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. 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

NIMBY wrap-up for the week of Tuesday, August 6th

Here's the NIMBY wrap-up for the week of Tuesday, August 6th.

From the NYTimes, here's an interesting and mostly inspiring article about Richmond, VA's use of EMINENT DOMAIN to stop foreclosures and keep people in their homes. This is one of many "hacks" that appear in our forthcoming book (hacks describe weapons that are designed for one purpose but used for another). We will definitely be watching this story.

From the "land use squabbles of the wealthy" archive, here's a funny article about "shock rocker" Rob Zombie's beef with a neighborhood skate park.

From Urban Oasis, here is a downloadable, pdf copy of the 1936 FHA Underwriting Manual. We had actually been scouring the interwebs for this for a while. Thanks Urban Oasis!

A few weeks ago, we posted an excellent piece by Robert Reich on Detroit. It's excellent because it pinpoints something that has been missing in the debate about Detroit's bankruptcy, but that is absolutely central to it, namely, the fact that as a metropolitan area, Detroit is actually doing OK. From the NYTimes Sunday Dialogue, here's a back and forth about how suburbs can help cities that echoes some of Reich's points.

From Gothamist, here's a good defense of RENT STABILIZATION.

Finally, here's a really inspiring story about Portland's Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, which began an initiative to identify neighborhoods on the verge of, or in the process of, gentrifying.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Arsenal on WYPR Baltimore's "Lines Between Us"

Last week, Dan had the honor of being a guest on WYPR Baltimore's amazing "Lines Between Us" program. Dan led Host Sheilah Kast and Senior Producer Lawrence Lanahan on a tour of some exclusionary and inclusionary spots around Baltimore's Penn Station.  

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Archives of HOLC Residential Security Maps

Here's a veritable goldmine: an archive of 35 scanned RESIDENTIAL SECURITY MAPS, courtesy of Urban Oasis. Check out Flint's map, which reverses a familiar pattern by having blue in the center and lots of red at the periphery. Oakland's is also interesting for the stark north / south divide. But really, we're just getting started analyzing these.  

Here is another archive of 14 maps from 14 cities in Ohio, courtesy of the Ohio State University Library. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

NIMBY wrap-up for the week of Tuesday, July 30th

Here's the NIMBY wrap-up for the week of Tuesday, July 30th.

The big news this week: HUD issues a proposed rule (FR–5173–P–01) on Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing. Here is the proposed rule, and here is a good summary in Atlantic Cities. The new rule 1) refines what "affirmatively further fair housing" really means, and 2) outlines how HUD will help grantees affirmatively further fair housing by publishing extensive local data on patterns of integration and segregation. As Shaun Donovan put it in a speech to the NAACP earlier this month: "Make no mistake: this is a big deal."

From the AP: The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the Dallas suburb of Farmers Branch can't enforce a law that bans immigrants in the United States without legal permission from renting apartments. The ordinance is one of many LOCAL IMMIGRATION ORDINANCES we discuss in our forthcoming book.

Here's a poignant piece from Bloomberg's James S. Russell about the fortress-ification of downtown Manhattan.

There have been so many excellent pieces about Trayvon Martin that it's hard to know what to post. Here is an important perspective from an educator on "Race, Space, and Trayvon Martin," from the Society of Architectural Historians.

Stuck in Place by Patrick Sharkey is very high up on our reading list. Here is a good interview Sharkey did with Richard Florida in Atlantic Cities.

From Bettery: some good, creative thinking about how to make cities less lonely for the elderly, a topic that figures fairly prominently in our forthcoming book.

On a lighter note, there's an interesting debate raging in lower Manhattan about ferry horns that pits kayakers against residents of battery Park City. Be sure to check out the comments.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Tuesday morning NIMBY wrap-up

Here's the Tuesday morning NIMBY wrap-up:

From Salon, Here's a fascinating story about a couple who tried to build affordable housing in fancy-pants Darien, CT. Lisa Prevost's book Snob Zones: Fear, Prejudice, and Real Estate is currently very high up on our reading list!

From the NY Times, here's an excellent piece whose headline could be a great subtitle for this blog:
"In Climbing Income Ladder, Location Matters."

From the Huffington Post, here's a piece about Detroit by Robert Reich that hits the nail on the head.

And from Atlantic Cities, here's a timely story on a TEEN CURFEW in Greensboro, NC. We discovered this while doing some research for our own essay about TEEN CURFEWS, which will appear in our forthcoming book.

Happy reading!

Detroit and 47 Suburbs

Robert Reich nails it on Detroit: "In other words, much in modern America depends on where you draw boundaries, and who's inside and who's outside. Who is included in the social contract? If 'Detroit' is defined as the larger metropolitan area that includes its suburbs, 'Detroit' has enough money to provide all its residents with adequate if not good public services, without falling into bankruptcy."

In other words, Detroit is surrounded by 47 suburbs, as this old street guide we found in an Ann Arbor bookstore reminds us:

Saturday, June 15, 2013


What is loitering, anyway?

Woe is the poor bureaucrat whose job it is to write this chapter of the municipal code. Not quite all loitering definitions are as comically tautological as New York's ("A person is guilty of loitering when he: loiters"), but almost all of definitions evidence a considerable amount of struggle and provoke a very basic question: how can such vague language be enforceable? (To say nothing of the murky First Amendment issues in play here.) 

Here is a sampling of some of our favorite loitering definitions, taken from ordinances around the country:

-"'loiter' means to delay or linger without a lawful purpose for being on the property and for the purpose of committing a crime as opportunity may be discovered."
--California Laws, Penal Code

" a person commits the defense of loitering or prowling when he is in a place at a time or in a manner not usual for law-abiding individuals under circumstances that warrant a justifiable and reasonable or immediate concern for the safety of persons or property in the vicinity."
--Legal definition of loitering in Georgia

"Loitering--remaining idle in essentially one location, and includes the concept of spending time idly, to be dilatory, to linger, to stay, to saunter, to delay, to stand around and shall also include the colloquial expression "hanging around."
--Township committee of the Township of Barnegat, Ocean County, New Jersey

"If a person is said to be loitering, it means that he/she is standing around idly, delaying, wandering around, remaining, or tarrying in a public place."
--Colorado state's definition of loitering  

“Loiter: to idle, stand, remain, tarry or collect, gather or be a member of a group or crowd of people who are gathered together on any commercial or public premises (a) without conducting any lawful business or communication with the owner or operator thereof or (b) having completed such business or commencement, to remain on such premises an unreasonable length of time where prohibited by signs or after having been directed to leave by such owner, operator or authorized agent or a police officer."
--City of District Heights, Maryland's definition of loitering

"Loitering defined...F. Returns, for no apparent lawful business or purpose, to the same public or private property from which the person was asked to leave within the previous 24 hours."
--City of Glenarden, Maryland's definition of loitering

"Loiter- To sit, stand, loaf, lounge, wander or stroll in an aimless manner or to stop, pause or remain in an area for no obvious reason."
--Village of Albany's definition of loitering