Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Did Bono get Lucille a refrigerator?

This and other questions have been on our minds since my daughters and I saw Fences on Christmas Day.  There is much to think about in this film of August Wilson's play, and much to revel in -- Denzel Washington's acting and directing, Viola Davis' transcendent moment as a betrayed wife, claiming her ground.  As the play has been around for a long time, these questions have surely been hashed out by others.

Here's the exchange that got us wondering:
troy: Yeah, I’ll do that, Bono. Lucille told Rose you bought her a new refrigerator.
bono: Yeah, Rose told Lucille you had finally built your fence.  So I figured we’d call it even.
troy: I knew you would.
bono:Yeah. okay. I’ll be talking to you.
In a subsequent scene, we see, however, that the fence is not finished, and that made us wonder about this exchange.  Was Troy needling Bono?  Was Bono needling Troy?  The distance between the old friends is great, a result of Troy's anger and self-righteousness, which justified his having affair (and eventually a baby with his mistress), being brutal to his son, and brushing off Bono's good counsel.  

The self-righteous anger is at the heart of the play, which makes it clear Troy has been caught in the vise of racism, and sees no way out.  He wants his son to eschew hope as well:
troy: I don’t care where he coming from. The white man ain’t gonna let you get nowhere with that football noway. You go on and get your book-learning so you can work yourself up in that A&P or learn how to fix cars or build houses or something, get you a trade. That way you have something can’t nobody take away from you. You go on and learn how to put your hands to some good use. Besides hauling people’s garbage.
In the narrow and bitter space of Troy's life, there is no respite.  But the point of the story is in the ending, when Gabe, Troy's half-mad brother, blows his trumpet and the gates of Heaven open to let Troy in.  Gabe says triumphantly, 
That's the way that go!

This is a play that's understood as depicting black life, and of course it is rooted in the particularities of black existence.  My father had Troy's anger and lived some of Troy's life, escaping a brutal father and coming North with the Great Migration, making a way as he made a family and a better America.  
But it's the Angel Gabriel, God's Messenger, letting Heaven know Troy is coming, that pulls our coat that August Wilson is not simply transcribing what the guys said at Eddie's Restaurant on Wiley Avenue in the Hill District.  He wants us to know something sublime -- that's why August Wilson is so revered among playwrights and why Denzel Washington's luminous film is so sublime.  

The answer to the question -- "Did Bono buy Lucille a refrigerator?" -- is another question, "What do you do when there is no room to move?"  

By Cyrus Emanuel Eugenicus - ამირანაშვილი შ. ქართული ხელოვნების ისტორია. -თბ., 1971, Public Domain,
All black people, and lots of white people, know the answer to that question, which is, "God will make a way where there is no way."  August Wilson brilliantly depicts the small openings that give people chances for change and self-expression, some drastic and hurtful, like the affair or Cory's joining the Marines, and some small and ordinary, like Troy finishing the fence.  And even the ultimate one, Troy's brother opening the Gates of Heaven for him, a moment of Grace that gives us all courage to do the next right thing.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Maps of Population Sorting in the US

The New York Times published a series of maps that show where certain television shows are popular. The sharp geographic divisions have been a useful tool to marketers and it seems that political campaigns also understand the useful of this tool.  According the Times' article, the Trump campaign may marketed their anti-Obamacare ads to NCIS watchers and anti-immigration to viewers of the Walking Dead.  But these geographic divisions are built on decades of "sorting" policies that drove people into particular parts of the country.  The co-building of suburbs and highways relocated many white families out of cities, while dividing poor and more affluent blacks into different neighborhoods in cities.  This sorting process tore apart social relationships, shifted political power and created the demographic maps -- and social divisions -- we live with today.  It is a geography of suspicion and intergroup hatred, which spell disaster for collectively managing the massive problems that face us all.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Finding Solace

Rachel Diken went to Kitchen Theater, theater in a Maplewood kitchen, designed to address grief and loss and wrote a lovely blog post about it.  In this season, grief and loss are on my mind.  My son, Bobby Fullilove, died in October.  There are so many moments when I feel his loss.  Years ago, my mother made needlepoint stockings for Christmas, and they are a joy of the season.  But what do we do with Bobby's stocking?  Is it like retiring someone's number?  Should it be framed now?

And so I sit in the kitchen of my house with my two daughters, and various little children floating in and out, their joy infectious.  It is not formal theater, just the drama of life, finding ways to encompass loss.  Brian Handy wrote in the NY Times that "Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas" was his song of the year.  He describes the series of versions.  Originally the song, written for the 1944 movie, "Meet Me In St. Louis," said,

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
It may be your last
Next year we may all be living in the past
But Judy Garland pointed out that audiences would hate that -- during the war years, it would have been too terrible.  It was rewritten to the lines we mostly sing:

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Let your heart be light
Next year all our troubles will be out of sight
We just went through a year of extraordinary hardship -- witness the Year in Photos from the NY Times -- and it is inevitable that more is to come.  Handy notes the song offers the answer, "We will muddle through somehow."  And that is the key to the moment, to our various kinds of griefs and fears for the future.  We gather with our families, adapt our traditions to meet the new situations, cooking, eating, laughing, enjoying babies, muddling along somehow.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Rosa Parks on Main Street

December 1st is both World AIDS Day and the anniversary of the day Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery AL bus.  This year the convergence of these days has special meaning.  In Orange NJ, an additional meaning was added, as gun violence took lives and led to a call for a "peace concert."  What better day to have peace concert than December 1st? And what better place than the Rosa Parks Community School on Main Street?

The Rosa Parks Community School Chorus with their leader, Mariel Johnson
Photo by Briana Heart
"Remembering Rosa: A Concert for Peace" was planned by the Music Department of the University of Orange as an assemblage of the diverse musicianship in Orange. The performers ranged in age from young children to seniors.  They had different perspectives on themes, and expressed them in song, stories and performance art.  There were many joyful moments.  For example, the St. Matthew A.M.E. Gospel Choir sang "I need you to survive" which the children of Rosa Parks Community School think of as "their" song.  The children began to sign the words, as the Choir sang.  The joining seemed emblematic of the song's message of interdependence.

It was a night to lift the spirits, one of those Main Street moments to treasure.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Erasing the past

This remarkable animation and  story from Story Corps relates the wiping out of a black school in Sheridan, Arkansas:

At StoryCorps, we use animations as a tool to help us share and listen to stories that often go unheard. Last week, we released our latest animation, School's Out.

In School's Out , Reverend James Seawood shares a brief, but significant piece of his story growing up as an African American child in the 1950s. It's stories like James's that shed light on America's recent history and brings our history to life so that future generations might understand more about the lives of Sheridan, Arkansas, and communities impacted by "urban renewal."

Click here to watch School's Out and learn about how James's childhood days affected his perspective as an adult.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Labor Day on Main Street

Actually, we usually aren't on Main Street on Labor Day or at least NOT the Main Street by our houses.  We're off to the shore, the lake, the river, the mountain.  A last taste of summer before the harvest of fall and the travails of winter.  But Labor Day, which is about "we" the working people, and Main Street, which is about "we" the working people are intertwined in some way not at all obvious.  The Day and a Street aren't easily overlaid.  A Day is 24 hours, maybe a parade, certainly time off.  A Street is 24/7, maybe houses a parade, but is not about time off, but time being ON, on Main Street.  Some holidays get scant attention.  We've become so ambivalent about Columbus Day, hardly anyone takes it off any more.  No so with Labor Day -- everyone wishes a good holiday, last of summer, fun time, down time.  It's a really big deal.  And so it should be.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

After tragedy, we need to "do something"

When the towers fell on 9/11, I became obsessed with thinking, "What can I do?"  I worked on that day, and much of the night, for a year, working with friends and associated to create NYC RECOVERS, a collaboration of organizations in the NYC region concerned with the area's social and emotional recovery from the attacks on the World Trade Center.  We made a short film about the project and interviewed many of our collaborators.  Quite a few used some version of the phrase, "I needed to DO something."  It was so universal -- this need do DO something -- that I began to look for it after other shattering events.  It always appears.

But I learned, as well, that events are not always legitimized as times of action, in the way that 9/11 was.  That can leave people adrift, wondering how they are supposed to respond or, worse, just feeling terrible.  It is easy for that feeling to become hopelessness and helplessness.  Our grief and fear need outlets in times of stress.  I am a big fan of the Design Studio for Social Intervention which has proposed making a poster about what to do in a social emergency.  An AIA colleague, Randy Collins, made a prototype in response to their query.

I like Randy's teardrop in the center, surrounded by four stages.  It is useful to know that we start by crying for the victims.  Sometimes people are crying and sad, and they start to blame themselves -- unsure what else to do.  So it's helpful that Randy shows us next steps.

I was thinking about this after the spate of tragedies we've been through in July, and was very touched to read that the Broadway production of "Fun Home" wanted to DO something about the tragedy in Orlando.  They decided that their play, which deals with sexual identity and suicide, had something to offer, so they arranged a special performance at a benefit there.  One of the actors, Michael Cerveris, wrote in the NY Times about the special bond between the actors and the audience that night.  He wrote about the audience reaction to the play:
We sat motionless onstage, weeping. Not for ourselves, but for what had happened here, for what this community had brought in their hearts tonight. And then came an ovation that was a roar, a catharsis and a celebration of love and life. We bow to standing ovations after every performance. There has never been one we will cherish more.
We DO something after tragedy because we must -- we must move forward, affirming love and life, and at the same time, we must honor the hurt and grief.  To DO something is to go on living.  

Friday, July 29, 2016

John Hope Franklin on Reparations

John Hope Franklin is one of the nation's most respected historians.  He was interviewed by the Indy Week, the independent paper of Raleigh, Cary, Durham and Chapel Hill.  Franklin was passionate about the enormous wealth that had been stolen from black people. Apologies for slavery are easy, he commented, but what about all that followed, like Reconstruction and Jim Crow?  What about the stolen money?  While he didn't see any groups willing to make such changes, he didn't hesitate to say he thought it was necessary and deserved.

Friday, July 22, 2016

The expulsion of poor people from our cities

I attended one day of the annual meeting of the National Association of City and County Health Officers (NACCHO). It had the bold theme of "creating a culture of health equity." It was interesting to listen to the presentations -- I'd say NYC, under the leadership of Dr. Mary Bassett, and with a new Center for Health Equity, is defining the cutting edge. Others are focused on righting obvious disparities in resources, but without an adequate analysis of the social processes driving inequity. Dr. Camara Jones asked the key question just at the closing bell: How we consider outcomes AND process as we create public health programs?

What are these processes?  Gentrification is an obvious one.  The New York Times had a sobering story about the "loneliness of black people in San Francisco."  Black people have been part of San Francisco since the Gold Rush days, but their numbers increased dramatically in World War II, when blacks from Texas and Louisiana moved there to work in the war industries.  They settled in the Fillmore, which had been left empty by "internal resettlement" of Japanese residents -- forced into concentration camps because they were presumed to be a threat to national security.   The newcomers quickly built a vibrant community, known as a center of American jazz.  Urban renewal, in the1950s, declared the Fillmore a "blight" on the city, the area was bulldozed and rebuilt.  This was a major blow to the black community.  Deindustrialization, which got started in the 1960s, undermined the economic foundation of the community.  Gentrification has really been the great force, driving working people out of the city.  The Mission District, a center of Hispanic life for many decades, is rapidly shifting the population there.  Rebecca Solnit's devastating article, "Death by Gentrification," told a story of a young man's death, triggered by the suspicions of newcomers who thought he was dangerous when in reality he was eating a taco.

The drama of expulsion -- going on in major cities across the US and the world -- has implications for everything from electoral politics to public health campaigns.  Take a simple example.  A public health program wants to enhance food options for a community that is considered a "food dessert."  they succeed, but so gentrification, which the public health program did not target for intervention.  The food options have improved but no poor people live in the neighborhood.  Did the public health program "work"?

One example of taking public health leaders taking on the process is found in the report, Development without Displacement: Resisting Gentrification in the Bay Area.  This report was written by Causa Justa::Just Cause, with policy and data analysis support from the Alameda County Public Health Department's Place Matters Team.  This is the kind work that is all too frequently missing from our public health agenda -- it is urgent that we understand and act on the massive displacement that is reshaping our urban regions and redefining massive communities.  We do not succeed if all we've done is create great food options for arriving hipsters.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Why are highways the new site of protest?

Washington Post reporter Emily Badger asked this question and put together an excellent response, that includes the ways highways sliced through black neighborhoods in the 1960s, the way they act to separate white and black communities, and their key role in moving traffic and commerce.  To demonstrate on a highway is make a big noise, in an important location.

In a fascinating way, making highways a site of protest helps us see the many ways in which they are part of the urban system, not an extra-territorial space for moving quickly.  Wonderful analysis!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Murder on Main Street signals a social emergency

Charles Blow called it a "week from hell," "...another week that tore at the very fiber of our nation." Two brutal deaths of black men at the hands of police, followed by a massacre of police by a black sniper, who set himself up on Main Street in Dallas, ready to pick off officers guarding a peaceful protests of the earlier deaths.  Protests belong on Main Street: murder is a shocking intruder.

NY Times' graphic of the Dallas Protest route and site of the shooting (bursting star)

The Black Lives Matter movement has brought national scrutiny to "deaths at the hands of police," challenging the across-the-board impunity with which police are vested.  Under our watch, we've seen men exonerated after acts that are illegal, irrational, stupid or mean.  It seems impossible to the average citizen (me) that they could get off in ALL the cases, but that is what we've seen.  For one young man, Micah Johnson, a former soldier who had served in Afghanistan, this was too much.  He become judge, jury and executioner, carrying out his form of payback.  It is all so tragic.

The Washington Post published a report on 46 people whose sentences had been commuted by President Obama.  It was heartwarming to learn of the efforts those people had made to restart their lives outside of prison.  But as a footnote to a week from hell, it was impossible not to compare the punishments they had received for much less heinous crimes with our absolute inability to chastise police officers who kill innocent citizens.  Mass criminalization is the harsh face of oppression, and the police, as the hand of oppression, are its enforcers.  Even in extreme circumstances, they are not its victims.  Our problem is not the police, who are the hand of oppression.  Our problem lies with the system of oppression.

We are in a social emergency.  As a public member on the national board of the American Institute of Architects, I spoke about the growing pain over unjustified death at the hands of police and the social emergency it was triggering.  I shared the suggestion from the Design Studio for Social Intervention that we needed procedures for such times.  Architect Randy Collins listened carefully and translated what needs to be done at such a moment into a simple drawing, taking inspiration from the airline instructions about on putting your own mask before you help others.

We can see in the drawing that response to a social emergency has four parts: for the victim, we cry; for the act, we contemplate; for justice, we cry out; for change, we advocate.  It is a perfect evocation of what is needed in these dire times.  People rush to rage, but we need, instead, to step back and consider the way forward.  The larger question is this, "Where are we going?"

Randy Collins, "In a social Emergency"

On a main Street in Cleveland -- East 105th Street -- Martin Kohn told me about the history of the Jewish community that had lived in the area.  His grandparents had been part of the group, and we visited his grandfather's schul.  Nearby, there was a community center with the names of the prophets written in Hebrew.  For Marty, it evoked the Biblical phrase, "Justice, justice you shall pursue," a core tenet of Judaism.

What is justice?  We all feel differently about that, which is the measure of size of the social emergency.  We don't share a common sense of what is just.  Racism has contributed to this confusion by enshrining unequal treatment into the very Constitution of the nation.

The leaders of the nation will try to find the right words to patch over the deep divides that are tearing at us.  But they do not dare condemn the oppression -- it is too useful to them.  Indeed, great dividers like Rudy Guiliani lay the blame on the protesters -- refusing to admit the possibility that  Mr. Johnson -- however wrong-headed his solution -- actually had correctly identified oppression as an intolerable problem.

Thus, the contemplation ahead of us has to search for deep principles in order to move divided people toward clarity.  We need to reckon with the past -- the long history of injustice stretching back to 1619 -- and we need to look forward to kind of challenges that lie ahead, as well as the kind of nation we want to leave to our children.   The work ahead beckons, but better to do the work than to continue to watch murders live on Facebook.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

How Middlebury is knit together across a river

Pananoramic from the park on the left bank, looking back toward Main Street.
Middlebury, Vermont, is situated around the Otter Creek.  In an unusual move, the creek takes a sharp left, right after a set of falls which provided power for mills in the 18th and 19th centuries.  This strange left turn creates a broad sweep of space in the middle of the town.   This makes a challenging for knitting the city, a task ably fulfilled by a beautiful park and accompanying landscaping on both sides of the creek.  It is elegant, complete and satisfying in the way it wraps the water into the daily life of the city.  With two bridges, a number of stairs and small alleys, then a sweep of vista made into an amphitheater, it has complexity and charm that are a delight to find.
From Google Maps--Check out the sharp turn the Creek makes

Saturday, July 2, 2016

What women need from the city

Julia Donoho, architect, lawyer and advocate for women, sent me a fascinating article examining what women need from the city, and how their needs might be met.  Some issues are obvious, like lighting for safe streets.  But I was surprised to read about snow removal and gender equity -- women walk more than men and are very dependent on clearing of sidewalks, but cities put their money into clearing streets.  When sidewalks are cleared, another surprising thing happens: fewer injuries because pedestrians have many accidents on slippery walkways.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Neighborhoods and Forces of Change

A brilliant site, called Retrographer, has been taking historic photos of Pittsburgh and linking them to photos of what the same place looks like now.  It is remarkable to see the transformation of the city.  For the Hill District, the forces of change have included urban renewal, disinvestment and gentrification.  We can see how the lively neighborhood was undermined and crumbled between the the 1950s and now.  These two photos are one example of the interesting comparisons you'll find at the site.  They include the Google map, so you know exactly where you are.  In this case, at the western edge of the urban renewal area.

Neighborhoods and Highways

The federal program of highway development showed little concern for neighborhoods, especially those of poor and working people.  Brian O'Neill in a March 2016 column in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote about the East Street Valley, a neighborhood leveled for a highway.  Bill Gandy and others of those who lost their homes have organized a small museum, dedicated to collecting and showing photos of what was lost.  Between the displaced families and the historical collections, the little museum has access to 100,000 photos, helping to recreate a visual record of what was lost.
East Street Valley looking toward Swindell Bridge, 1931

Here's what the neighborhood around the new museum, at 433 E. Ohio Street, looks like, with a healthy serving of highways added:

US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has been outspoken about the damage that the federal highway program did.  He is from Charlotte and cited the story of Brooklyn, a downtown black neighborhood that was destroyed by urban renewal and highway construction.  When Foxx was growing up in Lincoln Heights, he knew he couldn't ride his bike far because of highways pinning him in.  He was quoted in the Washington Post as saying,
It became clear to me only later on that those freeways were there to carry people through my neighborhood, but never to my neighborhood.  Businesses didn't invest there.  Grocery stores and pharmacies didn't take the risk.  I could not even get a pizza delivered to my house.  
He showed a dramatic set of maps of the ways in which Charlotte moved poor and black people out of the center, to the periphery of the city.  In these maps, the blue areas indicate that greater than 30% of the population was low income, while the red areas had less than 30% of the population in that income bracket.  The "sorting" of Charlotte, including the role of redlining, urban renewal and highway construction, has been brilliantly described by historian Thomas Hanchett, in his landmark book, Sorting out the New South City.  

Friday, February 19, 2016

Poorer health, shorter lives

An editorial in the American Journal of Public Health laid out the problem facing the US: We spend the most on "health care" but the least of social services. In return, the health of the nation is failing compared to other developed nations.  In fact, we are losing ground.  The editorial is concerned that this deep problem is non-issue on this year's campaign trail.  I believe that part of the problem that we're in is a linguistic tangle, because we use "health" as a synonym for "disease."  What doctors do is called "health" care but it is actually "disease" care.  You can't actually get to "health" by spending endless amount on "disease."  To get to health, you actually have to spend on the things that create health, like housing people can afford, jobs with decent pay, and education that prepares for the workplace without bankrupting people.

County Health Rankings Model
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, aware of this larger picture, has launched a "culture of health" project.  An Orange NJ coalition, led by the Board of Education, has been funded to develop a culture of health project.  The RWFJ program begins with the County Health Rankings model of contributors to health, which allocates the proportion of contribution made to health by a list of factors.  Social and economic factors, for example, account for 40% of the influence on health, while clinical care ("disease management") accounts for 20%.  This model suggests that as we widen our lens we will open up ways to spend that both "manage disease" and "create health."

The Healthy Orange Coalition has focused on educational attainment, because that creates a clear pathway to health.  In fact, increasing educational attainment will improve many other markers, like employment, income, health behaviors, increasing the effect of this single intervention to many areas.  The Coalition is in the early phases of developing a broad network of support which can guide the campaign.  More to come!

Friday, January 29, 2016

It takes a what to raise a genius?

An article in Next City has the humorous title, "It May Take A City to Raise a Genius."  The story discusses the book The Geography of Genius by EricWeiner.  He is a travel writer who became intrigued by the idea that certain times and places produced clusters of genius.  This required several factors: diversity of population, openness to new ideas, and "third spaces" in which people could cross paths and rub shoulders, maybe share some strudel as they did in the coffee shops of Vienna.  One wonders did they have baklava back when Plato and Sophocles were hanging out in the markets of Athens.  This raises the question: couldn't we create similar conditions everywhere?  I noticed a great stirring of imagination at Ironworks, a youth arts center in Orange NJ.  It was amazing how this rippled out over space and time, evolving, engaging more young people, and pushing the conversation about art.  "Finances" reared their ugly head and the youth arts program was exchanged for architects with moolah.  What have we done to history?  Can we fix it?  Echoes of Flint ring in my head.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Where did the term "gerrymander" come from?

A Very Helpful Article in today's NY Times explained the history of the term "gerrymander."  I'd grown up with the word because the schools in my hometown were gerrymandered, and my parents led the fight to undo that policy of segregation.  But when and where did the term arise?  Article author Carl Hulse explained that the term referred to Boston voting districts which in 1832 were drawn in bizarre shapes that gave advantage to one political party.  Governor Gerry signed this into law.  A newspaper published a cartoon saying the shape was reminiscent of salamander, indeed, a "Gerry-mander."  You learn something every day!  And what a cartoon!
According the NY Times: "This 1812 cartoon in The Boston Gazette
skewered twisting legislative districts in Massachusetts and helped
give rise to the term 'gerrymandering.'"

Saturday, January 23, 2016

What is an Iowa caucus?

It's a very blizzardy Jan 32rd here in New Jersey during Winter Storm Jonas, and I have time to do all sorts of things, like click on the links in The New York Times.  I found this link to a video of an Iowa caucus.  It was a Des Moines caucus in 2008--I don't know if this more than one.  In this video, the Democrats gathered in a large gym.  They counted themselves, and then divided up by candidate.  Candidates with less than 15% of the crowd were considered "non-viable" and then their supporters could scatter to other candidates.  It was quite a process of people engaging in the political process.  One woman was trying to convince some men to support Obama.  One man with a Hilary sign got hysterical, shouting that Obama didn't raise his hand to salute the flag. Another man said to the woman, "Could you give him a Valium?"  It is a fascinating look at what will be happening in Iowa, as Bernie Sanders and Hilary Clinton go toe-to-toe.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Chaos in Cologne

The chaos in the streets of Cologne on New Year's Eve is provoking lots of second thoughts about permitting large numbers of refugees into Germany and elsewhere in Europe.  The police expected, and prepared for, the usual, and when the unusual happened, they made a series of bad decisions which escalated the situation.  Not good.

It's easy enough to see the problem of a clash of cultures.  But it's not as if the countries that young men are from traditionally allow drunken, rowdy behavior and mass attacks on women.  It's the lack of culture, the sudden upheaval, the joy of being out of danger and the lack of a sense of boundaries in the new place that put all in danger.  It is easy to assume that, having offered asylum, all will be grateful and behavior in the "right" way.  Most have -- there are a million refugees in Germany, for example, a some hundreds that mobbed the New Year's Eve crowd.  To blame the whole for the bad behavior of a few is always a bad idea.  But the point is that it demonstrates that the assumption -- be grateful, be proper -- is not sufficient.

What else has to be considered?

First, what is the history in Germany or the other host countries of treating people from the Middle East who have settled there?  Are they well-integrated into the culture?  Are they connected to the new arrivals?  This kind of history is crucial for beginning to think about what will happen next.  A well-integrated immigrant group can quickly help fellow immigrants connect -- the "Soviet" era Jewish immigrants in New York, for example, have been stalwarts in integrating others from "Russia."

Second, what is the history of upheaval from which people were fleeing?  What kind of behaviors did they see and participate in or suffer from?  In periods of upheaval, people see and do all kinds of things that have to do with cultural traditions and everything to do with the struggles for power, survival and hegemony.

Third, what is the setting into which people are welcomed?  Are they able to start to work, to learn the language, to develop a future?  Are they in refugee camps?  What are the camps like?  The more unstable and marginal the situation of the refugees, the more chaos can be expected.

These are only some of the serious questions that have to be answered before predictions can be made or judgements of behavior reached.  The crisis is serious, the chaos a symptom that must be taken seriously.  Using one incident to set policy, without a thorough assessment of its context and meaning, is shortsighted and can only aggravate the larger global situation in which we find ourselves.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Buying their Main Street

This thrilling article from YES! Magazine details how a group of neighbors in Minneapolis got together to improve their Main Street.  Many of the stores were vacant and it had a gloomy air.  They pooled their money and bought up some of the stores.  Then they sold or rented the spaces to enterprises that needed affordable space, like a bicycle store, a bakery and a brewery.  These new enterprises created jobs and injected vigor into Main Street.  This is a model that has resonance for many places whose Main Streets are slowly sagging into obliteration.  I had the opportunity to visit Mount Morris, a town in upstate New York, revitalized by the efforts of Greg O'Connell, a New York City developer who loved the area.

Here's another great story about transforming a lost piece of Main Street: the Nebraska town of Lyons transformed a building that was only a facade into a pop-up theater.  This project, developed by artist Matt Mazzotta, re-created the front of the building so that it would be lowered, revealing bleacher seats.  Then, they used a tractor to put a large movie screen in place.  For the inaugural event, they played a movie about the history of downtown Lyons, starring several local residents.  It reminds me of the wonderful film "Be Kind, Rewind," in which a community makes a movie about itself.

So if your Main Street looks pathetic, considering buying a bit of it and remaking it!

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Main Street Stories

Here's the thing about Main Street stories: they are stories of our collective life. When I first started studying Main Streets, I never thought of Saturday afternoons at the Embassy Theater as anything other than a really pleasant memory of childhood.  But, especially as the University of Orange had worked on "Unearthing the Future: the Reverse Archaeology of Route 280," I've heard so many people's stories of the Embassy -- and they're all more or less like mine.  Fran McClain told Chris Matthews, chief reverse archaeologist,
Embassy Theater on Main Street, Orange, NJ
There were so many movies here. We had the Hollywood [theater], which was right out here on Central Avenue …. We’d roller skate there. It was only a quarter to get into the movies. We saw the cartoons, two features, then we would roller skate back home. There was also the Embassy Theater on Main Street by the library and the Palace theater on Main Street by East Orange. I remember seeing Moby Dick, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Westerns with John Wayne.
We have the same memories, because we all went there together.  And that is the power and mystery of Main Street.  20,000 Leagues Under the Sea -- such a strange movie!  How did that shape our young minds?  What did it say about America?  What kind of delicious life did we have on roller skates?  I love the song "Brand New Key" by Melanie:
I got a brand new pair of roller skates,
You got a brand new key.
One day I found a roller skate key in a pile of junk and I added it to my keychain.  I was partly imitating others in my family who have exotic collections on their key chains.  But I was also remembering how precious it was to have a roller skate key, as the skates had to be tightened all the time.  And this is the magic of Main Street: it opens our eyes to the shared part of our existence, woven with our culture, our times, our keys.