“the problems of writing and authorship are not distinct from other social problems. they are part and parcel of major phenomena that extend through every aspect of human life.”-bruce sterling, 2011
Source: Flickr / jasonliebigstuff
In Philadelphia a plan is under consideration to shut down 40 underperformed schools and further privatize the public school system. The plan calls for “achievement networks” of 25 privatly-run schools that companies will bid for control of. Parents are worried that, “By allowing parents to choose the schools their children attend, they say, officials can blame failure on the parents and the individual schools or network, rather than district leadership.”
Last November Dana Goldstein wrote about education activists using the Occupy narrative to protest Bloomberg’s similar approach to education reform.
This isn’t the first time the concept of “occupation” has been deployed by New York City parent activists. In 1966, in East Harlem, black parents fed up with the failures of racial integration turned instead to racial separatism, demanding “veto power” over the hiring of a white principal at their children’s middle school, IS 201. Over the next two years, the community control movement gained the support of Mayor John Lindsay and the Ford Foundation, and the Brooklyn neighborhood of Ocean Hill-Brownsville won control of its local schools. Black Power activists affiliated with the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) and other groups demanded that black children read books written by black authors; that the school system actively recruit black teachers; and that inner-city students stop being “socialized” into white, middle-class culture, and instead learn the histories and artistic contributions of their own African ancestors.
On May 9, 1968, the Ocean Hill-Brownsville school governing board fired 18 white teachers, and the United Federation of Teachers called a strike. While the teachers picketed, parent activists physically “occupied” neighborhood schools, presiding over classes and putting Black Power pedagogical theories into practice.
Goldstein makes the case that today’s emphasis on top-down reform is also ideologically driven, but to very different ends. Charter schools and “school choice” proponents garner money and attention from Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg because these program support their data-driven and market based worldview. Ironically, these programs get some of their greatest support from progressive funders and politicians.
The second best part of May Day was leaving my job during the middle of the day to go to Union Square (without having planned to at all). The first was upon coming back to get my stuff, all my co-workers still in the office are at the windows on the 9th floor above Broadway watching the endless street procession below. Up and down the street the ends of ties are blowing out the windows of each office building.
That evening I was discussing the “point” of Occupy with a friend sympathetic to their causes but critical of the strategy (or “lack of strategy”). This seems a common and endless conversation. Natasha Leonard says a lot of the things I am thinking during this conversation:
So, again, technically speaking, Occupy’s official inception was perhaps the first in a line of resounding failures. But of course, it was a success. The point to take away is that, in the case of genuine interventions into politics and life as usual, any pre-existing dialectic of success and failure is shattered. I believe Occupy has been such an intervention, as evidenced by the struggle commentators have faced when trying to judge it by standard schematics of success and failure.
Mohamed Keita writing in an NYT op-ed:
In January, Beijing issued a white paper calling for accelerated expansion of China’s news media abroad and the deployment of a press corps of 100,000 around the world, particularly in priority regions like Africa. In the last few months alone, China established its first TV news hub in Kenya and a print publication in South Africa. The state-run Xinhua news agency already operates more than 20 bureaus in Africa. More than 200 African government press officers received Chinese training between 2004 and 2011 in order to produce what the Communist Party propaganda chief, Li Changchun, called “truthful” coverage of development fueled by China’s activities.
China and African governments tend to agree that the press should focus on collective achievements and mobilize public support for the state, rather than report on divisive issues or so-called negative news.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in Ethiopia, which remains one of the West’s foremost recipients of development assistance and whose largest trading partner and main source of foreign investment is China. The prisons in Ethiopia, like those in China, are now filled with journalists and dissidents, and critical Web sites are blocked.
The age of heroic modernist urban planning is not dead! Like the Bauhaus before it, it’s just gone Ikea. The furniture giant is constructing an entire new neighborhood in the docklands of East London:
Ikea’s builders say they’re not interested in a Disney-style kind of an animatronic spectacle. Rather, they’re seeding Strand East with evocations of spontaneous urban life in hopes that it will become spontaneous urban life; they say they’d be happy to see it shift and evolve to suit market conditions. It’s not clear, though, how this desire will coexist with Ikea’s desire to keep the place under its control.
The answer, Mr. Müller says, is that the Swedes have a long-term interest in success – much like a municipal council does, and, in fact, Ikea will be acting very much like a municipal government.
In a model the author insists is more common in Scandinavia, the neighborhood will be owned by Ikea, with all residences and business space rented out. When the Ikea people talk about a neighborhood that is an affordable and “well-designed” “product,” I’m sure we can expect a series of industrial chic dorm rooms with Poäng chairs. An intentional Bushwick.
internet heirarchies + migratory patterns
I feel sorry for blogging. How could something so great just wither on the vine? There are vast prairies of abandoned blogs now. Without any specific decision, there’s been a mass migration to social networks, like tribesmen picking up and moving to cities overnight. It’s certainly not the worst decision in internet history but maybe it’s fair to say that it wasn’t given much consideration at the time.’
Did you know that Google pays Firefox a large sum of money in order to be the browser’s default search engine? This sum is the largest source of funding for Mozilla, a nonprofit who makes Firefox, and who is one of the largest success stories of the open web (which stands for the ideals of a decentralized and transparent internet). Maria Bustillos writes about what this means:
So what, right? Why should we care about this? Well, we should care because these huge companies—Google, Amazon and to a lesser extent, Facebook—are increasingly in a position to wreck the Internets we’ve come to love and rely upon over the last 20 years. When the benefits that accrue to citizens come into conflict with the profit-making ambitions of the corpocracy, it has long been clear who will lose, absent an almighty fight. The unstable future of a dominant nonprofit, open-source browser is cause for concern to anyone interested in the preservation of the open web.
The hypothetical death of the open web might not be so different from the death of the idea of the internet as a rhizome. Defined by Deleuze and Guattari, the rhizome is “a nonheirarchichical nonsignifying system without a General and without an organizing memory or central automaton, defined solely by a circulation of states,” and that would oppose the organizing logic of corporate capitalism. As David Auerbach argues in the most recent n+1, the earlier notion of the internet as a rhizome is being replaced by highly-organized ontologies and heirarchies. The best example of this is Facebook, which makes huge profits off of prompting people to sort themselves into heirarchies and categories through their preferences, and mining this data. Indeed, Facebook’s goal is nothing less than a creating two internets in a manner of speaking: one where you consume media, communicate, and share things withing Facebook; and an internet that is everything outside of Facebook.
In sum, there has been a huge migration of users and financing towards a few companies and towards dumb algorithums and heirarchies which yield profit. As Auerbach argues, the use of the internet itself certainly won’t make us dumber, but we run the risk of adjusting ourselves to think within its increasingly simplifying logic.
The eerie sense of security that prevails on the streets of lower Manhattan obscures, and depends upon, a system of state-sponsored suffering as vicious and widespread as any in human history.
Christopher Glazek writing in n+1, in a piece entitled “Raise the Crime Rate.” Glazek is not just being provocative in his title here, instead he revives the prohibitionist essay to argue that abolishing prisons is a moral imperative. He charts the correlation between the drop in the crime rate since the 1980’s with the quadrupling, over the course of the same period, of the prison population. Crime has been shifted from the streets to behind bars, where it exists under different conditions: forceful rape happens without viable options to legal recourse, overcrowding means institutional anarchy, and the media is largely absent to report on it. Glasek ties together a ton of loose threads here, and whether you agree with his ends or not (and he makes it hard not too) please read.
The Best & Worst Writing About Cities in 2010
Presenting The Best & Worst Writing About Cities in 2010, unfortunately not as a list or slideshow. Also without corporate sponsorship from the likes of IBM, BMW or Audi.
It would be hard to name a particular piece as the worst of urbanist writing given that for this category I’m more thinking about a certain type of piece: the list. You’ve come across it a million times, no doubt, and they all look the same: a general schema like “Top 10 Most Liveable Cities,” “30 Worst Cities to Raise Children.” Each entry on these lists usually warrants single line or two detailing a stereotype, vaguely contextualized statistic, or flimsy justification for the city’s inclusion. Here’s an example from a recent Forbes.com list “America’s 25 Best-Performing Cities,” which names El Paso, TX number two: “The single biggest beneficiary of the BRAC process also benefits from U.S.-Mexico trade. Many workers who make their living in Juarez, Mexico spend their paychecks in El Paso.”
I cite this particular entry because my favorite piece of journalism about cities from last year happened to be about El Paso, and was written in response to this kind of journalist hodgepde. Writing in Domus about the specific phenomena of El Paso boosterism Javier Arbona sifts through the ideologies of the mythologies of “the Texas Miracle” and strings together the under-reported underbelly of the story. In the process he points out that a huge portion of El Paso’s glorified economy is most likely illegal. For example, he cities investigations that have uncovered that rather than curtailing the rampant drug economy that funnels through the border, the Feds have actually in some cases fueled it, by trading weapons for information from cartels about other cartels (some of these weapons ended up killing members of border patrol (LINK). Aside from drugs and smuggling, the Texas resurgence has been fueled by the opening of massive military bases and one of the country’s largest privately-run incarceration facilities. In contrast to the beacon of free-marketism that conservatives hail El Paso as, Arbona finds what he calls a “transnational, narcopolitical” abstraction.
Arbona wonders where visiting public officials might be taken to witness this miraculous, but awkwardly illegal, economic machine at work. He helpfully proposes an itinerary worth quoting here at length:
I’d then continue with visits to pawn shops, which seem to be connected to a furtive network in the processing and distribution of weapons caches. From there, I would not want to miss the El Paso Intelligence Center, or EPIC. Yes, EPIC. This one-stop shop for federal agencies involved in drug and border “enforcement” was already identified as a bust in an internal audit even before the chaotic mission running guns across the border. While on this journey, there is also a Border Patrol museum to stop at, although it does not seem to lead tours to the unsanctioned border tunnels, which I’d be up for touring as well.
But if I were lucky, I might catch a glimpse of the one Predator unmanned aerial vehicle, that lonely drone operated by the Department of Homeland Security, assigned to patrol the border over the El Paso region. It’s one of three UAVs flying reconnaissance missions from San Diego to Corpus Christi. Governor Perry has suggested letting Air Force drone pilots practice over the border, not saying if he meant flying unarmed.
In concluding Arbona wonders aloud if “anyone understands the city better than the drone does?” We can here suggest that the drone is the only observer of El Paso who surveys without total bias, without the intent to create a utilizable narrative of the city for its own ends.
At the beginning of this post I offhandedly mentioned IBM, and their interest in sponsoring journalism about cities. As their “Smarter Cities” website reads, this interest stems from how IBM has a bunch of software that will enable your city too to be transformed from something dumb to something smart: ”With insight from more 2,000 smarter cities projects, IBM has developed the expertise and capabilities to help cities of all sizes become smarter.” Mika Savela had an excellent post that stepped back to question what it is we’re talking about when we invoke the phrase “smart city”:
One of the reasons I find it so hard to see cities as anything smart, is that I don’t see them having just some qualities. They have all of them. Actually, they are always more silly than they are smart. We also know that throughout urban history there have been efforts in restricting cities into simplified systems, which yet again in the grand scheme of things, have not changed things necessarily for the better, or made them simpler. Though, as for any policy-making or governing cities, there are of course ways of making things better by doing them in more advanced or simpler ways. These ways are advocated, lobbied and some of them are put to use. The real questions are: what is needed to enable and sustain the smart and how smart that really is?
Montrose Morris, continually writes excellent archiectural histories of buildings all over Brooklyn for the blog Brownstoner. These are great on their own, but are usurped in greatness by his excellent series such as the one about the borough’s great “Milk Wars” in the first half of the 20th century.
I want to compare Richard Holmes’s (one half of the blog mammoth) series about the Mississippi River to Donna Haraway’s “Cyborg Manifesto,” despite that the former is about hydrology and landscape architecture and the later about technofuturism and historical constructions of gender. Like Haraway is for the human body, Holmes is interested in uncovering how the Mississippi River has been reconstructed in such as a way that it totally defies our traditional notions of “natural” and “unnatural” and is something altogether unique and unprecedented. His musing on the implications of this as well as minute and beautiful illustrating vis-a-vis satellite images makes this so compelling, as well as the novelty of such declarations as “I think the Army Corps [of Engineers] is […] probably the country’s most radically avant-garde landscape [architecture] practice.”
Unsuprisingly, a commonality between some of my favorite urbanism pieces from the last year is an interest in specificity, in look at one place or issue from a multitude of different angles. This is the kind of piece that focuses on a specific space or issue the the end of the piece has opened it up to something bigger than it was before (this seems to describe all kinds of good nonfiction writing). As I wrote in the beginning of the year, in response to a really sloppy NYT piece, cities are too complex and interesting things for us to have to stoop to making generalizations and writing dumb shit.