Wednesday, November 16, 2011


The Big Sort, redux: our cities are getting more and more economically segregated, with the rich living amongst themselves and the poor in their own enclaves, while the middle class disappears:
Much of the shift is the result of changing income structure in the United States. Part of the country’s middle class has slipped to the lower rungs of the income ladder as manufacturing and other middle-class jobs have dwindled, while the wealthy receive a bigger portion of the income pie. Put simply, there are fewer people in the middle.


Sean F. Reardon, an author of the study and a sociologist at Stanford, argued that the shifts had far-reaching implications for the next generation. Children in mostly poor neighborhoods tend to have less access to high-quality schools, child care and preschool, as well as to support networks or educated and economically stable neighbors who might serve as role models.

The isolation of the prosperous, he said, means less interaction with people from other income groups and a greater risk to their support for policies and investments that benefit the broader public — like schools, parks and public transportation systems. About 14 percent of families lived in affluent neighborhoods in 2007, up from 7 percent in 1970, the study found. 
(The NYTimes article includes this nice graphic illustrating the increasing economic homogeneity of Philadelphia.)

It is time for urban governance to embrace flexibility:
Real flexibility also has implications for democracy. Flexible change is by nature incremental and small-scale. The agency implied in true flexibility incorporates multiple narratives into the urban fabric, just as critical history has brought them into our cultural storytelling. If an immigrant group, a group of friends or a family can transform their physical environment in order to suit their needs, then they have the tools to shape their future. This is something that they already do – as is well-documented in the “everyday urbanism” literature – but when this active making of the city is supported by the government, it changes the balance of power and acknowledges the agency of citizens.

This is not to say that informality is necessarily good, and formality necessarily bad — infrastructure, due process, and other protections of law and planning are essential for producing equity and prosperity. Similarly, informality often means a profoundly unpredictable, marginal existence. Flexibility should not be in a binary relationship with planning, but rather in productive tension. Informality is not a threat to the rational plan, so it may be beneficial to find ways to let it take the reins more frequently. In the context of sufficient wealth, infrastructure and protections for citizens’ rights, a little imagination might not be half bad.

My intellectual hero, Peter Gleick, discusses the Pacific Institute's new report (.pdf) on reducing the vulnerability of water systems in the west to the related stressors of the water-energy nexus and climate change. Moving towards renewables and embracing new cooling technologies would help.

Speaking of the water-energy nexus, the Union of Concerned Scientists has a new report on the subject, and the environmental constraints to providing more electricity in a world ruled by dirty energy sources:
Texas may offer a preview of what happens in a warming world. In 2007, there were blackouts in parts of North Carolina because a drought affected the Catawba River. “The thirst of the region’s power plants became incompatible with what the river had to give,” the report said.

Complicating matters, not enough is known about how much water power plants use and how the discharge affects the local environment, it adds.

Both the water shortage and the lack of information will become more problematic, the researchers write. In the not-too-distant future, they say, a growing population is likely to want more air-conditioning than the electrical grid can supply because there will not be enough water available to cool thermoelectric plants.

Their expression was prohibiting other expression. After all, when a drum circle starts in Zuccotti Park, all other music in New York stops.” 

Arresting journalists for doing their jobs is not what should happen in a democracy.

Apparently, “#OWS library, safely stored” is a euphemism for destroying thousands of books. Nice work, Bloomberg. Those books were prohibiting others' abilities to freely express themselves and were probably causing a public health nuisance. Good riddance they're gone now.

Given the paramilitarization of our police forces, the brutality shown towards the OWS protesters throughout the country shouldn't come as a surprise, says former Seattle police chief Norman Stamper:
The paramilitary bureaucracy and the culture it engenders—a black-and-white world in which police unions serve above all to protect the brotherhood—is worse today than it was in the 1990s. Such agencies inevitably view protesters as the enemy. And young people, poor people and people of color will forever experience the institution as an abusive, militaristic force—not just during demonstrations but every day, in neighborhoods across the country.

Much of the problem is rooted in a rigid command-and-control hierarchy based on the military model. American police forces are beholden to archaic internal systems of authority whose rules emphasize bureaucratic regulations over conduct on the streets. An officer’s hair length, the shine on his shoes and the condition of his car are more important than whether he treats a burglary victim or a sex worker with dignity and respect. In the interest of “discipline,” too many police bosses treat their frontline officers as dependent children, which helps explain why many of them behave more like juvenile delinquents than mature, competent professionals. It also helps to explain why persistent, patterned misconduct, including racism, sexism, homophobia, brutality, perjury and corruption, do not go away, no matter how many blue-ribbon panels are commissioned or how much training is provided.
Of course, as Stamper notes, the great irony is that the police are part of the 99%:
It is ironic that those police officers who are busting up the Occupy protesters are themselves victims of the same social ills the demonstrators are combating: corporate greed; the slackening of essential regulatory systems; and the abject failure of all three branches of government to safeguard civil liberties and to protect, if not provide, basic human needs like health, housing, education and more. With cities and states struggling to balance the budget while continuing to deliver public safety, many cops are finding themselves out of work. And, as many Occupy protesters have pointed out, even as police officers help to safeguard the power and profits of the 1 percent, police officers are part of the 99 percent.

Exonerated by DNA evidence? Not so fast, thanks to prosecutorial intransigence.

Paul Simonon, bassist for The Only Band That Mattered, has a new career as assistant cook and climate activist.

A time-lapse view of San Francisco skies over the course of a year.

Some pictures that will make you happy.

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