Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Blogger Candidate Forum: Making Urban Opportunity Great

http://www.citylab.com



The White House
Washington D.C.
whitehouse.gov
Hello Everyone:

It is Wednesday and time for Blogger Candidate Forum.  As President-Elect Donald Trump continues to build his administration, we turn our attention to his urban opportunities.  Whether you believe our cities are the future or mess, Solomon Green and Erica C. Poethig point out in their CityLab article, "The Next President's Urban Opportunity," that the incoming administration can do a lot to aid American cities with or without Congress.  Let us be honest, both the Senate and House of Representatives have a tendency to be very obstinate.  Thus, relying on 535 people to come together and work together to better American cities is an act of divine intervention.  Alright, that may be a slight exaggeration but over the last eight years, this esteemed legislative body has not had a great bipartisan track record.

Detroit skyline
man.com
The voting patterns evident in the November 8 election seemed to follow demographic trends: this was the most "urban" election in American history.  Mr. Greene and Ms. Poethig write, "More people live in America's cities and metropolitan areas today than ever before."  Not only that but for the first time since the end of the Second World War, many American cities are expanding at the same rate as the suburbs, "...which for decades absorbed most of the population growth in metropolitan areas."

The Great Recession forced young families to either postpone or avoid buying homes in the suburbs, and the demand for urban amenities has jumped as large employers and small startups move back to the urban center.  Demographic changes over the next decades appear to indicate an accelerate the growth of cities, as millennial, aging baby boomers, and immigrants increasingly opt to make their home in urban communities.

Montage of New Orleans, Louisiana
en.wikipedia.or
Simultaneous with urban growth is the increase  in income inequality, and this schism is the greatest in the largest cities.  According to a Brookings Institution report, City and metropolitan inequality on the rise, driven by declining income (http://www.brookings.edu; accessed Dec. 7, 2016)  from January 2016, "...large metropolitan areas in the U.S.-as well as their central cities-tend to have greater income inequality then the nation as a whole."  Additionally, the increasing gap between rich and poor individuals within metropolitan areas coincided with the growth schism between affluent and less affluent places.  The reporters's colleagues at the Urban Institute recently presented evidence that "...the disparities between  America's most- and least-fluent neighborhoods within metropolitan areas have grown rapidly over the past two decades.."

Hollywood neighborhood
Hollywood, California
streetgangs.com
    The subject of income inequality dominated political discourse, finding its way to center stage during the primary debates (less so during the contentious general election debates) and party conventions.  Many election watchers, including President Barack Obama, declared that, combating rising inequality is the absolute most important challenge facing President-elect Trump.  This should not be a real surprise because nation-wide income inequality has risen to levels unseen before the Great Depression, and it is the voters that are feeling the impact.

However, if inequality is the most acute in the cities and throughout metropolitan areas, Mr. Greene and Ms. Poethig ask, "why hasn't either presidential candidate applied a distinctly 'urban' lens to the challenges of this growing problem?  And how can the president we elect on Tuesday [this article was posted before the election] harness demographic changes and economic shits to reverse this trend and help reduce inequality in these places?"

Leimert Plaza Park
Los Angeles, California
leimertparkbeat.com
The answer to the first question is easier than trying to answer the first.  From a political perspective, urban dwellers are lean overwhelmingly toward Democrat, thus it would appear that the Clinton campaign took those voters for granted.  The authors speculate, "This would explain why Clinton's 'Breaking Every Barrier' plan to improve economic opportunity for poor communities and people doesn't specifically earmark funds  for cities.  It would also explain Trump's willingness to describe urban neighborhoods with high concentration of Latinos and African Americans as a living 'hey' and declare that 'places like Afghanistan are safer than some U.S. inner cities."

From a pragmatic point of view, many of the policy initiatives that could be most effective in alleviating economic inequalities in cities-i.e. housing, education, land use, transportation, and economic development-are mainly, though not exclusively, controlled by state or local governments.  Under the American federalist political system, and in context of the traditional local control in policy arenas, a more aggressive 'urban agenda' by a president could appear to be radical overreach.

The President- and Vice President-elect
cnn.com
 However, this does not mean that the incoming administration will stand idly by while inequality continues widen in the cities.  Mr. Greene and Ms. Poethig point out, "After all, many of the patterns of segregation and uneven development we see today were driven by decades of federal policies and (dis)investments, from racial redlining in credit markets to siting of public housing developing and the funding interstate highways."  There some solutions, at the federal level, that would remedy the situation or positively promote equality but that would require congressional action or as your truly put it, an act of divine intervention.  Be that as it may, Solomon Greene and Erica Poethig offer three general suggestions for the new administration.

Baltimore Inner City
Baltimore, Maryland
123rf.com
Break down silos:  the efficacy current federal urban investments is hampered by entrenched divisions and lack of communication between the federal agencies that administer them.  Frequently, it is a case of one hand not knowing what the other hand is doing-i.e. one agency does not know what investment another agency is making in a specific place.  This may give rise to programmatic priority conflicts and grants often include burdensome and inconsistent reporting requirements.  The Obama administration did make significant strides in cracking these silos by incentivizing government agencies to incorporate place-based strategies and by encouraging inter-agency coordination in a particular places.  However, more is required.  The authors write, " In this regard, the federal government can draw inspiration (and models) from local governments that are leveraging both new technologies and bold leadership to share data and create cross-functioning teams that increases coordination and improve accountability across city agencies."

Downtown Athens, Georgia
indigoathens.com
Incentivize Inclusionary policies: the biggest tool at the federal government's disposal is money.  The federal government annually distributes over $600 billion-17 percent of its  budget-to states and municipalities, supplying about a quarter of their general revenue.  The authors suggest, "Agencies could give cities that take certain qualifying steps to overcome inequalities a 'leg up' for the share of these grants that are awarded competitively."  The Department of Housing and Urban Development has experiment with this method by awarding bonus points on discretionary grant applications to localities that participate in the Sustainable Communities  Initiative and contribute to regional sustainability plans."  Madame Secretary's Breaking Every Barrier initiative uses a similar approach by rewarding municipalities that implement land-use strategies that make it easier to build affordable rental housing near good job with  competitive grant from the Department of Transportation.  The affect of these incentives would be greater if the bonus points were coordinated and awarded throughout agencies.

Greenville, South Carolina
Photograph by Dan Burden: PBIC
switchboard.nrdc.or
 Get ahead o the curve: municipal government are increasingly developing predictive analytics with their own data and private sector "big data" to stay ahead of and prevent problems like traffic collisions, homelessness, and public health issues.  Making public data more available through open data portals has also enabled other civic-minded actors who have developed technology solutions to some of more pressing challenges. The federal government does have access to the plethora of data on cities.  The authors note, "Federal agencies manage 8.4 trillion records, and much of this data is or could be geocoded."  Recently, the Obama administration established the Opportunity Project, which made federal and local datasets available through open portal agreements to support and develop tools for economic opportunities.  The incoming administration could go further by investing in data integration, written within and without the federal government, to make projections about the challenges facing cities that drive inequality.

There are, of course, many more proposals that could go even further in promoting economic opportunity and mobility in cities, but that would require an act of Congress.  One example is more funding for housing vouchers or major investments in repairing and maintaining the nation's infrastructure.  Again, this would would require an act o divine intervention.  The bottom line is, if we want to "Make America Great Again," the incoming Trump administration must make the case that "...with two-thirds of the nation's DP being generated in cities the economic future of our cities is also the economic future of our country."

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Blogger Candidate Forum: What Is The Future of Urban Policing?

http://www.citylab.com/crime/2016/11/how-can-president-trum--change-policing/507152/?utm_source=nl_link2_111016



President-elect Trump on the campaign trail
usnews.com
Hello Everyone:

Yours truly is back after a descent into the WiFi black hole.  Today is Wednesday which means it is time for Blogger Candidate Forum. Today we are going to look at Donald J. Trump, the law-and-order president.  Specifically, how will new president reshape urban law enforcement?  This is the question that George Joseph ponders in his CityLab article "The New Top Cop: How President Trump Might Reshape Urban Policing."  Mr. Joseph speculates, "Border patrol and police militarization will likely grow.  And federal pressure for reform is likely finished."  As a candidate, Mr. Trump frequently drew cheers for his spirited defense of police in the wake of protests over police-involved shootings.  Mr. Trump called police, the most mistreated people in America.  This earned him the endorsement for major law enforcement associations like the Fraternal Order of Police and the National Border Patrol Council.  The question Mr. Joseph asks, "...what would a President Trump do to support law enforcement or change policing?"

Anti-Trump protestors outside Trump Tower
New York City, New York
thevillager.com
The answer to that question, like the answer to many other policy-related questions surrounding the president-elect, is remains to be seen.  Mr. Trump has made no secret of the fact that he avidly supports the Stop-and-Frisk approach to law enforcement.  While this won him love from some circles, it is less likely to the modus oprendi he could mandate at the local level, given its questionable constitutionality.  Be that as it may, the president-elect's calls for surveillance of Muslim communities and mass deportations of undocumented immigrants (currently in practice) could significantly expand local police power.  To understand what changes are in store for policing under a Trump administration, City Lab spoke with Alex Vitale, an Associate Sociology at Brooklyn College, whose research focuses on contemporary law enforcement.

"Make America Safe Again"
thewrap.com
CL: Will Trump's primary impact on policing come through action at the federal level (through agencies like the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice) or through of a devolution of power to localities?

AV: I don't think he will have a big effect on localities because he won't have tons of money to throw around from Congress...One should not overstate the importance of federal policy on local policing.  You have 18,000 local police departments that are largely autonomous, and there's very little evidence that federal oversight has made much of a difference...I think he will mostly reshape policing in terms of federal law enforcement.

Pro-Trump protestors
therightscoop.com
CL: So what policing issues can a Trump administration most dramatically have an effect at the federal level?

AV: Number one, the loss of these Department of Justice investigations is clearly gonna happen. There was almost nothing under Bush, so there will be nothing in the way of these broad pattern and practice investigations pressuring department to reform...and the investigations won't be cut off  overnight.  But over time, we'll see no new investigations being undertaken, and actual litigation won't be approved.

Two, is the militarization of policing.  We can expect that access to military weapons that Obama limited will most likely expanded.  And any strings for federal policing grant money that may have existed-and have been very weak anyway-now those will be gone.

Third, is the impact on federal law enforcement, ramping up the size of Border Patrol, which is already now the the largest law enforcement agency...

"Build that wall"
Anaheim, California
nydailynews.com
CL: Over 2009 to 2015, Obama deported a recording-breaking 2.5 million people.  Will further expansion of the border patrol make Trump's proposed scale of deportation, which could double Obama's figure, actually possible?

AV: There are definitely limits.  The logistics are quite daunting.  You would have to create massive new bureaucracies and detention centers...and he would have to get a fiscally conservative Congress to go along with it.  He can, however, begin to make incremental changes, shifting priorities within budgets.

Right now border patrol can stop anyone within a 100 miles of the border without probable cause.  We could see a big increase in these kinds of checkpoints operations.  Operation Wetback [in 1954] was able to deport over a million people a year; there is no reason why they couldn't start moving that direction...

NYPD settlement on Muslim surveillance
the guardian.com
CL: In terms of other federal law enforcement activities, Trump has called for increased surveillance of mosques and floated the idea of compiling a national database of Muslims living in the U.S.  How do you think he can or will expand those types of efforts? and how will that involve local police?

AV: Civil liberties groups will have their hands full trying to monitor what is going on.  If you have Rudy Giuliani as attorney-general (Blogger note: Senator Jeff Session (R-Alabama) was nominated for Attorney-General) and Chris Christie heading the Department of Homeland Security, there will be repeated constitutional violations: They're going to try to do more warrantless surveillance, build questionable cases against people, more entrapment of vulnerable people, etc...And I think it will involve local police extensively too, because now you have all these post-9/11 fusion centers and joint task forces, so you can expect local police to be pulled into these investigations.

CPR on the march
Photograph by YR Kim
changethenypd.com
CL: What will "police reform" now look like?

AV: The attempts to get departments to experiments with practices based on federal research into best practices will likely evaporate, such as trying to reduce use of force against mentally health problems, or efforts to develop crime prevention  strategies with communities.  This issue...has become politicized, and divorced from rational consideration of evidence practices.

George Joseph writes, "That research is no longer relevant.  The question will now be: Does the 'reform' fit with the new kind of authoritarianism that Trump has campaigned on?"  This why President-elect Donald Trump received the backing of many national law enforcement organizations.  The Blue Lives Matter is looking to Mr. Trump to validate their punitive approach to law-and-order.

Monday, November 28, 2016

The Hidden History Of African-American Beaches

https:/savingplaces.org/stories/exploring-los-angeles-county-histo_letter_070716....



Venice Boardwalk
Venice Beach, California
apartments.com
Hello Everyone:

Welcome back from a long Thanksgiving Day Holiday.  Blogger is rested and ready to go.  The cold autumnal weather has yours truly thinking beaches.  Warm, sunny beaches.  Of course this being a blog dedicated to architecture, historic preservation, urban planning and design, that warm, sunny beach is a historic beach in California.  Today, we turn our attention toward the history of African-American beaches in Southern California.  Two beaches in particular: Bruce's Beach in Manhattan Beach and Bay Street Beach in Santa Monica. were popular places for Los Angeles County's African-American resident to seek relief from daily life.  Lauren Weber, the field editor of Preservation magazine, shares with us the hidden history of African-American beaches in her article "Exploring Los Angeles County's Historic African-American Beaches."

The turn of the twentieth century, visions of endless sunshine brought people from the Midwest and East Coast seeking their own California dream.  However, these romantic visions were not always available to everyone.  In the early 1900, African-American migrants from the South struggled to find their own safe and comfortable place in the sun, despite laws, as early as the 1890s, that declared beaches were a public resources available to everyone, regardless of race.

Los Angeles-based historian and fellow USC alumni Alison Rose Jefferson (https://alisonrosejefferson.com/) told Ms. Weber:

Sometimes those laws were ignored....Sometimes they weren't enforced, and sometimes local officials allowed private individuals to inhibit certain people from using the beaches.  And other times, individuals took it upon themselves to say certain people couldn't the beach simply because they didn't want them, to for whatever reason.

With the help of Ms. Weber and Ms. Jefferson, we are going to take a look at two historic African-American beaches in Los Angeles County: Bruce's Beach in Manhattan Beach and Bay Street Beach, also know as The Inkwell in Santa Monica.

Willa Bruce on the beach
Bruce's Beach
Manhattan Beach, California
citymb.info
Bruce's Beach

In 1912, Willa and Charles Bruce purchased a parcel of land in Manhattan Beach, California and established a small resort for African-Americans.  The parcel of land became known as "Bruce's Beach."  The resort contained a bathhouse, lodge, a dance hall, and dining facilities, and spaces for outdoor activities.  Ms. Jefferson noted,

They brought a lot of joy to people.

Despite the joy courtesy of the Bruces, many of Manhattan Beaches's residents were opposed to the resort, going so far as to file complaints with the city.  The property owner next door enlisted police officers to patrol his land and set up ropes to block access to the water from Bruce's Beach, "...forcing visitors to walk nearly a mile down the coast in order to wade into the ocean."  Ms. Jefferson added,

From day one, there was resistance to [Willa Bruce] opening her business.

Manhattan Beach eventually enacted an ordinance prohibiting public bathhouses along the beach, including Bruces's, "...which at the time was the only public bathhouse in the area."  The city went a step further an later passed ordinances forbidding people from changing their clothes in their cars or in tents.


Bruce's Beach Park
Manhattan Beach, California
californiabeaches.com
Alison Rose Jefferson told Lauren Weber:

So they were trying to make it pretty difficult for the African-Americans at Bruce's Beach...There was nowhere for them to go to the bathroom or eat or change clothes.

In the mid-twenties, citing a need to create a public park on the Bruce's property, the city seized the land through eminent domain.  Protests were launched "...and a group of African-American organized  a 'wade-in.'"  The protests and wade-in were to no avail, the resort was demolished and the property remained vacant for the next thirty years, changing names a few times, before the park was actually built.

If you visit this section of Manhattan Beach today, you will find a sign designating the area as "Bruce's Beach."  Fixed to the sign is a plaque outline the site's history-though, Ms. Jefferson point out, with inaccuracies.  The sign came after the City Council voted in 2006 to return the beach to its original name.  The dedication ceremony was held in 2007.

Bay Street Beach "The Inkwell" c. 1924
Santa Monica, California
alisonrosejefferson.com

Bay Street Beach, or "The Inkwell"

Bay Street Beach was the name used by many African-Americans for the stretch of coastline south of Pico Boulevard in Santa Monica, California.  Others referred to it as "the inkwell."  This was the pejorative term for the skin color of the beach goers, but some, according to Ms. Jefferson, "reclaimed the term and used it as a badge of pride."  Ms. Jefferson said,

It's how it has become to be known...But there are some who went to the beach and never used the term.


Although the beach's boundaries shifted over time, it remained a popular place for African-Americans from the early 1900s to the 1980s.  Lauren Weber writes, "It was accessible by streetcar, and it was near a thriving African-American community centered around the Phillips Chapel Christian Methodist Episcopal Church (built in 1908) at Fourth and Bay streets and a host of other African-American businesses that were eventually established."  Bay Street Beach was a place to see and be seen, with a bathhouse, cafés and restaurants, tennis courts, volleyball nets, and other outdoor recreational activities.  Ms. Jefferson said,

It became a place of refuge.

"The Inkwell" 1905-64
Santa Monica, California
blacklist.org
During the twenties, a group of African-American investors, including attorney Charles Darden, wanted to develop a beachside"first-class resort" along Pico Boulevard.  Their proposed development was met with protest and the city blocked the projects from moving forward.  After the development project was abandoned, the property was bought by Caucasian developers and their proposed resort development was approved, resulting in the iconic Casa del Mar hotel.

As similar results sprung up in the area, the boundaries of Bay Street Beach were moved further south.  However, it continued to be a popular escape.  This being Southern California, naturally there is a surfing angle to this story.  It was at Bay Street Beach, where the earlier known African and Mexican-American descent, Nick Gabaldón, began his career in the forties.

Stroll through the area today, and you will find a commemorative plaque at Bay Street and Ocean Front Walk.  Ms. Jefferson contributed the text on the plaque.  There annual events like Nick Gabaldón and Coastal Cleanup Day, which annually take place around the marker.  These events are organized by Heal the Bay (http://www.healthebay.org),  the Santa Monica Conservancy (http://www.smconservancy.org), and the Black Surfers Collective (http://www.blacksurferscollective.org).  Alison Rose Jefferson is also active in promoting these events, Blogger gets the emails.  They also are active in promoting coastal conservation while raising consciousness and celebrating the historic beach.

Santa Monica Pier c. 1880
Santa Monica, California
en.wikipedia.org

Ms. Jefferson has this concluding thought:

What people think about when they look at African-American history is the political and economic struggles people had...But they forget about some of the other struggles-like getting space to sit and think for a minute.  To enjoy yourself.  To breathe...With enslavement and Jim Crow laws, people were trying to restrict African-Americans from everything, including going to the beach...I was really excited to discover [these stories] and share them with people.  People are hungry to learn about these sites.


 




Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Is Historic Preservation An Obstacle To Affordable Housing?

http://www.fastcoexist.com/3062171/is-historical-preservation-whats-keeping-cities-from-building-afforfable-housing


Lafayette Theater Townhouses
Harlem, New York City
Photograph by Jeff Reuben/Untapped Cities
untappedcities.com
Hello Everyone:

Yours truly is back from jury duty purgatory and ready to write.

Today we are going to look at the subject of affordable housing and whether or not historic preservation is preventing cities from building more of it.  Jessica Leber of fastcoexist.com ponders the situation in her article "Is Historical Preservation What's Keeping Cities From Building Affordable Housing?"  Blogger admits that this question sounds puzzling because historic preservation is a tool available to builders of affordable housing but Ms. Leber asks two questions: "Are wealth city dwellers preventing new development by holding on the past?  Or is there room for lots of new housing while maintaining the character of urban landscapes?..."  Naturally, the answer is not quite so simple.

Pennsylvania Station 1910-63
McKim, Mead & White
New York City, New York
en,wikipedia.org

Fifty years after New York City enacted its landmark 1965, in response to the heartbreaking demolition of the Beaux-Arts gem Pennsylvania Station, historic preservation is a white hot topic.  The dire ned for affordable housing has engendered intense debate over what are the priorities as urban areas continue to take shape.  Ms. Leber outlines the argument:

"On the one hand, people value neighborhoods like New York's Greenwich Village and Brooklyn Heights for their character and vitality-and tourists, businesses, and the wealthy flock there to work and live.  One the other, the only real solution to the affordable housing crisis, advocates say, is to build more, denser, and taller housing-and historic districts have became too large a barrier to doing this."

St. George's Church
New York City, New York
centrici.hypothese.org
Harvard University economist Edward Glaeser made the case at the Cities for Tomorrow hosted by the New York Times (nycitiesfortomorrow.com):

We've made it impossible to build and impossible to change the most economically and culturally viable parts of the country by ceding to NIMBY-ists...The right answer is not to straightjacket mass neighborhoods...it's so important we allow cities to continue to change and keep growing.

New York City is home to 138 historic districts, where "...groups of buildings, blocks, and sometimes whole neighborhoods defined by a 'distinct sense of space' and a 'coherent streetscape' that represents one historic architecture style."

Within the groupings, razing some of the buildings is strictly prohibited and other can only be replaced in kind-architecture that adheres to the historic fabric of the area.  Thus, as the theory goes, "it's going to be pretty hard to build a new residential, affordable unit high-rise in the heart of the Upper East Side, perpetuating a cycle that only allows the wealth to afford living in this area."

Greenwich Village
New York City, New York
nymag.com

Just how big of an impact does this really have?  This is at the heart of argument.  Preservation advocates observe that a paltry 4 percent of New York City is included in a historic district.  The advocates believe that this tiny amount of land will not alter the balance on affordable housing plus or minus.  Donovan Rypkema, a principle at the real estate and economic development firm PlaceEconomics told the Cities of Tomorrow conference:

To say that historic districts are responsible for the lack of affordability is to say that the federal deficit is to blame on the amount that goes to veterans  benefits. (nycitiesfortomorrow.com)

New York City Brownstone
stvinc.com
This statement may be true but if your concern is over Manhattan transforming into a enclave for the elite, Jessica Leber points to another important statistic: "More than 20% of land area in Manhattan is landmarked in a district."  Edward Glaeser added:

If we have a vision that we're going to build towers for low-income people and put them in the most distant part of the city...that feels profoundly disturbing to me.  The heart of the city is mixing of different groups. (Ibid)

Jessica Leber cites a citylimits.org article, "The Enduring Farce of Historic Preservation in NYC," that refers to dueling studies released this year that make the case for both sides.

"A May report by the New York Landmarks Conservancy, prepared by PlaceEconomics, found that historic districts are already the most dense areas in their boroughs, according to City Limits.  Another, by the Historic Districts Council, found that, between 1970 and 2020, historic district designation hasn't seemed to affect rents and affordability much compared to other neighborhoods."

Second Avenue and East Sixth Street
East Village: Lower Eastside Historic District
New York City, New York
cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com 
 
However, other research contradicts the above claims.  Ms. Leber writes, "A report by NYU Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy found that historic districts mostly had the same density as surrounding areas and also had far less new construction in the last decade.  They also were often wealthier and whiter..."

No one is suggesting that developers be permitted to run rampant over New York's most beloved places, as was the case in the first half of the twentieth century.  Be that as it may, to both sides, it is imperative that they understand what it is we love about historic places and they can work with the needs of contemporary social problems.

Donovan Rypkema said, "historic preservation has also changed with the times.  It used to be about preserving monumental building that once housed rich, dead white guys.  Most new districts and buildings today about preserving ties to the city's ignored populations...:  Specifically,

Historic preservation today...is about the evolution of the story of the city.

Is historic preservation an obstacle to building affordable housing?

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

So Brutiful

http://www.citylab.com/2016/08/brutiful-birmingham-britains-se...o-save-its-brutalist-architecture/494675/?utm_source=nl_linkd_080816


Detail of the Ringway Centre
Photograph courtesy of Bs0u10oe01/Wikimedia Commons
Birmingham, England
citylab.com
Hello Everyone:

Once again, yours truly combed the archives for something a little less serious to talk about.  Blogger Candidate Forum can tackle the weightier subjects on Wednesday but Blogger wants to chat about Brutalist architecture.  A search of the archives yielded a fascinating article by Feargus O'Sullivan on the city of Birmingham, England's fight to save its Brutalist buildings from a date with the wrecking ball.  In his article, "Britain's Second City Fights to Save Its Brutalist Architecture,"  Mr. O'Sullivan looks at efforts by defenders of the genre to save some of the city's most striking architecture from falling in the name of redevelopment. Admittedly, they are glamorous and graceful building that recall a more genteel era.  These buildings are heavy rough textured concrete, the least liked building material.  Why the city of Birmingham?  Birmingham is the latest battleground in the global debate over whether Brutalist architecture is preservation worthy.
Castle Vale c.1960s terrace of council housing
Birmingham, England
alma.com

The group leading the fight is the Brutiful Birmingham Action Group (you can check out their Facebook page), who are facing an uphill struggle to save the city's premier examples of mid-century concrete and glass minimalism.  Fortunately, quite a few prime examples still exist.  During the Second World War, severe pounding by the German Air Force destroyed most of the historic fabric of this industrial city.  The rampant destruction resulted in a tabla rasa that in some instances turned out to be a sort of advantage.  In the Post War period, sections of poorly constructed back-to-back row houses were replaced by modernist projects that presented better living conditions.

Nevertheless, the new construction was all roses and sunshine.  Central Birmingham was lacerated with automobile-centric planning during the post-war period which strangled the central core with a "...segregated highway-like beltway sometimes referred to as the 'Concrete Collar.'"  Surrounding the asphalt collar were a few buildings that were classic examples of why Brutalism is considered controversial.  Feargus O'Sullivan writes, "Birmingham's New Street Station was a dystopian cavern that looked like it was built for mole to huddle in after some cataclysm."  The Bull Ring Shopping Centre, by contrast, was thought of as a model mall in its day but high rents and low pedestrian traffic resulted in empty storefronts.

Birmingham Central Library (demolished)
John Madin
Birmingham, England
bbc.com
Therefore, few tears were shed when architectural innovations began falling away in the eighties.  Mr. O'Sullivan reports, "Traffic was diverted from the inner beltway, underpasses were replaced with pedestrian crosswalks."  Replacing it was, for lack of anything nicer to say, a postmodern blob.

Blobs aside, Brummies (as the locals are called)  shed tears when excellent examples of Brutiful buildings were lost.  Brummies mourned the loss of the Central Library, an upside down ziggurat from the late sixties, designed by local architect John Madin.  English Heritage (http://www.english-heritage.org.uk) tried twice to get it designated as a historic monument.  However, the City Council despised it so much that they overruled the organization and the library came down in 2015 in "...one of the worst architectural crimes in recent British history."  Brutalism aficionados are taking action to prevent the further destruction of anymore architectural gems.

Chamber of Commerce House
John Madin
Birmingham, England
birminghampost.co.uk
They want to protect a number of structures.  This includes the Ringway Centre, a mixed use complex "...whose delicate curve and textured surfaces echo examples of British 19th-century grand planning, such as Newcastle's Grainger Town or London's Regent Street."  Another important site Brutalist fans want to keep from the wrecking is the low-key Chamber of Commerce House by John Madin and a wall underneath a flyover ornamented with sculpture by William Mitchell, who later created work in Honolulu and on San Francisco's BART.

The modernism skeptics would shrug off the idea of preserving these diamonds in the rough-"...even with its marble insets, slabs like the Chamber of Commerce House are still new enough and common enough throughout the world's cities; they lack the shine granted by rarity or great age."  Nevertheless, there is a potent argument to be made that this some the very best of Birmingham architecture.  Architect Joe Holyoke wrote in the Birmingham Post, "there's a lightness to these buildings' construction that belies assumptions about Brutalism's overbearing heft:"

[The Ringway Centre] building is a grand and elegant urban gesture.  Its curvature on plan and sweeping horizontal lines, its rhythm of vertical fins, together with its characteristic projecting concrete uplighters, make it still the most impressive piece of modern streetscape in the, even 54 years after its completion.  (http//www.birminghampost.co.uk: date accessed Nov. 16, 2016)

Ringway Centre
Small brook, Queensway, Birmingham, England
geograph.org.uk

The idea of sweeping away these structures, whatever you may think of them, is more irksome when you consider that rather than being completely razed, the Ringway Centre will be partly demolished, leaving the remainder to "...skinned and re-clad in more contemporary glass..., so that roomier, more easily-rentable office space can be created within."  Given that it has already been passed over for designation, its future remains in the balance.

These buildings are important to the city of Birmingham, even if they are not the most popular places, yet.  The United Kingdom's second city has consistently produced far more culture and thought than usually considered, but whatever architectural mementoes of that rich heritage have been lost to bombing or planners's carelessness.  Feargus O'Sullivan writes, "Birmingham's Brutalist buildings testify to the optimism of post-war Britain, where a fairer, cleaner, more modern society was being built on the ashes.  Right now, we need reminders of that optimism more than ever."  Amen to that



Blogger Candidate Forum: The Future of National Parks

http://www.citylab.com/politics/2016/donald-trump-s...e-interior-departmart-sarah-palin/0507641/?utm_source=nl_link3_111516


Glacier National Park
Avalanche Lake, Montana
ops.gov
Hello Everyone:

It is time for the weekly edition of Blogger Candidate Forum.  Rather than dwell on a post-election autopsy of what went wrong for the Democrats, yours truly would like look to the future.  What will the America look like when Donald Trump assumes office on January 20, 2017?

Today we are going to looking the future of our National Parks.  The National Park Service is celebrating its 100th birthday this year and ready to face the future.  However, what kind of future will "America's best idea" have come January 21, 2017?  This is the question Zöe Schlanger ponders in her article "What Trump's Cabinet Could Do to National Parks."  The article appears in full at http://www.fusion.net and has been partly reproduced by CityLab as part of the Climate Desk (http://www.climatedesk.org) and is an insightful examination of what changes are in store for the National Park Service.

Grand Tetons National Park
Wyoming
national-park.com
Here is a thought, former Alaska governor and one-time vice president candidate Sarah Palin as Secretary of Interior.  Before you hurl something at the screen, according to an anonymous Politico source Ms. Palin is being considered for the job.  Mr. Trump has already stated that she will have a place in his cabinet.  Another person being short listed for Interior Secretary, Mr. Trump's eldest son Donald Trump Jr.  The Washington Post reported that Trump junior could skirt around nepotism laws by declining a salary.

Regardless, things are about to change dramatical for the scientists and officials who study, manage, and preserve the National Parks and public lands.  Blogger would also like to add the National Trust for Historic Preservation falls under the auspices of the Department of Interior.  That point aside, the DOI is in charge of overseeing the NPS, federal lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, and presiding over the U.S. Geological Survey, the scientific agencies dedicated to studying America's natural resources and anything that threatens them-like that "hoax perpetuated by 'the Chinese'" climate change.

Thermal Pool of Hot Springs National Park
Hot Springs, Arkansas
nps.govAcc
 Oh my god was the reaction of former NPS chief historian Dwight Pitcaithley upon hearing that Ms. Palin is a serious contender for Secretary of Interior.  Mr. Pitcalthey retired from the NPS in 2005 and current a professor at New Mexico State University.

Shock aside, what will the DOI look like under who ever Mr. Trump finally decides and confirmed by the Senate?  As president, Donald Trump promises to

...streamline the permitting processes for all energy projects...(http://www.donaldjtrump.com; accessed Nov. 16, 2016)

Porcupine caribou crossing a river
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
Fairbanks, Alaska
earthjustice.org
This is likely to translate as cut backs in the environmental review process, and

...encourage the production of [fossil fuel] resources by opening onshore and offshore leading on federal lands waters... (Ibid)

Ms. Schlanger writes, "Almost immediately, Pitcaithley expects it to become 'open season' for oil and gas drilling on public lands."  For example, in Ms. Palin's home state, the sprawling Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has been the subject of ongoing debate over whether it should be opened up for oil. So far, the drillers have been kept at bay however Mr. Pitcaithely speculates,

I think that's up for grabs now.

The day after the election, the Alaska Dispatch News wrote that "with both the House and Senate now Republican and Trump in the White House, 'pro-development Alaskans could already taste oil.'" (http://www.adn.com; date accessed Nov. 16, 2016)

Ice Age Flood Geological Trail
Washington-Montana
nps..gov
Fortunately, talk of drilling in public lands is premature-for now, according to Mr. Pitcaithely.  The only obstacle in government's way from leasing land inside National Parks to drillers are items of legislation.  With a Republican Congress and Whites House and a Supreme Court that could lean conservative during the Trump administration, Mr. Pitcaithely says,

I thin the chances are good that will happen in certain places.

All of this, in the interim, bodes ill for climate change.  Dwight Pitcaithley said,

We're nudging up to point of no return.  If we don't do something in the next couple couple of years it's just going to get worse and worse.

Currently, the NPS has developed a division to work on climate change adaptation, and has been vocal about the detrimental effects of climate on the American ecology.  For now, Mr. Pitcaithely predicts that the new administration will impose a gag order to force public employees from discussing the matter.

Knife River Indian Villages
Stanton, North Dakota
en.wikipedia.org
Dwight Pitcaithley added.

Under the second Bush Administration there was a prohibition on the Parks from talking about global warming, under a decree from the Secretary of the Interior...That will probably go back in place.

Zoe Schlanger observed, "Indeed, during the George W. Bush presidency, there were reports of pressure placed on scientists and officials in several agencies, including NASA, to stop talking about climate change."  A 2005 report by Rolling Stone (http://www.rollingstone.com) revealed that the Bush administration "actively distorted reports from their federal scientists that threatened to confirm climate change."  Mr. Pitcaithely imagines that this will happen again under the Trump presidency.  He said,

I don't think it's too far a reach to imagine a gag order being place on the Park Service to stop talking about it.  I don't think it's a reach at all.

Pipestone National Monument
Pipestone, Minnesota
uniquelyminnesota.com
Dwight Pitcaithley is also concerned that the incoming administration will try to weaken the Antiquities Act of 1906, which allows presidents to create national monuments on federal, so that they must be preserved forever.  President Barack Obama used the Annuities Act to create 23 new national monuments, including a large marine monument off the coast of Hawai'i and an expanse of wild land in north central Maine.  Mr, Pitcaithley pointed out that Republican presidents almost never make use of the act.  However, under a Trump administration, it could be fundamentally altered.  He said,

I don't think it would be out of the frame of imagination to think that some attempt will be made to limit its use in some way.

Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park
Hilo, Hawai'i
national-park.com
Be that as it may, all is not doom and gloom for the future of American National Parks.  Zoe Schlanger writes, "But Americans overwhelmingly place a high value the National Parks-a report from Harvard's Kennedy School this found that 80% of American would agree to pay higher taxed to keep the National Parks-and attacking them directly would be politically unwise for Republican seeking future terms."

A little more good news.  Dwight Pitcaithley said,

The good news is that for every action there's a reaction.  Trump doesn't have carte blanche.  I think if he goes too far, there will be a pushback by the public, and that will be felt in the next election.

This is all well and fine by Mr. Pitcailthley does not see an gains for the environment anytime soon.

I don't see any conservation gains during the Trump Administration.  Never in my 40 years paying attention to the Park Service have i ever seen anything approaching this...Not even close.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Bringing Back The Movie Palaces

http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-retail-theaters-20160630-snap-story.html



Broadway Theater District
Los Angeles, California
theclio.com
Hello Everyone:

After a week of feeling like the world stood still, Blogger is ready for something a little lighter.  In this case, the adaptive reuse of some of Los Angeles's historic grand old theaters.  Yours truly dug into the archives and came up with Amy Eden's Los Angeles Times article "Historic theaters gain new life as retail stores."  The historic theaters, in this case, are lovely old movie palaces, Downtown Los Angeles, that have new life as retail establishments, hotels, and the odd church or two.  These former movie theaters are unique for their opulence and their relatively small retail space.  Ms. Edelen writes, "...they reflect a growing need by landlords to find alternative uses for the cavernous spaces as movie audiences gravitate away for single-screen toward multiplexes and streaming services."

Rialto Theater
Photograph by Adrian Scott Fine
Los Angeles, California
laconservancy.org
The Rialto Theater (1917), spent several years in a state of neglect before the Philadelphia-based retailer Urban Outfitters, leased the 10,000-square-foot building and restored the original marquee.  John Hauser, Urban Outfitters's chief officer of brand experience, told Ms. Edelen,

Urban Outfitters spent several years contemplating a store in downtown Los Angeles.  At the time, everything was happening around 5th and Spring streets, but the company was interested in the theater district...We toured 12 of the theaters on the street...Most are stunning, but not really conducive to retail.

The Rialto was more conducive to opening an Urban Outfitters, "...once the boutique Ace Hotel opened in 2014 in the upper revamped floors of Broadway's United Artists building."

Interior of the Rialto Urban Outfitters
Los Angeles, California
blog.urbanoutfitters.com
Mr. Hauser continued,

We were fortunate the city was so eager and interested in getting Broadway to be revitalized...referring to Los Angeles's "Bringing Back Broadway" initiative.

We knew we wanted to get in on the ground floor.  We wanted to be in the right area and the neighborhood.

COS, Swedish retailer H&M's high-end brand, has plans to open a Los Angeles-based outlet in the historic Olympic Theater in 2017.


WEHS Olympic Theater
Los Angeles, California
miren.com
Construction is set to begin imminently, with over 5,500 square feet designated for retail space, including the ground floor and mezzanine.  COS also plans to restore the original façade and Olympic sign to commemorate the building's history as theater.  Marie Honda, COS managing director, told Amy Edelen in an email,

We actually have quite a few stores in locations of historical prominence around the world and it is true that such venues often do stand out to us for a number of reasons...Sometimes, it's because of their charm or striking architecture and other times, it's for more practical reasons.

COS is not the only business that has expressed interest in leasing space at the Olympic.  Brigham Yen, Downtown LA Rising blogger (http://www.brighamyen.com) said,

Right now, the momentum is building due to the Ace Hotel and what's been happening around 9th and Broadway...Retailers are scouting.  They know they they want to be downtown, but unsure where they should be."

The unique spaces are a magnet for retailers, looking for places that stand out for the usual run-of-mill mall spaces.  Mr. Yen continued,

A lot of people that tour the spaces really do appreciate the historic value of these buildings...They have the best intentions to make the building shine.

The Palace Theater
Los Angeles, California
laconservancy.org
The challenge of rehabilitating the old theaters is they are not equal in size and condition.  Currently, none of the Broadway theaters offer regular film programs, although they do host special screening series and live performance.  Mr. Yen continued,

There's so much money required to restored these buildings.  It costs millions.  We need big chains that are still cool and relevant.  We need deep pockets to come put in the money...I'm really so grateful that these retailers are savings these buildings.  When they put money in them, it gives them a purpose again that people can interact with.

Ross Melnick, associate professor of film and media at the University of California Santa Barbara, noted that single-screen theaters have been converted into drugstores, gyms, and fitness locations by national chains in the market for real estate.  Prof. Melnick said,

There are a lot of examples in New York and Los Angeles...That is what's happening now with downtown.

The Orpheum Theater
Los Angeles, California
jeremyochgonzales.wordpress.com
The Rialto and Olympic theaters are part of an increasing number of former movie theaters re-purposed for retail establishments.  National pharmacy chain CVS re-purposed the Golden Gate Theater in East Los Angeles four years ago.  Apple is currently in talks to lease the Tower Theater for a retail store.

Prof Melnick told Amy Edelen. "...given the unique dentist of downtown's historic theaters, it would be preferable for them to remain as movie houses.  But the viability of that is up to the property owners and their ability to convert the space for film and live programming."  Specifically,

One good thing about [retail] restoration is if they make so that the space could be converted back...Most careful restorations usually do that.

Tower Theater
Los Angeles, California
en.wikipedia.org

Despite the potential benefits of rehabilitating these grand old movie palace, sometimes the wishes of the property owners do not sync with preservationists, and the difference between re-purposing a bank and a movie theater is the emotional connection.  Prof. Melnick said,

For a lot of people, these spaces have a lot different memories...They have a certain kind of emotional state in them.  That's why they can be contested when they are changed.  That also accounts for some of the emotions that can run a little higher around these projects.

Brigham Yen told Ms. Edelen, "Retail is essential to build a world-class shopping district downtown with regional and national draw.  Specifically,

It's all interconnected synergy that will happen once Broadway has variety business that attract a wide group of people...It's important to some these theaters that may not have the potential to be entertainment venues to be activated.

United Artists Building
Los Angeles, California
dornsife.usc.edu
Rents are another challenge-they are edging upward and the dearth of retail construction in downtown Los Angeles will increase the demand for existing properties, according to the latest report by commercial real estate brokerage firm Marcus & Millichap.  Ms. Edelen reports, "The average retail rent in Los Angeles County dos 5.6% over last year to $2.35 per square foot and is expected to rise an additional 3.2%.  In downtown Los Angeles, the asking rent is $2.55 per square foot-up 9.6% over last year, with a projected increase of 5.2% in the year ahead, according to the report."

Linda Dishman, the president and chief executive of the Los Angeles Conservancy (http://www.laconservancy.org) does not believe that all 12 Broadway corridor theaters will be active in the near future.  The ideal situation would a mix of retail and movie theater, as long as the historic integrity of buildings is respected and resuscitated.  Ms. Dishman,

The theater aren't open all the time for the most part and retail, is so it gives people a chance to see a movie on a weekend...What both projects are doing is they are going to relight the neon.  There are people who would much appreciate that.  It adds to the vitality of the street.