Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Blogger Candidate Forum: A Done Deal?

Pro-immigration rally in front of Trump Towers
Hello Everyone:

After spending a lovely at The Broad Museum in downtown Los Angeles (pictures to follow, Blogger is ready to write this week's edition of Blogger Candidate Forum.  The mood of the nation is anxious.  The Inauguration is on Friday and no one knows what happens next.  What will President-elect Donald J. Trump say and do over the next four years.  The future of healthcare is in a state of flux-repeal and replace with...  Another campaign issue that is in a nebulous state is immigration.

Somewhere between boarder walls and immigration bans, one issue that is not quite a vitriolic is sanctuary cities.  There is no official definition for sanctuary city, however it basically refers to "...rules restricting state and local governments from alerting federal authorities about people who may be in the country illegally."  (; date accessed Jan. 18, 2017)  Examples of sanctuary cities are: Chicago, New York, Baltimore, Los Angeles, and Boston.  One of PEOTUS's campaign promises is an end to federal funding for cities that provide safe haven for undocumented immigrants.  The matter came under scrutiny in 2015, following the shooting death of Kathryn Steinle in San Francisco by an undocumented immigrant.  The question we are going to address, with the help of Natalie Delgadillo's CityLab article, "How Badly Could Trump Hurt Sanctuary Cities?"

Governor Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown Jr. D-Ca
In early December 2016, California Governor Jerry Brown became a hero to many anti-Trumpeters during a speech on climate at the American Geophysical Union Conference in San Francisco.  He told the cheering assembly:

If Trump turns off the satellites [collecting climate data], California will launch its own damn satellites!"

Blogger's home state governor, a symbol of resistance-Fight On.

In the waning hours of President Barack Obama's administration, local and state governments around the United States, are preparing for battle against the incoming administration on a number of policy issues including climate change and immigration enforcement-an especially pressing issue for cities.  In essence, PEOTUS has promised to "revoke federal funding for sanctuary cities within his first 100 days."  A host of cities have stated for the record they will not change their policies in the face of this threat.  However, if PEOTUS does succeed in keeping every federal grant from reaching city treasuries, it could result in a devastating financial hit to metropolitans that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration officials.

The operative word here is if, as in if all the legal obstacles that block the Trump administration from implementing this policy could be overcome.  Ms. Delgadillo speculates that the legal obstacles "could prove onerous enough to new his attempts altogether, or water them down so much they become nothing more than wrist-slaps for the cities in question."  CityLab spoke to constitutional law and for the purposes of this article, the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability experts, to explain what road blocks the administration might encounter to get cities to comply with federal immigration enforcement efforts and how much money is at state.

San Francisco skyline
A statutory challenge

CityLab spoke with Ilya Somin, a professor at George Mason University of Law, the first obstacle PEOTUS faces has nothing to do with constitutional law; the issue is statues.  Ms. Delgadillo writes, "For decades, Supreme Court precedent has maintained than any condition on a federal grant must be expressly written into the law in 'clear and unambiguous' fashion."  Prof. Somin said, "there are likely very federal grants expressly condition on compliance with deportation efforts-in fat, he can't think of any at all."  Thus, President elect Trump would simply be able to tell a sanctuary city, "comply or no federal grant"  on his first actual day of work.  Rather, he would need the help of Congress in the way of new grants, all written with a stipulation that cities must comply with deportation actions in order to receive any funds.  This could take longer than PEOTUS envisioned, however with a Republican majority in Congress, it is certainly a major challenge.

Los Angeles skyline
Is the funding 'germane'?

Is the funding relevant?  This is another question that could stymie The Trump administration's efforts to withhold funding for sanctuary cities.  Hypothetically, let us pretend that the administration got Congress to enact a law that binds federal grants to local compliance with deportation efforts.  The next question is Are al of those grants germane?  Meaning, "...are the conditions for withholding relevant to what the funds are actually used for?"

Natalie Delgadillo writes, "States and localities across the country receive federal grants for everything from education to housing to infrastructure to law enforcement."  A narrow interpretation of germane qualification means "...only grants related to law enforcement or immigration would be at risk, since those are ones directly relevant to immigration enforcement."  This would, more likely, be a manageable loss for the majority of large cities-they represent a small portion of their overall budgets.  However, University of Chicago law professor William Baude who spoke with Daniel Hertz at the CBTA told CityLab, "...courts could also conceivably take a much wider view, and decide that all grants that benefit undocumented immigrants are fair game."  This could mean all grants, "...because city services and programs-from infrastructure to education to parks-all benefit undocumented people in one way or another."  This would result in a bigger loss for large cities.

Chicago skyline
Are the conditions coercive?

Do the conditions of grant add up to the proverbial "gun to the head?"  This was the question the Supreme Court considered-the federal government cannot place onerous conditions- in last year's Affordable Care Act ruling.  In this case, they determined that the Obama administration's attempt to hold back Medicaid funding from states that refused to expand the program was deem "unconstitutionally coercive."

Applied to the Trump administration, if the incoming administration somehow found a way to withhold federal grants from sanctuary cities, this could also be considered "unconstitutionally coercive."  Prof. Somin, added what exactly qualifies as gun to the head remains unclear.  In context to big cities, federal funding is about five percent of the total budget, theoretically less financial pressure than ACA exerted on states-however it does not necessarily mean that the loss would be manageable.

Boston, Massachusetts

How much could this hurt a city?

How much would withholding federal grants from sanctuary cities hurt?  Hard to say whether or not how much PEOTUS's policies could hurt cities enough to make sanctuary policies untenable.  Just how much depends on whether or not the city could fill in some of the gaps opened by the loss of funding with its own revenues, and the level of political will it has to continue its sanctuary policies.  It is also contingent on exactly how much money the Trump administration takes away.

Baltimore harbor at night
Baltimore, Maryland
If you follow the link: to the article, you will find a chart  that lays out what would happened to five different sanctuary cities if they lost all of their federal grants and the percentage of their total operating budget.

Overall, with the exception of Washington D.C, the federal grants represent less than 20 percent of the total operating budgets.  Federal grants to Washington D.C. represent 29.40 percent (the numbers are approximates for Fiscal Year 2016 obtained from civic officials except for Chicago, where CityLab used CBTA numbers).  Given that withholding federal grants to the Capitol City would meet the "gun to the head" test, it would be rendered unconstitutional.  However, in cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco, where the effect is smaller, losing federal funding could still do damage.

Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles, California
Press secretary to Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Connie Llanos, told Ms. Delgadillo,

L.A. has an $8 billion budget, but some of these [federal grants] go to our highest-need areas...It's not really about something being about X percentage of the total budget.  If you remove one of these pots of funding, there's nowhere for the city to backfill it from because it's not something we fund.

Thus, given these enormous sums and logistical tangles, it appears unlikely (but not impossible) for the Trump administration to halt the flow of federal funds.  To understand this further, CityLab turned to Philip Wolgin at the Center for American Progress for clarification.  CityLab outlined another approach the Trump administration could take: Again, follow the link, you will find a chart of five specific grants going to the same cities.  Ms. Delgadillo writes, "These grants were chose, Wolgin explains, because congressional Republicans have already targeted them in legislative attempts to defund sanctuary cities in 2015 and 2016."  A reasonable place for the incoming administration to start.

Aerial view of  downtown Washington D.C.
The grants chosen by Mr. Wolgin are earmarked for law enforcement (JAG and COPS), reimbursement for incarcerating undocumented immigrants (SCAAP). and economic development and anti-poverty programs (The Economic and Community Development Block Grants).

These grants compose less than one percent of each of the cities's total budget.  Mr. Wolgin told CityLab via email, "these funding streams shouldn't be taken as as a complete list of those that could be at risk-just a starting place..."  Specifically,

I also do not mean to concede in any way that the administration of Congress legally could cut any of these fundings streams-there are may be constraints on what conditions can be placed on various funding streams (which is a big open question)

Most of the cities contacted by CityLab told the publication that they could not speculate about what cutting off these funding streams could do their budgets.  Ms. Llanos mentioned that if Los Angeles lost several grants-particularly the CDBGs which facilitate job creation in high-need areas-it would possibly affect low-income residents.

The city officials that spoke with Natalie Delgadillo reaffirmed their commitment to keeping their policies in the face of funding cuts.  Deputy press secretary to Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bower, Susana Castillo, said in an email,  [The Mayor] will standing opposition that threaten our values.

One of the uncertainties of the new administration is just how resolute Mayors Bowser and Garcetti (or any other mayor) remain in the face of threats to cut off federal grants.  On a somewhat optimistic note, the myriad of legal roadblocks in President elect Donald Trump's way make that threat not quite as resolute as it seems.

Monday, January 16, 2017

A Good Thing

Golden Belt Apartments
Durham, North Carolina
Hello Everyone:

Welcome to the new week and fresh things to chat about.  Today we are going to take a look at how historic preservationists in  Durham, North Carolina are trying to stop or delay gentrification.  In September of 2016, the Durham City Council voted (4-3) to adopt a district and preservation plan (; date accessed Jan. 16, 2016) that would, in the words of Amanda Abrams, put "...the neighborhood in a position to be a guinea pig in this experiment."  The experiment she refers to, in her CityLab article "Using Preservation to Stop Gentrification Before It Starts," is the adoption of a plan that would require developers to obtain a certificate of appropriateness before making any changes to the exterior of the buildings and properties with the district.  (Ibid)  It is a novel approach that could have implications for other communities that want to stave off gentrification.

Golden Belt Manufacturing Company
What makes the former Golden Belt Manufacturing Company and the district it sits on so important? The Golden Belt is uniques among the communities on the National Register of Historic Places because " is a racially diverse area with a mix of renters and owners and has always been a mostly working class community."  Further, it has not given into the intense market forces currently reconfiguring the city and the residents have spent a decade to add layers of protection they hope will help both the people and retain its historic character.

Golden Belt was a mill village built in 1900 for company employees, who made packing for tobacco products.  The neighborhood is made up of about 10 square blocks bordered by small homes built in the style typical for the period: porches, gabled roofs, and back gardens large enough for the millworkers to have gardens and keep chickens.

Typical Golden Belt Parkway home
The factory shut its doors in 1996, by then, the company sold the homes to individuals and the neighborhood went into decline.  In 2008, the mill buildings were repurposed as artists's studios and retail space; the area began to experience a renaissance..  Today, there are some professionals living in the tidy bungalows that once housed the foreman and there Habitat for Humanity homes in the areas and other low-income housing close by.  Ms. Abrams observes, "Most of the neighborhood is still unremarkable, featuring chain link fences, cluttered years, and unimproved homes.

Over last few years, Durham has experienced rapid and extreme gentrification pressure.  The once sleepy downtown has woken and young families are moving into nearby residential areas.  Housing prices for the downtown area increased "63 percent between 2004 and 2014, according to a Washington Post analysis." (  Developers responded by leveling the modest homes and replacing them with larger ones.

So far, the Golden Belt area has been spared from the changes sweeping across the city, but it is only a mile from downtown, soon it will experience the changes.  This forecast was the catalyst for the preservation effort.  As was the need to protect Durham's last mill village; the city was the onetime home of serval company villages, totaling hundreds of mill houses, however most have made way by development.  Former Golden Belt resident John Martin recently said in an interview with the blog,

If you don't do this, you'll start being gentrification in a bad way, people tearing down mill houses that can be protected and preserved.

Durham Rescue Mission
Another driver was the the nonprofit homeless shelter, the Durham Rescue Mission, which owns several properties in the Golden Belt district.  The Rescue Mission has undetermined plans to build a large community center there.  Although, the residents support the organization's mission, the residents believe that the Rescue Mission has not been a good neighbor and did not want it compromising the character of the neighborhood.  This was not a case of NIMBY-ism  (Not In My Back Yard), simply a case of what the Golden Belt residents felt was in the best interest of their community.

Amanda Abrams reports, "The result was a years long, resident-driven process that finally resulted in approval the City Council in September.  In the future, neighbors will be able to delay potential house demolitions for 365 days; and new construction-as well as modifications to existing homes-will be be required to conform to design guidelines."

Golden Belt gallery

Ben Fillippo, the executive director of Preservation Durham, proclaimed "It was a success on all fronts."  First, the neighborhood will have an additional layer of protection from gentrification.  He said,

I think you'll see it help mitigate against speculative development.

Equally important, is the precedent this effort sets.  Mr. Fillippo continued,

This is probably one of the only locally designated districts in North Carolina that is working class and has remained so for the entire 20th century.

Mr. Fillippo was quick to point out that "not a single resident at the meeting opposed the designation."  Further,

From the policy side of things, we often talk about low-income neighborhoods as though they wouldn't want nice things.  I think this was beautiful and poignant tossing away of that narrative.  

As does Blogger.

The big question remains, "will it work?"  Naturally, demolitions might not happen, but preservation can inhibit growth.  Thus, would the logical result be a rise in home prices?

Golden Belt arts sign
Amanda Abrams writes, "Scholars Brian McCabe and Ingrid Gould Ellen, from Georgetown and New York University, respectively, studied historic neighborhoods in New York City and consistently found that a neighborhood's socioeconomic status improves following designation."

One caveat, New York is not emblematic of the rest of the country, most experts agree "it's hard to predict what will happen in a given area; more development doesn't always  lower prices."  Mark Treaskon, a researcher at the Urban Institute added,

The reality is that there's so many moving parts...It's difficult to know how it'll play out.

Alan Mallach, a senior fellow at the Center for Community Progress, who studies affordable housing and community revitalization, seconds the above comment.  He told Ms. Abrams,

To my mind, there isn't a clear relationship between preservation and affordability one way or the other.

There are many determinants, from the size of a given city and the rate of housing price increases, a neighborhood's distance from downtown and its relationship to other attractive neighborhoods.

Studio Front, August 2008
Photograph courtesy of Warren Hicks
Each situation is unique and in the case of Golden Belt, its history might be its saving grace.  Mr. Mallach said during a phone interview,

There's only so much you can do with some houses...They're very small.

A quick look on Google Maps reveal that most of the neighborhood homes sit on plots about 1000 square feet-miniscule by today's standards.  An appropriate addition would probably not add a lot of square footage. That puts a roof (slight pun intended) on how expensive a home can be-which may be a good thing for Golden Belt in the future.

For other communities, like Golden Belt, historic preservation could be a tool for neighborhoods packed with small houses, not just the mill houses throughout North Carolina but other communities across the United States.

Building Six (Hosiery Mill)
Golden Belt Manufacturing Company

Myrick Howard, executive director of Preservation NC and an expert on the mill houses, told Ms. Abrams:

Most mill villages are [currently] occupied by working class whites and blacks and Hispanics.  

The mill houses act as affordable housing, as they were initially intended to do.  Many are in physical decline.  Given their diminutive size, historic preservation could be the mechanism to protect them with a great threat to their affordability-while celebrating their working class history.

Back in Durham, Ben Fillippo and his group are planning to make Golden Belt their model to protect other threatening parts of the city, including ones with deep ties to Durham's African American history.  In which case, the program will also incorporate subsidized loans and free technical assistance to the help area's senior residents remain in their homes.  The key is local local historic preservation designation.

Local historic preservation designation does not always equate gentrification and displacement.  that is a very good thing.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Blogger Candidate Forum: President Obama's Urban Legacy

President Barack Obama
Hello Everyone:

It is time, once again, for Blogger Candidate Forum.  Did any of you watch President Barack Obama's farewell speech from Chicago last night?  It was moving beyond words, especially when he paid tribute to First Lady Michelle Obama.  During his speech, he kept returning to his original campaign message of hope and change.  This message was heard by urban American and propelled him into the White House in 2008.  Expectations were high.

Urban dwellers and urbanists had reasons to believe that POTUS would be the catalyst for a new urban era.  He was like them: cosmopolitan.  He was raised in the state of Hawai'i and Indonesia; lived in different part of the United States before beginning his career in Chicago.  Chicago in the eighties and nineties was a city that exemplified the best and worst of urban life.  As a community organizer on the South Side, he brought the African-American community together around pressing issues like: contaminated water and asbestos in public housing, familiar problems in long ignored communities around the United States.

POTUS as a community organizer
In her recent CityLab article, "Grading Obama's Urban Policy Legacy," Tanvi Misra writes, "In these ways and others, Obama seemed more equipped than perhaps any other president in U.S. history to talk to and about cities."  POTUS appeared to be in a unique to speak about issues like segregation, lack of access to public transportation, discriminatory law enforcement, economic decline, and environmental racism.  His candidacy coincided with municipalities, in desperate financial straits, needed a boost.

Adolfo Carrion Jr, appointed by POTUS to lead the White House Office of Urban Affairs told the Washington Post in 2009,

This is not your father's White House...This is a new way of looking at the new city-metro reality.

Now, in the waning days of the Obama Administration, President Barack Obama's legacy is being measured in all manner, including urban policy.  Ms. Misra writes, "In a new book called Urban Policy in the Time of Obama, academic appraise his success and failures."  CityLab sat down with the book's editor James DeFillippis, associated professor in the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University, to get his his thoughts on POTUS's urban legacy.  Below are excerpts from that interview.

Chicago South Side, June 1973
Chicago, Illnois
CL: So. did President Obama meet the high expectations he was beset with when he took office?  What grade would you give him for his urban policy?

JDF: I'm loath to reduce his work to just a grade.  But if I had to, I would probably say a B-.  There were a lot of interesting ideas, but there was very little follow-through.  Most of what we got were a set of fairly small pilot-y kinds of projects: its of planning grants, but very little implementation money...

...I recognize the constraints he was working with.  The Republican Party clearly understands its constituents is not urban and couldn't care less about black and brown constituents in cities.  Even so, where was the expenditure of political capital to force the issue from the administration?  To push for a whole set of policies that would make things more equitable now?  To build organizations infrastructure for a more progressive, urban regime forward?  We didn't see it.

Cover for Urban Policy in the Time of Obama
 CL: The book places Obama's urban agenda in historical context.  Can you talk about how his urban policy was a continuation of the ones instituted by previous Republican and Democrat administrations?

JDF: You see very strong continuities in public housing...The Choice Neighborhoods initiative is essentially HOPEVI from the Clinton administration, but with wraparound services and greater community engagement...private financing for mixed-income housing developments.

Some of that reflects political reality.  Where's the money for public housing in the capital budget going to come from?  Congress wasn't really going to allocate that money...There's a presumption that the market is not just more efficient, but a better allocator of resources in the public sector.

CL: Is the involvement of private entities always a bad thing, though?

JDF: There are times where public-private partnerships are the most logical way to organize things.  But the difference is in the starting assumption.  Instead of using the market as a helpful tool in a desired policy intervention, whether or not policy interventions become desirable depend on whether or not they can get private financing.  Rather than looking for investment capital for things that we've already deemed necessary, what is ultimately done is what there's investment capital for's not that private partnerships are all bad, it's that we start with the assumption that private is going to be good.

ARRA logo
CL: But there were successes too, right?  In the book, contributor Hillary Silver, an urban sociologist at Brown University, talks about how the federal takeover of government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac led to an injection of capital into the National Housing Trust Fund.  She also points out theater was " urban stealth in the federal stimulus."  Could you talk about that.

JDF:  A lot of the [American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA] monies went to uses that did benefit our cities and suburban areas.  A lot of money for infrastructure came from there.  You had a whole set of green technology money attached that was disproportionately going to metro areas.  You had a range of interventions around transportation.

Part of what it was able to do was mitigate the brutal fiscal crisis so many municipalities faced in 2009...All that probably deserves more recognition than it has gotten.

CL: What other progress did Obama make?

JDF: There was real meaningful progress in the fair housing space, aided by the Supreme Court's 2015 decision limiting "disparate impact"...Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing efforts of the U.S. Department of Urban Development (HUD) have been meaningful and useful...

The efforts around [Transit Oriented Development (TOD)] and regional  were both really welcome.  And there was a great deal of interagency collaboration...From the point of view of environmentally sustainable meters, those were real strides...

We also have over 20 million new people with health insurance...It's hard to overstate the significant of having tons of working-class people get health insurance.  We had a Department of Labor that actively pursued issues of overtime, wage theft, and not paying minimum wage, and much of that had an effect on people living in our urban areas...

Homelessness is another one...nation-wide, the numbers have come down significantly.  That was a very conscious policy intervention, and I believe it will be a more durable legacy of the the Obama administration...

Chinese storefronts
Flushing, Queens, New York
CL: The definition of "urban" changed during this administration.  The book notes: "Governance innovations broadened the scope of what now passes in Washington as 'urban' policy, encompassing environmental, transportation, education,  justice," and other domains."  In other words, it wasn't just policies in  urban areas but those that had large impact on urban populations.  Of these, immigration policy fell by the wayside, Christine Thurlow Brenner, public policy professor at University of Massachusetts Boston, argues.

JDF: I often think that most durable and transformative of the Great Societies legislation from 1964 to 1968, when it comes to urban issues, was the Hart-Celler Act of 1965...It's very difficult for me to look at the trajectory of American cities and not see immigration as a central driving narrative.  Immigrants are the ones that drove population growth in the urban areas in the latter part of the 19th century and the first part of the 20th century, and it was their kids and grandkids that were moving to the 'burbs...

...The Obama administration went with health care instead of immigration reform.  that does seem like a significant missed opportunity...

HUD Secretary-designate Ben Carson
CL: There's a lot of speculation about what a Trump presidency means for cities.  What do you think it means for Obama's legacy?

JDF: With Ben Carson, you have a HUD secretary who doesn't really know or care about housing and urban issues...

What we'll get is vouchering out the project-based stock, time-limiting vouchers, and doing for housing assistance what was done for welfare in 1996 in the Welfare Reform Act.  In terms of the more specific policy initiatives from the Obama administration, the little pilot stuff: those will go away...Some of the fair housing stuff is almost certainly going to be rolled back.  And whether or not HUD will be enforcing the affirmatively furthering housing? It seems unlikely.

On the other hand, it's really important to say that people who want more progressive, more equitable, and more just cities have to use this moment to argue for something more and different from what we've been getting from the Feds for a long time, because that hasn't been good enough.  We have to construct a policy agenda that is more forward-looking, that's more than just about defending legacies of the New Deal and the Great Society programs.

I find myself now in a very frustrating position of having to defend policies that I'm uninspired by.  I don't want to defend the status quo, because it's a status quo that I seen want in very ways, but the attack on the status quo is coming from places that are far worse.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Are "We Gon' Be Alright"?

Joyful protestors
Susan Walsh/AP
Hello Everyone:

One of the recurring subjects of this blog is gentrification and its impact on all facets of urban life.  We last touched on the subject of race, segregation, and gentrification on December 20, 2016, in a post titled "A Surprising Look At How Race Affects Racial Boundaries." (  Today we are going to revisit the subject via Brentin Mock's CityLab article "It's Not the Gentrification, It's the Resegregation." (  Mr. Mock looks at a book published, on September 13, 2016, by hip-hop journalist Jeff Chang, titled We Gon' Be Alright: Notes on Race and Resegregation.  The first half of the title comes from Kendrick Lamar's 2015 song of the same name and was one of the key anthems of the Black Lives Matter playlist.  The timeliness of the book is apropos because the song speaks of faith in the future.  However, the election and imminent inauguration of President-elect Donald J. Trump, this calming reassurance has been thrown into doubt.

Jeff Chang

The second part of the title-on race and resegregation-is the crucial part because that remains constant.  Mr. Mock writes, "The U.S. is, in many parts of the country, resegregating to levels not seen since before the Civil Rights Movement."  Mr. Mock focuses on a critical chapter of the book titled "Vanilla Cities and Their Chocolate Suburbs."  In this chapter, Mr. Chang observed, "...the average white student attends a public school that is at least 75 percent white and lived in a neighborhood that is at least 77 percent white.  Meanwhile, people of color are moving (or being pushed out to) the suburbs, and more white people are moving into the city."  This reverse migration pattern frequently goes hand-in-hand with class and racial displacement of gentrification.

The cover of We Gon' Be Alright
As disruptive as gentrification can be for many, low-income African-American and Latino families in contemporary society, it is an incomplete image of oppression.  Brentin Mock quotes, Jeff Chang's argument:

[G]entrification offers a peculiarly small frame for trying to understand these paradigmatic shifts.  When rents reach the tipping point, when old industrial buildings flip or are razed for flimsy new ones made of glass and chipboard, when poor residents have to leave, the gentrification narrative hits its limit.  It has the odd counterintuitive effect of privileging the narratives of those able to hang on in the changing city.  But what of those who are displaced?  Gentrification has no room for the question, "When did the displaced go?"  Instead, the displaced join the disappeared...

Gentrification is key to understanding what happened to our cities at the turn of the millennium.  But it is only half the story.  It is only the visible side of the larger problem: resegregation.

President-elect Donald J. Trump
President-elect Donald J. Trump fueled a campaign of racial exclusion that aroused voters who, in the majority of instances, did not have a problem with returning to segregations policies-in fact, they welcomed it.  As a result, many Latino and Muslim immigrants, African Americans, LGBTQ, and women are fraught with concern over whether they will be alright.  Will they be safe in their sanctuary cities or find themselves trapped between a political party that objects to their presence administers the state and federal governments?

Brentin Mock writes, "Chang was prescient in exploring these questions before Trump's ascendence, traveling to cities like Ferguson, Missouri, in the wake of their uprising to talk to activists and residents about their living conditions, both within and outside of city centers."  We Gon' Be Alright links the grassroots movements to the greater dialog about race in America within the context of pop culture, as heard in albums such as Beyoncé's Lemonade.

Lemonade (2016)

CityLab spoke with Mr. Chang before and after the presidential election about his book and what lessons can be learned.  Below are excerpts from that interview.

CL: So, it must be asked: Are we really gonna be alright, living under this new president?

JC: I don't know,..., but I still trust and have faith that folks are gonna get it together.  One thing we have now that we didn't have in 2009, or even 2000, is an infrastructure of justice movements that are like in so many different kinds of ways that weren't before....Occupy and the Movement for Black Lives, the Dreamers movement, Standing Rock, reproductive justice-people are really mobilized and communicating and making plans.  That's the thing that makes me think we have a shot at this.

When Obama was elected, we were dancing in the streets, and as soon as Trump was elected, people started marching in the streets, and it continues...I do take heart in the fact that folks are already getting prepped.

Anti-Trump protestors

CL: You write in your book: By itself, gentrification can't explain the new geography of race that has emerged since the turn of the millennium.  Can you unpack that a bit more?

JC: It's inadequate because gentrification, just even the word, is about the gentry, the movement of wealth into cities.  It doesn't account for people who are displaced and forced to leave the city.  The ant-gentrification movement doesn't account for where people are forced to move, and there is less of an infrastructure built up in the movement to account for what's been happening in the suburbs...

But the reality is that people are forced to move and the management of the suburbs is looking increasingly like the management of the inner-city during the 1980s, 90s, and 2000s, with the politics of containment happening and the rise of states funded upon incarceration and intense policing.  If we look at it in a larger sense, at the impact of resegregation that's actually happening, gentrification is just a part of resegregation, which is the larger frame needed to understand what's going on...then we can understand the shifting geography of race a bit better because we can put displaced people back into the picture.

Ferguson protests August 2014
Ferguson, Missouri
CL: So what's the solution?  Do people of color need to flood the suburbs to integrate them, to overcome the tyranny of racial gerrymandering, or can they accumulate and sustain political power from within the urban centers?

JC: It's about trying to think about the both/and.  It's about forcing the hand of these largely liberal cities to enforce fair housing laws and establish new policies that to preserve longtime residents in their homes, to strengthen renters laws...under a Trump presidency we can probably assume they're going to intensify.

But to talk about what people used to call "metropolitics" or a regional kind of politics, to be able to build up power in the colorized suburbs in that folks have been doing in Ferguson and the northern county of St. Louis,'s really about trying to think about all those things at the same time and building movements in those kinds of ways.

Black Lives Matter
CL: Explain how you were able to incorporate Beyoncé's Lemonade into your book.

JC: ...I  looked at the arc of Lemonade as a metaphor for a work that's in dialogue with the Movement for Black Lives.  [The album] starts as this sort of lovers quarrel and ends with this transformation in which not only is Beyoncé is transformed but she's also allowed space for her lover to transform...Lemonade came out right when I was finishing up the book and I realized it summed up the entire direction of the Black Lives Matter movement has been about...They found concrete language for this through the Movement for Black Lives platform, which is...a glossary of big ideas around transformational justices...the chapter is called "Making Lemonade" and it concluded with a combination of ideas from people Grace Lee Boggs' vision around revolution and Carrie Mae Weems' idea around grace, and Robin D.G. Kelley's reading of James Baldwin's thoughts on revolutionary love.  It's not just about healing those who've been harmed, but also about how those who've done harm can be healed themselves.

A scene from "Sorry, I ain't sorry"
CL: How has that played out, particularly in places where have been uprising like Ferguson, Baltimore, and Charlotte:

JC: For me talking about the question of anger and protest, it's not about saying that anger is unjustified or irrational.  It's really more about: How do you build vision for a sustainable movements with all of the emotions at play, from anger to redemption, and in ways where [those emotions] are not in opposition to one another?  What's interesting about how people perceived Lemonade is that it's reflective of what we've been conditioned to think abut in terms of what the proper response is to being wronged...But at the same time we haven't all maybe considered what the end of the that album means in terms of reconciliation and grace.

The Mother Emanuel AME Church (L)
Memorial to the victims (R)
Charleston, South Carolina
CL: There was that moment after Dylan Storm Roof's massacre at Mother Emanuel A.M.E. church in Charleston, South Carolina, when some of the victim's family members forgave him.  This triggered a lot of angry op-eds from people who disagreed with that, but is this what you're referring to?

JC: I think that' exactly what's happening there...What I'm trying to do is point to the questions that are raised by these movements.  I think Black Live Matter has always been about not just calling into questions these foundational gaps between the races and how they've gotten wider over the years...It's been about raising the question of not just how to stop the killings, challenging folks to think about what it means to live together.  Those are super difficult questions.  What I've seen is artists and folks working in the realm of that spirit strongly, to bring these kinds of questions out and forward and to enact them in spaces that are are really fraught...Charleston is a great moment for this.  How is forgiveness even imaginable there?

That's what's important to grapple with: the imagination of what a transformational society looks like...

*Blogger note: Dylann Roof was sentence to death in a federal court in South Carolina.  He still faces state charges that also carry the death penalty.

Funeral for the Charleston church shooting victims
Charleston, South Carolina
CL: How did you personally feel about the expressions of forgiveness?

JC: I was stunned.  It was nearly unfathomable for me.  I can see how it made some folks even angrier, but it's something that I've been continuing to grapple with and I'm still grappling with.  I ended my book with a series of these kinds of questions, and I frame the questions from the position of someone who has been complicit in harming others, and as someone who's been  harmed.  For me trying to understand or imagine what that feels like is part of my job...Some have to come a lot farther than others on this, but we have to get the next phase together.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel
Chicago, Illinois
CL: So, take Rahm Emanuel, the embattled mayor of Chicago.  So many people want to step down over everything that's happened, from peaking violence to corrupt police, and the legacy of segregation underlying all of that.  How should Emanuel approach his job considering all the harms in his city?

JC: I don't know...It's partly about us trying to figure it out together.  But Chicago, Baltimore, St. Louis-these are all places that are calling our attention to all this stuff and I think at the very least...a lot of use have to do a lot of listening to those are there on the front lines, who say they need things like jobs, better schools, or mixed-income housing.

In order for someone to act on that level, there has to be political will.  And there hasn't been political will around this stuff for at least half a century.  There hasn't been  a national consensus for racial justice...resegregation is not just our physical reality-it's also a metaphor for how we've been retreating, or our unwillingness to engage each other in talking abut racism, or thinking that it's OK for us tone racially divided.  But the largest thing is political will.  How do we get to the point where there's enough political will to address this?

Monday, January 9, 2017

The Nature Of Urban Violence In The Middle East

Aleppo Syria before and after
Hello Everyone:

Lost amid all the noise about Russian hacking into the American elections and who wore what to an award show is the ongoing tragedy of Aleppo, Syria.  The endless images and reports of the Syrian Civil depict the heartbreaking loss of human life, severe lack of food and medicine.  The images and stories from Mosul, Iraq, where the Iraqi military and ISIS are battling for control of the city are equally dire.  Hundreds of civilians have been killed and injured before evacuations in both cities could take place.  We, in the West, have become so accustomed to hearing about random death and destruction in cities in the Middle East that we have become oblivious to it.  Cities like Aleppo, Jerusalem, Beirut, and Istanbul are just distant places.  The media, on their part, provides little if any context to the readers to understand how and why the continuous cycle of violence fits into the urban scheme of things.

Mimi Kirk's recent CityLab article, "How to Understand Urban Violence in the Middle East," interviewed Nelida Fuccaro Ph.D, an historian the University of London, about her book Violence in the City in the Modern Middle East.  This book is a looks at "the diverse causes and effects of violence in the region, tracking how violence shaped and destroyed communities, governments, and daily life in specific urban centers during periods of recent history.  Professor Fuccaro edited the collection of essays that make up the book and offered her views on Middle Eastern cities.

Mosul, Iraq before and after
 CL: A goal of the book is to debunk the myth that Middle Eastern metropolises are inherently violent places populated by inherently violent people.  How does it address this?

NF: The book approaches this misconception by "normalizing" violence.  That is, by showing how violence has always been an integral part of city life and of urban architectures of power.    Unfortunately, the authoritarian backlash after the Arab uprisings that began in 2011, the war in Syria, and ISIS have contributed to flawed representations of Middle Eastern people as intrinsically violent...Mosul, Raqqa, and Aleppo are currently suffering from extraordinary levels of violence is a Middle Eastern given, but a manifestation of the instability and profound disruption resulting from cataclysmic events such as the American invasion of Iraq and the sectarianization of regional politics.

It's important to try to explain and make sense of the current "rule of violence" beyond the irrational and primordial-...-come to terms with it as an historical and sociopolitical phenomenon that is common to all societies.

Raqqa, Syria before and after
CL: So, a main concern of the book is to situate Middle Eastern urban violence in its context and history.

NF: ...Until recently, the study and discussion of the past and present public violence in the Middle East was set somewhat apart from the specific places where it occurred.  We in the West are used to hearing about the barbarous actions of violent and oppressive regimes...Such abstractions ignore the facts that moments of violence do not take places in a vacuum, but are shaped by particular spaces and events that create experience, socioeconomic relations, symbols of power, and modes of individual and collective mobilization.

The cataclysmic events of the Arab uprisings were a pivotal moment in bringing cities back into the violence equation.  It became increasingly difficult to dissociate the actions of the protesting crowds and those of the police forces that confronted them from urban locations as Tahir Square in Cairo...In fact, while Middle Eastern cities have been at the vanguard of violent politics, particularly in the twentieth century, some of the roots of these politics were national, regional, and international.

Tahir Square protests
Cairo, Egypt

CL: The book looks at both elite or state violence and more local forms of violence in Middle Eastern cities, including resistance such as civilian protests.  Why is this essential?

NF: Some chapters deal with colonial discipline, or the violent means used by occupying foreign power to quell opposition and control cities as diverse as Cairo, Haifa, and Baghdad.  Other case studies discuss the violent worlds of imperial and national state administrations by analyzing their urban intermediaries: military and religious leaders, bureaucrats, technocrats, and even urban planners...The essays question the somewhat-conventiola wisdom that cities are mere appendixes of state power by presenting a variety of violent actors that don't necessarily operate at the national or states level, and by exploring the different aspects of resistance.

Resistance can trigger the mobilization of urban residents...Contrary to romantic visions of the moral economy of crowds, some of the chapters highlight the brutality of grassroots action.  Only by taking stock of violence's multifaceted qualities are we able to start grasping its all-encompassing powers.

Anglo-Iranian Oil Company
Abadan, Iran (date unknown)
CL: And violence doesn't have to mean the physical sort.  For instance, it can take the form of transnational capital and its resultant social inequality.

NF: Violence is indeed a very complex phenomenon...

The starting point of many of the chapters is physical violence...Yet violent event of this sort often reveal other forms of systemic and structural violence that can function at different levels,  form local to global.  For instance, the volume address the disruptive effects of colonial and corporate capitalism on pre-1952 Cairo and the oil towns of Kirkuk, Dhahran, and Abadan [in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, respectively] from the 1940s to the 1960s.  Here the penetrations of foreign capital metamorphosed into spatial division and socioeconomic inequalities that in turn triggered the explosion of hooliganism and of aggressive labor and ethnic protests.

Rally to demand political reform
Amman, Jordan
CL: The book also looks at how knowledge of the city is necessary to guide the spatial tactics of the military, police, and protestors alike.  The city is complicated, but knowable.  How does this idea play out in today's cities?

NF:  Famously, knowledge is power and knowledge of hidden corners, streets, and other public spaces helps both the powerful ad powerless pursue their political goals.  In the Middle East...we live in high-surveillance cities that defy the classic image of cities as places of emancipation and political liberation, as predicted by the theorists George Simmel and Henri Lefevbre...

In our contemporary era, cities' surveillance and fear feed each other.  Fear of terrorist attacks nurture public security measures, and the proliferation of cameras [and] surveillance systems instigate the continuous feeling of being watched.  For some, it's reassuring, but for others, it's an abuse of civil liberties and personal space-indeed, a subtle form of structural violence.

Blogger Candidate Forum: Big Bang

Jane Jacobs
Hello Everyone:

Welcome to a new year of Blogger Candidate Forum.  A new administration means fresh insights into the way the President-elect Donald J. Trump's policy initiatives will impact  urban life.  Today we begin with a look at how the rise of Trumpism was predicted about ten years before PEOTUS considered standing for election.  Richard Florida's CityLab article, "Did Jane Jacobs Predict the Rise of Trump?" focuses on her last book, Dark Age Ahead, which eerily predicted a dark age and how to survive it.  Mr. Florida writes,

Jane Jacobs was one of the most prescient writers of the 20th century.  In the 1960s, when suburbanization and heavy-handed urban renewal programs threatened urban neighborhoods, she published her classic Death and Life of Great American Cities.  During the 1970s and 1980s, when policy-makers and economists focused on industrial competitiveness and national economic strategy, she drew attention to the role of cities and clustering in powering innovation and economic growth in her books The Economy of Cities and Cities and the Wealth of Nations.  

Her final book saw the future.

Dark Age Ahead
Dark Age Ahead ( was published in 2005, at a time when commentators and political scientists were singing the praises of the end of history, the emerging Democratic majority in Congress, and the virtues of globalization.  The late-Ms. Jacobs saw a dark future of urban crisis, mass amnesia, and a populist backlash.  Mr. Florida writes, "Eerily prescient as always, rereading the 2005 book today serves as a survivors's guide to the Age of Trump."

Over the course of her book, Jane Jacobs outlines " increasing distrust of politicians and politics, a burgeoning new urban crisis in cities, worsening environmental degradation, entrenched segregation, and an 'enlarging gulf between rich and poor along with attrition of the middle class'" as signifiers of a coming Dark Age.

Nationalism and xenophobia are the essence of Ms. Jacobs's Dark Age.  She writes,

...Cultural xenophobia is a frequent sequel to a society's decline from cultural vigor as self-imposed isolation leads to a fortress mentality.

Ms. Jacobs goes on to write That mentality,...with a conservatism that looks back to fundamentalist beliefs for guidance and a worldview.

Mr. Florida points out, "Jacobs borrows that phrase from Karen Armstrong's Short History of Islam, who points to Ferdinand and Isabella driving Muslims out of Spain in 1492, signaling a turning point for Mesopotamia in the Middle Ages.

Milan, Italy in the Middle Ages
From a historical point of view, the dark ages have quickly returned in the form of radical jolts that precipitate "...the collapse of once-vital economic political and cultural institutions."  The original European Dark Ages was brought about as local governments and city-states were

expunged by imperial decree and were replaced by a centralized military despotism.

Jane Jacobs cites the cities of the Roman Empires, which lost the benefits of subsidiarity-proximity to the people-and fiscal accountability to the imperial treasure prior to the collapse of the Empire.  In her final book, she poses the over arching question at the core of dark ages: how and why can a people so totally discard a formerly vital culture that it becomes literally lost?

The answer is in the rise of mass amnesia.  Mass amnesia is define as "...a widespread, 'permanent and profound' society-wide loss of memory,"  something that was such an anathema at the time Ms. Jacobs wrote her book.  However, in the age of Trumpism and Brexit-where every fresh outrage leads to another outrage and facts have no value-collective memory loss is all too real.

Family and community
 The Five Pillars of Dark Age Descent

Jane Jacobs lays out how our own dark age is taking form around the erosion of the five key pillars of society.

The sign of a dark age is the decline of family and community.  We all heard politicians extoll the virtues of families as the foundation of society.  Yet these very same lawmakers support politics that weaken and undermine this bedrock.  Extended families have been replaced by nuclear families making it impossible to meet rising housing costs.  Declining birth rates mean a smaller labor pool to look after an aging population.

Simultaneously, the greater community is victimized by market pressures, materialism, and "the hegemony of brands."  Ms. Jacobs singles out the automobile as a destroyer of worlds "that not only wastes energy and promotes sprawl, but skews priorities from public interest to self-interest."

The second dark age signifier is the decline of education, which morphs into vocational training.  Mr. Florida writes, "Education becomes an individualistic investment instead of a public good that produces well-rounded citizens."  When this phenomena occurs, employment and profit become the gauge of progress and the ultimate reason for political decisions, at the expense of everything else.

Third indicator of a dark ages is an attack on science or what Ms. Jacobs referred to as "false analogies that mask reality."  To wit, the questioning of global warming by PEOTUS and members of Congress.  She writes,

If a body of inquiry becomes disconnected from the scientific state of mind, that unfortunate segment of knowledge is no longer scientific...It stagnates.

Objectivity and scientific progress are overtaken by dogma.

American federal tax form
The fourth sign of a dark age is the dumbing down of taxes.  This is not the over simplification of the tax code, not going to happen anytime in the near or distant future.  Rather, it is wasteful taxes and government investment instead of investment in proposals that build cities and societies.  The result is that investments in the public good-i.e. education, transportation, infrastructure, and safety which further a functioning and cohesive society-begin to deteriorate.  Jane Jacobs accurately identifies the looming new urban crisis of unaffordable housing, growing inequality, increasing sprawl, and urban congestions as the result of this dumbing down of taxes and public investment.

Architect at work
The final signal of a looming dark age is the the subversion of learned professions.  Learned professions are defined as: architecture, medicine, law, engineering, and journalism.  Honestly speaking, we cannot know everything there is to know about the world around us.  Thus we need professions to instill a sense of trust and promote the common welfare.  For example, doctors adhere to the Hippocratic Oath.  Lawyers are bound by the ethical requirements of their profession.  When these professions come under attack and their norms and functions are undermined, Ms. Jacobs observes, "society falls victim to the whims of frauds, brutes, and psychopaths."

What Would Jane Do?

Fortunately, Jane Jacobs provides us with two crucial insights to help break and combat our own nascent Trump-induced dark age.

First, her life's work demonstrated that the vitality of the city and its neighborhoods is the ultimate light in the tunnel of darkness.  To be honest, she did have her pessimistic side.  Richard Florida describes,

In Scranton, she saw first-hand the devastating toll of the Great Depression on industries and workers.  As a young woman, she saw the rise of fascism and totalitarianism in Europe.  During the 1950s, she witnessed the chilling effect of McCarthyism.  Robert Moses-style urban renewal reflected the same unbridled top-down power.

Jane Jacobs saw cities and neighborhoods as more than walkable, mixed-se place, and more than mechanisms of innovation and economic growth.  They were guardians against the forces of darkness, the source of social progress, of human civilization, and democracy.

This may sound very heroic but Jane Jacobs has very optimistic view of urban life.  That said, she did implore us to use whatever means necessary to protect ourselves for the "forces of top-down power and mass amnesia that would destroy our communities and the key pillars of human civilization.

richard Florida recalls the last time he and Jane Jacobs spoke.  He asked her where did she and and her cohorts find the strength to battle Robert Moses and the centralized power he stood for.  Ms. Jacobs had just finished Dark Days Ahead and was focused on her unfinished book with the knowing title A Brief Biography of the Human Race.  Mr. Florida observed, "Still, her optimism came through."

He continues, "For the longest time, she told me, people would avoid their protests.  But one day, a few people started picking up their leaflets; soon many more were joining in and ultimately this cast of neighborhood characters won the battle and save their neighborhood."

If a dark age starts with a big band, it will end with one too.