Monday, September 22, 2014

310,000 can't be wrong

Surely not; 310,000 marched in NYC. Matt Sutkowskiwriting about yesterday's global climate march, praises the intent if the marchers, but wonders if the momentum for policy change will be maintained - and will the politicians listen? He's got his doubts, and so do I.  (Juan Cole's Informed Comment gives background on their effectiveness, with a little history about these protests.). It's all about momentum. Sustained momentum.

Because there's this, from the Guardian:

US will not commit to climate change aid for poor nations at UN summit

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Tear Downs. Progress in Houston?

Demolition crews began taking down the 1930s-era Josephine Apartments this morning.
In May, the Houston Chronicle reported the 75-year-old complex was sold to Tricon Homes, a local homebuilder known for putting up new townhomes in Inner Loop neighborhoods. At the time, the company said it did not know what plans it had for the complex, which sits the corner of Ashby and Bolsover in a Southampton neighborhood.
The complex was built in 1939 by architect F. Perry Johnson with one-bedroom units arrayed in a U-shape, a floor plan common to that time period. The exterior is notable for horizontal bands of dark brown brick on the sides and parapets to mask the roof. The units, roughly 750 square feet each, have hardwood floors and faux fireplaces. The original owners had it built with central air conditioning to make the units more marketable.
The residents were previously asked to move out by July.
Well, there ya go. I lived in this neighborhood. These are charming 1930's Art Deco apartments in Houston gone to be replaced by cheap yuppie hovels. Another neighborhood trashed.  

Years ago, I'd take out of town visitors on the AIA Houston walking tours.  On one tour, the guide pointed out the Medical Arts Building and sadly commented that the next day it would be demolished. True, it had fallen on bad times, and when I saw it in the early 80s it was filthy and neglected, but the design and detail were memorable. 

If a town has no historic features left, it shows itself to be short-sighted and lacking in the ability to recognize what is valuable and in the innovation necessary to repurpose and preserve old structures. But the developer who bought the Josephine Apartments property clearly didn't want to do that. 

WASHINGTON POST: An economic defense of old buildings
Jane Jacobs, a woman akin to the patron saint of urban planners, first argued 50 years ago that healthy neighborhoods need old buildings. Aging, creaky, faded, "charming" buildings. Retired couples and young families need the cheap rent they promise. Small businesses need the cramped offices they contain. Streets need the diversity created not just when different people coexist, but when buildings of varying vintage do, too.
"Cities need old buildings so badly," Jacobs wrote in her classic "The Death and Life of Great American Cities," "it is probably impossible for vigorous streets and districts to grow without them.”  

Ever since, this idea -- based on the intuition of a woman who was surveying her own New York Greenwich Village neighborhood -- has been received wisdom among planners and urban theorists. But what happens when we look at the data?
The National Trust for Historic Preservation has tried to do just this, leveraging open property-parcel data in three cities to analyze the connection between the kinds of places Jacobs was describing and the numbers that economists and businesses would care about: jobs per square foot, the share of small businesses to big chains, the number of minority- and women-owned businesses.  

The novel geospatial analysis, drawn from the District of Columbia, Seattle and San Francisco, suggests that older, smaller buildings do matter to a city's economy and a neighborhood's commercial life beyond the allure of affordable fixer-uppers. In Seattle, the report found one-third more jobs per commercial square foot in parts of town with a variety of older, smaller buildings mixed in. In Seattle
San Francisco, it found more than twice the rate of women and minority-owned businesses. In the District, it found a higher share of non-chain businesses.
The findings don't necessarily mean we should save all old buildings from demolition, or even that one old building is better than one new one. But they give preservationists (and Jane Jacobs enthusiasts) new data in fierce development debates over how rapidly changing and relatively older cities like Washington should grow.
Photo credits - Josephine Apartments, Preservation Houston. Medical Arts Building post card photo,

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Bridging the gendered toy gap

NEW STATESMAN, Glosswitch usually nails it: 'We are happy to allow girls to indulge in equality make-believe every now and then (check out these pink NERF guns!), just as long as boys are not being unmanned by insufficiently boisterous play (indeed, it has reached a stage where some parents might even question whether a boy who likes Disney princesses, Hello Kitty and My Little Pony can be a boy at all). It is as though girls, preparing for a life of flexible multi-tasking, must bend to different roles, whereas boys must remain static and fixed. Gender liberation itself is run along strictly gendered lines.'

Is that who we are now?

"Oh no … really? Is that who we are now? Blind, unquestioning, warlike? Are we that violent, that childish, that silly, that shallow? Are we that afraid of others? Of ourselves? Of the possibility of genuine change? Are we that easily swayed, that capable of defending “American interests”, whatever “American interests” means? Are we that racist, that terrified, that protective of an idea that we don’t even question what the idea has come to represent?"
"There’s another way I look at the Twin Towers that’s perhaps more specific to myself. Every time I look at where they used to be, I try to think about New Yorkers in the 1960s and 70s who were horrified when they were built. The towers that were going up must have destroyed not just the skyline but, in their minds, also what the downtown stood for. So, I guess, historically speaking, I feel sad about the towers being there in the first place, although architecturally they were pleasant enough to look at from my late-70s forward perspective. And if nothing else, the Twin Towers helped the direction-impaired (me) know which way was north and south. And there were some great, wild dance parties at the rooftop restaurant. It was a moment and that moment is gone. But I am being nostalgic here and romantic." 

 "Someone asked me, “Do you think children born after, say, 1994, will ever feel the same things about 9/11 that people born before then feel?” More and more, what we “feel” about collective history seems like something manufactured, and kind of pumped into us, rather than a real emotion. It’s all so framed by the sense that reality doesn’t exist any more, or at least not in a way that is alterable or questioning. 

-- Michael Stipe - the former REM frontman on Douglas Coupland’s 9/11-inspired artwork and the images that still haunt the US

Wednesday, September 10, 2014


Oh dear... here's a poster I saw this morning on City Market's notice board:

I am not gender proud. Gender is a hierarchical structure that favors patriarchy and oppresses women. 

I found this tweet:

Thus Speaketh NPR's New Boss

So, along with news, underwriter announcements are choreographed on NPR. Peter Hart on Common Dreams: "Anyone who listens to NPR has heard plenty of corporate sponsorship announcements, and some listeners have raised substantive questions about whether those financial ties compromise NPR's journalism.... According to the new boss, nothing's going to change–you're just going to hear more about 'brands that matter' because you'll be 'interested' in them."

Here's a part of his interview with On the Media's Bob Garfield (9/5/14):
GARFIELD: You've said you can generate a lot more underwriting revenue than NPR has been getting, that we've essentially been undervaluing our ad inventory, considering the size and affluence of our audience. Which makes perfect sense, but it also infuriates and terrifies some listeners who fear for NPR's independence, and for its very soul. What can you say to talk them down?
MOHN: They're not going to, as a listener, notice anything different. We're not talking about adding more units to each hour. The only thing that I think they might perceive differently is that we're going to be talking about brands that matter a little bit more to them, ones they're interested in. And we're going to ask for larger commitments from these underwriters…. The audience is growing. It's not just affluent, it's a smart audience and it's very engaged. What more could a brand want than this type of audience?

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

It's right out of a Kafka novel, only this is real. This is happening now in the USA.

Jeffery Goldberg wrote on September 1st in The Atlantic:
From the Dept. of Insane and Dangerous Overreactions to Fictional Threats:
A 23-year-old teacher at a Cambridge, Maryland, middle school has been placed on leave and—in the words of a local news report—"taken in for an emergency medical evaluation" for publishing, under a pseudonym, a novel about a school shooting. The novelist, Patrick McLaw, an eighth-grade language-arts teacher at the Mace's Lane Middle School, was placed on leave by the Dorchester County Board of Education, and is being investigated by the Dorchester County Sheriff's Office, according to news reports from Maryland's Eastern Shore. The novel, by the way, is set 900 years in the future.
The story gets murkier and murkier. There are updates if you scroll down the link.

Prudence Crandall

Prudence Crandall was born on this day in 1803. She started the first academy in New England for African-American women. She is one of my heroes. Crandall House was my dorm at the University of Hartford. It's there I became interested in her life and work for education and justice. There's a nice museum in Canterbury, eastern Connecticut, the site of her school:
Crandall’s steadfast commitment to the education of these young women was immediately tested by withering opposition from Connecticut residents who refused to tolerate a school for young women of color. Despite this hateful reaction, she continued to operate the school. Finally, the state of Connecticut passed the “Black Law,” which barred the teaching of “any colored people...not inhabitants” of Connecticut without a town’s permission. Crandall was arrested, spent a night in jail, and faced three trials as her case became a cause célèbre throughout the country. While awaiting trial, she continued to operate her school despite threats of violence and denials of service on the part of the townspeople of Canterbury and even despite the poisoning of the school’s drinking water well. Her continued defiance drew sharp criticism not only from local citizens but also from politicians, religious leaders and others from across the state. State Senator Andrew T. Judson, who spearheaded the passage of the “Black Law,” even went so far as to state, “...we are not merely opposed to the establishment of that school in Canterbury; we mean there shall not be such a school set up anywhere in our state. The colored people can never rise from their menial condition in our country.”
Her first trial resulted in no verdict, but in the second she was convicted. A third trial, an appeal before Connecticut’s Supreme Court, overturned the conviction and dismissed the case altogether. Arguments from her trials were later used in Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court's landmark school desegregation decision of 1954.
Connecticut repealed the “Black Law” in 1838, but Crandall had already left the state. Despite the dismissal of the case, townspeople in Canterbury continued to vandalize Crandall’s school. Following a mob assault two months after the case dismissal, she was forced to close the school. She and her husband, the Reverend Calvin Phillio, moved to Illinois. She did not, however, abandon her commitment to education. There she opened a school in her home and continued to work to further the rights of women.
Crandall continued her interest in the reform movement throughout the rest of her life. At the urging of Mark Twain and others, the Connecticut Legislature did penance for its earlier prosecution of Crandall by granting her a small pension in 1886. Prudence Crandall died in Elk Falls, Kan., in 1890, leaving behind a legacy of equal education and the fight for reform. The Prudence Crandall Museum in Canterbury, Conn., celebrates this legacy and is a site on both the Connecticut Women’s Heritage Trail and the Connecticut Freedom Trail.