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 d├ęcor 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

Music Videos about Cities

"Power from the street light made the place dark" (c) Krs-One

For those that didn't understand that quote let me break it down: When Hip Hop first started, DJ's would have block parties outside, lacking electrical outlets for their turntables, DJ's often used the city street light as their source of power thereby dimming the light for the turntables and speakers.

Now it's easy to point out the influence of cities on music genres such as Hip Hop. This genre was born out of the severely blighted blocks of the South Bronx housing projects in the 1970's and eventually grew out to other parts of New York City and beyond to other inner cities.

But Hip Hop was not the only genre that focused on the city life, blues, rock, r&B, folk and reggae all have past histories speaking on the ills and pleasures of city life.

Here are some videos about the city. Comment on what's your favorite or post your your own videos about the city.

Stevie Wonder - Living for the City

Blackstar - Respiration
(Raps about the city being a living breathing being)

Marvin Gaye - Inner City Blues (Makes me Holler)

Lovin' Spoonful - Summer in the city

Bruce Springsteen - Streets of Philadelphia

Elton John - Philadelphia Freedom

Billy Joel - Allentown

Bruce Springsteen - Atlantic City

Randy Newman - I Love L.A.

2Pac - To live and die in L.A.

Cheech Marin - Born in East L.A.

Frank Sinatra - New York, New York

Cynda Williams - Harlem Blues

Crooklyn Dodgers

Will Smith - Miami

Ras Kass - Miami Life

Billie Holliday & Louis Armstrong - Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans

U2 & Greenday - The Saints are Coming

The Beatles - Kansas City

Great Planning Quotes

Here's the link:

But let's start with the very first quote on City Planning by Horace Bushnell:

Considering the immense importance of a right location, and a right planning for cities, no step should ever be taken by the parties concerned, without employing some person who is qualifies by a special culture, to assist and direct. Our engineers are trained for a very different kind of service, and are partially disqualified for this by the habit of a study more strictly linear, more rigidly scientific, and less artistic. The qualifications of surveyors are commonly more meagre still...Nothing is more to be regretted, in this view, than that the American nation, having a new world to make, and clean map on which to place it, should be sacrificing their advantage so cheaply, in the extempore planning of towns and cities. The peoples of the old world have their cities built for times gone by, when railroads and gunpowder were unknown. We can have cities for the new age that has come, adopted to its better conditions and ornament. So great an advantage ought not to be thrown away. We want, therefore, a city planning profession..."

Horace Bushnell
"City Plans" 1864

So check out the quotes from the link above and leave a comment about your favorite planning quote.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Philadelphia Murals

Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Program, which started as the anti-graffiti network in 1984, is the largest mural program in the world.

Which Mural is your favorite?

Great City Planning Documentaries

The City, Parts I, II (1939)
A documentary which pleas for less development in the inner city while promoting what we call today, urban sprawl.

A Place to Live (1948)
This documentary was about slum clearance in Philadelphia. For any who has lived in Philadelphia, you will get a kick out of the new upscale housing project known as "The Richard Allen Housing Projects." These projects were some of the worse projects in the country. They were eventually torn down in 1999.

The Dynamic American City (1956)
A 1950's documentary which is advocating the removal of blighted neighborhoods through Urban Renewal.

Community Growth & Crisis (1959)
Every Planner should watch this film. This is a documentary about homebuilders decrying unplanned urban sprawl. Their solution? Planned Unit Developments, Cluster Zoning, Flexible zoning controls and Pro Land Use laws... if only we had listened

Detroit: City on the Move (1965)
And after the King riots in 1968, the city residents were on the move to the suburbs. Such high hopes for the city in the mid 1960's. Has there been a major American city that has fallen harder than Detroit?

The Streetscapes of Jacob Lawrence

Jacob Lawrence

Born in Atlantic City, New Jersey in 1917, Jacob Lawrence emerged as one of America's leading figurative artists and the first to document the history of African Americans through widely-viewed and influential artworks. Lawrence and his family moved to Harlem in 1924, where he experienced the vibrancy of black intellectual, cultural, and artistic life in what was seen as the Harlem Renaissance.

Here are some images of Lawrence's paintings of Harlem street scenes.

Tell us what you think and what is your favorite streetscape by Lawrence.
1. Harlem Street
2. This is Harlem
3. Street Scene
4. The Ice Man
5. Harlem Scene

Hip Hop & City Planning

Hip Hop and City Planning are intertwined with one antoher. Cities are plans and developments that are built on the plans of previous generations that are upgraded, modified and changed over time. However they use the past to build a new creation. Today we rehabilitate past structures to make a new construction and adapt it so current conditions.

Well to me that's what HIp Hop is, a music built on the backs of past music stemming from blues, rock, soul and jazz. Hip Hop uses the foundations of past music samples is and makes a new creation. Hip Hop "rehabilitates" past songs and uses their elements to adapt to a current form.