Monday, August 31, 2009

The Battle of Brooklyn Trailer

When Cities, Sports, Politics, and Money Collide part 2

Will Africa soon become an Urban Continent?

According to the Economist, maybe so...

"…Africa is still something of a demographic outlier compared with the rest of the developing world. Long berated (or loved) as the sleepiest continent, it has now become the fastest-growing and fastest-urbanising one. Its population has grown from 110m in 1850 to 1 billion today. Its fertility rate is still high: the average woman born today can expect to have five children in her child-bearing years, compared with just 1.7 in East Asia. Barring catastrophe, Africa’s population will reach 2 billion by 2050. To get a sense of this kind of increase, consider that in 1950 there were two Europeans for every African; by 2050, on present trends, there will be two Africans for every European (see chart 1).

One African in two is a child. The numbers are such that traditional ways of caring for children in extended families and communities are breaking down…

Africa’s rate of urbanisation is the fastest the world has ever seen, says Anna Tibaijuka, the head of Habitat, the UN agency responsible for urban development. In 1950 only Alexandria and Cairo exceeded 1m people. When the city rush is done, Africa may have 80 cities with more than 1m people, plus a cluster of megacities headed by Kinshasa, Lagos and Cairo—none of which show signs of mass starvation. Intermediary towns of 50,000-100,000 people will soak up most of those coming from the countryside. Urbanisation is part of the solution to Africa’s demographic problems, not a manifestation of them."

The biggest question I have is whether African cities will adopt city planning methods to strategically plan and control growth and not let new development grow haphazardly as seen in other developing nations. There are several urban locales in South and Southeast Asia that have dense populations of 1 million people or more but they hard to define as cities. They appear to be more of a collection of dense high rise developments or communities that all function independently of each other. The same can be said of many current African cities today. Hopefully small African cities now that are expected to explode in population can implement plans now before they become overrun with major developments.

Another question I have for anyone to answer is how will Africa becoming a more urban continent change your perception of the continent?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Eminem - Beautiful

After seeing the past video of Detroit on the move, this video shows the same buildings which were being built in the 1960's now in decay.

DETROIT: City on the Move (Part 1)

This public domain film narrated by then-mayor Jerome P. Cavanaugh was made in 1965 to promote Detroit. The city faced many urban problems and its population was in decline. These difficulties were amplified by the 1967 riots, which are seen by many as one of the most significant events which led the city into a forty year decline. Since the mid 50s, the population has dropped by half and the infrastructure has been destroyed or has decayed due to abuse and neglect.


I have never been to Detroit but I always have a fondness for cities like it because they will never be what they once were. I primarily grew up in Baltimore and spent a lot of time in Philadelphia so I understand what it feels like to see a city past it's glory years. No matter how much time as planners we spend to make our overall city environments better, we know that the factories that helped build our towns and cities and the factory workers who lived in them, are not coming back. The barren industrial landscapes are not only eyesores but they continue to decay into decrepit architectural skeletons.
While others mock Detroit's struggles or just write it off as a forgotten city, I have great sympathy for a city which helped create our modern way of life. A large part of who we are and how we define ourselves was built off of Detroit Labor and for that I don't feel it is right that we turn our back to the city now that it is struggling. I understand that we are a free market capitalist society and that industries come and go and it is up to cities to plan better for it's peaks and valleys. I am also certain that the city and state governments as well as the major car companies did not have a proper plan in place for the city's future and in those respects, the city was destined to fail. But ask yourself, on a historical level, where would we be as a country, without Detroit?
Detroit was a great American industrial jewel that we are allowing to crumble like the ruins in Rome. The only catch is that Detroit has not been deserted. Among these industrial ruins is the nation's 11th largest city where over 900,000 people reside. Our nation's forgotten major city is still larger then the cosmopolitan cities of San Fransisco, Boston, Seattle and Washington D.C. While we can never bring Detroit back to what it was 50 years ago, we can still transform the city from a once great industrial city into a great historical city and not watch city turn into a ruin from a far.

"Despite the ugliness that is inherent in these photos: the ugliness of poverty, the tragedy of loss, and waste, this building still lets us glimpse something beautiful. In Detroit this beauty is uniquely sustained. In other cities, buildings like this would be turned into luxury loft condominiums. They would be knocked down so that something new could be built in their place, their contents dragged off to a landfill and forgotten. Here we get to see what the world will look like when we're gone. We see that the world will indeed go on, and there is a certain beauty to nature's indifference."

Text copyright and pictures 2008, James D. Griffioen

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Rebound of New Orleans - New Growth or Dillution of the Past?

Four years after Hurricane Katrina, the city of New Orleans is growing again and has grown to 3/4th's of their pre-storm population. While the city is still missing a significant chunk of their former residents, most of the new population of residents are not native residents returning home but newcomers which are starting to change the culture of New Orleans. The article quotes:

The city is now home to a tide of newcomers unprecedented in recent history, including Hispanic day laborers, idealistic young teachers, and urban planners all drawn by the unique opportunity to help a devastated city rebuild, almost from scratch.

....Before Katrina, New Orleans famously had the highest percentage of "native-born" residents of any major American city. In the 2000 census, for instance, 77 percent of New Orleanians were considered natives, defined as those born anywhere in Louisiana.

Viewed optimistically, the statistic is a measure of New Orleanians' attachment to their hometown. But it's also a symptom of a moribund economy that attracts few migrants.

...The percentage of single, childless adults -- a group more associated with transplants -- has risen significantly, surveys indicate. At the same time, the percentage of families living in extreme poverty, the group most likely to be native-born, has dropped. The percentage of white residents has risen, while the percentage of African-Americans has slipped.

Will the newcomers ultimately embrace New Orleans long rich cultural heritage or identity? Or will they add on to the heritage and tradition or ultimately change it? It's probably too early to tell for now? With an influx of newcomers, what will it really mean now to miss New Orleans?

What are your thoughts? To read the entire article, click here.

Urban schools use marketing to woo residents back

Interesting article from Richmond Channel 8 News. As anyone knows, no city can bring back it's middle class without significantly improving it's public inner-city schools. The article quotes:

The $50,000 campaign by a school system still trying to rebound from a long history of racial segregation and white flight is an example of efforts under way in several cities to retain students. School districts are highlighting improvements to halt declining head counts so they can retain their funding, especially in light of drastic state budget cuts.

"People are still stuck with perceptions of yesteryear, and are not really aware of what we have to offer today," Richmond Superintendent Yvonne Brandon said. "It's not perfect, but be a part of the solution and become invested now."

Unfortunately for some cities, the need for more students seems to be a numbers game to keep funding for an already under funded system.

Detroit's fiscally troubled system has lost more than 45 percent of its students over the last decade, leading to scores of school closures. The district this month launched a $500,000 "I'm In" campaign to keep students in the district, enlisting the help of ex-NBA player Derrick Coleman and comedian Bill Cosby and donations from private companies - including pro-bono work from advertising and public-relations agencies, spokesman Steven Wasko said.

The school system gets about $7,560 in state funds for each enrolled student. Its enrollment target is 83,777, and "any student above that translates into more funding," Wasko said.

What are your thoughts? To read the full article, click here.

Abandoned Subway Stations from Around the World

Grand Old City Station - New York, New York

Croix-a-Rouge - Paris France

Botanic Gardens - Glasglow, England

Belmont Tunnel - Los Angeles, California

Abandoned subway system of Rochester, New York

Sonicsgate Movie Trailer

Sonicsgate is a feature-length documentary film exposing the truth behind the SuperSonics' tragic exodus after 41 years in the Emerald City.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Heart & Soul of Cities

Yesterday I watched a documentary called “The Nine Lives of Marion Barry” and it was a pretty fair portrayal of one of the most controversial political figures within the last fifty years. Marion Barry (who had a Master’s in chemistry…who knew?!?) was a civil rights leader who came to Washington D.C. in the 1960’s were he came a political activist who later became a city council member and ultimately the mayor. In his third term as the mayor of the Capital, Barry (as I’m sure many of you are aware) had one of the most epic political downfalls ever in this country as he was caught using crack cocaine on videotape in a joint police & F.B.I. sting operation.

A man who had worked so hard for the real citizens of D.C. had disgraced himself and his city became a national laughing stock as he had to serve six months in a Federal prison for drug possession. In 1994, the city had seemed to become the national laughing stock as they re-elected Barry for a fourth term. Marion Barry and his re-election triggered national debates about black political leadership, the crack epidemic, the polarization of black and white communities and the effectiveness of past civil rights leaders. One man, born in abject poverty who picked in cotton in Tennessee as a child, who worked his way through college and stopped short in getting his PhD in chemistry to join the civil rights movement, managed to stir up a whole heap of controversy as he became the political face of our nation’s capital.

But this post isn’t just about Marion Barry. This post is about the people who make up the heart and soul of cities. Those folks that would elect and re-elect people like Marion Barry who had listened and fought for them. These folks represent the guts of cities. They range from the menial job workers, to teachers and professors, to the hustlers and the unemployed, to proud families who had lived in the city for decades. These folks represented the everyday life of Washington D.C. that had little to do national politics, congress or the White House. Without a doubt, Washington D.C. is a one industry town. The Federal government as well as the massive amount private contracting jobs that it produces, makes up the lion’s share of jobs in the city and metropolitan area. There is a perception sometimes that D.C. is a hollow city that is just made up of Federal workers and contractors. However as someone who grew up an hour north of the city in Baltimore, I knew there were two different D.C.’s. There was the Capital and then there was Black D.C.

This dichotomy is prevalent in many cities where the public face is within stark contrast to the everyday lives of the citizens who make the city run. There are the skyscrapers of Manhattan and there are the flats, rowhouses and project high rises of Harlem, Brooklyn and the Bronx. There are the beautiful beaches and art deco line streets of South Beach in Miami and there are the barrios of Little Haiti and Overtown. In my fair city of Baltimore, there is the world-renowned Inner Harbor and there is East and West Baltimore as depicted on the HBO television series, “The Wire.” In fact one of my favorite scenes from The Wire was the series ending final montage were one of the main characters stares at the skyscrapers surrounding the harbor while the show runs through images of the everyday life of normal city residents. It was as if someone was admiring the beauty of a castle and its walls from afar while those in its kingdom toiled in a meaningless servitude from within the walls. If Baltimore was a castle then Washington D.C. was an Emerald City both literally and figuratively.

In one of the later renditions of the Wizard of OZ, Emerald City is described as a city with splendid palaces and gardens but beset with crime and poverty. In these renditions the city wasn’t green but the citizens wore green glasses as a way to stop seeing what was going on around them. If this isn’t apropos to how the Federal government treated the residents of the city then I don’t what is. This is what makes Marion Barry’s rise to power so fascinating. In a city full of allusion, grandeur and power, the man chosen to lead the city came from those who were thought of as powerless. For as powerful as the Federal Government is in a global context, it still does not represent the city, the people do. And the needs of the everyday people of the city had been ignored. For every powerful lobbyist that lived in the city there was a bus driver and a hairdresser. For every congressman there was a teacher and a sanitation worker. For every staff aid, there was a high school drop out and some one underemployed. While cities fight to attain the former examples previously mentioned, Barry fought for the needs of the latter who were the heart and soul of Washington D.C.

The Nine Lives of Marion Barry Documentary

A trailer to a documentary about the former mayor of Washington D.C.