Sunday, December 12, 2010


This is pretty amazing: a man named Mark Prior posted a "NO NEGROS ALLOWED" SIGN on his Milwaukee store after "he claimed he had problems with Black people in his past and wanted to make a policy against them." The article goes on to say that "he claims that he has the right to discriminate."

Monday, October 18, 2010


Interboro is currently preparing a study of the marketing of private, master planned communities in the United States. For this, we are trying to collect marketing brochures from every master planned community built or planned in the United States between 2006 and 2008. (This hasn't been easy, for any number of reasons.) A preliminary analysis of the brochures suggests an astonishing diversification since the 1980s of both "product lines" and the marketing strategies. One of the newer, more interesting marketing strategies we have come across a few times is the questionnaire.

Private Mountain Communities is an Asheville, NC based company that describes itself as a "trusted authority on Western North Carolina living." A broker of sorts, Private Mountain Communities "matches families with communities that complement their personal taste and lifestyle." Two things stand out about this company. One, they have a storefront--sorry, a "state of the art Discovery Showroom"--in downtown Asheville where you can consult with "independent community advisors," preview community brochures, DVD's and "use interactive explorations tools" to find the community that is right for you. Second, on their website, there is something called a "Community Finder:" an application that "guides you through an easy questionnaire that analyzes your unique interests and lifestyle preferences, such as architectural tastes and preferred amenities, to produce a short list of communities that are right for you." A video on the website underlines the questionnaire's science, stating that the questionnaire is "an algorithm that really takes you down the right path so that you are getting into a subset where you fit. A concept that represents all the communities in this area in a unbiased way.”

The questionnaire is actually more benign than it sounds, asking questions like: "Which of the following area activities are essential to your decision to purchase property?" and "Which of the following on-site amenities are essential to your decision to purchase property?"

Something much less benign is described by Bill Bishop in his book The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart. Bishop--who was a contributor to the NAI exhibition--writes about a questionnaire that is given to prospective homebuyers in an Orange County, CA development called "Ladera Ranch" whose questions try to get at the homebuyers' values (for example Do you “like to experience exotic people and places?” Or, do you believe “extremists and radicals should be banned from running for public office?”). Here is Bishop: "The Ladera Ranch developers built one section of their subdivision for those who see the Earth as a “living system.” (It’s called “Terramor” and features bamboo floors, photovoltaic cells and, according to the developer, houses that 'might have a courtyard that conceals the front door...kind of cozy and nest-like.') Across the way is a community for those the developer labeled 'Winners.' In Covenant Hills, houses are more colonial than craftsman."

Especially in the second example, the questionnaire is one of those ingenious weapons that, like the "exclusionary amenity," creates a kind of self-sorting. It's one of those weapons that so clearly violates the spirit of the Fair Housing Act, but that seems to do nothing wrong.

Saturday, September 18, 2010


We love the Atlantic Terminal. Really, we do. It ain't pretty, and it is a mall, with of the trappings being a mall brings, but it has a lot of the things that good public space should have, including, accessibility, affordability, diversity, and lots of places to sit. We were more than a little upset then, to read this article in the New York Times about their "Parental Escort Policy," which stipulates that "groups of four or more people under 21 years old and unaccompanied by a parent are not allowed to linger."

Forest City Ratner, why do you have to be such a jerk? It's hard enough to defend your mall as quality public space (something that we often do, by the way). Can you reconsider? Are the kids grouped together in four really so bad?

Sunday, September 12, 2010


When I was 16, I was arrested for loitering - twice.

I don't recall exactly why, but sometime in 1992 or so, the Glen Rock, NJ Police Department implemented a TEEN CURFEW, which stipulated that teenagers had to be in their homes by 10:00 PM. Glen Rock, NJ, mind you, is no Watts. As I wrote in a previous entry about Glen Rock's HOCKEY RINK, the town is a wealthy, white, parochial suburb that, so far as I know, has never had any major problems with gangs, youth violence, or really crimes of any kind besides underage drinking and light drug-use. Nonetheless, the town, threatened by groups of thoroughly innocuous packs of B.D. Baggies-wearing white boys listening to the Steve Miller Band * in what we called the "Hole"--a public pocket park in our modest (though zero-lot-line!) downtown--thought it necessary to break up whatever was going on there, and thus imposed the curfew, which the local policemen--who welcomed any opportunity to flex their muscle in front of our mall girls--were very eager to enforce.

Whenever someone asks me how I got interested in urban planning, I tell them that it started here, in 1992 in Glen Rock NJ's hole, upon the earliest recorded attempt to enforce the town's curfew. When the police first came around to disperse everyone, I sat down in the middle of the hole and declared that because I was on public property, and because there had no constitutional authority to enforce this arbitrary, legally-murky curfew, I would not move.

This was of course fine with the police: I weighed 135 tops and was easy to move. They picked me up, threw me in the back of a cop car, and took me to the station. They called my parents, who picked me up and took me home. My passion for public space (and for what I would much later learn was called the "right to the city") was born. I was arrested again for the same reason a few months later.

It is a bit silly, but it's also true that the curfew was arbitrary and legally-murky, and represented an abuse of power. Teen Curfews can be less arbitrary--for example when when Baltimore last year announced a teen curfew in response to a rash of teen stabbings--but their constitutionality is regularly tested in court. The targeting of race and the unlawful imposition of martial law are two of the most prominent targets. In some cases, a curfew's “exceptions”--for example, exempting those who traveling to or from work--are deemed too difficult to enforce. In early 2010, San Diego overturned its curfew law due to ambiguous language. However instead of eliminating the law, the city is planning to rewrite it with the idea that a better-written law is the city's best bet for curbing "unsupervised kids'" role in crime. Similarly, Indianapolis recently overturned its curfew laws when it determined that they forcefully undermine adolescents' first amendment rights. Court battles like these summarize the legal and ethical controversy of exclusion caused by curfew laws.

* Let it be known that I neither wore B.G. Baggies nor listened to the Steve Miller Band.

** Thanks to Interboro's intern Matt Lohry for research assistance for this post.

Sunday, September 5, 2010


One thing that's great about Baltimore's light rail is that it doesn't stop at the city-county line. Instead it connects BWI and Glen Burnie to the south to Hunt Valley to the north. Unfortunately, this doesn't mean that the Baltimore light rail steered clear of the sort of city-county infighting that killed, stalled, or undermined so many regional public transportation initiatives. As I learned on a recent trip to Ruxton, there is an awkward five-mile stretch between the Falls Road and Lutherville stations where the light-rail doesn't stop. As you might expect, this is because a group of "concerned citizens"--in this case, the Ruxton-Riderwood-Lake Roland Area Improvement Association--organized against them for fear they would, in the words of one woman interviewed for a 1992 Baltimore Sun article, "bring the wrong element into our community." Not surprisingly, the Ruxton-Riderwood-Lake Roland Area is one of the wealthiest and whitest in the region.

I don't know why the Maryland Transit Administration bowed to the Improvement Association, but it goes without saying that in addition to being totally racist, it is totally wasteful. You have the track, you have the people (many of whom are commuters), what a missed opportunity it is to not have the stops. (In this sense, it's sort of the inverse of elevated expressways like Brooklyn's Gowanus Expressway, which, when it was built, went through poorer neighborhoods that couldn't access it because there were no exit ramps between Manhattan and Brooklyn's wealthier southern suburbs.)

This sounds like ancient history but it is not: a similar battle is being fought today by Canton, who is fighting Baltimore's new Red Line, presumably for many of the same reasons Ruxton fought the original line when it was being planned in the late 1980s. The argument against light rail in Canton is arguably more nuanced (most opponents claim only to be opposed to a "surface" Red Line), and the racial implications less clear-cut (many residents in the mostly African-American neighborhood of Edmondson Village also oppose a surface Red Line), but parallels can certainly be drawn.

Monday, August 30, 2010


Last week we wrote about St Bernard Parish's BLOOD RELATIVE ORDINANCE. It turns out that a similar--though arguably slightly less sinister--weapon of exclusion is being deployed right here in New York City: the LETTER OF RECOMMENDATION.

We had just returned from a visit to Brooklyn's Sea Gate, and were doing some research on gated communities in New York City. (From what we can tell, outside of Staten Island--and not counting Park Avenue co-ops, Gramercy Park, or luxury rental towers, which some argue are effectively the same thing as gated communities--New York City has four gated communities: Sea Gate, Breezy Point, Edgewater Park, and Silver Beach Gardens.) This led us to research "co-op communities," an ownership model that all gated communities in New York happen to share. Co-op communities are a little bit different than co-op buildings. In the former, residents own their homes but lease the land from owners’ collectives. Owners pay a monthly maintenance fee for streets, common areas, and, in the cases above, the beach. Of course, with co-ops come co-op boards. While co-op boards can be famously exclusionary (just ask Richard Nixon, Calvin Klein, or Mariah Carey), they are 100% legal, and in fact do not even have to disclose what they are looking for in a buyer or explain why they reject someone.

Nonetheless, what was illegal, at least according to the Fair Housing Justice Center, was for the co-op community at Edgewater Park to use LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION to steer blacks away from Edgewater Park. As the New York Times reports, the lawsuit filed by the Fair Housing Justice Center "claims the co-ops’ requirement that buyers procure three recommendation letters from current residents, who are overwhelmingly white, had a discriminatory effect." (A recent Architect's Newspaper story on gated communities in New York City notes that in 2000, Edgewater Park and Silver Beach Gardens were 82 percent white, 12 percent Hispanic, and 1 percent black.)

This begs the question: what makes these LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION different from those that exclusive Manhattan co-ops require? Why doesn't the Fair Housing Justice Center take them to court? One answer is that it looks like Edgewater Park was caught practicing RACIAL STEERING. Another is the allegation that the LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION "requirement" is not applied to whites, who "are told that a seller or the sellers' friends - whom the applicants do not otherwise know - can provide the references." But on another level, excluding people from a community in the city does seem more pernicious than excluding people from a building on the city. As urban theorists from Christopher Alexander to Leslie Martin to Kees Christiaanse have pointed out, pockets of homogeneity in the city are desirable, so long as they are open, connected, and accessible. If not everyone can live in a Park Avenue co-op, at least everyone can enjoy the same public amenities--handsome streets, Central Park, etc.--that those who do live in the co-ops enjoy. I don't want to overemphasize this point, but it does highlight an important difference: neither you nor I can enjoy Edgewater Park's beaches.

In any case, we're looking forward to hearing how this lawsuit progresses.

Sunday, August 22, 2010


The other day, Interboro had a surprise visit from Nurhan Gokturk, our pal from grad school who we hadn't seen in a while. After grad school, Nurhan moved to New Orleans, where he started a company building affordable, modular, New Orleans-style shotgun houses (this was in 2002 or so, before Katrina). Since then, Nurhan has built close to 100 scattered-site units.

This in itself is worth of an Arsenal of Inclusion entry, but we'd like to focus here on an exclusionary tactic that Nurhan encountered. When we asked Nurhan how he gets his sites, and whether or not he had been able to acquire scattered-site housing in "non-impacted" areas or "opportunity zones" (i.e., white suburbs), he said he tried (in St. Bernard Parish), but was thwarted by something that is even creepier than it sounds: a “blood-relative ordinance.” After Katrina, the Parish's Council President introduced an ordinance mandating that owners of single family homes that had not been rentals previous to Hurricane Katrina could only rent said single-family homes to their blood relatives (the Parish had previously introduced a moratorium on multi-family housing). An article we found in The Root called "Keeping St. Bernard Parish White" makes the obvious conclusion: "With an 88 percent white population which owned 93 percent of the housing stock before the storm, it was pretty clear at whom that ordinance targeted: black people, particularly those dislocated from their homes, and especially those who lived in the demolished public housing projects."

This is one of those weapons on the Arsenal of Exclusion--like EXCLUSIONARY AMENITIES or CONDITIONS, COVENANTS and RESTRICTIONS--that makes you want to throw up your hands and give up, or at least take a cynical attitude towards fair housing laws that, no matter how carefully we craft them, can always be circumvented. The BLOOD RELATIVE ORDINANCE is a reminder that evil is really creative, cleaver, and determined.

Fortunately, so is good. As reported here, soon after the ordinance was introduced in 2005, The Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC), a private, non-profit civil rights organization filed a lawsuit in federal court to force the Parish to repeal the ordinance and the moratorium on multi-family housing. The Parish repealed the blood-relative language of the single family ordinance in February of 2008.

Saturday, August 21, 2010


Interboro has been doing a lot of research on aging in New York City. Our research focuses on the phenomenon of Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORCs) and the Social Service Providers (SSPs) that serve them. Our thesis is that by retroactively servicing buildings with the sorts of amenities that aging adults would otherwise move to purpose-built retirement facilities to access, NORC SSPs keep the elderly in the city, and thereby contribute to generational diversity.

To research this, we have been visiting a lot of NORCS, where we talk to elderly residents, interview NORC SSP Directors, and study how the elderly experience the city. We always walk away from these site visits with new entries for the Arsenal of Exclusion / Inclusion.

Here's an example: last week, we interviewed Ron Bruno, Director of Morningside Retirement and Health Services, Inc., the NORC SSP that serves elderly residents of Morningside Gardens, a 982 unit, multi-racial, middle income housing development in West Harlem. Ron mentioned that when Morningside Gardens opened in 1957, it was something of a safe haven for interracial couples and same-sex couples (many of whom still live in the development). If this doesn't sound shocking, remember that in 1957, plain old interracial housing--whether public or private--was controversial, and hardly the norm. Most of New York City's housing (and all of Baltimore's public housing) was segregated by race. Interracial housing that welcomed interracial and same-sex couples would have been unheard of. Morningside was way ahead of its time. How did this happen?

As it turns out, this amazing piece of history is under-researched, and so far as Ron or I can tell, it isn't known exactly how it happened. Was there an official decree? Was there a pioneering couple who disseminated word in the interracial and same-sex communities that Morningside was very tolerant? I see a dissertation in the making. (Morningside's tolerance was a news topic for a short while in 2003, when two residents of Morningside--Gustavo Archilla and Elmer Lokkins--got married in Canada after living together for 60 years.)

From a 2008 essay by a journalist (and Morningside tenant) named Beatrice Gottlieb called "The Historical Background of Morningside Gardens," we learn that the project's sponsors (Barnard College, Columbia University, Corpus Christi Church,International House, Jewish Theological Seminary, the Juilliard School of Music, Riverside Church, Teachers College, and Union Theological Seminary) had envisioned a residential community that would be attractive and convenient for their own employees, but were disappointed by a lukewarm response. "There were, however, many applications from others, some of whom expressed interest in the project’s social point of view and enthusiasm about a 'real cooperative.'"

Interestingly, Morningside Gardens has always been pretty racially integrated. A 1950 survey of the 36-square-block neighborhood that defined the Morningside Manhattanville redevelopment area (part of which was cleared to make way for the projects) found the area to be 27 percent Negro, 22 precent Spanish-speaking, 4 percent Oriental, and the remainder, non-Puerto Rican white. The original tenants of the Gardens were 75 percent white, 20 percent black, 4 percent Asian, and 1 percent Puerto Rican. Today, Ron estimates that there is a similar racial mix.

NORC SSPs, middle-income housing, and integrated housing are integrative in and of themselves, but when combined with the sort of tolerance demonstrated by Morningside Gardens, they are even more so.

Friday, August 20, 2010


Is Sea Gate the only gated community in New York? The policeman (or more accurately, the private security guard) who wouldn't let us in to see it said that it was. But surely there are some on Staten Island, right? Googling around, there are references to it being the "first" gated community, the "oldest" gated community, and the "largest" gated community: all of these adjectives imply that there are or will be others.

A New York Observer article makes the case that Manhattan's new luxury rentals--"clean, secure, exclusive (but not out of reach), and outfitted with amenities like grill stations, manicured rooftop lawns, and foosball tables"--are New York City's gated communities. Others have argued that there is no real difference between a gated community and a coop (especially a coop with strict coop boards, as you are likely to find on Park Avenue). Gramercy Park is private and gated: does it count?

Here's what we can piece together: outside of Staten Island, New York City has four "real" gated communities: Sea Gate, Breezy Point, Edgewater Park, and Silver Beach Gardens. Sea Gate is indeed the oldest: its gates went up in 1898. All four are "coop communities:" communities in which residents own their homes but lease the land from owners’ collectives (owners pay a monthly maintenance fee for streets, common areas, and, in these cases, beaches). All four are also (surprise) very white. A recent Architect's Newspaper story on the topic notes that in 2000, 75 percent of Sea Gate are white, 7.4 percent are black and 9.4 percent Hispanic. "In Breezy Point more than 99 percent of the residents are white. In Edgewater Park and Silver Beach Gardens, white residents make up 82 percent of residents. The neighborhood is 12 percent Hispanic, but only 1 percent black."

We visited Sea Gate (or anyway, Sea Gate's perimeter) on a very warm, sunny, August Sunday, when, presumably, the guards are on high alert from insurgent sunbathers. We were surprised at how militaristic it looked and felt

Sunday, August 8, 2010


Hollander Ridge's PERIMETER FENCE--which I wrote about in the previous post--is only one chapter in the former housing project's amazing story. Another crucial chapter has to do with its SITE SELECTION. What you first notice about the site is that it is totally separated from its surroundings. Here's how a HUD consultant described it in 1996: “Hollander Ridge is located on the far northeast edge of the City of Baltimore on a parcel of land bounded by expressways on two sides and a major arterial road (Route 40) to the south. . . .The property is approximately four miles from downtown Baltimore, but effectively cut off from the rest of the city by Interstate 95.

Take a look at a Google aerial of the site:

Hollander Ridge's isolation isn't (or wasn't) coincidental. On the contrary, it was the result of a compromise of sorts. In the 1970s, HABC was under pressure to site public housing in "non-impacted" areas: areas that weren't overwhelmingly African-American and poor. In fact HUD decided that it would not grant approval for new public housing units in impacted areas unless those units were balanced by units in
white neighborhoods. A HABC official put it this way: "As our urban renewal effort is presently devoted almost exclusively to inner city areas where our city’s worst housing is located, and as we try to provide housing for the same economic group which is being displaced . . ., there is a great need for new public housing units in these areas. Because of the HUD’s requirement, it was necessary . . . to find a site in a White neighborhood for a large number of units to balance the significant amount of housing to be built on urban renewal lots."

Hollander Ridge, which is in a white census tract in a non-impacted area, was conceived of from the start as a development of "balance units" that would win HABC favor with HUD. But again, a compromise was made. Here's the HUD consultant again: "Although technically a non-impacted site, it is an extremely isolated location that is inconvenient to schools, churches, shopping, laundry facilities, or other services, especially for those without cars. Vehicular access to the site is provided by a guarded checkpoint on the north side of Pulaski Highway (Route 40). Originally, the property was also accessible through residential streets that served the Rosedale community to the northeast. However, because of crime problems over the years, these access points have been blocked by barricades."

I don't want to come down too hard on HABC here, for whom siting public housing in non-impacted, white areas was virtually impossible, and who had to make the sorts of compromises alluded to above. Clearly, the real enemy here is home-rule, which gives racists the ability to exclude in the first place. Still, Hollander Ridge was a terrible, terrible place to site public housing, a fact perhaps best evidenced by the fact that it was imploded at the ripe old age of 24.


Today, I rode my bike to Hollander Ridge, or anyway what used to be Hollander Ridge (it was demolished on July 9, 2000). Hollander Ridge was a 1,000-unit public housing development built in 1976 by the Housing Authority of Baltimore City on a 60-acre parcel at the city / county line. Hollander Ridge was virtually 100% African-American when it was demolished.

I biked to Hollander Ridge to see this wrought iron perimeter fence:

I learned about this fence while reading Judge Marvin Garvis’s Thompson v. HUD decision, which devotes 12 pages (out of 322) to its remarkable story.

In 1998, HABC, with the approval and financial support of HUD, Senator Barbara M ccluskey, then Mayor Kurt Schmoke, the Rosedale Community, and a few Hollander Ridge residents constructed the 8-foot tall, spiked, wrought iron fence around the perimeter of Hollander Ridge to separate it from the adjacent, predominantly white suburban community of Rosedale. The result was something very strange and perhaps unprecedented: a gated community created by outsiders to keep insiders in (well, I suppose a prison is a precedent for this).

The fence is the product of a HUD pilot project to seek solutions for crime in HUD-supported public housing. HUD, with feedback from HABC, selected Hollander Ridge as the focus of the pilot, and the Department of the Treasury deployed a Secret Service team to study the site and make suggestions for improving public safety. By that time, crime was rampant at Hollander Ridge. Garvis describes "check days" (days when elderly residents would receive their monthly social security checks), when “the high-rise area was, in effect, an open air drug and sex market.” The Secret Service Team’s report, entitled “Operation Safe Home," confirmed the existence of serious public safety problems at Hollander Ridge, and recommended, among other things, that “A fence perimeter [be established] around the community limiting pedestrian access.” It was built in 1998.

But the fence—which cost as much as $1.7 million according to a Baltimore Sun article—wouldn’t have been built had the white Rosedale residents not organized and complained that the city-county line was too porous, and that the crime from Hollander Ridge was lowering Rosedale property values, and making Rosedale less safe. As Garvis notes, while some were motivated by legitimate concerns (in 1996 an elderly Rosedale woman was slain in her home), “certainly, some of these Baltimore
County residents were motivated by racial animus directed against the African-American residents of Hollander Ridge."

And how. Thinking about it, I'm reminded of John Carpenter's 1981 anti-urban classic Escape from New York, which posits New York City as giant, maximum-security prison, complete with fortified bridges and tunnels to keep the riff-raff out of the suburbs on the other side. (Remember the scene when The Duke, played by Isaac Hayes, gets sprayed with bullets trying to climb the border wall?) It also makes me think of Kenneth Jackson's essay “Gentleman’s Agreement,” where Jackson writes that although they are not physical boundaries, “the boundaries between our cities and our suburbs are as real and effective as both the fortifications of medieval Europe or the gated communities of our own time.” This 8-foot tall, spiked, $1.7 million wrought-iron perimeter fence built along Baltimore’s city-county line is a surreal landmark that--like Detroit's infamous HOLC wall--speaks volumes about race relations in metropolitan America.

Sunday, August 1, 2010


Interboro just received the new issue of Reclaim, the magazine we get for being members of Transportation Alternatives. After reading the issue's depressing story about the MTA's dire financial situation, and getting mad all over again at the State Legislature for nixing congestion pricing, voting "no" on east river tolls, and stealing $143 million from the MTA to plug budget gaps, we came across a story about a town in Colorado (Black Rock) that banned bicycle riding because it is in "the best interest of its citizens, its businesses." The latter are primarily casinos (the town's population is 118).

Is this even legal? Is there a precedent for it? A quick Google search turns up a handful of bike bans and proposed bike bans: In Missouri, St. Charles County Council member Joe Brazil proposed banning bicycles from several roads around the town of Defiance. In Kansas, the community of De Soto banned bicycles from 83rd Street in their town, citing safety issues on a two-lane road with no shoulders. A article thinks that the Black Hawk ordinance is not enforceable, and that if it is not addressed, it could create a frightening legal precedent. The article concludes that in Colorado, where local authorities are authorized to regulate the operation of bicycles, cities do not have the authority to regulate whether you can operate your bicycle.

The good news is that it looks like the lawyer of good are fighting back against the lawyers of evil. There's even a "boycott Black Hawk" Facebook page (1,705 likes!).

In the meantime, "BICYCLE BAN" wins a place in our Arsenal of Exclusion.

Sunday, July 25, 2010


I'm disappointed in my neighbor (who I don't know). Walking home today down Carroll Street, I came across a bike with a grammatically-challenged letter taped to it:

The letter is from our councilman, Steve Levin. It reads:

Under the councilman's signature, in thick black marker, the neighbor scribbled "PLEASE REMOVE YOUR BIKE FROM THE FRONT OF MY HOME."

This letter is especially galling because there is not a single bike rack on Carroll Street. If this biker can't lock his or her bike to this sign (or one like it) what is he or she to do?

And why does my neighbor care so much? Shouldn't we be making a bigger fuss about how much space is given over to street parking? Or double parking? Or how much traffic and pollution is generated by searching for parking? (Here's an idea: establish a "NO-CRUISING" zone to crack down on drivers who circle around the block in search of a parking spot). It's hard enough being a biker in New York City: do we really need to make bikers' lives harder by enlisting our councilmembers to enforce a law that, if regularly enforced, would make biking next to impossible?

Anyway, it's hard to imagine a reason why a bike locked to a traffic sign would bother someone so much. Why is a sign inoffensive when it benefits cars, but offensive when it benefits cars and bikes? It's hard not to think of RESIDENTIAL PERMIT PARKING here, which Margaret Crawford wrote about for our IABR installation. Something else that comes to mind: FIRE ZONES (which I wrote about earlier on this blog), and FIRE HYDRANTS, which you sometimes find a surplus of on beach-front blocks. All of these weapons are weapons that restrict access by prohibiting parking. All three create a "resident's only" environment in places that are otherwise public.

However, why someone would want to exclude bikers from Park Slope is beyond me. Does it have something to do with the Prospect Park West Bike Lane?

Sunday, July 18, 2010


On September 10, 2008, a popular playground at the Stadium Place YMCA in the Waverly neighborhood of Baltimore was burned to the ground in what was almost certainly a senseless, cold-hearted act of arson. Eight months later, in a touching expression of community solidarity, thousands of volunteers came together to rebuild the playground, which, I'm happy to report in July 2010, appears active and healthy. (My girlfriend's house is about 300 yards north of the playground, so I pass by it often, and feel an attachment to the neighborhood.)

That there is such a large, popular playground in Waverly, and that so many people volunteered so much time and hard work to its erection is a much more important story than the one I am about to tell. Nonetheless: on a recent walk past the playground, I was disturbed to find that the playground is protected by not one, not two, not three, but FOUR fences.

My camera isn't good enough to capture all four of them, but here are three:

The question I would like to pose is: does this make the playground any safer?

Obviously, fencing off the playground was done in the name of safety and security, and, when we consider that the playground was recently burned to the ground by vandals, this design decision seems at first very sensible. How do we keep the park safe? We keep out the vandals! How do we keep out the vandals? We build a big fence (again, actually four fences). However, I'm going to take a William Whyte / Jane Jacobs / Christopher Alexander view of the situation and opine that this line of reasoning is flawed, and that especially when we take the long view, it does not promote safety and security because it does not promote use. A better line of reasoning would be: How do we keep the park safe? We keep out the vandals! How do we keep out the vandals? We make sure that lots of different people use (or at least watch over) the playground. How do we make sure lots of different people use the playground? We make it easily accessible (by people and people's gaze), and combine it with other programs that attract other kinds of people.

The problem is that the designers of the playground sacrificed accessibility, visibility, and diversity for control, when it is the former three qualities that create safer environments. What we have is a fortress that is thoroughly disengaged from the everything around it, and that discourages all but the most dedicated park goers from making use of the space. To access it from the north or the west, one has to circumnavigate the YMCA, and walk behind the building to an interior parking lot. And while the playground is surrounded by the YMCA, an elementary school, an assisted living facility, and a neighborhood street of attached rowhouses, it does not "talk" to any of them. (A new baseball field that is being built by Cal Ripkin over the former Memorial Field where the Oriels used to play looks like it will be similarly disengaged.) In sum, the playground is a fortress (a fact that is nicely mimicked by the playground's architecture, which makes use of castle motifs):

Again, the bigger story is that there is a playground here. But a safer, better-used one could have been built with a few less fences.

Oh, and the highly-reflective glass on the YMCA doesn't help to de-fortress the space!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


Here are two pictures of a L.I.R.R. platform in Garden City, Long Island. Can you guess what's wrong with these pictures?

The fact that there is not a single seat of any kind in this train station proved even more aggravating because 1) we arrived thirty minutes before my train did, and 2) we had just spent the day talking about how to "build a better burb," as jury members for a competition of the same name. Well here is a good place to start: don't be so afraid of loiterers, homeless people, and other "undesirables" that you are willing to deprive visitors to--and residents of--your preposterously segregated island of a place to sit down and wait for the train.


Sometimes when I have to explain what the Arsenal of Exclusion is, I use the example of the "NO LOITERING" SIGN, because it is a clear example of something that restricts access to space, and delegitimates an activity--loitering--that is a perfectly legitimate, and in some cases desirable form of social interaction (if you don't believe me, read William Whyte's City: Rediscovering the Center).

Anyway, a student of mine alerted me to this most interesting "NO LOITERING" SIGN on Baltimore's North Avenue:

At the bottom of this sticker of a door--which has been applied to hide the fact that the rowhouse has been boarded up and lacks an actual door--is a "NO LOITERING" SIGN. That is to say that the archetypal, generic, lowest-common-denominator door--the kind of door that you make when you mass produce anonymous, two-dimensional, one-to-one scale door simulacra--is actually a door with a "NO LOITERING" SIGN affixed to it.

That's amazing!

Monday, July 12, 2010


In an ongoing effort to balance July 5th's post by calling attention to the things that Baltimore is doing (or has done) to make a more open city, I present a link to this amazing 1953 Encyclopedia Britannica film about The Baltimore Plan.

In the four years after 1949's Slum Clearance legislation but before 1953's Urban Renewal legislation, a radical idea was proposed: what if, instead of completely clearing slums and reverting the city to a tabula rasa, we held slumlords to task in the interest of actually maintaining slum buildings? In Baltimore, the tool that was proposed to achieve this was the HOUSING COURT. The Encyclopedia Britannica film is essentially a film about this housing court.

As the movie suggests, Housing Courts were started in the 1950s as dedicated arenas for legal issues of housing, which were often of a scale too small to be effectively heard in the broader jurisdiction of the circuit and the district court. As an organ of the mid-century urban renewal movement, these early courts often focused their attention on deadbeat landlords that were not complying with health and safety codes. Ideally, these courts contain themselves to the nuanced and often mundane issues that erupt between tenants and landlords. Despite its original moral center around tenants' rights, the decisions levied by the court helped pave the way for aggressive modernizations that, at the very least, disturbed old patterns settlement, and at the worst, eliminated opportunities for fair housing in city centers.

The creation of a housing court in 1947 by a crusading judge in Baltimore, Maryland paved the way for the Pilot Program, a large scale urban improvement project in East Baltimore. James Rouse, a groundbreaking real estate developer and civic activist, was the head of the Mayor's Advisory Council on Housing Law Enforcement and an early advocate of slum clearance. These institutions, along with other advocates like Yates Cook of the Housing Bureau, used the authority vested by the Housing Court to identify unhygienic, unsafe, and untenable housing within the Pilot Program's twenty seven blocks. The massive renewal program paved the way for big-time developers like Rouse to build new housing and infrastructure.

Today, most medium to large communities have Housing Courts exclusively to handle the issues that arise between tenants and landlords, and few, if any, operate with the mandate that Rouse gave Baltimore's in the early 50s. Their jurisdiction ranges from questions about zoning changes to nuisance problems that might affect neighbors within a neighborhood. This forum gives tenants without substantial legal or monetary means to fight unfair treatment by housing authorities. For example, New York City's Housing Court, which relies upon 50 full-time judges and 1000s of support staff, hears around 300,000 cases a year.

Housing Court is in the Arsenal of Inclusion because it gives under-served populations access to due jurisprudence. It keeps areas of communities, often characterized by older housing stock and heterogeneous populations, viable places of healthy living. At the same time, any institution that falls victim to labyrinthine bureaucracy or external influence can lose sight of its ultimate mission. As the East Baltimore program demonstrated, the Housing Court's rulings are played out in the city by a long list of actors with many competing motives.


At the risk of sounding like a Baltimore-basher, I thought I should devote a post or two to the things that the city is doing (or has done) to make a more open city. In the previous post, I mentioned that Baltimore was a laboratory for the development of tools of discrimination, but Baltimore has also done a fair amount of experimenting with social policies, institutions, etc. that foster--as opposed to restrict--access to space.

For example, Baltimore has a pretty impressive Housing Mobility program. The product of an ACLU-initiated lawsuit against HUD (Thompson v. HUD) whose court documents could be bound and marketed as an American urban history textbook, the program seeks to combat the concentration of poverty in minority communities by giving public housing families access to private market housing in low poverty and predominantly white neighborhoods (or what the Kirwan Institute calls "zones of opportunity"). A newish report on the program, published by The Poverty and Race Research Action Council and The Baltimore Regional Housing Campaign, notes that since 2002, the program has moved 1,522 families into wealthier, less segregated neighborhoods in Baltimore County (88 percent of families moved from the inner city to suburban counties).

The report paints a rosy picture of the program, and for good reason. According to the report's Executive Summary, a survey of the families revealed that:

-Neighborhoods moved from were 80 percent black and 33 percent poor; those moved to were 21 percent black and 7.5 percent poor.

-Median household income in old neighborhoods was $24,182 and in new was $48,318.

-Eighty-three percent of settled participants (those who have been in their homes for at least 14 months) say their neighborhood is better or much better than their old neighborhood.

-In the new neighborhoods’ elementary schools, 69 and 76 percent of students scored proficient or higher on state math and reading tests, compared with 44 percent and 54 percent in the original city schools.

Those are pretty impressive results indeed. Stay tuned for some more pro Baltimore posts!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Not in My Neighborhood: How Bigotry Shaped a Great American City

Antero Pietila’s Not in My Neighborhood: How Bigotry Shaped a Great American City is a great book. It is full of jaw-dropping statistics (i.e. in the 1970s, 83 percent of white growth was in Baltimore County, and 83 percent of black growth was in the city) uncomfortable truths (i.e. the Red Cross, on orders from the Military, turned away black blood donors at an emergency blood drive), seriously shady practices (Baltimore County Executive Dale Anderson ordered real estate agents to report all sales to blacks to police), fascinating profiles (i.e. in 1964, a segregationist paving-contractor named George Mahoney ran for Governor on the Democratic ticket using the motto “Your home is your castle – protect it”), revealing anecdotes (i.e. in the late 1950s, when tens of thousands of single-family homes were being built in Baltimore County, zoning was allegedly done on napkins in the back room of a popular tavern), and just plain things I didn’t know (i.e. in 1944, Robert Moses was hired to do a plan for Baltimore).

It's a really important book that I highly recommend reading, even if you aren't from Baltimore. But the most important thing about it for this blog is the fact that it is full of new entries in the Arsenal of Exclusion. Indeed, Not in My Neighborhood makes a convincing case that Baltimore should be a prominent part of the American urban narrative, less because it was a large, bustling city that produced great culture than because Baltimore was something of a laboratory for the development of tools of discrimination. Indeed many of the weapons in this Arsenal of Exclusion, from BLOCKBUSTING to RACIAL AND RELIGIOUS COVENANTS to RACIAL ZONING were invented, honed, or most successfully deployed there.

Here are a few. Please note that this list is not comprehensive, as it only includes weapons of exclusion that weren’t in the original list of 101, or that were previously unknown to me. The book is full of insights about BLOCKBUSTING, MINIMUM LOT SIZES, RACIAL ZONING, RACIAL STEERING, RESTRICTIVE COVENANTS, SECURITY MAPS, and any number of other weapons that were on the original list of 101.

AIR CONDITIONER: Pietila makes an interesting, Robert Putnam-esque observation about air conditioning: “the arrival of whirring air conditioning units further insulated neighbors. The result was that even on balmy evenings, fewer and fewer people walked around the neighborhood or sat in porches, listening to radio and gossiping, as they had done in the early years.” (Pietila, 162).

ARCHDIOCESE: One of the truly terrible people Pietila writes about is Monsignor Louis Vaeth, from St. Bernadine’s in Edmondson Village. Like many leaders in the Catholic Church, Vaeth used the pulpit to deliver white supremacist sermons, and defend his parish against black infiltration. But Vaeth fell out of favor with the Baltimore archdiocese, who began to oppose racial segregation, and who, under Lawrence J. Shehan, insisted that it was the obligation of every Catholic to work towards racial equality. (ARCHDIOCESE is thus in the Arsenal of Exclusion and the Arsenal of Inclusion.)

CONDEMNATION: According to Pietila, one of the weapons pioneered in Baltimore was COMDEMNATION. In the early 1910s—almost a decade before New York City’s pioneering zoning code and almost 40 years before Urban Renewal—Mayor James H. Preston used condemnation powers to evacuate the entire neighborhood around Baltimore’s courthouse. His incentive? He wanted to prevent poor blacks from encroaching on fashionable, nearby Mt. Vernon. Another thing worth mentioning here is that he justified it with an appeal to public health. Pietila quotes Preston as saying that “The mortality rate among negros for all forms of tuberculosis is 260.4 per cent higher than that of the white race” (Pietila, 52).

DISCONTINUOUS STREET PATTERNS: Pietila doesn’t say too much about this, but does mention a 1970 Hearing of the United States Commission on Civil Rights that argued that African American areas in Baltimore County were “isolated from their surroundings and particularly from adjacent white residential areas by discontinuous street patterns.” Anyone who has ever had to get from east to west Baltimore knows that DISCONTINUOUS STREET PATTERNS are used in the city, too. A case in point is Greenmount Avenue, which divides one of Baltimore’s whitest, wealthiest neighborhoods (Guilford) from a low-income, predominantly African American one. When traveling north on Greenmount, it is impossible to make a left turn into Guilford: Underwood Avenue and Northway are one-way streets leading out of Guilford, and 35th Street is interrupted by a landscaped barrier. One street (39th Street) is a two-way street crossing Greenmount; however, the streets that branch off of 39th Street west of Greenmount lead you either directly back out or take you in a circle pattern around the section. It’s as confusing as it sounds.

EXPULSIVE ZONING: Pietila, after Yale Rabin, describes Baltimore County’s urban renewal efforts as acts of EXPULSIVE ZONING. The weapon is pretty simple: rezone black areas for business, and leave adjacent white areas untouched. Pietila’s example is Turner Station, home to Baltimore County’s largest concentration of African Americans. Pietilia writes that by the 1980s, so much of the neighborhood had been rezoned that the population shrunk to 3,557, down from 9,000 in the 1950s. A related tactic—also practiced by Baltimore County—was to rezone the area around African American areas for low density, thereby preventing neighborhood expansion (Pietila, 232).

(LACK OF) PUBLIC HOUSING: Pietila doesn’t say much about Baltimore’s notoriously segregated public housing program, but he does underline the fact that most suburban municipalities chose not to have a public housing authority. An interesting consequence, at least in Baltimore, was that the county’s needy ended up relying on the city’s overburdened social services. Write Pietila: “Each week, half a dozen county families applied for public housing in the city, which had no residency requirements, because there was no public housing in the county” (Pietila, 233).

LAND INSTALLMENT CONTRACT: As is to be expected of a book about bigotry in Baltimore, Pietila writes a lot about Blockbusting, which is one of those weapons in the arsenal that was really honed to perfection in Baltimore. For most blockbusters, the prevalent sales instrument was something called the LAND INSTALLMENT CONTRACT. A rent-to-buy arrangement, such contracts were, in Pietila’s words, “hocus pocus on pieces of paper.” They were not recorded, no deed changed hands, and there was no settlement. Titles remained in the sellers hands until “the purchaser accrued enough equity, usually 40 percent , to qualify for a mortgage.” The problem of course is that that day often never came. Sellers routinely evicted tenants for missing even one payment or for violating some obscure clause that was buried at the bottom of the contract. Sound familiar? (Indeed, it is impossible to read Not in My Neighborhood without thinking about how little has changed, despite how much progress has been made.)

MONTH-TO-MONTH LEASE: Pietila writes that the most cynical instigators of racial panic were owners of apartment buildings: “whenever a stable neighborhood began to desegregate, they bestowed a kiss of death on integration by simply evicting all white tenants, who were on monthly rents and leases. Landlords then jacked up rents, changed them to weekly payments, advertised their complexes only in the Afro-American, and rented only to blacks” (Pietila, 175). Pietila reveals an astonishing fact: in 1962 not a single multi-racial apartment building existed in Baltimore.

TELEVISION: Pietila makes an interesting, Robert Putnam-esque observation about television: soon after the first television station went on the air in 1947, people began living according to the television schedule. “ Tuesdays were no longer good for bowling or bingo; that night belonged to Milton Berle” (Pietila, 162).

MULTIPLE LISTING SERVICE: Before Zillow and Property Shark, there was the MULTIPLE LISTING SERVICE. Before that, there were CLASSIFIED ADS in the NEWSPAPER. In the latter two cases, separate listings existed for whites, blacks, and Jews.

NEWSPAPER: The Sun was pro segregation. The Afro-American was pro integration. Lots of people read these newspapers. Their reporting, opinions, and editorials were tremendously influential.

QUOTA: Pietila tells an interesting story about The Maylander apartment building, a 507-unit building near Johns Hopkins that was finished in 1951. Three years after the Supreme Court deemed restrictive covenants unenforceable in Shelley v. Kraemer, the management company behind the Marylander instituted a quota for Jews: until the building was 75 percent occupied, no more than 12 percent of tenants could be Jewish.

REAL ESTATE SIGNS: These are in the Arsenal of Exclusion for two reasons: First, Pietila writes about how signs typically announced whether a home was for sale to whites or “coloreds.” Second, the signs were used by blockbusters to spread panic.

TRAILER: Baltimore manufactured a lot of ships, aircrafts, and rockets for World War II. As is true of other manufacturing cities, Baltimore’s population boom in the 1940s has a lot to do with this fact: the factories needed labor, and people—many of them poor blacks from the south—settled in the city to meet with demand. A housing shortage ensued (thanks to RESTRICTIVE COVENANTS and other weapons, areas where blacks could live were severely limited), but instead of building more housing, housing officials recommended providing temporary trailers. Pietila quotes Senator Millard Tydings: “If more negroes are brought here they should be housed in trailers so that they can easily be moved out after the war is over” (Pietila, 80).

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


For a class I teach about artists and / in the city, Rachel London did a great project called "Baltimore Sky Space Project." According to the website, Sky Space Project is "a project that aims to alter dark spaces through installations and events around viewing the night’s sky in Baltimore." The premise of the project is smart, simple, and, frankly, touching: Baltimore is a notoriously dark city, with blocks of abandoned rowhouses and relatively few streetlights. As a symbol of neglect, darkness is thus a bad thing (and a dangerous thing), but there is a silver lining. Baltimore's relative darkness means stars are more visible in Baltimore than they are in other cities. Baltimore, it turns out, is a relatively OK place to stargaze.

But, as evidenced by last Friday's inaugural "Night Lights" event--which brought a diverse group of people to an abandoned lot in Baltimore's Greenmount West neighborhood to watch live projection feeds of the night sky, look through telescopes, talk to a guest astronomer, listen to local starry music and drink iced tea--Sky Space Project is not about solitary stargazing. Sky Space Project is about community. As Rachel puts it, Night Lights "takes dark, empty lots and utilizes them to create feelings of safety in the city through a greater neighborhood presence. The events themselves literally use the darkness of the area to inspire patronage there."

The inaugural event was a great one that, incredibly, was broken up by the Baltimore Police. According to one eyewitness, as the event was nearing its end, patrons were told to leave or risk arrest, and were told that they were "a bunch of sardines in a shark tank."

Greenmount West is a dangerous neighborhood. So on the one hand, it's hard to not sympathize with the sentiment the police officers expressed. On the other hand, the police acted inappropriately, especially in light of the fact that no one was doing anything illegal (on the contrary, the event was a healthy, positive expression of community spirit). What's worse, if you take a long view of things, the police are acting as their own worst enemy. When they call the neighborhood a "shark tank" and shoe everyone away, they are in some respects creating a self-fulfilling prophesy. It would be naive to say that public perception and presence makes or breaks a neighborhood, but they can certainly contribute to its safety. Safety, after all, is a two-way street. Police have to do what they can but so do we: occupying a space a la Night Lights is a modest, but ultimately important thing that we can do to make a difference.

Saturday, May 22, 2010


Everyone should check out the amazing waterfront planning work Damon Rich is doing in the Newark Planning Department. Go on a boat tour of the Passaic!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


What's up with fire zones on Rockaway?

Here is a typical street in the Beach 140s between Beach Boulevard and the actual beach:

Interesting how there are no cars parked on the street. Why are there no cars parked on this street? This might have something to do with it:

A fire zone--or lots of fire zones--lining both sides of the street, prohibits street parking - not just on weekends, or on Tuesdays and Thursdays between 8 and 11, but always.

This is true of every street between Beach Boulevard and the actual beach until you get to this street (Beach 125 Street), where, predictably, the mansions stop:

The situation is also different one block inland:

Here there are cars parked on both sides, but this is only owing to the fact that it is still April:

Why FIRE ZONE (and to a lesser extent, NO PARKING ANYTIME) is in the Arsenal of Exclusion hardly needs to be explained. The wealthy owners of these opulent beach front mini-mansions declared their entire neighborhood a fire zone to keep away the summer riff-raff. FIRE ZONE is thus in the same category of BEACH PERMITS, FIRE HYDRANTS, and those famous low UNDERPASSES that Robert Moses built to ensure that buses couldn't deliver the poor, urban masses to Jones Beach. (For our Arsenal of Exclusion / Inclusion installation in the IABR, William Tenhoor and Meredith Tenhoor wrote about FIRE HYDRANTS in this capacity.) Granted, there must be enormous demand for street parking around these parts, but Rockaway is still part of the city, and shouldn't be closed off in such a manner.

Sunday, March 28, 2010


A former student of ours posted this ridiculous video on Facebook today. If you don't have time to watch it, it pitches a "sidewalk management plan," which proposes a 6' - 8' "pedestrian use zone" in which pedestrians "must move immediately to accommodate the multiple users of the sidewalk." Importantly, the zone measures out from the property line, ruling out leaning on (or sleeping on) buildings.

As this former student points out, this is a really pathetic, barely disguised attempt to rid Portland of homeless people.

But also: a sidewalk management plan in downtown Portland? Such a plan isn't needed on the sidewalks of midtown Manhattan; what, beyond the "homeless problem," would justify one in relatively serene downtown Portland? According to the resolution the problem is that "people and bicycle racks, signal controller boxes, drinking fountains, fire hydrants, parking meters, transit shelters, light poles, mail boxes, telephones, retail and commercial doorways, garbage cans, newspaper boxes, benches, permitted carts and cafés, “A” board signs and public art among other items must share sidewalks that can range from five to fifteen feet wide."

The problem, that is, is that downtown Portland fulfills the function of a good city street: it is a dense urban space, where lots of different programs are forced to negotiate with each-other. Isn't Portland supposed to be progressive? The great William Whyte is rolling in his grave.

Sunday, March 21, 2010


On my walk from office to home today, I felt compelled to document what we might call "spill." Different programs obviously differ on the inside, but they also "spill" differently: firehouses, parking garages, supermarkets, restaurants, bars, physic shops, and Italian ice purveyors all create unique social spaces when their private, interior programs spill out and intersect with the public life of the street. Bar spill, for example, usually takes the form of a designated smoking zone, where different people might come together who otherwise might not. Firehouses, as evidenced by the photographs below, create a friendly space of encounter for parents, their curious children, and the firefighters.

For the most part, spill is a good example of how a space can be made without architecture (since the space is really the product of the intersection of two programs). However, architectural accoutrements can sometimes exaggerate this intersection of private and public. As an example, consider the apartment canopy. In Celluloid Skyline, James Sanders analyzes a scene from the film Butterfield 8, in which a woman (Emily Liggett), exits a cab and journeys "from curbstone to doorway." Sanders writes that "this piece of sidewalk is already home. . . For a moment, two paths have crossed at right angles: the stream of public life running the length of the sidewalk and the short domestic path set perpendicular to it, from curbstone to doorway." As Sanders points out, it is the canopy alone that makes this crossing possible, "this place where a single plot of ground has two completely distinct meanings as different as home and city."

Spill is not a tool per se, and thus fits somewhat awkwardly in this lexicon of things that open and close the city. In any case, spill was especially evident today, a sunny Spring day that drew the entire neighborhood outdoors. Here are a few snapshots of the "spill" outside a few businesses I passed by this afternoon on Union Street between 5th and 7th Avenues, and then again on 7th Avenue between Union and Garfield.

Saturday, March 13, 2010


Who doesn't like pie? Like baseball and jury duty, pie is one of those things that has the capacity to assemble people who might not otherwise assemble. Presumably, that is the thinking behind Pielab, a "welcoming community space on Greensboro’s Main Street that provides delicious pie and coffee, as well as retail and hospitality job training for local youth." PieLab also operates as a community design center "focusing on community development projects and small business incubation in Greensboro and the surrounding five counties."

There are of course many ways in which food serves to open the city. For the International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam, Meridith Tenhoor looked at the "multi-ethnic gastronomic paradise" that can be found in the aging shopping plazas of New Jersey’s secondary suburban commercial corridors, and that serve to open the region. Pielab takes a cue from this phenomenon, but purposely uses the food as bait, producing a quite clever outcome.

For this, "pie" gets a place in our Arsenal of Inclusion.


How did "School District" escape our original list of 101 things that close the city? Especially here in Park Slope, and extra especially here in the shadow of PS 321, the segregating effect of school districts is something I can witness each and every time I leave my apartment on Seventh Avenue and Carroll Street. Thanks in part to the stellar reputation on PS 321, it seems sometimes that mine is one of the only non-family households in the neighborhood. That vision of baby stroller armageddon that even tourists can conjure by now is by no means inaccurate, but let's remember why the neighborhood is so full of baby strollers (and, by the way teenagers, which were few and far between in Fort Greene, Williamsburg, and any number of other neighborhoods I have spent time in): yes, Prospect Park is nice to play in, and yes, the retail mix is just right for a young family, but it is the school district that is coveted most. As is to be expected, the money mom and dad save not having to send Ella and Emma to private school is tacked on to the cost of housing. The result? Many people who don't have kids might find that it is not worth their while to live there, when they could live outside of the 321 district where their rent would be cheaper, and where they might find better retail amenities (indeed, if I ever go out in Park Slope, it is almost always on the south side, outside the 321 district, where there are better restaurants and where bars actually exist). The result? A certain kind of segregation that separates family households from non-family households. In this way, PS 321 is what Lior Jacob Strahilevitz calls an "Exclusionary Amenity." Like golf courses, churches, prayer speakers, and Shabbat elevators, PS 321 is an amenity that creates a demand that only certain people are willing to pay for.

No wonder Park Slope sometimes feels so much like the suburbs.

Monday, February 22, 2010


Roger Cohen has an interesting piece in today's New York Times about what he calls the "Narcissus Society." Community, writes Cohen, has vanished or eroded. Instead we have "frenzied individualism, solipsistic screen-gazing, the disembodied pleasures of social networking and the à-la-carte life as defined by 600 TV channels and a gazillion blogs." It's a perhaps hackneyed sentiment, but what makes the piece interesting is the fact that these feelings were provoked by serving on jury duty. Cohen writes" "Thrown together for two weeks at Brooklyn Supreme Court with 22 other jurors, I was struck by how rare it is now in American life to be gathered, physically, with an array of other folk of different ages, backgrounds, skin colors, beliefs, faiths, tastes, education levels and political convictions and be obliged to work out your differences in order to get the job done."

Sounds like "jury duty" might be a good candidate from the Arsenal of Inclusion. Indeed, "jury duty" is included in Interboro's list of 101 things that open the city. Interboro writes:

Jury Duty is the obligation of a citizen to serve on a jury to jointly render an impartial verdict in a courtroom trial and set a penalty or judgment; it accrues from the constitutional right to be tried by a panel of one's peers. As an instrument of direct government participation, it asks all formally recognized citizens to judge each other based upon a presumption of innocence and the rational weighing of facts. The summons process and the spatial organization of the jury chambers are such that they do not discriminate based on background, wealth, or ethnicity.

Jury Duty is in the Arsenal of Inclusion because it brings together a heterogeneous cross-section of the community to exercise an important civic right and responsibility. The shared tradition, practiced in small-town community courthouses and metropolitan judicial centers across the country, has long been a window onto the diversity of the American populace.

Saturday, February 6, 2010


Interboro's friend Adam Kleinman curates an amazing lecture series for the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council called "Access Restricted" Access Restricted is "a free nomadic lecture series that opens rarely visited and often prohibited spaces in Manhattan to the general public." Once inside these unique interiors, Adam writes, "the audience is treated to a site-specific lecture and discussion addressing a range of topics revolving around issues of architectural history and preservation, social justice, and urban development." This year's theme, "Law and Representation," explores current issues in law, while also investigating the law in art, architecture, and the media.

Aside from being a great series, it is a great candidate for our "Arsenal of Inclusion." Adam writes: "Even though Manhattan possesses one of the richest legal infrastructures in the country, the general public hardly ever interacts with these buildings and their use except for a few, very specified situations." Brilliant!