Best Practices

1. When you’re scared or sad, do not act mad.

Children do this. Perhaps we think subconsciously that our anger will be more productive than our sadness or fear. Truth is, there is nothing to be productive about with emotions. Most of them do not require action, just acceptance. Basic cognitive-behavior psychology: Thoughts –> Feelings –> Actions. Which leads to the next best practice.

2. Try to realize as early as possible that you’re on a spiral of irrational thinking.

This is one of the first best practices I wrote down because I get caught in it so often. My brain is hard-wired to make assumptions that lead to panic. Example: a silence from someone in my life could be interpreted in many ways. What does silence mean 90% of the time, though? Nothing. An unanswered email? They must have been offended by what I said. Maybe they were asleep. Maybe they’re busy. Maybe they’re self conscious too and don’t know what to say. Maybe they forgot. Enter logic. Interrogate your emotions with logic. Give them no mercy. Kick yourself off that spiral of irrational thinking before you wreck yourself!

3. Do not take anything personally. ANYTHING.

This sounds scary but it’s not. I don’t care the situation, I won’t allow any exceptions. Do not take things personally. Just don’t. Ever. Nothing bad will come of it. Grandma didn’t like your cooking. The person you want most to please and impress (do you see their face?) criticizes your sense of humor. So what. Refuse to take it personally.

4. Remember to show your fun side.

I constantly forget to have fun.

5. Learn about everything. You are smart enough.

I see myself, no joke, as an agent of truth and justice. I see myself as in training. Constantly. My mind likes to be on a constant loop of “You can’t learn all this stuff” but if you get off that loop, under the consciousness (see David Lynch on Transcendental Meditation), you’ll find limitless potential of what we can know and understand. Every fact may be needed someday. I want to learn about everything.

6. Don’t let negative thoughts and guilt bring you down.

It’s so easy to give into negativity. Ther is so much to be negative about in this world. Good God. My husband’s six year old brother died. Humans are still sold as slaves. In year 2013. We have every reason to be angry and upset and depressed but we have no right. For all the innocents that have suffered–they don’t need angst from the rest of us. They don’t need helplessness. They need your gardens. They don’t need your dwelling on your past mistakes. What you did was terrible! Now shut up about it! The world doesn’t care, it still moves without you though it needs you. Badly. They need your stupid ideas, your business startups, your adhoc baseball games, your screenplays, your art. The dying need you, you are designated to live right now, in this world, not in the realms of shame and fear. ­

7. Further humanity.

Who am I to say what furthering humanity looks like? My husband coined this mantra that I have shamelessly adopted. It’s written on my computer at work. I do marketing. How does that further humanity? I don’t know yet. I start by being a better human. By treating other humans as humans. I think of Mr. Rogers making a lifelong friend of a one-time limo driver. I push away the self doubt and the anger and all the inevitable shit that inhabits our brains daily, and I focus on furthering humanity.

It’s 2013, for duck’s sake.

Just as I am out of patience for my teenage mind, still self conscious and angry, at age 26, the world is out of patience with this pattern humanity is still clinging onto. We think the only way to move forward is by electronic technology but don’t you think we could evolve spiritually, psychologically, mentally too?

We’re nostalgic for simpler times and it’s idiotic. I reject nostalgia. It’s time to grow.

8. You are able and good enough.

Grant yourself this. Constantly. I weep and pray for every person who cannot embrace this truth, including me. I’m not a startup business person in Detroit. I’m not making lifechanging films in Japan. I’m not the ground breaking urban planner in Portland that will get America off its addiction to oil and onto sustainability. I’m some nobody in West Michigan. WHO CARES. FUCK THESE COMPARISONS. I AM ABLE AND GOOD ENOUGH.

We are able and good enough. Never apologize for who you are. We are worthy. We are worthy. We are worthy.

Ridiculous Statement of the Week

We don’t want sidewalks. Sidewalks will bring crime.

This is something planners hear (way too many times) when at public meetings for suburban neighborhoods, meetings proposing sidewalks to be built where there are none.

I’m going to try to back up this comment for the people who have said it, since they skipped about thirteen steps in faulty logic to come to this conclusion.

  1. Sidewalks allow pedestrian access.
  2. Pedestrians are only pedestrians because they can’t afford cars.
  3. Poor people can’t afford cars. So they walk (for miles) to the outlying suburbs to shoot people randomly and steal stuff, but only if they hear that suburb has sidewalks.
  4. IF we have sidewalks, we WILL get invaded by outsiders and crime will rise at an alarming rate.
  5. Don’t even get us STARTED on apartment complexes. That’s just asking for low-class or black people crime.
  6. As long as we’re all in our cars, we’re all safe.
The Sidewalk. Bringing crime to the suburbs since 1942.
The Sidewalk. Bringing crime to the suburbs since 1942.

Sidewalks are public amenities that enable people to walk through a neighborhood without sharing the road with cars.

Sidewalks provide space with a buffer from traffic for children to ride their bikes on safely.

Sidewalks make natural exercise more possible.

Sidewalks send a signal: Yes, you can walk through here. Yes, we are actual people and not machines who drive everywhere. Yes, we have souls.

Cars kill 39,000 people a year on average.

(Since I won’t be able to say this to you when I have a job in the planning field,)  SUCK IT.

 

Stuff I’m Obsessing Over: Equal Access

Yesterday a man was walking down the street outside our apartment.  He was blind, and we ended up helping him find the store around the corner as he had gotten mixed up over where he was.

The corridor I live near is like many state roads in Michigan: car-oriented, the main way of getting most places, no sidewalks, lots of McDonalds and chains, connections to the highways.  MDOT is making a sincere effort to get sidewalks and crosswalks on these kinds of streets, as residential development has become denser adjacent to them.  As a person who lives a block away from this corridor, I live within 1/4 mile of many fastfood restaurants, a superstore, auto-repair shops, and even a secretary of state. You’d think I’d be able to walk to these places, and having been raised to be efficient with my resources, I would like to walk to them. But it’s just dangerous. 

I can’t imagine not having a car out here. Okay, fine. To live out here, you have to have a car. This is America, after all.  What about blind friend John?  The only affordable housing in Ann Arbor is outside of Ann Arbor, where things are not walkable.  What do the handicapped do?

What do the handicapped do? Or those who cannot afford a car?

Probably the first step to equal opportunity for all is …equal accessibility for all.  People being able to physically get to places without loads of difficulty might help them get where they want to go.

I don’t care how small of a minority of people fit into the ADA description. It could be one person. We still have to take care of that person. But it happens to be millions.

Don’t get me started on the lack of even beginnings of progress on mentally disabled access. How does this fit into access to sidewalks and transit? I can already think of implications for those with Aspergers and Autism of riding transit and walking busy streets.

We build this world for us. Not for cars. Not for what’s cheap and profitable at the time. Though building for people has proven to be profitable, though not cheap. Who could expect it to be?

The Flow of Life (Academic)

The “flow of life” is not an altogether well-known or widely-used term. Yet, it springs up in many forms throughout art, literature, psychology, and theory. It may surprise some that a high-quality explanation of the importance of the flow of life in our built environments comes from film theory. In his book, Theory of Film: The Redemption of Physical Reality, Siegfried Kracauer, a significant realist in film theory canon, writes about how a street may be a symbol of life for the film screen. Life, in the context of Kracauer’s thinking, is “still intimately connected, as if by an umbilical cord, with the material phenomena from which its emotional and intellectual contents emerge,” and the flow of life is a material continuum that “extends to the mental dimension” (Kracauer 1960). The street, then, is a “place where the flow of life is bound to assert itself.” This metaphor refers mainly to city streets, where many pedestrians and “anonymous crowds” flow by with their unknown stories and possibilities for chance interactions.

The concept of the flow of life has, in many manifestations, become central to urban design. It may be called the vibrant street, the public realm, or the pedestrian corridor.Various stakeholders know the benefits of a place that encourages the flow of life: the businesses surrounding it will flourish, the street itself will be a destination for the city or town, and people will have a place to walk and exercise. Streets have historically been the source of the flow of life, yet streets have changed dramatically as a concept, especially in modernized, Western, car-centric culture. The transformation of streets from public realms to automobile corridors has robbed society of a connection to the flow of life that is crucial to individual and communal well-being. Subconsciously, we as a society have dealt with this loss in a myriad of ways, including the upsurge of social networking and its design, which recently has morphed into a virtual flow of life. To explore this pattern, I will examine three areas regarding the “flows of life” in Ann Arbor: Liberty Avenue, Stadium Boulevard, and the Facebook live feed. I will then explore the question of whether we still need urban space and the physical flow of life, and if it is still feasible for the United States.

Liberty Avenue, mostly developed in the mid-19th Century, reflects the traditional pedestrian commercial corridor. Before cars were invented and widely used, streets were for pedestrians and public transit, and enclosed by two walls of storefronts and institutional entrances. Much like a hallway, the street is a passage from one’s starting point to one’s destination. However, because the street belongs to everyone, it allows for stopping, pausing, talking, rioting, performing. Liberty Avenue, from curb to curb, is about 30 feet wide and has sidewalks about eight feet wide on each side. That is a ratio of roughly 2:1 road-space to path-space, with intermittent parking lanes as a buffer between car traffic and pedestrian traffic. Short blocks facilitate the pedestrian’s mental connection to the other side of the street as an opposite wall and an accessible destination. On a Friday night, Liberty is bustling with pedestrians, bicycles, and cars. Rush hour and happy hour occur simultaneously, the latter group exhibiting much more enjoyment than the former. Main and Liberty is a site for much outdoor seating for the many restaurants, which diners choose over inside seating if weather permits.

Stadium Boulevard serves as a commercial corridor and as a conceptual boundary for Ann Arbor along its west and south sides. It is zoned to accommodate automobile uses, such as gas stations, oil changes, and drive-through restaurants. The curb to curb width of Stadium is more than 60 feet, while the sidewalks are the minimum standard of 5 feet wide. This is a ratio of 12:1 road-space to path-space. Its blocks are about a half-mile long, roughly ten times longer than those on Liberty in the downtown area. Though there are many destinations along Stadium, including restaurants, they are mostly accessible by car. It is not enjoyable for the pedestrian to stroll down Stadium, as the long setbacks of the businesses and long blocks create a boring experience, and the 40-mile-per-hour traffic decreases perceived and actual safety for the pedestrian. Any flow of life occurring on Stadium is from the cars; this is too homogeneous of a source to be edifying or entertaining.

Stadium Boulevard is an illustration of what happened after the second World War, as many young couples settled in suburbs, intentionally cut off from the noise and mess of inner cities. It was a status symbol to have a car, a yard, and a television, and if you wanted your fix of public life, you drove downtown for a few hours. Petula Clark’s lyrics to the song “Downtown” describe this phenomenon exactly:

When you’re alone

And life is making you lonely,

You can always go downtown

When you’ve got worries,

All the noise and the hurry

Seems to help, I know, downtown

Just listen to the music of the traffic in the city

Linger on the sidewalk where the neon signs are pretty

How can you lose?

The lights are much brighter there

You can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares and go

Downtown, things’ll be great when you’re

Downtown, no finer place for sure,

Downtown, everything’s waiting for you.

Downtowns and vibrant places soon became a destination and not part of everyday life. Downtown was great to visit, but not to live in. As the 1960s wore on, and demonstrations for civil rights and against the Vietnam war arose and became violent, even more faith was lost in the street as public space. Policy and marketing clung to the comfort of car-only streets. Highways and corridors continued to gain prominence, and walking became a last resort. This sequence of development, dissipating communities into developments and individual parcels, resulted not only in race but class segregation, building fear among Americans of people from different walks of life. Not having a place where all classes roam equally deprived Americans from exposure and practice in living civilly together.

Indeed, Stadium Boulevard, a commercial corridor, was victim to this time in planning. Though the street has moderate residential density in its vicinity, its storefronts turn away from these neighborhoods and towards the wide street, looking over substantial parking lots. Recently, Stadium was updated with sidewalks and bicycle lanes, the latter of which is not used so often. Though the sidewalks do accommodate daily pedestrians, these amenities do not increase the pedestrian’s connection with the businesses lining Stadium; they simply allow the pedestrian to move through just as the vehicles do. Streets like Stadium have a flow of life, but not an audience, unless it is a “metro cruise,” a gathering of car enthusiasts, who either drive up and down the corridor, or park at a location to admire the other cars. Conversely, Liberty Avenue is almost inhospitable to vehicles. The storefronts open immediately to sidewalks, and the lack of bicycle lanes rarely stops the cyclists from riding through. The residential density in Liberty’s vicinity has easier access to these buildings, but one can argue that economic access to these living spaces is quite limited. Ann Arbor’s living prices correlates inversely with distance from campus and downtown. The closer you are to the center, the higher your rent will be. So, for many, streets like Stadium are home and streets like Liberty are destinations.

Facebook emerged as an online college social network in 2005. Six years later, it has over 800 million users. It encourages virtual contact with the user’s social circle from “real life.” Starting out as a flipbook of profiles, Facebook has morphed into a live feed of status updates, links, videos, and photos. Social networks emerged as a way to connect those not spatially related, but interest-related. Facebook does not operate this way. It gathers together people who know each other from work, school, church, family, friends, though, theoretically, these listed places are the original gathering spaces. Because people often live far from where their work, school, church, family, and friends, Facebook serves as a third place as described by Ray Oldenburg, who points out that people in America are less likely to leave home casually because it involves planning and travel of long distances (Oldenburg 1989). So, if one feels disconnected or isolated, she can log onto Facebook and experience, to a limited extent, what is “going on” in her social circles and in the world. Scrolling down the live newsfeed is similar, safer, and easier than strolling down an actual street, bustling thoughts, ideas, reactions from many different entities.

The political demonstration and protests that happened on the streets of many cities in the 1960s are still echoed by today’s youth, who see reasons to use their free speech in this way. Surprisingly, the Internet, instead of replacing physical demonstration (and occupation) in public spaces, has helped to organize these social uprisings. The online petition, an early version of online political action, still circulates the Internet, but does not make the dent that the recent “Occupy Wallstreet” protests have made on the collective psyche. When broadcast television and radio were our source of the outside world, there was far less interplay between authorship and readership: the broadcasters were an authority, deciding what flow of information came through the speakers and on the screen into our homes (Zeng et al. 2010). Today, when all users have the ability to share, write, and pass on the information they choose, all types of dissenting opinions arise. People feel less separated by class and more separated by ideology. They create their own spaces.

As people gain deep habits of relying on the Internet for their needs, how do urban designers proceed? Do we continue building cities that illustrate an impression that physical space does not matter anymore? Or do we build cities the way they used to be built, before technology and media became a replacement for the flow of life, risking an impression of nostalgia and impractical design? How do streetlights, benches, pavers, and storefronts compete with the glowing screen of the iPhone in the hands of most young people? Is anyone safe to assume that anything will appeal to the masses ever again, or has the Internet created a place for our imaginations to organize their own flow of life?

Current development (often disregarding much thought to urban design) will often ignore the possible “wants” of the markets, and simply serve the needs: a continuation of the modernist pattern of building for function over form. Allan Jacobs and Donald Appleyard argue against this on humanistic grounds: “A city should have magical places where fantasy is possible, a counter to and an escape from the mundaneness of everyday work and living” (1987). The response to this need?  Privately-owned magical places. Sorkin writes about Disneyland as a “concentration camp for pleasure,” a physical manifestation of the media’s perception of urban life at its best, an absurd product of the devices we have used to escape from urban public spaces (Sorkin 2007). He asserts that this replacement for urban life is stripped of accidents, unpredictability, opportunity, and, ultimately, an authentic flow of life. Our boring everyday worlds and our controlled fantasy lands reflect our anxiety, a point underscored by Richard Weinstein:

The interchangeability, predictability, and ordinariness of this urban landscape also offers comfort and security to a mobile population, anxiety ridden in the pursuit of profit, pleasure, individual self-definition, and the control of chance. Yet the ordinary, common, and conforming still contribute to this anxiety by a tense relation to the singular, individual, and privatized (Weinstein).

We have built a nation to calm our anxieties, which are possibly related to our isolation, but find that the predictable, interchangeable landscape does little in this regard.

Perhaps it is social media that can help us rebuild public spaces usable to everyone. Governmental entities and transportation authorities have both experimented with the use of social media to get feedback, and arguments for and against its equity have sprung up in reaction. Though the people without means or ability to use social networks will not have input in this way, it still gives those unable to attend public meetings a say in how things are decided. On the social side of things, applications have emerged that allow the Internet user to “check in” to the places they are in reality, so that they can represent where they are in actual space to their social network. The desire to display one’s life and its activities upon an Internet social network gives a fascinating clue to our cultural tendencies. Before the 20th century, this public display of life was often the default of lifestyles. People had to go out into the public streets to retrieve the goods and services they required, and they were bound to run into people they knew, as well as to be watched and to watch others. Though we still go out for errands and goods, the space through which we move to get them is much more anonymous and sometimes quite deserted. As a response, people both broadcast their life’s activities on social networks and intentionally go to public spaces to “people watch,” an activity often regarded as somewhat creepy, though it likely has been happening for much longer than we think.
A question that all researchers in this field run into is this: what happens to society as we as individuals turn inward to our private life? Perhaps this loss of society, community, and citizenship not a new problem at all, as stated in Tocqueville’s Democracy in America as quoted by Weinstein in The First American City:

Each person, withdrawn into himself, behaves as though he is a stranger to the destiny of others. His children and his good friends constitute for him the whole of the human species. As for his transactions with his fellow citizens, he may be among them, but he sees them not; he touches them, but he does not feel them; he exists only in himself and for himself alone. And if on these terms there remains in him a sense of family, there no longer remains a sense of society. (Tocqueville 1835).

Tocqueville made this observation long before the more obvious signs of individualism, such as suburbs, personal computers, and private automobiles took place. Thus, it may be erroneous to assert that rapid advancements in technology has ruined public life–perhaps the cause of our fragmented social lives is written in our very Constitution: a reactionary response to the ideology of Europe, and an implied rejection of community in the search for individual liberty (Weinstein 1996). What we have today in terms of community and society is a product of what we used to have, not a loss of it.

Though this country was born and raised to be individualistic, community springs up between the cracks in the asphalt of our parking lots. Though we can video chat from hand-held devices, we still travel to see each other in person, to hug, to shake hands. Though we can sign online petitions and send e-mail blasts to demonstrate our political messages, we still gather in public spaces, paint signs, yell, and sing. Though our own zoning codes have forced the flow of life out of our cities, placed it in cars, and sent it 7 miles per hour on the highway to nowhere, people still yearn for it. We should have no doubt that if we build places for people again, the people will gather, exist, wander, and meet in those places. And the places will record our histories, will be carved out by our flows of life, constantly moving, changing, affecting, making a mark.

Works Cited

Clark, Petula. Downtown the Greatest Hits of Petula Clark. Buddha Records, 1999. CD.

Jacobs, Allan B., and Donald Appleyard. “Toward an Urban Design Manifesto.” The Urban Design Reader. By Michael Larice and Elizabeth Macdonald. London: Routledge, 2007. Print.

Kracauer, Siegfried. Theory of Film; the Redemption of Physical Reality. New York: Oxford UP, 1960. Print.

Oldenburg, Ray. “The Problem of Place in America.” The Urban Design Reader. By Michael Larice and Elizabeth Macdonald. London: Routledge, 2007. 139-48. Print.

Sorkin, Michael. “Variations on a Theme Park.” Ctools, University of Michigan. Print.

Weinstein, Richard S. “The First American City.” The City (1996): 22-44. Ctools. University of Michigan. Web. 18 Nov. 2011.

Zeng, Daniel, Lusch Hsinchun Chen, and R. Shu-Hsing Li. “Social Media Analytics and Intelligence.” IEEE Intelligent Systems (2010).

The Flow of Life

The topic of Flow of Life started in my head as a thesis idea for my Urban Design Theory paper, but I realized how personally relevant it is, and I also missed writing on this blog. So here: BLOG POST!

I was writing a paper for Film Theory class about the importance of setting in film, and Arnheim writes about the “flow of life” that the street represents in film. Cinema is when film seems to capture humanity. Streets are a rich resource for cinema, as you’ll notice in many films including It’s a Wonderful Life and Cleo from 5 to 7.  It is the character’s public space, a stage for interaction with the rest of the world, just as the home is the stage for interaction with the nuclear family.

I remember at certain points in my childhood, on beautiful Saturday afternoons, when it felt like I was cut off from the rest of the world, like the town was empty because everyone was at the football game (kind of like U of M yesterday). There was plenty to do at my house, I’m certain. But nothing could be satisfying, because I felt isolated. My nuclear world wasn’t enough; I was needing mental stimulation. I remember wishing to be where everyone was.

This is a standard feeling of isolation. I still get it often. It feels like staying home alone on a Friday night, which is never desirable unless you’d had a long and stressful week and you need a moment’s peace. The film Pulse kind of captures this feeling. It’s a horror movie where pretty much everyone starts dying. (From seeing a ghost I think. It was J-horror.)

I’m starting to think we built a nation that structurally does not support a happy life. Extreme. But to think streets used to be a source of stimulation, social gathering, chance meetings, etc. when they are now a source of boredom-tears from being stuck in traffic jams, or a source of road rage towards other drivers who didn’t use a turn signal. We go to work (which has varying degrees of awfulness for everyone), then we drive home (which we have control over, and we decorate to our liking, and we maintain our closest relationships). Work and Family. Running into friends is not probable, and must be planned.

For me, this is a comforting pattern most of the time, as I have social anxiety. Boy, is it easier to drive, to stay home, to stay away from the downtown and the crowds of pedestrians.  To have control over who I see and when. But I pay for it in these feelings of isolation, in my lack of face-time with friends. I am not afraid to call new people to share a cup of coffee. I am afraid of having that actual cup of coffee with the new friend. It’s a new relationship and those have unknown paths. They may not work out. They are unpredictable. Just like the street. I want to burrow beneath my covers when I’m feeling anxious about this.

Facebook has become a complete replacement for the street as a source of the flow of life. Slowly, as we know, Facebook morphed from a stalker-ish profile collection for college students to a constantly-running feed of updates, photos, and links from people you know (and from businesses, musical artists, nonprofits, political figures, etc.). When we need stimulation, to catch up with friends, to feel a little less disconnected from the world, to talk about something from the news, we go to Facebook.  We can control this flow of life and which aspects of it we want to subscribe to. We can do it in our pajamas and type things we’d never say and stay safe. You can’t get hit by a car in your house. Usually.

I know this argument gets made, in some form, almost daily. That Facebook can’t replace face-to-face interaction and blah blah blah. It’s bigger than that. Facebook is a symptom of the major problem. That we don’t know how to be communities anymore, and that we have no daily connection to each other. That we literally don’t have the physical structure for this. That we need each other, collectively, publicly, anonymously; we need that place where anyone can show up, anything can happen, a flow of possibilities, opportunities to celebrate life quietly (or loudly) as a species.  We were robbed of this, and we should claim it back.

Beautiful City

I work in southwest Detroit now.  My supervisor took me on a tour of southwest Detroit today. We drove around for an hour.

The neighborhoods have mature trees and houses that sit close to one another. Some houses are burnt to the ground. Some are fine. There is a large island of industrial landscape and it looks like some cynical writer’s depiction of the future. There are terrible pot holes with stories behind them. There are miles of railroad. There’s a historical Fort that should be a tourist attraction. There’s a river with half-sunken boats, and houses near the bank. There are stable neighborhoods where the residents have lived there for over 50 years. There’s a huge empty train station that you can see from many angles in the city. The more it crumbles the more beautiful it gets. There’s a newly-built bridge and market with new concrete and new design and no people. There are tires everywhere. There’s a foundation where a Propane truck careened off a ramp, exploded, and burned down a house. There’s a field where a baseball stadium was. There are birds and vines and weeds overgrowing and bricks falling down. There is life and death in a natural ratio; there is no discrete line where built meets nature. There are stories and history on every block.  This is the most fascinating and beautiful place I have seen.

How We Talk about Progress: Urban Terrorism in Grand Rapids

In East Hills of Grand Rapids, vandalism has popped up as a recurring problem. After some disturbing letters and threats, it is clear these “urban terrorists” believe Wealthy street and the nearby area are being gentrified. Gentrification is when an urban area gets revitalized and higher income people start moving in and renovating the buildings. This process frequently displaces lower income residents, especially in large cities like Chicago where entire low-income housing structures (ones that are not vacant) are sold and renovated as condos, leaving the former residents scrambling for new affordable housing.

Nothing this extreme has happened in Grand Rapids. The past few years has just been decrease in property values all over the city. But the reverse demographic shift (the people who moved out to the suburbs or a better life are moving back into the city for a better life) has finally hit West Michigan.  So when this neighborhood, with businesses like the Green Well, the Winchester, and Wealthy Street Bakery, which have sprung up in the last ten years, sees this kind of economic development, it is an exciting new trend for real estate statistics and has implications for Grand Rapids’ economic situation.

This whole state is in trouble, and we all know that. My point here is that gentrification is not happening in this area, but something else is. And we should pay attention.

It is tempting to jump on any band wagon that shows economic activity in a part of town that used to be more run down. It is easy to slap the “improvement!” label on any neighborhood that has an influx of white people and new businesses. We keep seeing articles about great things happening and the pictures show brand new stuff that looks old fashioned and hip, white people riding bikes fashionably, and the words “local first” everywhere, and we say it’s so much better than it was before. This is kind of like telling a person who lost a significant amount of weight how amazing they look now. The classic response is, “well geez, did I look that awful before?”  What are we implying when we say “wow, this neighborhood has really turned around!”

We have to be careful about how we talk about progress and improvement in neighborhoods. What was the neighborhood like before? Was it truly empty? Because there are neighborhoods in Grand Rapids (Burton/Eastern area) that have thriving businesses that aren’t related to stuff white people like, and are very diverse economically and racially. Moreover, when I drive through these neighborhoods I constantly see people waving from their cars to each other or meeting on the street. There is definitely a close-knit community among the black population in SE Grand Rapids and I fear we are ignoring this by only measuring progress by economic development.

I can see why this would happen though, because right now we equate, subconsciously, upper economic class with white people. We subconsciously think, “how can we get white people back into this neighborhood?” because we see that as a sign of the return of safety and vitality. And this might contain a kernel of truth sometimes, but this mode of thinking is more dangerous because it’s so insidious. This kind of thinking perpetuates the racism that still exists everywhere, the racism that cripples people from being happy about who they are.

Whether it’s The Green Well or Happy’s Pizza that’s a hopping place on a Friday night, we should call it good.

The terrorists could be anyone, from white suburb kids to old angry people. What they’re doing is incredibly wrong and they’re actually sabotaging a valid point with misunderstanding and fear mongering.

A Remind for You. And Me

Don’t forget that art keeps this world going. That the kids who end up playing music are not fools, they understand something about life.  When you got chills hearing Susan Boyle blow an audience away on TV–that’s only the tip of the iceberg of what art can do for you. A good film can make you look at yourself as if you hadn’t seen a mirror in months, and you are suddenly foreign to yourself.  A good song can make you cry. Think about that. That music can have physiologic effects on us. The hairs on our arms rise in response to the art we experience. It moves us to feel. It is deeply important to the world’s survival, and don’t let anyone make you forget that.

 

Old New Bad Good ???

Back in the 40s and 50s, old was the bane of all evil.

Now, we love old stuff. Old Victorian houses are Pricey, man. Antique stores crawling with people.

The key to making/keeping our world a nice place to live in is balance. Old and new need to coexist on our streets. Nature is full of old, new, dead, alive.  Dead trees can be more beautiful and useful than live ones. Without death there would be no dirt to support new life.

I love garden metaphors.

Look at this repurposed old warehouse.

“Old” Buildings

Last Friday I went walking around Lowertown in Ann Arbor to observe a certain area for my Urban Design class.  It was amazing. Want to see my favorite part?

How old do you think it is? In what decade did someone dream this design up?  My friend Anne thinks it’s gross but I’d live in it in a hot second.

Yeah this is a screen shot from Google Streetview. The ultimate stalker’s tool. When you’re stalking places. Like me.  Down the street was a psychoanalyst’s office in a building from 1886 which used to also be a brewery.  All the houses are close together and were built all different times. You can see the late 1800s, 60s, 70s, 80s. It’s nuts. The oldest commercial building is down the road on Broadway and it’s from 1832. It’s now a thrift shop.

My professor said certainly people did not build here “just because the river was pretty.” And I thought, yeah right. That was the romantic period. They idolized nature like it was a sin. These old brick buildings are pretty as heck. They cared more about aesthetics than we do today, for sure.