Friday, December 21, 2007

Baltimore...A city on the rise?

The Baltimore Sun reports that a recent academic study shows Baltimore City's population is growing and is becoming wealthier and more educated. Here is the December 21st article.

Ranking the metro area The Greater Baltimore Committee's State of the Region report ranks 20 metro areas, including Baltimore, in 105 categories. Here is how the Baltimore area ranked on eight of them, with 1 being the best and 20 the worst:

1. Academic research-and-development spending
2. Percent growth in personal income per person
3. Minority-owned firms as a share of total companies
3. Improvement in the violent-crime rate
4. Median household income
17. Manufacturing job growth
18. Average travel time to work
19. Violent-crime rate

So what is your opinion? Do you think Baltimore City is on the rise? Does this report show a true glimpse of the city of just the further conitunation of the divide between the wealthy and the underclass?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

In Pictures: The 1968 Baltimore Riots

The assassination death of American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1968 sparked riots in more than 100 American cities.

The Baltimore riot started on Saturday, April 6th (timeline), then Maryland Governor, Spirow Agnew, called out thousands of National Guard troops and 500 Maryland State Police to quell the disturbance. When it was determined that the state forces could not control the riot, Agnew requested Federal troops from President Lyndon B. Johnson.

By the time the riot was over, 6 people would be dead, 700 injured, 4,500 arrested and over a thousand fires set. More than a thousand businesses had been looted or burned, many of which never reopened. Total property damage was estimated at $13.5 million (1968$).

Decades after the riot, many inner-city neighborhoods in Baltimore and across the nation are still trying to recover from the impact of the riots that occurred almost 4 decades prior. For many cities, the King Riots triggered massive white flight and continued disinvestment in the inner city.

Here are some images of the 1968 Baltimore Riots. Let us know what your opinions are of the impacts that riots had on American inner-cities.

Click here for footage of the riot.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Music Videos about Cities

Nikki Blonsky (Hairspray Soundtrack) - "Good Morning Baltimore"

Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young - "Chicago"

Boyz II Men - "Motown Philly"
(Notice all the Temple U. banners in the background)

A Tribe Called Quest - Award Tour
"Goin' each and every place with the mic in their hand, Chinatown, Spokane, London, Tokyo"

Kiss - "Detroit, Rock City"

Gil Scott-Heron - "We Almost Lost Detroit"
(A song against nuclear power plants and a near meltdown of a Michigan plant in the 1970s)

The Presidential Race and City Politics

Have you heard any of your favorite 2008 Presidential candidates talk much about the issues of the city? Well, we have not either. With 80% of America's population in urbanized areas it's rather odd that the candidates which include the former mayors of New York City and Cleveland have not addressed urban problems.

Here is a December 14th New York Times article about the candidates lack of concern for cities.

What do you think?

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Republicans and the City

The 2004 Presidential voting map above shows that almost every urban metropolitan county is blue or Democrat. One of the major metropolitan counties that is not blue is Dallas, Texas (Cowboys Fans).

Over the past several decades, the GOP has not acted to kindly to cities. From Reaganomics which cut off significant funding to services which primarily served cities, to Federal drug laws which unfairly treat the poor, to the "pulling up oneself up by the bootstraps" mentality which fails to look at the inherent economic inequalities of the urban poor.

In almost every major metropolitan region the blue city is surrounded by the red suburban counties. Now we know that most city residents vote Democrat but is there any other reasons why it seems like Republicans have a rocky relationship with cities?

What is your opinion?

Friday, December 7, 2007

The Creative Class and the Gayborhood

Richard Florida, an economist and Urban Studies professor believes the best way to revitalize decaying cities is to invest in the "Creative Class." Prof. Florida has been to dozens of cities, speaking to hundreds of city officials and planners about how to save their cities.

Florida's theory asserts that metropolitan regions with high concentrations of high-tech workers, artists, musicians, gay men, and a group he describes as "high bohmians", correlate with a higher level of economic development. Florida suggests that attracting and retaining high-quality talent, versus a singular focus on infrastructure projects such as sports stadiums, iconic buildings, and shopping centers, would be a better primary use of a city's regeneration resources for long-term prosperity.
Among the city planning realm, Florida has sparked a wave of interest and criticism on his views of city revitalization.

Some cities have taken Florida's message to heart, Philadelphia for example fully embraces it's gayborhood and actively promotes it's downtown known as Center City to be hip, trendy and cool. The city has recently hosted Gay Pride weeks promoting a nine block stretch of Center City known as the "Gayborhood" and is trying to capitalize the $54 billion gay travel market.

What's your opinion of Richard Florida's theory? Do you believe investing in the creative class will revitalize cities?

"The Wire" and The Post Industrial CIty

Critically acclaimed HBO TV series "The Wire" chronicles the gritty street environment of the underclass in the post industrial era of Baltimore. While this show has done an excellent job in detailing all the complexities of the drug trade and how it intertwines with local neighborhoods, law enforcement and elected government, "The Wire" has also provided a great social commentary on how a city can decay.

David Simon, the show creator explains "The Wire" as:
"...really about the American city, and about how we live together. It's about how institutions have an effect on individuals, and how... whether you're a cop, a longshoreman, a drug dealer, a politician, a judge [or] lawyer, you are ultimately compromised and must contend with whatever institution you've committed to."

This quote really sums up the over-arching premise of the show. The institutions of the city, be it private industry, government, or illegal street trade puts individuals in situations where they may have to compromise their morality or principals for the overall good for their specific institution, no matter how much reverberating damage their actions may cause.

For any city planner working in a major metropalitan region, we understand that the nuts and bolts of modern city planning will not be a cure in hleping the plight of a city's underclass. While there are structural causes that help enable the continuation of the cycle of poverty in cities, there are also widespread societal problems that City Planning as a profession could never solve by itself.

So the question being posed is, What can City Planners do to help address societal concerns in their profession?

It would be great to hear from all city planners on this. And if youre not a city planner then leave a comment on what you think city planners should do.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

A Historic Day in Baltimore

From Right to left: Mayor Sheila Dixon, Comptroller Joan Pratt, Council President Stephanie Rawlings Blake and City State's Attorney Patricia Jessamy, seated second to the left

For the first time in history, four women - more specifially - four African American women, hold the top four positions in a major American. The top four positions are the City's State Attorney (Patricia Jessamy), the Comptroller (Joan Pratt) and the City Council President (Stephanie Rawlings-Blake) and the Mayor (Sheila Dixon) who were both sworn in yesterday.

Let's hope the women will have better luck in planning the city then the men have in the past 150 years.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

An Inner City Staple...Chicken Wings & Fried Rice

All across the inner-cities of America, Chinese Food Carry Outs are often the predominant restaurants found in inner-city neighborhoods. These establishments, typically ran by foreighn-born families sometimes have a rocky relationship with their surrounding neighborhoods. Some residents decry that the money these establishments make do not filter back into the neighborhood. Others decry that these businesses recieve more preferential treatment then existing businesses held by owners from within the neighborhood. While other point out that theses carry out businesses are bad for the general health of the neighborhod.

For better or for worse, these establishments are the most willing to go into inner-city neighborhoods. With out these carry outs, many inner city neighborhoods would be left no eateries or restaraunts at all. And there is no mistaking that these places have left a lasting impression on inner city neighborhoods from coast to coast.

For many inner city residents, thier meal tonight will be a $3 combo of 4 chicken wings and fried rice.

What's your opinion of Chinese Food Carry Out in the inner city?

Hip Hop & City Planning Series

Like no other music before or after it, Hip Hop intrinsically belongs to the city. Hip Hop was birthed in the city, lives in the city and could not have been started anywhere else but the city.
Other musical genres have their meccas of their musical art, be it Jazz from New Orleans, Country in Nashville, the Blues of Memphis or the Rhythm of Motown...but while these cities that drew in artists from all over the map to help spread their genre's music, HIP HOP was started purely by city residents, for city residents with out any outside influences.

In short, Hip Hop is a product of the city. Similarly to the Blues, Hip Hop begun from the spirit of the havenots and the burdened. The economic conditions of people from both genres helped inspire the melodies, songs and messages of their plight, glory and spirit. However, Hip Hop as a genre itself was created from it's own economic conditions. The lack of money for instruments, music training or even music programs in city schools inspired city youth to come up with their own music and their own sound without instruments.

Hip Hop began when DJ's took the drum solo or break beat of a record from another genre and began scratching the record back and forth to extend the break beat into a grove. Once the beat was sampled, people began to make simple rhymes to them while the kids who danced to the break beats, who were called B-Boys created their own dance that we know of as Breakdancing. Along with graffiti, all the elements of the Hip Hop culture formed creating a new genre of music straight from the city.

What this series will look at is the influence that city planning and government programs had on cities that created the conditions that Hip Hop was created from. This series will look all the way back to Urban Renewal, and the affect that these programs had in creating housing projects as well as "Blight Removal" programs which targeted minority neighborhoods. This series will look back to the effects that "Reagonomics" had on cities and the poor. The dramatic impact of the crack cocaine era and its affects on Hip Hip will be explored and lastly the series will look at gentrification in cities today.

This should be an interesting series and as always we would love to hear people's responses and comments.

Envisioning Urbanism

Now we are not the greatest fans of Urbanism here, we like the concept but design wise, New Urbanism tends to make every place look the same. It would be nice to see a new urbanist project without cookie cutter designs and the standard template of stores such as Barnes & Nobles, Starbucks, Chile's & Old Navy...if your project is nice enough, maybe a Trader Joe's.

With that said, the website located below is pretty cool. The site shows pictures of unappealing streets and then gradually shows how new urbanist principles could be applied to make these streets into lively places.

The World's tallest buildings in 1884

Quick, name the architect, city and country to all these buildings...Go!

Sunday, December 2, 2007

The Megatropolis

Recent data as well as new articles are now showing that metropolitan regions on the east coast are now starting to merge with one another.

Some D.C. area workers now commute from as far as Baltimore or West Virgina for cheaper housing
Some Baltimore area workers now commute from as far as Southern Pennsylvania for cheaper housing
And now some New Yorkers have reached as far south as Philadelphia to find cheaper housing

This leaves one to wonder if we are looking at the beginnings of a future Megatropolis? A Megatropolis that would stretch from the southern Connecticut commuter towns and cities that feed New York City in the north and to the edge cities in northern Virgina that feed Washington D.C. to the south.

A November 15th article of this year in the Washington Post details Marylanders slow migration out of the state in an article titled "Housing Costs Driving Away Marylanders"

"High housing prices are pushing Maryland residents to move farther from Washington and, in some cases, to neighboring states such as Pennsylvania and West Virginia, according to a new study released by the Maryland Department of Planning."

An August 14, 2005 article in the New York Times wrote that artists who have been pushed out of Manhattan and now are being priced out of Brooklyn are now coming to Philadelphia in increasing numbers in an article titled "Philadelphia Story: The Next Borough"

"Philadelphians occasionally refer to their city - somewhat deprecatingly - as the "sixth borough" of New York, and with almost 8,000 commuters making the 75-minute train ride between the cities each weekday, the label seems not far off the mark."

What's your opinion?

Unfamiliar Skylines Series...Cities in Brazil

Belo Horizonte




Rio De Janeiro


Sao Paulo

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Sunday Morning Worship...Store Front Churches

Today, many city neighborhood streets across this country will be crowded with parishioners crowding into store front churches. Over the past 50 years, the Store Front Church has become a staple to many city neighborhoods. Historically these churches had predominately black populations, who had migrated to cities from the south looking for work and better opportunities.

This increased population a lot of times overwhelmed traditional established black churches in the city. Also some migrants felt unwelcome at the larger black churches which had predominantly middle- and upper-class parishioners, many of whom looked down on the poorer newcomers and derided storefront preachers for their lack of theological training.

The storefront venue is also a product of economics: many poorer neighborhoods lack the funds to build a church from scratch. Some churches also rent spaces in local schools or other community buildings in which to conduct services, and their pastors, bishops and preachers often have self-proclaimed titles, not having followed the traditional routes of attending seminary or theological school.

Another factor to Store front chuches is that historically they have been located on once promenant but now depressed commercail corridors making rent for the store front church very inexpensive.

Storefront churches today are not just black and urban. Many have recently been established in Latino- and Asian-dominated neighborhoods, as well as poorer rural communities, typically serving similar functions as the storefront churches in historically black communities.
Some excerpts are from the Independent Lens Series: "Let The Church Say Amen"

Friday, November 23, 2007

Levittown Turns 60

Suburban Development After six decades, the dream of Levittown is still alive.
BY JOEL KOTKIN Friday, November 23, 2007 12:01 a.m. EST

I didn't grow up in Levittown, N.Y., the iconic American suburb founded 60 years ago. But you could call North Woodmere, the Long Island town my parents moved to in 1957, a close relation. The streets of our suburbs were often roughly paved at first; trees were slim sticks that provided little shade. Boredom could be relieved only by a train ride to Manhattan. In our innocence, we did not know why our parents moved to these prepackaged wonderlands. The only times we got an inkling was when visiting relatives still back in Brooklyn. They lived in apartments on blocks with no yards and often attended dangerous schools.

Our parents, as we understood only when we got older, knew what they were doing. They were part of a nationwide revolution in expectations among middle- and working-class city dwellers for whom a move to suburbia meant the chance to flee the crime, crowding and other ills of urban America.

What made this revolution possible was in large part what made cars, refrigerators and TV sets luxury goods no longer: mass production. Like most geniuses, William Levitt, the founder of Levittown, worked on a simple premise. If you could build houses on an assembly line and remove cost-creating encumbrances (most famously, basements), you could make them affordable for average Americans. "Any damn fool can build homes," Mr. Levitt, who made the cover of Time in 1950, once noted. "What counts is how many you can sell for how little."

Previously, homeownership had been a prospect for only the affluent or people in the hinterlands. But Mr. Levitt, using production techniques he perfected in the Navy, offered amazingly cheap homes: The first Cape Cods went for $6,990 in 1947 (when median family income was $3,031). With the aid of mortgage financing from the GI Bill, buyers could get along with down payments as low as $100 and monthly installments of as little as $65.

By the time he was finished, 17,500 homes were completed in Levittown. This was not a singular achievement but one repeated by Mr. Levitt himself in Philadelphia's suburbs and by imitators from coast to coast. Indeed, by the mid-1980s America enjoyed a rate of homeownership--roughly two-thirds of all families--double that of Germany, Switzerland, France and Britain. Nearly three-quarters of AFL-CIO members and the vast majority of intact families owned their own homes.

New York planning czar Robert Moses, who constructed the road system that made developments like Levittown viable for commuters, understood the appeal of these new communities. "The little identical suburban boxes of average people, which differ only in color and planting, represent a measure of success unheard of by hundreds of millions on other continents," he said.

Suburbs absorbed a remarkable 84% of the nation's population increase during the 1950s. And the pattern has not much changed. We remain an increasingly suburban nation. Despite a strong uptick in residential growth in some core cities, during the first five years of the new millennium suburbs and exurbs accounted for slightly more than 92% of the total growth in our metropolitan areas.

But what of suburbanization's naysayers? Social critics have long denounced these neighborhoods as racist, and Levittown, like many suburbs, did once exclude African-Americans. Only a few trickled in after the Supreme Court rulings on segregation in the 1950s. In 1970, nearly 95% of all suburbanites were white.

Traditional urbanists also have little love for suburbia. Lewis Mumford and Jane Jacobs agreed on little but this. Mr. Mumford identified the suburbs as the "anti-city," sucking the creative essence out of old urban areas and turning them into disregarded parcels of "a disordered and disintegrating urban mass." Ms. Jacobs was hostile both to suburbia and to its primary means of transportation. She identified the car as "the chief destroyer of American communities."

But places like Fort Bend County, Texas, and Walnut, Calif., are not your father's suburbs. They boast some of the most diverse populations in the nation. Today's Levittown, N.Y., is still only 10% nonwhite, but Willingboro, N.J., another Levittown development (in the Philadelphia suburbs), is now majority black. Indeed, more than one in four suburbanites nationwide is a minority-group member. Along with immigrants and their offspring, African-Americans have been consistently moving to the suburbs; the percentage of blacks living in the periphery has risen to well over one in three.

And although they are far from hotbeds of culture, many suburbs are not as boring and featureless as they seemed when I was a kid. Recently, Details magazine even published a guide to "the hippest 'burbs to live in." Foodies know that many of the best ethnic restaurants can now be found in suburban strip malls, operated by immigrants who have flocked to places like Los Angeles's San Gabriel Valley or Houston's Bellaire Road.Thriving performing-arts centers have risen in such unlikely locations as Cobb County, outside Atlanta, and Costa Mesa, Calif. Some newer suburbs also come complete with extensive park systems, bike trails and areas with restored natural habitats.

Yet despite these changes, no one will mistake contemporary Levittown, or the San Fernando Valley neighborhood where my family now resides, for New York's SoHo or San Francisco's North Beach. Instead, their success revolves around many of the basics that William Levitt recognized as critical--affordable homes, good schools, nice parks and public safety. As long as suburbs continue to deliver them, the master developer's legacy is likely to live on for another 60 years.

A Before Pic of Levittiwn, PA in the early 1950's:

An after pic of Levittown, PA in 1958:

The Political Allegory of Children's Stories

The Wizard of Oz, which was a political allegory about the economic and political conditions of late 19th Century America and Babar the Elephant, which was an allegory promoting French colonialism to Francophone Africa were both popular children's stories with some very heavy political and cultural overtones.

This post will briefly analyze the two allegories from a city planning perspective.

The Wizard of Oz

There several political historical interpretations of the story, for more information about this allegory check the wiki link:

The Characters of Interest from a city planning perspective:

The Tin Woodsman: Represents Industrial workers. The worker becomes like a machine, incapable of love. (Recall the Tin-man singing: "If I only had a heart.")

The Wicked Witch of the East: Symbolizes the large industrial corporations and eastern finance.

The Munchkins: Citizens of the east.

The Cyclone: The cyclone was used in the 1890s as a metaphor for a political revolution that would transform the drab country into a land of color and unlimited prosperity.

Now how would these characters and events hold up today? Would the Tin-man of today's eastern cities be rusted out to the core...or would the Tin-man have a southern accent after he moved down south in the 70's...or even perhaps a tan as the Tin-man eventually landed in the west coast giving rise to new major cities.?

Or maybe the Tin-man never left the East Coast at all...could he possibly be in cohoots with the Cowardly Lion and The Wizard in Emerald City to quench his ever lasting quench for oil?

Would the Wicked Witch of the East be alive today? Or did she just leave the eastern cities to crush the Wicked Witch of the West... And if she left the east, does that mean the munchkins of the east are free? ...or do they have a new witch that controls them now?

The cyclone of the 1890's has surely changed the the point where the countryside has been over developed and can no longer be a viable income for many farmers. If there were to be a cyclone today would it work in reverse brining political upheavel to drab and blighted cities of the rustbelt?

Babar the Elephant

Babar was a popular children's book novel in France which first appeared in 1931. Leter, the books were turned into an animated series.

A Summary of Babar

After Babar witnesses the slaughter of his beloved mother, he flees from the jungle and finds his way to Paros where he is befriended by the Old Lady. Babar eventually returns to the Elephant realm following the death of the previous King. Babar is crowned king, marries his 3rd cousin twice removed Celeste, and founds the city of Celesteville. Babar, who tends to wear a bright green suit, introduces a very French form of western culture to the elephants, and causes them to dress in western attire.

Did the story of Babar help influence children's idea that western culture is civilized and all other ways of living are primitive? From a city planning prespective did the creation of a colonial city such as Celesteville benefit the elephant realm or did it just whitewash their existing culture? This may sound like a silly question but from what we know of colonilism, maintaining one's previous culture was often met with ridicule, segregation, dictatorship and violence.

What do you think?

Friday, November 16, 2007

What Sesame Street taught me about Cities

Sesame street was a children's program that was created in the 1970's showing that was initally aimed for children in the city. The show soon became an international success that revoloutined children's programing. Even after it's international success the show still kept its character showcasing an imaginary street in a New York City neighborhood.

With the show's emphasis on city life, how much or a role did Sesame Street influence children's opinions of cities?

Wide Open Spaces

Sesame Street covers a pastorial setting that gets encroached by sprawl...and then goes hood. So what are they saying about cities?

Life in the Country and the City

This taught kids that city dwellers are cool cats that look like Bob Dylan and skit bebop.

Garden in the City

The hood gets a garden for all the local kids...I wouldnt go there at night though.

Sno-Cones in the City

Kids having fun in the city... They later grew up to be the characters in Do the Right Thing. R.I.P Radio Raheim


Why is everyone so angry?

Dave Chappelle - Sesame Street

Please help Oscar the Grouch

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Planner Speak

The top Planning Jargon and Corporate Speak words and phrases that some Planners never like to hear again.
If you say real talk, I probably wont trust you (c) Andre 3000

Outside the Box

Creativity. Those that do think outside the box are generally considered rabble-rousers and trouble-makers. While verbally encouraged, your reward for thinking outside the box may be a pink slip party.

A meeting before another meeting in which the company slackers will get together and figure out what to say or present at the next meeting so that they do not make fools of themselves.

Next steps
Next steps are where you go from here and can refer to a project or a process. It is difficult to ever complete these steps due to the number of meetings scheduled to determine what the next steps are.

This is a misunderstanding. Probably due to everyone working toward the same goal...thiers. Why work for the goals of others when you know everyone else's goals are stupid.

Out of the Loop
This phrase means that one has not been informed about a subject. It is used to deny responsibility or to complain about not having been consulted.

This term refers to a group of people that work together. The team is strongest when composed of "Yes" men and women.

Fast Track
Means you have had to me meetings about the project and actually have to start working now.

Features of a product that should have been included in the original release, however, due to market pressure the product had to be released without these features. These may be sent to customers if/when they are available.

Friday Funnies

The Rules of Government Planning Fight Club

1. Never speak. Especially during a staff meeting.

2. Never volunteer for anything.

3. Do not touch a fellow planner. You CAN touch interns though.

4. Ask for a raise/promotion every 2 weeks.

5. You must add a rule to the list.

6. Answer any of their questions with "No".

7. Always refer to yourself in the third person.

8. Never do any actual work, just look busy all the time.

9. You must decorate your cube in some sort of theme. You must maintain the décor of the cube at all times. You cannot let your cube look like the run-of-the-mill government employee cube.

Fight Club Rules


It looks like the Chia Pet Corporation has come up with a new product. The Chia Pet Parking Garage. This is actually a parking garage in Miami Florida.

What's your opinion at this attmept to mask the parking garage?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Unfamiliar Skylines Series...Cities in Africa

This will be the first of what will be a repeating series of skylines from around the world that are not as well known as their counterparts in the U.S., Eruope and the Asian Pacific.

This first series post will give a brief glampse to cities all across the continent of Africa. With increased dvelopment occuring in almost every region, African cities could be on the forefront of a building boom as seen in South eastern Asian cities within the last 15 years. Continued growth in African cities should provide interesting oppurtunies for architects and planners in the near future.

Check out these city skylines:

Abidigan, Ivory Coast

Cairo, Egypt

Capetown, South Africa

Durban, South Africa

Harare, Zimbabwe

Johannesburg, South Africa

Lagos, Nigeria

Maputo, Mozambique

Nairobi, Kenya

Port Louis, Mauritius

Yamoussoukro, Ivory Coast