortright recommends that we ought to be "devoting more attention to mechanisms to help families build wealth without having to long in the real estate market."

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Blogger Candidate Forum: Give The Voters A Choice

http://www.citylab.com; October 15, 2017

Hello Everyone:

Blogger Candidate Forum is escaping the early fall heatwave in an air conditioned undisclosed location.  Someone want to tell summer that it is time to leave the hemisphere?  That said, today we turn our attention to big city politics. 

Did you ever notice that a lot of big city mayors are Democrats?  Think about it for a minute.  Rahm Emmanuel of Chicago, Bill de Blasio of New York City, Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles are all Democrats.  This is a problem, according to Bruce Katz of the Brooking Institute (brookings.edu; date accessed Oct. 25, 2017).  Former Washington D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams declares in his CityLab article "Stop One-party Rule in Big Cities," "One-party rule is hurting America's big cities.  Mr. Katz takes it a step further; calling for a Metropolitan Party (citylab.com; April 14, 2017; date accessed Oct. 25, 2017) that represents urban interests.  Actually, a Metropolitan Party already exists, it is the Democratic Party.  So does that mean the Republican Party is the Suburban and Rural Party.  Enquiring bloggers want to know.  If we study the 2016 election results, we find that cities overhelming cast their ballots in favor of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  As we lurch toward the congressional elections next year (remember to register to vote) and the presidential elections in 2020, national politics is shifting more toward a "big-city alignment against the policies of President Donald Trump on such issues as climate change or sanctuary cities for immigrants."

One-party urban rule does hold benefits in the national context, "giving Democrats a competitive showing in a near parity Congress."  The drawbacks of one-party urban rule is that it is not ideal for representing competing interests in city politics.  Mr. Williams suggests, "What cities need is not one party, but many-offering more distinct, organized options for citizens at the local ballot box that reflect the diversity of city life."  Blogger likes to think of this as a kind of a parliamentary system of municipal government.

If you look at a congressional or presidential election map, what you find are deep blue and red regions and you would think that cities neatly fall in line with their state.  Local representatives, including those elected in non-partisan contests (e.g. Mayoral races) are bluer than blue, and have been for quite some time (digitalcommons.law.yale.edu; date accessed Oct. 25, 2017).  Mr. Williams observes, "Indeed, most big cities hav had Democratic mayors and councils for over 50 years."  Typically, municipal  election results mirror nation party affinities.  When a Republicans win municipal elections (i.e. New YorK City), it is usually for mayor, where larger-than-life personalities and media attention bypass party identity.  Think former New York City Mayors Rudy Guiliani and Michael Bloomberg.

This is all part of the geographic distribution of Americans based on ideology.  Liberals tend to like walkable urban lifestyles (npr.org; Oct. 5, 2017; date accessed Oct. 25, 2017) and gravitate toward cities and like minded communities.  Their local elected officials offer a range of standard liberal policies.  "Cities do generally have more government spending, more public debt and more redistributive policies [cwarshaw.scripts.mit.edu; August 2014; date accessed Oct. 25, 2017]."

In essence, Republicans by-and-large have thrown in the towel on cities, which is a shame because a lot of big-city ailments could use "a dose of Republican-inspired solutions (city-journal.org; date accessed Oct. 25, 2017).  Mr. Bloomberg and Steve Goldsmith of Indianapolis brought good business management to municipal government.  Mr. Williams outlines a few voter priorities: "Working mothers may want more public school options for their children.  Investors want to see progress in community investment projects in their lifetime.  Taxpayers ask that their cities stop writing checks that can't be cashed."  Therefore, in absence of any real competition at the polls, officials may not push as hard to remedy urban problems.

In the interim, another indicator of city democratic well-being is falling-election participation. Turnout in municipal elections is dismally low (citylab.com; Nov. 1, 2014; date accessed Oct. 25, 2017), "at about 25 percent and has been trending down for decades [governining.com; Oct. 2014; date accessed Oct. 25, 2017]."  For the record, last year Mayor Eric Garcetti won a second term with 81 percent of the vote-only 11 percent of registered Angelenos went to the polls.  The numbers are even more abysmal in Dallas and Las Vegas where "turnout is below 10 percent."  This is how incumbents keep winning and representation remains even more one-sided in cities than elsewhere "because cities have sharper inequality and greater diversity."

Part of the problem is timing.  Los Angeles held its most recent mayoral election not long after the 2016 presidential elections.  However, this issue has been resolved to some extent: A ballot proposition, reset the municipal elections to coincide with state elections.  Thus, Mayor Garcetti will have another added to his second term.

One-party is definitely a contributor to the problems.  Anthony Williams writes, "Municipal voting is worse in cities [thehill.com; Dec. 7, 2016; date accessed Oct. 25, 2017] than in the more politically competitive suburbs."  The urban electorate-faced with seemingly more of the same or vague options at the ballot box-is basically checking out.

Without any real choices, "the lively jumble of diverse, competitions interests that constitute a big city is embalmed in one-tone pen-party rule."  Beneath the blue veneer, cities should be teeming with political diversity: "public unions, historic preservationists, pro-growth developers, new landed gentry,immigrant newcomers, and long-term residents."  This is in addition to the chorus surrounding the income gap that is worse in the cities than in the suburbs and rural areas.  Basically, "A healthy democracy would give form and clarity to these points of view-that's what political parties are built to do."

When you have an electoral slate of variations on Democrats, what kind of message does the voter get about how each candidate differed on policy questions?  The majority of young urban Millennials gentrifying communities are part of the same national parties as the working class Latino or African American voters they are displacing, even though at the local level their interests do not square with each other.  Regardless, the frequently vote along similar national and local party lines, if for no reason other than lack of choice.

By any measure of a healthy democracy-candidate competition, public turnout, and relevant platforms-big city political machines are breaking down.  There is little in the way of inter-party competition on local issues, and the voters are clues about what local policies they are voting on or what is at stake on top of wanting to hold someone accountable.  "Pity that local government touches everyday lives far more than national government."

Municiopal voter really do deserve better and that translate into giving them real choices at the ballot box and making it easier to participate.  One solution is to move municipal election cycles so that they coincide with state or national elections.  California has already done this.  The immediate result is "twice as many people would vote, with young and low-income voters gaining the most.  Another quick, easy fix involves giving more relevant information to voters: Get rid of nonpartisan elections, and put as much information on the ballot as possible [papers.ssrm.com; Feb. 2, 2012; date accessed Oct. 25, 2017], giving more information than a simple D [Democrat] after the candidate's name."  

Long-term: there should be more than just the Democratic Party; said parities could function separately from the national entity.  For example, "In Canada, there are a handful of local parties that are distinct from national parties."  Anthony Williams games suggests that the big-city Republicans could rebrand themselves as the Bloomberg Party (prawfsblawg.blog.com; May 7, 2012; date accessed Oct. 25, 2017), which would have instant recognition and a cogent urban policy agenda.

Another suggestion would be to change city election regimes to accommodate multiple parties.  "States could change laws [papers.ssrm.com; Feb. 2, 2012] so that someone could be registered in a local party distinct from the national party."  Municipal third parties have reared their head in American history, in Cincinnati or New York City (blogs.lse.ac.uk; date accessed Oct. 25, 2017), "there was proportional voting: 20 percent of the vote got you 20 percent of the representation."

The current winner-take-all system does not work well with third parties simple because people do not want to waste their vote.  Ranked-choice voting (RCV) (fairvote.org; date accessed Oct. 25, 2017) is another option.  This method allow voters to rank the candidates and may be the most viable option: "Several cities have already adopted RCV sinc 2000 (Ibid), including Minneapolis and Portland, Maine." The RCV method forces candidates to work harder to appeal to various groups of voters.

If democracy is to be restored to health, our federal systems must have competing voice at all levels of government.  Elections have consequences and every elections demands vigorous elections with crystal clear choices.  If urban politics want to makes its voice heard at the national level, it must be organized.  At the municipal lever, the solution may not be Bruce Katz's hypothetical Metropolitan Party, rather several parties competing for your vote.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Better Corporate Citizens

http://www.citylab.com; September 21, 2017

Hello Everyone:

Another triple digit scorcher of a day finds Blogger, tapping away, in an air conditioned undisclosed location.  Would someone please so kind as to let Summer know that it is October and it is no longer welcome?  Alright then, onward.

Urban anchors is today's subject.  What do urban anchors owe, if anything at all, their host city?  This is the question posed by Richard Florida in his CityLab article "What the New Urban Anchors owe Their Cities."  Some of the urban anchors function as the main engines and the primary beneficiaries of the recent urban renaissance, anchor institutions are frequently the biggest employers in their host communities.  A typical example of an "anchor institution" includes: large universities, hospitals, and medical centers-i.e. "meds and eds-" "that are quite literally anchor urban centers, other powerful anchors, including successful high-tech companies and real estate developers, have the capacity and resources to wield enormous influence on today's cities."

Be that as it may, over the last decade has seen a troubling pattern of "winner-take-all urbanism" (theatlantic.com; Apr. 12, 2017; date accessed Oct. 24, 2017). This disquieting pattern is characterized by a "select group of large, dense cities and an even smaller number of neighborhoods reap the spoils of innovation and economic growth."  Anchors reap enormous enemies from the current urban revival.  While this may sound all well and good, Mr. Florida believes that "they must commit themselves to generating more inclusive proposerity"

To remedy our modern urban crisis, Mr. Florida believes that "we need a broader, more encompassing strategy of inclusive prosperity that allows all residents and neighborhoods to benefit from urban revival."  Mr. Florida recently co-authored a study with Steven Pedigo, The Case for Inclusive Prosperity (scps.nyu.edu; date accessed Oct. 24, 2017), his colleague from the NYUSPS Urban Lab at the Schack Institute of Real Estate (Ibid), which outlined the role that anchor can and should play in creating more inclusive prosperity in the urban centers.

As the federal government retreats from urban development, re-prioritizing its actions elsewhere, the burden of inclusive development has fallen to the urban areas.  With large cutbacks in federal spending in housing assistance, affordable housing, job training, healthcare services, education, the environment, and so forth, municipalities, non-profit organizations, and philanthropic foundations (citylab.com; Sept. 12, 2017; date accessed Oct. 24, 2017) are filling the void.  This sounds well and fine but Anchors (community-wealth.org; date accessed Oct. 24, 2017) could do more help out.

One group of particularly effective anchors are the high-tech companies that have returned en masses to the city centers.  Mr. Florida reports, "Today, five of the ten most valuable companies in the Fortune  500-Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Facebook-high-tech corporations.  At least two of them, Amazon and Google, are a massive presence in urban core."

Retail and media juggernaut Amazon is the largest private tenant in Seattle's city center.  Amazon-vile spans 8.5 million square feet (urbanland.uli.org; May 12, 2017; date accessed Oct. 24, 2017) and employs (amazon.com; date accessed Oct. 24, 2017) more than 25,000 workers, most of whom are well-paid engineers, managers, and programmers.  Now that bidding has ended for the right to host Amazon's second headquarters (citylab.com; Sept. 12, 2017), the company's proposed HQ2 will have considerable impact on whichever American or Canadian metropolitan earns the right to host the company.  Further, Amazon will have a significant effect on the shape and content of whatever future economic development policy and implementation.

Search engine giant Google still maintains its large suburban complex-"Googleplex-"in the Silicon Valley suburb of Mountain View and has a major urban presence in New York City, home to 3,000 employees, housed in a renovated Port Authority Buidling in the Chelsea neighborhood.  Mr. Florida writes, "The company as also proposed an estimated 870,000 square-foot tech complex in central London [theverge.com; June 1, 2017; date accessed Oct. 24, 2017), designed by young "starchitect" Bjarke Ingels, which will house another 4,000 employees."  Google has also entered negotiations with the city of San Jose to buy city-owned land near the downtown Diridon Station, which would encompass six to eight million square of mixed office and retail space and house about 20,000 employees.

Real estate companies are another major anchor with enormous sway in cities.  To take better advantage of the urban renaissance, real estate developers are foregoing singe developments and putting entire neighborhoods like the Hudson Yards (hudsonyardsnewyork.com; date accessed Oct. 24, 2017) in New York City or the Seaport Innovation District (seaportinnovationdistrict.com; date accessed Oct. 24, 2017).  Although these developments have the potential to encourage diversity and community engagement, "they also have the potential to become isolated pockets of wealth, alienating nearby residents and amplifying inequality in surrounding neighborhoods."

The burgeoning urban renaissance has sparked an increasingly potent backlash (citylab.com; Dec. 15, 2015; date accessed Oct. 24, 2017) that places the blame for rising housing prices and increasing inequality on high-tech companies and real estate developers.  In the middle of this backlash, a increasing number of cities have resorted to inclusionary zoning (huduser.gov; date accessed Oct. 24, 2017) as a strategy to make communities more accessible or low to moderate-income families.  However, solving today's urban challenges requires strategies that move beyond these measures.  "It must also include jobs, innovation, and broadly shared economic growth."  Messrs. Richard Florida and Steven Pedigo'sstudy identified four key concepts that anchor can and must make use in the search for inclusive urban prosperity.

Require affordable housing

Urban anchors can help bridge the divide between the poor and affluent residents by providing affordable housing (nreionline.com; April 10, 2016; date accessed Oct. 24, 2017), with workforce housing that makes it easier for service and blue collar workers to live near their jobs.  New York University and Stanford already offer housing assistance to their faculty in the form of help with mortgages and rental supplements, or university owned housing.

Real estate developers and high-tech companies can follow suit by incorporating affordable and workforce housing into their urban developments.  For example, in Amazon's hometown of Seattle, the company set aside (money.cnn.com; May 10, 2017; date accessed Oct. 24, 2017) 47,000 square feet of commercial space to house over 200 homeless Seattleans every night.  Mr. Florida writes,"Even with initiative like these in please, leading tech companies have the resources and capabilities to do more."

Make good, family-supporting service jobs the centerpiece of development

Richard Florida reports, "Today, around 45 percent of the American work force is employed in low-wage, low-skill fields like food service, home healthcare, and office work.  Anchors can play a major role in transforming these jobs into sustainable, family-supporting careers."  Research conducted by Zeynep Ton of the MUT Sloan School of Management presents "detailed evidence of how successful retail and hospitality companies like Zara or Whole Foods profit from a 'good jobs strategy' [mitsloan.mit.edu; Dec. 18, 2013; date accessed Oct. 24, 2017] that invests in lower-skill workers."  The formula is pretty straight forward: Offer high wages to employees which result in improved service, productivity, and profit while reducing costly employee turnover and cultivating greater levels of engagement and innovation.  The final result is a big win for cities, which benefits from improved economic efficiency.

Focus on inclusive strategies for innovation, entrepreneurship, and creativity

Typically, innovation is often associated with entrepreneurs, engineers, or computer scientists, it also comes from local creativity.  "With just 40 percent [creativeclass.com; July 15, 2014; date accessed Oct. 24, 2017] of the creative class having earned a college degree, many of America's greatest innovators come from humble beginnings."  Therefore, by working with less advantaged communities to support innovation and entrepreneurship, urban anchors can spur greater community benefits that serve all the residents.  Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (urbaninnovation21.org; date accessed Oct. 24, 2017) and Washington D.C. (dmped.dc.gov; date accessed Oct. 24, 2017) already have inclusive innovation strategies in place that provide low-income residents with technical skills, job training, entrepreneurial know-how.

Real estate developers can be particularly effective in community engagement by incorporating creative incubators and "maker spaces" into their designs, helping the residents to commercialize their creativity.  "At the same time universities can incorporate community groups and neighborhood residents into their existing entrepreneurial, social, and civic innovation programs."  Tech companies can also make use of their vast array of resources to expand upon community-oriented innovation and entrepreneurship initiatives.

Design and build inclusive public spaces

This is a pretty easy strategy.  Public space is both a character defining feature of cities and a space where a diverse range of people can come together.  Yet, as Mr. Florida points out, "However, even well-intentioned public spaces can exacerbate existing urban divides."  The High Line Park in New York City is a good example.  The park, built on a former industrial site in the middle of Manhattan, was predestined to attract high-end development.  Originally the park was designed as a neighborhood amenity, the High Line has struggled to serve its intended local audience.

In recent years, High Line founders have identified the need to incorporate community benefits into their long-term development strategies.  They established mentorship programs (the highlife.org; date accessed Oct. 24, 2017) and engaged local businesses-including restaurant and retail-to employ local residents, High Line has gradually morphed into a more inclusive public space.  High-tech companies and special improvement districts can follow this example by re-adapting their existing public space to serve the local residents.

Historically, economic development and equity have been seen as separate issues.  Inclusive prosperity aims to alter urban economic development strategy from one that understands equity and growth as mutually exclusive toward one that recognizes the primary role of equity in economic progress.

Richard Florida writes, "Cities and communities have much to gain from inclusive prosperity, but so do leading tech companies."  More and more tech companies from Uber and Airbnb to Google, Facebook, and Amazon are increasing looked upon as contributors to the New Urban Crisis": higher housing prices, exacerbating urban inequality, and so on.  As their corporate brand comes under more scrutiny, it is in their best interest to step up to the plate and be better urban citizens.

Tech companies and urban anchors should embrace inclusive prosperity across the board in order to address backlash from their host communities and enhance their battered brand by becoming real partners in creating more inclusive and equitable places.

 Full disclosure: Mr. Florida is a member of the Toronto Global, which is part of the city's bid for Amazon's HQ2.  He has also provided consultations to Kansas City in their bid and other cities on an informal basis. 

Monday, October 23, 2017


http://www.citylab.com; September 19, 2017

Hello Everyone:

Welcome to a scorching hot week on the blog.  Mother Nature turned up the heat in Southern California and has Blogger hiding in the nearest air conditioned space.

Hot weather aside, Blogger wants to chat about dying suburbs.  Suburbs, like their urban and rural counterparts, are organic creatures-they expand and contract over time.  Take the example of East Cleveland, a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio.  Aaron Renn reports in his CityLab article "How to Save a Dying Suburb," "...Cleveland, Ohio, has lost 36.7 percent of its population just since 2000.  It's population is 93 percent black and its poverty rate is 42.6 percent (next city.org; Sept 12, 2016: date accessed Oct. 23, 2017)."  East Cleveland is classified as financially distressed by Ohio.  The city's budget dipped from "$16 to $10 million and nearly half the city's workforce was laid off during that time."  In 2016, the city requested state permission to file for Chapter 9 bankruptcy (assets.documentcloud.org; April 27, 2016; date accessed Oct. 23, 2017). Further, this past winter the state of Ohio was obliged to lend the city two salt trucks (clevescene.com; Dec. 15, 2016; date accessed Oct. 23, 2017) when East Cleveland's fleet was rendered inoperable.  The neighboring village of Oakwood donated an ambulance (wcpn.ideastream.org; Oct. 3, 2016; date accessed Oct. 23, 2017).  Given these dire challenges,"East Cleveland considered a previously unthinkable solution: merging with the city of Cleveland."

Mr. Renn writes, "Merger with the central is an option more physically contiguous inner-ring suburbs should consider: That's the argument I lay out in a new Manhattan Institute study (manhattant-institute.org; Sept. 12, 2017; date accessed Oct. 23, 2017)."

Mr. Renn's study, Mergers May Rescue Declining Suburbs, looks at "...major post-industrial in the Midwest and Northeast, ones that have experienced significant economic transition in recent decades, and which have major geopolitical fragmentation local leaders already generally see as a problem."  The study's data set included: population loss, high and increasing poverty rates, and decreasing nflation-adjusted household incomes which reveal many of the suburbs in the study are facing distress.  Mr. Renn spotlighted several candidates for merger such as: Dolton, Illinois (outside Chicago) and Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania (near Pittsburgh).

According to a Brookings Institute study, One Fifth of America, A Comprehensive Guide to America's First Suburbs by David Warren and Robert Puentes (brookings.edu; Feb. 1, 2006; date accessed Oct. 23, 2017), "a fifth of the U.S. population lives what they [the authors] label America's 'first suburbs.'"  Some of these communities-e.g. Evanston, Illinois, north of Chicago-are well off while others, like East Cleveland, have declined.  Their populations are contracting and aging, middle class residents are moving out further.  "Their main corridors are pocked with retail vacancies and 'dead mall,' and abandon downed homes haunt their tree-lined streets."

In one respect, inner-ring suburbs in dire straits are harder to resuscitate than central cities.  To begin with, the prevailing attitude about inner-ring suburbs is typically out of sight, out of mind.  City centers take up all of the local media's attention.  They also attract the attention of business and civic leaders, local and national legislators. Rarely do they get any attention until something serious happens like the police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri or the continuing pay scandal in Bell. California (latimes.com; date accessed Oct. 23, 2017).

Aaron Renn reports, "These communities are also seeing increases in concentrated poverty and isolate minority groups."  African American residents moving away from the city centers in the Midwest and Northeast frequently end up in these suburbs.  He continues, "As with previous moves into urban areas that were once off-limits what originally seemed like the American Dream becomes a mirage or a nightmare as opportunities recede."

However, unlike inner-city neighborhoods, inner-ring suburbs frequently have additional major structural issues.  One of the issues is the lack of good transit access.  While Cape Cod and ranch-style houses may be charming, they are often neglected and out of fashion in the real estate market. They lack the amenities of city centers.  Additionally, city centers are typically the county seat of government-the City of Los Angeles is the county seat of Los Angeles County-or the the state capital.  They are home to major universities and hospitals; they have cultural attractions, sports teams, and "legacy corporate headquarters" (i.e. Automoblie companies).  This is a real fact even in struggling cities like Detroit and Cleveland.

Inner-ring suburbs usually lack some or all of these features.  Former East Cleveland Mayor Gary Norton spoke with Alexia Fernandez Campbell of The Atlantic in June of 2016,

A smaller place can do very, very well if the right elements are within its borders, or it can do very, very poorly if the right elements leave.  The right elements left our borders, and without all the assets that a big city has, without the diversifications, that's a bad situation.  (theatlantic.com; June 8, 2016; date accessed Oct. 23, 2017)

There are no quick and simple solutions to these ongoing problems.  Mr. Renn writes, "A financial control board or even a bankruptcy can potentially address debt or pension problems, but they won't help with a declining tax base that can't fund basic services."  Neglect or life supporting subsidies might be a viable short-term political option, until a cataclysmic event, like in Ferguson, happens.  Even before the explosion, the underlying problems continue to simmer.  Another option is a state takeover but that comes with its own set of risks, ask the City of Flint, Michigan (citylab.com; Feb 3, 2014; date accessed Oct. 23, 2017).

Another option, posed at the top of today's post, is merging with the city.  Merging with the city is not he cure-all but it does hold the potential to ease some of the structural problems.  The benefits of joining with a city are: "Once part of the central city, the suburb gains a high-profile mayor in the public spotlight who is now responsible for what happens there.  It becomes part of a city with diverse neighborhoods and housing types that will rise and fall on different cycles. And there are the assets of a big city downtown to draw on to help finance services."

Merging cities politically difficult to pull off and things would remain status quo with the inner-ring suburbs.  Once again, we can use East Cleveland as our case study.  Aaron Renn reports, "It's mayor and city council president were recalled as the city pursued the merger, and the option appears to dead for now."  In order to complete an annexation, state governments would most likely have to offer transition assistance, possibly take on some of the suburbs' legacy costs-i.e. pensions-and offer funding for capital improvements.  Receiving funds for capital improvement is historically and today the main reason why unincorporated areas agree to annexation.  Regardless, any merger should improve public service in the suburbs without compromising them in the urban areas.

To be fair: In order to make a merger happen, there has to be real compromises.  Mr. Renn writes, "City Lab's Brentin Mock recently passionately argued against [citylab.com; Aug. 9, 2017; date accessed Oct. 23, 2017] merger for one of the suburbs I flag, the Pittsburgh suburb of Wilkinsburg, arguing that its status as an independent majority black city should be preserved."  This is a legitimate argument to consider.  However, the opposite cannot be ignored.  "By not merging, those black residents are cut off from the tax base being created by the technology and medical industry booms [citylab.com; Aug 8, 2017; date accessed Oct. 23, 2017] happening in the city of Pittsburgh next door."  African American control in the majority of these suburbs translates into "...inheriting a community where previous generations of residents did the equivalent of running up 250,000 miles on the odometer, then handed over the keys to what's now used-up jalopy and walked away."

Interesting but appropriate metaphor.  Yours Truly wonders if the 'previous owner' thought that the next 'owner' could wave a magic wand and magically fix whatever ails it.  

Here is another solution to consider: "Should regions be able to wall off minorities in jurisdictions with limited tax bases?"  They could do that but the consequences would be too dire.  "What solutions are there for inner-ring suburbs facing serious structural challenges?"  Ultimately, these are the questions that these municipalities, regions, and states must face and honestly deal with.  Merging an inner-ring suburb with the city center may not always be the best possible answer in each case but it should be seriously considered.


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Blogger Candidate Forum: Counter-Intuitive

http://www.citylab.com; September 18, 2017

Hello Everyone:

It is time for the weekly edition of Blogger Candidate Forum.  Blogger has a confession to make:  Yours Truly has just given up on anything good coming out of the Trump administration.  Actually, Yours Truly gave up a long time ago.  What tipped it for good?  Mr. Donald Trump getting into a Twitter feud (another one) with the widow of Sergeant La David Johnson, one of the soldiers killed during a mission in Niger.  The President disputes that he said that the sergeant knew what he was getting into when he signed up, going as far to claim he has proof that he said no such thing.  Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, during the daily press briefing, that no such tape exists.  Between the Twitter feuds and the digressions into non-issues, like #Takeaknee, Blogger is absolutely convinced that nothing of substance will ever come out of this Adminstration.  Speaking of which, shall we talk about legal immigration and the Rust Belt states?

Winning the Rust Belt states (i.e. Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, et cetera) was key to putting Mr. Trump in the Oval Office.  Yet, these states could end up being the biggest losers from proposed reductions in legal immigration, according to a new study from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs (thechicagocouncil.org; Sept. 8, 2017; date accessed Oct. 18, 2017).

Ronald Brownstein reports in his CityLab article, "The Rust Belt Needs legal Immigration," "The study, from the nonpartisan Chicago Council on Global Affairs, concludes that immigration has been a demographic lifeline that has helped several Midwestern cities partially reverse decades of population loss among native-born residents."

Rob Paral, demographer and author of the study Looking Back To Look Forward: Lessons From The Immigration Histories of Midwestern Cities, wrote,

For the cities of the Midewest, restricting current immigration levels is the last thing they need: an unnecessary tourniquet applied to a precious supply of new regional residents and worker.

Republican Senators Tom Cotton (R-AR) and David Perdue (R-GA) have introduced, and received endorsement from the White House, legislation that would reduce legal immigration by half.  Mr. Brownstein writes, "Some congressional Republicans are hoping to attach that bill any legislation providing legal status for the undocumented young people,...who had been shielded from deportation by the deferred action program Trump recently revoked."  Naturally, the congressional Democrats would vehemently oppose any attempt.

It sounds counter-intuitive to go after immigrants who arrive with all the appropriate paperwork (i.e. Passports and visas) but that seems to be the modus operandi for this administration.  Reducing the number of legal immigrants is contrary to earlier studies by Mr. Paral documenting how dependent Midwestern cities, regardless of size, are on immigrants (thechicagocouncil.org; March 23, 2017; date accessed Oct. 18, 2017) "to offset the loss of native-born Americans in their prime working years."  In his new study, he examined the critical role immigration has played in driving the overall population growth and decline in the biggest Midwest cities since the turn of the 20th century.

This newest analysis boosters the political message of Mr. Paral's previous study, Immigration A Demographic LifeLine In Midwestern Metros: "It shows that a broad range of communities across the Midwest is relying on immigration to stabilize their populations and revive their economies."  This real fact could complicate matters for Midwestern Republicans who support the reductions the president, Senators Cotton and Perdue are looking for.  Mr. Paral told Ronald Brownstein,

There's no question that immigration is benefitting a lot of cities, including small cities...I don't think it's just big-city Democratic mayors who support [legal immigration].

Rob Paral demostates that "Immigration,...,was central to the rapid growth of cities from Akron and Grand Rapids to Detroit and Chicago through the first decades of the 20th century.  He writes,

Immigrants and their children's were a key component of the population growth these cities experienced.

Here more real facts: "In 1920, foreign-born residents accounted for nearly one-third of the population in Chicago, Cleveland, and Detroit."  For the record, Mr. Trump won Ohio and Michigan.  Further, immigrants accounted for nearly a quarter of the populations of Milwaukee and Minneapolis.   A cumulative sampling of 13 Midwestern cities, Mr. Paral calculated that "immigrants accounted for about one-fourth of their entire population in 1920, with the children of immigrants contributing nearly another two-fifths of the total."

From the outset, large Midwestern cities kept growing, despite the pressure on immigration, as they continued to be magnets for rural Caucasians and a steady flow of African Americans during the Great Migration.  However, in the post-World War II years, those flows diminished and the region's population began to decline.  Rob Paral writes,

The latter half of the [20th] century ushered in suburbanization, de-industrialization, and migration from the Northeastern and Midwestern states to Southern and Western parts of the country...The loss of immigration compounded the effects of these trends that sapped population from Midwestern cities.

The thirteen cities that Mr. Paral studied "lost nearly 1 million residents combined from 1950 through 1970."

Since then, the large Midwestern cities have been hit hard by deindustrialization and other economic stressors, have struggled to hold steady their native-born populations.  Of the 13 cities Mr. Paral studied, all but Omaha, Nebraska experienced population contractions from 1970 through the five-year period between 2011 and 2015, the most recent period covered by the Census Bureau's American Community Survey.  "Almost without exception, those native-born losses have been substantial."  Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Milwaukee each saw their native-born population decline by about one-fifth over the study period calculated by Mr. Paral.  "Toledo, Akron, and Chicago each lost a little over one-fourth; Cincinnati just over one-third; and Detroit, Cleveland, and St. Louis about half."

However, the federal 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act reopened the flow of mass immigration, many of these cities saw their foreign-born population increase.  Mr. Brownstein writes, "In no case has that been enough to completely offset the loss of native-born residents, but it's allowed many of the Midwestern cities to ameliorate the decline and fortify their population base."

Rob Paral reports, "Since 1970...,Chicago has added nearly 200,000 foreign-born resident; Minneapolis and St. Paul just over 40,000; Kansas City 25,000; and Milwaukee about 20,000."  At its lowest point in 1990, the Midwestern foreign-born population stood at 662,000.  Since then, the foreign-born population across the 13 study cities has recovered to 958,000.  This is despite a decrease of new arrivals over the past decade, as undocumented immigration decreased nationwide and more new legal immigrated to Southern and Western states.

Therefore, attracting immigrants has become a central economic-development tactic for Midwestern cities.  Christina Pope, senior regional manager for Welcoming America, an organization that supports programs to assist immigrants assimilate, told Mr. Brownstein that she works with 60 local governments and non--profits in a 10-state area across the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic.  She told Mr. Brownstein,

The movement really is widespread...Just in the past year we have about doubled membership in the Midwest.

Ronald Brownstein reports, "The areas with active programs to attract and assimilate immigrants range from large population centers such as Chicago, Minneapolis, and Columbus; to mid-sized cities like Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Akron, Toldeo, and Dayton; to smaller places such as Battle Creek, Michigan, and Winona, Minnesota."  Last month, many of these cities held events to celebrate the connection between native-born and immigrant communities as part of the national Welcoming Week (welcomingamerica.org; date accessed Oct. 18, 2017) intiative sponsoring hundreds of these gatherings. Ms. Pop said,

There really is a commitment on the local level from even these smaller municipalities.

The Midwest is a politically pivotal region, especially in the coming debate on immigration.  Not only are congressional Democrats gearing up to oppose any reduction, Republicans from the West Coast and Northeast states traditionally destination for large-scale immigration are also voicing ther objections.

Restrictions on immigration has found substantial support from Republicans in the Southern, Plains, and Mountain West states which have no tradition of large-scale immigration and currently have small  immigrant populations.  Rob Paral writes,

...voices against immigration have been raised by local residents of areas where few immigrants live and, indeed, where the enteral population may be in numeric decline.

The alliance of Southern, Plains, and Mountain West translates into whether reductions in legal immigration gains traction in Congress may be whether Midwestern congressional Republicans join their Democratic counterparts in opposing cuts, or fall in lock-step with their fellow Republicans from both coasts to support them.  The complication here is, like the zeal to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, "any Midwest Republicans pushing to curb legal immigration could face considerable resistance for local GOP officials who see clear benefits in the existing policy."

Rob Paral told Ronald Brownstein,

You can find exceptions to this, but there's a kind of a tolerance in the Midwest that you don't see elsewhere...You can look at some of the Southern state that passed...draconian local ordinances against immigrant, but as a general pattern you don't have those anti-immigrant policies here.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Will History Repeat Itself?

http://www.citylab.com; September 13, 2017

Hello Everyone:

Welcome to a fresh week on the blog.  Barring anything else, we are back to the usual schedule. Blogger had a restful few days off, recovering from allergies.  That aside, let us dive into today's subject: displacement.

Hurricane Harvey resulted in massive flooding in the low lying areas in Houston, Texas, as well as Louisiana, parts of Florida and Puerto Rico.  Although the water has subsided, the people have yet to return to what is left of their homes.  To add insult to grievous injury, some of the residents have gotten eviction notices.  Brentin Mock, in his CityLab article "Zoned for Displacement," recounts the Facebook Live posts of Hilton Kelley. Mr. Kelley has been posting accounts of "...families who evacuated their homes to escape Hurricane Harvey and are now getting evictions.  The families live in Port Arthur, Texas, the small Gulf Coast Coast city about 90 miles east of Houston, but are currently scattered across Louisiana and Texas." At the time of writing, Mr. Kelley had to evacuate, for the fourth time in last 15 years due to hurricane flooding, but was finally able to return to his home not long after the hurricane.  Mr. Kelley is on a mission, "trying to locate as many dispersed families as possible via social media to find out who hasn't come back and why."  This is when he discovered the eviction notices."

These kinds of blindsiding evictions are at the epicenter of shock that renter families in post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans are all too familiar with.  Instead of getting eviction notices, New Orleanians found out on television that they were not able to return to their homes.  Mr. Mock observes, "This is certainly was true for tenants of the city's 'Big Four' housing projects which were closed [architecture.tulane.edu; Dec. 1, 2007; date accessed Oct. 16, 2017] for good during Kattrina even though many of them collected no floodwaters."

This is the type of displacement that Hilton Kelley is helping families to fight through his nonprofit Community In-Power and Development Association (CIDA; cidanic.org; date accessed Oct. 16, 2017), which "advocates on behalfs of families (desmogblog.com; date accessed Oct. 16, 2017) living under the constant threat of environmental disasters."

Environmental disasters is not limited to hurricanes and floods.  Port Arthur is filled with oil refineries and petrochemical plants (archive.onearth.org; Aug. 26, 2013; date accessed Oct. 16, 2017), many located mere yards from homes, schools, and playgrounds.  One example of this dangerously haphazard zoning is Carver Terrace public housing projects hitch is surrounded by these toxic and volatile until last year, when they were torn down (panews.com; date accessed Oct. 16, 2017), which Mr. Kelley had been petitioning the federal government to do for years.  All the Carver Terrace residents were relocated (housingmobility.org; April 10, 2014; date accessed Oct. 16, 2017) to finally rid them of noxious clouds filling their lungs and noses every day.

This type of displacement was necessary-at the request of the tenants themselvfes.  This kind of involuntary displacement is becoming more frequent in Port Arthur due to heavier and harsher weather, is becoming more unbearable for Mr. Kelley.  He considered not returning to his home and restaurant business after the Harvey evacuations.  He changed his mind after contemplating how much he stood lose and how difficult it would be to start over in another city.

Hilton Kelley told Brentin Mock,

There are sharks out there waiting for us to let loose what we have and swoop in as we migrate out...Industries will just engulf this land and then we've lost what we've owned.  I own property here.  When I leave here, I don't own anything in Dallas, or Colorado, or New York.  And I can't imagine trying to buy a restaurant or a home there in this present situation."

No surprise that involuntary displacement is a more frequent occurrence in communities of color, not only because of climate change and extreme weather event, but due to discriminatory housing and zoning policies that place them in unloveable conditions.  This the reality that is barely acknowledged when it comes to mapping out where people can and cannot rebuild.  Ignoring the matter "...means that policies for rebuilding so will suffer from the same disparities that have predates recent storm recoveries by several decades."

The problem is even more pronounced for Latino communities.  Just as Harvey was making landfall, Mr. Donald Trump decided to rescind DACA, putting some 800,000 immigrant at even greater peril.  Mr. Mock reports, "If Congress approves Trump's request, then those children will face the kind of relocation that doesn't just send them to another city, but rather, to a detention center, then o another country that they, in many cases, have no real connection to, if they grew up in the U.S."

Bryan Parras, an organizer with the Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (TEJAS; tejasbarrios.org; date accessed Oct. 16, 2017), is quite busy these days with Latino families recovering from Harvey and preparing for Mr. Trump's restrictive immigration policies.  Displacement is a perpetual threat lurking in the Latino communities.  Options for a safe haven are becoming more scarcer in the wake Hurricane Irma and other weather events in the Gulf Coast region.  

Mr. Parras told Mr. Mock,

That's what disaster does-it really destroys the fabric of a community and that's even deeper destruction, because it's psychological, it's spiritual, it's cultural...Even if they stay, that place is different.  It's been traumatized, so staying doesn't guarantee that you'll be able to maintain those cultural ties to your neighbors.

There is no true security

How does equitable recovery look like?  Truth, equitable will be particularly difficult in Houston because it does not believe in zoning laws (theatlantic; Aug. 28, 2017; date accessed Oct. 16, 2017).  The absence of zoning ordinances is the reason why pollution hovers over the east side of the city, down the Shipping Channel (houstonpress.com; May 10, 2016; date accessed Oct. 16, 2017) to Port Arthur, precisely where the greatest concentration of Latino and African Americans families are located.  Coincidently, this is where the heaviest concentration of petrochemical plants, toxic Superfund sites (newrepublic.com; Sept. 8, 2017; date accessed Oct. 16, 2017), overflowing sewers (houstonchronicle.com; June 14, 2017; date accessed Oct. 16, 2017) garbage incinerators (drrobertbullard.com; date accessed Oct. 16, 2017), and landfills (houstonchronicle.com; May 18, 2017; Oct. 16, 2017) are found.

Environmental justice scholars Robert Bullard and Beverly Wright wrote in their 2012 book The Wrong Complexion for Protection: How the Government Response  to Disaster Endangers African AmericanCommunities (amazon.com),

This no-zoning policy has allowed for a somewhat erratic land-use pattern in the city...Houston's black neighborhoods were unofficially 'zoned' for garbage.

Thanks to Harvey, that melange of toxic chemicals and trash have leeched into the those same neighborhoods, where African American and Latino families do have equal access to recovery resources.  Stating the obvious, public health officials are asking people not to touch the fetid waters (nytimes.com; Sept. 11, 2017; date accessed Oct. 16, 2017), particularly in places where unstable, flammable, and poisonous chemicals have spilled.

The funny thing is (irony alert), all of these issues could have been avoided.  Brentin Mock writes, "Environmental justice advocates had been petitioning the federal government for years to update disaster rule in EPA's risk management program (pea.gov; date accessed Oct. 16, 2017) to better protect families living on the fence line of these refineries and chemical plants (earthjustice.org; Aug. 31, 2017date accessed Oct. 16, 2017)."  In 2013, then-President Barack Obama issued an executive order-Executive Order--Improving Chemical Facility Safety and Security (obamawhitehouse.archives.gov; Aug. 1, 2013; date accessed Oct. 16, 2016)-instructing the EPA to begin making these risk management program adjustments.  However, one of Mr. Trump's first order of business, upon taking office, was to delay those updates (cbsnews.come; Sept. 1, 2017; date accessed Oct. 16, 2017).

The result is the families' homes are encircled by toxic stew courtesy of the "discharges of oil refineries, overflowing sewers, and exploding chemical plants."  The toxicology report is not available yet to gauge what the short- and long-term effects and explosions will have on the residents' health.  Blogger can take an educated guess: detrimental.  Mr. Mock points, "Meanwhile, the [Texas] 29th congressional district that includes these communities has been known for a long time as the district with the least number of people with health insurance [nbcnews.com; date accessed Oct. 16, 2017] in the state with the least number of uninsured people [dallasnews.com; March 2010; date accessed Oct. 16, 2017]."

If that was not enough, the families are also living in in cities where the storm water infrastructure and flood management is antiquated and neglected.  This only widens the racial schism when it comes to environmental risk exposure and the increased the possibility of displacement.  New Orleans is a perfect example of this: the catastrophic flooding caused by the collapsing levees during Katrina in 2005.  Right in time for the twelfth anniversary of Katrina, the city got a reminder of the politics of flooding when Hurricane Harvey spread its damaging reach to New Orleans (citylab.com; Aug. 28, 2017; date accessed Oct. 16, 2017), despite the billion dollars reconstruction of the levees (nola.com; Aug. 18, 2017; date accessed Oct. 16, 2017).  African Americans in the city have had the most difficult time recovering their homes and communities (thenation.com; Aug. 29, 2016; date accessed Oct. 16, 2017)

Richard Campanella, a New Orleans-based geographer (richardcampanella.com; date accessed Oct. 16, 2017) told Mr. Mock,

There is no true security-we can, at best, reduce risk, not eliminate it...engineering devices (such as levees and floodwalls) enabled this deltaic city to become modern metropolis.  But they also tended to produce a false sense of security.  People took for granted that those engineering devices would always work as designed.  At least twice in the past twelve years, they didn't

According to Mark Davis, the head of Tulane university's Institute on Water Resources Law (tulanewater.org; date accessed Oct.16, 2017), "New Orleans' recent flooding was the culprit of a faulty drainage system (citylab.com; Aug. 28, 2017)-one that was considered the best in the world a century ago."  However, that stellar drainage system failed to keep pace with the city's rapid growth and urbanization in the succeeding decades.  This was also the case in Houston in the wake of Harvey, "where flooding on the west side of the city was the consequence of an inadequate reservoir systems that engineers said was badly in need of updating decades ago [dallasnews.com; Sept. 5, 2017]."

Mark Davis continued,

What we're seeing in Texas is a reindeer that they could easily have had this much rain with no hurricane force winds whatsoever...It was a slow moving storm with enough low pressure that essentially [water] rises and it makes it hard for the place to drain.  We're really going to have to start thinking in terms of what natural risks we're running and what reasons we're running them for and whether we're being honest with ourselves about what that really means from an investment and justice standpoint.

Invisible Houston

Robert Bullard, an eminent environmental justice activits and scholar, has been talking about the same issues since his first book, Invisible Houston (amazon.com), published 30 years ago.  The "invisible" that Mr. Bullard refers to are the African American and Latino communities, in the titular city, that are routinely overlooked or ignored during the new urban development decision making process.  These places, like the Texas 29th Congressional District, are not just where African American and Latino Houstonians chose to live, they live there because of the racist practice of redlining.  Mr. Bullard cautions, "that these communities could be rendered invisible again during the Harvey recovery phase."

Robert Bullard, presently a Houston-based professor of urban planning and environmental policy at Texas Southern University, said,

When you start talking about how you are going to rebuild and recover, that has to be watchedclosely because if not it's just going to be a rebuilding on top inequality...If we're not careful, those areas might be rebuilt with all kinds of protections, greening them up with more resiliency, but it will push out people who lived in those neighborhoods for a long time-so you get that rebuilding gentrification going on.

The phenomenon that Mr. Bullard refers is called "climate gentrification" (theroot.com; Aug. 4, 2017 date accessed Oct. 16, 2017) and a major concern for African American communities in south Florida in the wake of Hurricane Irma.  Brentin Mock observes, "The people of these heaviest-hit communities are vulnerable to displacement because of the injustices they lived with long before any floods and storms.  They live in flood-prone communities because of racist policies like redlining that piloted the segregation still seen today."

Susan Rogers explains in a post on her blog OffCite (offcite.org; Oct. 4, 2016; date accessed Oct. 16, 2017) about the Homeowners' Loan Corporation redling maps of the city from the thirties, the racism is clearly evident in areas chosen for disinvestment.  Areas in blue and green were designated by the HOLC as safe for lending.  Yellow and red were areas considered declining or hazardous, neighborhoods that lenders should avoid.  This was Houston's idea of workable zoning.

Coincidently, the predominantly African American neighborhoods were designated not safe for investment.  One of the documents responsible for that redlining process was the Federal Housing Administration's "Planning Profitable Neighborhoods" (archive.org; 1938; date accessed Oct. 16, 2017).  This was a guideline created for home builders operating primarily in the suburbs.  Ms. Rogers writes:

The "Planning Profitable Neighborhoods" bulletin describes and illustrates in a series of drawings "good" and "bad" development practices.  Without fail, these drawings define the now-typical suburban models of discontinuous streets, large lots, and strip malls as "good" and traditional urban typologies "bad."  In effect, the combined policies and practices such as "redlining" ensured that central cities, mixed-use areas, and neighborhoods of color would decline. (offcite.org; Oct. 4, 2016)

Mr. Mock reports, "That decline didn't only come from the denial of lending and investment in those neighborhoods.  It also happened because the models recognized as 'good' neighborhoods-those 'large lots,' for example-are what ended up making the city more prone to flooding."  Faulty storm water management aside, Houston endures regular urban flooding due to the abundance of parking lots and impervious surfaces covering the city.  Thus, "what was 'good' and profitable for sprawl and the suburbs is what also increased the vulnerability of these redlined neighborhoods, making the designation as 'hazardous' somewhat of a self-sealing premise."

Blaming displacement or gentrification on climate change partially absolves the "direct state and city actors" from their role in segregating African American and Latino families into "hazardous" living situations from the start.  History should not repeat itself.