Saturday, March 1, 2014

Socio-Technical Artifact of the Month!

We have a new socio-technical artifact of the month! Congratulations to this 10-level steel wheelchair ramp in West Dunbartonshire, Scotland!

The picture comes courtesy of the Guardian, who related this fascinating story of accessible design.

See the previous winner of the socio-technical artifact of the month here.


In our forthcoming book, we have essays about the secret, exclusionary life of FIRE ZONES and FIRE HYDRANTS; now it looks like we might have to add an essay about the secret, exclusionary life of FIRE itself. As the NYTimes reports, a developer is trying to build a $15 million, four-story, low(er)-income housing development "in a weed-covered, third-of-an-acre patch . . . squeezed between Metro-North Railroad tracks, an exit ramp off the Saw Mill Parkway and a stone bridge over the tracks." This would be interesting and arsenal of exclusion-worthy in and of itself, but the weapon in this case makes it an instant arsenal classic. Why can't this project be built? "The building inspector, William J. Maskiell, contends the site is hazardous because there is insufficient width around some sides of the building for fire ladders to gain access. He and the fire chief, Russell Maitland, also argue that an arched stone overpass leading to the site is too low to permit the largest fire trucks to pass." The developer made the obvious point that indeed few apartment buildings have access on all four sides. It's not too hard to see through this one. Hopefully the The Hudson Valley Board of Review will too when it hears the case in April.

For other posts about affordable housing projects facing opposition in other wealthy towns here, here, and here).

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

School Segregation Video on Nick News

This is definitely the first time we have posted anything from Nickelodeon, but judging from the sheer awesomeness of this "Nick News"video about Brown v. Board of Ed and Segregated Schools, it may not be the last. May every SpongeBob-watching child everywhere see this video.

Friday, February 14, 2014


This is a particularly sinister one. As reported in Forward Progressives, from Pensacola, Florida, a “camping ordinance” within the city that basically makes it illegal for anyone outside to cover themselves with a newspaper or blanket in cold or otherwise inclement weather. 


See previous posts on the SIDEWALK SITTING BAN, SIDEWALK MANAGEMENT PLAN, and HOMELESS FEEDING BAN to learn about the other weapons on the war against the homeless.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Kimmelman on the Korean seniors v. McDonald's kerfuffle

We simply love this article from our favorite architecture critic, Michael Kimmelman, as it combines so many of our interests (NORCs, Flushing, odd land-use disputes). It's also asks such an important question that no one bothered to ask in the coverage of the Korean seniors v. Flushing McDonald's kerfuffle: why were Korean seniors hanging out at this Flushing McDonald's in the first place? Recommended reading.  

Thursday, January 30, 2014


From the Atlantic Cities, an article about DRIVE-THRUS and how they discriminate against non-drivers by denying service to pedestrians, bikers, and wheelchair users. Reading the piece helped us recall that we had actually experienced this about a decade ago at a McDonald's on Tillary Street in Downtown Brooklyn.

Monday, January 20, 2014


In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, here's one of our favorite MLK quotes, from a 1963 interview in which he was asked about BUSING:

"I lean towards the view that it is a very tragic thing for young people, children to grow up in association, communication with only people of their own race. Prejudices develop from the very beginning because of this. Narrow provincial views emerge because of this. I think the only way to break this kind of provincialism is to bring people together on a level of genuine intergroup and interpersonal living. I do not think we can afford to wait until all the problems of residential segregation are solved before we grapple with the problem of segregation in educational institutions. Therefore, I lean towards the idea that segregation must be removed from schools all over the country. For I do not think that the residential segregation must be used as an excuse for the perpetuation of segregation in educational institutions." 

Saturday, January 18, 2014


There's a pretty thoughtful article about "How NYC's Decade of Rezoning Changed the City of Industry" on Curbed. It offers a nice overview of the city's recent (and shifting) industrial policies, from the free market idealizations of the Giuliani and early Bloomberg administrations, to Bloomberg's "about face"--evidenced by his establishment of Industrial Business Zones and The Mayor's Office of Industrial and Manufacturing Businesses--to de Blasio's stated commitment to preserving and strengthening the industrial sector. "It can be easy at a glance to see New York City's endless cycles of growth and rebirth as an organic process," writes the author, but "[business owner Michael] Smart says he now understands that nothing in the city is as random or spontaneous as it seems. Neighborhood-wide change is largely sketched out, years in advance, by the city's decision makers." Well put.

We have previously written about industrial displacement, and are presently developing a plan for the Greenpoint / Williamsburg Industrial Business Zone. Both ask a question that we're frankly surprised more people don't ask: does the development of manufacturing areas have to be a zero-sum game? Does the hipster’s gain have to be the manufacturer’s loss, or can redevelopment happen in a way that mutually benefits both parties? What planning tools are out there that could foster the coexistence (rather than succession) of different uses and different socio-economic groups in one place? If such tools don’t exist, can we invent them? Could we imagine a “SumCity” plan for, say, North Williamsburg that sought creative ways to add the new to the old through zoning, design, branding, and strategic planning?

Friday, January 17, 2014

NIMBY New Year Wrap-Up

Some exclusion & inclusion-related stories around the news . . .

In our rush to promote higher-density urbanism, are we inadvertently creating child-free zones that are inhospitable to families with kids? That's a great question, and it is taken up in this piece in Atlantic Cities. The answer? Pretty much.

Here's a thoughtful piece in Architectural Record by Michael Sorkin, who we know and admire. Needless to say, we agree with Sorkin's premise that "it's time for New York and other cities to connect urban planning to social equity," and we share his optimism that our fearless new Mayor Bill de Blasio could right some of the wrongs of the previous administration. But since we're gathered here on this website to talk about NIMBYism, we thought we might call out the following contradiction: Sorkin bemoans the inability of "neighborhoods to meaningfully participate in planning their own destinies," but some of the things he is rightly critical of--for example, the fact that, under Bloomberg's watch, "historic," white, neighborhoods like the one we live in were downzoned, while "up-zoned lots tended to be located in census tracts with a higher proportion of nonwhite residents than the median tract in the city"--are the product of neighborhoods planning their own destinies. The point is, as the history of NEIGHBORHOOD ORGANIZATIONS, MUNICIPAL ANNEXATION, and any number of other entries in our forthcoming book attest, it's important to remember that local control is a double-edged sword.

A friend of ours who teaches in a public school in Newark posted this NJ Spotlight article on Facebook. It's about segregation in NJ schools and it's worth a read.

Speaking of New Jersey, This seems like old news now, considering has much has happened to Chris Christie since Christmas, but shout out to the NY Times editorial board for once again highlighting the important work of the amazing Fair Share Housing Center, who back in December filed a complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development in April "charging that the state plan for distributing Hurricane Sandy recovery aid discriminated against blacks and Hispanics who lost their homes in the storm."

This rant from a "Silicon Valley denizen" is silly but hilarious.

Listen to this now! This American Life and Arsenal contributor Nikole Hannah-Jones! A match made in heaven!

Have you been following the story about the residents of Baton Rouge who are campaigning to become their own separate city of St. George? We haven't either, which is why we can't really say whether it is, as one source put it, "A tale of two cities," in which "Wealthy white residents of Baton Rouge launch campaign to split from poorer black areas to form their own breakaway city." But we can say is that INCORPORATION is a tried and true weapon of racial exclusion with a rather ugly history. Soon you will be able to read about it in our forthcoming book!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Thanksgiving NIMBY Wrap-Up

Happy Thanksgiving!

Here are some exclusion & inclusion-related stories around the news:

From the NYTimes, here's a story about proposed legislation by the Los Angeles City Council that would ban the feeding of homeless people in public spaces. The direct target here is the Greater West Hollywood Food Coalition, who has been serving free meals to the homeless on a barren corner in Hollywood every night for more than 25 years. One thing that surprised us is how widespread this weapon of exclusion is: according to the NYTimes, more than 30 cities, including Philadelphia, Raleigh, Seattle and Orlando, have adopted or debated some form of legislation intended to restrict the public feeding of the homeless. As the Coalition's Director put it, “It’s a common but misguided tactic to drive homeless people out of downtown areas.”

From Atlantic Cities, here's an interesting article about Vancouver's DOORKNOB BAN. Like the author of the article, we have spent "some time scratching [our heads] trying to anticipate what it will feel like to navigate the cities we've already built with the aging population we're going to have." And like the city of Vancouver, we champion the lever handle, which, as anyone who knows anything about age-friendly design knows, is much easier to operate than the more traditional knob-handle. But kudos to Vancouver for officially phasing it out!

Not being a Braves fan, and having spend very little time in Atlanta, we don't have strong feelings about the Braves' decision to leave the city for the suburbs, but this map essay about "How a Densely Populated Neighborhood Became Turner Field" is pretty good urban renewal porn.

If you haven't seen the NYTimes's "The Real Mayors of New York" yet, see it now.

Austin's Community First Village is a 27-acre development housing over 200 chronically homeless persons. It looks really cool!

Finally, a Bay Area law firm is allegedly offering free workshops on how to evict tenants.

We have been working on a study of the Greenpoint / Williamsburg Industrial Business Zone, and are discovering what this study about Gowanus is discovering, namely, that "industrial and commercial businesses thriving there, even if all the activity isn’t always visible from the street." Read the report and remember: manufacturing still matters!

And read this article and remember that libraries still matter!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

NIMBY wrap-up for the past few weeks

We haven't posed in a while because we have been really busy with this. Sorry!

Anyway, here are some links we bookmarked in the past few weeks.

As part of our research for Rebuild by Design, we recently took a tour of Sandy-damaged Highlands, NJ. Our tour guide showed us a 2.5-mile stretch of the popular Henry Hudson Trail that the storm had damaged, and explained that the restoration of the trail was being held up by adjacent homeowners who were arguing that repairing the trail would increase their vulnerability to future storms. Needless to say, this sounded fishy, and when we looked it up we learned, much to our disappointment, that one of the two adjacent homeowners was Bruce Springsteen's drummer Max Weinberg. 

Fortunately, it looks like a legal threat made by Weinberg and Atlantic Highlands Muncipal Judge Peter Locascio didn't go anywhere, and it looks like the trail will reopen soon.

From Atlantic Cities, here's a very interesting piece about a "gender mainstreaming" initiative of city planners in Vienna, Austria. This sounds a little scary, and there's a good case to be made that it reinforces traditional gender roles, but it appears to have produced some unarguably positive outcomes. According to the article, gender mainstreaming "means city administrators create laws, rules and regulations that benefit men and women equally. The goal is to provide equal access to city resources." What's most interesting is that it is informed by an empirical analysis of everyday life in the city. As one planner put it, "You need to know who is using the space, how many people, and what are their aims. Once you’ve analyzed the patterns of use of public space, you start to define the needs and interests of the people using it. . . Then planning can be used to meet these needs." Sounds simple enough, but this kind of empirical observation is too often lacking in planning, where assumptions are made about how people use space, and where providing equal access usually means merely removing obstacles. Pilot projects include a Women-Work-City, a playground redesign that manipulated landscape, hardscape, and programming as a means of attracting more girls, and streetscape improvements such as increased lighting and widened sidewalks.    

Here's a funny story from the NYTimes about the Preservation Society of Newport's struggle to build an accessible visitor's center on the grounds of the Breakers, a former Vanderbilt family mansion that is open to the public.

Here's a very inspiring story from the NYTimes about Dayton, Ohio's vote to make the city "Immigrant Friendly" as a means of "fighting back from the ravages of industrial decline." (We write about IMMIGRANT RECRUITMENT in our forthcoming book.) The NYTimes article links to Dayton's amazing immigrant-friendly website, Welcome Dayton, which "promotes immigrant integration into the greater Dayton region by encouraging business and economic development; providing access to education, government, health and social services; ensuring equity in the justice system; and promoting an appreciation of arts and culture." Go Dayton!  

Here's a depressing story from Pro Publica about an unfortunate trend, namely, as the headline bluntly puts it, "Public Universities Ramp[ing] Up Aid for the Wealthy, Leaving the Poor Behind."

Here's a picture of Americans and Mexicans playing volleyball over the border in Arizona. That's all.

Anyone who follows this blog knows that we have been doing a lot of research about beach accessibility. Here's a story about the ridiculous practice of hiring beefy bouncers to check for beach badges. The picture at the top of the article is priceless.

From Atlantic Cities, here's a controversial article about a sociologist's "case for culs-de-sac." Our quick take: it's not surprising that, as the sociologist in question claims, people who live in traditional bulb culs-de-sac "have the highest levels of attitudinal and behavioral cohesion," and that "people who live on your average residential through-street have the lowest levels." But this doesn't make a case for the cul-de-sac. The article describes how the sociologist encountered the social cohesion of culs-de-sac when he "wandered into one in Connecticut with his clipboard and polo shirt, and someone called the cops," something that never happened on the other types of streets he was studying, where "it would turn out the neighbors didn't know each other as well, and it was less clear who 'belonged.'" This is the problem! Overfamiliarity can breed exclusion. We're reminded of a line from our pal Jerry Frug's book City Making: "suburb after suburb and neighborhood after neighborhood are organized in terms of a multitude of ‘we’ feelings, each of which defines itself in opposition to outsiders."  



Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Sea Bright and the Sea Wall

Take a look at this amazing socio-technical artifact:

it's a "walkover," that enables homeowners in Sea Bright, NJ to traverse the eight-foot seawall that separates the town from the beach. I say "homeowners" and not "the public" because with just a few exceptions, these walkovers are privately-owned, and useable only by adjacent homeowners.

Way back when, the seawall was built to protect a railroad. When the railroad was dismantled, the state was offered the railroad's right-of way but refused to take it. The interest in the land was instead acquired by adjacent landowners, who also negotiated some sort of easement that would enable them to legally cross the seawall in order to access the ocean (which used to come right up to the seawall but is now separated by about 100 feet of sand that is the product of an ongoing $27 million nourishment project).

But with the nourishment came stricter requirements for public beach access. (As we mentioned in a previous post, access to New Jersey's beaches is protected by the PUBLIC TRUST DOCTRINE, but this doctrine doesn't always result in meaningful access, owning to the lack of paths, parking, etc.) In this case, a parking lot was built in the former railroad right-of-way, but no walkovers were built, making the gesture an empty one. Following a lawsuit led by the Littoral Society, the state DEP agreed to build four walkovers, but they built these where there was no parking, making this gesture empty too.

The Littoral Society came to the rescue again when the homeowners starting building walkover / patio deck hybrids (shown in the picture above). The problem was that while the homeowners had a right to build the walkovers over the seawall, they also had to respect the public's right to walk uninterrupted along the top of the seawall; the patio deck component they built on the seawall blocked this path. That opening you can see on the patio deck to the left? Those came out of the Littoral Society's threat to again sue. As a result of the Society's actions, the patio decks have to remain open, so that the public can effectively walkover the walkovers.

The story could end there but according to someone more familiar with these issues than us, there's a new chapter in the walkover wars: new, souped-up labyrinth walkovers that obscure the seawall path through the walkover and only enable members of the public to traverse them with difficulty (we hope to make it back there one day to document these).

Sea Bright--a thin sliver of a barrier island--is notorious for shirking their responsibility to provide beach access. In 2006, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection sued the town and the nine beach clubs lining the 1.5 mile stretch for failing to carry out an agreement to improve public access after a 2003 beach replenishment project. The settlement that was eventually reached obliged five of the clubs to contribute $30,000 a piece to fund public access improvements. More recently, as a means of receiving public funding in the wake of Sandy's devastation, Sea Bright considered purchasing a condominium complex wrecked by the storm in order to provide more parking for beachgoers, but the initiative was thwarted: the town can replace the condominium with a park, but the park cannot have any parking spots. (Those who opposed the plan did not hide their motives: they explicitly cited increased public beach access as a concern.) Even more recently, the town repaired a portion of the seawall that was breached, but neglected to include parking spots or walkovers, even though the site was formerly publicly accessible.  

Stories about Sea Bright's beach exclusion abound: there are stories about beach clubs posting phony "private property" signs and hiring security guards to shoe people away from public beaches; there's a story about the Tradewinds development, which was approved on the grounds that it would offer three public beach access points, but only built one, and plastered that one with phony "private property" and "no trespassing" signs. (Tradewinds also had to provide on-street parking, but homeowners quickly learned that by parking second cars there, they can ensure that these spots won't be used by beachgoers.    

Sometimes one has to wonder what good accessibility measures are in the face of the remarkable tenacity of the exclusionary impulse. Where there is a will--in this case to keep the public from the beach--people will find a way. It's especially galling because in the sumer months, the more accessible Sandy Hook beach to the north often has to close because it is at full at capacity. Sea Bright's beautiful, wide, $27 million public beach is pretty much empty every day.

On the other hand, if we can look beyond the petty exclusionary nature of some of the homeowners' and the towns' tactics, the walkovers themselves are worth pondering for a few related reasons:

First, they are a fascinating and unique socio-technical artifact whose form offers a window into politics and society. Indeed, these are the kinds of objects that keep STS scholars in business!

Second, it's not hard to appreciate the walkovers as a unique piece of vernacular architecture: we have frankly never seen anything like them and they look kind of cool. This is the kind of non-hipster "spontaneous intervention" that we would like to have seen more of in last year's architecture biennale.        

Third, the walkovers are a clever, value-added local response to a problem that plagues a lot of beach towns, namely, how to protect a beach town from the ocean without undermining said beach town's ability to enjoy the ocean. Optimistically, the walkovers function as a sort of third home that enables the enjoyment oceanfront living by way of a $5,000 walkover / patio deck instead of a $500,000 "permanent" home. In this particular case, the situation is unsustainable since the 20 or so yards that buffer the main homes from the walkovers and the beach are not nearly enough to protect the homes from storm surges, but one can imagine these sorts of inexpensive, lightweight structures being a part of a larger policy of managed retreat, in which homeowners who retreat inland maintain the right to build similar inexpensive, lightweight structures on the beach.  

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

NIMBY wrap-up for the week of Tuesday, September 3rd

This interview with our pal Gerald Frug is the required reading of the week. Why? Because, as Frug succinctly puts it in the interview: "the organization of the tax system generates particular kinds of urban development, and the state organizes the tax systems for cities. People who care about cities would do well to understand the law and the structure of government if they want to create any kind of change." Amen.

Another pal of ours--Damon Rich, Urban Planning Director for the City of Newark--gave us a newspaper foldout about Newark, NJ's proposed new SAFE SPACE, which would aim to foster a secure environment for LGBTQ youth. Safe Spaces have worked well for classrooms; why not try it out on an entire city? Go Newark!

A Neo-Nazi plans to build an all-white city of racists in North Dakota: that's actually a headline! Not included in the story though is any suggestion about how said neo-nazi would do this. Hopefully he hasn't been reading this blog, which is actually full of ideas for how to undermine, ignore, and subvert the Fair Housing Act (sometimes legally). Really though, we're curious: will they go for a BLOOD RELATIVE ORDINANCE? Or will they opt for COVENANTS, CONDITIONS, AND RESTRICTIONS? Or will they try to be more subtle, and embed the city with nazi-friendly EXCLUSIONARY AMENITIES?  

This map of racial segregation has been making the rounds this week. We're not sure if it is, as Wired declared, the "The Best Map Ever Made of America’s Racial Segregation," but it's pretty good.


Thursday, August 22, 2013

NIMBY wrap-up for the week of Tuesday, August 20th

Cheers to the New Yorker for this wonderful piece of data visualization about income inequality and New York City's subway.

This story about an upper west side development with a "poor door"--a separate door for the 55 tenants who make 60% or less of area median income--has certainly been making the rounds this week, and even solicited comments from Christine Quinn, who, in a letter to state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, and state Senate Majority Leaders Dean Skelos and Jeffrey Klein, said that the building's plan “negates the inclusiveness the program seeks to create." The silver lining here is that this egregious exclusionary practice sparked Councilman Robert Jackson to propose legislation that would require that developers who get any form of city affordable-housing subsidy would be required to provide the same services — including entrances, amenities and utilities — for all tenants.

We will admit that we had never heard of the NUISANCE PROPERTY ORDINANCE until the NYTimes wrote this horrific piece about it on Friday. This is definitely worth a read.

Also from the NYTimes, here's a fascinating piece about the trials of being Hasidic in a modern metropolis. In our forthcoming book we take up this issue in essays about the ERUV, the SUKKAH BALCONY, and the AUTOMATIC ELEVATOR--all tactics that enable Hasids to stay true to their Orthodox beliefs (for example, not operating machinery or carrying things across property lines on the Sabbath)--but this article suggests more tactics, from the more or less benign (the use of well water to make matzos) to the egregious (gender-segregated buses).

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

NIMBY wrap-up for the week of Tuesday, August 13th

Here's the NIMBY wrap-up for the week of Tuesday, August 13th.

First off, RIP STOP AND FRISK! Here is the NYTimes on Judge Scheindlin's 195-page decision, here is a good op-ed, also fron the NYTimes, and here is a good NYTimes editorial

Secondly, Interboro is one of ten teams recently selected by HUD and the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force to participate in an initiative called "Rebuild by Design." As part of our research, we have been doing a lot of research about beach access in New Jersey. Access to New Jersey's beaches is protected by the PUBLIC TRUST DOCTRINE, but this doesn't stop towns from trying their hardest to restrict access, by restricting parking, not building paths, posting phony signs, and even disguising access points as front yards. Superstorm Sandy actually offers an opportunity to better enforce the doctrine: After Superstorm Sandy, State Senators Steve Sweeney and Mike Doherty proposed legislation that would force municipalities that accept state or federal aid to rebuild storm-damaged beaches to provide beach access and beach restroom facilities to the public free of charge. Anyway, in spending a few days researching, we came across some good links:

-On the elusiveness of access

-On an interesting plan for complying with the accessibility mandate

-A message from NJDEP on post-Sandy accessibility

-We had never heard of "Beachapedia" but we're happy to know about it now! Here's a handy summary of accessibility rules.

-C.R.A.B. is a good beach-access advocacy group. Check out their "Beachwheels!"

Here's an article in Huffington Post about "No Muslim Parking" Signs posted in a shopping center in Texas.

Here's another random story about a family that is trying to make their neighbors remove a handicapped ramp from in front of their home because they claim it lowers their home's property value.