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.