Polis Archive

I have begun to realize that the 70-some odd Polis posts I have written since 2009 represent a significant body of work. They range from urban theory to reportage, art and film review to raw polemics. Some have been bandied about the internet and the twittersphere while others have remained largely ignored. I have used Polis to experiment with different ways of writing urbanism; most feature my own photography, except when I can find a friend or stranger whose work shows us an aspect of urbanism I could never hope to capture. As with the urban writing of so many of us, it follows my life and travels - the San Francisco Bay Area is always at the center of everything, but more and more Paris and the complex urbanism of the French plays a starring role. 

The posts are organized thematically with links that take you to the unvarnished original - some are repeated for categorizing purposes, some omitted because they were not true pieces of writing.
  1. Urbanism and Urban Theory
  2. Paris and La France
  3. American Cities, American Urbanism
  4. California
  5. Art, Books and Films
The first paragraph is included - click on the link to visit Polis and read the full post.

1. Urbanism and urban theory 
6.16.2013 Remembering the Urban in the Turkish Uprisings The occupation of Gezi may be over for the moment, but the ongoing impact of what has transpired and continues to transpire in Istanbul and other Turkish cities will be with us for some time. Amidst a hail of images of unrelenting police brutality and anti-democratic state action, there is a tendency for the urban issues that sparked the uprising to fade into the background. But, as Cihan Tuğal argues in his must-read piece for Jadaliyya, understanding both the urban roots of the revolt and the tendency to immediately forget them "sheds much light on what is happening in Turkey and why." 

12.14.12 Should Island Cities within Cities Exist?  A few weeks back, I posted an article to Facebook about conflicts between the small, uber-wealthy city of Piedmont, Calif., and the much larger, more diverse and financially strapped city of Oakland, which surrounds Piedmont entirely. Two things stood out: the focus of the article, which brilliantly follows two Oakland high school students trying to raise awareness about the "upper-class isolationism" of Piedmont, and a woefully incorrect assertion by the author that Piedmont is the only such "island city" in the nation. I brought up my personal favorite, Hamtramck (entirely surrounded by Detroit), and my fellow members of the urban dorkisphere quickly rose up with their own — from Denver's Glendale to examples in New Jersey and Los Angeles.

4.05.2012 'Hay Que Aprovechar' Planning and the Mega-Event The New York Times' Room for Debate series is often frustratingly pithy and incomplete when it comes to urban issues — witness their discussion of high-speed rail in California, a subject I will be tackling in an upcoming podcast and post. But a recent series on the Olympics in London and Rio de Janeiro did an excellent job of nailing the critical question of mega-events: Are these cities taking advantage of a historic opportunity that will reshape huge portions of the city and aspects of urban politics for a generation?

3.08.2012 The Rocky Road to Dublin "Melancholy was the dominant note of his temperament, he thought, but it was melancholy tempered by recurrences of faith and resignation and simple joy." James Joyce, "Dubliners"
It is a blessing and a curse to do what you love for a living. I'd venture a guess that most of us at Polis began our careers as people interested in cities and towns not because we were hired as such, but because of some spark lit at an early age. Or perhaps a later discovery that what grabbed us was not some specific issue, policy or technology, but how it all came together in the metropolis. This spark — this deeply rooted fascination with space and place intertwined with an empathetic curiosity about the people who make space place — is something I look for in colleagues and professional confidantes. If you are not an amateur urbanist, I fear the results of your professional urbanism.  

11.17.2011 Polis Podcast Beta: Social Justice and Amsterdam Together with our partners at CoLab Radio, Polis is happy to present our newest project, the Polis Podcast on CoLab Radio. Our goal is to bring you a stimulating series of discussions, debates and interviews on a wide range of subjects from as many different cities as we can manage.

8.10.2011 Ode to a Portuguese Beach Town We at Polis are as guilty as anyone of fetishizing the big city over the small town, the metropolis over the hinterland, the middle of everywhere over the middle of nowhere. I would argue that this orientation towards the core and its transformations is as old as contemplative urbanism itself — flaneurie has always seemed more gesellschaft than gemeinschaft, not to mention modern architecture, public transportation, economic growth, urban politics, street culture, and all the other urban trimmings that send us into a collective tizzy.

7.27.2011 Amsterdam is Nice. Is it Just? I have always loved Amsterdam, and not solely because I am from California. I credit a common (for foreigners) near-death experience there a decade ago — almost getting run over by a stream of bikes in dedicated lanes — with my transformation from old-school housing guy to full-fledged urbanist. Amsterdam can be an epiphany: a subtle, beautiful, and oh-so-pleasant example of what could happen if older cities fought for a different way of life, with a more humane urban design standard than what has become the norm in the United States.

3.23.2011 The Diversity Paradox New Orleans is one of my favorite cities, one of the few places in America wise enough to realize that the ability to stroll down the street with a cold beer on a steamy hot day while music pours out of every nook and cranny is deeply civilized. Its beauty and brutality have been well chronicled - a cultural icon where you can witness amazing hospitality and vicious inequality on the same block. Perhaps it is fitting that a recent trip to the Crescent City spurred a post that has been long in the making.

1.25.2011 The City as Symbol If you want to read the most cogent piece of urban writing we are likely to see in the English language in 2011, just read "The Wire" creator David Simon's response to a comment by the current Baltimore Police Chief Frederick H. Bealefeld III that his show and its depiction of Baltimore were a "smear on this city that will take decades to overcome." Simon's letter is unflinching, direct, brutally efficient and unrelenting in arguing that he was calling it like he saw it, and that it was the police department and the political establishment which must take responsibility for a long history of obfuscation and false representation when it comes to crime and decay in Baltimore.

1.12.2011 The Use of Old Buildings, 50 Years Later Jane Jacobs's iconic Death & Life of Great American Cities remains one of the most read and influential texts in urban studies, now 50 years after publication. Surely this year will see numerous celebrations in honor of its 50th birthday, with tributes galore as to how the book helped turn around the seat tide of high modernism, urban renewal and other anti-urban activities that threatened to turn entire cities into the "great blight of dullness" which Jacobs so deplored. 

9.21.2010 Progressive Urbanism? I spent part of the last two days at CEO's for Cities "Urban Next Summit", an intimate gathering of a hodgepodge of both professional and nonprofessional urbanists from around the United States (and a few token Canadians). Hosted by the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR), attendees, who had to apply to attend but who paid nothing to do so (save expenses), split their time between formal presentations and break-out groups designed to brainstorm ideas centered around CEO's for Cities newest campaign - the US Initiative.

"Black Rock City really is a City." Burning Man 2010 website  
What first strikes you about Burning Man is the scale. This is not simply artists and hedonists playing city in the desert, but a massive human settlement more than a mile across which is home not only to 50,000+ people for a week, but a Department of Public Works, a police force (the Black Rock Rangers), an airport, a DMV (The Department of Mutant Vehicles) "stores" and "shops" and neighborhoods, roads and street signs and public spaces.

4.20.2010 Tribal Connection No can do this! No can do that! What the hell can you do, my friend? In this place that you call your town... - gogol bordello
Today is undoubtedly the only somewhat-global, partly-legal, semi-holiday to emerge from Northern California. As California moves closer to a historic vote on the legalization of marijuana in November, a day which was once solely the subject of stoner lore now marks an interesting opportunity to consider an issue at the heart of many of the debates on cities - what can be done, and where.

para - prefix meaning "alongside, beyond, altered, contrary."
The question left over from my last post involved how we could possibly envision a paramodernism, a means of thinking big and acting boldly while taking into account the profound failures of modernist planning and architecture and the trenchant critiques of top-down urbanism plied by both the right and the left over the past half-century. Perhaps as a testament to the relevance of this question for today, the urbanism gods have blesed us with comparison's of Le Corbusier to Pol Pot and plans for an algae-bridge between Manhattan and Brooklyn over the past two weeks. In paratalmudic style (it is clearly the prefix for the new millennium), I will attempt to answer this question, not with a question, but with six throughly intertwined questions replete with reading recommendations.

11.18.2009 Paramodernism
"Architect plans massive man-made mountain" - The Architects Journal. 11 November, 2009
Urbanists have long been enamored with the big idea. Ages before Daniel Burnham urged us to "make no small plans," the possibility of the grand plan, the megaproject and the utopian vision has enthralled not only the kings and queens who supported them but the architects and planners whose duty it was to realize the grandiose vision of whatever empire or tribe or nation-state to which they owed fealty.

10.20.2009 Los Suburbs Thursday marks the beginning of a three-day conference at Hofstra University dedicated to "the challenging and emergent phenomenon of suburban diversity." It promises to be an interesting mix of academics, policymakers and activists who share a common view that a critical piece of the future of urban America lies in that massive swath we urbanists have tended to write off as either the antithesis or enemy of the city and its denizens. 

2. Paris and La France 
11.25.13 A False Rendering of the New Banlieue Virtually everywhere you go in the Parisian banlieue, you will find large signs drawing attention to "urban renovation" — major facelifts for large housing projects (cités), new public spaces in the centers of villages and towns, better integration with the myriad transit projects currently underway, entire blocks of housing.

8.8.13 Exploring the Banlieue's Secret Gardens I imagine that most people, when confronted with the end of a two-year sojourn in the City of Lights, would make plans to visit the unvisited museum (Louvre, check), finally scale the Eiffel Tower (soon, surely), eat the uneaten or discover the exhibition that will change history. The 19th century romantic in me feels pulled to Benjamin's passages and Baudelaire's promenades, even if they're overdone as subjects of literary flânerie. Harvey's Sacre Coeur is part of my daily run, part of life on the Hausmannian edges between the gentrified and the gentrifying.

1.10.13 Onward Paris Metro! The transit blogosphere has been ablaze all week over the opening of Beijing's four new subway lines, giving China the longest system in the world. China is also home to the world's longest high-speed rail line, attracting attention as a public-transit mecca (albeit one where cars and flyovers are expanding as well).

9.22.2012 Two Visions of Urban Precarity in Saint-Denis Wedged between the Seine River and the Canal Saint-Denis is a spit of land where different visions of contemporary Paris come together in the most precarious of ways. This is not the Seine of romantic lore or philosophical musings. Rather, it's a post-industrial mix of working waterfront, aging office buildings and a variety of homes and apartment complexes. Nor is it actually Paris. A stone's throw from the eponymous station of the RER commuter train, this is Saint-Denis, a major banlieue city that can boast of being the both an ancient burial site for French kings and a key node in the birth of French hip-hop.

Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
— T.S. Elliot, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"
On Monday I traveled 1000 km (a megameter?) round-trip for a meeting. It could not have been a simpler and more relaxing experience — approximately 25 minutes from my apartment in the 18ème arrondissement via two metro lines to the Gare de Lyon; 10 minutes to walk from the metro to the platform; precisely 119 minutes on the TGV to the Part Dieu Station in Lyon; a leisurely half hour on the BRT-esque C3 to Vaulx-en-Valin and, as the French say, voila. Three hours for a 500 km journey on three modes of transit, comfortable enough to read Eric Charmes and Walter Mosely. Did I mention it was 100 degrees outside?

5.02.2012 May Day in Paris When I was growing up in California, May Day was always a vestigial holiday of sorts. It was the height of the Reagan era, and the few media outlets that thought to mention the day usually did so with menacing photos of nuclear parades in Red Square. We certainly never learned in school that the transformation of May Day from a classic pagan spring holiday into International Workers' Day occurred because of an event in the United States — the 1886 Haymarket affair in Chicago, where police killed several striking workers following a bombing.

10.06.2011 Paris: Night and Day The city of Paris has a deputy mayor of the night. It is hard to think of a bureaucratic job title with more global cool cachet, even if large parts of the job involve overseeing sanitation, street repairs and other decidedly unromantic and under-appreciated nighttime activities that make cities functional. The city also has a powerful and well-funded cultural machine, which every year puts on an all-night contemporary art festival known as Nuit Blanche.

6.15.2011 Revisiting Henry Miller's Paris After innumerable bombs and a fun romp with the Spaniards, it seems that Woody Allen decided to write a movie especially for me. Midnight in Paris is a love song to an imagined Paris and a wickedly funny commentary on that absurd trope of which I am now somehow a part — American, writer, living in Paris, trying to make something of himself. 

"Sometimes Henry went as far down as the Saint-Lazare train station to watch prostitutes accost the men, and to see the 'thick tide of semen flooding the gutters'( Tropic of Cancer)."
Henry would likely be disappointed that Saint-Lazare is now a central node in a shopping zone that stretches down the Hausmannian boulevards to Opera and beyond. Likely Henry and I have different circadian rhythms, and I rarely haunt Saint-Lazare late at night, nor can I claim to have ever seen semen or sex workers in the gutter or elsewhere. Welcome to the contemporary Paris train station, which is more about bikes, Blackberrys, and baggage.

6.01.2011 All Quiet on the Parisian Front I took a trip today down to the famed Bastille, still the symbolic heart of French protest, even if the prison is long gone. French "indignados" had occupied a portion of the place — which, in a critical post-Haussmannian note, is really a traffic circle at the intersection of multiple boulevards rather than a large public plaza in the Spanish style — in solidarity with Spanish protesters and the general simmering anger that seems to be a part of urban life in so many places in 2011.  

5.02.2011 Does it Matter if I Move to the Suburbs? I seem to have reached that awkward stage in middle class city life where the great suburban question has started to rear its ungainly head. I am 36, recently married with stepdaughter, thinking of babies, ad nauseum. I like walking, transit, fresh air, parks, running on dirt, housing I can afford, good schools, graffiti, photography, and recently, growing vegetables. I know, radical. 

4.19.2011 Paris est une grosse pomme. New York is a city of light. I have now lived in Paris for a grand total of 10 days — perhaps 40 days if you count my sojourn in the winter — so I have no business writing this post. But perhaps that is why the gods created the blogosphere in the first place.

3. American Cities, American Urbanism
Dear Mayor Michael Bloomberg,
I'm sure you don't have to be reminded that your time as mayor of the greatest city in the world is coming to an end. You've formed your Super PAC, and I'm curious to see what you'll do next. There's still much unfinished business in La Gran Manzana, and I don't underestimate your ability to successfully manage post-Sandy recovery while taking bold steps for the future during your final months in office.

11.15.12 Retrofitting a Rocky Mountain Metropolis Denver hasn't featured very prominently on Polis over the years — a fact that would surprise few people in Denver. The city is not particularly sexy for globally-minded urbanists, lacking the wealth, power, abandonment, history, controversy, architectural patrimony, cosmopolitanism, proximity to disaster or cultural relevance that seem to mark cities in our metropolitan psyches.

12.13.2012 Should Island Cities within Cities Exist? A few weeks back, I posted an article to Facebook about conflicts between the small, uber-wealthy city of Piedmont, Calif., and the much larger, more diverse and financially strapped city of Oakland, which surrounds Piedmont entirely. Two things stood out: the focus of the article, which brilliantly follows two Oakland high school students trying to raise awareness about the "upper-class isolationism" of Piedmont, and a woefully incorrect assertion by the author that Piedmont is the only such "island city" in the nation. I brought up my personal favorite, Hamtramck (entirely surrounded by Detroit), and my fellow members of the urban dorkisphere quickly rose up with their own — from Denver's Glendale to examples in New Jersey and Los Angeles.

11.14.2012 Retrofitting a Rocky Mountain Metropolis Denver hasn't featured very prominently on Polis over the years — a fact that would surprise few people in Denver. The city is not particularly sexy for globally-minded urbanists, lacking the wealth, power, abandonment, history, controversy, architectural patrimony, cosmopolitanism, proximity to disaster or cultural relevance that seem to mark cities in our metropolitan psyches.  

10.20.2011 Searching for Our Metropolitan President  In 1967, Carl Stokes and Richard Hatcher became the first African-American mayors elected to head large American cities, part of a wave of African-American urban leadership that would sweep the North and South alike over the course of the next three decades. African Americans would be elected to head famously black cities like Chicago and Atlanta, famously white cities like Spokane and Seattle, and famously Latino cities like Los Angeles. Since Stokes and Hatcher, African Americans have been elected to head virtually every major city in the United States.

1.12.2012 Why Microsoft's 'Avoid Ghetto App' Takes Us the Wrong Way The American Internet is atwitter after Microsoft announced last week that it had patented a mobile application technology giving pedestrians directions that avoid high-crime areas. An early story from a Seattle TV station dubbed it the "avoid ghetto app," and the avalanche began. Twitter is exploding with links to tech blogs, witty 140-character opinions and links to online debates: Is it racist? Does it protect women? 

12.29.2011 Podcast: Occupy as an Urban Movement It may seem completely spontaneous, but the Occupy movement did not come from nowhere. It has deep roots in longtime efforts to combat injustice, often at the urban level. As the Occupy movement in the U.S. moves toward 2012, this podcast looks back to the urban roots of the movement — in particular the role of community-based organizations and coalitions. It also explores the movement's newest manifestations, including Occupy Our Homes and Occupy the 'Hood.

"Now we're from America, but this isn't New York City, or the Windy City, or Sin City, and we're certainly noone's Emerald City. We're the Motor City." - Chrysler
In the moments after Green Bay - the only publicly owned sports franchise in major US sports - won the Superbowl a few weeks back, my friend and Detroit native Dr. Juni texted me. Her message had nothing to do with the game, but with a car commercial that was the center of post-Superbowl ad buzz - Chrysler's "Imported from Detroit" commercial, featuring Eminem, a gospel choir, and a deep-voiced narrator pontificating not about the virtues of their cars but about the virtues of the city that produced it. 

8.11.2010 Detroit, Part One There are few other places where a post needs no real subheading, no fancy title. To do so would in some ways be misleading or pointless, as I know of few other places which bring so much baggage to the table. Detroit, for the urbanist, represents so much: an entire way of life, an economic machine, a grand urban experiment, an icon both of American might and American hubris, the brutal reality of race in the United States, the starkness of widespread decay and the possibilities of a new urban future born out of the ashes of abandonment.

3.23.2010 Yes, But in North America We Don't Call Them Suburbs Since Katia ended her last post with a question, it only seemed appropriate to attempt to answer it. And since I am feeling full of hubris, I will take a shot at Kevin Drumm's question as well. The short answer to both is that history shows that history demands slightly different questions. 

2.11.2010 By the Time I Get to Arizona Yuma, Arizona is a border city in multiple ways. Google's satellite imagery captures much of it - the line between the actual desert and the irrigated one; the wall between the actual Mexico and the former one; the space between the Golden State and the Grand Canyon state. It is a fitting place to enter the incongruity that is urban Arizona, a hyper-modern state that seems stuck in the Reagan era.

Concrete jungle where dreams are made of, There's nothing you can’t do, Now you're in New York
Glorified, Vilified, Gentrified goes the ad campaign which greets you on the gangway at JFK, all three words siting under the same image of the Brooklyn Bridge. It is wonderfully ironic that an advert selling global finance captures the mixed emotions of a city like New York so well, but such is the way of the Gran Manzana in these early stages of the 21st century.

4. California
10.07.2012 Polis Podcast: California's High Speed Rail California's High Speed Rail is one of the nation's most important — and controversial — urban projects in recent memory. Some hail it as a critical step toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions in a state of 40 million people, a stabilizing force for California's Central Valley and a critical link among cities in the region. Detractors call it a real estate development scheme, a boondoggle, an inducement to sprawl or simply a bad idea that diverts money from more worthy transit projects. 

9.06.2012  Mapping the Suburbanization of Poverty One of the fundamental issues in American urbanism is the changing geography of poverty. American cities are famous around the world for having abandoned large portions of the central core, largely unthinkable in Europe and much of the world. Even if suburban historians are doing their best to remind us that poverty — along with economic, social and ethnic diversity — has always existed in suburbs, shifts in recent decades are fundamentally changing metropolitan life in many parts of the country.

8.09.2012 Defending Urbanism, Defending Oakland  Refreshed by a much-needed hiatus, I had every intention of coming back to Polis with stories of bizarre postmodern French housing projects, the urbanism of small villages or the temporal beauty of high-speed rail. But following the print publication of Jonathan Mahler's hit piece on Oakland in the New York Times Magazine, those adventures will have to wait.

12.01.2011 Race and Foreclosure on the Edge of the Bay Area The New York Times recently published a haunting piece about the black middle class in America. It isn't discussed enough that the sub-prime crisis not only brought the economy to its knees but also destroyed the public-sector job market upon which so many black middle-class lives have been built for half a century. Black households have also been twice as likely to lose their homes to foreclosure as white ones. Many black families now face losing their homes and jobs simultaneously.  

5.18.2011 Ghosts in the Machine The longer I go about this planning and urbanism business, the more I become fascinated with the plans that never made it off the table, particularly transportation plans from the San Francisco Bay Area, images of which accompany this post (a debt to Eric Fischer for many of them). As a member of the post-modernism generation (very much meant in the after-modernism sense), we inherited not a world where urban thinkers-cum-architecture gods-cum regional scientists felt that they could do anything anywhere to anyone, but a much more humbled profession, at least in the United States.

"All politics is local." - Tip O'Neill
Planners in California are fond of adding a line to Tip O'Neill's famous maxim about the local nature of American politics. "All politics is local, and all local politics is about development." In the former boom towns of the Bay Area's eastern edge, at times it seems you need to alter that to "and all local politicians have development interests."

11.02.2010 Sports and the City There are times in both history and life where the overt symbolism of the moment is too much to ignore, even if it seems contrived. Today is a historicday in San Francisco, the City by the Bay, and it has nothing to do with the fact that the Mayor may become Lt. Governor, marijuana may be legalized and a nationwide avalanche of right-wing revanchism may topple local Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi as the Speaker of the US House of Representatives. After 52 years of heartbreak, the San Francisco Giants have won the World Series.

10.20.2010 The Rodeo Connection Driving south on San Pablo Avenue from Crockett, you start to see the beginnings of the oil-refining complex come right around the intersection with Cummings Skyway. Out of the bucolic greenery and the blue of the San Pablo bay, a tank farm appears alongside horse pastures, a gleaming white precursor to the industrial phantasmagoria to come. The road, one of the Bay Area’s oldest and longest, crawling through a dozen cities and towns and hamlets on its path from Oakland’s City Hall to the Carquinez Strait, meanders around a series of curves past old schools and petroleum wharves, taking a dramatic dip into an intimidating complex of reservoirs, ducts and valves raised portentously on the horizon. This is the back entrance to Rodeo.

7.28.2010 Guns in the City The men with cowboy hats and guns on their hips are not in a bar in Texas, but in a Starbucks in Pinole, California, 22 miles from San Francisco. They are members of East Bay Open Carry, one of a number of intertwined grassroots groups which have popped up in California to promote the currently existing right of citizens to carry unloaded firearms in public.

7.13.2010 On Becoming a Transportation Planner In the halls of planning academe, there are few divides as potent as that between the transport folks and everyone else. This is not to say that there is a big love fest between designers, housers, enviros, GIS junkies, economistas, ad nauseum; simply that the gulf between the transport world and everyone else is a tad larger. Perhaps it is their superior numbers - there is still money in transport research, and they have more students - or that the engineering emphasis creates a cultural and methodological divide. UC Berkeley offers an introductory undergrad class in transport - but not in housing, or land use, or community development. Always one to enjoy a good jab, I have never shied away from discussing the divide with friends in the mode choice world - never could I imagine that I would one day become one. 

6.30.2010 I'm Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town Growing up in a small-town cum suburb, the edges came in two forms. There was the amorphous and imperceptible line drawn on the map, that line between the town on the east and the town on the west. It was seemingly arbitrary - this was nothing like crossing the border between Oakland and San Leandro, Detroit and Grosse Point, New Orleans and St. Bernard's Parish. It might mean a different school, a different "downtown", some minor cultural or political difference, but it was all one valley.  

1.25.2010 Salton Sea Irony One of the most fascinatingly bizarre testimonies to the power of Western real estate boosterism is simultaneously home to one of the tragic ironies of California's historical environmental and urban quandary. Just a few hours east of the Los Angeles and San Diego, nestled on the edge of the Imperial Valley's desert agricultural miracle/nightmare, the Salton Sea and it's ring of post-apocalyptic semi-ghost towns has long been a must-see for fans of decay-porn and urban abandonment, or simply for those who love it for it's strangeness, it's monuments to Christ or Sunny Bono, or it's importance in the oeuvre of Val Kilmer

3.09.2010 California Uber Alles It is once again a curious moment in the Golden State, as the world's eighth largest economy lurches into a deeply unknown future. Carey McWilliams, one of the greatest writers about space and place we have ever produced, once said that California is to the United States as the United States is to the world. It was a comment surely rooted in typical Californian/American hubris, although McWilliams can surely not be accused of ignoring the ignoble sins of this would-be Zion, chronicled so painfully in Factories in the Fields, published four years before Steinbeck's legendary Grapes of Wrath fictionalized the same shameful period. 

12.15.2009 Planning like it's 1979 This post was supposed to come to you live from the chambers of the Richmond (California) City Council, where the council had been scheduled to review the final administrative draft of a massive four year, $2.5 million general plan update. Posting from the chamber was not designed as an act of blogosphere theatre, nor because the global Polis audience was demanding a look inside the scintillating minutiae of the American planning process; rather, I was scheduled to testify in front of the council about how the travesty of what has happened to the hopes for equitable development or social justice being written into a document designed to guide "the next 100 years" of the city's development. 

10.06.2009 California Love If you see me walking down the street, whether in a large city surrounded by the cacophony of changing spaces or in a small town far from the center of the polyphonic metropolis, I suspect that you will perceive something between a smile and a smirk bestride my generally unshaven face. There are some who would argue that said facial expression is a result of ignorance, or drugs, or that it is a willful deception, masking a truly tortured soul. Although there are kernals of truth in all three explanations, the story that I tell myself is that it comes from the little bit of happiness, the optimistic spirit with an outsized sense of the possible and a keen eye for the beautiful, engendered, in part, by being from California.

5. Art, Books and Films 
4.18.2012 Ai Weiwei Meets Abbott at a Museum in Paris Perhaps it is no surprise that a city so fundamental to our collective urban imagination should be so rich in brilliant exposés of other urban worlds. We may no longer filter our ideas of cities through Paris the way we once did — Woody Allen notwithstanding — but Paris has not stopped filtering other cities through its own incredible array of galleries, museums and art spaces. There is always a touch of the postcolonial in these gazes, but at least it is matched by an internal examination which is truly impressive: Currently, one can explore the postwar reconstruction of French cities at the Jeu de Paume Tours, the role of movement and circulation in the development of cities at Chaillot, or the future of Paris itself in a permanent exhibition at Pavillon de L'Arsenal, sponsored by the city itself.

3.22.2012 MoMA Rehouses the American Dream One would be hard-pressed to find a more jarring juxtaposition to the new exhibit "Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream" than the venue itself: New York's Museum of Modern Art. MoMA is pre-High Line Big Apple contemporary, with glass, steel and high-end patrons. It is located in a very high-end neighborhood, a far cry from cities like Rialto, Calif., and Cicero, Ill. discussed in the exhibit. 

12.16.2011 Scenes from a Revolution: Tunis Through the Lens of Mark Mouck When news broke on a crisp January day that former Tunisian president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali had fled the country after 23 years of dictatorial rule, people around the world watched in awe at what would become the first major victory in one of the most important waves of popular resistance in history. But in the streets of Tunisia, the day after Ben Ali's departure was one of hopeful uncertainty. The police, long the violent bulwark of the regime, were now gone. The army had stepped in to do what it could, but it had been purposefully weakened by the government, and no one knew what would happen when no single force could protect people or property.

11.03.2011 Film Review: 'Creativity and the Capitalist City' The subtitle for "Creativity and the Capitalist City: The Struggle for Affordable Space in Amsterdam" is critical for understanding the focus of this interesting new independent release from German filmmaker and urbanist Tino Buchholz. At its core, the movie is about the struggle to keep Amsterdam affordable in the face of steady gentrification. Policymakers there have taken to heart Richard Florida's famed maxim about the link between the so-called "creative class" and regional economic development, transforming it into housing, redevelopment and cultural economic policy. But Buchholz realizes that this is only one piece of Amsterdam's transformation.

9.21.2011 Book Review: Jan Willem Duyvendak's 'The Politics of Home' One of my first impressions of Dutch sociologist Jan Willem Duyvendak was when he bravely announced to a room full of critical urban social scientists that he loved Starbucks. In the bourgeois circles of academic urbanism, this is perhaps not as shocking as Peter Sigrist's ode to McDonalds, for his comment seemed to draw as many smirks and self-conscious nods as winces. Perhaps it was because the audience understood the basic argument behind his point — he feels at home in Starbucks, in part because it is generic. Like Sigrist, Duyvendak recognizes that, in contemporary society, global corporations are often able to create zones of comfort and security — "hominess" of a sort — which the critical urbanists in us would prefer to think is only possible in the hyper-local and the unique.

9.08.2011 Film Review: 'Land of Opportunity' As the United States approaches one infamous anniversary next week, I have been thinking about another that just passed, albeit to less fanfare. Hard to believe that this past August 29 marked the sixth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, an event that, like 9/11, was far more than an attack on a city. Both events were as much about the nations in which they occurred as the cities that bore the brunt of their impact.

12.14.2010 Featured Artist: Anthony Hernandez Some people ask, "What's so important or compelling about taking pictures of such unpleasant subjects like city dwellers?" . . . My work may be beautiful or it might not be, that just isn't what I am concerned with. I try to be open and face the city. . . . To me it's not unpleasant or unbeautiful, it's just life--which has to be threatening sometimes if it is going to be interesting." —Anthony Hernandez

11.30.2010 Featured Artist: Douglas Smith One of the profound challenges in confronting crisis in urban space, as I have discussed in my ongoing series on Detroit, is how to represent it. Well meaning attempts to intervene and call attention to a situation can make things worse, painting a place as one of crisis (and thereby those in it), as opposed to exposing the underlying roots, which may lie elsewhere, i.e. Wall Street, policy, etc. 

11.24.2010 This Gentrification will be Televised New York filmmakers Allison Lirish Dean and Kelly Anderson's recent film, Lasting Scars, is remarkable for more than just it's thoughtful consideration of the ongoing City-led transformation of one of Brooklyn's most vibrant African-American shopping districts, Fulton Mall. Lirish Dean, a planner and journalist whose work spans print and video mediums, and Anderson, an experienced documentary filmmaker, use the film's website, lastingscars.com, as an ongoing chronicle of media coverage about Fulton Mall's continuing saga.

4.07.2010 Featured Artist: Dave Glass Since the days of Baudelaire and Benjamin, those of us obsessed with the urban have found pleasure in the accidental and the serendipitous. One could even argue that it is the possibility of the unknown that leads us to that mixture of lived and considered experience that I define as urbanism.

3.15.2010 Book Review: The Spoken-Word Urbanism of AbdouMaliq Simone A quintessential urbanist for the 21st century, AbdouMaliq Simone has never shied away from the complicated or confusing, instead seeming to seek out urban environments far off the map of the flaneur set. His new book, City Life from Jakarta to Dakar is certainly “always complicated at times,” and vertically integrated coherence is certainly not the goal.