Saturday, December 12, 2009


Two hipsters painted DIY bike lanes on the Hasidic-controlled stretch of Bedford Avenue between Flushing and Division avenues, where a city-installed bike lane was recently removed. According to posts on Gothamist and The Huffington Post, local Hasids asked the city to remove the bike lanes because they posed a "safety and religious hazard," and the Bloomberg administration, fearing retribution from an important constituency during an election, complied, claiming that the operation was "part of ongoing bike network adjustments in the area."

Communities have protested bike lanes for safety reasons before, but, so far as we know, this is the first instance of a community citing a "religious hazard." The source of this hazard? Hasids have been disturbed by “hotties” who traverse their neighborhood on bikes in “shorts and skirts.” Hotties in shorts and skirts may violate the community's dress code, but in case anyone forgot, in New York City, streets are part of the public realm. Unlike in say, a gated community, streets in the city are the jurisdiction of the city, not the community. By catering to this ridiculous criticism, the city is setting up a frightening precedent indeed.

Monday, September 14, 2009


This semester and last, I gave my students an assignment I call “Open City Spaces.” The point of the assignment is to get students out and about, qualitatively evaluating public space in a way they might not be used to. Like most good assignments, it's interesting to students and professor alike: they walk away with a better understanding of the Open City, and I walk away with a larger inventory of interesting spaces.

One of the spaces that is routinely nominated is Downtown Baltimore's gritty (in a good way) Lexington Market. Lexington Market is the largest running market in the world. It has occupied its current site—at the intersection of Paca and Lexington Streets—since 1782.

That it is so often nominated is a testament to how smart my students are, since it is the same space that I would nominate. In any case, this semester, we decided to take a class field trip to the Lexington Market. What's open about it? There's the market itself, but then there is what's on its perimeter: a variety of shops, bus stops, homeless shelters, street vendors, drug dealers, offices, parking garages serving the inner harbor, Camden Yards, and the CBD: the diversity of programs is incredible. The market's food and programs (concerts, mostly) make the market a destination in itself, but the market is also a crossroads, generating an overlap of publics that rivals even New York’s Union Square for sheer diversity. A true Jacobsian / Whyte-ian dream of urbanity if ever there was one.

Saturday, September 12, 2009


There is a fairly heartbreaking story in today's New York Times about walking to school, and how few students do it. The Times cites a National Household Travel Survey that reveals that in 2001, only 13 percent of children either walked or biked to school, down from 41 percent in 1969. During the same period, children either being driven or driving themselves to school rose to 55 percent from 20 percent. Of course, this reflects suburbanization and the ensuing de-densification that makes walking infeasible, but it also reflects a fear of the public realm. As one woman put it: "I wouldn’t trust my kid with the street” (the woman who said this asked that her full identity be withheld "to protect her children").

The "transferring children from the private world of family to the public world of school" has become an increasingly worrisome affair. Motivated by national headline-grabbing stories of abduction, parents have resorted to some extreme tactics, including driving their child to a school that is only a lock away, installing surveillance cameras, or insisting that their child wait for the bus with them in a car parked at the end of the driveway.

I don't have a kid, but it seems obvious that this violates healthy rapprochement. Can instilling such an intense fear in a child of the public realm possibly be healthy? No, it can't, and that's why "driving to school" merits a place on our Arsenal of Exclusion

Thursday, September 10, 2009


Kees Christiaanse, being the curator of the 2009 International Architecture Biennale, is the person who got us thinking about the Open City in the first place, so it's no surprise that he has much to contribute to this Arsenal of Exclusion / Inclusion. Rereading [limited access] or the open city for my Open City seminar, I was reminded of the clairty of the Chinatown example. Christiaanse writes: ". . . although a Chinatown in an occidental city is a concentrated, closed community, at the same time she open her doors for others through commerce and gastronomy in her active street fronts. She has no fixed borders but overlaps and interacts with other communities that settle in the open system."

The emphasis in the passage is really on how the condition of the Open City is achieved through a balance between open and closed, but here I want to appropriate it, and use it as evidence that "store front" deserves a place on our Arsenal of Inclusion.

Sunday, August 30, 2009


In this short piece on the RPA Spotlight, Marshall speculates that the over-structured, over-scheduled life of city kids precludes the sort of open, unstructured playtime that is so important for growth. This is probably true for non-city kids too, but city kids have something non-city kids don’t: vibrant, mixed, monitored sidewalks that are open to anyone. Marshall writes that while "the classic image of kids and city life is of reckless, unescorted children playing in the street," in fact, it is on the street where kids learn to cooperate, innovate, self-govern, and--if the street is the right kind of street--encounter difference (this is the case for Marshall's kids, who live across the street from low-income housing). Thus we take Marshall to be saying that it’s a shame city kids don’t make better use of this resource: over-structured, over-scheduled life is the stuff of the suburbs, where city sidewalks don’t exist, and where encounters have to be planned.

So on the one hand the piece is a variant of the Jacobsian theme of efficiency v. inefficiency, talked about in Economy of Cities in the context of inefficient but innovative Birmingham v. efficient but stagnant Manchester (but also throughout Death and Life of Great American Cities in the context of, well, city kids, parks, and sidewalks). The point here is that if you're not obligated to a prexisting plan, you'll be much more open to making up a new one.

On the other hand, the piece is about the sidewalk, which is perfectly inefficient. It is for this reason that playing on the sidewalk gets a spot in our Arsenal of Inclusion.


The New York Times's "Beth Court Loss and Opportunity, Side by Side" is a series of articles that explore how a block of eight homes in Moreno Valley, Calif., about 60 miles from Los Angeles, has been reshaped by the housing bust and recession. It's a really great series, and it highlights some personal stories that are as heartbreaking as you might expect.

But then it also highlights something that much of the coverage on the mortgage crisis overlooks, namely, that one person's loss is another person's gain. When home values plummeted, homeowners became desperate to sell, and suddenly the dream of the single-family house on a quiet, suburban cul-de-sac became a reality for people for whom it previously wasn't. The series points out that on Beth Court--the block examined in the series--most of the new home buyers were atypical. And while the series dwells a bit too much on how the new neighbors don't fit in (they moved in with their extended family, they don't speak English, they don't participate in the neighborhood association, etc.), the fact is that they introduced much-needed diversity into the community.

And this is why "Mortgage Crisis," for all of its negative implications, deserves a spot on the Arsenal of Inclusion. This "glitch" has introduced new classes, races,and lifestyles into areas that looked as if they would remain stable, homogeneous, and exclusionary. It's not just Beth Court in Moreno Valley, Calif: today, one can find many new, suburban subdivisions in which multiple families share one large house, where shift workers go in on rentals together, and where transient construction workers get put up in luxury homes.

Saturday, August 29, 2009


A Google search for "Teaneck Civic Conference" yields only four results, which I found disappointing, having just read a 1957 Redbook Magazine article about the civic group's attempts to expose the scare-tactics of local, panic pedaling real estate agents (article courtesy of the excellent Suburb Reader). Led by Ed and Catherine Schick, the Teaneck Civic Conference tried to halt white flight by insisting that whites and blacks could live together in suburban Teaneck, and that the real estate agents' claim that it would quickly devolve into a "Negro slum" were greatly exaggerated. The article reports that while there was some white flight, most whites remained, and that today (in 1957) it is "as well-kept, tranquil and pleasant as ever."

It would be interesting to revisit the neighborhood today (Teaneck isn't far from where I grew up, in Glen Rock). In the meantime, I think we found another entry in the Arsenal of Inclusion.

Are there any other Civic Conferences, or similar groups that fought to integrate other suburbs?


In 1994 the Division of Parks, Public Grounds & Recreation in the borough of Glen Rock, NJ, a wealthy, white, suburb of New York City with a population of 11,232, made a decision to replace two basketball courts in the town’s Wilde Memorial Park with a street hockey rink. While the motivations for this decision are unclear—a town official insisted that in the mid 1990s, there was a surge in interest in hockey among the youth in the town, and pointed out that one basketball court remains—the decision raised eyebrows. Glen Rock—which is 88 percent White Non-Hispanic—borders Paterson, an older, poorer city that is 13 percent White Non-Hispanic. The basketball courts were heavily used by African-Americans from Paterson. For many kids growing up in Glen Rock, these basketball courts afforded the only opportunity to encounter and interact with people from Paterson. They were an example of how the Open City can pop up when and where you least expect it.

As might be expected, when the basketball courts were replaced with the hockey rink, people from Paterson stopped coming to Glen Rock. It is well known that hockey is played primarily by whites and basketball primarily by African-Americans (The golfer Tiger Woods once observed that "Hockey is a sport for white men. Basketball is a sport for black men. Golf is a sport for white men dressed like black pimps.") In fact while 79 percent of NBA players are African-American, only 2 percent of NHL players are. Moreover hockey—like golf—is often criticized for being elitist: the equipment required to play it—skates, sticks, pads, goals—is expensive, and unlike basketball, one typically needs a car to transport it.

“Hockey Rink” is in the Arsenal of Exclusion because it is a sort of public exclusionary amenity. As with a golf course, a developer or town who builds one can count on it attracting one population over another.


My girlfriend lives in Baltimore. Her mechanic is on Greenmount Avenue, an often nasty street that separates the very rich, very white single-family house community of Guilford from the very mixed community of Waverly. About 200 yards from the mechanic's shop in the direction of Guilford (unaccessible from Greenmount by car, thanks to a "One Way" sign that directs traffic out of Greenmount but accessible by foot) is Sherwood Gardens, a really pretty six-and-a-quarter-acre park that is public, but that is usually only used by its (wealthy) immediate neighbors. What's amazing is that the mechanic likes to tell customers that instead of waiting at the shop for their car, browsing seven-year-old National Geographics, they should wait at Sherwood Gardens.

I Haven't been to Sherwood Gardens enough to know if this has opened the park to people who live in Waverly, but it certainly has the ability to, and thus, "Mechanic" gets a place in our Arsenal of Inclusion.

Thursday, August 27, 2009