Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Artwork of Dan Witz

Dan Witz, 1957 born in Chicago, IL, received his BFA from Cooper Union in New York. In the late 70's he moved to New York’s East Village. The artwork of Dan Witz evinces a rigorous conceptual framework. This framework not only opens up a dialogue with graffiti and street art which dominate the urban environment, but also allows for the retention of clear and open lines with the canon of art history.

From the no-wave and DIY movements of New York’s Lower East Side of the 70’s, through the Reaganomics of the 80’s to the flourishing of graffiti art in the new millennium. Whether stickers or paste-up silk-screened posters, conceptual pranks and interventions, or beautiful tromp l’oeil paintings, the medium is inspired as much by the nature and subject of his art as by the mutating urban conditions in which the piece is executed.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Spending Time With New York Street Advertising Takeover

New York City is covered with illegal billboards and advertisements. One random day, civilians decided to take back the public space by covering over 120 illegal billboards with original works of art.

Don Draper would not be pleased.

Planning and the White City

As many city planners and urban historians know, the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago greatly influenced how city officials at the time could envision cities. See the fair included a futuristic expo about cities, which included human scale models of grand institutional buildings set alongside broad tree-lined boulevards and intricately laid out parks that incorporated the best of the city and nature. The expo laid the foundation for creating this nation’s first city Master Plan. The expo would forever change how America looked at its cities, which at the time were crowded, dreary places that lacked open space, clean air and parks for recreational activities. The very progressive and socially liberal expo of the 1893 World’s Fair was dubbed the White City after the color of all the monumental buildings that were constructed. Planners and cityophile geeks are probably familiar with the book and documentary, Magic and the White City, which covered the creation and influence of the 1893 expo.

Over one hundred years later, we have a knew version of the White City which is just as progressive and liberal as the 1893 expo was at it’s time. These meticulously planned cities are also very progressive and liberal and have a heavy emphasis on connecting the urban form with nature. These cities, which pride themselves on creating cities with a human scale, have been dubbed White Cities not because of the color of their buildings but because of the lack of color in their city’s population. Newsgeography.com recently ran an article called
The White City, lamenting the fact that many of the cities that have been dubbed as progressive or even cool among national planning pundits and observers are almost entirely white. The article states:

Among the media, academia and within planning circles, there’s a generally standing answer to the question of what cities are the best, the most progressive and best role models for small and mid-sized cities. The standard list includes Portland, Seattle, Austin, Minneapolis, and Denver. In particular, Portland is held up as a paradigm, with its urban growth boundary, extensive transit system, excellent cycling culture, and a pro-density policy. These cities are frequently contrasted with those of the Rust Belt and South, which are found wanting, often even by locals, as 'cool' urban places.

But look closely at these exemplars and a curious fact emerges. If you take away the dominant Tier One cities like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles you will find that the “progressive” cities aren’t red or blue, but another color entirely: white.”

The article continues on to question how can cities be labeled as hip and progressive if they lack a diversity of cultures. The author wonders out loud whether there is a correlation between what is labeled a progressive city and a lack of diversity within that city. And if that is so, what does that really say about those who consider themselves liberal? The author does acknowledge that having a homogeneous population allows cities to pass major government planning expenditures like transit with much more considerable ease because there are no competing interests, threatened communities or communities that would receive more benefits then others. While, without a doubt, planning for the diverse needs of multiple incomes, cultures and beliefs definitely makes planning for the whole a lot more difficult, the author does not let “progressive” cities off the hook for not reaching out to their small but present black communities. The article goes on to state:

I believe that cities that start taking their African American and other minority communities seriously, seeing them as a pillar of civic growth, will reap big dividends and distinguish themselves in the marketplace.

This trail has been blazed not by the 'progressive' paragons but by places like Atlanta, Dallas and Houston. Atlanta, long known as one of America's premier African American cities, has boomed to become the capital of the New South. It should come as no surprise that good for African Americans has meant good for whites too.”

To that specific point, social commentator and essayist
Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote on his blog that:

“...leaving aside the blinding whiteness of dubbing Atlanta "un-progressive," leaving aside that most of these "progressive" cities have more black people than their surrounding states, I think the implicit argument that these cities should be "doing more" to assure that their black population meets the national average is odious.

Man listen--Negroes like Atlanta. Negroes like Chicago. Negroes like Houston. Negroes like Raleigh-Durham (another area that doesn't make the cut, for some reason.) Negroes like Oakland. Negroes have the right to like where they live, independent of Massa, for their own particular, native, independent reasons (family? great barbecue? housing stock?) Just like Jewish-Americans have the right to like New York--or not. Just like Japanese-Americans have the right to like Cali--or not.”

I think Ta-Nehisi makes a great point. There are going to be cities that certain cities gravitate too for many reasons. Just because a city lacks diversity does not mean that they should pump up the city’s community of color just for the sake of being more diverse. True diversity will come to a city naturally and most importantly, internally as long as that city is open to everyone and is not discriminatory. Now if we find out that these “progressive” cities are really inhospitable to certain cultures or they try to minimize the size of a different culture (the old planning text adage is that when the minority population increases over 10% of the population, white flight starts to occur). If these cities are truly progressive and they still lack diversity then it may just not be those communities cup of tea.

As a city planner, I do find it interesting that the cities and places with the largest black populations such as Atlanta, Houston, Charlotte and the D.C. suburbs are some of the most sprawling cities and locales in the country. We all know that obesity is a national problem and near epidemic levels in portions of the black community. While having a preeminent large upper and middle class community in these major cities is great sign of progress, are the locations of where of the large black middle class lives really doing more harm than good? And while the author of The White City is asking why are progressively planned cities so white, the question I would like to know is why the locations of the black middle class are planned so horribly?

What is your take on progressive white cities and their lack of diversity? Also what is your opinion on why cities with a large black population have so much sprawl? Do you see any correlations? I would like to hear your thoughts, please leave a comment.

Expo Magic of the White City, 1893 Chicago Worlds Fair

White City, a feature length film about the 1893 Chicago World's Fair released in 2005 and narrated by Gene Wilder.

The White City - Built to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' discovery of America, a "White City" with structures resembling the great marble columns of Rome resides at its unlikely home - a reclaimed swamp in Chicago. On May 1, 1893, over 300,000 people gather at the site for the World's Columbian Exposition opening. No crowd of this size has ever before assembled in one place in the United States.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Tales of a City Planner


As a community planner I have to go to a wide variety of community meetings in various different communities within my district. I have to go to big communities, small communities, rich communities, not so rich communities, old communities and new communities. All of these different communities all have different perceptions and expectations on what government can do for them. Which means sometimes you have to play the part they want you to play in order for them to listen to you. And sometimes you have to play the character in which you think they will listen to the most.

Now I don’t mean that you are selling people lies and you are being someone that you are not but the community you go to will most likely dictate how you dress. For men this means, suit or no suit, tie or no tie or dress shirt and jeans. How you present yourself can be a critical factor in whether or community is going to take you seriously and work alongside you. It’s all about identifying with the needs of that particular community. You know sometimes you can never identify with the needs of that community but you have to present yourself to look like at least your competent enough to handle that community’s needs which might range from looking like an executive to looking like the common man.

A common assumption is to dress in office attire to every meeting you go to regardless of that community’s demographics. Wrong. If you come off as if you are above the people, they will not only cooperate with you but they will become hostile with you. I was at a meeting with a planning consultant in a working class waterfront community where he tried to identify himself with the residents by complaining about his sailboat located in a wealthy town down river while he wore a tweed jacket and a bowtie. Great way to identify with the constituents, pal. I was at another meeting in a historical African-American community that had faced previous decades of discrimination, where my local government was going to tear down a decrepit older school for a brand new school. Sounds good, right? The only problem was all of the local government speakers where an array of older White men in dark suits. *Slaps Face* D’oh! Needless to say it was a long night.

Unless you are about to sell them a Monorail, do not walk into a working class community meeting like this.

In situations like I described above it is best to come to these meetings in something business casual…unless it’s a final meeting or the media is going to be there. But when I have to go to my economically less advantaged and socially rich communities, I try to come in looking like the common man. Which means, no suit, no tie, top button unbuttoned, sleeves rolled up, you know the look. I try to look humble. Not because it is an act but I don’t want to appear to be above them (because I’m not) and I don’t want to intimidate those who have never worked with government. When you are a big man in a suit like I am, people either think you are really serious or you are about to break someone’s thumbs.

The tireless Champion of the people. The Humbled Clay Davis

While the common man look works for residential community meetings it does not translate well with the business communities and institutional community meetings that I have to attend. When businesses are looking toward government to provide them information or work alongside government to upgrade commercial corridors, they frown upon people with unbuttoned shirts, no ties & jackets…and facial hair. There’s nothing worse when a room full of business men and women stare at you without responding to your inquiries because they do not trust what you are saying. Have you ever had to have a serious conversation with a room full of suits while you are in jeans? You feel kind of out of place. You could be in your office and you could be leading a serious discussion but you still feel that someone is going to tap you on your shoulder and ask, “Sir, where’s your jacket?” There is also nothing funnier when someone under dresses for a serious meeting and they walk in with the “Oh Sh*t!” face. You just stare at them and think to yourself, I don’t know who that guy is but he messed up.

So for all my future planners out there, I hoped were able to gain something from the fine art of meeting attire presentation. I hope you have come to learn that a suit is not always appropriate for a community meeting. For all my other fellow planners and anyone else who has to work with the public, I hope enjoyed this post. I would also like to hear some of your attire horror stories, so please leave a comment. And as always,

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

CASTRUM - 2009

2A+P/A and A. Grasso - CASTRUM - 2009

In a cold, cold land...

The Mayor of the City decided to create a new settlement. He did not want to conceive just a city plan, but to reveal a new emotion, a new political vision. He loved to repeat a sentence "the city is too important to put it into the hands of the architects".

Many meetings and workshops with citizens were organized to decide how to go forward with this new project. The Mayor invited a famous urban planner to the workshop, who showed pictures and drawings of many urban models. People were always happy seeing pictures of public spaces, squares, courtyards, gardens etc... otherwise they were just a bit afraid - fearful of those projects made by the very famous masters, drawn by urban planners as "heroes".

But how to organize such a complex system? What form will the city be? This was the problem: can the desires of the community be shown black on white?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

10 Tips on How to become a Planning Board Commissioner

a.k.a how to work for the dark side. I kid, I kid. Their graphics are great.

The statue was really built by a thankful developer

Tip #1
Controversial Issues: A Natural Part of Planning

Stereotypes anyone? That's racist! j/k

Tip #2
Show Respect to All

The planner is really thinking that these people are batsh*t crazy

*Uses Jazz Hands* Say it with me people, Monorail!

All my constituents tweet and friend me on Facebook now. Newspapers. Pff...Loser

Yeah, try to hand out an info flyer at a mall. People will treat you like you have the swine flu. Even I will think your a loser for taking the flyer.

Unfortunately the crowd went all "Town Hall" on him and demanded their community back. 'twas sad.

Tip #7

Uh-huh, Uh-Huh...I didn't understand a word you said sir, I'm just nodding and scribbling, nodding and scribbling.

Why Timmy, this makes no sense at all...there's a factory right next to a house. You know factories aren't allowed in this zone. What were you thinking Timmy?

Tip #10
Planning Is Not Just for Adults

Thursday, October 1, 2009