Rio Protests and the Olympics 2016

Recently Oliver Wainwright wrote a blog article on plans for Rio Olympics 2016 and their legacy. ?He outlined the plans for the Olympics and their supposed transformation following. ?Important to the discussion as he points out is the “growing national discontent about he amount of public money being spent on both the Olympics and the 2014 World Cup.” ?And at the heart of that pressing issue is one more fundamental: ?political corruption. ?The public will not be appeased by promises of legacy planning when they know that the prospects are excellent that those plans will not happen or that they will happen in a form that will not benefit the poor and the middle class. ?The best example of how wrong-headed the decision-making can go is the news that “Donald Trump plans to build a wall of mirror-glass towers expected to displace 1,000 local residents in the process of “bringing a Trumpesque flair” to Brazil.” ?Is it possible that the mayor of Rio who exclaimed “This is the Rio we want” in reference to the towers is completely ignorant of Trump’s reputation? ?Wainwright quotes Altair Antunes Cumaraes, head of the residents’ group fighting some of the planning: ?”The Olympics only last 27 days so this is really all about real estate speculation not sport.” ?Exactly. ?As a colleague suggested to me ?”Rio could stay special by NOT importing Trump.”

Small Things Matter

IMG_1967As most urbanites know it’s often the little things that get you through the day in a big city. ?The stresses and strains of the most average day wear you out and the small – and usually unexpected – moments of pleasure change your mood completely. ?Phil, one of the peacocks in residence at the Cathedral of St John the Divine, provides moments of joy on a regular basis. ?”Small things matter” is one of the qualities we emphasize in the Vitality Index. ?I’ll continue to write about these as part of an ongoing series.

Dido and Aeneas at Bath

Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas will be staged in the Roman Baths in…Bath. ?What an idea. ?It is one production of many in the Bath Festival. ?See the video for a taste of how cool it would be to be there. ?

Libraries on their way to the basement

You can make your own mind up about the attributes or lack thereof in the latest plan to demolish libraries in New York City ( ?Personally I do not have the expertise to line up the values numerically on both sides of this argument. ?What I would say, and I have to friends, is that any deal that depends on the goodwill and reliability of most developers in this city is one I would not trust. ?That is not because I don’t believe in development and change because I do. ?But I have also seen developers renege on promises, e.g. Atlantic Yards among others. ?Given a minute or two to reflect on this situation most New Yorkers would recognize that libraries like their city are struggling with issues of change. ? What people want from library services and how they use them have transformed how libraries function in our communities. ?Books are still essential but so are computers, DVDs, and public programs for young children, teenagers, and seniors. ?As libraries change they need spaces that accommodate new and different constituencies and their needs and then a way to sustain them. ?It is always surprising to watch the ease with which monumental decisions that affect communities so directly and seriously are made in New York City without a vote. ?If residents wanted a rigorous analysis to back up their concerns, they should contact CCI. ?Speaking on behalf of the people for the betterment of the city as a whole is what we do. ?As Martha Rowen says in her Letter to the Editor,

To the Editor:

Any plans to sell our public resources to private developers should be voted on by residents of New York City ? stakeholders at least as important as developers.

I believe that with full disclosure of the facts and figures, including statistics on rising library use and the modest cost of consistent guaranteed funding, ordinary New Yorkers are quite capable of making intelligent decisions on issues that will profoundly affect them for generations to come.

Brooklyn, March 18, 2013


Hear, hear!!!


The Poets (Laureate) of Cities

If you’re lucky, you find out about a cultural shift before it’s over. ?I feel certain that many people living in the 1920s were aware that a cultural shift was going on, especially if they lived in Europe. ?Quite a few Americans are now aware that a cultural shift is occurring in the US. ?It is hard to witness the momentum on issues like marriage equality and the legalization of marijuana without acknowledging that. ?But one that snuck up on me is the proliferation of poets laureate in cities (they now number 35) around the country, what Jennifer Benka, the executive director of the American Academy of Poets, calls “a nationwide phenomenon.” ?Fresno, California just named their first poet laureate, James Tyner. ?(Fresno, by the way, is also home to the Philip Levine, former US poet laureate, and the current poet laureate of California, Juan Felipe Herrera, so they do have something to shout about.) ?Whether this enthusiasm for poetry generally (all but six states have poets laureate) is thanks to programs pushing poetry or the boom in creative writing programs (82 versus 79 in 1975) no one knows. ?But for the cities themselves, what better way to express their civic pride than by underscoring the specific and essential nature of who they are. ?Only poetry can do that. ?These cities could have put their money in marketing campaigns but attracting tourism doesn’t seem to be the goal, at least in Fresno. ?Read the NYT article: ?

What SimCity can’t catch

A friend wrote to me responding to a post on The Dish (

?What is striking to me about SimCity and other models for urban planning is how increasingly-sophisticated they are getting, thanks to improving technology, incorporating more and more variables relating to everything from population density to urban waste and climate change; yet however exponentially their complexity grows, they still can?t fully account for the human element in city life ? the arbitrariness, the fickleness, the random social collisions and accidental meetings and odd patterns of human behavior that shape our communities.

For example, think about the impact of taste and popularity ? why a given restaurant or a store succeeds, and how that success can give rise to more commerce in that same area; or the opposite, how one failing establishment can signal the onset of a decay that can kill a block or a whole neighborhood. ??Or how the popularity of a sports team will — or won?t — bring crowds and commerce and the life that follows to a stadium?s neighborhood.

Sometimes, a pattern can be discerned amidst the chaos: think about how the denomination of a particular neighborhood church impacts the people who choose live there.? For example, ?in many US cities, one Roman Catholic population from an early immigration wave ? perhaps Irish or Italians ? is often replaced by a Roman Catholic population from a later wave ? maybe Haitian or Latin American, who build their communities around an available worship space.? When the denomination is not replenished by immigrants or converts, the churches become nightclubs or even condos, their centralizing role in the community largely ceded.

All of these decisions are made by individuals, but like a school of fish in slow motion, they are individuals acting with a form of group mentality ? no one sends out the memo telling people to leave the neighborhood, or to stop going to that restaurant or to stop going to that temple. But the action starts, and slowly builds, and suddenly Little Italy is Chinatown.”

US Cities in Crisis

That is a headline that sounds too familiar. ?Patrick Sharkey, an NYU sociologist, reminds in his op/ed piece in the New York Times ( that the crisis is with us – if it ever went away – and will be here to stay if we don’t change the policies that directly affect our cities. ?Like everything else, this is a cultural issue as much as it is a political one. ?Why is it that with 82% of Americans living in metropolitan areas, we are so unconcerned about the future of our cities? ?Americans have a long history of struggling to love their cities. ?It’s time to give up the struggle and fall in love.


Turtle, Harlem Meer, April 26

Turtle, Harlem Meer, April 26

At last! ?A weather prediction of five days in a row of 60 degree temperatures. ?(Then sadly back to the 50s.) ?But let’s celebrate the warmth while we have it. ?And along with the sun come the turtles. ?While others may concentrate on flowers, turtles are my love. ?I can completely identify watching them claw their way out of the murky depths to loll in the sun. ?The Harlem Meer in Central Park is full of them this year. ?They are also a reminder of the urban wildlife that shares and enhances our urban space.

Mates, perhaps.

Mates, perhaps.

Confusing Arts and Culture UK edition

I feel sure that we will never be at a loss for these stories. ?A headline in today’s Guardian reads, “British culture should be seen as commodity, says Maria Miller [culture minister]”. ?( Her stirring words on this topic were delivered before an audience of “senior cultural figures” at the British Museum. ?She vowed to “fight the corner” for the arts although the fight she maintained must be on economic grounds. ?Culture, according to Ms. Miller whose background is in advertising, is the soft power and brand identity of Britain abroad. ?Ms. Miller makes an old argument that confuses arts with culture and primarily sees one or the other (or both) primarily as a source of economic benefit. ?Questions abound: ?Who decides what art represents Britain? ?How much money must a work of art 0r cultural event make to be judged suitable for the “brand”? ?We might also question Ms. Miller’s qualification to lead this charge as she told the audience she will use last year’s overseas advertising campaign as part of her argument: ?”You will all have seen the Great campaign which was launched last year? Heritage is Great ? Creativity is Great ? Innovation is Great. All these themes market Britain to the rest of the world as precisely what we are ? great.”

Confusing Arts and Culture in Minneapolis

I received an email blast with this link to an article,?, in which the author reports on a Creative Vitality Index Report that rates Minneapolis as the sixth strongest arts community in the nation. ?The author goes on to mock this by maintaining that although she is “all for the arts,” the figure the report cites to argue the case for arts-as-economic-driver only makes up “less than one percent of economic activity” of Minneapolis (even if you add Bloomington and St. Paul). ?She concludes: “we should not delude ourselves into believing that if we merely concentrate on being hip and art-driven, we will automatically attract a wealthy and educated creative class that will in turn generate commerce and jobs.” ?I agree with this statement. ?But this conclusion is based on a false premise. ?The arts do contribute to the local economy in many ways that are not immediately apparent in a measure that?focuses only on the arts as commodity?rather than viewing them as integrated in the well being of the community as a whole. ?That’s one of the reasons that this approach won’t hold up to scrutiny and it points up the danger of confusing the arts with the culture of a city in general.