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.